The pool that you can play one-handedly is not the same as the one you can splash around in. The one I'm talking about involves balls, pockets and beer.
I was first introduced to the practice of playing pool with one hand in Indonesia. One of my Dad’s employees managed to pot all of his balls and the black using only his right hand. He was so tactful that he managed to foul on the black too. This allowed my father to save face and also allowed me to stay on the table and get my arse kicked by a little Indonesian girl instead.
Playing one-handed pool against someone using both hands is an act of dominance; you’re giving yourself, or at least imitating, a handicap. It’s showing off.
When both players play with one hand something different happens. It is actually a great leveller. Most good pool players are good because they have practiced more. Most people don’t practice with one hand and so both players have to re-learn how to play.
There are two main ways to hold a pool cue when playing with one hand.
In the first method you hold the cue at the tipping point so it is level and balanced. Approach the shot as normal with the cue under the arm.
If you are feeling a little more adventurous you might want to hold it overhand like a javelin thrower. This allows a downwards stroke on the ball and is useful for applying spin and swerve. It also means you can rest the cue end on your shoulder.
When you go for a shot the cue tip will stray across the white ball. To avoid this affecting your shot, concentrate on the rhythm of the tips movement. This is normally in time with your breathing. Decide in which part of your breath’s rhythm to hit; and push at that moment. Short taps work best because any follow through is going to wobble as well. Another reason not to push through the shot is that you don’t want rip the felt; thankfully, so far, I haven’t.
Once you get used to playing one handed pool it is quite easy to do. It looks impressive but it's just practice. I am now better at playing one-handed pool than regular pool, but most people find that playing one-handed pool helps them become better at the normal version. It is therefore occasionally used as a training method. (The snooker player Ronnie O'Sullivan has reportedly been able to make a 100 break on the practice table using only one hand; not that Ronnie O'Sullivan would ever show off.)
There is, however, one overwhelming advantage for playing one-handed pool. The games last longer. Near where I live a pool game costs one pound. In an evening we might play twenty games, this had become an unacceptable extravagance.
One day my friend, Avi, suggested that we play with one-handed to save money, and so for a couple of months that’s how we played at our local.
Then, one day, our regular pub was closed due to a women's darts competition.
- 'Don’t worry' said I, 'there is a wonderful little pub just a few hundred yards away called “The Little Driver”.'
Truth be told I prefer this pub to our local. I went there just as it re-opened and was one of the first people the new landlord
met. The new landlord looks and acts like Ozzy Osbourne
, and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind being compared to him. Like most older rockers he is totally polite
and welcoming at all times, and by 'all times' I mean that he is not adverse to a few lock-ins
We arrived to find a new bartender on duty, I was surprised because I had asked recently if he had any jobs going. The bar was as empty as normal with just a spattering of drunkards sitting quietly in the corners. We made our way over to the pool table and began playing in our usual fashion; this is when the new bartender took notice.
Andy was young, shifty and had enough grease in his hair to attract drilling offers from Exxon. He didn’t seem to do a great deal of work behind the bar.
- 'So, who are you here to meet?' he piped up in a cockney accent.
My friend, who is from Israel
, did not acknowledge the secretive tone of voice
- 'Nobody, I am here for a drink with my friend.'
- 'So do you play a lot of pool?'
- 'Yes, we play most nights.'
- 'With one hand.'
- 'So you don’t want to be introduced to anyone then?'
I looked around the nearly empty pub.
- 'Introduced to who?' I said, my curiosity finally piqued.
- 'You’re honestly telling me you don’t know what playing one-handed pool means in the East End?'
The expression on my face must have said that I didn't because a moment later he produced a book. The book was black, hardback and didn’t have a printers logo or coversheet. Inside were bound black and white photos, each one of them signed. Andy didn’t let us touch the book but turned the pages for us under the pool table lamp.
It was a 'Mob Book'.
Reggie and Ronnie Kray's Gang had pressured some poor printer into producing it for them. On the centre pages there was a photo of a huge, powerfully built man glaring at the camera over a pool table. In one hand he held a cue, in the other a Cuban cigar, they were the same thickness.
- 'He is the world one-handed pool champion and the current head of the Kray Empire,' said Andy proudly, 'playing one-handed pool is the only way you get to meet him. I‘m here to tell people where we meet.'
Andy explained to us that he was the best friend of the son of one of the higher-ups. He showed us all their photos. It seems as though the book is used as a membership pass, if you’re not in it then you’re not a member. Believe it or not Guy Ritchie was lurking in the corner of one page (he wasn’t a member, he just got in on the photo). If you didn’t know the context of the book you would think it was a family photo album, almost all the images were of people having fun in a pub.
Andy was quite charming; but the end of the evening he suggested, with the effortless importance of someone who is quite powerful, that we should think twice about playing one-handed pool in future.
We have heeded that advice.