The Definitive Guide to Playing Pool
This is the ultimate guide to the beautiful game of pool.
In this guide, we'll cover everything from different types of games to advanced strategies for beating your friends.
So whether you're a seasoned veteran or just starting out, we're sure you find some new information below.
So, without further ado let's get started.
Contents (links to all sections)
Pool Rules & Other Fundamentals
You cannot spell fundamentals without ‘fun’ and ‘mental.’ That is exactly the two components you need. You need to be able to have fun and conquer the mental game. Was that a stretch? Who knows. Anyway, both points are true.
Playing pool should be about having fun. It is also a game where you will perform better if your head is in the right mind space.
Before we get to playing the actual game, let’s take a look at some of the basics and get you out on the table where you belong.
The Most Important Thing in Pool? Position
Pool is all about three things: position, position, and position. Yes, I know that that is one thing repeated three times, but that is how important it is. When you are playing, your body position needs to be good. The position of the cue ball can also make or break your game.
As you play the game more, you will be able to sink more balls in a row. This is one of the keys to playing the game well.
If your stance is good, your stroke is good, and your spin is good, then you are going to be able to control your shots. Practice is the key to all three.
Once you begin to pocket balls, you can move into pocketing lots of balls in a row. This is down to positional planning.
When you line up your next shot, you are not only thinking about the ball going into the pocket, you are thinking about what ball you are going to pocket next and how to leave the cue ball in a position to do that.
Go to the table. Set up the balls in random positions. Now, for each shot, you take, try to think about the shot after. The position of the cue ball is as important as the object ball ending up in the pocket. How many balls can you down in a row?
Choose your ball wisely. What ball gives you the best natural position on the next? What spin do you need to add to get position? What cushions do you need to bounce off to get onto the next ball?
Practice, practice, practice, and practice (yes, I wrote it four times, that is how important it is). Put this book down (or close the screen) and go practice. The more you do, the better a feel you will get for the game.
You have this.
Make sure that you have good position and positional play, and your game is going to improve. This is your cue to go and play (excuse the pun).
When you come back, we will tell you how to achieve all of this and more.
Your pool stance & how to hold a pool stick
Holding a pool stick is easy. Holding it correctly is the tricky part. Well, not super tricky but you need to be able to hold it correctly to live your best life and play your best game.
The same is true for your stance. Standing is easy. The perfect stance for pool needs a little more work.
Not to worry, we are here to save the day. Join us as we tell you everything you need to know about the perfect pool stance and holding a pool cue.
How To Perfect Your Stance
Stand up. Go on, stand up. Are you beside a table? Well, go find one. A pool table, a dining table, it doesn’t matter. Stand side-on to the table, feet shoulder-width apart. Think about how you would hold a pool cue and make sure that your aiming hand is forward.
Hold out your aiming hand (the hand where the cue will rest) and bend at the waist until the hand is on the table. Spread your fingers for now and find your balance. You should be able to look down your aiming hand and across the table.
Your back leg should be straight, and your front leg should be bent a little. Pretend to hold a cue with your rear hand. Your back foot should be directly below the cue and your rear hand (the hand which will generate the power through the shot).
That is your basic pool-playing position. Easy, right? And, probably a nice stretch for your body too.
Why Your Bridge Is Critical For The Perfect Shot
The hand we have been referring to as the aiming hand is actually called the bridge. This is where the front of the cue will sit. It is the hand which helps you to aim. There are many ways to hold your bridge hand. We are going to walk you through the most basic. If you find one which is more comfortable, then go for it.
Place your palm flat on the table. Go on, do it. Hold your hand flat and raise your thumb in the air like you are hitchhiking.
Now, keep the base of your palm where it is and drag your fingers back so that your fingertips stay in contact with the table. This elevates your bridge. The cue will sit in the little ‘V’ of your thumb, between the thumb and your index finger.
There you have it, the bridge. Go try it on any surface.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When pool gives your obstacles, use an elevated bridge.
Imagine that the cue ball is sat with a ball behind it. You cannot use your usual position, so what do you do? You use an extended bridge.
Get as close to the cue ball as you can with your bridge, keeping the same hand position but, this time, raise your palm off the table, using your fingertips to balance. Place the cue in the same ‘V’ and play your shot.
The elevated bridge takes a little practice. Why don’t you try it? Find a surface and see how high you can make your bridge.
How To Get To Grips With Your Grip
At one end is the bridge, at the other end is the grip. This is the hand which is used to generate the power.
Your grip should be loose like you are holding a peeled banana.
When you take your shot, you should follow through smoothly with this hand.
Want more power? Hold the cue further down or play your shot with more speed. Want less power? Hold the cue further up or play your shot with less speed.
How To Perfect Your Aim
Pool is all about aim. You could say that aim is the aim of the game (well, you may not, but I do. Yes, yes, I know that the aim is to get the balls in the pockets. Okay, let’s get back to the fundamentals).
If the object ball (the ball which you are hitting with the cue ball) is directly in front of the cue ball, then you can follow the natural path to hit the object ball where you want it to go. If you are hitting the ball at an angle, then you can use the ghost ball.
Ooh! The ghost ball!
It is not as terrifying as it sounds. When lining up your shot, draw a line from the object ball to the place you want it to go. Imagine the cue ball was on this line, and you could play the shot straight.
Now, think about where the cue ball is going to be at the point of impact. That is the position for which you are aiming.
First, think about the position of the cue ball. Next, try and get the cue ball into that position. Finally, strike through the cue ball, and, hopefully, it will go where you want.
If you are new to the game, it probably will not. That is perfectly fine. It never does when you are starting out. The key is to practice, practice, and practice (yes, I like saying things three times).
Why Ball Position Matters
Cue ball position is very important. When you knock a ball into one of the pockets (intentionally, of course), you want the cue ball to be in a position to pocket the next ball. You can do this in one of two ways: the natural path and adding spin.
The natural path (not the naturopath) is when you let the cue ball follow the natural path after it has collided with the object ball. Adding spin forces the ball to go in a direction of your choosing.
Imagine a clock face on the side of the ball you are striking. 12 is at the top, 6 at the bottom, and so on. Hitting the ball and varying degrees of off-center will add varying degrees of spin to the ball.
Hit the 12, and the ball will have forward spin and carry on forward after hitting the object ball. Hit the 6, and you have the opposite, the ball will have backspin and move back after hitting the object ball. Hit the 3 or the 9, and the ball will move sideways after striking the object ball.
You Spin Me Right Round: Adding Spin To The Ball
Seriously, go try it. It is a lot of fun to add spin to the ball.
Try hitting the cue ball at varying distances from the center and see what happens. Combine two spins to move the ball in a combination of directions. Play about with the amount of spin you add and how hard you hit the ball.
Top tip: hit the cue ball just below center to stun the cue ball (and maybe your friends). The ball will stop after connecting with the object ball.
When you are adding spin to the ball, experiment with hitting the object ball at different angles. What happens to the direction of the ball?
What happens when you add spin and hit the cue ball against a cushion?
What happens when you add spin and do not connect with anything? Can you see the cue ball change path?
It is a lot of fun to experiment with spin. The more you use it, the better you will become at positional play.
Putting It All Together
Pool is a simple game. Hit the ball, make it go where you want, and win the game.
Let’s recap with a multitude of positions.
Position: Take up your stance at the table. Follow our tips but find the stance which is comfortable for you. Lean over the table and look through the shot.
Position: Where do you want the cue ball to go? Aim your cue and strike the ball with confidence. Where do you want the cue ball to end up? Think about the striking position of the cue ball.
Position: Take a look at the entire table before you take a shot. What position do you want the ball to be in after this shot? how about two or three shots down the road?
Position, position, position.
Top Tips For Every New Pool Player
Playing pool is a lot of fun. It is also a game which is accessible to almost everyone in the world. As long as you have a table, some balls, and a cue, then you can play (as long as you can reach the table).
If you have never played before, then you are going to be terrible (probably), and that is okay. Everyone is when they start out.
The best way to improve your game when you are starting out is to avoid any bad habits. The bad payers are not the new ones but the ones who carry bad habits through to when they are good players. These players will never be great players.
You will become a great player.
We know this because we know that you are going to follow our top tips. Here they are.
How Do I Make The Ball Go In?
That is all that we want to do, right? The simplest way to make the ball go in is to hit it where you need to hit it to make it go in. Easy!
On a serious note, there is a relatively easy way to do that. Let’s take a look at the cue ball (the white ball), the object ball (the ball you want to get in the pocket), and the point of contact.
In your head, draw a line from the pocket, though the center of the object ball, and extending to the back edge of the ball.
Next, draw a line from the center of the cue ball to the point where the other line touches the back of the object ball.
This is where you want to hit the cue ball. If you hit it perfectly, the ball will go in. The more you practice, the more perfect your shots will become.
Go find a pool table and practice getting the point of contact right.
The Importance Of Consistency
We just talked about using the point of contact to aim your cue ball. We have also talked about using the ghost ball method (see the previous sections). Try both and find the one which works for you.
Once you have a method of aiming, stick with it. Whatever works for you is what works for you. Our tips are not hard and fast tips. Take them, modify them to fit your game, and be the best you can be.
Find Your Perfect Stance
Using our stance in the previous section, you will find that it is solid, balanced, and allows for a controlled shot. But, what do you do if it is not comfortable or your game is not improving?
Simple. Change your stance.
If you find a stance which is more comfortable, then use it. Use whatever stance gives you the best game.
At the same time, there are some things which you should think about, no matter what your stance:
- Your feet should be roughly shoulder width apart with your dominant foot pointing towards the shot you are taking
- Your chin should be on the cue stick or directly above it. This allows you to look through the shot and get the most accurate aim
- The back leg is normally straight with the front leg bent but, again, this is down to personal preference
- Keep your grip soft but firm
- Your arms and hands should not bump into your body at all. If you are colliding with your hips, for instance, then it is time to adjust your stance.
Creating A Smooth Stroke With Great Follow Through
You have lined up your shot, you know where you want to hit the cue ball, and you know where the object ball is going to go. The only thing to do now is to hit the shot.
But, what does a good pool stroke look like?
When you are in your pool stance, your rear hand will be gripping the rear of the cue. Your upper arm will be parallel with the cue, and your forearm will be pointing downwards.
When you play your shot, you should think of your forearm as a pendulum. The upper arm stays roughly where it is while the forearm swings on the elbow.
Keep your grip loose so that you can strike the cue ball exactly where you want to strike it. Start with the cue tip as close to the ball as possible (without touching it). This is the part of the ball which you are aiming for.
Draw the cue back and play your shot smoothly by playing with follow through. Your shoulder and chest should not move during the shot.
If you want to line the shot up a little more, then draw back and bring the cue forward a few times without hitting the ball. Every time you bring it forward, aim at the same spot on the cue ball. When you come to make your shot, the repeated swings will help you to hit the cue ball accurately on the final swing.
Hey, don’t just read about this. Get out there and practice your swing until your feel it is smooth and accurate.
Should I Be Worried About Chalk?
How have we gotten this far without taking about chalking your cue?
No matter how accurate you are, if you do not chalk the tip of your cue, all of that accuracy is going to be thrown out of the window.
A cue tip without chalk will not grip the cue ball on contact and will, instead, slip when you hit it. This leads to shots which are not accurate, and the correct spin is not added to the ball.
The good news? It literally takes a second to chalk your cue.
Think about a rock climber. They chalk their hands for grip. It can be a matter of life and death. In pool, it is not as serious, but chalking your cue can save your shot.
Never be afraid to chalk. If you want to chalk between every shot, then go for it.
Pro tip: it looks cool to stand there and chalk your cue before a shot.
Why Do I Need To Hit The Cue Ball Dead Center?
Sure, find your spiritual center, but you should also find the center of the cue ball.
When I first started, I was missing a lot of shots. What was wrong? I was not hitting the cue ball in the center. Even a slight shift can throw off your entire shot.
Once I realized this (read: was told what I was doing wrong), my game improved exponentially.
Hit the ball off-center, and you are hitting the ball with some spin. The longer the shot, the more the cue ball is going to be thrown off its path.
Practice hitting the cue ball from one end of the table to the other, bouncing it off the cushion. Watch it roll back to you. Does it deviate from its path? Practice until you are hitting the ball in the center every time.
Confidence Does Not Matter, Does It?
When the greats get out on the field, the pitch, the ice, the track, or the table, they have already lived the moment in their heads a thousand times. We mentioned that without ‘mental’ you could not have fundamental.
The key is to have confidence.
Before you take a shot, think through the shot in your mind. See the object ball going into the pocket. Envision the cue ball going where you want it to go.
Know that you can make the shot.
If you can stay positive, eliminate as many negative shots as possible, and have confidence in yourself, then you will be amazed at how much better you will play.
How To Enjoy The Game
This kind of follows on from the confidence part. There are two parts to staying calm. One is about finishing your shot, and the other is about gaining rhythm and momentum.
When you play your shot, give it at least a second or two before you get up from that shot. This is going to achieve two things.
Often, when people play a shot, they get up quickly. This can interfere with the shot itself. Take the time to play the shot, follow through, and enjoy it. Do not get up quickly or jerk your cue. The cue ball can suffer, and you can ruin a perfectly good shot.
The second thing which this gives you is rhythm. If you are taking a couple of seconds after your shot, you are more likely to stay calm and play better shots.
If you rush between shots, you are going to be more nervous and, well, rushed. Slow down, keep calm, and enjoy the game. A game of pool is over quickly, why rush it?
Try it. Go play a few games by yourself. Take a second or two after each shot. Does your game improve?
The Advanced Game of Pool
You have gotten to grips with the basics of the game and are yearning for more. Well, we have you covered.
While stance, aim, and position are vital to your pool game, there are some extra areas which will elevate you from the casual novice player to the intermediate player who thinks about the game instead of only playing it.
Let’s take a look at how you can advance your game.
Advanced Drills And Practice
Yes, I am going to say it again. The best way to improve your game is to practice, practice, and practice.
Practice can come in many forms. Any time you are at a pool table, we are going to count this as practice time. Go to the bar with your friends, a pool hall with an opponent, or practice solo at home. They will all help to improve your game, but not all practice is created equal.
When you practice on your own, there are some practice games which will improve your overall game.
How to Break in pool
We have talked a lot about how to take a shot but how do we apply this to the break?
A good break can be the difference between winning and losing a game (often it is not, but it can be). A good break can result in a ball being pocketed, giving you a little control over the table and the game. So, what can you do to improve your break?
You do not need to add any fancy spin to a break. Instead, aim for the center of the cue ball.
Follow through is critical. You want to hit the balls with power. Follow through with the cue when you hit the cue ball.
When thinking about position, think about the cue ball being in the center of the table. What angle can you hit the balls at to achieve this?
If you do pocket a ball, take the time to view the entire table and plan your next shot. The next shot is more important than the break.
When To Play It Safe
When you play a shot, try to play a safety. This involves playing a legal shot, not downing a ball but, instead, leaving the cue ball in a position where an opponent cannot directly hit the next ball. The most common form of this is hitting the next object ball with the cue ball and leaving the cue ball directly behind another ball.
Alternate shots. Try to play a safety on one shot and, on the next shot, try to get out of that safety.
Pool is about pocketing balls but there will be times when you need to play it safe. This game is a great way to practice that and will up your defensive game.
Working With Difficult Positions
Throw all of the balls randomly out onto the table or break if you wish. Now, you are not allowed to pocket the balls directly.
To pocket a ball, you have to hit one object ball into another and have the second ball go into the pocket. This game improves your play when you cannot pocket the next object ball but do have a chance of pocketing another.
It is almost like playing with two cue balls. One cue ball hits another, and that cue ball hits the object ball.
Putting All Of Your Balls In One Basket
Set up the balls, break, and then try and pocket all of the balls in the same pocket. This pocket should be designated ahead of time or could be the first pocket used.
This game will help you to play less obvious shots.
How To Improve Your Positional Play
Take any three balls. Roll them out on the table. Place the cue ball wherever you want. Down the object balls in order.
If you miss a shot, start over but use one less object ball.
If you pocket all of the balls, start over with one extra ball.
This game will help you to improve your positional play. You will need to plan at least a shot ahead, maybe two or three shots.
Put It All Together
Follow our tips and your game will improve.
Play as much as you can and your game will improve.
Practice, practice, practice, and your game will improve.
Have fun, and your game will improve.
So, go out there and have some fun.