I started playing pool at the young age of 7, during the winters in northern Maine, when the temperature reached 50 below zero and it was too cold to ski. The rec room at Loring AFB had a couple of pool tables, and as a very athletic kid, I had a natural curiosity about the game, and after watching a few games, one of the airmen invited me to play a game with him. He showed me how to hold the cue and make a bridge, and he got me a little wooden box to stand on so I could reach the table. It didn’t take long for me to get addicted to the game and I soon invited my friends over to play. We spent many a cold winter day inside that rec room, playing for hours, making up our own rules and games, and eventually even betting five-cent candy bars on the outcome. Yes, we were big spenders!
When summer came, we put away the cleats and played baseball all day. My dream, ever since I was 5 years old and watched the Dodgers play in Los Angeles several times before my dad transferred to Loring, was to be a professional baseball player and finally get a baseball scholarship to go to college in Texas , where my dad retired in 1966. Over the years, every spare hour I didn’t spend practicing baseball was spent in a pool hall, and after my baseball career ended with a torn pitching shoulder , billiards became my main interest. I won my first tournament when I was 17 years old, in a bar where my sister worked, and I won a taco as the first prize. I was excited beyond belief, until I screwed the stick in and rolled it on the table. To my horror it rolled like a corkscrew, it was so warped it was unplayable! Play again with a bar stick!
For the next 20 years, I played pool wherever I was working at the time. I drilled oil wells all over the country and made as much money pushing hoodlums after their shift as I did on my salary. As a mud engineer, I was responsible for checking many different pieces of equipment on a daily basis, and I got to meet and play against hundreds of different pool players each year. Moving around the country to different areas on a yearly basis, I was able to stay under the radar and be relatively unknown, so it was never a problem to get a money game going. I don’t think I ever met a thug who didn’t play pool, and most of them had a pretty high opinion of his game. That usually changed when it was time to pay!
In 1989 I put the Alexander brothers on a golf course in Dallas. Nick, an attorney, had founded Clicks Billiards many years earlier and now had a total of 20 pool halls from Phoenix to Florida, with his original pool hall right there in Dallas on Abrams Rd. and Northwest Highway. His brother, Greg, was the General Manager and responsible for hiring managers for the 20 pool halls. By this time I had retired from the oil business and was making a living on the golf course and in the pool halls every day. Greg and Nick were members of the Sleepy Hollow Country Club in South Dallas, where he played golf every day. Greg had a 3 handicap, and after playing with him 3 or 4 days a week for several months (and taking quite a bit of money from him), he asked me if I played pool. Hahaha. “A little bit,” I told him, and he took me to the original Clicks Billiards that night, to try and get some of his money back.
After he paid the hundred I earned him that night, he offered me a job, as assistant manager of the original Clicks. He knew that he had never worked as a bartender before, but he assured me that he would quickly accept it and would fit right in with the pool players who made up his main customer base. Was he ever right? I got used to it like a duck to water and ended up meeting most of the best pool players in Dallas and some of the best in the country. Clicks had several exhibits, including one by Grady Matthews and one by Ewa Mataya, the Striking Viking. Clicks was also where I met CJ Wiley, the visiting player who won ESPN’s Ultimate Nine Ball Challenge in 1995 or 1996. There were many, many top-tier pro players at Clicks, with many $1,000 pocket games day and night. , with many of Dallas’s top bookies financing much of the action, and sweaters on the railing by the dozen, just watching…or praying, lol.
CJ entered Clicks in 1990 and proceeded to terrorize local professionals. He was an instant legend, sweeping away every major player in town. The guys that scared the hell out of me wouldn’t even touch CJ when he offered them the 5 and out. His reputation grew and so did his ranking, eventually reaching 4th or 5th place in the billiards world. Working there, I quickly became friends with CJ, and when he opened his own room in Dallas, CJ’s Billiard Palace, I eventually quit Clicks and went on to manage CJ’s place. When it opened, 90% of the action and the pro players left with it. It had 12 gold crowns, as opposed to Clicks’ 4, a kitchen, and it was open 24 hours. The action never stopped.
So, you may be wondering, does all this have to do with the theme of the title? I bought my first cue, a Thomas Wayne model, in ’91, and while it was beautiful, lots of gorgeous inlays, and very responsive, it really did nothing to improve my game. I played with it for 3 years until it was stolen, and I loved the cue, but could play just as well with a stick cue, as long as it had the right weight and a good tip. I spent $700 for the taco, but it really wasn’t necessary. It didn’t give me any advantage over a house taco.
I had a serious back injury in 1994, which made me stop playing golf and pool. I didn’t want to risk an operation, and it wasn’t until 2008 that I got a non-narcotic medication from the VA that allowed me to bend over the table again without excruciating pain. At the time, Predator Cues had come out with a 10-piece shaft that was hollow at the tip, significantly reducing the deflection of the cue ball at impact…or so they claimed. Having been away from the game for 14 years, he had read little about these signs and was intrigued, to say the least.
For those of you reading this who don’t know what cue ball deflection is, here it is in a nutshell: When a cue ball is hit on either side of the vertical axis…the center line…the ball is marked it will deflect or “splash” in the opposite direction. So if you hit the cue ball using right “english”…hitting the cue ball to the right of the vertical center line…the cue ball will deflect to the left and vice versa…The amount of deflection varies , depending on the speed of the hit, the distance from the center line (or the point offset) at which the cue ball is hit, and the mass of the point. In other words, the more English you apply, the harder the stroke and the greater the mass of the tip…all of these factors will increase the amount of deflection or jetting. This jet needs to be compensated for when aiming, or you will miss the shot quite often.
This is where Predator technology comes into play. With a small hollow space at the end of the nose, the reduced mass dramatically reduced the amount of deflection by allowing the cue ball to push the shaft out of the way on impact, rather than the shaft pushing the cue ball out of the way. The 314 axis immediately became very popular with professionals, and the Z axis further reduced deflection by reducing the tip size from 12.75mm to 11.75mm. A shorter ferrule also helped reduce mass and thus further reduced deflection. Independent tests have the Predator Z² axis and 314² axis as the #1 and #2 axes in the world causing the least amount of deflection. Predator shafts and cues are used by more than half of the top 40 pros, 3 of the top 5 women pros, and more than 35,000 players worldwide, according to the Predator website. These professionals are not paid to play these cues. They play them because their lives depend on their ability to play, which is enhanced by this high-tech equipment.
Since Predator led the way in the mid-1990s, many companies have joined the technological revolution. Lucasi Hybrid Cues offers the Zero Flex Point shaft on all of their hybrid models. This truck has similar technology to the Predator trucks to drastically reduce deflection. They offer these shafts with many types of joints to fit most cleats made today. World champion Thorsten Hohmann from Germany now plays with Lucasi Hybrid.
The OB-1 and OB-2 shafts also offer low offset technology, and John Schmidt recently switched to the OB signal. He said that he ran over 400 balls playing straight billiards the second day he used the OB shaft.
I had to try one of these cues myself, and I must say: I love the new high-tech pool cues. I play a Predator 5K3 and despite not having played in 14 years, my game has risen to a much higher level than ever before. Reduced deflection makes hard hits using English much simpler, by reducing the amount of compensation per jet.
In short, the advancement of technology has shortened the learning curve for beginning and intermediate players by reducing cue ball deflection and requiring much less jet compensation. And the professionals, who make a living with a taco? Almost all of them play with a low deflection shaft of some kind. Why wouldn’t they? If they don’t, their competitors (which they all do) will take the money.
While the Predator remains the benchmark for low deviation, they aren’t cheap either. The retail price of a Z² arrow is almost $300, but the new Lucasi Hybrid Cues, with similar technology (and also new grip technology to reduce shock vibration) are a good lower priced alternative. For less than the price of a Predator Z² axle alone, you can get a great Lucasi Hybrid [http://www.poolsharkcues.com/product_info.php?cPath=6&products_id=78/] which has advanced low deflection technology and plays fantastically well. If a World Champion like Thorsten Hohmann is playing a Lucasi Hybrid, you KNOW it’s an exceptional sign.
So think long and hard before buying a new cue. If you don’t use a cue with modern low deflection technology, chances are your opponent will. All else being equal, a modern low-deflection cleat, or an older cleat with a new low-deflection spindle, will win the vast majority of the time. The greatly improved accuracy will make it so.