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Dear Mitch, 

If someone is really good in geometry, could he have an edge over other kids in shooting pool?  (I'm not talking about anything with swimming pools, I'm talking about the game where you have to get the balls into the pockets on the big table.) 

Can't wait to hear, because I'm good in geometry so I'm hoping you think Yes!

Christopher S.


Dear Christopher S., 

Very interesting question!

Well, being good in geometry certainly won't hurt your skill as a pool player, and it may indeed help.  In fact, it may help a lot.  BUT... 

There are other factors that matter as much as a player's geometric skill, and almost all of these factors can be developed with practice, but some are difficult to develop.

Pool, or 'billiards' is a sport.  Now, there have certainly been (and still are) a number of well-known champions who have not been particularly athletic-looking in the traditional sense; in fact, some have been so famous for being overweight that they acquired a nickname based on their size (such as "Minnesota Fats", and there have been champions who smoke cigarettes (a terrible idea), and even a couple of excellent players who were missing a limb.  These are not features often seen, for example, on a basketball court.  Of course, shooting pool does not require any fast running or high jumping, so this wider range of physical make-ups is easy to understand.  

BUT, certain traits are advantageous:  Sharp eyesight, both for close and (relative) distance perception (which, in standard geometry, is less important), coordination (just because your talent in geometry helps you understand the angle does not mean you will automatically be able to get your arms to shoot right at the target your brain knows is the correct one.)  There is stamina (shooting pool can require several hours of standing, moving around the table, and focusing sharply), strength (there are some shots which benefit from a strike of great force), and a range of other sports-related physical features.

Such 'features' can help; though they are not necessary.  For example, I think height and the length of a player's limbs can enable a him or her to have to rely less on the use of a mechanical bridge than a more petite player; mechanical bridges are fine, but most serious players will tell you that mechanical bridges are not quite as perfect as the bridge one can make with one's hand.  Also, there is the rule that one foot must be on the ground when a player makes a shot, so the longer one's legs, the less likely that rule will present an issue.

Other than that -- practice, practice, practice! 

I do not know if any of the great pool players have been known for their mathematical skills, even in the area of geometry.  But, through practice, practice, practice -- and a desire to improve, they develop a feel for angles that works. 

By the way, I happen to enjoy shooting pool.  In fact, for years it was among my favorite pastimes.  But I do not see that I am particularly skillful.  Sometimes I win, sometimes I don't, but I always enjoy playing.  I wish you the same!

Hope this helps,