There are tons of tips and tricks out there that guarantee you’ll become better at pool. If you just buy this cue, or watch this video, or read about this one crazy trick involving an egg and a ping-pong paddle…. What?
The truth is that there is one overarching rule you can use to get better at anything: practice. But that doesn’t help most of us who want to know how and what to practice.
This article brings you the best tips from professionals, amateurs, and everyone in between. Everyone has something to teach, and you can learn a lot from people who have been playing pool for years, as well as people who are up-and-coming. From fundamentals to the hardest shots out there, these tips will tell you how to get better at pool.
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#1 Practice Your Break
At a certain skill level, your break shot can mean the difference between a win and a loss. Even if you’re not at that level or you don’t play with anyone who can run the table and win in one turn, you will someday. Best to start practicing your break now.
Fundamentally, you want to break straight ahead if you’re playing 8-ball and at an angle if you’re playing 9-ball. You want to be able to legally pocket at least one object ball on the break— without scratching. This will give you the opportunity to shoot again, determining whether you’ll be shooting solids or stripes for the rest of the game. A great break can put your opponent at a serious disadvantage.
Tips For A Great Break
Adjust Your Power – There’s nothing that says you have to hit the cue ball with all your might on the break shot. If the cue ball goes careening around the table after your shot, and you have no idea approximately where it will wind up, you may want to experiment with a lighter break. A good way to do this is with a lighter cue.
Watch The Balls – The purpose of a good break is to sink an object ball and set up your next shots. You can only do this if you have a consistent break and therefore know generally where the rest of the object balls— and the cue ball— will end up.
Practice breaking until you find the power level that’s right for you. Mentally mark the position of the balls in the rack before you shoot, so you can see where they end up. When you start seeing object balls going into pockets, or getting closer on a consistent basis, you’re on the right track.
Control The Cue Ball – Almost all the professionals agree that controlling the cue ball on the break is done by applying a little backspin to it. You do this by striking the cue ball just under a tip’s length below center. This ensures that the cue ball doesn’t bounce around the table, making it easier for you to know before your break what your next shot will be.
#2 Select Stripes Or Solids (Choose Wisely)
In 8-ball, if the table is open, you may think that theres little difference whether you choose solids or stripes for the remainder of the game. However, this could be a crucial choice, depending on the placement of the balls around the table. Before you decide on a suit, take a good look around the table.
Depending on you and your opponent’s skill level, you’ll want to look at a couple of factors when selecting either solids or stripes.
Can You Make More Than One Shot?
The first thing you’ll want to take into consideration is the number of shots you think you can make in a row with each suit. And not shots that are possible to make maybe. You want to look at shots that you have a good chance of making, depending on your skill level. Shots that you’re confident you won’t miss.
How Do Your Opponent’s Shots Look?
If it looks like you can make a few shots in a row on the suit of your choice, take a look at the other suit. How would your opponent do with the balls as they lay? Would he/she have difficult shots ahead, if you chose the opposite suit? If so, it’s probably a good choice.
What If You Can’t Make Any Shots?
If nothing looks doable on the table with either solids or stripes, you’ll want to select on a defensive basis. Which suit will make it harder for your opponent? Is the 8 ball blocked by or touching an object ball of any suit? Select solids or stripes based on these questions.
Of course, not every game will give you the opportunity to select a suit. But looking at the table like this will help you get a feel for the game as a whole, instead of just focusing on the next shot. Planning for the next few moves is key to becoming a better pool player.
#3 Know Your Angles
You don’t have to be a math whiz to be good at pool. When you play enough you get a feel for how the balls move on the table and how much power you employ through your cue. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to know your angles.
Walking around the table to look at tricky shots from multiple angles can help you immensely. This also helps you to determine where you want the cue ball to come to rest in order to set up your next shot.
You can also use your cue placed over the object ball to determine where you want to strike it with the cue ball. Creating a straight line with your cue from the object ball to the pocket can help you get a feel for the kind of shot you need to make. Knowing your angles can help you get better at pool quickly.
#4 Develop A Process
Consistency is another word for skill when it comes to pool— or any sport for that matter. To be consistently good and always getting better is to be winning more often than not. For this reason it’s good to develop a process that you go through every time you shoot. Call it a ritual if you like, but it doesn’t need to be fancy or complicated.
Writing down all the little actions and thoughts you want to go into your shot-process is a great start. Then you can practice including those things every time you shoot.
Every player is different, but your process may include things like breathing deep, checking your angles, noting offensive and defensive strengths and weaknesses, noting your ideal next shot, and ‘zoning-in’ on the task at hand.
Developing a process helps you stay consistent even when the pressure is on. Once you’ve done it enough it can help you overcome self-doubt because you’ll be too busy automatically going through your process.
#5 Stay Loose
Tension is no help in pool. The idea is to be firm but fluid, flexible but strong. Too much tension can not only make the mechanics of your shot bad, but can also cloud your mind and make it harder to concentrate.
There are many ways to develop the habit of staying loose. You can try mindful breathing, meditating, and gradually playing for higher and higher stakes. Your shot-process should include something to help you stay loose during the game.
Use Your Shooting Arm Like A Pendulum
One of the benefits of staying loose is that you can use your shooting arm more effectively. You’ll be able to swing your shooting arm at the elbow like a pendulum, making your shots smooth and consistent.
To do this you need to keep your upper arm still and make sure your grip isn’t too tight. When the tip of your cue is close to the cue ball, you should make a 90-degree angle at your elbow. Shooting this way helps to keep you accurate and deters the rest of your body from moving and interfering with the shot.
#6 Keep Your Cue Parallel When Shooting
One of the mistakes novice pool players make is the angle of their cue when shooting. Even if you’re using your shooting arm like a pendulum, you can still be placing too much of an angle on your shot.
You want to get your cue as close to parallel to the table as possible. Obviously it’s not really possible to get completely parallel, but you can get close. Depending on your height this may require a deep or shallow bend at the waist. Next time you shoot, notice how close to parallel your cue is to the table’s surface.
It may seem strange at first if you’re used to shooting from more of an angle, but when you get used to it, you’ll notice a big difference. The closer you can get to applying force to the cue ball in a straight and parallel line, the more control, accuracy, and consistency you can employ.
Obviously this may be a little different on jump shots or when the cue ball is backed up against a cushion, but for most shots in pool you want to get close to parallel.
#7 Develop A Consistent Stance
A stance is not a one-size-fits-all thing. Everyone’s stance is different because everyone’s body is different. A stance is all about combining what’s comfortable for you and what allows you a consistent, accurate aim. Many factors determine a pool player’s stance, such as; height, body type, playing style, dominant hand (left or right), flexibility, and any physical factors or injuries that could affect comfort and ability.
Common Stance Checklist
Most pool players do have a few things in common when it comes to the stance they use when shooting. Keep in mind that you can be a fantastic pool player with a unique stance. The most important factors are comfort, consistency, and aim.
Pool Stance – Your weight should be distributed easily between your legs. You should also have a solid stance, meaning you’re not in danger of losing your balance if you’re bumped.
Generally, the legs are about shoulder-width distance apart, or maybe a little more. You don’t want your legs too close together or too far apart.
Most pool players bend only their front leg, which is usually positioned closest to the table. If you’re right-handed, the left leg should be in front, and vice-versa if you’re left-handed. This allows you to have more freedom of movement in where you place the cue, keeping your body out of the way.
#8 Work On Your Bridge
A bridge in pool refers to the formation that one of your hands makes that allows you to connect the cue with the cue ball. The bridge hand is whichever one is not holding the cue. Many of the best pool players learn how to shoot with either hand, so their bridge hand can be either right or left, depending on the shot.
A good bridge in combination with a good stance is essential for getting better at the game of pool. Like the stance, a bridge is a personal preference. Different shooting situations call for different bridges, so it pays to be flexible.
As long as your bridge is solid, allows you to move the cue back and forth smoothly, and provides you with a foundation for accurate and repeatable shots, it’s a good bridge.
#9 Stay In Position After The Shot
Many novice pool players stand up from the table as soon as they hit the cue ball. This is a mistake. You want to stay in position after the shot for a couple of reasons.
Allow a Follow-Through – The first is so you can allow a proper follow-through. This is important to stay consistent and to make sure your shots are accurate.
Your follow-through should bring the tip of the cue almost in contact with the table by the time you stop the forward motion. Getting immediately up from your shooting position can mess up your follow-through, and therefore your shot, even if you don’t realize it.
Watch and Learn – The second reason to stay in position is so you can watch your shot all the way through. If you change your angle you change the way you look at the table. The longer you stay in your shooting position, the better your grasp will become of how the balls move on the table. This allows you to analyze your misses or tweak your shots if they don’t go exactly as you want.
#10 Find Your Weaknesses
If you don’t already know what your weaknesses as a pool player are, it’s not hard to find out. The best way to do this is to play someone better than or equal to your skill level. Pay attention to the shots that you miss, or things that your opponent attempts that you wouldn’t feel comfortable trying. You’ll get a good idea of where your weaknesses are.
Once you’ve determined what they are, you can start practicing shots that mimic them. This is best to do alone at a table where you can set the balls up in any position you like.
The idea is to make it hard on yourself until it becomes easy. Set up and shoot the difficult shots until you feel comfortable doing them and are making them more often than not. Then you can put your skills to the test by playing against an opponent.
#11 Train Your Weak Arm
Being able to shoot with both arms gives you a tremendous advantage in pool. Some shots are just too awkward to accurately attempt with your dominant arm.
If you practice regularly with your weak arm, you’ll be able to switch hands when you need to. Pretty soon you’ll be making shots with your non-dominant arm that you could never make with your dominant arm.
If you find it too difficult to begin shooting with your non-dominant arm, you can train it by using it for things in your everyday life. Eating and drinking with your non-dominant hand are both good ways to start. The same goes for brushing your teeth and cooking.
Once you feel comfortable enough with these small things, you can try practicing at the pool table with your non-dominant hand. It will take some getting used to, but you’ll become a better player for it.
#12 Practice With Pocket Reducers
So much of becoming a better pool player comes down to practice. But how do you practice more precision when it comes to your table? One great way to do this is to use pocket reducers.
These handy devices simply reduce the size of your pockets so you’re forced to be more precise in order to pocket your object balls. Once you get good at potting balls with pocket reducers in, you’ll notice a huge difference in your precision when you take them out and play with regulation pockets again.
Related Article: Pool Table Pocket Reducers: Are They Really Worth It?
#13 Utilize The Ghost Ball Method
The ghost ball method is a great way to determine where your cue ball needs to strike an object ball in order to pocket it. You simply visualize a “ghost” cue ball touching the object ball where it would create a straight shot to the pocket you’re aiming for.
It’s as if you’re able to pick up the cue ball and put it next to the object ball to make the shot as easy as possible. Only you’re doing it with an imaginary cue ball. Where the ghost ball is placed tells you where you need to send the actual cue ball in order to make the shot.
#14 Play Against Better Pool Players
The old chess maxim is true: “you only get smarter by playing a smarter opponent.” The same goes for pool. You only get better by playing a better opponent. If you’re not pushed to the edge of your limits, you won’t be forced to get better.
So, whenever you can, seek out and play better opponents. This helps you to determine where your own weaknesses are, and it also allows you to watch and talk to someone who was once where you are in regards to skill. Know that you will probably lose, but realize that losing is one of the best ways to learn how to get better.
#15 Watch Professional Matches
YouTube is a great place to watch professional pool matches. This shouldn’t take the place of playing pool, but watching the pros at work can teach you a lot about decision making and technique.
Think about what you would do in their particular situations before they take a shot. Compare what they do with what you would do. What’s different? Why do you think they made the decision they did?
Pay close attention to professional matches. Everything from ball placement, stance, grip, power, and ball placement can be useful in helping you develop your own skills.
#16 Practice Bank Shots
Bank shots are a huge part of any pool player’s well-rounded skill set. Luckily, once you get a feel for how bank shots work, they aren’t as hard as they look. But this takes practice.
Every time you have a game, take a few minutes before or after to set up and practice bank shots. Or, if you have access to a table you can use frequently, it’s a good idea to dedicate a whole session to bank shots. The more you practice them, the better you’ll get.
#17 Practice Getting “In The Zone”
Athletes, musicians, and professionals around the world talk about getting “in the zone”. It’s a place beyond words and thoughts. A place where muscle-memory and subconscious come together to take over.
In the zone is where you play your best pool, largely because you’re not thinking about it. You’re not concerned about winning or losing, you’re only focused on the moment you’re in. The shot you’re taking.
While the zone isn’t a place you can go to with a snap of the fingers, you can do things to help yourself get into the mindset that leads there. Having a pre-shot process or ritual is one of those things. You do the same thing every time until it becomes second nature. You block out the rest of the world, breathe deeply, and keep calm. Then, even if you’re not “in the zone” you’re as close as you can get to it. And that’s where your skills are at their finest.
#18 Visualize When You’re Not Playing
This one is pretty simple, but it can be very effective. Getting better at anything requires turning as much of your brainpower to the task as possible. So, even if you’re not playing, you can still visualize different shots.
Numerous studies have proved that visualization is almost as good as actual practice when it comes to sports. See yourself making the tough shots. It can really help you when the cue is in your hand and you’re leaning over the table.
#19 Play Other Billiard Games
There are a ton of different billiard games out there. Since they’re all played with balls and a cue, they all tend to share some of the same skills required to be good. But some games are heavier on bank shots, like Bank Pool, where you must hit every object ball into a cushion before sinking them.
A couple of other popular games that you can play on a standard pool table include 15-Ball, One Pocket, and 7-Ball. All of these games require different tactics and will give you a well-rounded skill set.
#20 Try Different Cues and Tips
When it comes to choosing a cue and a tip of the right hardness for you, there are a ton of options out there. Every player’s style is different, so your best bet is to play with different cues and tips.
Some players prefer to play the whole game with a medium or medium-hard tip. Others prefer to play with soft tips for certain shots, and hard tips for others. For an in-depth guide to tips, check out this article.
The same can be said for the quality of the cue; every player is different. Some people prefer to play with a $500 cue, whereas others are perfectly happy with a $50 cue. The cue doesn’t make the player, but the player must be comfortable with the cue. For more on choosing the right cue for you, check out our articles, How Much Does a Good Pool Cue Cost? (With Examples), and How To Choose a Pool Cue: Ultimate Pool Cue Buying Guide
#21 Always Chalk Your Cue
The amount of chalk on your cue can make a world of difference— especially on shots that require English. But it’s not just the amount of chalk, it’s also how you chalk your cue. You should apply some chalk to your cue tip before every shot.
To do this properly, use a brushing motion with the chalk across the cue tip. Spin your cue and continue the brushing motion in order to evenly apply the chalk on the tip. Do not spin the chalk on the cue tip, as this not only wastes chalk, but it also doesn’t apply it evenly on the tip.
Related Article: Chalking a Pool Cue: Why Its Done & How To Do It Properly
#22 Use the Right Cue Weight and Length
The right cue weight and length are different for everyone. Like tip hardness and cue quality, the best way to find out what is right for you is to experiment with different cues. Generally, though, length is relative to your arm span and shooting style. Taller people or those with longer arms tend to use longer cues, but this is not always the case.
Most standard cues are 57 or 58-inches in length. However, you can get cues as long as 61-inches and as short as 48-inches, depending on your preferences.
As for weight, most players prefer a 19 or 20oz cue. Most cues range from 17oz to 21oz, with the heavier cues preferred by many for breaking or jumping.
Lighter cues, on the other hand, tend to be used for shots requiring less power and more finesse. Play around with the different lengths and weights, paying special attention to the feel and accuracy you have with each one.
As you can see, there are lots of different ways you can improve you’re pool game. My recommendation would be to take a few tips off the list and work on those. Dont try to do too much at one time. Getting better at pool takes time, effort, and dedication. The main thing though, is to be consistent. Consistent practice is the only way to get the results you’re looking for.
I hope this article has been helpful and that you’re well on your way to becoming a better pool player! As always, thanks for reading!