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While this book is aimed mainly at players who can already handle a cue fairly well, there is always the possibility that it will fall into the hands of a beginner. For that reason, I will start with a brief review of fundamentals. Newcomers to the game should take a lesson or two from a qualified instructor and read one or more of the many fine instructional books now available, some of which I wrote myself. Getting past the beginner stage is impossible unless you know how to stand, hold the cue, stroke, and aim, and there's more to those seemingly simple acts than you might think.
If you are unfamiliar with pool instructional materials and have never studied the game before, a good place to start is with Byrne's New Standard Book of Pool and Billiards, which covers fundamentals in much more detail than you will find here and which continues to advanced concepts. If you'd rather watch than read, try Byrne's Standard Video of Pool, Volume I and Volume II. Both are available at billiard supply stores. Short descriptions of these and other books and tapes can be found on my Web site at byrne.org.
Getting Started Right
An important tip The most important tip is the one at the end of your cue. If it flattens out or mushrooms, trim it with a razor blade and sand it off so it is flush with the sides of the ferrule (the plastic collar onto which the tip is glued). Be very careful not to scratch or sand the ferrule or the wood of the shaft.
Hold it Hold the cue as level as possible unless you are deliberately trying to make the cueball curve or jump. When the tip is halfway from the cueball to your bridge hand during your warm-up strokes, your right forearm (assuming you are right-handed) should be aimed straight down at the floor. Hold the cue firmly but not tightly.
Chalk up Applying chalk to the tip before every shot is not too often, but it's not necessary to chalk up so frequently when hitting the cueball in the center. If the tip won't hold chalk, rough it up with a piece of sandpaper or one of the many scuffers designed for the job. Don't spin the cue into the chalk; instead, rock the chalk back and forth on the tip or brush the flat surface of the chalk across the tip.
Crouch Some top players bend down so low when aiming that their chins touch the cue. Most have their chins no more than a foot above the cue. If you are having trouble pocketing balls, it may be that you aren't bending over far enough to aim the cue like a rifle.
Aim Really aim, don't just go through the motions. One way is to imagine where the cueball must be at the moment of contact with the object ball, then aim through the center of the imagined cueball. Another way is to keep refining your aim until the hit looks right, neither too thick nor too thin. Fans of geometry and precision might like the method explained in Diagram 1.
1 The geometry of aiming
If you have trouble aiming cut shots, resorting to geometry might help. Find point Y on the object ball directly opposite the target, A. Imagine The line BYA. Imagine line DXC, parallel to the first line, passing through the center of the cueball. X is the point where the line intersects the left edge of the cueball. To make the shot, point X on the cueball must hit point Y on the object ball. Aim the cueball along a line parallel to line XY.
On every shot that's not straight in, an allowance for throw must be made. "Throw" is the term used to describe how a shot is thrown slightly off line by the frictional forces during the collision. For more, see Section 5.
Follow straight through The tip is only in contact with the cueball for one millisecond. What you do with your cue after that can't affect the cueball, but you should develop the habit of following straight through. If your cue normally rises after contact or swerves toward the side of the English, then you will have a harder time hitting the cueball exactly where you want to and will miscue more often than you should. To develop a straight stroke, try picking a spot on the cloth six inches or so beyond the end of the cue and making the cue tip stop directly on it or above it after hitting the cueball.
Stay down During your warm-up strokes and when hitting the cueball, don't bob your head or move anything except your forearm. Let the cue follow straight through, then freeze until the cueball is well on its way. Extraneous body movement during the stroke makes precision pool impossible. Your elbow should remain frozen in space until the end of the follow-through.
Watch your eyes When aiming, your eyes will move back and forth a few times between the cueball and the object ball. Almost all top players have their eyes on the object ball-or a point of aim on a cushion-when they pull the trigger. An exception might be on a very easy shot where the critical factor is the amount of spin on the cueball; then you might focus on the cueball to make sure you hit it where you want to.
Beware of English A majority of shots can be made without any spin (English) on the cueball. Four problems arise when hitting the cueball off-center left or right. One is "squirt," which causes the cueball to travel slightly off line in a direction opposite the English. Another is that a cueball with sidespin will throw the object ball off line because of the friction between the balls during contact. The third is that unless the cue is exactly level, the cueball's path will curve on its way to the target. Finally, using more than a little sidespin increases the chances of a miscue. On the other hand, English is essential on some shots in order to get a good shot at the next ball.
Sidespin has little effect on the angle the cueball takes off the object ball, but it can greatly change the angle of rebound off a rail. What affects the angle the cueball takes off the object ball are backspin (draw) and topspin (follow).
Follow and Draw
Follow and draw are essential elements in cueball control. Both depend on hitting the cueball above or below center on the vertical axis, although sidespin can be applied as well. You'll learn the technique faster if you understand a bit of the underlying physics.
Follow If a cueball rolling naturally down the table strikes an object ball full in the face, the cueball will stop dead in its tracks for an instant, then its continuing rotation, which is reduced but not eliminated by the impact, will cause the cueball to move forward, "following" the object ball.
When the cue tip strikes the cueball halfway from the center to the top (to be precise, 70 percent of the diameter up from the bottom) on the vertical axis, the cueball will start with natural roll immediately. Natural roll means that there is no slippage between the ball and the cloth. While it is possible to hit the cueball slightly higher than 70 percent of its diameter without miscuing, it is impossible to demonstrate in practice that doing so will create extra topspin. In other words, for practical purposes it is impossible to strike a cueball so high that it begins its movement with more rotation than natural roll. The distance the cueball rolls after it hits an object ball, then, (provided the 70 percent point is where the tip hit the cueball) depends only on how hard the cueball is struck.
Scientist and pool buff George Onoda noticed an interesting fact about striped pool balls: ordinarily the width of the stripe is exactly half the diameter. (Do note, however, that some balls on the market today have wider stripes.) This permits an easy method of learning how to apply maximum spin. Use a striped ball as a cueball. Orient the stripe so that it is exactly horizontal. The upper edge of the stripe is exactly halfway from the center of the ball to the top. Clean the ball, chalk your cue, and practice hitting the top edge of the stripe. After each try, examine the ball and see if the chalk mark left by the tip is on the edge of the stripe.
There are several training cueballs on the market now that make it easy to practice maximum spin shots. The one made by Elephant Balls has a red dot surrounded by a red circle with a diameter equal to half the width of the ball. Position the red dot so that it is on the equator of the ball (halfway from the cloth to the top of the ball); the red circle marks the maximum spin striking point for follow, draw, and English. Keep in mind that hitting the cueball that far off center increases the danger of miscuing (see Diagram 81).
Forward curves What happens when you use maximum follow on a cut shot? The cueball caroms off the ball along a path at right angles to the object ball's path, then bends forward in a parabolic curve. The sharpness of the curve depends on the fullness of the hit and the speed of the ball. You can see examples of these paths diagrammed in Byrne's New Standard Book of Pool and Billiards (1998), page 55, or traced in slow motion on Byrne's Standard Video of Pool, Volume II.
Much of the artistry of the game depends on the ability to judge the cueball's curving path on follow and draw shots, both for maximum and less-than-maximum off-center hits. For examples, see Sections 7 and 8.
Draw If you have absorbed the foregoing, it will come as no surprise that maximum draw, or backspin, results from a hit that is halfway from the center of the cueball to its resting point on the cloth. Trying to hit lower than that greatly increases the chance of a miscue. If the bottom edge of the cue tip hits the cloth first, for example, a miscue is almost a certainty. The best way to find out what a maximum low hit looks and feels like is to use a striped ball as the cueball with the stripe horizontal. During your warm-up strokes, try to direct the upper edge of the tip toward the low edge of the stripe, and after hitting the cueball, retrieve it and see where the chalk smudge is.
To further reduce your chances of miscuing on maximum draw shots make sure that your tip is properly shaped and groomed and is well chalked; your bridge should be snug and hold your cue close to level. Players who have trouble getting lively draw action almost always aren't hitting the cueball low enough (see Section 8, Diagram 101). Another frequent flaw that prevents lively draw action is not hitting the cueball hard enough when the cueball is more than a couple of feet away. Beginners should practice short straight-in shots with the cueball only six or eight inches from the object ball. At that distance, it is easy to learn how to make the cueball draw back several feet without hitting it hard.
Stop On straight-in shots, a cueball that slides into the object ball with neither topspin nor backspin will stop dead. It takes practice and a certain touch to shoot stop shots at all distances. On long, straight shots, considerable backspin must be applied, otherwise the friction of the cloth will reduce the backspin to zero and allow the cueball to begin rolling before it reaches the object ball. Some players consider the stop shot the most important shot in pool.
Sidespin, or English, has little effect on the angle the cueball takes off the ball it hits. That angle is influenced by topspin and backspin. What sidespin mainly does is change the way the cueball bounces off a rail. Being able to judge the altered rebound angle accurately is essential for position play.
Because of squirt, throw, and swerve, it is much harder to pocket a ball when English is used than with a centerball hit. Top players, however, have an uncanny ability to accommodate and exploit these three variables.
Players differ in their estimates of how often cueball spin must be used, but it is probably less than 20 percent of the time. For the great majority of shots in pool, the cueball can be controlled adequately by using centerball hits and varying the speed or "cheating the pocket" (driving the object ball into one part of the pocket or another).
Rebounds One way to learn how to judge the effect of sidespin on cushion rebound angles is to practice with a cueball only. For example, shoot the cueball down the centerline of the table and by using various amounts of sidespin try to make it bank into any desired point on the side rails, which can be marked with coins or balls. Drills like this get boring fast, so it's best to do them as competitive games with a friend.
English throw It's not quite accurate to say that the cueball should hit the object ball at a point directly opposite the pocket. That's correct advice if throw is ignored. "Throw" is the term used to describe the way the cueball can push an object ball off line because of the friction between the balls at the moment of impact. Right English throws the object ball slightly to the left, and you must allow for it. The reason is that the leading edge of the cueball is moving to the left, and when that moving surface hits the object ball, it grabs and throws it off line to the left. The same explanation applies to the way a frozen two-ball combination is thrown off line if the first ball is hit on the side.
Cut-shot throw Throw occurs on cut shots, but it is difficult to see. If you are cutting an object ball to the left, left-hand sidespin will require a slightly thinner hit than you would need if no sidespin were used. Right-hand spin will throw the object ball to the left, so a slightly thicker hit is required. Throw occurs on cut shots even if no English is used because the surface of the cueball rubs against the object ball, creating a frictional force. No throw occurs if the spin on the cueball is such that it rolls off the object ball instead of rubbing against it. For a full discussion of cut-shot throw complete with diagrams, see Byrne's Advanced Technique (1990), pages 23-2. The throw effect in general is covered in detail in Byrne's New Standard Book of Pool and Billiards (1998), pages 83-102.
To see how much harder it is to make a shot when sidespin is used, set up a long diagonal straight-in shot with the object ball in the center of the table and the cueball four feet away. Try to make it with heavy left or right English. If you can make a long, straight shot half the time with no English, you'll be lucky to make it one time in five with English.
Squirt Another factor that makes English dangerous is deflection, now usually called "squirt." As mentioned already, when you hit a cueball right or left of center, it won't travel in a direction exactly parallel to the cue; it will diverge slightly in a direction opposite of the English. Cues that have small diameter tips (between 11 and 12 millimeters) cause less squirt than fatter ones (between 12 and 13 millimeters) because there is less weight near the end of the shaft to push the cueball off line. Most good players unconsciously adjust for the squirt when using English and many aren't aware that there is such a phenomenon. One cuemaker, Predator, reduces squirt by drilling a small hole down the axis of the shaft at the tip end to reduce the weight. Front end weight can also be reduced by making the ferrule shorter (Schuler) or thinner (Meucci).
Swerve A third factor that makes it harder to pocket balls when English is used is swerve. Unless the cue is exactly level, English will make the cueball's path bend slightly. The more you elevate the back of the cue, the more the cueball will curve, or swerve. Because the cue is elevated at least slightly on the great majority of shots, swerve must be considered when English is applied. There are, of course, situations when swerve (technically massé) is needed to bend the cueball around an interfering ball.
Conclusion Use just enough sidespin to get the job done. A quarter inch off center is usually plenty.
Copyright © 2003 by Robert Byrne
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