What is a swoop or swipe stroke, and should I use it to apply spin?

A swoop (or swipe) stroke is the technique of pivoting the cue during the forward stroke and follow through to apply spin to the cue ball. The swoop or swiping motion can be created by moving the entire arm (or even the entire body) during the stroke, or simply by flicking or twisting the wrist, or even by just shifting the bridge hand. Here’s an example:

A swoop stroke can be used to apply sidespin (with a sideways swiping motion) or top/bottom spin (with an up or down swiping motion during the stroke). The tip is usually swiped across the ball from the center outward, but it can also be swiped from the other side of the ball, creating contact closer to the center of the cue ball. The timing of the swoop is important. If you start it too early in the forward stroke, you won’t have enough room to maintain significant swiping speed into the ball (and/or you might miscue). If you start it too late, you won’t have ample acceleration time to generate enough swiping speed to make a difference (i.e., most of the swipe will occur during the follow through where it can have no effect). The swoop or swipe stroke technique has sometimes been referred to (mostly in reference to Philippine players in the past) as carabao english or a carabao stroke.

Alternatives to using stroke swoop to apply english include:

  1. Align the cue in the required direction (compensating for squirt, swerve, and throw intuitively) with the tip off center to apply the exact amount of english desired, and then use a straight stroke.
  2. Align the cue at the center of the cue ball along the desired aiming line (with the aim corrected for throw, where appropriate), and then use BHE or FHE or some other method to pivot the cue before the stroke to compensate for squirt and swerve (AKA “net cue ball deflection”), and then stroke straight along this new alignment.

Most (but not all) top players use technique “1.” Technique “2” is good for people who don’t yet have enough experience-based intuition to adjust for squirt and swerve intuitively. Stroke swoop is also an option for people who prefer a center-ball alignment before the final stroke.

Many “Old Timers” (and people who learned from “Old Timers”) and even some “Young Guns” firmly believe that the swoop stroke provides an advantage. However, as described, illustrated, and demonstrated below, there is always an “equivalent straight stroke” that will send the CB in the same direction with the same speed and spin, and do so with better accuracy and consistency.

Tom Ross, with whom I created VEPS, was an accomplished player and an excellent swooper. He swooped his stroke on pretty much every shot with sidespin. While we were filming, this honestly bugged me because I thought it set a bad example to our viewers who might think this technique is required to be effective. This lead to many “heated” discussion between Tom and I during our filming.

Tom was a very effective swooper, but only because he had spent countless hours over 30-40 years perfecting his technique. Like many swoopers, Tom thought a swoop stroke was actually required to shoot those shots effectively because that’s what he had learned from some of the top-playing “Old-Timer” mentors and idols he associated with when he was young.

During one of our filming breaks, Tom and I did several tests and experiments to try to determine if a swoop stroke could apply more spin to the CB (to help settle our “differences of opinion”). Before all of these discussions, tests, and experiments, Tom was a firm believer that the swoop stroke could apply more spin to the CB (seemingly defying the normal miscue limit). After the discussions, tests, and experiments, I finally convinced Tom that a straight stroke can do everything an equivalent swoop stroke can do. He also agreed that the straight stroke would be more accurate and more consistent for people who didn’t spend the time and effort to master the swoop stroke. Did that make him change the way he plays? Absolutely not. That would be silly. He had already perfected the skill, despite its potential shortcomings, and that was what he what he always did, it came perfectly naturally, and it worked well for him.

Like many people who have learned and mastered the swoop stroke, Tom preferred aiming closer to center ball with the cue aligned in the direction he wants the CB to head, where it is easier to visualize the exact aim for the shot, and he preferred applying a pivot (to compensate for squirt or “cue ball deflection”) during the stroke instead of before. He also used a non-LD solid maple shaft (as opposed to an low-cue-ball-deflection shaft), and the swooping motion provided even more squirt compensation (due to the sideways swiping motion, as illustrated in my diagrams below) than a pre-stroke-BHE correction would (for his preferred bridge length). Also, some people learn to swoop because we all have a natural tendancy to want to use “body english” to steer the cue in the direction we want the CB to spin or go; and this habit can be hard to change, especially if one has reinforced it enough through extensive practice and repetition.

Here are some highlights from one of the experiments Tom and I did (with swooper Tom shooting the shots):

Now, if you twist the cue with your wrist while you swoop the stroke, you can do amazing things with the cue ball. I haven’t mastered this technique yet, but I am still able to get tremendous curving action on the cue ball. For demonstrations, see:

There actually are several potential benefits of a swoop/swipe stroke for the people who can execute the technique accurately and consistently:

  1. A swoop stroke allows one to aim and hit closer to the center of the CB, to apply sidespin. This effect doesn’t allow one to put more spin on the CB than is possible with a straight stroke, nor does it change the effective miscue limit (or the maximum amount of spin possible), but it does allow one to hit the CB with less “apparent” tip offset.
  2. The sideways swiping motion (especially if it is fast in comparison to the forward speed of the cue) helps provide slightly more squirt (cue ball deflection) aim compensation than is provided by a pre-stroke BHE pivot. And if one uses a non-LD-shaft (especially with a long bridge length), this slightly extra squirt compensation might be helpful (assuming they haven’t already adjusted their aim and alignment to intuitively compensate for squirt, swerve, and throw, as most pros and top players do).
  3. A swoop stroke can allow the cue to be aligned closer to the direction one wants the CB to head (assuming the aim compensation provide by the swooping motion is appropriate for the amount of squirt, swerve, and throw anticipated for the given shot). This could make it easier for some people to visualize the line of the shot and one’s aim and cue alignment. Without a swoop, to compensate for squirt, the cue alignment at address would be off center and in general not in-line with the desired direction of CB motion. Most top players can aim and align the cue in this fashion intuitively, and it is comfortable. However, some people find the off-center and off-line pre-stroke cue alignment to be disconcerting.
  4. A swoop stroke allows one to apply BHE squirt correction during the stroke instead of before the stroke. BHE before the stroke can be awkward, uncomfortable and unnatural to some people. Some, while aiming and aligning a shot, don’t like seeing the cue pointing in a different direction than they want the CB to head. Also, some people don’t like to change their stance (which can occur with a pre-stroke BHE pivot) and cue alignment after being down on a shot.

and from Cornerman (in AZB post):

The swoop on firm shots may be an easier thing to do vs. not swooping if you’ve spent significant hours at shooting firm shots with english. Maybe a player just naturally learned that holding the cue straight in the follow through might physically cause uncomfortability or a double-hit. So they started … swooping. This might only pertain to players who spend a significant amount of time … playing.

Despite all of the potential benefits above, it can be difficult to be accurate and consistent with a swooping stroke (e.g., with the exact amount of english applied, or with avoiding a miscue when attempting to apply maximum english), unless one practices it a great deal. Most people will be more consistent and accurate (with actual tip contact point) with a straight stroke as compared to a swooping stroke; although, with enough consistent practice, any technique can be mastered. Some people (including some top players) can be quite effective with a swooping, swiping, or steering stroke.

A straight stroke (with appropriate aiming corrections for squirt, swerve, and throw, done either intuitively or using methods like FHE/BHE) is much more accurate and consistent (with the same spin-generating capability) than a swooping stroke, but some people will play better with a swooping stroke, especially if that’s the way they’ve always done it.

For those who still think stroke swoop is a more effective way of applying sidespin than a straight stroke, see the results of the following experiment, and try it out yourself:

For more information, see “Swoop Experiment” (BD, August, 2015). If you want to compare the effectiveness of a swoop stroke vs. a straight stroke, try the test starting at the 6:34 point in the video. The test is not that difficult, and it doesn’t take very much time. In setting up left obstacle ball on the 1st rail, be aware that the largest possible rebound angle varies with table conditions. It is best to place the left ball so the CB narrowly misses the left ball with an accurate hit and the maximum spin possible. After you determine the farthest point you can hit on the 2nd rail (through some practice shots with accurate hits on the 1st rail), just project back to the 1st rail to place the 2nd ball for a narrow miss of the CB for future maximum-spin shots. This will help ensure you don’t “cheat” the experiment.

Note that in the diagrams that follow, squirt (cue ball deflection) is being neglected to focus on the effects of the swooping motion alone, which are exaggerated for illustrative purposes.

Below is a diagram from the video and article that shows that for a given swoop stroke, there is an equivalent straight stroke that will create the exact same CB motion (direction, speed, and spin). The cue alignment, tip offset, and swooping effects are exaggerated in the diagram so people can better understand what is actually going on with a swoop stroke. In the video, with the actual swoop stroke shots (starting at the 9:51 point in the video), the cue is aligned straighter and the tip contact point is closer to center; although the effects illustrated in the exaggerated diagram still apply (albeit to a lesser extent). It is clear in the video that the cue alignment (aim) must be different with the swoop stroke, as compared to the straight stroke, to have the CB head in the same direction.

swoop diagram

The swoop stroke can create the same amount of spin with a slightly less perceived tip offset from center (exaggerated in the diagram for clarity); although, the cue alignment at contact must be different (exaggerated in the diagram for clarity) to achieve the same CB direction as the straight stroke. Much more explanation can be found in the article and video.

Some people have suggested it is possible to create maximum sidespin with a swoop (or swiping) stroke that contacts the CB close to the center of the ball (relative to the shooter), as shown in figure “a” in the diagram below. Unfortunately, this is not possible since the cue tip cannot create that much sideways force on the CB during a hit, where most of the force is along the “line of action” of the cue in the direction the cue is pointing (in this case, through the center of the CB). Even if this were possible, the CB motion would be extremely difficult to control and this would not be an effective technique for a real player on an actual pool table. The diagram below illustrates the proposed stroke along with an equivalent straight stroke, both achieving maximum sidespin.

center-ball swoop/swipe stroke

The physical reason why the shot shown in figure “a” in the diagram above is not possible can be explained as follows. Creating a sideways force on the CB with the tip requires friction, and friction requires “normal” force (in the direction of the cue, perpendicular to the CB surface). If you try to swoop or swipe with significant speed (in comparison to the forward speed of the cue), the normal force won’t be large enough to create very much sideways friction between the tip and ball, and the CB won’t move forward with much speed. And even if more friction were possible, the sideways or transverse “endmass” and stiffness of the shaft is not ample enough (as compared to the longitudinal effective mass and stiffness of the cue in the “line of action” direction of the shot) to support the sideways force over the incredibly short tip contact time. If it were, squirt (CB deflection) resulting from off-center hits would be much larger than it is with a typical cue, which would make it impractical to play shots with any sidespin at all, with or without a swoop stroke.

If anybody thinks it is possible to create maximum sidespin using a swoop stroke with the tip contact point being close to the “perceived” center of the CB, please try the experiment described in the article and starting at the 6:34 point in the video, being careful to check the chalk mark on the CB after each shot. It ain’t possible!

Notice in the diagrams above that to create maximum sidespin, the effective force direction (in the case of a swoop stroke) and the actual force direction (in the case of a straight stroke) must go through the miscue limit, creating the largest possible effective (or actual) tip offset from center. To get more spin than what is possible with a straight stroke at the miscue limit (i.e., maximum sidespin), the “effective tip offset” with the swoop stroke would need to be beyond the miscue limit, which is not possible without miscuing (just as with a straight stroke).

Also notice that with a significant swoop or swiping motion, the cue needs to be aligned in a slightly different direction (as compared to an equivalent straight stroke) to have the CB head in the same desired direction. This slightly changes the “actual” or “perceived” tip offset from center, but the “effective” tip offset from center will be slightly larger due to the swiping motion, as shown in the diagrams (exaggerated for clarity). In the stroke comparisons in the video (starting at the 6:34 point), the slightly different aiming alignments required are clear. Regardless, to create the maximum possible sidespin with any stroke, and have the CB head in the correct direction, the chalk mark will be in the same place on the CB for all stroke types (as illustrated in the diagrams). The effective tip offset from center will also be the same (also illustrated in the diagrams).

from Bob Jewett AZB post:

So far as I know, no one has ever demonstrated that you can get more side spin by swooping. I think it is just a different — and to me, a far less consistent — way to do backhand english. Look at the players who really spin the cue ball, like Masséy, Sayginer and Trump. No goofy swooping.

Some players fear hitting off-center because of miscues. They barely spin the ball because their arms force them to hit near the center. If someone shows them this “new swoop-spin” technique to get side spin, they may actually rev up the ball for the first time in their lives. They will be true believers. They will also be layering on a mechanical monstrosity to fix a deeper problem in their mechanics.

Even though the tip is on the ball for only a very short time, it does not follow directly that the player could not possibly and under any circumstance affect the result of the shot by swooping the cue stick. Swoop can in fact be useful for shots when the cue ball is very close to the object ball; you swoop to avoid the second hit. However, think about how fast the tip will need to move to the side to have any significant effect. It should be moving to the side at a speed comparable to the forward motion of the cue stick. That’s a 45-degee angle relative to straight ahead. Try very slow strokes in which the tip moves at a 45 relative to its normal path. I bet you can’t.

Can you get more spin on the ball with stroke swoop?

Some people might be able to get an larger effective tip offset from center (and therefore more spin) by using a swooping stroke. For example, they might be uncomfortable aligning the tip as off-center as is possible with a straight stroke (maybe because they can’t prevent themselves from swooping, which would cause a miscue with a large initial tip offset). If this is the case, a person might be able to get more spin with a swooping stroke.

For more information, see the info and videos above, especially: NV F.2 – Swoop Stroke Experiment – Can swooping create extra spin on the cue ball?

from Jal AZB post:

You can’t get any more spin by swiping across the ball than with a straight stroke. Whatever stroke you employ, the maximum spin/speed ratio is limited by the coefficient of friction between the tip and the ball. This is a function of the materials involved, and not of the type of stroke.

It’s true that if you swipe across the cueball and, say, make contact at centerball, you’re going to put a little bit of spin on the cueball. This is, sure enough, spin you wouldn’t have produced with a centerball hit and a straight stroke. But that doesn’t mean that if you make contact near the miscue limit (~ 1/2 ball radius) while swiping, you’re going to get some extra spin. You’ll either miscue or end up with the same amount of spin as you would have obtained by cueing right at the miscue limit with a straight stroke.

You can test this by plopping the cueball down on the headspot and driving it straight to the foot rail while attempting to impart maximum sidespin using both techniques. I think you’ll find that the only thing the swiping does is to increase the difficulty of accurate tip placement.

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