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Pool has always been one of those games that’s simple to learn, but difficult to master. Sure, you can get better at most aspects of the game through repetitive practice. But even so, the real pool pros spend their entire career refining their craft, to the point that they can make almost any shot look easy. But there’s one shot that even some pros still struggle with – the break shot.
Most casual pool players simply view the break shot as the initiation of a new round. But seasoned experts know that the break shot is very consequential, requiring a player to utilize the proper technique to get ahead from square one.
This guide will teach you about some of their time-honored methods for optimizing your break shot.
Why Is Having a Good Break Important to Winning Pool?
Far too many casual pool players overlook the break shot. Worse yet, some just accept their inability to break effectively and try to play catch up for the rest of the round. But as it turns out, a consistent break shot can allow you to start each successive round off on the right foot.
To that end, a proper break shot will allow you to almost always end up one up before your opponent even has a chance to shoot.
However, the value of a productive break shot doesn’t end there. If you do manage to pocket a ball on your first shot, you’ll have a great opportunity to string together a series of sinking shots that can put you way out in front. However, even if your break shot doesn’t score a ball, you’ll still be in a better position to succeed.
This is because a successful break can really spread out the initial rack, providing you with ample scoring opportunities while the board is still open.
How to Break in Pool: Tips & Tricks
Without further ado, let’s jump into nine tips that will help you master this important shot.
Tip #1: Start with a Good Rack
As it turns out, one of the best methods for breaking properly in pool has little to do with how you hold your cue or shoot. In fact, most professionals agree that a common amateur mistake that leads to a bad break is a poor initial rack.
A bad rack can be identified by how much space is left between the balls when the rack is lifted. Specifically, if there is any space between any of the balls, you need to re-rack. Ideally, there should be no space between any ball in the racked formation when it comes time to perform the break shot.
This lack of space is crucial because, when all of the balls in the form are already in contact, they can more efficiently transfer their force. This in turn allows for more predictable and directionally-oriented movement around the table during the break shot.
Tip #2: Choose Accuracy over Power
Another common amateur mistake relating to the break shot is the tendency to absolutely smash the cue ball into the rack formation. This is done in an attempt to plow through the rack and disperse the balls around the playing surface.
While this is the intended result you want, using excessive force to accomplish it is off base.
Instead, you should try to improve your accuracy as a means of achieving the same goal. Specifically, a direct hit on the point ball in the formation can cause the rack to explode of its own accord. You’ll know that you’ve done this right when the cue ball almost entirely stops moving upon contact due to the manner in which it has transferred its momentum into the racked formation.
Tip #3: Keep Your Eye on the Cue
You’d be surprised at how many people accidently close their eyes in the split second before they perform a break shot (or any shot, for that matter).
This may be unintentional, but it causes that player to lose sight of the cue ball for a critical moment when contact with the cue is occurring. This can cause small, but impactful changes in where the cue ball is contacted, leading to undesirable spin and a sub-par impact with the racked formation.
If you know that you have picked up this bad habit, consider practicing keeping your eyes open throughout the break shot on your own. This can sometimes be done by slowing down your entire shooting approach or simply decreasing how much force you apply.
Much like in baseball, the key here isn’t how much power you apply to the ball – the key is hitting it squarely where you intend.
Tip #4: Control Your Breathing
Performing a good break shot can be stressful, especially if you’re playing competitively. As such, your entire body might be a little extra tense going into the start of a new round.
If this is often the case for you, you might find it productive to control your breathing prior to lining up your break shot. Specifically, you may try taking in and holding your breath just before starting your stroke. Then, let it out slowly and smoothly as you complete your follow through. This can prevent your cue from bouncing unnecessarily while you are working to line up a direct break shot.
Hunters and trap shooters will recognize this technique as the same used when they’re about to pull the trigger on a sighted target.
Tip #5: Change Your Initial Positioning
Over the years, many casual pool players have been convinced that they can only make a break shot straight down the middle of the playing surface. But in truth, most rule sets allow you to move the cue ball’s starting position anywhere on the line that sets the boundary for the kitchen.
With that in mind, you can try experimenting with shots from other angles to see if they improve your starting prospects.
For insights on this front, consider watching a few rounds of professional pool. You’ll notice that these experts often start just a bit to the left or right of the center. This can help those competitors’ break shots better transfer their energy at a specific angle, which may help more reliably push a targeted ball towards a pocket on the very first shot.
Tip #6: Consider Your Timing
Though this is a general piece of advice for play throughout a pool round, you can also really improve your break shot by adjusting your timing.
Specifically, most players find it useful to slow down and take more time to consider where their cue ball is headed based upon the amount of force they intend to apply. Refining your timing comes with practice, but it can really pay dividends when it comes to getting your break shot down to a science.
Tip #7: Practice Your Follow Through
As noted before, too much power can sour an otherwise accurate break shot. The same can be said of an individual’s follow-through, which can cause unintended effects on the cue ball’s rotation and direction of travel.
This is fully apparent when the cue ball jumps due to a scoop-like follow through. But even a slightly askew follow through can cause unintended topspin that slows the cue ball.
Most amateur players find it productive to practice a minimal follow-through that requires the player to immediately withdraw the cue stick in a short, quick motion. However, those who are shooting for power may also choose to extend their follow-through while still keeping their cue tip out of the field of play.
Tip #8: Cut Out the Sidespin
Sidespin is also a surprisingly common occurrence during break shots that can almost invisibly change the quality of the resulting impact on the rack. Specifically, sidespin can cause the cue to slide to one side or the other of the point ball. This, in turn, can cause the point ball to be impacted at an angle, thus sending its momentum through only one side of the formation.
Sometimes, it can be hard to tell how accurately you are striking the cue ball. That’s why many skilled players use a practice cue ball (with dots on its cardinal directions) to help them refine their centered strikes.
Tip #9: Consider the Possibilities
Naturally, one of your first jobs when performing the break shot is to scatter the initial rack formation. But your break shot could be so much more than that, so long as you plan carefully.
In fact, skilled players often come into a fresh round with strategy for scoring during the break shot. Two of the best strategies for accomplishing this are described below.
8-Ball Break: The Best Strategy
There are lots of strategies for effectively breaking in a round of 8-ball pool.
However, one of the most trusted methods calls for a right-handed shooter to move their cue ball slightly to the left-of-center when lining up their break shot. Upon performing a centered strike on the cue ball, this allows most player’s follow-through to keep the ball on course for a direct hit.
This strategy can be easily modified to accommodate your specific amount of follow-through, as well.
9-Ball Break: The Best Strategy
As for 9-ball, it requires a very different breaking strategy compared to 8-ball.
For this strategy, you’ll want to position the cue only about an inch from the right bumper along the kitchen line. From there, you’ll target the point ball for a direct hit.
This effectively splits up the rack and causes two to three different balls to begin a bouncing sequence that could pocket each.
If you take away anything from this guide, it’s that you shouldn’t overlook the break shot in a round of pool.
Many people see it as a mechanical necessity. But after practicing the tips and tricks outlined above, you’ll see that you can use this opening shot to your strategic advantage.
Practice makes perfect, though, so don’t wait to start incorporating these methods into your regular pool games, whether you play competitively or casually.