Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Center-to-edge (CTE) aiming and ball pocketing has become one of the hottest (and hotly contested) subjects in recent pool history. Although CTE as a system is likely over 40 years old, the fact remains that most pool players either aren’t aware of the technique or know very little about it. As with most good information, those “in the know” weren’t necessarily tripping over themselves to enlighten their friends and opponents. Internet pool forums have brought this technique into the spotlight, which has not only captivated the readers, but has also created Internet battles of epic proportion.

Although pivoting and pivot-aiming have been around since the very beginning of pool history (going back hundreds of years), one man is recognized as the inventor of the modern day CTE technique: Hal Houle. Being 85 years young, Hal has lived through pool’s golden age, having not only rubbed shoulders with past champions such as Willie Mosconi, but also travelled the country with Ralph Greenleaf – one of the most decorated champions of all time. Talking to Hal is like hopping into a time machine into an era that has long passed. Hearing his anecdotes about sending Greenleaf into action, looking for Greenleaf after one of his many disappearances, or even playing Leon Yonders (an “idiot savant” as Hal fondly remembers him) pulls the listener into his world – a world of “Hustler-esque” pool halls and 14.1 action.

Beyond the countless stories that are tailor-made for a Martin Scorsese movie exists a man and his ball pocketing systems (thirty-something, if I recall). For many, it would be easy to call Hal Houle a “student of the game” save the fact he might know more ways to pocket a ball than anyone else alive. “Innovator” might be a better descriptor for Hal. After all, his wife Sonny says her husband spent the better part of a decade in the garage working on diagrams and other pool-related drawings. When she’d ask Hal what he was doing he’d reply, “Nothing, nothing important, nothing that would interest you” as he would gather his loose papers and put them away. Within his thousands of pages that consisted of “nothing important” wasn’t one of his previous masterpieces such as “The Piece” or “Shish-kebob,” but a system so powerful it could help a shooter use a single sighting reference to pocket nearly every common shot found on the pool table. Center-to-edge is born.

I've spent countless hours with Hal Houle over the years so I thought I'd make this blog a reference for much of his information. Over time, I hope to also include many of the wonderful stories told by Hal. Running around with Ralph Greenleaf over the years has certainly provided tons of ENTERTAINING vignettes -- days of pool that are likely forever gone. The only thing that many of us can do now is read "copies of copies" or stories passed from him by a third person, such as myself.

Center-to-edge (CTE) is an aiming, alignment and pre-shot routine system that is pretty much the foundation for general center-ball (vertical axis) pocketing. The first thing to know before moving forward is that (as Hal would say) there are no such things as "contact points" in pool. I know many of you just raised an eyebrow thinking, "What the #*$& is this guy talking about?" If that's the first time you've heard that comment-- you're probably thinking that. I know I did. When I asked Hal what he meant by that comment, he said the following (paraphrased):

"Contact points are invisible. You can't see them. Even if you COULD see them, not only would they be tiny, but you wouldn't aim at them anyways - so what's the point. That's why people play their entire lives and never get better. They're shooting at invisible points but without really shooting directly AT them - make sense, kid?"

I recall this conversation with Hal very well. He spoke with such conviction and as he was telling me this, all I could think of was he's right. How I played on any given day was in direct proportion to how my "feel" was working.

Hal continued....

"Ya know... there's only one shot in pool. Did you know that?
(of course he knew I didn't know that)

Yes... you just 'center-to-edge' and the ball goes in the hole. Everything's center-to-edge. Every shot is the same. There aren't an infinity number of shots... there's only one.... over and over and over again."

Although on a technical level, he wasn't correct in saying "There's only one shot;" rather, there's only one procedure. The actual offset from the center-to-edge line (CTEL) changes based on shot angle. What Hal was getting at is to get you to think of pool as being FINITE -- not INFINITE.

One thing that caught my attention was how cleanly the balls would fall - center hole. How on earth does this work? Why do those really hard shots go center-hole-Joel? I would ask, "Hal--- how on earth does this work?"

Hal's brow would tighten-up and he'd huff his chest up with a little impatience for my ignorance. He'd say, "Look -- did the ball go in the hole?"


"OK then.... stop asking stupid questions."

That was my first lesson with Hal. A lot of.... "Did the ball go? OK then--- the system knows so you don't have to."

If you're reading this blog, you're obviously aware of the non-stop debates on the pool forums regarding CTE. Rightly so, in all fairness. On a table diagram, this stuff doesn't come CLOSE to working out geometrically. After I felt I knew Hal well enough to confront him on this, I went to his house to ask him. He explained (BRIEFLY because he didn't want me to worry about things that didn't matter when it came to actually PLAYING pool) that it was a 3D proof, involving perspective. It was impossible to figure on a 2D layout. I've been working on CTE for about 6 years (non-stop) trying to figure the "Why." One thing I can say is that the "Why" is very, very complicated. There are so many variables, perspective shifts, OB sizes (perspective-wise) --- it'll make your head spin.

Hal told me it was a "perfect system" and I believe him. Many in the forums insist there are too many gaps geometrically and the shooter uses "subconscious adjustment" in order to pocket balls. Although i believe every player on earth uses subconscious adjustment to some degree, I think that's because of the variation in our setups. I do know that when I am VERY exacting in my setup and pivot, the ball goes-- as Hal always says. Therefore, we're missing something in our observations.

In conclusion, I will continue to make posts in this blog detailing my knowledge with CTE and diagrams that will help the average player reach a level of proficiency with the information. I hope you enjoy the blog.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

90/90 Sighting

I know there's been a lot of talk about eye placement, dominant eyes, etc, when it comes to pocketing balls. How does all of that apply to pivot aimers? Short answer: It's EVERYTHING.

Let's use Ron Vitello's 90/90 system as an example. We all know that the 90-position is exactly 1-tip within the inside edge of the cue ball or object ball (where the edge of your shaft is equal with the inside edge of the cue ball). Some people who learn Ron's 90/90 system call it "life changing" while others scratch their heads because they can't get it to work. It all comes down to perception.

When I first learned the 90/90 system, I wouldn't make all of the shots within the 90/90 range.

Ron Vitello would stand on the other side of the table and say, "Dave, your cue isn't even on the 90/90 alignment line!"

"Bullshit," I would think. "I'm staring straight down the line. What the hell is he talking about?!"

My face was at the inside edge of the cue ball looking straight to the inside edge of the object ball - or so I thought. What I later discovered was that Ron's 90/90 system WAS center-to-edge; it was just a different beginning reference (a different starting point, if you would). Ron also has a different pivot philosophy (hip pivoting all the time versus adjusting the pivot arc with the length of the shot). What this means was there was no way I was sighting the shot from the proper reference point.

Your head/eyes must switch from one side of the center-to-edge line (CTEL) to the other for proper sighting. For all shots that fall within the 90/90 range, your head/eyes must be on the OUTSIDE of the CTEL while determining your cue alignment. The moment the cut angle falls within 90/half or 90/reverse-90, your head/eyes must move to the INSIDE of the CTEL.

This follows basic center-to-edge methodology. All pivot systems with a 1/2 ball pivot such as CTE, Pro1, 90/90--- they're all the same core system. You can't change your perspective and keep everything else the same from one system to the other and expect to make the ball with the same frequency.

Anyways, I thought I'd throw that out there. For those who are knowledgeable with 90/90 and CTE - this might be an "Ah yeah?!" moment. For those who tried 90/90 and got tired of missing the 90/90 shots (the easy shots) and quit--- make this sighting adjustment and re-evaluate.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Welcome to Spidey's Place!

Well, everyone seems to have their own blog nowadays, so I thought I was missing-out by not sharing my private life with everyone. I thought long and hard about what I wanted this blog to be. After much thought, I came to the conclusion that I could care less if this blog turns out to be anything more than my personal uncensored ramblings about pool and life in general.

Over the years, I've been BLESSED by meeting some of the smartest minds in pool. Unlike some others, I've never taken the traditional path in improving my pool game. The "hit a million balls" theory sucks and it's horseshit. Sadly, hitting a million balls may not make you a player unless you have the visual acuity and coordination to apply the knowledge that each missed shot provides. If hitting a million balls would get you there, we'd have TENS OF THOUSANDS of pro-tour caliber players. We don't. Ain't that something?

One day, after smoking a cigarette and wondering why I wasn't getting to the next level after fifteen years of solid playing --- it came to me. Some days I "felt" the shot going in and some days I didn't. I realized that my perception of shots shifted from one day to the next. With this, I also found that when I aligned my body and aimed - it was an educated guess (albeit a good one). Sometimes it was good enough to pocket the ball and run out, and sometimes it wasn't.

I watched guys like Francisco Bustamante and wondered, "Why the hell does this guy address the cue ball to the left on every shot instead of CENTER!?" Logically speaking, why would anyone
NOT address the cue ball at center? Yet, the guy almost never misses. I then realized there's a lot more to this game than what I knew and more existed than what was being told.

Some people like to be spoon-fed information while others go and find it. Fortunately for me, I'm one who gets the info - even if it takes me a year to get it. This blog will hopefully shed some light on alternative ways of playing pool. I'll stop short of saying "this stuff is the only way to play pool" - because it's not. It's the best way, for sure. But, not the only way :)

Over time, I'm going to post information about pivot aiming. Forget aiming as being a linear process. In my opinion, aiming the cue ball down a line to a "contact point" might be the most ridiculous things ever taught in pool. In fact, I like to call it "bad information" because there are far too many variables to ever master (for most normal people). The secret to improvement is
gross simplification - and that's what this blog is about.