Below is a wonderful article from our friends at Billiards Digest going through 50 tips for improving your game. After you’re done reading, don’t forget to check out our entire billiards instruction section which includes dozens of training tools as well as free training articles from Samm Diep, Liz Ford, Jennifer Barretta and Charlie “Hillbilly” Bryant.
It’s fair to say that doling out your own advice to others – whether they ask for it or not – is considerably easier than swallowing someone else’s medicine. But we promise you’ll profit from listening to these pearls of wisdom compiled from the archives of Billiards Digest.
Here are five of the top pool minds in the game. Fran Crimi, master instructor with the Billiard Congress of America, has 10 tips on basic preparation; Bob Jewett, one of the sharpest technical minds in the business, explains the physics of pool; Larry Schwartz, two-time national team 8-ball champion, shows you his winning strategy on solids and stripes; Grady Mathews professes more one-pocket wisdom, and George Fels, one of pool’s greatest writers, brings you up to speed in 9-ball.
Fran Crimi: Basics
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 sideways 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 pool cue 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 backswing smooth and slow. Remember, your backstroke is your hand-eye coordinator. Picture a baseball pitch; if you bring your arm back too 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 back hand 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 and look. Always walk around and look at where you want to position the cue ball 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; the balls are round. 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 cue ball for your 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.
Larry Schwartz: 8-Ball
1. Know the rules. Almost every league, bar 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.
2. Develop a good break. Always try to keep the cue ball under control: Equally as important, making a ball on the break and playing position for another shot is keeping the cue ball from going in a pocket or flying off the table. Giving your opponent ball-in-hand for his first shot is probably the worst thing you can do.
3. 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 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.
4. 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.
5. Recognizing key balls: This is a ball 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, this would be the key ball to get position on the 8 ball.
6. Run out or play safe. The only time you should run out is when you are certain you will make it all the way. If you don’t think you can, play safe before pocketing any of your balls.
7. Know the value of your balls. Every ball you pocket without running out is like killing one of your own soldiers in a war.
8. 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 you can run out, freeing the 8 ball.
9. Become a banker. Sharpening up your bank skills will give you a chance to win games in which it looks like you have no chance.
10. 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. Also, leagues are a lot of fun.
George Fels: 9-Ball
1. If you use a separate cue for breaking, think about using a lighter cue instead of a heavier one. Sounds like the opposite of what you’d want (Bill Incardona used to have a break cue that weighed 26 oz.!), 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.
2. Plan your bank shots, and their aiming, to the extent of deciding what side you’d prefer to miss the shot on if you must miss at all. (Long diagonal cross-corner banks, for instance, should be missed on the short side rather than the long, for defensive purposes.)
3. If your kick shots don’t include a plan for which side of the object ball is best to hit, you are one plump, juicy pigeon waiting for a peregrine falcon to strike.
4. When playing a combination shot on a hanger, and that hanger is any ball but the 9, try to keep the first object ball from grazing the rail on the way in. It greatly increases your chances of leaving the first ball in front of the same pocket, and enhances cue ball control.
5. If you’re trying to hook your opponent behind an object ball or mini-cluster that’s currently unplayable, try to nudge it into playability with the cue ball at the same time you complete your snooker.
6. Similarly to #5, if you’re trying a hook and there’s an unplayable ball or mini-cluster somewhere else on the table, try and send the object ball you contact into that trouble spot to rearrange things. You want those balls playable if you should be rewarded with ball-in-hand.
7. You must master the shot that cuts a ball along or nearly parallel to a short rail and brings the cue ball 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.
8. A cue ball coming off one or more rails and crossing the table’s exact center cannot possibly scratch – something to remember in selecting cue-ball paths for position when there’s distance between the required balls.
9. Those jacked-up, 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 smarter to do.
10. 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 cue-ball 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.
Grady Mathews: One-Pocket
1. When you’re conflicted over which of two moves to choose, pick the more conservative one. I’d say you’ll be right close to 75 percent of the time.
2. The entire game of one-pocket resides in the cue ball and nowhere else. I’ll gladly forgive you for missing a relatively easy shot into your own pocket as long as you leave the other player safe.
3. 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.
4. 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.”
5. On long straight-back banks, especially in endgame, the desired destination for the cue ball 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’re at risk of leaving a makable bank yourself.
6. In breaking, the cue ball should have more sidespin than follow at the point of object-ball impact.
7. By all means learn the diamond system, at least the basic “Corner = 5” one. Multi-rail kicks can extricate you from some hideous traps, starting right with the game’s breaks.
8. If you’re contemplating a long bank where the object ball is at least one ball’s width from a short rail, and cue-ball control seems to be a problem, think about a kick instead. You sacrifice some accuracy, but it’s much easier to kill the cue ball – and remember, it’s the cue ball, not the object ball, that’s paramount.
9. 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.
10. Cross-over 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 any harder on yourself.
Bob Jewett: Technically Speaking
1. The half-ball follow angle is one of the most important tools for position play. Any time you have close to a half-ball cut shot and the cue ball is rolling smoothly on the cloth when it hits the object ball, the angle at which the cue ball 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.
2. 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!
3. 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 a little early or late, it is entirely ineffective. More importantly, if the timing is not quite perfect, your speed will be off by a lot.
4. When adjusting to new conditions, don’t forget humidity. As the pool table gets damper, the friction of the ball on the cloth greatly increases. One result is that draw rubs off the cue ball much faster than for dry cloth. Another is that the maximum effect of English on the rail is increased; side spin really grabs.
5. All spin shots require even the tiniest bit of massÃ©. Many players think they are shooting with a level stick when in fact they have several degrees of stick elevation. This cannot be avoided, unless you have really tough knuckles. Learn to play with a consistent elevation.
6. Try different sticks for different games. No stick is suitable for all games. Note what the top pros use, and do your own experiments. A hint: 58 inches is not necessarily the best length for you.
7. 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 cue ball control. For a real course in speed control, learn straight-rail billiards.
8. Learn to read with an open but critical mind. Some pool books are riddled with errors, but most have some useful points. If there is no way to test what an author is saying, the point is probably of little value.
9. Physics and systems may be useful for understanding and planning shots, but when it’s time to pull the trigger, trust your instinct. During practice, a careful, analytical approach will help you sort out what does and doesn’t work for you, but once you’re in a match, the intense analysis must be put aside. Feel the shot and then make it happen.
10. 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 too 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 secret for pocketing balls. Are you solid? Can you see the shot? Can your arm swing freely?