by Ken Tewksbury, Master Instructor
#1. When you come to the table in a game of eight ball with the table still open, you have a tremendous opportunity. Don't necessarily take the easiest shot available to you. First look over the table carefully to see if the stripes or solids will offer an easier run out, and if at all possible, select that group.
#2. JUST THE BASICS: practicing fundamentals may not seem to be much fun for most of us, but without a proper stance, bridge, and grip you will continue to struggle with inconsistency even as you learn more about the game. Take time to establish the right foundation, and always go back to check your fundamentals when you find yourself in a slump. One of the best drills is to practice relatively long straight in shots, so that your ability to judge cut angles is not part of the equation. Any inaccuracy in your stroke will be highlighted with this exercise.
#3. MECHANICAL BRIDGE: since everyone hates to use the mechanical bridge, the first and best tip for how to use it correctly is to avoid using it at all. Therefore, when you're playing shape for a shot, try to notice whether you'll have to use the bridge, and see if there is an alternative. When you must use the bridge, avoid using any english at all, if possible. Hold the handle of the bridge flat on the table with your non-shooting hand angled out of the way, line up your eyes directly over your cue, hold the cue with an overhand grip, keeping your elbow out to the side like a chicken wing. Rehearse making a straight stroke, and then shoot your shot with confidence, concentrating on speed.
#4. BRIDGE DISTANCE: if your shooting has become a little sloppy lately, don't forget to check the distance between your bridge hand and the cueball. A long bridge magnifies any wobble in your stroke. Some professionals have developed a personal style with a bridge ten or more inches from the ball, but they are already making all of their shots where you can place your bridge hand on the table comfortably, seven inches is a better place to start.
#5. LINING UP A SHOT: when you are lining up a shot in the game of one pocket be precise. Aim for a particular pocket and carefully setup your shot with that pocket in mind. On normal shots, aim precisely so the objectball splits the middle of the pocket without hitting either side rail. That way if your aim is slightly off, the ball will still fall. This will help you build precision and confidence in your aiming.
#6. FIND YOUR DOMINANT EYE: in any sport involving aim, it is important to know which of your eyes is dominant. To determine which eye is dominant, hold a finger out at arm length so that it is covering an object in the distance. Now close your eyes one at a time. The eye that still covers the object when you have the other eye closed is dominant. Make a point to consistently get your dominant eye lined up over your cue, to ensure proper aim.
#7. GET A GOOD GRIP: although many great players have succeeded with unorthodox grips, it is best for most of us to practice a simple, consistent method. If you hold the cue too tightly, you won't be able to release your wrist and produce a smooth stroke. On the other hand, if you hold your cue very loose, you won't be able to be precise on shots that require power. Most experts agree that the ideal grip keeps the cue mainly in the fingers, not the palm, and leaves the wrist flat in the plane formed by the upper and lower arm. On shots that don't require a stretch, you should try to grip the cue so that your elbow forms approximately a 90-degree angle at the point where the tip is nearly touching the cueball.
#8. PICKING YOUR CUE: choosing a cue is mostly a matter of finding one that feels comfortable to you. In most pool halls, if you ask around you will find several people who have sticks for sale. If you are a good negotiator, these will be much cheaper than a new cue stick. And you can try them out before buying. When you buy a cue stick from a store, generally they will not let you put chalk on the tip or let you hit any balls. If you're relatively new to the sport, buy something relatively inexpensive. $40 to $80 should be the range. Just check to make sure that the cue is straight, and feels good in your hands. Choosing one of the relatively well-known brand names is a good assurance of quality. Avoid cues from department stores such as sears or K-mart, and definitely don't but anything that breaks into more than two pieces. To be more proficient at the game, you'll probably want to make a larger investment in a new or used cue, but by then you'll know exactly what you want and like. Then you can use your first cue for a break cue (to save wear on your tip), or turn around and sell it to another beginner.
#9. CHECK ALIGNMENT: This is a drill recommended by Jerry Briesath, one of the game's preeminent teachers. Place the cueball on the spot, and bank it down the table to the end rail. Hold your pose after you finish your follow through, and let the cueball come back to hit your tip. It didn't? You didn't aim at the dead center of the end rail, you didn't hit the cueball dead center, or your stroke isn't straight. (Or maybe the table isn't level; shoot firmly enough so that isn't an issue) notice whether you cue followed straight over the spot or veered to one side. Keep working on this every time you have a practice session until the cueball hits your tip almost every time.
#10. GHOST BALLS: The simplest and best way to visualize cut shots is to imagine a "ghost ball" frozen to the objectball so that they are pointed towards the pocket. Shoot the cueball along the line that will allow it to "become" the ghost ball, using center english, and you will split the pocket. Learning to adjust that aiming point when you are using left or right english at various speeds is one of the subtlest aspects of pool.
#11. LEFT AND RIGHT CUTS: When you practice a shot, do you make a point to work on it with the cut going the opposite way? Even though the mirror image shot is fundamentally the same, you may find that your success rate is much higher cutting the ball to the right than to the left, or vice versa. This can happen because of your stance at the table, or how you align you eyes over the cue.
#12. ADVANCED PLAY; Try to plan your position play two balls in advance, rather than just one. For example, if you're playing nine-ball and are currently shooting at the seven, you should be thinking, "what shape do I need to get on the eightball so that I can make it easily and also get a good shot at the nine-ball?" if you think only one ball ahead, you may have a good, but very straight shot on the eightball. Which may not leave you enough angle to move the cueball for a good shot on the nine-ball. This may seem like a lot of thinking to do on every shot, but with practice you'll find that you may recognize many situations intuitively. One of the best drills is to throw three balls out on the table and run them in order, placing the cueball in hand for the first shot. You want to try to run them out with out having any hard shots! When you can do this add another ball. You must do this drill twenty times, and to move on to another ball you will need to run out three balls 15 out of 20 times!
#13. ADVANCE PLANNING: In eightball, it is important to have a general plan for your run out before you start shooting. One of the most basic concepts is to identify a "key ball" which you will shoot immediately before the eightball, leading to an easy shot to win the game. Try to work backwards from that ball to find a sequence that will not require any heroic shots. Of course, if you find yourself out of position, you will have to reevaluate, and determine whether another sequence is available to you, or whether to play a safety.
#14. BANK SHOT: Bank shots are affected by the speed at which you shoot them. At soft speed, the ball will rebound from the cushion at approximately the same angle it came in. when you shoot harder, the ball digs in to the cushion, making it rebound at a steeper angle. You can use this to your advantage when aiming a bank shot. If it appears that when you shoot the ball straight into the rail it will go wide of the intended pocket, shoot it firmly to "tighten it up" for a bank shot of about 45 degrees, you can shorten the angle by as much as one full diamond.
#15. DON'T CROSS THAT ZONE! If you have a choice of several ways to play position for a shot, choose one that will allow you to send the cueball along the line of the zone of acceptable position, instead of across it. That way, if your speed is a bit off and you hit it a bit too hard or to soft, you will still have a decent angle for your next shot.
#16. SAFE LANDING: When planning your position play, try to visualize the region (in terms of both angle and distance) that the cueball can land in and still leave you an acceptable shot. If there are no interfering balls, and only one possible pocket, this area will be a trapezoid- narrow near the object ball, and wider as you get farther away try to get the cueball to land in the center of the position zone, to give you the largest possible margin for error.
#17. CUEBALL FOULS ONLY: In tournament without a referee presiding over a match, and generally in private competition, the " cueball fouls only" rule applies. This means that it is not a foul for a player to bump balls other than the cueball with their clothing, the side of their cue, etc. any ball that is casually displaced may be replaced at the discretion of the non-shooting player, either before the shot has commenced if it doesn't occur in the act of shooting, or immediately after the shot. However, one very important exception applies. If the balls are moved in any way affect the outcome of the shot, then the shot is a foul. This can happen if the moved balls interfere with the path of a normal ball. Or they'd have been in the path of a normal ball had they not been moved!
#18. WAR: STRATEGY &TACTICS. Have no doubt about it; the game of pocket billiards is a little war. With two armies beginning in formation, battlefield between, it's kill or be killed. Like the general of an army, you might want to consider the concepts of strategy and tactics. Tactics deal with the organization and control of pieces engaged in combat. It's the move by move, play by play. Also know as precise thinking, tactics primarily used are position play. Form of thinking, which should be an on going process. Strategy, on the other hand, deals with achieving victory through long range planning. It's the big picture. The specifics every once in a while remind yourself to step back and take it all in, thinking not only of individual soldiers but also of a unified army, where it's going, and what it wants to achieve. A blending of both tactics and strategy will help you to emerge victorious.
#19. PRACTICE TECHNIQUES: A great way to practice is to set up the same shot over and over, but with increasing difficulty. For example, if you are practicing a cut shot, start with the cueball close to the objectball, and when you are making that consistently, move the cueball back (maintaining the cut angle) to make sure the shot is a bit more difficult. Not only will this set the shot in your mind, but it will also help you to learn how difficult a shot you can handle with an acceptable success rate.
#20. TWO FOR ONE: Look for opportunities to accomplish more then one objective with a single shot. For example, if you're in a position where a run-out seems impossible, look to see whether you can shoot a legal shot that leaves your opponent safe. Or perhaps you can move one of your balls into a good position, and simultaneously tie up one of your opponents balls so that he will be unable to run-out. By achieving two goals with one shot, you have effectively given yourself an extra turn at the table!
#21. AVOID SHOTS WITH ENGLISH: Look for opportunities to play more shots with no english, which is a left-or right hit on the cueball. Center-ball shots are easier to aim, because you don't have to make any adjustments, or compensations. And the final position of the cueball is easier to predict. Some players refer to these as stop-shots, although the cueball won't stop unless it is a straight in shot. Many times if you plan your run-out properly, you can shoot several stop shots n row.
#22. DEFENSIVE STRATEGY: If you have no choice but to leave your opponent a shot, try to leave a long straight in shot that way your opponent will have a difficult time getting shape on another ball in order to continue the run. If an attempt is made to overpower the shot to draw it, there could be a miss and a shot left open for you.
#23. RESIST RUNNING OPEN BALLS: The most common mistake that amateurs make in eight ball is running a bunch of easy balls first when they won't be able to finish the rack. If you remove a bunch of your balls and leave your opponent at the table, it will be easier for him to run-out, because your balls won't be in the way! Instead, look for a way to rearrange the table and play safe, so that the next time you come to the table you will have a better chance to win. It's hard to resist running open balls, but if you want to win it is essential!
#24. EIGHT-BALL STRATEGY: in eightball, never pocket the last ball in your group if it won't lead you to a very easy shot on the eightball. If you make your last ball and miss the eightball, you are making it very easy for your opponent to run the table or play safe, since they only have to hide you from one ball!
#25. BETTING THE PERCENTAGES: Keep in mind that in order to run the table a reasonable percentage of the time, you must have mostly very high percentage shots. For example: to run all nine balls in a game of nine ball, even if every shot you take has an 80% chance of going in, your chance of running out is 0.80 to the ninth power, which is only 13%. You must consistently assess whether you might miss a shot, and if so, whether your opponent will be left with an easy run out. If you don't like your odds, look for a safety!
#26. POKER FACE: When playing an opponent head-on, remember to wear your poker face. Just because you saw a weakness in your plan of attack doesn't mean that the other player sees it. Decide beforehand how you want to come across, be it pleasant but deadly or mysterious and precise, and then do that. Seem unaffected by crushing blows as well as strokes of genius, and you'll keep your adversary off-guard.
#27. PLAYING SAFE: When you play safe, don't be content to simply leave the objectball a long way from the cueball or hide it behind another ball. Make an effort to get the cueball as close to the blocking ball as possible, so that your opponent has a very difficult kick. You have a good chance of being rewarded with ball-in-hand, and an opportunity to run out.
#28. GET A GOOD GRIP: Although many great players have succeeded with unorthodox grips, it is best for most of us to practice a simple consistent method. If you hold the cue too tightly, you won't be able to release your wrist and produce a smooth stroke. On the other hand, if you hold it very loosely, you won't be precise on shots that require power. Most experts agree that the grip keeps the cue mainly in the fingers, not in the palm, and leaves the wrist flat in the plane formed by the upper and lower arm. On shots that don't require a stretch, you should try to grip the cue so that your elbow forms approximately a 90-degree angle at the point where the tip is nearly touching the cueball.
#29. LINE DRILL: Here is one of the classic drills. Take six balls, and line them up parallel to the long rail and separated by about a ball width apiece. Take cueball in hand for the first shot, and try to run the balls in order, all into the same pocket. The key to success is to keep the cueball above the next objectball, preferably with a 45-degree cut angle or more. This drill will show you right away if your speed or position play is suspect.
#30. POCKET SIZE: According to billiard standards, the corner pocket of a pool table should be between 4 7/8 and 5 1/8 inches wide at the mouth and 4 to 4 ½ inches wide at the throat (narrowest point). Conditions in actual poolhalls vary, however. Some proprietors will set up loose pockets because they want the occasional player to make a lot of shots and have a good time. Others will have pockets set to challenge the advanced players. Sometimes there is quite a variation between tables in the same room. You might consider practicing on a tight table, so that when you play on a tough table, the shots will seem easy.
#31. BAIT AND SWITCH: When good player go out on the road to hustle, they often work in pairs. Here is one scam to watch out for. The weaker player challenges a few of the local hotshots, and maybe wins or loses a few bucks. The better player just sits on the sidelines, sizing up the action, and pretends to be strictly a financial backer. If he picks up a cue it is only to bump a few balls around the table awkwardly. Pretty soon, one of the locals will fall into the trap and challenge the manager to play something for real money, and maybe even give him a spot. The "manager" then proceeds to collect all of the loose cash in the poolhalls, showing just enough speed to win when the money is on the line.
#32. SCOPING THE FIELD: When you're playing on a new able for the first time, take a few minutes to become familiar with the conditions. Check to see whether the pockets are big or small (tight ones will not allow you to slide two balls through them simultaneously). Bank a few balls to see if they run wider (longer) or narrower (shorter) than you are used to. This is especially important if the cloth is very new. It will probably "slide" causing balls to run very wide and react much more to all types of english. Try to see if there are any dead spots in the rails that you should avoid. Roll some balls slowly across the lengths and diagonals of the table to see if there is a noticeable imbalance that will cause the balls to roll into or away from certain corners. And of course, shoot some basic position shots to determine whether you need to make these factors work for you. It will be important during the match, especially if this is your opponent's home court!
#33. DON'T CHOKE: Winning at pool requires skill, knowledge, and mental/emotional toughness. If you find that you have a tendency to "choke" when the game is on the line, missing shots you would normally find easy. You need to work on your handling of pressure. The greatest players (as in any sport) feel those butterflies too, but they transform them from nervousness to concentration. Take a moment to gather yourself, take a deep breath, and check that your grip is relaxed, and then shoot the big shot in the same rhythm as any other shot. And remember, if you do miss and lose, try to take it in stride. Everyone has missed the big one, and getting down on yourself isn't going to help. Try to learn from the experience so that next time you will be better prepared. At home, try visualizing and imagine that you are supremely confident, expecting to execute the shot with precision. And felling the approval of the crowd. This mental training will help you when the real situation arises!
#34. HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE: You stroll into your favorite venue and see that tough Tony, whom you've been itching to play, is busy practicing. So you wander over to him, casually agree on a game, and get down to business, right? Not quite! If Tony has been warming up on this table, then at the very least he feels comfortable there, and may even know every subtle dip and roll on the slate. If you're playing for anything more serious then chocolate milk, insist that you start your match on a different table.
#35. SKID: Ever hit a shot that you were sure you had lined up correctly, only to miss it by significantly undercutting it? Skid may have been the culprit. Skid occurs when the cueball and objectball seem to stick together for an instant, dragging the objectball away from the intended line. This is especially likely to happen if the balls are dirty, and with shots that have fairly thick-cut angles.
#36. KICK IN THE BOTTOM: While playing nine-ball, you're often forced to kick at a ball and (ideally) leave it in a tough spot for your opponent's return shot. If the objectball is close to the rail, you have an option that many players overlook. Shoot the shot with bottom english, exactly as if you were shooting directly at the ball. If you hit the objectball squarely, the cueball will relocate to the other end of the table..
#37. DO SOMETHING: Don't fall into the trap of getting lazy when you're faced with an easy shot. It's very important that you have a specific goal in mind with every shot, because your body can't execute a plan if you don't have one! So make sure that even on shots that don't require precise position, you're still trying to make the objectball land in a specific part of the pocket, hit rails at specific angles, and land at the center of your position zone.
#38. TWO FOR ONE: Here is a little challenge for your imagination. Set an objectball on the edge of each of the two adjacent corner pockets. Place the cueball wherever you would like, and try to make both balls in one shot. There are at least five different ways to do this, and probably many more. Challenge your friends!
#39. JUMP SHOT: If you find that you often jump the table on break shots, or on any other shots that require a powerful stroke, checks to see if you are using a level cue. If the cue is elevated and angling down into the cueball, you will cause it to rebound off the slate and go bouncing down the table. If the ball is in the air when it reaches the objectball, it will frequently depart the playing surface. When this happens, you have actually performed the basic technique of a jump shot, though that would require a greater elevation angle. Let's save that for when we really need to get airborne!
#40. A FOOL AND HIS MONEY Pool hustlers have an endless repertoire of trick shots and propositions to separate you from your money. Remember the old adage: if someone wants to bet you that they can do something, they probably can!
#41. THREE CUSHION BILLIARDS: One of the first questions you might ask yourself on first walking into a REAL poolhall is "what the heck is that weird table over in the corner with no pockets"? The initiated know that this table is used to play three-cushion billiards, one of the simplest ( in rules ) and the most difficult (to execute) games in the sport. The game is played with one object ball and two cueballs (one for each player). To score a point, you must shoot your cueball so that it contacts the other cueball, then go three rails and contact the objectball. In any order. Drop by in the daytime, when many of the old timers who play the game are out and about, ask for a quick introduction, you may find yourself hooked!
#42. UNUSUAL SPOTS: Pool players are known for their creativity when it comes to ways of handicapping a better player so that they can match up against a weaker opponent. One of the more unusually large "spots" I've seen in nine-ball is "ball-in-hand' inning, whenever the player getting the spot comes to the table to shoot, he/she gets to pick-up the cueball and place it anywhere they want it. This would seem to be a huge advantage, but if the player is incapable of running a few balls, It doesn't make much difference. Often a player will get the best results by taking every opportunity to fire wild combination at the nine-ball, trying to win by luck.