CUT PRACTICE SHOTS

(January Issue 2005)

In previous drills, I've stressed positioning the cue ball. In the drills this month, the main goal is to make the cut shot.

In Shot 1, the object ball is always at the center of the foot rail and a ball from the cushion. The cue ball is near the side rail -- close enough that you have to make a bridge on the rail -- and positioned even with a diamond. The position shown is Difficulty 2. If you make a shot, play the next one from a harder position but if you miss the shot, move the cue ball back to an easier shot (lower number). Use a coin to mark your current position and move it after each shot.

Shoot about a rack of balls and note your position, which is your score for the drill. Then try another rack of balls on the other side of the table, so that you get practice on left cuts as well.

If you have trouble getting the cue ball past 2, this drill is too hard for you. Move the object ball a diamond closer to the pocket and move the cue ball out so it's a whole diamond from the side rail. Other drills are shown in the free handout on the sfbilliards.com web site, along with more explanation of this kind of drill, which I call "progressive practice" and a log sheet to keep track of your improvement.

I like shots where the object ball is almost on the cushion because the nose of the rail provides a visual clue for the direction of the pocket. For me the cut becomes harder when the object ball is out in the "open ocean" of the table, as shown in Shot 2. Now the object ball goes on the spot for each shot, and the cue ball progresses up the table. When you get to position 5 you run out of room in that direction, so turn to 6 and 7. As for Shot 1, you need to try this shot from both sides.

If you do pretty well on Shot 2, you can give yourself more challenge by adding a position requirement to the shot. First try to make the cue ball draw to the left side cushion after the object ball. (For position 1, draw straight back.) Variations on this are to shoot as softly as possible and still have draw on the cue ball, and to play with more speed to get the cue ball back to the center of the table or even across the table.

After your draw is working well, play the shot with follow. First, try to play so softly that the object ball just barely gets to the pocket, and note how far the cue ball travels. Next, try the drill with the requirement that the cue ball return to the head rail.

Another variation on Shot 2 is to move the object ball to different locations. Shooting it off A will definitely challenge you if you get the cue ball as far as position 7 -- hard but not impossible.




THE L DRILL

(December Issue 2004)

Do you have some favorite drills? Ones that work for you and you keep going back to? Here is one that was a favorite of mine for a long time. I don't remember who showed it to me some forty years ago, but it has recently appeared in print in Hall-of-Famer Ewa Mataya Laurance's book, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Pool & Billiards" (see page 220).

Place the balls in an L formation around the corner pocket. In the first diagram, I've shown two levels of difficulty. When you place them, make sure that all the balls will fit to the pocket -- that's pretty obvious on paper, but it's embarrassing to get to eighth ball and have to adjust the positions. Put a full ball space between the corner ball and it's neighbors and make the next spaces a whole ball's width as well.

The goal is to make all the balls in order starting from the short rail beginning with cue ball in hand. You're not allowed to move any ball before you shoot it. Start with the easy formation, with only nine balls, and when you can do it more than half the time, move on to the full 15.

You will learn a lot of techniques with this drill. One to work on is the simple draw shot. Try to run as many of the balls at the start as you can without touching a cushion, as shown with the zigzag cue ball path. Set up for a very slight angle on the first ball, and draw back for a similar shot on the second ball and so on. Getting the first four balls this way is a good goal.

A second technique you'll need is controlling the angle off the cushion with side spin. When you have an angle that requires you to hit the end cushion, the easiest way to play the shot is usually with a little english to bring you away from the balls. Draw will also work sometimes, but if you shoot relatively softly, the draw will not hold up going across the cloth while the side spin will.

Probably the hardest problem to get by is the position from the 7 to the 8 ball. If you leave yourself "below" the 7 too far, as you might if you try for the "use no rail" restriction, you will surely run into the eight ball. On the other hand, if you go above the 7 too far, the 8 will block the shot.

Shown in the second diagram are three ways to use cushions to make the 7-8 transition. Take ball in hand and see if you can get each of them to work. Of course to use the two paths that go to the end cushion you need a fair amount of cut angle, while if you're nearly straight on the seven, you draw to the side rail with left english.




ONCE ACROSS

(November Issue 2004)

Last month I gave an example of how you can develop your own drills to work on the specific shots you have trouble with. This month I'll give another example of such a homemade drill that you might come up with and look a little deeper into the ideas under it.

In the diagram is one of the simplest position situations that involves a cushion. You have to get to the other side of the table. You have a good angle on the one ball -- full enough to control the cue ball and not so full that you have to smash the shot. It's about a half-ball shot (30-degree cut) which is what a lot of teachers recommend if you have to play the cue ball off the cushion. In fact, this is about where I would put the cue ball with ball in hand. To make the shot a little harder, suppose you want to leave the cue ball very close to the left cushion to simplify the next shot.

Do you know where the cue ball will go if you hit the simplest possible shot? By this, I mean a shot in which the cue ball is just rolling smoothly on the cloth without any side spin. I think you will need to be on the table to really see the angle. Try it and see. This is the starting point for developing your control of the angle.

On the table I play on, with those balls and cloth, the arrow by the question mark in the drawing is the simple path. On your equipment, find out where the cue ball "wants to go." To control the angle of the cut, always put the object ball in the same location and have the stick pass over the same spot on the end cushion. You can vary the angle later.

The first goal is to make the shot and leave the cue ball nearly on the cushion (within a ball or two) for the two ball. Of course, in a game you would prefer to avoid a plan that requires perfect position, but in practice you should play for pin-points. Can you do this five times in a row?

The next thing to learn about this shot is how softly you can hit the cue ball and still make the object ball -- that is, how little travel can you get on the cue ball? Try this first with just a rolling ball. If you just roll the one ball over the brink of the pocket, can you stop the cue ball by about the end of the arrow in the drawing, or can you do better than that? If you remember my articles about the half-ball shot, the cue ball normally travels about as far as the object ball for a rolling half-ball hit, but that was without hitting cushions. Does the cushion kill or increase the speed of the cue ball? Remember that the one ball must just barely reach the pocket for the test to be any good.

Practice the "just barely roll it in" shot until you are confident of making it most of the time, and note the resting spot of the cue ball. This minimum distance is a limit on everybody, even champions, although they will be better at choosing the speed of hit that just barely pockets the one ball.

Now you can turn the shot into a progressive practice shot by requiring more distance on the cue ball for the progression. Place a coin at the "slowest possible" position, and shoot the shot. If you leave the cue ball within, say, a hand span of the object ball, call it good, and try a longer distance, maybe by a diamond. For this particular drill, don't go back to a shorter distance if you miss, but if you do miss at a distance, wait for two in a row before advancing.

Don't let the second cushion stop you. Keep increasing the distance so that the cue ball must bounce off the left cushion and back to the center of the table. Make sure you keep a coin on the table for your current goal -- it keeps track of your progress.

Once you have the "just roll it" shot perfected, try a little side spin on the cue ball. As your goal, put three balls on the cushion like the 4-5-6, and see if you can hit them. For that particular angle, you could play the shot with just draw like a stop shot, but it is called "stun" because it is at an angle -- but try it with a little right english. Which option, stun or side spin, lets you keep down the movement on the cue ball.

For this progressive drill, the goal is changed by moving the balls up the cushion, for example the 7-8-9 one diamond up. You may find that you need some draw in addition to side spin to minimize the movement of the cue ball across the table.

Also try the shot with more speed, as if you were trying to break up a cluster. Does the needed english change? Try different mixtures of draw/follow and side spin to see what works for you.

Finally, when your touch is pretty well developed for the angle shown, try thinner and thicker cut shots, to learn how much you have to crank up or tone down the force for fuller and thinner cuts.




PERFECTING YOUR RUN OUTS

(October Issue 2004)

In my last column I proposed a drill for eight ball and nine ball: Break the balls, remove some to get down to your run-out goal, and try to run out with cue ball in hand. If you fail, try one fewer balls on the next try, but if you succeed, add one ball to your goal. For eight ball, you can try with just your own on the table or keep an equal number of your opponent's balls up as blockers.

I posed a problem last time with an eight ball break. You were to remove balls to get down to four from each group, and then run out. Shown this time is my solution with the removed balls shown just by their numbers. A main idea in solving table problems like this is to get you find patterns that make the run easy and stay away from patterns that aren't in your normal range of shots. (Can you find a better pattern?)

In the situation shown with the solids, the easiest pattern I see is to shoot the balls in order: 1-2-6-7-8. These are respectively stop shot, stop shot, easy follow and easy follow. Nothing complicated is required. The hardest shot of the bunch is playing position on the seven from the six. You have to follow the six ball about as far as where the 11 ball was. The resulting line gives you a very easy follow from the seven over to the cushion for the eight. Try the sequence a couple of times to see if you have any problem with it.

Now for the real meat of this drill. Suppose you have trouble getting the correct line on the seven. In the bottom part of the diagram is same position with the other balls removed. The shaded area is the desired position zone. Note that if you leave yourself short of the dashed line, you have to use power draw or follow to the end cushion to get on the eight. It's much better to cross the line and get about even with the first diamond from the corner pocket. When I have to play for a certain line on the next shot, I'll often look at which diamond I have to reach, or if it's old cloth, which tear or white spot I have to park the cue ball near.

Now that you have the goal clearly in mind, try the shot. If you fail to get about the right line, move the six a little closer to the position zone, and try again. If you get the right angle on the seven, make the shot a little harder by moving the six up the table a little. (Mark the position of the six with a coin so you can keep track of your progress.) You will need to move the cue ball back farther as you get better at the shot. How far back can you get the six and cue ball and still get right on the seven?

A good alternative for this setup is to play a stop shot on the six and follow the seven to the end rail and back out for the eight, but that's a little more complicated. Also, the nine ball is nearly in the way depending on the exact angle you get on the seven. The advantage of playing a stop shot on the six is that stop shots are inherently accurate, so they are easier to control than a diamond of follow, for example.

So here is your homework assignment. Try the progressive run-out drill with more or fewer balls at your favorite game. Note two or three shots that you have trouble with, that you really feel you should be able to control, and that come up more than once. Then make each of those shots into its own progressive practice with some way to increase the difficulty, such as making the shot longer. In this way, you will be working on exactly the shots you have trouble with in game situations, and you will be widening your comfort zone for those shots by practicing them with increasing difficulty as you get better at them.




MAKING PROGRESS

(September Issue 2004)

If you've caught my previous columns, you know I'm a big fan of a practice technique that I call "progressive practice." If you have some shot you need to practice, such as a stop shot, rather than practice the exact same position over and over, you make the shot harder each time you meet your goal (such as make the ball and stop the cue ball within two inches) or easier if you fail. You might move the cue ball farther from the object ball to make the stop harder.

This kind of practice has several advantages including that it lets you know what your 50-50 shot is. If you do nothing but change the difficulty of the shot after each make or miss, the difficulty will automatically adjust to your 50% point. This is good in that you are guaranteed to be challenged by the drill, and you will quickly learn which shots are too risky for you to take in a game.

This general idea can be extended beyond single shots. Suppose you want to improve your run-out abilities at nine ball. If you think you can run four balls, break the rack and remove balls of your choosing until only four are left. Take the cue ball in hand and try to run out. If you fail, try the next rack with only three balls. If you do clear the table, try five balls the next time.

The reason for letting you choose which balls to remove is so that there won't be clusters to deal with for the lower numbers of balls, but as you get up to eight or nine balls, you will have to deal with the clusters. If you do run all nine, add extra balls to the rack as necessary. Count any balls on the break towards your run. If you work up to running all 15 balls most of the time, let me know and we can plan a road trip together.

Eight ball can be handled similarly. At first, use just the eight and a number of solids, increasing or decreasing the number with your progress. If you get to running out most of the time with all seven of your group up, start over with an equal number of stripes and solids in the rack to give you some clutter on the table. In either case, break a full rack to get practice at that too, and remove balls of your choosing. As you work through more racks, you'll learn to see which ballls are problems and which are helpers.

In the Diagram is a mediocre break at eight ball, with the 12 ball pocketed. Suppose you are trying for four from your group with four blockers up. Which balls would you remove (three solids and two stripes) and which group would you take? One solution is to take stripes, remove the 10 and 13, and play the 15, 11, 9, 14 and 8 in that order. To make the run easier, which three solids would you remove? I'd take off the 4 of course, and the 6 to make the position surer on the 11. The only hard position is getting from the 9 to the 14, and I'd use my last "pick" on the 7 to clear that path.

An alternative order would be 14, 9, 11, 15 (to the side?) and the 8, with the hardest position being to get from the 11 to a good enough angle on the 15. Of course, you aren't bound to use the pattern you imagined at the start.

Can you see a pattern for the solids that is even easier to run? My choice uses a half-ball follow angle (discussed last May the issue is on-line at http://www.onthebreaknews.com/) to get to the eight ball. I'll give my answer next time, along with a method to turn your problem shots into practice drills that let you work on your weak points.

A general discussion of progressive practice and over twenty basic drills are available for free on the SFBA web site at http://www.sfbilliards.com -- see the Basics Clinic handout.




CHALLENGE SHOTS

(August Issue 2004)

A challenge shot is moderately difficult shot that is set up as a challenge, such as "I bet you can't make this shot in five tries." It is kind of between practice and playing as it usually stresses a specific skill, and it involves the risk of loss -- either of face or cash. These shots are sometimes called proposition bets, but the good ones don't involve any kind of weasel-wording.

In Diagram 1 is one of the first such shots I saw played. It is a two-person shot, one the shooter and one the caller. Put six balls by six pockets, and start the cue ball on the head spot. The caller calls a shot and the shooter shoots it, then the caller calls another ball, and so on. The challenge is to make all six balls in the called order.

A few details: The side pocket balls should be exactly one ball out from the side, which gives the best blocking for a cue ball that carelessly settles on the long rail. The corner balls should be touching the long cushion and as far into the pocket as possible which makes position harder to get, especially with large, deep pockets. It's OK to move an object ball on a shot, but the called ball must be shot into its pocket only when called. This last rule permits side-ball to corner-ball combinations, but the shooter usually doesn't have a shot on the side ball to its correct pocket afterwards.

Seems easy on paper, doesn't it? I once saw a player try it for several hours and he ended up 120 games behind. Towards the end, the ball-caller was giving up odds of 3:1. Confidence is good, but over-confidence can be fatal.

For a variation, place the wooden triangle in its normal place. In this version, the balls should be placed centered in the pockets so the individual shots are easier.

In Diagram 2 is a cut shot challenge. The object ball is frozen to the cushion and the cue ball is just to the side of the head spot. The challenge is to cut the object ball into the "wrong" corner pocket. The technique is to use sidespin on the cue ball, hit the cushion just before the object ball, spin the cue ball into the object ball, and drive the object ball straight along the cushion. Even beginners should be able to make the shot when the cue ball is on the head spot, but the shot gets harder as it is moved farther to the side.

If someone bets you he can make it in 15 tries from A, be prepared to pay. I've heard of a road player who would freeze the object ball at B and put the cue ball in the square at C. The bet was to make the same cut shot -- no side rail first within half an hour or so. He wouldn't try the shot for less than several thousand dollars, and this was the only shot he played. No trick is used, but the cue stick is elevated some for half-masse. A final version is to place the cue ball up on the nameplate -- Mizerak is said to have been 50-50 from up there.

If you're tired of practice drills, challenge shots can liven up your routine while developing specific shooting skills.




A POSITION DRILL WITH DICE

(July Issue 2004)

Sometimes it's hard to maintain your interest in doing drills even though they provide the best way to correct your faults and improve your skills. Here is a drill that is more like a game, and you can even play it as a challenge game against a friend. You'll need a pair of dice.

The goal is to perfect your no-cushion position play. The object ball always goes back to the spot shown, the cue ball is in hand, and you have to send the cue ball to a specific spot on the table without using the cushions.

To decide where you have to send the cue ball, roll the dice. The first die sets how far along the short-rail direction your goal will be, with the side cushion you're near being 1 and the far side cushion being 5. The second die says how far up the length of the table you need to go to. The diamond before the side pocket is 1 and the far cushion is 6.

If the first die comes up 6, there is a special rule to go to the locations that are even with the spot, as shown. If you roll double sixes, change to the other side of the table and roll again.

Shown are two position plays that you might make to send the cue ball to 1,5 and to 4,1. To sharpen your focus on where you want the cue ball to go to, place the dice at the target point. Consider a shot a success if you get the cue ball within a hand-span (nine inches for me) of the goal. As you gain more experience, you can tighten up the requirement.

The cue ball is shown starting from the same place for the two examples, but you're free to move it to make the shot easier. The angle shown -- roughly a half ball shot -- is a good balance between thinness which gets more speed on the cue ball and fullness which makes it easier to draw and have more control. But you'll discover those things while trying the drill as long as you try variations of cue ball placement.

You can play the drill as a two-player game. The first player places a coin as the position target and shoots the first shot, leaving the cue ball in position. The second player uses a second cue ball (or object ball, if necessary) and tries to end up closer to the coin. It's OK to hit your opponent's ball away from the target if you have that much control.

Variations: Play one or two cushions instead of no cushion. Try other positions for the object ball or use the dice to determine the position of the object ball as well. Try a fixed location for the cue ball, and see which of the locations you can get to. (As shown, I think you won't be able to go to 6,1.) Try to visit the spots by the rail in order, and see how many you can do in a row.




TWO DRAW DRILLS

(June Issue 2004)

Draw seems to be the hardest stroke for beginners to learn. A major problem is that it requires you to hit the ball well off center, and lack of chalk or an inaccurate hit can lead to miscues, embarrassment and rejection by your peers, not to mention loss of your lunch money. I've seen players tighten into knots whenever they had to pull the rock back.

A second problem is that most draw shots need to be struck harder than for other strokes. That's because the backspin wears off as the ball travels across the cloth, so to get it to arrive with plenty, you have to start it with more than plenty and that takes power. Also, the cue ball slows down quickly as the draw wears off.

It's important to know that you have to do only two things to get a lot of backspin on the cue ball: hit it hard and hit it low. There are fundamentals that will help this happen more easily, like a straight stroke and a firm bridge. Did I mention that you need to chalk well?

There are some who will say that to draw you have to snap your wrist, or jerk the cue back after contact, or lock your wrist, or exaggerate the follow-through, or have a very loose grip, or a tight one, or any number of other bogosities. When you're listening to such hogwash, it's best to smile politely and say, "Oh, I'll have to try that." Hit the ball low and hard and the backspin will be there.

One important concept when spinning the cue ball is the "quality" of the spin. This refers to how much spin you get on the cue ball for the amount of speed it has. It's easy for anyone to get a little draw with a high-speed hit, but much tougher to get a bunch with a fairly soft hit. Diagram 1 shows a drill to work on this aspect.

You are not trying to pocket any ball on this shot. Place the object ball about on the line and the cue ball about a foot from it towards the rail. The goal is to shoot the object ball straight up the table and draw the cue ball back to the head cushion without the object ball also hitting the head cushion. You will need "high quality" draw for this shot.

If you can't do it at first with the object ball that far from the cushion, move it closer so the cue ball doesn't have as far to travel. Also, you can make it easier by having the cue ball closer to the object ball, but you risk cramping your follow through and learning bad habits. (It's important to be able to stop the cue stick quickly for very close draw shots, but that's not the point of this drill.) Keep your stick as level as possible -- that's one of the fundamentals that will help.

Once you have the hang of the shot at a distance that's comfortable for you, try moving the object ball progressively further from the cushion, and see how far out you can get it before the shot's impossible. You could do this as a challenge shot with a friend.

In Diagram 2 is a similar drill, but it allows you to shoot quite a bit harder. In fact, you'll have to shoot harder but still have high-quality draw. Again, you shoot the object ball not to a pocket, but straight up the table. This time the goal is to get the cue ball back to the cushion before the object ball gets to that same cushion, in a sort of race.

Start with the balls in about the position shown, with the object not quite out to the side pockets. Try faster and slower shots to see which works best for you. When you have that distance mastered, start moving the balls up the table, and see how close you can get them to the far cushion before the object ball always wins the race. Have you remembered to chalk well before each shot?

If you play in several locations, try the drills in each one. Cloth, cushions, and balls all affect how well the draw works. If you would like to see the effect of new cloth when the tables where you play haven't seen such luxury since the last millennium, rub the cue ball with wax or silicone spray.

Good luck with developing a draw stroke that will make people say, "Wow." If you chalk well, the learning will go faster.




HALF-BALL FOLLOW SECRETS

(May Issue 2004)

In my last two columns, I covered aiming half-ball shots and the path of the cue ball when playing a half-ball shot with draw. This month, the subject is follow.

Shot 1 is a practice shot that will help you get experience with the "half-ball angle," which refers to the angle the cue ball takes off an object ball when the cue ball is rolling smoothly on the table and hits half of the object ball. A ball is rolling smoothly when it has neither draw nor stop nor excess follow, but is rolling just like your tires usually do on the highway. The practice shot will seem strange on paper, but I think you'll really be amazed by it on the table.

The cue ball is placed a few inches to the right of the head spot, and the object ball is on the foot spot. The goal is to make the cue ball after hitting half of the object ball on the left side. (There is a game played like this, in which you cue the object balls to send them into pockets after hitting the cue ball -- you might call it "scratch pool" -- and you may as well use object balls as your cue ball for this drill.)

Shoot the shot will a little follow, and not much more speed than enough to get the cue ball to the pocket. If you hit half the ball on the foot spot as required, it will bank back close to a head pocket, and it should have just enough speed to the head rail.

The amazing thing about this shot is that you can scratch 20 times in a row with ease, while you might have trouble making the object ball 50% of the time. The angle of the cue ball is nearly constant for a fairly wide variety of cut angles, and it will likely scratch even for cuts from 15 to 45 degrees. Hint: if you have the speed and cut angle right, and the ball is still not scratching, adjust your starting point slightly. If you have a heavy cue ball, the "sweet spot" might be a couple of inches farther from the center of the table. You can judge the position by noting where your stick passes over the rail, or mark the table.

Once you get a feel for the angle, and have made the scratch ten times in a row, try turning the stick around and shooting with the rubber bumper -- you'll need an open bridge. Some foolish people have been known to bet that you can't scratch like this.

While the shot in the diagram is not immediately useful, the cue ball angle that it teaches is. There are lots of shots that are between 15 and 45 degrees of cut, and if you shoot at a speed that lets the cue ball roll smoothly on the cloth, the cue ball will come off the object ball at that half-ball follow angle. If you've done the practice above, the angle will be burnt into your retina, and you'll know the cue ball's exact future path. It is perhaps the most important fact to know for position play after the "tangent line" principle that says the cue ball and object ball paths initially diverge at right angles.

Note that the path of the cue starts out perpendicular to the path of the object ball, and then curves forward from the follow. On a soft shot, the curved part is often unnoticed, but after ten minutes of practice, you'll start to see the path on the cloth.

The shot is also very useful for safety play. In Diagram 2 is position from nine ball. With no good shot at the one ball, what is the best -- and easiest! -- safety play? Come off the right side of the one ball to hit about at A and then settle at B. In the mean time, the one ball will be coming off the cushion at C and going about as far as D. Now your opponent must hit the one or give up an easy combo on the nine ball.

Illustrated here is yet another delicious secret about half-ball shots. If you play a half-ball follow shot, the object ball will go very nearly as far as the cue ball. That means if you can get the cue ball onto the cushion as shown, the object ball will be close to D. Unfortunately, this part of the shot does require precision; if you hit the object ball fuller than half ball, it will travel farther than the cue ball, and less for a thin hit.

Once again, I'm going to break into my familiar refrain: you must practice the ideas here before you need them in a game. I've spent hours just on Diagram 1, so I think you can devote at least 30 minutes to it.

(The San Francisco Billiard Academy gives instruction at all levels from beginning players to training Instructors through Master level. Visit www.sfbilliards.com for more information.)




HALF-BALL SECRETS

(April Issue 2004)

In my last column, I went into a little detail on aiming half-ball shots. Just aim the middle of the cue stick and cue ball directly to the edge of the object ball, and you get close to a 30-degree cut.

This month I'm going to let you in on a first secret about the half-ball shot that is useful in position play -- what happens when you hit the shot with good draw.

If you've studied the game at all, you know that the cue ball leaves the object ball at a right angle to the path of the object ball -- along the tangent or kiss line. Of course, if the cue ball has follow or draw when it hits the object ball, the path will be bent away from that perpendicular path, forward for follow and backward for draw.

The useful secret of the half-ball with draw shot is that the cue ball will end up traveling perpendicular to its own original path. This is illustrated in Diagram 1. The shot can be very useful, but it requires some care if you want it to work right.

First, you have to have what might be called "perfect draw" on the cue ball. For most players, this is as far below center as they can hit without miscuing. Also, the cue ball must be relatively close to the object ball, or too much draw will be lost on the cloth on the way to the object ball.

You need to be careful to get an accurate hit on the object ball. The two lightly-shaded "ghost balls" in the diagram will aid in your set up. If all three balls are frozen, with the two helpers parallel to the long rail, and the lower helper and the object ball pointing to the pocket, you are set up for a half-ball shot. Remove the helpers, and point your stick at the edge of the object ball.

Note that there is a curved section of the path of the cue ball just as it leaves the object ball, before the curve finishes. After the draw has been spent, the cue ball will continue in a straight path. If you shoot softly, the curve will not be as wide. If you shoot harder, the curve will be larger, and in the shot shown, it might touch the side cushion before it straightens out to run parallel to the cushion. Unfortunately, the sharpness of the curve also depends on how clean the cloth and ball are.

In the position shown, you should be able to pocket the nine ball within five tries. Be careful about your setup, and especially be careful about how much draw you are using and how hard you hit the cue ball.

The concept of this shot is not just useful for a precise half-ball hit. If you find yourself in a similar situation, but with a slightly fuller hit required to pocket the ball, you know that it should be possible to pull the cue ball back from the right angle. Try moving the cue ball just half a ball down, so the shot is a little fuller, and see if you can pull the cue ball back to the middle of the end cushion with a thicker hit.

You can adjust the fuller hit back to the right-angle line by taking a little draw off the cue ball. How much? That's why practice is necessary with this or any system -- you must develop your feel for the shot. If the cue ball is further back, your perfect draw may degrade just the right amount to get the angle you want.

Similarly, if you are in a situation where the shot requires a hit thinner than half-ball, you know immediately that it will be nearly impossible to pull the cue ball back to the 90-degree line.

One more factor in this shot is the weight of the cue ball. Many cue balls that start out the same weight as the object balls are worn down in play from the constant abrasion of the tip and chalky cloth. You see "red circle" cue balls that have turned into "faint pink circle" cue balls because the owner is too cheap to replace worn-out equipment. Such a light cue ball will draw far more easily than a cue ball of the proper weight.

On the other hand, if you play on a coin-op table that uses a large cue ball -- the traditional "bar ball" -- you have the opposite problem. It will be much harder to draw the cue ball. How much harder? You already know how to find out, but more importantly, you now have a shot to test the equipment.

Also, if the cue ball is brand new and regulation size, but the object balls are old and worn down, you will see a little of the "bar ball" phenomenon.

In my next column, I'll go over some facets of using follow on half-ball hits.

(The San Francisco Billiard Academy gives instruction at all levels from beginning players to training Instructors through Master level. Visit www.sfbilliards.com for more information.)




HALF-BALL SHOTS

(March Issue 2004)

In my January column, I described the fractional ball method of aiming in which you visualize or imagine how much of the cue ball overlaps the object ball on its way to contact. The most useful part of this system is the half-ball hit, in which the center of the stick (and the center of the cue ball), are directed straight towards the edge of the object ball. You actually have a clear target to aim the stick at, which makes this shot unique. It turns out that the half-ball hit has very, very important applications in position and safety play, which I'll discuss in a future column. For now, let's work on getting the basic shot down.

The spot shot shown in Diagram 1 is a good example to start with. The object ball is on the foot spot, and the cue ball is in hand behind the line. If you place the cue ball so that your stick passes over the short-rail edge of the corner pocket, the shot is a half-ball hit. (On small tables, the correct placement of the cue ball is closer to the side cushion, so your stick will pass over the long-rail edge of the pocket.)

If your cue ball placement is right, and your stick is pointed through the center of the cue ball directly at the edge of the object ball, and you bring your arm straight back and straight through, I guarantee you'll make the shot. (Does not apply to large cue balls, crooked tables, very sticky object balls, or in the State of Connecticut. Your mileage may vary.)

Speaking of large cue balls, if your table is cursed with one of these, the correct placement will be closer to the side cushion. How much? It depends on the cue ball -- experiment with it.

As mentioned before, the cut angle for an ideal half-ball hit is 30 degrees. If the normal throw for a rolling cue ball is included, it turns out to be more like 28 degrees. Here is how you can set up your own half-ball practice shot anywhere on the table. See Diagram 2.

Place the cue ball on the headd spot. Take four balls in a diamond pattern (like a small nine-ball rack) and move them forward on the table until the 1-2 and 1-3 lines point slightly above the pockets as shown. If you now remove the 1 and 4 balls, and shoot the cue ball to the previous location of the 1, you will be playing a half-ball hit on both the 2 and 3 at the same time.

The 1-2 line is different from the path of the 2 ball because the 2 ball is thrown slightly forward by friction from the cue ball.

You can use the same small diamond to set up a half-ball shot anywhere on the table. If you want to set up a shot for the 2 ball, place the diamond so the 1-2 point to the right place if throw is included, and place the cue ball in a straight line with the 1-4, then remove the 1-3-4 and shoot the 2. An even faster way to set up or check shots is to make an angle template out of stiff paper. If one side is lined up with the path to the pocket, the other will give the required incoming path for the cue ball for a half-ball hit.

When you practice shooting for half-ball, be sure to play the shot from both sides. Some people see left and right cut shots differently.

(The San Francisco Billiard Academy gives instruction at all levels from beginning players too training Instructors through Master level. Visit www.sfbilliards.com for more information.)



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