50 tips for playing pool

by Ken Tewksbury, Master Instructor

1. Keep your head straight. Many players tilt their heads to favor their dominant eye. If you tilt your head, you're looking at a side ways view of the shot.

2. Secure your bridge hand. When you're down on a shot, push your fingertips lightly into the cloth to assure that your bridge hand will not budge as your cue stick comes through to strike the cue ball.

3. Finish what you started. It is vitally important that you stay with each shot all the way to the bitter end! Stay firmly planted until the object ball is in the pocket.

4. Keep your back swing smooth and slow. Remember, your back stroke is your hand eye coordinator, picture a baseball pitch; if you bring your arm back to fast, you're cheating yourself out of precious time you need to focus on your target. If you can't see it, you'll probably miss it.

5. Keep your backhand loose and relaxed. In pool, tension is your worst enemy. The more tension you apply to your cue stick, the less chance there is for it to travel in a straight line.

6. Walk around the table and look. Always walk around and look at where you want to position the cueball for your next shot. If you want your cue ball to wind up in the right spot, you have to know where the right spot is!

7. Analyze your misses. After you miss and return to your chair, figure out what happened. Then make a mental correction. You'll play progressively better through your match instead of making the same mistakes over and over again.

8. Develop a shot making ritual. Make a list of all the things you want to include in your shot making process. Then practice performing each step until it becomes your ritual. This method works great under pressure and helps keep the bad stuff from creeping in.

9. Always keep your cool. No matter what happens, be determined not to let it get to you. Unlucky rolls and bad breaks are bound to happen; those who keep a positive attitude through the bad breaks will prevail in the end.

10. Commit to every shot. If you're ready to begin your shot-making process, you should be clear on how you want to position the cueball for the next shot. If you're still asking yourself questions when you're down in your shooting stance, you're not committed to the shot, and you'll most likely miss.

11. Know the rules. Almost every bar, league or organization offers some variation of the "standard" 8-ball rules. Make sure you know the rules of the league or tournament you're playing in. read them and learn them thoroughly.

12. Develop a good break. Always try to keep the cueball under control; equally as important, making a ball on the break and playing position for another shot is keeping the cueball from going in a pocket or flying off the table, giving your opponent ball in hand for his/her first shot is probably the worst thing you can do.

13. Stripe or solid selection: when possible, select the balls that offer you a chance at winning the game in your first inning. When you can't make sure that you pick the balls that will stop your opponent from running out. Pick the balls that will leave your opponent's balls blocked so you can play a good safe and not worry about losing the game.

14. Map out the table. Always plan ahead all the way to the 8-ball before you shoot your first shot. This will enable you to take the best route, making every shot as easy as possible.

15. Recognizing key balls that, once pocketed, will make it easy to break open a cluster or make it easy to get on your next shot. If there is a ball next to the 8-ball that, once pocketed, will leave you an easy shot on the 8-ball, this would be the key ball to get position on the 8-ball.

16. Run out or play safe. The only time you should run out is when you are certain that you can make it all the way. If you don't think you can, play safe before pocketing any of your balls.

17. Know the value of your balls. Every ball you pocket without running out is like killing one of your soldiers in a war.

18. Leaving the 8-ball in jail: whenever the 8-ball is blocked by one of your balls, you must leave it there so your opponent cannot win the game, the only time you will shoot your ball is when you know that you can run-out, freeing the 8-ball.

19. Join a league. I believe competition is a big factor in improving your game. You will be able to find your weaknesses and practice them.

20. If you use a separate cue for breaking, think about using a lighter one instead of a heavier one. Sounds like the opposite of what you'd want. But a number of top players prefer the improved hand speed available with a cue that weighs a few ounces less, perhaps as light as 17 oz.

21. Plan your bank shots, and their aiming, to the extent of deciding what side you'd prefer to miss the shot on if you miss at all. (Long diagonal cross corner banks, for example, should be missed on the short side rather than the long side, for defensive purposes.)

22. If your kick shots don't include a plan for which side of the object ball is going to be best to hit, you are one plump, juicy pigeon waiting for a peregrine falcon to strike.

23. When playing a combination shot on a hanger, and that hanger is any ball but the nine-ball, try to keep the first object ball from grazing the rail on the way in. it greatly increases your chances of leaving the first shot in front of the same pocket, and enhances cueball control.

24. If your trying to hook your opponent behind an object ball or mini-cluster that's currently not playable, try to nudge it into play with the cue ball at the same time you complete your snooker.

25. Similarly to #5, if you're trying a hook and they're a ball that is not in play or a cluster of balls somewhere else on the table. Try to send the object ball into that trouble spot to rearrange things. You want those balls playable if you should get ball-in-hand.

26. You must master the shot that cuts a ball along or nearly parallel to a short rail and brings the cueball out of there using two rails with low outside english. Practice this one at all speeds and angles, especially when you need to go end to end.

27. A cueball coming off one or more rails and crossing the tables exact center cannot possibly scratch. Which is something to remember when selecting cueball path's for position when there's distance between the required balls.

28. Those jacked up, end to end rail to end rail highlight film shots do bring down the house and earn you a relative few seconds worth of your "peers" admiration. But there's almost always something better to do.

29. You really should know this one already; learn to aim your shots to carom off the exposed pocket jaw, not to "split the hole" you'll make more shots and enjoy increased cueball options. (The only time you should be aiming for the center of the pocket is when the object ball lies in the "funnel" formed by the extended lines of the two pocket jaws.

30. When you're in conflict over which of the two moves to choose, pick the more conservative one. I'd say you'd be right close to 75% of the time.

31. The entire game of one pocket resides in the cueball and nowhere else. I'll gladly forgive you for missing a relatively east shot into your pocket as long as you leave the other player safe.

32. Any time you're banking towards your own pocket, do what you can to see that the object ball comes to rest on the short rail if you miss. There's no return bank from there.

33. In responding to your opponent's break, frequently there will be an open ball on your side quite close to the corner of the rack. Be alert for billiards, or what I call split shots.

34. On long straight back banks, especially in endgame, the desired destination for the cueball is not only the end rail, but also no closer to your opponent's side of the table than the middle of that rail. Farther over than that and you are at risk of leaving a make able bank yourself.

35. By all means learn the diamond system, at least the basic corner = 5 one. Multi rail kick shots can extricate you from hideous traps, starting right with the game's break.

36. If you are contemplating a long bank where the object ball is at least one ball's width from a short rail, and cueball control seems to be a problem, think about a kick instead. You sacrifice some accuracy, but it's much easier to kill the cueball and remember, it's the cueball that's paramount.

37. If a shot is absolutely straight in to your opponent's pocket that's a sign that the ball can be banked into yours with no danger of a kiss.

38. Crossover bank shots introduce spin to the object ball because of the cue ball's direction, not what you put on it. Unless you absolutely need english on such a shot, don't make things harder on yourself.

39. The half ball follow angle is one of the most important tools for position play. Any time you have a close to half ball cut shot and the cueball is rolling smoothly on the cloth when it hits the object ball, the angle at which the cueball is deflected is very nearly constant. Knowing that single angle takes a lot of the guesswork out of such shots. Learn this angle through practice.

40. Poor chalking keeps most players from learning how to spin the ball. Are you in the majority? If you are, each time you miscue while trying to spin the ball, you "relearn" that you can't hit the ball off- center. The truth is that you can, but you need to be more careful.(look at the tip)

41. There is no convincing demonstration that wrist-snap gets more spin; keep it simple. A major problem with snapping the wrist is that the timing of the snap must be precisely coordinated with the moment the tip hits the ball; if the snap is early or late, it is entirely ineffective. More importantly, if the timing is not quite perfect, your speed will be of by a lot.

42. When adjusting to new conditions, don't forget humidity. As the table gets damper, the friction of the ball on the cloth greatly increases. One result is that draw rubs off the cueball much faster than for dry cloth. Another is that the maximum effect of english on the rail is increased; Sidespin really grabs. All spin shots require even the tiniest bit of masse. Many players think they are shooting with a level stick when in fact they have several degrees of stick elevation. This can not be avoided, unless you have really tough knuckles. Learn to play with a consistent elevation.

43. Try different sticks for different games. No stick is suitable for all games. Note what the top players are using. And do your own experiments. A hint; 58 inches is not necessarily the best length for you.

44. Playing games other than your favorite will force you to quickly learn new things. Try snooker and carom, for example, to concentrate on precise pocketing and cueball speed control, learn straight rail billiards.

45. Learn to read with an open but critical mind. Some pool books are riddled with errors, but most have some useful information. If there is no way to test what an author is saying, the point is probably of little value.

46. Physics and systems may be useful for understanding and planning shots, but when it comes time to pull the trigger, trust your instincts. During practice, a careful, analytical approach will help you sort out what does and doesn't work for you, once you're in a match, the intense analysis must be put aside. Feel the shot and then make it happen.

47. The goals of stance are stability, consistent sighting, and a simple swing. If you fulfill those goals, don't worry about the details. Some people spend far to much time pointing their toes in exactly the right direction, or keeping their Pinky off the wrap, or adopting some other little quirk that their uncle Fred assured them was the golden for pocketing balls. Are you solid can you see the shot? Can your arm swing freely?

This is the end of fifty free things to watch out for; Ken Tewksbury, Master Instructor.