: Tom Simpson
Q: Could you please explain the validities of the various aiming systems and rank them according to their feasibility?
A: I studied aiming systems under Hal Houle, who invented many aiming system variants. Eventually, I became his successor.
Hal is no longer with us, but fortunately, he showed his breakthrough systems to many players. Hal was not a great teacher, and did not really understand how or why most of the systems worked. But they really do work, and many players have figured out how to use them in their own game.
Over my 20+ years of teaching this stuff, I’ve figured out why they work (mostly) and how to teach them.
I see three main categories of systems:
1. Fractional aiming systems
2. Pivoting aiming systems
3. Contact point aiming systems
Fractionals have been around for probably a century or more. They involve looking at and pointing your stick at various fractions of the object ball. The clearest example might be the “half-ball hit.” This is a 30 degree cut shot executed by pointing the center of your stick through the vertical axis of the cue ball at the outermost edge of the object ball. It’s called a half-ball hit because from the visual perspective of the shooter, it looks like half of the cue ball strikes half of the object ball.
The fractional system I teach uses mostly quarters of a ball. We end up with 15 “objective shots,” shots where we aim by pointing our stick at real things we can see. Aim adjustments relative to the 15 shots tend to be small and subconscious.
Beginners through intermediate players often adopt this type of system. Barbox players do well with this system too, as the pockets tend to be large and the distance to the pocket small.
Pivoting systems have proliferated in the last several decades. Hal developed several pivoting systems. Today, there are numerous players who claim to use pivoting systems that came from Hal. It seems that many variations of the idea can be made to work. For example, Ron Vitello (NYC) has developed and published his personal pivoting system, and it’s not like Hal’s systems.
Across years of teaching and thousands of players, the two versions of pivoting systems I teach have become solid, mechanically understandable systems. They are used by many of the higher level players that graduate our program.
At this point, I believe the efficacy of the pivoting systems is due to two big factors. Firstly, these systems simplify and routinize what you’re looking at and how you arrange your body. This means your approach to every shot is as much the same as you can make it. With your consistent setup, you learn your new set of shot pictures pretty quickly. Secondly, panning your tip across the cue ball, with your pool brain engaged, gives your brain/body a ton of data about when the stick is pointing correctly for that particular shot. Pivoting helps you hone in on the correct aim.
Pivoting systems require the player to already have solid fundamentals. You have to be able to stroke straight on the line your stick is on, even if your eyes are not on that line.
Hal’s legacy is alive, and is still evolving. My advice is this: If you can’t make any sense of what a system wants you to do, maybe it doesn’t make sense. There are players & instructors who have something that somehow works for them, but can’t communicate it in a practical way. Let it go, and maybe try it again sometime down the road.
Contact point aiming systems have the player focused on the contact points of the object ball and cue ball. These are the two spots that have to come together at impact to succeed on the shot.
Most of us have worked hard at getting our vision centered above the center of the stick. But the only time the two spots visually align is when the shot is straight-in and no English. To correctly see the contact points, your eyes might have to be on a different line. Contact point aiming systems usually require the player to look down the contact point line as they shoot. For some players, this is natural. For others, it may be disconcerting.
I think that if you learned to play by pointing your stick at targets (such as imagining a laser coming out of the center of your tip), fractional systems will make the most sense to you. If you learned to play by connecting contact points, this category of systems may be for you.
Summary: You could say that an aiming system “works” if it gets your stick on the right line for the shot. One day at pool school, we set up the camera and got images of me setting up to shoot the same shot using the three different aiming systems I teach. In each photo, the stick was on the correct line. The location of my eyes and body parts varied a bit.
Aiming systems are sexy and fun. But fundamentals of form are what is most important. If you can’t deliver the cue ball reliably & precisely to where you think it should go, you’re not ready for an aiming system.