Position play eludes many players. How to connect the dots of the 7-, 8- and 9-balls to win? How to finish a sequence in Straight Pool or 8-Ball, and which balls to put into which sequence to begin? Here are some helps for playing position on your next billiards run.
*Starting with an "oldie but goodie" adage to think backward using precise landing points for the cue ball.
I give lessons and ask my pool players, "Where do you want to be on this eight ball for the nine?" They often respond, "I'd like to be here at X but I can't get there from where I am on the seven ball now…" My response is, "Don't be in doubt but start with the ideal landing spot for the eight and let's work to get there."
Many of my two inning Nine Ball games should have been a complete run, and many of my three inning games should have been two, and so on. Pick out a spot for the cue ball to land on, starting two or three balls ahead and working backwards, and watch your winning billiards percentages soar.
*Always bear in mind that every billiards shot is different for skid and speed. A six-inch shot is not a nine-inch or a twelve-inch shot, for example. In other words, every shot's distance from the cue ball will provide some predictable opportunities for your typical everyday center ball medium speed strokes, or with a dash of topspin or draw spin, etc. Don't manufacture odd speeds and spins until you ask what the cue ball will do naturally to begin at center ball.
Look for opportunities to play two-rail shape on balls. Often this translates to ending a shot by rolling the cue ball along the line for the next ball or (something many amateurs forget to do) away from the line.
If there is a straight line for the win on the 8-ball in the corner, (that, say, runs in your mind to near the opposite corner) you'll want the cue ball if possible to roll down that line or away from it, giving you nearly eight feet or more of a margin of error for distance. Cut across the line and you will be cutting the eight thinly or banking it or worse, right?
While we're at it, remember to leave a little angle on every ball except for the game or case ball.
*Consider whether the cue ball impact line will be 90 degrees or about 30 degrees off the object ball. Most beginners understand the tangent line that creates a 90-degree angle for cue ball roll off the object ball. Dr. Dave Alciatore reminds his readers that 30-degree rolls come up frequently when the cue ball has not been stunned, and that a simple L-shape with the fingers above the table demonstrate the 90-degree takeoff and a "peace sign" with a thumb and two fingers a 30-degree angle.
*Now this is good news. A cue ball coming off one or more rails and crossing the table's exact center cannot possibly scratch. If you have options for position at your pool or snooker table, this is another good reason to play toward table center.
*Decide the cue ball path's while standing erect and calmly put it there with the shot. Your position play will improve greatly if you relax and let your body follow where your mind has led. The reduced tension in your hands alone will help yield some terrific pool shots.
*You want to get to those huge runs also? To learn how to run three to five racks on a frequent basis,play aggressive and learn as much as you can about groups and triangles.
For one example of this kind of knowledge, my game improved a good deal once I took a tip from author George Fels to shoot the middle of three balls clustered near the same pocket first. This action might leave a ball near a rail for later but tends to greatly open routes for the other two balls and the cue ball. I routinely clear the middle ball of a set when playing One Pocket, 8-Ball, etc. before I start working the sequence using the balls going outside to deeper "inside" the group...
And so we end with another hint for you, dear reader. Pick off the balls hanging on the outside of the pack before you go sniping for the balls near the middle of the table.
Keep your pocket billiards questions coming by e-mail, too.