Cueing In

When one walks into Brent Palmer’s home, it becomes very obvious what has captured his interest. Sitting in the middle of a room planned to resemble a tastefully designed pool hall is a pool table.

During one of his sessions at his pool table, Brent confidently ran a table of 9-balls, one through nine, in numerical order without missing a single shot during his only demonstration that day. Having his own setup is very convenient considering how often he practices. “I play every day for one to two hours,” he explained. “I love shooting pool, and I shoot pretty good — not too bad at all.” Brent started playing pool at the age of 14. “In Oklahoma City, where I grew up, there was a pool hall close to the high school,” he stated. “It became a hangout. I’m mathematical and love science and physics.

1015midMost people think of pool as being based on geometry, but it’s based more on physics.” Brent uses his mathematical mind not just to play pool but also to make a living. He is self-employed in his accounting business, Small Business Analysis. In addition to playing and becoming proficient in pool as a child, Brent also played the piano with a great deal of talent. He took piano lessons for five years but, according to him, he never listened to the lessons. He possesses a natural ability toward music and can play by ear.

Brent expanded his skill when he learned chords from a teacher. “I’ve been a lot of things, and was a professional piano player in a piano bar on Lincoln Avenue in Oklahoma City for only three weeks,” he laughed. “I can play the guitar, harmonica and piano, but they aren’t my thing. If I had to sit down for hours to play the piano it would just be drudgery to me.” However, playing pool for hours is something Brent easily does. When playing in tournaments, he shoots on a Masters level. “There are classes of pool if you are not a professional,” he stated. “C player is the lowest. You can step up to a B, then a B-plus, step up to A and then A-plus. The highest you can go is the Masters, which is professional-quality play.”

In the U.S., the national organizations for pool play are the American Pool Association and Billiard Congress of America. “APA is more for amateur play,” Brent described, “and as you progress and get better, you can move into BCA. Both are national organizations, so no matter where you live in the United States you can join one of the two. You play on a team of five people who play other teams in the same level. Each man will play all five of the men on the other team, so whichever team wins the most games wins that match.”

Brent started playing in competitions 25-30 years ago. Although many players do so for the money, that was not Brent’s focus. “Shooting pool is a mental challenge, and sometimes you’re not always up to your peak. But I usually cut the mustard, or I try to. There are some people who play for money to mark themselves as to how good they are,” he clarified. “If you shoot for money you know you’re getting the best game out of them.”

There is another reason money comes into play in the game of pool. There are some con men always on the lookout for their next mark. A common practice is for someone to pretend not to shoot well in order to encourage another player to bet money. “I’ve never done that,” Brent declared. “I’ll shoot my best game and if someone wants to shoot for money, then I’ll put up the money. But I don’t try to con anyone.”

Brent recently had an experience with someone he called a hustler because of his habit of pretending he doesn’t shoot that good. “I love hustlers because usually I shoot better than they do, but they don’t know it,” Brent observed. “But, they can beat most people. He wanted to try and hustle me. I agreed to shoot with him, and we were to play for $200. I know that’s not a lot of money for a race to five. That is, the first one to win five games wins the match and the money. I ended up beating him 5 to 1. I’ve had that happen several times, especially by young guys. Boy, do they get upset when they lose their money!”

Brent’s game in pool is 9-ball. Balls have to be shot in order of one through nine. In simple terms, playing pool seems straightforward. There is a cue ball and an object ball. Using the cue stick or cue, you hit the cue ball, which shoots your object ball into the pocket. “Whoever makes the 9-ball wins the game,” he clarified. “No matter how many balls you make, if you don’t make the 9-ball, you’re not going to win.”1015mis-2

The level of skill comes into play in using the cue ball to hit the object ball in such a way that your cue ball goes where you want it to. “When the cue ball touches the object ball, the cue ball is always going to veer off in a 90-degree angle,” Brent explained. “That’s physics, and it’s going to happen. When it goes off at that angle, you want the cue ball to go to a place on the table that sets you up for the next shot. If you don’t, in 9-ball for example, there is no sense in making the ball if you can’t get on the next ball — if you can’t run the table out and make the 9-ball. So, position of the cue ball for the next ball is as important as making a ball.”

The cue ball can manipulate what happens on the table. “The cue ball will start out at a 90-degree angle,” Brent continued, “but, if it’s spinning forward, it will start curving forward. If it’s spinning backward, it will start coming backward. If it has a left spin or right spin when it hits the rail, it will spin off to the left or right. There are a lot of calculations for most shots.”

Some players are so good, they can win the game on their first shot at the table. Brent is one of those guys. However, there is an element in the game that gives everyone equal odds at the beginning. That is the break. “When you get really good, the most important shot is the break,” Brent stated. “No one can control a break. There can be billions of configurations that the balls will go into, and I’ve never seen two alike.”

Shooting pool is a mental challenge, and this mathematician knows how to work the numbers.

Written by Betty Tryon.