Billiard Clinic
by Erik Barzeski of

If you’re looking for a summary, here goes: if possible, take the class. If not possible, try to anyway.

Last week I mentioned that I’d be taking a class from BCA Master Instructor Tom Simpson. Well, I’ve taken the class, and in his words (and those on the certificates I received), I’m now qualified to forever beat people with a stick.

What follows is, as promised, a healthy review of the class(es). If you’re the impatient type who wants a better pool game, then here is the executive summary: it was worth every penny.

The Classes

I attended three days of classes at Great Lakes Pool & Billiard Academy near Erie, PA. The schedule is rather simple: Day One is “Rock Solid Fundamentals.” Day Two is “Controlling the Balls.” Day Three is “Secret Aiming Systems of the Pros.” In the words of GLPBA co-owner Chris Kelly, “the first day we abuse your body, the second day we abuse your mind, and the third day your head explodes.” For the most part, that summary suits the classes to a “T.”

After warming up on the first day, students are called to a table and recorded from various angles shooting various straight-in shots – stops, follows, and draws. This video is then tucked away, never to be seen again… until later that day.

During the first day, you’ll work on several things, one at a time, building to a full stroke. First, you’ll practice what Tom feels are three vital points in the swing: the set, the pause, and the finish. These points occur at the cue ball address, at the end of the backswing, and at the end of the hit stroke. After learning these, students are sent to practice them by stroking Elephant Balls up and down the table. After awhile, the next fundamental is taught, and students work on a drill to ingrain that feeling. And so on throughout the day.

Day One, “Rock Solid Fundamentals,” has no ball-pocketing pressure – it’s all about arranging your body around your stick in a way that allows you to groove what Simpson calls “The Magic Move” – a simple hinging of the elbow to stroke through the cue ball. At the end of the day, students gather to watch the video. They’re encouraged to point out the flaws, many (or most!) of which have been eliminated throughout the day.

On the second day, you’re filmed again and the film is immediately reviewed. The difference one day of learning and drills can have is proof positive that Simpson’s methods work. Though I still had a list of three things to work on, I improved dramatically in how I was stroking the cue. I also happened to make a few more of the shots during the filming of the video, so I knew before we’d watched that I was better off.

Day Two, “Controlling the Balls,” is all about understanding a variety of topics, including throw (collision- and spin-induced), caroms, billiards, combos, and the most important shot in pool: the stun shot. We also learned how to identify dead balls in clusters. Several drills to teach each of these were used, and for the first time, we were asked to pocket some balls at our individual tables.

I must admit that having done quite a bit of reading prior to taking this class, much of what we learned I already knew. However, “knowing” something from reading a book and seeing it in action are two very different things: this class provided me the perfect opportunity to put several of the things I’d read about into action and to see if the universe behaved as expected. For the most part, it did.

Most people, however, haven’t read quite as much as I have. “Controlling the Balls” proved invaluable to other students in the class. We also learned how to jump balls – something you can’t learn from a book – and I found the practice both fun and worthwhile.

Day Three, “Secret Aiming Systems of the Pros,” contains the most secrets, and I’ll respect Simpson’s right to earn a fair living by sharing these secrets with you himself. Suffice to say: these ain’t your grandma’s ghost ball aiming methods.

Some of the methods taught in this class are certainly of the mind-blowing variety and are so foolproof even a fool (that’d be me!) could make more balls than ever before and with stunning regularity. When I missed, well, it was because of one of two problems: I didn’t trust the system or my fundamentals broke down.

The Man

Tom Simpson, as I noted above, is one of ten BCA Master Instructors in the world. He founded Elephant Balls and invented their Practice Balls and Ghostball Aim Trainer products. He also takes care of marketing and distribution for the Stinger Jump/Break cue that Mike Massey and several other big name cue warriors use. You may also know him through his instructional column in Inside Pool and several regional pool magazines.

And through it all, he’s a patient, understanding, intelligent, and adept teacher, and each of those qualities comes in handy at various times. Simpson is not an example of “those who can’t teach” like many others in the world. His teaching approach is structured and intense yet at the same time flexible and easy to understand.

The Results

Though I’ve played only minimally since taking the class, I’ve already seen a fairly large improvement in my stroke, ball-pocketing, aiming, and overall game.

On the first day, I was swiping across the ball. After changing a few things (stance, grip, etc.), my swing plane is near vertical and, best yet, I can sense when I’ve erred and work on my faults in the coming days, weeks, and months. In other words, not only has my stroke already improved exponentially, but I now have the tools and knowledge to continue to improve. With a regular lesson schedule, I should continue to improve for quite some time.

I joked with Simpson and Chris Kelly that my aiming system prior to entering class was the “H&H” system – “hit and hope.” Truth be told, I had only ever really heard of the ghost ball method and was using that method as well as I could. The aiming systems from day three have completely supplanted that method, however, and I now have my choice of two methods (I didn’t personally care for the middle one of the three). These aiming systems are so interesting and in a more than a few ways so fabulous that they’re nearly worth the price of admission themselves!

The Conclusion

Simpson primarily teaches out of his Academy in Columbus, OH, though he can also be booked to teach classes at a pool room near you. I attended my class near Erie, PA and he has classes booked in Portland, Atlanta, Chicago, and more locations throughout 2006.

The point, simply, is this: even if you have to book a flight and a hotel in Columbus, OH, this class is worth taking. If you’re even the slightest bit serious about your pool game, and regardless of your skill level, this class will improve your game and take you to the next step.
Tom is working on a fourth class, and I hope to be one of the first students to take that class when it’s available. Book it!