FAQFAQBilliards and Pool Strategy

... how to and when to use strategy at the pool table in different types of games.

Dr. Dave's answers to frequently-asked questions (FAQs), mostly from the AZB discussion forum

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for more information, see the pattern play resource page and Chapter 5 in The Illustrated Principles of Pool and Billiards, Disc III of the Video Encyclopedia of Pool Shots (VEPS), Disc III of the Video Encyclopedia of Pool Practice (VEPP), and Disc I and Disc V of the Video Encyclopedia of Eight Ball (VEEB), and Disc II of the Video Encyclopedia of Nine-ball and Ten-ball (VENT)

 


bar box vs. 9-foot table

What are some differences between play on a small "bar-box" table and a full-size regulation table?

The biggest difference are:

In general, on a bar box, it is better to select simple patterns that limit CB motion to play for easy position, even if the resulting shots are a little longer. Here's a good article covering how to adjust from a nine foot table to a bar box.

A good book dealing with playing 8-ball on a bar box is: "The Eight Ball Bible" by R. Givens. Disc III of the Video Encyclopedia of Pool Shots also has lots of good strategy info related to both 8-ball and 9-ball.

 

from Neil:

1. If the cb is heavier, but basically same diameter- just hit stun and draw shots a little lower. You should be able to adjust to this easily.

2. If playing on a Valley table- the pocket shelf is much shorter, so the pocket acts much bigger than it is. If the rails are in decent shape, you can still make balls that would not be make-able on a 9' or on a diamond. Essentially, forget the point of the pocket is there, and if you can make the ball in the back of the pocket, it will go rail first in the front of the pocket. Sometimes you can really cheat the pockets hitting rail first at a slower speed.

3. BB's like a pure stroke. And, a pure stroke is the easiest way to try and adjust to the speed of the table. The speed can be the toughest part to overcome. One BB may play slow, the one next to it might make you think the cb is jet propelled! On the fast ones, use as little english as possible because the english will really make the cb seem to speed up off the rails.

4. If on a Valley, don't act like they are easier because the pocket is essentially bigger. Still aim to a specific part of the pocket.

5. Bank shots are easier, and a part of the game on a BB. Utilize them when you need to.

6. DO NOT underestimate any shot just because you don't have a lot of distance to the pocket. MAKE SURE your properly aim EVERY shot.

7. Really pay attention to how the balls are racked. And, where others are breaking from and at what speed. Sometimes a much slower speed works wonders, and sometimes just changing sides to break from works wonders.

8. Make sure you hit the one ball very square on the break. If you don't, you have a good chance of scratching in the side pocket, and that spells doom.

9. Run out as often as possible. However, safes can give you the game too. When kicking at a ball on a bar box, especially later in the rack, you seldom will win the game unless you kick it in or leave it hooked. Most of the time, if you can see it, you can make it. Even if you have to bank it.

10. Don't shy away from going around the table at times. The shorter distance makes around the world position very feasible. Just pay attention to the route so you don't scratch. Come through the middle of the table when possible when traveling a long distance.

 

from JoeyA (in summarizing a thread on AZB):

1. Control the cue ball on the break.

2. Pay attention to how the balls are racked.

3. Pay attention to how other breakers are making balls on the break. It could be the only difference between winning and losing.

4. Avoid the side pockets whenever possible as they are smaller pockets.

5. Shoot for the corner pockets as they are large and generous to most shots.

6. That being said, ‘Just because the corner pockets are large and the table is small, "DON’T take any shot for granted".

7. If you do use the side pockets, MASTER shooting into the smaller pockets before you start the tournament.

8. If you use side spin, MASTER the use of Side Spin, before you start the tournament. Remember, the heavy "ROCK WILL ROLL". MASTER the art of spinning the heavy rock and use it prudently.

9. Play minimal shape. Most shots are close and do not require pinpoint shape.

10. Avoid accidentally running into balls while playing the run out, unless that is the plan. Accidentally bumped balls have a way of creating new problems for running out.

11. Do not slow roll the cue ball or the object balls as smaller tables can often times have serious leans at slow speeds.

12. Practice cheating the pockets, at different speeds, because on occasion, you can achieve even better shape than you normally would.

13. Avoid force follow on the bar table as the outcome is hard to determine with any consistency.

14. Bar box banking is full of hazards. Test the rails early and often. That being said, instead of playing a weak safety (and most are when there are only a couple of balls left on the table), take make-able bank shots and be sure and hit them at the proper speed.

15. Less cue ball movement is key to success on a bar box. Select patterns that minimize cue ball movement. For example, settle for a longer shot where you can shoot a stop shot rather than a short cut shot where you have to move the cue ball a foot or two and bounce off one cushion.

16. Stop shots and stun shots are your friend.

17. Break out clusters early, especially if you are going to try and run out.

18. OK, I just remembered, I did shorten up my bridge and moved my back hand forward just a bit and it did seem to help on some shots.

19. Be more aware of your cue ball speed. These smaller tables require that as you have less distance that you need to travel than on a larger table.

20. THINK, THINK, THINK! Because this is a smaller table and you don't regularly play on them, you have to constantly think about all of the above. Playing on a smaller table requires that you pay more attention, not less.



8-ball

What are some examples of good 8-ball strategy?

See Disc I and Disc V of the Video Encyclopedia of Eight Ball (VEEB) for comprehensive coverage of this topic.

The most important strategic decision made in 8-ball is choosing between "solids" and "stripes" after the break. Here are some good examples from Disc III of the Video Encyclopedia of Pool Shots of things to consider:

Another important decision is in selecting "key" balls. Here are some examples from Disc I of the Video Encyclopedia of Eight Ball (VEEB) and from Disc III of the Video Encyclopedia of Pool Shots (VEPS):

 

For more info, see: VEEB - Part II: Selecting Key Balls (BD, 2015).

It is also very important to know how to deal with pocket blockers. Here are some examples from Disc I of the Video Encyclopedia of Eight Ball (VEEB):

For more information, see "VEEB - Part I: Pocket Blockers" (BD, November, 2015).

It is also very important to know how to deal with common end-game situations. Here are some examples from Disc IV of the Video Encyclopedia of Eight Ball (VEEB):

 

For more information, see "VEEB - Part VII: End-Game Situations" (BD, May, 2016).

And here are some run-out examples from Disc V of the Video Encyclopedia of Eight Ball (VEEB) and Disc V of the Video Encyclopedia of Pool Shots (VEPS):

 

 

For more information, see "VEEB - Part IX: Run-Out Examples" (BD, July, 2016).

Here are some useful drills from Disc III of the Video Encyclopedia of Pool Practice (VEPP) to practice patterns common in 8-ball:

For more information, see "VEPP – Part VIII: 8-Ball Pattern Drills" (BD, November, 2012) and "Billiard University (BU) - Part VII: 8-Ball Drills," (BD, February, 2014).

Here's a summary of important 8-ball strategy:

  1. Choose "solids" or "stripes" wisely after the break (per the info above).
  2. Choose the key ball carefully (per the info above).
  3. Choose the key ball for the key ball carefully.
  4. Plan your run-out from the 8-ball backwards.
  5. Reevaluate your run-out plan after each shot, especially if you get out of line.
  6. Walk around the table while evaluating a run-out plan.
  7. Deal with problem balls as early as possible.
  8. Break out clusters when there is an insurance ball available.
  9. Don't bump into or disturb balls (yours or your opponent's) if it is not necessary.
  10. Pocket or move balls that clear the way for other balls as early as possible.
  11. If you can't run-out, play a safety early in the game and solve problems in the process if possible.
  12. On a "bar box," avoid the side pockets when possible.
  13. If you decide to run out, don't miss.
  14. Consider playing safe instead of attempting a low-percentage shot.
  15. Clear balls in the center of the table early in the rack.

Advice, strategy and options concerning the break are covered on the 8-ball break resource page.

 

from Poolplaya9 (in AZB post):

Being able to see the problems, patterns, and positions needed to run out the rack is not even half of the equation. The other part, and arguably even more important part (although both are absolutely essential), is being able to accurately weigh risk verses reward, and accurately assess what each of the options available will do to your chances to ultimately win the game, otherwise known as "playing the percentages". Acquiring the ability to accurate assess the percentages for success with each option will only come through lots of experience, however being able to be honest with yourself is an absolute necessity and can be very difficult for many to do, and making a concerted effort to pay attention to how things turn out depending on the choices you made will shorten the learning curve.

Your specific abilities and weaknesses will also have some impact on what you should do. The right choice for SVB will not always be the right choice for you because of your skill differences, but at the same time you also have to be trying to improve so that you become comfortable with the "right" decision to make in a circumstance and the "right" way to play the shot. If you always fall back on "well I am not good at speed control so I won't play the safe here even though I know it is the right shot and instead will just try to run out" for example then it is going to be hard to ever learn that safety if you won't ever shoot it now isn't it? You learn by doing, so while you have to keep in mind your specific skills, you also have to push yourself to do things the "right" way with the right plays so you can learn those skills too. When you are practicing is a good time to always try to play the "right" shots, even if they aren't the best choice yet for your skill level if it were a more meaningful match, because that is the only way you are going to learn them and become comfortable with them.

While there are always exceptions, here are some general rules of thumb for 8 ball to try to keep in mind and live by and plenty more could be added but these kind of fit in to some of the questions you have asked:

---As counter intuitive as it will sound to someone still learning the game, the guy who has the most balls on the table usually has a significant advantage in the game. The reasons why are because it is more interference balls in the way for your opponent, it is more balls for you to be able to play safe off of or hide behind if needed, there is a much better chance you will have a good shot if your opponent misses or plays safe, etc. Why on earth would you want to give up your advantage in the game? Keep that advantage until it is the right time to run out and win the game.

---Don't go for the run out until you have a pretty high percentage chance of being successful at the run including sinking the 8 ball too. You have to be able to be honest with yourself in your evaluation.

---Go for your problem ball (the one that will be very tough to get good shape on) as soon as possible in your run. If you fail to get good on it, try to get on it again as soon as you can. Saving problems for the end of the game usually leads to disaster because if you fail to solve it when it is one of the last balls you are now out of options and chances, whereas when you go for it early, you will likely get several chances to try to solve that problem throughout the game if needed.

---Try to solve your problem clusters as soon as possible in a run for the same reasons as above, because if you fail to break it out properly early in the rack you may get more chances, but once that is all you have left you are up a creek in a bad way.

---Whenever you get ball in hand you should almost always try to take care of your biggest problem on the table, whether that is a ball that will be extremely tough to get shape on later, or whether it is a cluster or some other problem. Even if you are going to have to play safe with ball in hand, try to do it in a way that takes care of your biggest problem if at all possible (say by moving your "tough to get shape on" ball into a better position, or breaking up your problem cluster, etc), and if that is not possible try to take care of your second biggest problem instead and so on. Sometimes the best way to address an issue while playing safe is through indirect means such as hitting one of your balls over near say a problem cluster so that ball now becomes a good key ball to break out the cluster from as you pocket it on some later turn. Sometimes with ball in hand you may want to take a shot before playing safe even when you already know you have no intention of trying to run out yet, such as pocketing your "really tough to get shape on" ball before playing safe with with the second shot as that may be the play that best increases your chances for ultimately winning.

---As has been mentioned previously, with every turn at the table you are trying to do something that is going to increase your chances for being able to win the game, so always look for those opportunities. Don't be satisfied for example with just looking for a good safe that hides the ball for your opponent, but instead look for a good safe that also solves one of your cluster problems or other problems. The examples here could be endless and you really have to analyze the table to find these opportunities. They don't always exist but a lot of times they do but aren't real obvious and you are going to miss them if you are not looking hard for them.

---While you always want to improve your situation with every turn at the table if possible, keep in mind whether or not it benefits your opponent as well. If it benefits him as much or more than it benefits you, like breaking up some clusters might do for example, then it may not be the proper shot or the proper time to take it.

 

from Skippy27 (in AZB post):

One thing I would stress is to keep it simple. You know your strengths and your weakness so play to your strengths when in a match and work on the weak parts when practicing to make them a strength.

Pattern play does not matter if as part of that pattern you are leaving yourself shots that are a weakness (say rail shots, or long spot shots) for you. Clearly part of pattern play to learn is how to get yourself to the next strength shot while you avoid putting yourself in a position to shoot one of your weak shots. Some people see the table differently because of this and play it differently it does not mean they did it wrong.

Always look at the pocket line and know if you need the cue above it or below it for your next shoot, to get to your third shoot the way you need to in order to continue the run. Most importantly know when you need to concede the table so you can stop making balls and put yourself in a position to return to it. The worse thing you can do is allow you ego to remove most, if not all, your balls so your opponent has an open table to work with.

 

from CreeDo (in AZB post):

• Get the stripes-or-solids group where the problems are all solvable
(meaning a tricky tied-up ball has another ball nearby that naturally breaks it up).
I'd rather have a group with 2 solvable problems than a group with 1 problem and no natural way to deal with it.

• Don't ever risk getting hooked while trying to play aggressive position, unless you have a "plan B" shot available.
"Too long" you can deal with. "Too thin" you can deal with. Even on the rail can be dealt with. Hooked = game over.
Especially on a barbox, don't be afraid to settle a bit on shape, if it means you have the right angle and 0 risk of hook.

• Just because a ball is near the side, doesn't mean you have to play it there. In fact thats where a lot of players
get into trouble. Getting funny on a side pocket shot means moving the cue ball up and down the whole table
weaving through traffic. That's the kind of risky stuff that ends runs. Plan for mostly corner pocket shots.
This goes double on the barbox. Move the cue ball less.

• If you start with ball in hand, solve your biggest problem with it. Don't play position to solve the problem later.
Solve it right now. With your ball in hand. Many runouts are blown by people getting too cute,
trying to sink a ball or two before dealing with their problem.

• Don't miss. 9-ball gets people used to 2-way shots where missing is sometimes safe,
the opponent is left long or even hooked. In 8-ball a miss is much worse. If you're gonna risk a missable shot,
do it early in the rack.

 

from Cornerman (in AZB post):

Leaving your balls in the center of the table as your last or nearly last balls isn't a good idea for two reasons:

1) It limits your pathways for your cueball

2) positionally speaking, it is more challenging to get the proper angle on a ball in the center of the table.

It's easy to see why number 2 is true when the table is full of balls; it's tougher to see why it's a challenge when you only have your balls left.

Ways to screw up a ball-in-hand runout in 8-ball (barbox or otherwise):

 

from 8onthebreak (in AZB post):

A great 8 ball player is great because he finds the easiest pattern, not because he's a better executer. 8 ball is chess, running out isn't as important as moving the pieces into position. it is a game of patience. Some suggestions...
1. Never break out a cluster if you don't have to. Usually the balls will go into A pocket, you need precision cue ball control to get the position, but breaking them out leads to scratches, and many times, no shot after.
2. Find a pattern that is easy to run out, involving NO draw. Top is much more predictable. Start with the 8 ball, and work your way backwards to find the best pattern...your last shot before the eight should be an easy stop shot, with easy shot on the eight. The shot before that should be an easy stop shot with position for an easy shot on the setup ball...etc. work backwards thru the rack and if you pick the pattern out correctly, a b player should be able to run it out almost every time.
3. Clear your trouble balls early, this includes any balls on the rail or in a cluster.
4. Never shoot your ducks in. They are like soldiers fighting for you. Theres 4 reasons for this. They are an easy shot from anywhere and give you easy position for almost any shot on the table. Also, It will be difficult for anyone to play a safe on you if you have hangers on the table, and they block pockets so your opponent can't use the pocket.
5. Look at clusters as a golden opportunity. A cluster is absolutely THE BEST environment to play a safe into. Always look at the cluster, and determine how u can hit a ball in the cluster, freeing that ball, and stop the cue ball inside the cluster or behind it, acquiring an easy ball in hand. Plan, get position for the safe, and take the safety shot, wait for ball in hand or an easy runout with the cluster now being makeable since u removed the tough ball. Clusters are your friend.
6. Don't move the cue ball, settle for short side shape, nice, easy...there's no long shots on the table, so any shot is an easy shot if you are even remotely in shape.
7. If you are less than 70% sure you'll make the shot...start looking for a safety. If you can't find a safe with significantly better odds of success, take the shot.
8. Gently bump opponents balls to the rail, and especcially away from the side pocket when possible. A hanger in the side pocket can win you a game cuz its guaranteed position to anywhere on the table...however, a ball on the rail next to the side pocket has about a 30% chance of costing a good player the game. If the opportunity presents itself to make one of your hangers in the side pocket, off of his duck, and move his duck to the rail...you've just put the odds in your favor to return to the table if you should make a mistake.
9. Don't shoot hard...it's an unnecessary risk.
10. Don't shoot soft...it's an unnecessary table roll risk.
11 Patience, patience, patience.

 

from Billy_Bob:

1. Don't pocket ANY of your balls if any are tied up. LEAVE THEM! Instead hit clusters where your balls are tied up and re-arrange the table so every one of your balls can be made into a pocket. THEN run out. You CAN'T win if one of your balls is tied up and can't be made into a pocket. You can't win if the 8-ball is tied up and can't be made into a pocket. Leaving your balls on the table will get in the way of your opponent. What will frequently happen if you do this is your opponent will shoot in most of his balls except two or three (as you are busy unblocking your clusters and turning the table back over to him). Then you wind up with a wide open table, very easy to run-out at this point. You have cleared up your cluster problems first thing and your opponent has been kind enough to get his balls out of your way! RUNOUT!

2. If you can't run-out because you still have one or more trouble balls, and you have a ball blocking a pocket and this is blocking the 8 or one of your opponent's balls, LEAVE IT! Shoot at a cluster and fix trouble balls first. Your opponent can't win if his ball or the 8 is blocked.

3. If you are left with a difficult shot and it is VERY LIKELY you will wind up giving your opponent ball-in-hand, might as well do something constructive instead of missing your shot. Something which will make winning for you easier or will make winning for your opponent more difficult. Shoot an intentional foul! Shoot one of your opponent's balls into a nasty spot. Create a cluster for your opponent by shooting at his balls. Shoot at one of your opponent's balls so it hits one of your balls which is in a cluster and tied up and this frees up your cluster. You were going to give him ball-in-hand anyway, but this way you have given him one more cluster/trouble ball, or given yourself one less cluster/trouble ball. This tips the scale so you will have more of an advantage to win.

4. Who is going to win? Look at clustered balls/trouble balls. How many balls does your opponent have which can't be made into a pocket? How many balls do you have which can't be made into a pocket? THIS is the "score board" as to who is going to win! You want to ALWAYS and FIRST THING adjust this scale so all of your balls can be made into a pocket and many of your opponent's balls can't be made into a pocket. If your opponent has balls tied up, he can't win. If all of your balls can be made into a pocket as well as the 8, then it is possible for you to run-out I feel this is the MOST important thing to winning. Work from the get go toward tipping the scale to your advantage and to the disadvantage of your opponent.

Example: It is your shot and you have 2 balls which can easily be pocketed. Instead you shoot at a cluster and move those balls so they can be pocketed and turn the table over to your opponent. (Your opponent has two clusters.) Your opponent shoots in a few balls, but does nothing with the clusters. Then your turn and you move your last trouble ball to a spot where it can be made into a pocket. Your opponent shoots in a few more balls and is left with his two clusters which he has left for last. He shoots at one and it does not go into a pocket. Now your turn. Wide open table, no trouble balls, your opponent has pocketed most of his balls so they are not blocking your shots, every one of your balls can be made into a pocket, easy run-out and win!

 


9-ball

What are some examples of good 9-ball strategy?

9-ball strategy is covered in great detail in the Video Encyclopedia of Nine-ball and Ten-ball (VENT). Here are some example clips:

 

 

 

For more information, see: "VENT – Part III: Creative Shot Options" (BD December, 2017) and "VENT – Part IV: Defensive Strategy" (BD, January, 2018).

Besides deciding whether or not to play safe, the next most common strategic decision is deciding when to break out a cluster. Here is a good example from Disc III of the Video Encyclopedia of Pool Shots:

Here are some run-out examples from Disc V of the Video Encyclopedia of Pool Shots (VEPS):

More run-outs, with detailed strategic analysis can be found on Disc V of the Video Encyclopedia of Nine-ball and Ten-ball (VENT).

Here are some useful drills from Disc III of the Video Encyclopedia of Pool Practice (VEPP) to practice patterns common in 9-ball:

For more information, see "VEPP – Part VII: 9-Ball Pattern Drills" (BD, October, 2012) and "Billiard University (BU) - Part VI: 9-Ball Drills," (BD, January, 2014).

Advice, strategy and options concerning the break are covered on the 9-ball break resource page.

 

from KellyStick:

1. Missing very close to the pocket in 8 ball is good. In 9 ball this is bad. My slow roll preference I have used in 8 ball for years is not a good idea in 9 ball unless I make the ball for sure.

2. In 9 ball it is not good enough to leave your opponent a tough defense like it can be in 8 ball but rather you really need to bury the next numbered ball and/or CB in a defense. Otherwise you just get "defensed" back. Somehow this is more critical it seems it nineball with only one OB available on each shot.

3. The break is much more critical. With only one OB each shot you gotta get good at leaving the CB in the middle. With multiple OB options in 8 ball this is not as critical. I have some bad habits and abilities that need work here.

 


general

What are important strategic decisions that come up in all games?

This topic is covered in detail on Disc III of the Video Encyclopedia of Pool Shots (VEPS).

 

one-pocket

What are some examples of basic strategy in the game of one-pocket?

Here's a good resource on this topic: onepocket.org/getting_started.htm

 


10-ball

What are some examples of good 10-ball strategy?

Strategy in 10-ball is generally very much the same as strategy in 9-ball. Differences in rules and strategy between the games are covered in detail in the Video Encyclopedia of Nine-ball and Ten-ball (VENT).

 


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