A phrase that is often heard in the pool world is that you have to play the percentages. What is often left out is what that means. At face value, of course that means that you should take the shot that you are most likely to execute, but how do you know which one that is? After years of playing and competing I can probably give you a little insight into what should go into your decision making process so you can play your own percentages and choose the shot that will give you the best chance for success.

So how do you figure out your percentages? You could set up all sorts of shots 10 times and keep notes on how many times you make it, but I doubt this would be helpful. Pressure and how you feel from day to day will affect your success rate. A simpler way to know your percentage is to feel it. Certain days you will feel 100% certain to make tough shots. On those days you should go for it. Other days you may not be seeing the table as clearly. Assess your certainty over the ball. Are you reasonably sure that you will execute your shot? Are there other options that make you more confident? If you feel very uncomfortable about a shot, then you must either think of a better alternative, or find a way to become comfortable. What you should never do is override your mind's warning system that something doesn't feel right. If you can do this on every shot, your win percentage will go up dramatically.

The most important thing I can tell you about the game of pool is that it is a game of domination. Great players never take risks against other dominant players because whole sets can turn on one bad decision. While that may not happen at the lower levels of the game, it does still happen. Even at the lowest level, whoever makes the least mistakes usually wins. The idea is to try to smother your opponent by not giving them opportunities, and the best way to do that is to choose shots that you feel you are most likely to execute, and avoid shots that give you a bad feeling. Your subconscious is like the instrument panel in an airplane. It works on facts, and doesn't get fooled by outside observations. If you feel like you are going to miss, then you are.

The simplest way to play your percentages is to put each shot into a group: very certain, fairly certain, and uncertain. You should always be aware of which category your shot falls into, and try to find shots that fit into the first category. If that's not possible then you should be able to find a shot that gives you a fair amount of certainty. Try to avoid uncertain shots at all costs. What I like about this method is that it allows for the fluctuations that all players have in their games, and it also forces you to think of alternatives that may have a better outcome.