Sep 132010

As an amateur player, one of the first things to understand as you learn how to play pool is that there are four basic kinds of billiard shots from which everything else you do on a pool table will stem from. When you strike the cue ball it will be with some combination of these variables: center-ball, draw, follow, and side-spin (or English). This first post will discuss the concept of the center-ball hit and how to execute it. Center-ball hits are vital to developing consistency in your pool game. You will need an accurate center-hit during your games of 8 ball, 9 ball, straight pool, etc. more often than any other types of billiard shots. Follow along to figure out whether or not you’ve mastered this vital tool.

A center-ball billiard shot is actually a difficult action to execute successfully for those very amateur of players just learning how to play pool. First, because they are not aware of the center-hit’s absolute importance to their accuracy. Secondly, because they have yet to become comfortable with the basic mechanics of stance, bridge, and stroke.

Now to deliver a center-ball hit to the cue ball, obviously you want to aim dead-center with the cue stick, and then strike that spot as you execute the shot. Not so obvious is the fact that “center” can often be misjudged because of factors like elevation of the stick, elevation of the shooter’s head and eyes, and even the alignment of the shooter behind the cue ball. The best way to judge a proper hit is watch your results.

Line up a straight shot into some pocket, not too much distance, and try to strike the cue ball in its center with a firm stroke, while making the shot. As an added visual aid, use a striped ball to represent the cue ball, this will give you greater visual proof of what is actually happening when you take your billiards shots. If you’ve aimed properly, the cue ball should come to a complete stop, with no evidence of side-spin (and none of back-spin or follow, either).

If the cue is spinning in place, then you know that you have miss hit the cue ball to the left or right of center (based on the direction of the spin on the ball). This means that either your overall alignment behind the cue is e a little off, or that you are hitching your stroke to the left or right as you execute the shot.
To try to fix this, take some practice time to analyze your stance and stroke to be sure you are properly positioned and that your eyes, arm, wrist, and stick are all resting within a single plane-of-motion. Work on bringing that cue ball to a complete stop, without side-spin.

Now, if instead of stopping, you find the cue ball chasing forward, or drawing backward then your aim is off either high or low, respectively. This can be the result of the elevation of you head in respect to the cue ball, which will give you the illusion of “center” being somewhere that it really isn’t. Or it can be a result of you backhand being elevated too high, which angles the cue stick down at the ball (or, very unlikely but still possible for argument’s sake: your backhand is dropped way too low, forcing the stroke to move upwards towards the cue). You could be aiming along the vertical center line of the cue, but actually striking it above or below center unintentionally. By watching your results carefully you can determine where you are truly striking, and make corrections to your stroke and stance until the desired center-hit billiards shot is attained.

Ideally, you want to make your cue stick as level as possible during your stroke, practically parallel with the table, and you want your eyes, shoulder, forearm, and stick all aligned comfortably within a single plane-of-motion, with no hitch in the swing. Once you have gotten used to those basic mechanics you will see greater consistency in your efforts. You can then begin work on hitting a dead-center billiards shot by setting up that straight practice shot I mentioned earlier and practicing over and over again. Practice is the mantra for excelling at how to play pool for beginners and pros alike.

Keep tweaking your pool stance and stroke until the cue ball shows no sign of side-spin, draw or follow, and you will begin to play better pool as a result.

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