Practice makes perfect, especially for cue sports like pool where skill is so important. When you’re putting in time at the billiards table, it helps to learn how to practice efficiently.
If you’re new to playing pool, you might not have any idea how to start practicing, in which case you’ll find everything you need to know right here.
It’s common for beginners to overestimate how much they know, skipping out on important fundamentals that would serve them well.
Our tips won’t just make you a better pool player, you’ll also learn more in a shorter period and save money if you are paying for the privilege.
We have covered fundamentals that can apply to straight pool, 8-ball pool, and 9-ball pool, so you can get the most use out of them.
1) Grip Practice
First, you need to practice gripping the pool cue. No, really, this is something that many beginners overestimate. If your grip is off, you’ll be catching up to your opponent for the entire game.
Beginners often grip the pool cue too tightly which stiffens them up, restricting pool cue movement and stopping momentum from flowing through you and into the balls that you’re trying to hit.
It can also cause the end of your pool cue to raise during strikes, directing force downwards and losing forward momentum, and making it harder to shoot straight.
With that comes an increased risk of bouncing the ball off the table, messing up your planned shot.
Instead, a light, loose pool cue grip is best.
Rest the pool cue on your fingers when it’s in your hands, holding it just enough to lift the cue off the billiards table. If the pool cue is touching your palm, you’re probably holding it too tightly.
The same can be said for the pinkie finger, which is usually only engaged when you’re holding something with your entire hand.
2) Become A Pendulum
Next, let’s focus on how you should move when the pool cue is in your hands. Like with many sports where you need to hit a ball, you need to master the so-called pendulum swing.
This is where your body is loose while striking, allowing force to better translate into the object you’re striking.
In pool’s case, it’s all in the forearm.
You need to first establish your aiming line by standing directly behind the cue ball and sighting it against the object ball you wish to hit.
From there, you should keep your body aligned while assuming your striking stance. Don’t worry about establishing a bridge yet, we have that covered below.
For now, focus on your other arm at the handle of the pool cue.
You should focus on keeping the upper part of this arm as still as possible while your forearm moves back and forth.
Think of your elbow as a hinge, all the movement is happening there and nowhere else in your body.
The backswings should be slow, so your shooting arm isn’t knocked off-course by the movement.
Your shooting hand should be underneath the elbow when you are back-swinging before you’ve committed to hitting the ball.
Then, when you are ready to hit, your lower arm will pass that point under your elbow and then make an impact with the cue ball in a forward swing.
3) Building Your Bridge
Now that you know what to do at the tail end of the pool cue, let’s focus on what your frontmost arm is doing during your striking stance.
The tip of the pool cue needs to rest comfortably on your hand, in a way that doesn’t restrict its movement during the back-and-forward swings that you’ll be doing with every shot.
Even if you do everything right so far, a bad bridge will mess up your shot. You won’t hit effectively and, if you manage it, you won’t be hitting the ball in a straight line.
That’s why mastering the bridge is one of the most important things a beginner can do.
There are many different bridge types, though as a beginner you should focus on two.
The open bridge and the closed bridge are the most popular, among both amateurs and professionals alike.
The closed bridge is favored by advanced players who want to put more spin on their cue ball while the open bridge provides a flat plane to rest the cue tip on.
Since you are a beginner, let’s focus on the open bridge.
To practice an open bridge, put your frontmost hand on the table. Keeping your fingers pointed, cup your hand and then press your thumb just beneath the joint on your index finger.
If you look closely, you should have formed a small V shape between them.
That V is where the pool cue goes. By lowering the cup in your hand, your fingers will pull away and this will lower the bridge.
The opposite, tightening the cupping of your hand, will make the bridge raised since your fingers will come toward you.
Your bridge should be solid, it shouldn’t be uncomfortable to maintain.
Once you have this method down, you can choose to stash your other fingers however you want. For example, some players fold their middle and ring fingers and leave their pinky out for stability, forming a rock sign.
During your pool strokes, your bridge should be large enough that the pool cue moves without being disrupted.
Of course, you won’t always have the room to form your perfect bridge. This is where other, context-specific bridges come into play, like the rail bridge and the over-the-ball bridge.
The rail bridge is for when your cue ball is uncomfortably close to the side rail cushions of your billiards table. The over-the-ball bridge is for when there’s another ball in the way, instead.
There are two ways of pulling off a rail bridge. The first works best when the cue ball is approximately four inches away from the side.
In those situations, you need to place your bridge hand flat on the rail, place your thumb under your index finger, and then place your cue against the rail and the index finger.
If the cue ball is closer than four inches, an open bridge should work on the rail. The cue will be between the index finger and thumb, using your remaining three fingers to anchor your hand to the rail.
As for over-the-ball bridges, you need to position your index fingers behind the obstructing ball.
Keeping your fingers on the table, raise your hand as much as you can, it should be enough to get over the obstructing ball and hit the cue ball.
Then you create the V with your index finger and thumb, as you usually would.
With over-the-ball bridges, it’s more important than ever to make sure it’s stable before you take your shot. You don’t want your hand to fall down and make contact with the obstructing ball.
Practice both of these alternative bridges – you will need them if you plan on playing pool.
4) Perfecting Your Stance
With your stroke and your bridge figured out, you need to make sure that your entire body is positioned correctly.
Your hand actions won’t be as effective if you haven’t got the stance of a pro, so it’s one of the most fundamental things you need to know.
While stances may have slight variations between them, all of them involve placing one of your feet a shoulder’s length ahead of the other.
The rear foot should be propped at a nearly 45-degree angle while the first one points forward, with your weight distributed equally between them.
From here, you lean forward. Your head should be low to properly aim and survey the rest of the table at eye level. When in this position, your body shouldn’t be strained.
You should be able to hold it for some time if you really need to. The less strained you are, the more naturally you’ll move when taking your shot, which is great for the momentum passing through your arms.
In this stance, you can place some weight on your bridge hand, though it shouldn’t be the thing propping you up. Instead, your bridge arm shares the burden with your legs, like a tripod.
Once you’ve found a comfortable stance, memorize it and use it during practice often.
You should be able to adopt the same stance no matter where you’re shooting from.
If your stance changes for shooting near the corner of the table, for example, then you’ll find inconsistencies in your performance. This is because there are inconsistencies in how you are standing.
5) Aligning Your Body
Next, pay attention to your body alignment during your pool stance. Alignment is simple – it just means that your head, eyes, shooting arm, and pool cue are all lined up and aimed at your target.
In your stance, your head should be low and your eyes leveled out. Your eyes should be level since your head is on the same plane as the rest of the table, so no need to look up or down.
From here, you should draw an invisible sightline over the cue ball. Keep your shooting arm perpendicular to the cue.
Take practice shots and, when you’re happy with the position and getting results, you can incorporate them into your training sessions. Once you have decided on a technique, it’s best not to change it.
6) Imagining The Aiming Line
When you’re about to take a shot, you should always know where your cue ball is going, where the object ball is going, and which pocket you’re aiming for.
You can keep track of all these through aiming lines, imagined lines that give us an idea of how the balls will move after force has been applied.
To do this, you need to assume your stance and line up your shot. If you’re trying to pocket, focus on the middle point of the pocket and imagine a line going from it to your object ball.
Work backward, imagining that line going back again and ending at your cue ball. With your cue ball, you’ll typically hit women.
Imagining your aiming line can be part of a pre-shot routine, something we have covered in more detail below. Some can visualize these things better than others – it all depends on how much imagination you have.
Even if you can’t “see” the line, tracking your shot from pocket to cue ball can still help you know where you want to go.
Then you’re ready to shoot. Try to shoot along your imagined eyes but also know that nobody can predict how these pool balls move with 100%, especially if the player is a beginner.
Use aiming lines for training too, not just competitive play. It’s a skill like any other that can be learned and developed over time.
After enough time has passed, it’ll become part of your pre-shot routine and will be second nature to you!
7) The Pre-Shot Routine
Speaking of your pre-shot routine, here are other things that players use to get into the rhythm of things. Such routines are perfect for pacing yourself during a game, especially games that can get long.
It’s also common for pool players to feel rushed, either by the opponent, the crowd, or just the tone of the game and so a pre-shot routine keeps them in check.
These are short checklists that you need to carry out before, during, and after you get into your shooting stance. Imagining an aiming line, for example, would happen during/after you assume your stance.
Other examples of pre-shot routines include looking over the whole table to take in the big picture or chalking the cue tip.
Chalking the cue tip doesn’t just have practical benefits, it also gives you some room to breathe, calm your nerves, and strategize your next moves.
8) The Pre-Stroke Routine
Along with the pre-shot routine, there is also the pre-stroke routine. While it may seem like the same thing, pre-stroke routines are things players do once they are already in their stance and ready to shoot.
The most famous and popular pre-stroke routine is warm-up strokes. If players wanted, they could whip the cue ball across the billiards table without needing to move the cue forward and back.
Doing this, however, allows us to better anticipate movement, generate momentum, and ensure the balls roll smoothly after contact.
Your shooting arm shouldn’t touch your body during these strokes – it’ll mess with your shot.
These strokes are slow at both the back and forward swings and they are usually done in threes before the real shot comes along.
Think of golfers and how they swing, testing the movement first before committing at the last moment.
It’s common for players to stop before the cue ball just before their last stroke, to make sure that their pool cue is properly aligned to the ball.
Your eyes should stay focused on the cue ball and your planned contact point before you hit it.
Like getting better at any game or sport, you should regularly practice your stroke to make sure that you can do it as if it were second nature to you.
You can also get rusty, so keep up your practice if you want to keep your newfound skills.
9) Stroke Execution Tips
To finish off, here are some assorted tips related to stroke execution/shooting. This is where you put all your effort into the final moments of a shot, in the hopes of pocketing a ball or outplaying your opponent.
The key is to keep your strokes smooth. Many beginners mistake speed for strength, so they’ll rush their shots and become wildly inaccurate as a result.
Even if you’re hitting the cue ball hard, you should still move your shooting arm smoothly. This ensures you stay accurate.
During your shot delivery, you should also keep your elbow up and in line with the rest of your body. Only your shooting arm should be moving, nothing else should be moving up or down or side to side.
Even then, everything above your elbow on your shooting arm should also be still.
Instead of speeding up on the backswing and sacrificing accuracy, you should introduce acceleration with the forward swing.
The harder you push here, the harder your shot will be, but remember that soft shots are also part of the game and that you’re not scored on how hard you whack the ball.
The typical shot extends four to six inches beyond the practice strokes, which should feel natural for most players.
It’s important to keep as still as possible when you accelerate on your forward swing, to deliver the shot. For best accuracy, aim slightly above center, not right or left.
With the nine tips above, you should be able to nail the fundamentals of playing pool.
If a beginner wants to improve their game, these are essential to learn and allow for advancement toward building more skill at the billiards table.
These tips are so fundamental that they don’t just help with pool, they help with just about any game that involves a pool cue hitting balls.
You’ll get a lot of mileage out of these tips, so take the time to learn them well. Incorporate them into all of your training sessions until you’re a natural!
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