Ever wished you could “not suck” at playing pool? Not be considered the worst player in the group? Maybe even win when playing with your “pool player” friends and surprise everyone? Well, I am here to tell you that its not that hard.
It takes surprisingly little effort to beat the average pool player. Most players (outside of pool leagues) have no technique, no consistency and rely on luck or the inexperience of their opponents to win. All it takes to beat them are some basic drills and techniques to improve your consistency.
As someone who loves both to play pool and teach others, I came up with a series of drills that I use to teach complete beginners how to aim and shoot subconsciously. I taught a friend these basics a while ago and she made some amazing cut shots and ran two-three balls at a time during a game about fifteen minutes after going through the drills. Considering it was the second or third time in her life she had held a cue-stick, it was amazing improvement.
It is no substitute for years of practice, but these basics should give any beginner a jump start and have them playing very confidently in less than 30 minutes, easily beating most untrained or amateur players.
These are the essential basics that any beginner needs to go through to become a good intermediate level player
1. Learning to Stand and Hold the Cue Properly – The Stance, The Grip and The Bridge
Beginners tend to stand very awkwardly when they try to shoot pool. Most stand in a way where they have no balance and will fall over if pushed. Some can barely hold the cue steadily because their whole body is shaking from the strain of trying to maintain their weird posture.
Simple Advice? Get comfortable when you stand, hold the cue stick gently, and stay relaxed when you shoot. Check out this video for a quick explanation
When I am teaching, I first get students to learn a good stance and bridge and make sure their cue-ing is straight (using the bottle drill if a bottle if available).
They do not get to touch the cue ball or make a shot until they can maintain their balance in their stance and have a clean, straight stroke. Sometimes I even try to gently push them to test if they are in a stable stance. Ideally you should be so comfortable, you can stay in this position indefinitely.
2. Learning to hit the cue-ball straight and smooth – The Stroke
The next essential element after you learn to stand, is developing a good stroke. Bad stroke is the biggest reason for unpredictability in a persons game. Ever had days when you can make difficult shots, and other days when you can’t even make easy shots? Or find that the cue ball isn’t going where it should? Bad stroke is usually the culprit.
The bottle drill is probably the easiest way to fix a person’s stroke and can teach a beginner in minutes what some players with years of experience don’t realize.
This includes not moving their head during the shot, holding the cue stick gently, and a good clean follow through with no jerkiness in the cue action.
For a detailed explanation, you can read my article on the essential elements of of a good billiards stroke where I go over each of these elements in detail.
Simple Advice? Hold the cue softly. Don’t move any part of the body other than the forearm while shooting. Follow through. And get up only after the cue ball has stopped moving. Check out this video for a quick explanation
When I am teaching, I have the student practice hitting a cue ball from one side of the table into the opposite corner pocket to improve their confidence. If you can hit the cue ball into the opposite corner consistently (the longest possible shot on the table), then your stroke is steady enough.
3. Learning where to hit the cue ball – An Aiming System
Most beginners don’t realize that learning to hit straight in step two is the hardest part of learning pool. If you have learned to accurately hit where you aim, then all you need is someone to show you where to aim the cue ball.
Ever had a friend place a finger on the table to show you the point to aim and you found that by aiming there you made the shot easily? Well, the ghost ball system is a simple little trick to find that point without needing someone else.
Simple Advice? Imagine a ghost ball pushing the target ball into the pocket from the opposite side and aim at the center of the ghost ball. Check out this video for a quick explanation.
When I am teaching students to aim, I start by giving them progressively increasing cut shots. I start with a straight shot, then an easy cut shot, then a tougher one until they are comfortable with most cut shots.
When aiming, I usually place a second object ball as a ghost ball and ask them to use it to line up. Once they do so, and are down on the shot, I remove the ghost ball and let them shoot. After doing this enough number of times, I make them repeat the shot without a ghost ball. In case they start missing, I bring back the ghost ball and let them shoot a few more shots.
I then try to give them the gist of the aiming without aiming concept of just getting down on the shot and trusting their subconscious mind. Surprisingly, complete beginners are able to pick up the system a lot faster than people who have been shooting for a while.
4. Learning to control the cue ball for the next shot – Position Play
Ever seen a professional player playing? He not only makes the shot, but the cue ball then rolls around the table right next to the next shot. To be able to do this, you need to understand the elements of positioning the ball and shot selection. If you would like to learn position control, check out my new article series on learning cue ball position control.
i) Controlling the Ball – Obviously, for a quick crash course, I ignore the basic elements of position play. For people who have the time, or come back for a second lesson, we go over the stop shot, the follow shot and the draw shot. Check out this video for a quick explanation of follow, draw and stop shots.
ii) Positioning the Ball – Once you can control the cue ball, you need to start using the 90 and 30 degree rule and apply them for simple position play. Then comes learning to use follow, draw and side english to control where the cue ball goes after each shot. I have a separate workout to explain position play. If your are at the stage where you are able to make shots reasonably well, you might want to read my article series on cue ball control and position play, which should give your positioning ability a significant boost.
iii) Shot Selection – The last piece of the puzzle is learning to choose which ball to aim at so you are left with another shot after making the current ball. This is how you can make/run more than one ball at a time. After going over position play, I usually just play while I discuss and illustrate shot selection while using position play.
Mastering these fundamentals takes any person from barely able to hold the cue to playing at an APA 2-3 level in under an hour. What separates an APA 2-3 from an APA 4-5 is, more accuracy, consistency, and learning to control the cue ball for position play. And what separates a 4-5 from a 6-7, is inner game, emotional control, and even more consistency.
Of course, There is a LOT more to pool than just aiming or running tables. The fact is, even after learning to aim well, there is still so much to learn and do. Better cue ball control, better position play, better safety play, better kick shots, better bank shots, learning break-out shots. Once you have mastered the basics, I recommend more advanced warmup drills to fine tune your stroke and position play.
At the professional level, its no longer about just shooting skill, but also the mental game of billiards. Once you get good at aiming, bigger things start mattering – such as controlling your own emotions, playing against more experienced players with defensive play or learning to face new experiences and situations that you haven’t faced before.
How far you decide to go and where you decide to stop learning depends entirely on your own journey and motivation behind playing pool.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy two of my most popular article series – Aiming without Aiming – How to shoot pool like a pro and Cue Ball Position Control Essentials.
If you have any questions or are interested in more details about these steps, please leave a comment below.