Shot selection is a very important part of a player's game. In the professional game just one poor shot can be the difference between winning and losing a match. As a beginner it is possible to win matches against theoretically stronger opponents just by playing the right shots at the right times. At all levels of the game a player can look to improve just by taking a little more care in the shot selection decision making process.
Common faults for 'shot selection'
Shown below are some of the faults I see when dealing with shot selection. A suggested correction (or something to think about) is shown underneath each common fault:
Fault: Having no method for shot selection
Making all shot selection decisions based on instinct is not the best approach if you lack experience. As you start compete against better players, this area of your game needs to improve if you are hoping to make the grade.
Shot selection is not an exact science. Experience, instinct and confidence are just some of the key factors that will often influence a player when making a decision. However, if you lack experience, do not trust your instinct or lack confidence in your ability, you could choose to apply simple mathematical principles to the process. For example, estimate in your mind how many times from 10 attempts you would expect to successfully make the shot you are facing (remember that you are less likely to be successful under pressure in a match than you are in practice). It may be that you decide to avoid all shots with an estimated success rate lower than 5/10 (50%). Many variables will influence the percentage you choose. For example, you may want to avoid all shots with an estimated success rate less than 70% if you will leave a great chance for your opponent if you were to miss, if you are adopting a defensive strategy, if it is the deciding frame, if it is a frame ball or if your confidence is low. If you can play a 'shot to nothing', taking the cue ball to a relatively safe position in the process of attempting a pot, then you may adjust this figure to only 20% because you will have reduced the risk. Just by using these simple principles you can improve your shot selection and hopefully win more games as a result.
Fault: Shot selection that is too attacking
This is a fault I tend to see a lot with young players. It seems that the approach with many of them is 'if I can see the object ball, then I should try to pot it'. They are trying to make pots which top level professionals would struggle to make. Your skill level and the potential for failure must be factored into the decision making process when deciding which shot to play. Most players learn the lesson the hard way - sitting down to watch their opponent scoring from their mistake!
Learn to be patient and remember it can sometimes take more courage to wait for a better opportunity to come along. Be aware that if you adopt a very open and aggressive style in practice, it will be difficult to change that mind set for a match. Your shot selection in practice should be as considered as it is in a match. Use risk management methods (as outlined above) to look at the potential cost and benefit of a given shot and call on your past experiences to make better shot selections more often. Sensible shot selection will greatly enhance your chances of winning.
Fault: Shot selection that is too defensive
This tends to be the exception rather than the rule. This fault usually occurs due to a lack of confidence in your game, or maybe as a result of you giving your opponent too much respect. It can also occur, with better players, as they become wrapped up in a pre-determined defensive strategy.
There are times when a defensive strategy is the right one. However, you must be careful not to become too defensive in waiting for the 'perfect' chance. As you climb the ranks these 'perfect' chances become few and far between and you realise that you have to pick the right time to spring from defence to attack. Strike a balance!
Fault: Not weighing up all the options
Quite often this fault occurs as a result of lack of experience, i.e. not having enough know-how to recognise all the options available to you. However, I also see many players missing out on great opportunities as a result of not giving each shot the due care and attention it deserves - we've all done it! It is worth remembering that as your game improves your number of options increase in line with your skill level. This may mean that you need a second or two longer to cover all the bases.
Get into the habit of taking a couple of extra seconds (not minutes like me) to take a look around the whole table before making your final decision. This needn't break your rhythm, as I suggest the time taken to form your cue action and to complete the shot should remain unchanged. The extra time should only be taken in the decision making process. An extra few seconds taken to make an informed decision, can save you many painful minutes sitting in your chair as you watch your opponent take an opportunity that should have been yours.
Fault: Choosing a shot that gives you limited positional options
Playing position for one ball only (though this will sometimes be your only option) is a difficult skill to master and it is so easy to run out of position.
To give yourself the best chance of break building success, when the opportunity arises, you should try and play your cue ball into areas that give you more than one option for your next pot. Watch the professionals and the good players in your own club in an attempt to get a better understanding of this skill.
Fault: Avoiding certain shots
We all have shots we like and shots we dislike. Quite often the 'correct' shot is avoided by players because they dislike the shot. If you are keen to improve, avoiding the correct shot because of personal preference needs to be addressed.
If you have shots you dislike you will tend to avoid them - on the practice table and especially in a match. You have to buck this trend and face your fears. This should be done on the practice table in solo play. Set up the shots you dislike and play them until you learn to love them (this takes hard work and dedication). Take feedback from your failures and look for solutions (a qualified coach can often help you in this area). Practice the shot until you are comfortable with it and it becomes just another shot. Only then will the shot be added to your options when you are deciding what shot to play in competition.
Fault: Failing to learn from experience
High risk shots that cost you frames and matches should be for ever in the memory. However, it seems that some people will keep playing the same risky shots even when it is clear that it continues to cost them - their approach tends to be 'I'll get the next one… the next one….the next one.'
The players who continue to improve and move on to the next level will quickly learn from any mistakes in shot selection. They will use their experience of past situations to modify their approach and make a more balanced decision the next time around. This does not mean that players will become more and more negative, but it does mean that they will start to make more informed decisions based on what they have experienced in past matches. The most driven individuals may even keep a written snooker diary so that key shots and experiences will be recorded and never forgotten. It is worth mentioning at this point that improvement in your shot selection is best shaped from your own experience. Looking to copy the shot selection of Stephen Hendry or Ronnie O Sullivan fails to take into account the difference in skill level. Your skill level must play a part in your decision making process - remember that Stephen and Ronnie are amongst the best players in the world and are capable of far more than you - for now at least!
Fault: Not taking the match situation in to account in your shot selection process
There is an argument that there is always only one correct shot. This is not always the case. The same shot in different circumstances may require a different decision. This is where your experience, instinct and confidence play a big part in the decision making process. A long 50/50 red with high reward may be the right shot to play early on in a long match if you are feeling confident. However, in a deciding frame when you have won the last three frames, freezing your opponent out in the process, it may be more prudent to shut your opponent out and avoid this risky shot selection.
There is often no right or wrong in making these decisions. You have to trust in your judgement, take all factors into account and play the shot you feel is right at the time. The decision is yours - your opinion is the only one that counts at this time. In two different matches, at different times, against different opponents, it could be that the identical shot requires two very different decisions. Sometimes you are left with no alternatives to a shot you are facing. The way the balls sometimes finish, you are left with only one option. The decision in these instances is how you choose to build yourself up for the shot. Are you going to be positive or negative? My advice would be to follow your routine, think positively and commit to the shot fully. This does not always guarantee success, but it does increase the likelihood of success. The key thing, from every shot if possible, is to learn and grow from the experience.
Fault: Taking liberties when making a shot selection
Remember that sometimes it only takes one shot to turn a whole match around. If you are playing a supposedly weaker opponent or you are comfortably ahead in a frame or a match, you should avoid the temptation to chase one pot too many. The comfort zone you find yourself in can disappear very quickly if a poor decision throws a lifeline to your opponent. In a very short time the pressure turns around and you find yourself on the back foot - all because of one poor decision.
Remain focused and be ruthless in the execution of your shot selection process and offer no hopes or lifelines to your opponent - regardless of the situation in the frame/match.
There are no points scored directly from a safety shot and this is why players have sought to become more aggressive in their shot selection. However, as you improve you will start to see that there are often indirect rewards available from appropriate shot selection and patience. The best players in the world are fantastic potters and break builders, but they also have the experience and skill to know when to attack and when to defend and when to change from one to another. It is this all round game and sound shot selection that allows them to get the chances to make the big breaks that the game now sees on a regular basis. Don't underestimate the importance of your decisions on the snooker table. Work to improve your shot selection by reading and thinking about the points above and you will be taking great steps towards becoming a better player.