I love pot shots. Scoring a no-drift forehand cut at 6-6 is about as sweet as it gets! In this article I cover the pros and cons of pot shots, the appropriate frequency of use and discuss specific examples. First a definition of what a pot shot is and is not:
What is a pot shot?
A pot shot is an unexpected shot that is taken earlier in the offensive cadence than normal and is usually executed away from the centerline. Pot shots can be planned or used opportunistically if the defense is out of position. A pot shot does not simply have a shortened release nor is it a desperation chase.
A basic pot shot is illustrated in the following sequence:
1) Still puck in back-right quadrant
2) Two second pause
3) Drift to centerline
4) Time delay
6) Still puck in back-right quadrant
7) Right-wall-under immediately executed with no pause, no drift and no time-delay
The pros and cons of using pot shots
- They surprise and catch the defense unprepared
- Taking shots at various times strains the defensive player by forcing him to constantly focus
- Straights executed from further back sometimes have better angles
- Over banks executed from further back have more obtuse angles, which means a wider margin of error for over-the-mallets
- Higher degree of difficulty
- Taking shots from further back on the table gives the defense more time to react
- Under banks executed from further back have less acute angles, which means the defense does need to move as far to block them
Use in small doses
In my previous instructional articles I have advocated taking around 80-90% of shots from the centerline while using a controlled attack. Controlled shots executed at the centerline are normally more effective than pot shots because of a few reasons:
- Improved accuracy and consistency
- More acute angles on under banks
- Less reaction time for defense
- The defense is more likely to flinch
For players who primarily use a controlled attack at the centerline, pot shots can add another layer of deception, but only a handful per game should be used. Offense should consist of around 10-20% pot shots, which is a significant enough frequency of use that pot shots deserve a legitimate strategy, and some love.
Why pot shots work and upper limit frequency
Surprising the defense by breaking an established cadence is the most compelling reason to take a pot shot. Because of this, their use should not exceed 50%. When pots shots exceed 50% almost all of the unexpectedness is lost, which is equal to attempting more difficult shots with little to no benefit.
Pot shot opposites: Ehab Shoukry and Wil Upchurch
Master elite players normally shoot between 10-20% pot shots. Wil Upchurch and Ehab Shoukry are both top-5 rated players with great offenses; they are also on different ends of the pot shot spectrum. Wil has one of the quickest paced offenses of all time and routinely uses pot shots as part of his deranged attacks. On the other hand, Ehab has one of the most controlled offenses. He relies on precision, power and gains deception from his releases while he executes almost all of his shots from a planned and controlled drift.
At the 2012 Houston World Championships, these two players met in a clash of styles during the winners’ bracket round of 8:
Here is a breakdown of the frequency of pot shots in this match:
Wil – 99 total shots/34 pots shots: 34% pot shots
Ehab – 95 total shots/12 pots shots: 12% pot shots
Wil has the best pot shots in the history of air hockey, yet he only executed them 34% of the time, well below 50%. Wil understands that surprise is crucial to their effectiveness.
What can be learned from Ehab’s meager 12% usage? It is clear that even the most controlled attacks benefit from using pot shots. Ehab’s pot shots were actually more effective than Wil’s based on the success rate of pot shots attempted – this was largely due to Ehab’s infrequent use of them.
A deeper look at Wil and Ehab
Below are four short clips of standout pot shots from Ehab and Wil’s match along with my analysis:
Ehab executes a normal left-wall-over, then a chase cut and pot shot right-wall-under. The pot shot in this instance can be more specifically defined as a one-two. This sequence works because Ehab generally catches the puck and resets before drifting. It is especially effective because the chase cut produces momentary chaos; Ehab capitalizes on this with an immediate pot shot.
After Ehab attempts a normal off-speed cut, he has multiple options:
- Grab the puck, establish control, drift the puck, then execute a shot
- Drift the puck without establishing control, then execute a shot
- Execute a pot shot
Ehab elects to hit a pot shot after circling around the puck. The circling movement causes Wil to think that Ehab is going to grab the puck and reset. Ehab capitalizes on Wil’s lapse of focus by sinking a textbook pot shot left-wall-under.
After a successful charge, Wil grabs the puck at the centerline, which leaves the puck in a still position for a fraction of a second. He then quickly transitions into a right-wall-over. I use the term “stop-and-go” to define this sequence. The stop-and-go pot shot causes Ehab to overreact to the bank. This happens because Wil normally drifts after grabbing the puck.
This sequence is sick! Only Wil can pot shot a forehand left-wall-over and follow it with a one-two left-wall-under smash at the rail.
Pot shot percentages by other Masters:
Danny Hynes vs. Billy Stubbs: 2013 Houston City Open: finals, second set
Danny – 192 total shots/35 pots shots: 18% pot shots
Billy – 173 total shots/21 pots shots: 12% pot shots
Danny Hynes vs. Billy Stubbs: 2012 Houston Worlds: losers’ bracket, loser to 5/6
Danny – 75 total shots/8 pots shots: 11% pot shots
Billy – 63 total shots/5 pots shots: 8% pot shots
Davis Lee vs. Tim Weissman: 2012 Houston Worlds: winners’ bracket round of 4
Davis – 174 total shots/14 pots shots: 8% pot shots
Tim – 183 total shots/19 pots shots: 10% pot shots
Brian Accrocco vs. Keith Fletcher: 2012 Houston Worlds: 9/12 spin-off finals
Brian – 124 total shots/15 pots shots: 12% pot shots
Keith – 110 total shots/11 pots shots: 10% pot shots
How to develop pot shots
Player of all skill levels should execute between 10-20% pot shots. Straying from this range is usually symptom of an overly conservative or reckless offense. Mimicking and studying top players’ pot shots, like the ones in the above videos, is a good starting point for amateurs. Pros and above should be spontaneous and develop novel pot shots through experimentation. The exact frequency of use does not need to be known during a match while in the heat of battle. Once a player is aware of the appropriate frequency, a feel for what is correct will develop over time.
*Originally published February 19, 2013