So many instructional books and articles for various skills give specific fundamentals and assume they are universal. Really… you’re not going to become a good pool player by reading this or any article or book. You may, however, improve your game by applying some basic guidelines and practicing solid fundamentals. This is a universal truth!
*** Your Dominant Eye ***
Everyone has one eye that is dominant over the other. Perhaps you don’t know which is yours. This simple test will determine for you.
Pick an object to focus on. While looking directly at the object, create a frame around it with your hands, centering the object within that frame. Now, close one eye. Is the object still in the center of the frame? Now, close the other eye. Where is the object? When looking with your dominant eye, the object will remain centered in the frame. But, with your non-dominant eye, you may not even see the object, but will be looking at your hand.
Determining your dominant eye is important because you will be lining up your aim with your dominant eye.
*** Holding Your Cue ***
Assuming you are right-handed, your right arm will be your “stroke arm”, and your left hand will be your “bridge hand”. The two primary objectives for your method of holding your cue stick are:
- Control– Your stroke and bridge should work together to deliver the shot true to your aim. If you shoot according to your aim, and you miss the shot, its because you aimed wrong. However, if there’s a hitch in your stroke or your bridge is not giving enough control, there’s really no point in your aiming.
- Comfort– Playing pool involves some stretching, lots of bending, and body awareness. To play well, you must establish balance and consistency in your stance, stroke, bridge, and visualization. Seems like a lot, huh? Like anything else in this life that you may want to be good at, it takes persistence. The great basketball players shoot their best shots exactly the same countless times, until it becomes automatic.
Find the proper grip spot for your stroke hand by holding the cue and finding the balance point, the place where you can hold the cue stick balancing it on two fingers. Now move toward the butt of the cue two-to-four fingers width. That grip spot will be perfect for almost every stroke situation you encounter. Hold the stick loosely, cradling it between your thumb and fingers. If the stick touches your palm, you are holding it too tightly, and your stroke will be terrible.
*** Bridge Issues ***
There are three basic bridges and innumerable variations of each. Hands are shaped differently; and in the course of the game, countless situations arise, requiring adjustments. When I used to teach the billiards class in college, I strongly urged students to perfect the closed bridge. When formed properly, it provides the most control. However, it is difficult to master. The basic closed bridge involves forming a ring with the thumb and forefinger. Some beginners will attempt to form the closed bridge without closing the ring. They will simply lay the forefinger over top of the cue. This is so counter-protective to any control, they should be shooting blindfolded. But done properly, the cue passes through that ring and rides on top of the middle finger. The middle, ring, and little fingers should be spread as much as possible for a stable base. When possible, the heel of the hand should be resting on the table as well. The thumb-and-forefinger ring should be loose enough to allow smooth movement of the cue without finger or hand movement; yet snug enough to keep it stroking in a straight line.
The open bridge is simpler, and more commonly used for that reason. Again, the bridge hand should be stabilized on the table, four fingers spread as much as possible for support, and the thumb pressed tightly toward the innermost-knuckle of the forefinger. This forms a ridge for the stick to ride between the thumb knuckle and the forefinger knuckle. The open bridge can be more comfortable to form, but some control is lost. The tendency of open- bridgers is to raise the cue completely off the bridge instead of following through on their shot.
The third basic bridge is the rail bridge. It is perhaps the most commonly misused bridge form. When the cue ball is close to a rail and you have no other choice, its good to know how to properly form a rail bridge. Place your bridge hand on the rail. Tuck your thumb under your hand toward the middle finger. Slide the cue against the back of your straightened thumb. Spread your fingers and place your forefinger over the top of the cue stick, until it touches the rail also. Do not let any of your fingers or your hand move.
A common error a lot of novices make when the cue ball is close to the rail, is elevating the butt of the cue stick and striking downward on the cue ball. This mistake is worthy of mentioning. There are many things that will likely go wrong in that scenario.
- If you shoot down on the cue ball and hit anything other than center (not to the left or right), you are curving the cue ball. This is called massé. If you don’t adjust your aim to accommodate for the curve, you miss the shot. Sound familiar?
- If you shoot down on the ball center, you are jumping the cue ball. It may hardly be noticeable, but again, it alters the path of the cue ball. If you don’t know how to aim for a jump shot, don’t try it! And by the way, its illegal to jump the cue ball by scooping under it and lifting. It’s a foul, and doing it is foul!
- When you are aiming a shot, you must look through the cue ball to the point on the object ball (or cushion) that you desire to hit. (More on aiming mechanics later!) When shooting down on the cue ball, the tendency is to look at it. If you insist on raising the butt of your cue because the cue ball is close to a rail, just close your eyes!
Sometimes, when the cue ball is against a rail, the best move is to form an open bridge as close as possible, yet leaving room for stoke. I call this a “hanging open bridge” because sometimes only your fingers are touching the outer edge of the table. But this will enable you to keep the cue level.
*** Taking Your Stance ***
And finally for this installment, let’s talk about your body. Some instructional books and articles will recommend certain distance between your feet and placing them at certain angles, etc. But I’m here to tell you that a six-foot-four-inch body, like mine, has to do something different than the body of a five-foot-five woman, in order to get down over a shot. People’s bodies are shaped differently. Even health issues and flexibility are factors in your stance.
So, I’m going to give you some guidelines, and then its up to you to find the best method to achieve them for yourself.
- Balance- You must be stable. If you are unsteady or off balance, you are not only unsafe; you are ineffective. Your body will move in ways you don’t want it to do.
- Consistency- Once you find the way for you that works, stick to it as often as possible. Yes, there will be times when you have to adjust. But, understanding your body mechanics will enable you to make intelligent adjustments.
- Get your dominant eye as close over top of your cue as possible- Many of the best players in the world will actually lightly rest their chin on the cue stick. They use that riding as assurance that they are stroking straight in line with their aim.
- Do not move your head- Sometimes I’m bad about this one, and consequently, my game suffers.
- Notice your stroke arm’s position and movement- The upper portion of your stroke arm should be parallel to the floor throughout the entire stroke. If you are dipping it, your stoke will be inaccurate. You will not be hitting the cue ball where you want, and you will probably have some side-to-side movement as well. Do not move your upper arm at all! Below the elbow, your stroke arm should swing smoothly like a pendulum, forward and back. Keep the movement fluid and straight!
- Your bridge arm should be at an angle- If you try to lock the elbow or keep the arm straight (for most shots), you will be forcing your cue away from your body, requiring you to twist some more in order to keep your dominant eye over top the stick.
This concludes this installment. Remember to practice good fundamentals until they are natural for you. You will like the game better when you play better. Have fun!