Pool & Billiard Fundamentals
The first step in learning to play pool & billiards is the fundamentals. The fundamentals are such an important part of the game that many professional players agree when all else is failing in your game, go back to check your stance, grip, bridge, aim and stroke. If these elements are not executed consistently or correctly, it can affect your entire game.
Some beginner players fail to realize how important fundamentals are until they are well into using bad fundamental habits. When this happens, re-training yourself to use the proper fundamentals can be a time consuming and often frustrating process. It's a good idea to decide on learning the basic fundamentals before attempting shot success. Beginners need to know the basics of how to stroke and use the cue and intermediate players can use the elements to check for "flaws" in their fundamentals as well.
An important and often disregarded element to proper fundamentals is a players stance. Stroking the cue ball without a good stance can ultimately produce an off-balance stroke. Watching other players, you will find there is no certain way to stand at the table and could be because of physical limitations, height, weight and the comfort level of the individual player. Even so, each player develops their own "balance system" in their stance. Some players prefer to place their feet perpendicular to the intended line of stroke. Other players may place their feet parallel to the stroke line.
All good players achieve a few goals with their stance.
- The body is balanced so they can remain still and balanced while stroking.
- The head is positioned to aim down the intended line of cue ball travel.
Develop a Good Stance
- Stand at the table with cue in hand as if you are stroking and find where to place your feet. Imitate a tripod using your two feet on the floor and bridge hand on the table.
- Relax the leg muscles and bend the knees slightly. Do not lock the knees. Some players, depending on their physical attributes, bend their knees much more than others to lower their head to sight and aim the cue ball correctly.
- Your arm should bend at the elbow creating a 90 degree angle, remain in the line of the stroke and not hit your body.
- Check your balance by asking someone to give you a gentle nudge while you are in the stance. Your body should not be easily moved and knees should not be locked.
At first, this may seem uncomfortable but with practice a greater comfort level is achieved.
Many players tend to grip the cue with a firm hand. A tight or loose grip can effect your intended line of stroke. Another mistake in a players grip is holding the cue too far up or down the butt of the cue.
- To maximize your stroke, grip the cue at the balance point. To find the balance point on the cue, rest your cue on two fingers and move your fingers until the cue is level. Place your grip hand so that when in contact with the cue ball your "gripping" arm is at a 90 degree angle.
- Now, to grip the cue properly, place the palm of your hand above but not touching cue and rest the cue on the inside of the index and middle fingers, between the first and second knuckles.
- The thumb completes the grip by resting against the tip of the index finger while the ring and pinky fingers are placed under the cue for stability only. At no point do they actually grip the cue.
Another common mistake is not relaxing your hand. When you have a tight grip, your muscles may tense through your arm and shoulder causing your stroke to move side to side. This element will take a bit of practice for any level of player and is well worth it to create that fluid stroke!
Watching other players and experimenting with your own, you may find hand bridges to be personal preference for anyone. Stability is the most important to having a good bridge. If your bridge moves while stroking, it is likely that you will not strike the cue ball where intended. If your bridge is too loose, you may wobble. If your bridge is too tight, you may fight your stroke and strike the cue ball other than where you intended. Also make sure your bridge isn't more than 6-8 inches from the tip of your cue. Most players use a mixture of open and closed bridges depending on the shot.
Learning to use a closed bridge requires comfort and stability. Each player must experiment with cue in hand the bridge that allows them hit center ball, moving up and down the cue ball to use follow and draw. A closed bridge also allows you to have more control with shots that require more force or speed.
A proper closed bridge requires the outside of your hand and maybe even half of your palm to rest firmly on the table. You should splay your last three fingers for added stability. Now, wrap your cue's shaft with your index finger and thumb and press the pads together resting them approximately on the middle knuckle of your middle finger. As you do this, be sure to make adjustments to find what is comfortable for you. Each player may have little differences in their closed bridge, however, they all have stability in common.
Sometime during the game, you will find the need to use an open bridge. This method is used for a variety of purposes and in many different ways. Some players employ an open bridge for shots that require a bridge on the rail. Others may use it to shoot over a ball or for closer and softer shots and sometimes for better sighting on longer shots. Whatever the reason, a successful open bridge requires stability.
An open bridge can be implemented with just the pads of your fingers to shoot over a ball while others require your hand placed flat on the table with your thumb up to create a groove to rest the cue shaft. Some players choose to splay their fingers and others keep them closed while remaining flat on the table. If using an open bridge on the rail, it is typically best to bridge 2-4 inches from the rail. The best way to find a solid, stable open bridge is to try different things while making sure your hand is kept stable.
Aiming your shot has much to do with your stance, grip and bridge. The stance allows you to align your head with the cue and cue balls intended line of travel. Tilting your head to the left or right could result in not aiming your shot properly. After you have a comfortable stance, grip and bridge, center your chin over your level cue to aim. Sight down the line of travel by bending your knees to allow your body to get down on your shot. Practice short distance shots and be sure to remember your stance while you are stroking the cue ball.
Stroking the cue ball in one fluid motion is an important aspect of shot success. Your head, arm and cue should all be in alignment while keeping your cue level and with no body movement except below your elbow of your gripping hand. You will also need to learn to follow through the cue ball. Hesitation while stroking is much like a baseball player not fully swinging the bat. Also be sure to not lift your body out of position until your shot is over. If your grip hand or arm is hitting your body while you stroke, it's probably a good idea to check your stance, grip and bridge to be sure you can stroke through without doing so.
A good stroke takes practice to learn how to do it subconsciously. To practice your stroke, place a clean, dry water bottle on the bed of the table and practice stroking in and out of the bottle. Once your technique is in place, you will find it easier and much more rewarding to move on to learning the other skills and principles of pool & billiards.