When watching a master pool or snooker player in action, what stands out isn’t the difficult shots that they hit, but how rarely they seem to need to make difficult shots; how they automatically end up with relatively simple shots; and how they seem to magically make the game seem incredibly easy and effortless.
One of my favorite players to watch for this is Ronnie O’Sullivan.
In fact, why don’t you take a few minutes to watch one of his classic breaks and look at how easy he makes the game look.
You could have made most of the shots that he made, couldn’t you?
The fact is, I wouldn’t be surprised if you said that you could. Most of the shots Ronnie had in that break were fairly straight forward, medium distance shots.
However, the trick isn’t just making the shot, it is making sure that you get an easy next shot as well; and then finding a way to keep getting easy shots until you have cleared the entire table.
That is the real secret of break building – cue ball position control.
Controlling cue ball position is the most important thing you can learn once you understand the basics of aiming and making shots. It is what separates the beginners who can make breaks of one or two balls, the intermediate players who can make 5-7 balls and the masters (You just saw Ronnie clear 36 balls on a 12 foot table without missing even once).
Over the next few articles in this series, I will be breaking down a few fundamental elements of positional control that when combined, will massively improve your ability to control the cue ball and make long breaks. These core shots and principles should be more than enough to handle most of the situations that you will encounter in your games.
None of these will be hard or flashy shots, or require vast amounts of skill. The key to good position play is trying to keep things as simple as possible.
Before you focus on position play, you should already have a decent stance and be able to make shots. If you are still struggling with these basics, you should check out my article on how to play pool well in under 30 minutes. Also, if you want to be able to consistently and confidently run tables, you should also develop a good pool stroke and fine tune it using practice techniques like the bottle drill.
Once you have got these out of the way, it’s time to look at the three basic shot types.
- Stop/Stun shot
- Follow shot
- Draw/Screw back shot
There are a few more shot names that you might have heard being mentioned such as drag shots and stun run-throughs, however once you master the fundamental shots, you will find that these are just simple variations of the three basic shots.
The Stop Shot
The most fundamental of all shots is the stop/stun shot.
Very simply put, a stop/stun shot occurs when the cue ball has no forward or reverse spin at the time when it strikes the object/target ball.
What this means is the cue ball is essentially sliding on the table cloth (and not rolling) when it hits the object ball. Once the cue ball hits the object ball, momentum is transferred from the cue ball to the object ball.
If the cue ball is aimed directly towards the center of the object ball, then the cue ball will come to a dead stop and the object ball will start moving at almost the same speed as the cue ball, in the same direction.
In the diagram, the light gray circle shows the point where the cue ball will stop once it strikes the object ball.
In case the cue ball is aimed off center (a cut shot), the cue ball will move along a perpendicular line (also known as the tangent line) to the object ball’s path.
The speed of the cue ball is then distributed between the two balls – In case of a thin shot, most of the speed remains with the cue ball, while in the case of a more solid contact, most of the speed will be transferred to the object ball and the cue ball will slow down significantly.
In the diagram, the light gray line shows the path the cue ball will take once it strikes the object ball.
Now, that we know what this shot is, how do we go about making the cue ball purely slide when it hits the object ball?
Well, here’s the deal – any cue ball when struck reasonably hard in the center, will start by sliding forward and then slowly start rolling forward as the friction from the cloth starts acting on it. If you hit the cue ball below center, then the ball will start rotating backwards while sliding forward, then the friction will take over and reduce the backward rotation until it stops rotation and starts purely sliding, and finally just like in the center-ball shot, will start rolling forward.
By using a combination of hitting hard and below center as needed, we can have the cue ball purely sliding when it hits the object ball. Calibrating how hard or how low to hit the ball is a matter of practice.
For the most common half-table-breadth distances a firm shot, within half a cue tip below center is usually enough.
Try to pot the object ball into one of the side pockets while keeping the cue ball about a half table breadth away along a straight line, so that the cue ball stops while the object ball goes into the pocket. This is one shot I’d recommend practicing until you can hit it perfectly at least 9 out of 10 times.
Now try setting up a cut shot, and watch the object and cue ball go in perpendicular directions.
Learning this shot alone should significantly improve your ability to control the cue ball. So how do you use this shot in practice?
Let’s take a look at a simple example shown in the illustration.
Imagine you had to run the three balls in numerical order, starting with ball in hand, using only the shot you have learned so far. How would you do it?
The simplest solution? Set up for a straight stop shot on ball 1, then stun the cue ball slightly while shooting ball 2, so that the cue ball is deflected to place yourself for a relatively simple shot on ball 3.
By keeping your cue ball off the straight line shot, you can move the cue ball as far along the tangent line as you need for your next shot, by controlling the pace of the cue ball and the angle at which you are shooting.
In fact by planning one or two balls ahead, you should be able to make fairly long runs as long as you maintain a little angle which will allow you to move the ball along tangent lines instead of just stopping it in place.
Of course, not ever ball is an easy tangent line position away. Sometimes you might need to go in a slightly different direction from the basic tangent line. That is where follow and draw shots come in.
In the next article we will look at how follow (forward spin) and draw (reverse spin), can be used to modify the angle at which the cue ball leaves the object ball to achieve finer control over position.