One time, only a couple years after I started playing pool, I had a dream. In the dream I was playing a league match which was handicapped, and I was barely a D player who was up against a B. When we started play, I became so zeroed in on the object ball that everything else in the room faded away, and the table seemed very bright. No matter how far away the balls were, they looked so close. I had all of these ideas about how to get position for the next ball, and wherever I imagined the cue ball, it arrived. These ideas just magically materialized in my brain as I glided around the table with a relaxed confidence. In the last game I rolled too far for position and hooked myself, so I elevated my cue and massed the next ball in, running out for the win. After the match, which I dominated, my opponent walked up to me with his outstretched hand and said scornfully, “You’re the best D player I’ve ever seen. Do you want to play a little more?”
And then I woke up. Except that I was never really asleep, and this was not a dream. I had hit the nirvana of pool (Dead Stroke. Dead Punch. Unconscious.) for the first time in my pool career. Me and the B player did play another set, and much to his disbelief, I played like an average D. Of course he accused me of sandbagging, but I could tell my obvious lack of skill was confusing him. Needless to say, I lost the set, he complained to the league director and I remained a D because that’s what I truly was.
So what was that dreamlike trance that I stumbled upon and, more importantly, how do I get it back? That, my friends, is the hook. When heroin addicts speak of their first high, and how they spend the rest of their addiction trying to feel like that again, I know what they mean. I am chasing the dragon of Dead Punch.
Over the years I’ve hit various stages of it, from full subconscious operation to extremely focused relaxation, and every time I’ve tried to study the feeling so that I can recreate it. The following is a list of the things that I’ve noticed when the rest of the world falls away, and it’s just me and whitey:
-My body is relaxed when I’m over the ball. It’s resting on the table with little to no tension.
-My breathing is even and deep; a low diaphragm breathing that expands my stomach. My body naturally exhales right before I deliver the final stroke.
-My eyes move easily from the cueball to the object ball during my practice strokes, and then lock onto the smallest spot on the object ball until the shot is complete.
-My whole upper body feels like one unit. My dominant eye, arm and cue are a single mechanism made to follow straight through the point on the object ball.
-My thoughts about the shot are clear and decisive, but when I get down my brain is virtually empty. There is no doubt or hesitation.
-My arm swings straight through the ball, and I let it. My brain has worked out the speed, and I trust myself.
-Nothing exists outside the four walls of the table. I cannot be distracted and there is no place I’d rather be.
-In my head I am rooting for my opponent. I want their best game, and I don’t care if I win or lose.
I’ve often wondered what dead stroke is, and why it has to be so elusive. I’ve come to believe that dead stroke is merely a peek at your potential greatness; a tease that keeps you coming back for more. People often say pool is an addiction and, like drugs, dead punch gives you a dizzying high followed by a momentous crash back to Earth. It leaves you feeling empty and wanting more, and the only way to fill that void is to play until you experience it again. It’s this feeling that urges players to aspire to greatness despite the lack of money or glory left in the sport of pool. That’s why the best advice I can give you is to keep chasing that dragon, my friends.