Tips on How to Play Billiards Like A Pro
Are you an experienced pool player or a total novice? Whichever you are, you surely want to win the game, whether it is an eight- or nine-ball. The feeling of getting the billiard balls into the pockets is incomparable. But to play billiards like a pro, you need a few things first.
- A good cue stick
- A smooth, fluid stroke
- A precise aim
To play like a pro, you need practice, practice, and more practice. But we’ll give you a few practical tips that will help you play like a legend even when you are an intermediate or even a newbie. This blog focuses on aiming.
If you’re interested in other strategies like drills to improve your pool skills, you can check out our advice here.
Aiming: The Key to a Pro Pool Play
It’s not surprising that some professional billiard players operate on instinct. Others, however, prefer an aiming system, ranging from straightforward to scientific. These systems are pretty controversial. After all, can you truly rely on aiming to work for all cut shot angles?
The biggest challenge in playing pool or billiards is visualising the exact shot line involving all three elements:
- Cue ball
- Object ball
- Ghost ball (also called the imaginary ball)
Aiming at an imaginary ball is not easy. However, it works for most pool players, including high-calibre ones like Ralph Greenleaf, Willie Mosconi, and Nick Varner. This aiming system instructs the player to imagine the ghost ball, where the cue ball should end as it hits the object ball. The cue ball hits the object ball at the line of centres or impact line through the ghost ball.
So, the ghost ball method uses actual pool balls whilst the player visualises parallel lines to the contact points and parallel through the centre of the cue ball. That’s why this is known as parallel aiming. It can be tricky, but the secret is to imagine that the lines cross the ball centres without aiming down on the cloth. This strategy aims to pass the object ball as you hit its edge.
To better understand the parallel aiming system, let’s break it down into several steps:
- Create an imaginary line passing through the centre of the object ball and ending at the target direction, such as the pocket). This imaginary line is where the contact point should be on the object ball.
- The second step requires you to shift the visualised line in #1 to the cue ball. Make sure you keep the line parallel to your envisioned line in the first step. This new line gives you the contact point on the cue ball.
- Remember that the first line you created was for the object ball contact point, whilst the second line is for the cue ball.
- Now, visualise another line that passes through the two contact points (cue ball and object ball).
- Finally, parallel shift the line above to the centre of the cue ball. This will now give you the required aiming direction.
Note that you should neglect cut-induced throw or the change in angle of the object ball off the direction of the expected line of centres.
The Pro Aiming Method
This next aiming system, which some people call the Pro Aim, is a slight variation of the parallel aim. Instead of visualising a line, imagine the impact. Concentrate on the cue ball side that will strike the object ball, not the edge that will pass the object ball. Many pros use this technique where they look through the ghost ball with the object ball’s actual edge, rather than an imaginary centre in a space (ghost ball centre).
So, if you’re uncomfortable with the ghost ball method, try aiming directly at the contact point. That way, you feel like you are truly aiming and even stroking. Believe that the cue stick and nose are straight on the line of contact point even though they are not. This method allows you to pocket more balls. It may help you hit fuller shots than the ghost ball method, where you significantly overcut balls.
The Pro Aim method is efficient in full to half ball hits. However, if the cue nose does not appear “on,” the best solution is to lock your eyes on the target, which is the contact point. Revise the technique by sending the cue ball edge (note: not the cue nose) at the contact point. This revision does require a lot of practice, so keep doing it over and over until this method is built into your system.
The Pivot Aiming Method
You might recognise this tactic if you have watched billiards with Efren Reyes or Johnny Archer. There are a few other variations of the Pivot Aim. Still, they can get confusing for beginners with all the degrees and fractions involved. So, let us stick to the fundamentals.
The Pivot Aim calls for you to ignore the contact point. Instead, your focus is on the edge of the object ball with one tip of English. We’re talking about the sidespin applied to the cue ball where you hit either the left or right side of the cue ball’s vertical centreline. Intrigued? Here are the steps:
As mentioned, you keep your aim at the edge of the object ball using one English tip, with both hands aligned with one tip-off of the centre ball.For the next step, you need to steady your bridge hand as you pivot the cue stick to the centre ball. It’s a very subtle move where shifting is done with just your stroking arm.
You’re now ready to cut the object ball, driving it to the pocket.
For many shots, the pivot method works. Of course, you still need to practice and modify the move with great consideration to your bridge length. Experiment with the ball edges and right/left English. Don’t forget to cut the balls as thinly as possible.
Absolute half-ball hits do not work with pivoting the cue. However, this method will help refresh how to visually evaluate the cue ball, pockets, and object balls.
Hold Your Cue Like A Pro
Apart from the aiming systems above, holding the cue stick will also help improve your game. Here are some tips that will help you get the basics down:
- Don’t grip the cue too tightly. It’s a common beginner mistake. Instead, have a relaxed grip that lets you control the cue.
- Use your dominant hand to hold the cue near its rear, where you feel the balance. You will typically find a tape there. Ideally, your back hand should be at a 90-degree angle as your cue.
- You can hold the stick with just your thumb and index finger. However, some players add their middle fingers to add more power.
- When taking the shot, lower your body first to the table, which should let you stare down the cue ball in a straight line. Keep your body relaxed with your legs slightly bent and a few inches apart.
- Use your other hand as the open bridge, placing it about 15 to 20 cm away from the cue ball. Note that the closer you are to the ball, the more precise your shot becomes. Your bridge balances the cue so you can hit your shots.
- Several other bridges exist, but it helps to be familiar with an open bridge, which is the most common. Simply place your hand on the table with your fingers spread apart. Let the cue slide between the knuckles of your middle and index fingers. Support the pool cue in this V space you created with your fingers. You can then modify how high or low the cue tip rests by raising or lowering your hand.
- Lean forward and keep your eye trained on the object ball. The ideal shot is when you hit the cue ball in its centre, but some shots may require other sweet spots, depending on the position of the object ball.
- Finally, it’s time to take your shot. Slide the stick forward whilst controlling your aim. Moving the cue back and forth will help you get a more balanced shot, so take your time and make this move until you feel steadier.
Your goal is to hit the ball, meaning strike, not poke – a common novice mistake. Your next step is to master different types of bridges, such as the closed and rail bridges.
As with any sport, you need to play and practice as much as you can. Aiming, holding the cue, and striking require good body and head alignment. The trick is to keep your vision centred properly so you can perceive the line of your shot successfully. Give these tips a try and keep playing. Soon, you’ll play billiards like a pro.