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Shotmaking in Billiards

8-BallAs anyone who knows me can tell you, I really like golf. I've also always liked pool but have really never had the time or opportunity to play it as much: it's not a high school sport, you pay every time you go typically (unlike a $330 junior membership at a country club), and you really have to play against someone.

Previously, I'd play pool like a hack - I had no idea what I was doing and I'd hit balls hard figuring "the more I hit, the more likely one will get hit and find a pocket." I had no touch and no skill. Well, recently I was given a book and am beginning the process of teaching myself.

The most interesting thing I've discovered so far is what "English" really is. I used to think it was making the ball curve on the table, but that's actually a "massé" shot - a downward strike on a left- or right-rear quadrant of the cue ball. English is really more about the bounce off the rail, and to achieve it you basically hit the center height of the cue ball but horizontally, you hit to the left or right of center.

I never realized a ball struck off-center could go straight, but it does… with side spin. If you want to pull a ball off a rail differently than it might go just hitting it straight, you can use English.

You can also use English to "throw" an object ball (the ball you're trying to hit with the cue ball). A cue ball spinning counterclockwise ("right English," caused by hitting to the right of center) will "throw" an object ball to the left a little (the leading edge of the cue ball is spinning left).

Carey and I went to play pool last night. The first game was horrible - I nearly whiffed the cue ball on my first break and the game lasted awhile as Carey and I adjusted to the speed and the basics of playing pool. The second and third games went along pretty smoothly.

In the third game, I had two instances in which the line between my cue ball and the object ball was right of a pocket. With an English-less shot, I'd have had to contact the object ball on its right side to kick it left. Instead, I aimed at the center of the object ball and employed right English to "throw" the ball left towards the pocket. Either it's incredibly easy to do this or I got lucky, but both table-length shots found their mark and the ball found the pocket.

My favorite shot of the evening was one in which I used English off the rail. There's a Shockwave pool table for illustration purposes exists at If you copy the text below and visit the site, you can click the "paste" button and your clipboard contents (the string below) will be used to lay the diagram out.


You should end up with a table like this:

Pool English

Ignore the balls left of the "B" on the table - they're just scattered about.

As you can see, by playing a straight rail shot (the yellow/red pair of lines), I'd have no shot as the 8 ball is in the way. Instead, I played a shot straight into the rail (green line) with a little bit of right English (ignore the cue ball in the lower left - I forgot to move the mark to the right). The ball came off on the blue line, nudged the object ball into the pocket, and left myself a decent play.

The Similarities
At the moment that ball dropped, I couldn't have cared less whether I was winning or losing. I had planned a shot I had just learned about, applied it, and done it to perfection. The similarities between the same process in golf are striking. I've always gotten more joy out of hitting the ball like I want when playing golf than in shooting a good score (though if you hit the shots you want, the score usually follows), and I imagine that I'll approach pool the same way.

There are quite a few more similarities, of course: the physics of spin, ball/stick contact, some strategy, and more. But either way, I'm excited. Billiards may be the closest equivalent to "indoor golf" that exists.

6 Responses to "Shotmaking in Billiards"

  1. The best game to learn is 9-ball. You need to shoot the balls in sequence. It forces you to think about the route the cue ball is going to travel.

    Good luck.

  2. I've heard other people say that 8-Ball is tougher because you have to navigate around the rest of the junk on the table (the other person's balls). What are your thoughts?

  3. The most difficult is straight ball. 8-ball is relatively easier because you can shoot whatever ball you can legally shoot. There are more options than in 9-ball, because in 9-ball you shoot balls in succession [1, 2, 3, ...], and the next ball can be hidden from you - that is if you don't control your cue ball well.

    Try it... You'll see.

  4. Thanks. I asked for your thoughts because I've heard it both ways: 9-ball is tougher because you have to go in order and 8-ball is tougher cuz you have "junk" in the way all over the table. Thanks for offering them. I probably agree with you. Eight ball is for bangers anyway, right? 😉

  5. Not that I want to argue - I have played pool for 10 years 🙂

    You asked "What are your thoughts?": I answered.

  6. if ya wanna check out a truly *great* cue game, look at three-cushion billiards.