FAQFAQRail Cut Shots in Pool and Billiards

... how to aim and control rail cut shots, where the OB is close to a cushion.

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


for more information, see Section 4.06 in The Illustrated Principles of Pool and Billiards,
Vol. II of the Video Encyclopedia of Pool Shots,
Vol. II of How to Aim Pool Shots (HAPS),
and Vol. V of the Video Encyclopedia of Nine-ball and Ten-ball (VENT)



How do I aim and get position off rail cut shot?

For general advice on how to aim and pocket rail cut shots, see Section 4.06 in The Illustrated Principles of Pool and Billiards. Also see the rail cut shot handout. People sometimes give the advice that one should hit the cushion and OB at the same time with rail cut shots. This will work if gearing outside english is used; but with no english or with inside inside english, cut-induced throw (CIT) will push the OB into the cushion (causing it to rebound away from the cushion) which will cause the OB to rattle out of the pocket (unless the OB is fairly close to the pocket and/or if the pockets are not very tight). The best general advice concerning rail cut shots is to ignore the cushion and just aim the shot normally (unless CB control is a major factor; or if the cut angle is very large, in which cas you can use a cushion-first hit with running english to help pocket the ball). The following clip from Vol. V of the Video Encyclopedia of Nine-ball and Ten-ball (VENT) demonstrates these concepts well:


For more info, see: "VENT – Part IX: Rail Cut Shot Effects" (BD, June, 2018).

Here's another good introductory video demonstrating the basics:

When the angle into the rail is very steep, inside (running) english makes the shot much easier, per the following video:

This technique works even with a back cut, where the effective cut angle is greater than 90. Here's an example posted on Facebook by Max Mu:

impossible rail back cut

Shots like this can be converted hitting the cushion first (as demonstrated above) or by barely hitting the OB first, with the CB hitting the OB again after or during cushion compression. The inside can help swerve the CB into the shot (especially with more cue elevation) to help reduce the cut angle.


Is it possible to overcut an OB frozen to a rail?

Yes. For an example, see:

HSV A.137 - rail cut-shot hitting the rail first, hitting the ball while compressing, fast, with draw and natural (running) english


from Patrick Johnson:

the CB contacts the rail a short distance away from the OB and moves toward the OB while in contact with the rail. Maybe it will help to show a "time lapse series" of drawings showing how the CB approaches the OB while in contact with the rail:

1. Initial contact with the rail. The CB's "equivalent straight line path" is the same as it's initial path into the rail.

rail-frozen overcut - part 1

2. Closer to the OB but not yet in contact with it. The CB's "equivalent straight line path" has changed, but the CB is still moving into and compressing the rail.

rail-frozen overcut - part 2

3. Contact with the OB. The CB's "equivalent straight line path" has changed more, but the CB is still moving into and compressing the rail.

rail-frozen overcut - part 3


from Bob Jewett (in AZB post):

Here's a shot that helps to understand how compressible the cushions are. The 1 and 9 are a chalk apart. The shot is to shoot directly at the 1 ball. The 9 goes straight in. Shoot firmly.

rail compression shot


position control

How do I get the desired cue ball position off a rail cut shot?

See the rail cut shot handout, "VEPS GEMS - Part III: English and Position Control" (BD, March, 2010), and "HAPS - Part VI: Rail Cut Shots" (BD, March, 2015). The following video from Vol. II of How to Aim Pool Shots (HAPS) covers the important basics:


Here's another good video demonstration of basic CB control with rail cut shots:

Concerning CB direction with frozen rail cut shots, the following super-slow-motion video clips are listed in order based on how far down-table the CB travels. The OB is pocketed in all of the clips from two diamonds up from the corner pocket.

All of these cases are also presented with graphics and narration on the HSV DVD.

Here are some demonstrations from Vol. II of the Video Encyclopedia of Pool Shots that shows some examples:

Here's another good example from Vol. V of the Video Encyclopedia of Nine-ball and Ten-ball (VENT):


And here's a related example (by Carlo Biado) where some sidespin can be retained with a ball-first hit at an angle into the cushion and slick conditions (new cloth and/or clean, non-humid conditions):

For many examples and explanations of how to judge fouls with rail cut shots, see:


non-frozen CB direction

How can I predict the direction the cue ball will head with non-frozen rail cut shots?

For rolling-cue-ball rail cut shots, you can use the 30° rule, as illustrated in the diagram below. The peace sign can be used to visualize the expected angle off the OB if the rail were not there, and the mirror of this angle gives you the final cue ball direction. An interesting fact is that the sum of the angle of the initial CB line relative to the rail and the mirror angle relative to the rail normal always adds to 60° (see the quote from mohrt below). This is because 90° - 30° = 60°.

rail cut-shot 30°-rule with mirrored peace sign

Using stun or draw or less than full forward roll can also be used to alter the path.

The mirroring in the diagram also works well with the trisect system for predicting CB direction off the rail with draw shots. For more information, and to see the effects of speed on all rail cut shots, see: "Rail Cut Shot CB Control" (BD, February, 2017).

See rail cut shot position control for lots of examples of how english can be used to alter the path of the CB.


from mohrt:

rail-cut 60° rule

If you come into the rail at 30°, the path will be 30° out. If you come in at 15°, it will be 45° out. If you come in at 25°, it will be 35° out. Notice it always adds up to 60°.

straight frozen-cushion rail shots

Why is it difficult to hit the OB straight when both the CB and OB are frozen to a rail, like this (image from ktrepal85 in AZB post)?

CB-OB frozen to rail

First of all, to have the OB hug the rail, a very accurate hit is required. Also, the cushion must be true, with no bumps or waves. Also, the faster you hit the shot, the more the CB will bounce due to the cue elevation required for the cue to clear the head rail. When the CB bounces off the table, it will deflect off the nose of the cushion some away from the rail since part of the CB is actually under the nose of the cushion when it is frozen to the rail. For demonstrations, see the video below.

One option to improve accuracy on a shot like this is to hit it as softly as possible to minimize how much the CB hops. Another option is to use a touch of inside english (with the right cue elevation for the given shot speed) to squirt the CB away from the cushion and have it swerve back toward the rail. And if the CB doesn't quite swerve back enough, spin-induced throw helps straighten the OB. All options and approaches, along with example game-situation shots are demonstrated in the following videos that include a clip from Vol. V of the Video Encyclopedia of Nine-ball and Ten-ball (VENT):

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