1. Sports

Your suggestion is on its way!

An email with a link to:


was emailed to:

Thanks for sharing About.com with others!

Most Emailed Articles

Holiday Valley Ski Resort

How To Shoot Backhand English Successfully - Begin With Correct Alignment

How Backhand Can Do Wonders For Your Toughest Pool Shots


backhand english, cue ball english,left english,what is english in pool

Backhand english works wonders--if you let it

Photo courtesy of MorgueFile.com
In response to my recent articles describing pivot English and "backhand english," a skilled player named "Ray" asks me about select eye position for sidespin shots today. Our discussion in this article reveals much about alignment and about how you will be able to improve your skill in pool and billiards.

Hi, Matt:

I've read many of your articles with interest. I couldn't find anything on this topic. I have multiple pool books; watched videos, taken lessons, read web sites and never have found anything on this topic.

I am right eye dominant and do my best shooting with my right eye placed over the cue stick. But I'm not sure what to do when applying side spin (english) -- I use the parallel shift method.

What I've normally done is keep my eye in place over the cue stick and just shift my hands over to the side of the cue ball. This keeps my arm mechanics fixed and regular.

When I shoot with outside english, this method I've described generally works fine. But inside english usually looks wrong and I struggle with it a lot.

Recently, I experimented with keeping my eye in line with the center of the cue ball and pivoted my arm out or in as necessary for the offset. The inside english billiards shots look more natural now. But I found that the outside english shots didn't come so naturally anymore. And I did find that I seemed to see MORE when shooting from that center position.

"More" includes seeing the aiming point better and seeing the pool throw effect more clearly. But it seems that I'll have to relearn a lot and will always have to have compromised arm position/movement. I'm confused as to what to do.

What do you think about this?

Note: I'm in my early 60's and have played pool on and off since I was about 13. I'm an APA 7 Handicap in 8-Ball and once qualified for the Men's National Championship Finals as sponsored by the APA (but didn't actually go); that bracket includes the top 128 players of those who applied. So, I shoot decently, but not at a pro level.


Ray B.

[Matt "Quick Draw" Sherman] Hi, Ray. This is a good question you have provided and I'll work with you until we find a solution.

First, most players prefer hitting draw to topspin and outside english rather than inside english. Very few players like the "feel" and eyesight mechanics of inside english. Also, outside english tends to counteract object ball throw and also enhances cue ball roll, as you know, so inside tends to be more problematic overall by contrast.

Having said that, before we adjust your eye, head or stick position, which way(s) are you hitting your english shots? Here are three variations:

Backhand/Carabao English, Pivot English, Or Parallel English?

Or possibly you are even employing what I call "body english" subconsciously?

Be as specific as possible as to how you shoot inside and outside english, whether you adjust before you're in your stance or after, and whether you move the rear hand, back hand or both to aim with english, etc. (backhand, pivot, parallel, etc.) and then we'll fix you right up. It sounds like you've recently moved from parallel to pivot english--both have their shortcomings--but I want to be certain.

Thanks! -- Matt Sherman Guide to Pool And Billiards

Hi, Matt:

I agree with you about general tendencies, advantages and disadvantages. Yet there are times when inside english seems just the right thing for position.

I should also mention that when I try shooting long straight in shots with english (no practical application, just a drill for its own sake), I do very poorly compared with the same shot and no sidespin.

As I said in my original message, I use Parallel English (as the way I line up on the shot). And I have my dominant eye aligned as I go down (in theory). If I find myself out of line, I'll adjust while still down on the shot...

...But I have a tendency to swerve the cue stick a bit to move the tip even further towards the spin side during the final stroke--more so with left spin than right spin. I keep trying to break myself of the habit and force a straight stroke.


Ray B.

[Matt replies--] Several things:

1) As noted by Jack Koehler and Todd Leveck, inside english has an almost nil effect at cut angles greater than 35 degrees, making for use as a possible aiming aid on those shots and not much else.

2) Long straight in shots are HIGHLY susceptible to throw. Almost no one can make these using english! Straight-in pool shots are not easy even with a correct stance and aim, due to throw, unless the right speed and force is applied.

3) Keep your cue as level as possible during english strokes to reduce squirt and deflection.

4) Why not start by using backhand English instead of pivot for a while?

Try it and let me know what you think. Backhand will make little error difference whether you aim with a dominant eye or two closed eyes!

-- Matt Sherman


You lost me. I asked about optimum eye position for the parallel english pocket billiards method. Do you have a recommendation?

And do you generally recommend backhand english as the best method? What do you mean that it makes little error difference--what type of error does it eliminate? And if so, what eye position do you recommend for that?


Ray B.

Ray: I'm thinking that based on your notes, your billiards stance and alignment need adjusting, not your eye position--especially since if your shooting hand is aligned correctly, you can make shots with your eyes closed.

Most people are not dominant eyed (one eye does most of the sighting work for pool) or binocular-eyed (the stick should go right under their chin and right between and beneath their eyes) but somewhere in between or "ambiocular".

I'd like you to try using backhand english/carabao english, since it virtually eliminates deflection, squirt, etc. when using english. Then when you're comfortable with it, it will help you self-correct your aim using inside english--which probably has far more to do with your stance at the table then where your eyes are at any given time.

Most players have heads turned 45 degrees or so to the shot line during the stroke--so they are looking with two eyes turned diagonal to the line of the cue stick. So placing one particular eye over the stick is far less important that arm and hand position in my opinion.

-- Matt Sherman Guide to Pool And Billiards

Hi Matt:

Thanks for your continued support.

I certainly agree that the end result of my eye problems is that my alignment is wrong and I'll miss the shots, even with my eyes closed. The eyes are my method to get proper alignment; I don't think that's unique. When I use my eyes properly in relation to the stick, my alignment follows naturally.

When my eyes are off from that optimal position, then I struggle, sometimes with two alternate targets to choose from, or just confusion and I align as best as I can figure. I shot for years using binocular vision (cue centered between the eyes) and kept wondering why I had the various problems I had.

I finally figured out with several training tools/methods that my alignment was consistently off to one side and I had to swerve my stroke to compensate. When I changed my eye position to dominant eye sighting, then my alignment got corrected and I had to learn to stop swerving.

So, of course you are right that arm and hand position are the most important at the point of execution, but the eyes are what set it all up. Without a laser pointer on the stick, eye sighting is the key to proper alignment. How could it be otherwise?

When using parallel english, the amount of English is controlled by the amount of offset (tip widths of English from center ball) and the quality of my stroke (in my opinion). How does one precisely control the amount of english when using backhand English? It appears that it's using a purely subjective swerve.

Do you just use this technique for sidespin (and address the cue ball above or below center when needing that) or do you address the cue ball in the very center always and use backhand english for everything?

And if one starts doing this swerve on the stroke for english, doesn't it compromise your habit for non-swerving on normal shots and lead to less consistency and accuracy in shooting?

Where can I read about the science of backhand english and how it works and eliminates most deflection, etc.? Jack Kohler in Science of Pocket Billiards Compare Prices does not cover that.


Ray B.

[Matt] Hi, Ray:

1) In all stick and ball sports, when shots go awry, coaches look to the fundamentals. When the feet change day-to-day in billiards, then the arm position changes as does the distance from cue tip to cue ball. I am leery to tell someone to move their head until I've looked at their stance and alignment because I would be otherwise compounding error. Can you send me video of you playing or are you available for a lesson in person?

It can be otherwise--and alignment does not proceed from the eyes. It proceeds from the distance of your feet to the table, which leg is forward and how bent it is, whether you bend from the waist or hips, etc. No one stands exactly the same way day-to-day although top players are very consistent.

2) You are correct about parallel english. Quality of stroke and amount of English are the order of the day. However, you are not stroking through the dead center of mass and you are subject to squirt, deflection and miscues. You will find little literature on backhand english online or in books or videos--it's in my book and video--and a lot of players pooh-pooh it and say carabao english doesn't help with swerve and etc. However, top players like Bustamente and Reyes, and in earlier eras, Mosconi and Greenleaf, used backhand english frequently.

To answer your question, you control the amount of english applied with your stroke, it can be felt easily especially if you use a light grip. You can both near-eliminate squirt and deflection and generate more english than you've dreamed possible. It's worth trying for any player.

It works because the cue comes diagonally through the shot with its center of mass far closer to the cue ball center of mass than with parallel english. You'll find people pushing it away it online. Some (a brave few not including myself!) advocate it online. Even an amateur can generate so much english it's like they took a massé stroke on the ball from a near vertical position!

-- Matt Sherman Guide to Pool And Billiards

And don't miss my article, readers, Avoiding The Top 10 Mistakes When Pool Shooters Use Sidespin/English.

  1. About.com
  2. Sports
  3. Billiards
  4. Basic & Advanced Techniques
  5. English
  6. How To Shoot Backhand English Successfully - Pool And Billiards

©2016 About.com. All rights reserved.