Billiards is a game that seems simple, but is actually quite complex and challenging. There is a lot to learn and perfecting the game can take years. Perhaps you may have played billiards in your local pub or community center for fun, but now you want to get serious about the game and improve your skills. If you are looking to learn the basics of billiards, this article will get you started.
A Beginner’s Guide to Playing Billiards Before You Take a Shot
Preparing for the shot begins well before you line up your pool cue. First of all, you will need to take a close look at the pool table and think about how you want to execute your shot. Walk around the table to see all of the possibility that are available to you, so that you can choose the best course of action. Think about where you want the ball to go and what angle you need to hit it at in order to make that happen. Remember that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction – for example when you hit a ball slightly on the right side it will go slightly to the left. Pool is all about angles, so give yourself some practice time to hit the ball from different angles and gain an understanding of where it goes. Also, you will need to think about how hard you want to hit the ball. The harder you hit it, the further and faster it will go, so keep this in mind. If you only need to nudge the ball into the pocket, a gentle hit will be much more effective than a forceful stroke. It is also important to add chalk to the end of the pool cue before you take a stroke. This will increase the amount of fiction between the tip and the ball. If you don’t chalk up your cue, the slippery end can slide off the ball you are trying to hit – resulting in it not going where you intended.
Getting the Right Stance
When you have decided on the shot you want to make, the next step is to align your body in the right stance. Having the right stance will help you to keep your balance and minimize any unwanted movement when you are shooting the ball. You should feel comfortable and relaxed and you should have enough room to swing your stroking arm freely. You will need to “stand behind the shot”, which means aligning your body with the shot that you want to make. Imagine a line from where you are standing to the ball and stand directly behind this line in order to position yourself correctly. Pay attention to your foot position. If you are a right handed player, you should place your right foot in line with the shot you are going to make. The left foot should be slightly to the left of the line. Your right foot should be 45 degrees to the line of aim and your left foot can be at any angle that feels comfortable to you. The most important thing is that you feel stable, like you would not be easily pushed over. Once you have your shot lined up, you can take a couple of practice strokes in order to make sure you are lined up and aiming correctly. Move your arm back and forth until the stroke feels natural, then follow through. After you take your shot, you should stay down in the same position until the ball has come to a complete stop. A common beginner mistake is jumping up too early after taking a shot. When you start moving before you finish the shot, it could affect your aim.
Making a Hand Bridge
When you set up your shot, one hand will be holding the cue and the other will be forming a “bridge” which will lock the cue into position and help to minimize any movement from side to side. There are a few different hand positions for making a bridge, but a closed bridge is usually better for beginners than an open bridge, because it prevents and unnecessary sideways movement of the cue stick. Start by laying your hand on the table and then moving your thumb and pointer finger together to close the gap and form a peak. The cue should rest on your pointer finger and thumb within the “groove” that these fingers create. You can then spread out the rest of your fingers to make sure that your hand is stable. This is an open bridge. To make a closed bridge is quite simple. Lay your hand flat on the table with your palm facing down. Place the cue on top of your bridge hand and wrap your index finger around the shaft of the cue. Tighten the finger around the cue and spread the rest of your fingers to make the bridge more stable.
Improving Your Stroke
The next important thing to learn after you figure out your position is how to perform a good stroke. If you want the cue ball to go where you intend for it to go, it is crucial to perfect your stroke. Make sure that you hold the cue gently and that you don’t move any part of your body other than your forearm while you are making your shot. Being able to hit straight is one of the most important skills in billiards and once you learn this you will improve your game dramatically. There is an excellent exercise known as the “Bottle Exercise” that will help you to perfect your shot. Place an empty bottle on a level surface, line up your shot with the correct stance and place your hand approximately a foot away from the mouth of the bottle. The goal is to try to stroke the cue into the bottle without touching the sides. This will help you learn to keep your cue as straight and accurate as possible so that you will hit exactly where you want to. Pay attention to your grip – it should be relaxed and loose throughout your stroke. Use two or three fingers to hold the stick, then use your thumb to support it. Your lower arm should be pointing straight downward and not in or out, or it will likely move sideways when you make your final stroke.
Perfecting Your Aim
When you are first learning how to play pool, don’t worry too much about fancy techniques such as adding “English” and “Spin”. The most important thing to learn is first how to hit the cue ball right in the center and have it travel straight. There is an exercise that can help you learn to shoot as straight as possible. Try to shoot the cue ball across the table from one rail to the opposite rail. Stay in the same position after you release the shot. If you have shot the ball perfectly straight, it should return right back to you and bounce off the tip of your cue again. If not, keep practicing until it does. Here’s something to keep in mind – the spot where you hit the object ball should be exactly opposite from the pocket that you are aiming at. So, to imagine this you can draw a line from the pocket right through the object ball. Where the imaginary line goes through the ball is the place where you need to hit it. It takes a lot of practice to be able to aim accurately when you are shooting pool. When you see the professionals do it on television, remember that they have shot millions of balls over the years and have perfected the technique. Give yourself lots of time to practice and be patient!
The “Ghost Ball” Method of Aiming
A helpful method for learning how to aim your stroke is the “ghost ball” technique. Take a look at the object ball (the one you are trying to sink in the pocket) and pick a place where you would like to make contact with it. For example, if you are trying to hit it to the left, you will want to make contact with it on the right side. Then, imagine another “ghost ball” there in that location. The trick is to shoot the cue ball so that it ends up in the same place as the imaginary ball.
Bank Shots and Kick Shots
An important skill to learn when you are shooting pool is how to make a bank shot and a kick shot. These types of shots are important and can help you when your opponent’s balls are in the way of your desired shot or you don’t have a direct shot at all. A bank shot is when you hit the object ball with the cue ball and it bounces off the rail. A kick shot is when you bounce the cue ball off the rail before it hits the object ball. There’s a way that you can practice this technique by using a mirror to help you understand the angles. Place a small handheld mirror behind your object ball and move it sideways until you can see the target pocket in the mirror when you are lined up for the shot. If you aim the object ball right at the reflection of the pocket in the mirror, you will be shooting the ball at just the right angle. Of course, you cannot use a mirror when you are actually shooting a game of pool, but this exercise will help you to get the hang of lining up the shot at the right angle.
Finding the Right Pool Cue for You
If you are serious about playing pool, you might want to invest in your own pool cue. It’s fine for casual players to use whichever old and beat up cues are on hand at the pub or billiard hall, but serious players will want to have a cue they can call their own. A good quality cue won’t replace skill, practice and talent, but it certainly won’t hurt to have a cue that is the right weight and length for your body. Consider the weight of your cue. Most are between 17 and 21 ounces and some players prefer lighter cues while others like the heft of a weightier cue. If you have been playing for a while, you probably already have a preference for a particular weight. The grip of your cue should feel comfortable and the butt should not feel too thin or too thick. Some cues will offer a grip that absorbs sweat from your hands and provides you more traction against slipping. Another factor to consider is the length of the cue taper. It can vary in length from 10 to 15 inches, so choose a length that feels comfortable. If you have shorter arms, you might find a shorter cue more manageable.