It’s always more fun to play games you’re good at winning, and much like other sports, pool comes down practice makes perfect. Or more precisely: perfect practice makes perfect.
Individual sports like golf, bowling, and pool can be especially hard to master because you’re quite literally on your own: these games are typically played in social settings, without a coach, where it’s easy to perpetuate bad habits. Poor practice makes pitiful.
Follow these pool playing tips to improve your game and crush your opponents after plenty of perfect practice.
#1 Play on a Level Pool Table
You know the old adage about competing “on a level playing field”? It makes all the difference in pool- literally.
Billiards is all about geometry and physics. When analyzing the angles and processing the math, your brain relies on the assumption that the pool table surface is flat. If it’s not flat and the table tilts slightly left, right, forward, or back, even your simplest shots might miss the mark.
Even worse, practicing on a table that’s tilted will reward bad habits. You’ll over-correct for the tilt and when it comes time to play on a table that’s been properly leveled, your “skills” will be rendered useless.
#2 Use a straight cue (not warped)
Once you’ve got a level playing field you’ll want a level pool stick. Many pool tables, especially at bars and other public places, provide free-to-use pool cues that come with a cost: they’re incredibly warped.
Theoretically, a slightly warped pool cue won’t negatively impact your game too much, but we all know it’s a case of mind over matter. Seeing a bent cue has a way of forcing you to overthink, making your shot uncomfortable, and becoming the scapegoat for every scratch and missed shot.
When the warping occurs closer to the tip of the pool cue it will have a more adverse impact on your shot. You can perform a simple test to determine if your pool cue is warped by rolling it along the wall of the table, keeping an eye on the tip to see if it rolls straight or moves up and down.
The best way to make sure you have a straight pool cue is to buy a new stick- wooden cues are most prone to warping while fiberglass or graphite cues are warp resistant.
To prevent wooden cues from warping, keep them in a climate controlled environment that doesn’t get too hot, cold, or moist- preferably in a cue case when not being used.
To fix a warped pool cue, try gently bending it back into place with your hands, applying hot steam from a shower, stovetop, or iron to make it more maleable if it’s especially tough.
#3 Learn How to Break the Balls
The first shot in a game of pool is called “the break” and it sets the stage for the entire game. If you scratch or don’t pocket any balls, you’ve given control of the table to your opponent. However if you can sink at least one ball and continue gameplay – for example in Eightball – you have the advantage of strategizing whether to choose stripes or solids based on the options on the table. A successful break can be the difference between winning and losing.
The biggest factors of a successful break are stroke strength, cue weight, and angle of impact. Your success is not only determined by how many balls you sink (at least 1) but also whether the remaining balls are left in an advantageous position.
- Don’t hit the balls as hard as you can: first work on accuracy.
- Focus on where you hit the cue ball: aiming for slightly under the center will help you better control its position after the break.
- Note your angle of impact: in Eightball it’s better to aim head on whereas in Nineball it’s better to aim at an angle.
- Try placing the cue ball at different positions on the table.
- Try different weight pool cues if you have them available: lighter cues will improve accuracy for beginners while heavier cues will improve power once your skills improve.
The best way to improve your break is to practice, practice, practice, make notice of which methods yield the best results, and continue using the methods that work best for you.
#4 Pool Shot with Proper Form
The most important element of your shot is your form: you need to have a stance and technique that you can duplicate over and over again. Repetition and consistency creates predictable outcomes.
The most important factors of developing your stance is comfort. You need to choose a stance that feels comfortable and natural to you while following these guidelines:
- Evenly distribute your weight between your front and back foot.
- Place your legs shoulder-width apart.
- If you’re right handed, put your left leg forward (and vice versa).
- Keep your front leg slightly bent.
- Lean at the waist, placing your head directly behind the cue ball
- Your pool cue should be nearly parallel with the ground
The front hand, used to stabilize the pool cue just above the table while you shoot, is called your bridge. There are different hand formations you can try and use; most people will choose one they like the most, but it’s helpful to practice with many as different situations may call for different bridges.
The most important factor of your bridge is that your hand is steady, creating a sturdy surface to rest the front of your pool cue without wobbling around. The more stable your bridge, the more accurate your shot.
After taking your shot, stay in position! This not only creates good follow through but also allows you to observe the aftermath of your shot, see how the balls bounce, collide, and spin, which is the ultimate learning tool for improving your game.
#5 Learning the Angles of Pool
The game of pool is all about physics and geometry. It’s important to know the angles at which the balls will bounce prior to hitting them. These are predictable matters of science that can be studied, learned, and leveraged to maximize your game.
Here are some examples of more advanced angles which should illustrate what is possible:
Don’t jump directly to advanced angles. Start with the basics but understand that the ceiling for your success is dependent upon learning and executing the angles.
#6 Make the Straight Shots
For many pool players the straight shots are harder than angled shots (called cut shots). Why is that? Doesn’t it seem counterintuitive? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
The most common reasons people consistently miss head-on straight shots in pool are:
- Poor stance
- Too much head movement
- Gripping pool cue too tight
- Backswing is fast, jerky, angled
- Failure to follow through
- Hitting the ball off-center
The reason angled cut shots can feel easier than direct shots is that the spin plays more of a factor on direct shots. If you’re accidentally adding spin on your shots, you’ll likely to continue to make shots at various angles while missing head-on shots.
The solution is simple: focus on your mechanics, make sure you’re not spinning the cue ball, and practice direct shots until you can make them consistently.
#7 Chalk Your Cue
You’ll see the best pool players in the world take a square piece of blue chalk and rub it on the tip of their pool cue before each shot. Why do they use chalk? And should you do it yourself?
The purpose of chalking your pool cue is to add friction at the point of contact that will prevent your stick from slipping when it contacts the cue ball. When it slips to the side or above, causing a bad shot, this is called a miscue. For beginners, chalking your stick greatly reduces the likelihood of a miscue.
Adding chalk to your pool cue is especially important when you’re aiming a shot that has “English”, which means adding spin by hitting the ball slightly above, below, left, or right of the center. The further from the center you hit the ball, the bigger chance your pool cue will slip on the ball’s slippery surface, making chalk even more important for advanced players taking challenging shots.
#8 Practice with Both Hands
You may not consider billiards a game where being ambidextrous is helpful, but just like soccer and basketball, occasions arise where being both a lefty and righty can be a huge advantage. In pool this happens when balls are precariously positioned in close proximity and at awkward angles.
The best way to practice playing pool with both hands is to play an entire game with your opposite hand. Even though you’ll only use your opposite hand for difficult “trick” shots, practicing complete games is the quickest and easiest method of gaining familiarity and comfort with your stance, stroke, and followthrough.
You needn’t practice breaking with both hands, though. Unless you want to practice a backup plan for when you… break your hand!
#9 Use Pocket Reducers
If you’ve got a home pool table, try using pocket reducers, a small and inexpensive accessory that will shrink the size of the pocket. This will require much more accuracy and precision to sink balls in practice, making the feat much simpler when removed for regular gameplay.
This is the same strategy employed by All-Star professional players in various sports:
- Basketball players use smaller hoops to improve shot accuracy
- Soccer players reduce the size of goals
- Football Kickers use narrower Field Goal posts
- Baseball players use “donuts” for heavier bats
By artificially making a task more difficult during practice, you’ll inherently make it easier in the real game by increasing your allowable margin of error.
#10 Watch Professional Matches
What better way to learn about form, technique, and strategy than by watching professional pool and billiard players work their magic? Youtube is a treasure trove of information and you can easily watch hundreds of hours of pool playing for a grand total of zero dollars.
Listening to the commentators can provide great insight on how you should be lining up and preparing your own shots when playing Eightball.