When you strike a stationery cue ball, the very act of striking will almost always induce some level of English, or spin, in the cue ball. Understanding the effects of English, and learning to exploit the phenomenon is essential to becoming a better billiards player. To strike a cue ball without inducing any English, it is necessary to make contact with the exact center of the cue ball with a completely horizontal cue trajectory. It will be obvious to even beginners that achieving a dead center strike with a completely flat trajectory is simply physically impossible a lot of the time. For example, if the cue ball is near the rails, either the cue will have a downward trajectory to hit the center, or it will strike above the center if the trajectory is kept level. When the cue ball is struck in the center by a cue with a downward trajectory, it will move with a backward English. If struck above the center, it will move with a forward English. This simple example is enough to show that English is an inevitable aspect of playing billiards, so it stands to reason that fully understanding the effects of English, and learning how to compensate for it, will improve a player’s ability.
Effects of English
There are many different effects of English, and these are more exaggerated as the distance the cue ball travels before striking a target ball or a rail increases. If a cue ball is moving with forward English, it will tend to gather speed. If a cue ball strikes the target at a higher speed than desired, this can affect the outcome of the stroke, particularly the position of the cue ball when it comes to rest. If the cue ball strikes the target ball full on, it will carry on rolling forward. If a slow cue ball with forward English moves forward towards a rail, it may “stick” to the rail, rarely a desirable position. In contrast, a backward English will gradually slow the cue ball down en route to the target. Once full-on contact is made, the cue ball will either come to a complete standstill, or will spin backwards a short distance. Again, this can affect positioning for the next shot. The primary problem with imparting unwanted backward or forward English is that it can make it much harder to position the cue ball accurately following contact with the target ball, but at least the ball will travel in a straight line. Imparting unwanted left or right English may be much worse, since the ball will deviate from the intended course. This will affect positioning, but will also make it more likely to miss the target ball completely or to fail with an attempted pot, especially over longer distances. Left or right English is imparted by striking the cue ball left or right of center. It should be noted that you can also impart combination English. Striking the cue ball above and to the left of center will impart both left and forward English, while striking it below and to the left will impart both left and backward English.
Using English to your advantage
You should not get the impression that English is something to be avoided. You will notice that we have referred to “unwanted English,” and this is definitely a bad thing. However, proper use of English, which only comes about with lots of practice, will improve your game. Being able to control the position of the cue ball for the next shot is a major benefit. There are also many times when you will want to change the natural trajectory of the cue ball. For example, your opponent’s ball is positioned over a pocket, and you do not want to pot it, yet the natural trajectory after you strike your target ball will cause this to happen. In such a case, imparting English can make the cue ball spin away to safety without cannoning into your opponent’s ball. You can also use the technique to effect cannons or in-offs where the natural angle would make it impossible to effect them. So far, we have spoken about the effects of English when striking targets full on. In a real billiards game, you will have many shots where you will want to glance off the target ball, or off the rails. Practice these shots with English applied and note the effects.