Tag Archives: drills

Learn how to play pool well in under 30 minutes

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.

You can read my article on the ghost ball system for a detailed explanation of how it works. For longer distance cut shots, I recommend using the parallel line aiming system.

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.

Thats it!!!

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.

The Bottle – Improve your billiards stroke phenomenally without leaving your home

Not everyone owns a pool table. And going to a pool hall to practice every day can get both inconvenient and expensive. So how do you get better without practicing?

I recently wrote about the Kaizen way – how small one minute tasks can make a big difference. I wanted to find an easy way to practice pool for a minute every day. What I decided on was the bottle drill.

Place an empty bottle on a level surface (I use an ironing board). Place your hand about a foot away from the mouth of the bottle and stroke the cue into the bottle without touching the sides. I do this for just about 30 seconds to a minute, after which I switch hands and repeat the exercise.

This drill is perfect for the subconscious mind to learn quickly because it provides the brain with a simple goal and immediate feedback for auto-correction.

The first two days I did this drill, I touched the bottle a lot while stroking. However by the third day my subconscious had already realized what I was trying to achieve and had started “fixing” anything that was causing me to touch the sides. I started loosening my back arm muscles, softening my grip. I also discovered exactly where I need to keep the cue below my eye so that I can aim perfectly.

Over a period of two weeks, I can now go 20 – 30 strokes without touching the sides (and 3-4 with my left hand). This exercise is improving my concentration and ability to hit the cue ball exactly where I need to. It is also making it a habit for me to stay down on the shot (since getting up makes the cue tip hit the bottle).

The improvements on the pool table have been phenomenal. I had no idea my stroke needed so much correction. I thought I shot well before, but over the last couple of weeks my shooting has been getting better. Last night, I hit full table length, straight in, stop shots perfectly and consistently. Even my table length draw shots are getting consistent.

I had been going through a losing streak the last couple of months, and this one little exercise has got me shooting better than I have ever shot before. It has me feeling excited about shooting and playing pool again.

The cool thing is, because it is only one minute a day, I find this drill both easy and convenient to do. I haven’t skipped this exercise even one day since I started.

For people who would like to improve their shooting and need a convenient way to practice and improve their game, this is probably the answer you are looking for. If you are in a slump or plateau, the reason for it is usually a defect in the pool stroke. This simple, almost silly, little practice exercise will change your game for ever.

10 Minute Pool Warmup – How to get into the zone

One thing that I discovered with my new pool skills was that I could now walk into a pool hall and expect my first game to be pretty decent.

However, it took an hour or more of continuous playing before I got into “the zone” – The point at which every shot seems equally easy; where I know even before I aim, that the shot is going in; and where I can confidently face any player in the pool room; where I am aiming without aiming.

At this point, my game stops being just “decent” and becomes what I would call “inspired”.

I kept trying different things to see what really got me into the zone. I tried changing what time and how long I took a nap, what I would eat, even whether or not I drank red bull before heading out. I tried wearing lucky/comfortable clothing and a billion other things that I thought might affect my game. After months of experimentation I finally eliminated everything else and came down to a few essential things that helped me get into this zone.

The first thing is to ensure I follow all the tips that allow me to develop perfect stroke.

The three drills below take about ten minutes at the most, but leave me in the zone, fully confident that I can win any game I play (or at least make it very, very difficult for the other guy).

1. Table Length Draw Shot

Billiards Draw Stroke Drill

Place the cue ball and object ball as pictured (on the diagonal line one third of the way from each pocket. Shoot the object into the opposite pocket, and draw the cue ball into the pocket closest to you.

Even if you don’t succeed in making the shot, just attempting this long straight shot while trying to draw the ball helps you develop perfect stroke. The closer you get, the better.

Ideally, do this until you succeed (both balls have fallen into their respective pockets) at least two times in a row. Increase this number as you get better.

2. Cue Ball Control – Closed Space Position Play

Lay out the balls as pictured (in a 3 x 3 rectangular grid around the center, on the spots where the diamonds meet). Run the table, starting with ball in hand, ideally without ever letting the cue ball touch the rails.

This drill isn’t too complicated. There is no “right” way to do this drill.

What this drill teaches you is very fine position control using soft draw, soft follow and the stop shot. Each time you try this drill, your subconscious mind observes and keeps track of what it attempted to do, what actually happened, what worked and what didn’t.

You learn to use follow and draw to stop the cue ball precisely within inches of where you need to be. You also learn the limitations of your positioning ability – what you can and cannot do. You learn to recover from going slightly off position and compensating appropriately on the next shot.

When similar two-three ball positions come up in a game, you will be able to run them on automatic pilot without having to think about it. The more you practice the drill, the more data-points your subconscious mind can fall back on when it needs them.

3. Running Tables Confidently
The goal of this exercise is simple – To get you warmed up for match/game playing mode. It also gets you used to the idea of running several balls and playing with position in mind.

Rack 15 balls, break them, and run all 15 balls in any order (like straight pool). The idea is to pick a ball, decide the next ball, and shoot so that you are in good position to play the next shot.

Just like the previous exercise, this teaches you to play position and to adjust and rethink your strategy in case you go out of position.

The more you play this drill, the more balls you will learn to plan ahead for. Starting from thinking one ball ahead, you will eventually be able to plan 6-7 balls instantly just by looking at the table.

4. Kaizen – Continuous, small improvement
If you still have some time left from the warm up, this is when you pick ONE shot that you missed during a recent match or game and that you feel seems to come up pretty often.
Not a 5 rail jump kick shot that you would only do in exhibition shows. Pick a shot that comes up again and again, that you are inconsistent with and can’t seem to rely on.

Now set it up and keep practicing the shot again and again until you think you can do it blind folded.

The final test? Once you get down on the shot and are ready to shoot, close your eyes, and shoot without looking. Open your eyes a couple of seconds after you shoot. If the ball went in, you have subconscious competence and can move on.

That’s it. This is all I do now days. And its all I seem to need.

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.

Table length draw – How to develop the perfect pool stroke

One thing I heard a lot while I worked on my pool skills, was the term “stroke”. People would admire a player’s stroke, and talk about stroke being the most important thing to master. However, no one could explain what they meant by stroke, or how I was expected to master it.

Several months later, I figured out what they meant. Stroke is essential for subconscious competence in pool. Your mind can only guide you to a shot, if you can actually shoot straight where it tells you to. A good stroke lets you do that.

People with a good stroke can effortlessly draw a cue ball an entire table length while striking the ball just one cue tip below center with a medium speed. Novices on the other hand, slam the ball hard as hard as they can, and still barely get a few inches of draw. Some end up getting the perfect stop shot. (That used to be me).

So what is it that makes draw the perfect test for a good stroke? The fact is, if you can draw an entire table length, you have already mastered all the essentials of a great stroke –

1. LONG FOLLOW THROUGH: You follow through at least 6 inches to a foot beyond the cue ball. Hitting through the cue ball instead of stopping at the cue ball. Your cue does not start slowing down until the cue ball has already left the cue. Without follow through, there is NO way to get the cue ball to retain backwards spin for large distances. It improves your accuracy, and ensures you don’t have any silly jerky motion when you shoot. All good stuff.

2. CUE PARALLEL TO TABLE: Very few people seem to realize that the raised sides of a table causes the cue to be pointing at a downwards angle instead of perfectly parallel. Downward stroke is what is used for masse and curve shots, and the slightest bit of left or right english when combined with a downward shot guarantees that the cue ball curves sideways as it goes forward resulting in a miss. Also, when shooting that way, the downward momentum is wasted and does not contribute in any useful way to the spin. The closer to parallel you can keep your cue (perfectly parallel may not always be possible), the more accurate your shot.

3. SOFT ACCELERATING MOTION: The longer your cue sticks to the cue ball, the longer you are imparting momentum (and spin) to the cue ball. If you go flying at the cue ball like a rocket, you will impart some speed and english, but the moment the cue ball leaves the cue, the green cloth will start taking the reverse spin off the ball. If however, you start slow and keep accelerating through the ball, the cue ball sticks to the cue for at least a foot after and more and more spin accumulates on the ball. The shot looks smoother and more effortless, and the amount of draw imparted is phenomenal. A visualization that has helped me a lot is, move as if you were walking inside a swimming pool – everything is super slow, like Bullet Time in The Matrix.

4. STRAIGHT FOLLOW THROUGH WITH A RELAXED ARM: The upper part of your forearm does not move at all, and all the motion comes from your lower arm. Since your upper arm does not raise or lower, the cue continues its follow through, through the cue ball, and nearly hits the table a few feet ahead of where the cue ball was. If it doesn’t, you may be lowering your elbow, which is a NO – NO. The upper arm stays steady and does not move, the lower arm moves slowly through the shot. The fastest and most effective way of teaching yourself this is by using the bottle drill to improve your stroke.

5. STAYING DOWN ON THE SHOT: You stay down and watch the shot until all the balls stop. This allows your subconscious mind to record every bit of the shot – The line the cue ball took, how the object ball and cue ball reacted, what line they took after they hit each other, and where the object ball went in relation to where you intended it to go. Staying down also ensures that no twitches or jerky body motions as a result of you jumping up change the line of the shot. It also makes you look more professional.

This little mental check list – PARALLEL, ACCELERATING, STRAIGHT FOLLOW THROUGH, SWIMMING POOL SLOW, STAY DOWN AFTER SHOT has done wonders for my consistency and my ability to draw great lengths. Any day I find my shooting a little off, this is all I have to focus on.

You might find it useful to read this article on learning pool fundamentals in under 30 minutes which also has videos that illustrate some of these concepts.

The new problem I have now is trying to control the urge to use draw on all shots just to show off. 🙂

This one shot will skyrocket your game more than every other jazzy or cool trick shot that you learn because it gives you the perfect stroke. This exact same motion, when used on the top half of the cue gives you perfect follow, and used on the side gives you perfect side english, while minimizing squirt and miscues.

Once you can do this, your shooting and aiming will go through the roof. At this point, you are ready to move on and learn the next bits
1. Aiming – Subconscious aiming drills
2. Essential Shots – Stop, Follow, Draw, and Jab
3. Essential Position Play Paths
4. Banking and Kicking essentials
5. Dirty Tactics – Common Mid-Game and End-Game safety plays