By: Erik Hjorleifson
Earlier this week the organizers of the upcoming U.S. Open 9 ball tournament announced that they will be changing the racking rules from the the traditional racking the 1 on the spot to racking the 9 on the spot. Fundamentally I think this is a positive change but I would like to scrutinize the fact that this change was announced less than 1 week before the start of the tournament. Of course in life and particularly in billiards, nothing is perfect and at least this is a step in the right direction.
Naturally with the announcement of the rule change the players including myself have hit the practice tables to see what kind of effective break they can use. These particular breaking stipulations have only been used in one tournament in the past which is the Mosconi Cup.
The problem that has arisen when breaking from the box, particularly a smaller break box as is stipulated in this years U.S. Open, Is that the 9 ball receives way more action than normal. This is because the back ball in the rack is being driven to the back rail and back into the rack. This causes the nine to track towards the top pockets and sometimes the side pockets. This has been a proven fact and was shown in the 2013 Mosconi Cup, below is what Jayson Shaw had to say on facebook a few days ago.
"Well last 2 nights I've been playing cheap sets against Jeremy Sossie. Good practice coming up to the us open just wanted to post a few things about the rules at the us open 9 ball championships so here goes.
They have changed the rules to 9 on the spot this year and I think it's a great idea to stop people cheating the rack and now trying make it a real game, so why should the 9ball count on the break?
I have played 6 sets in 2 days race to 11 and have made 9ball in the corners where you rack and also where you break from 4 or 5 times a set. Personally I think it's a joke the 9 counts on the break. Why fix one rule and still play rack your own but the 9 counts. And every set I was making the 9 ball it was consistent there was about 10 people watching each night."
Shaw's post has over 100 comments and many top players gave their opinions. The controversy has been brought forward because another stipulation is that 9 ball counts in all pockets except for the bottom two. As you can see in the post, Shaw claims that he is making multiple 9 balls each set he has played. Even though he knows this is a big edge for him he feels it is unfair and would not want to be on the receiving end of 9 ball break, or be the one to do it himself because it is not a skilled way to victory.
The overwhelming response is that people believe the 9 should not count on the break. Eventually one of the tournament directors commented and said that the rules would not be changed. Their reasoning was that the 9 ball break is exciting for fans and needs to remain an aspect of the game. My response to that is that so are hole in ones in golf but they are so rare that they generally do not affect the overall outcome. If what Shaw is saying is correct, the frequency of the [9 ball hole in one] is way too frequent to be ignored.
Personally I have practiced the break for about 5 hours so far leading up to the tournament. I have tried a lot of different breaks, including a cut break in an attempt to make the 1 in the side. I have noticed that it is very hard to make the 1 in the side when breaking from the box as opposed to being able to break from anywhere. I think the goal of moving the 9 to the spot is to stop the wing from going in and that is accomplished.
In my opinion though, players should still be allowed to break from anywhere and in doing so they will go to the side rail and try to make the 1 in the side. This break is relative to speed and exact angle of contact rather than making the wing ball, which is all relative to the way the balls are racked and takes a lot less skill in execution.
Appleton, Shaw and Immonen in fact all suggested that players should be able to break from anywhere and that magic racks are used. I also noticed how much harder it is to rack the balls when the 9 is on the spot. The end result of all of this is that I think you will be seeing a lot of breaks that are struck exactly how a player wants but they won't make a ball, which is a negative consequence of the new breaking rules.
I would like to add that some people may perceive that all of this talk has the undertones of whining or complaining. In reality it is only players voicing their honest opinion about what they think the fairest solution is to the break requirements in 9 ball, which has seen great evolution in the last 5 years. Finally, I would like to remind everyone that there are still lots of balls to be pocketed after the break and we are all looking forward to a great week of pool starting on the 13th of October. I will be playing this year as I usually do; stay and check in daily for updates.