So you want to play pool? If you have access to the equipment (table, rack, balls, cue sticks, chalk, possibly a little beer) and know the rules of the game, there are really only three things you need:

A Bridge

This supports and guides the tip of the cue stick, allowing you to accurately strike the cue ball. The ‘basic’ bridge is formed by placing your slightly cupped hand on the felt surface of the pool table. Your index finger should be raised and extended, with your thumb and remaining three fingers (slightly separated) touching the table’s surface. The front of the cue stick should be placed along the thumb and middle finger, and then the index finger should be lowered to firmly but gently encircle the cue stick a few inches behind the tip.  

The bridge described above is used when there is enough room to allow placement of your hand several inches behind the cue ball. If the cue ball is ‘against the rail’ you may need to place the cue stick on the rail and use your index and middle fingers to guide the stick. If another ball on the table is blocking the cue ball you may have to improvise by cupping your hand more, and may even use the area between your index and middle finger knuckle joints as a bridge. For longer-distance shots there is also a stick known as a ‘crutch’ with a scalloped guide at one end to guide your cue stick.

A Hinge

You’re probably wondering why you’d need a hinge to play pool. The hinge in this case is actually your elbow. Some pool players make the mistake of gripping their cue stick at the very back of the butt end, lock-up their elbow joint and then ‘jab’ the stick at the cue ball. Instead, try gripping the cue stick about five inches behind the fulcrum (i.e. the point at which you can balance the stick evenly on your finger, generally about 12 inches from the butt end). With your elbow raised behind you so that your upper arm is almost level, let your forearm hang down at about a 90 degree angle and swing it back and forth in a somewhat loose (but controlled) arc. Your stance should be relaxed with one foot slightly ahead of the other as you are bent over the table.

Newton’s Third Law

"For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." Cue stick strikes cue ball, causing it to travel in the opposite direction from the strike. Cue ball strikes object ball, causing same. Sounds simple, right? It is, but you must remember that you’re using a stick to hit one round ball into another round ball. Try to mentally draw a line from the center of the pocket through the object ball and another line from that point on the object ball to the cue ball, so that the path of the cue ball will cause it to strike the object ball at the point you've mentally drawn. This can be fairly difficult, especially if you must hit the object at an acute angle (example: in some cases you will need to barely graze it in order to send it at an approximate 90 degree angle to the path of the cue ball). However, if you’ve imagined your lines correctly your ball should go in—I mean, it’s Newton, right? What could go wrong? Plenty. Although Newton’s law is always correct, many people seem to ignore the following (which are all part of the same law of physics):

  • If another ball is in the path of the object ball, the object ball will strike it and be thrown off course. This seems so obvious, but I’ve seen so many wishful thinkers who believe their desired object ball will just shove the other ball aside and go straight into the pocket.
  • If it is a ‘straight’ shot and the object ball is close to the pocket, the momentum of the cue ball will make it continue on its course and follow the object ball into the pocket, causing what is known as a ‘scratch’ (you lose your turn).
  • If the cue stick strikes the cue ball to the left or right of center, it will cause the ball to spin as it travels to hit the object ball. This spinning (known as ‘English’ or Spin) will throw the path of the object ball in the opposite direction of the cue ball’s spin—just part of the law.

NOTE: Knowing how to use English can be a big help to your game. The cue ball can also be hit above center (called ‘follow’ as the top spin makes the cue seem to leap forward once it strikes the object ball) or below center (known as ‘draw’ as the reverse spinning causes the cue ball to travel backwards after it hits the object ball—a handy thing to prevent you from scratching and losing your turn).

That’s all you need to know to play pool—of course if you want to play well, you’ll need lots and lots of practice!

I am not a professional, however I did take a Recreation course in Pocket Billiards in College (I got an A!) and I have played in a Pool League.

Update 16 Jan 2011: I was wrong. Apparently you don't need a bridge.

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