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.
"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.