Risk vs. Reward

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We often hear the top players talking about playing the percentage shots. What does this mean? Well, most of the upper echelon pool players practice this method of decision making. How do they decide? How do they come up with the percentage? These questions are easily answered by asking yourself “What is the risk versus the reward if I take this shot?” I know, I have all the English majors crying out that you cannot answer a question with a question, but in this case it works.

Figuring the percentages of a shot is solely based on your knowledge and acceptance of your own ability. You must approach the table with absolute self confidence in what you can and cannot execute.  I am not trying to say that you shouldn’t try and execute something that you think is out of your skill set, but there is a time and a place for that on the practice table. I am talking about in the heat of battle we must make split second calculations to decide what shot to choose.


Let’s take a look at Diagram A. Here we are playing a game of 9-ball. Your opponent has left you a long and difficult shot on the seven. The eight is all the way back up table, so in order to make the seven and get any kind of position on the eight ball, you must really shoot an amazing shot. I would call this a very low percentage shot. A top pro might make this same shot one out of ten times which makes this a 10% success rate for a top pro!

You would have to make one amazingly great shot here to pocket the seven ball at a high rate of speed and power with a tremendous amount of spin on the cue ball to get position on the eight. This is a very low percentage shot.

On the other hand we could play a pretty aggressive two shot by banking the seven ball across the table towards the opposite corner pocket, bringing the cue ball down table for position near the eight ball. I would consider this shot to be a very high percentage shot. The reason being is that if we make the seven ball, we will have position on the eight and could win the game. If we miss the seven ball, we will likely leave it on the end rail far-far away from the cue ball, forcing our opponent into an awkward position themselves, as shown below in Diagram B. A top pro will make this bank maybe five out of ten times but they will get the good leave nine times out of ten. That makes this shot a 90% success rate for a top pro, and with a little practice, it can be a major asset in your game.

Hit this shot with top left english. The english will help bring the cue ball back down the table and keep it out of the object balls path. If we hit this shot really well, we can make the ball. If not, we can leave the seven ball and cue ball in very tough locations for our opponent. This is a higher percentage shot that is much safer.

Finding the percentage of your shots is easier than it looks, just ask yourself what is the risk of this shot if I miss and what is the reward if I make it. If the risk is worth it, go for it. If the risk is too great, look for an alternative shot or defensive play. If you begin to survey the table with these questions in mind, I have no doubt that you too will master the art of playing the percentage shots.

Until next time,

Mikey V.