Billiard Fundamentals

Billiards is a fascinating and engaging sport, with a long history. Today, there are professionals who make a living out of playing the cue sport. Whether you are an amateur billiards player, or you are just learning the fundamentals, it is a fascinating game with multiple strategies.

Although billiards is fun, there are some techniques that you’ll want to learn to be a winner. If you are interested in learning more about billiard fundamentals, here are some ways you can become proficient and run the table.

Billiards fundamentals include knowing about:

  • How to grip the cue stick
  • Forming the right bridge for the shot
  • How to get a perfect stroke
  • The proper stance for a successful shot
  • The different kinds of ball shots in billiards and when to use them
  • Fundamental aiming strategies needed to pocket the ball.

The Proper Grip for the Cue Stick

Achieving the perfect shot starts with how you grip the cue stick. When you are getting ready for the shot, grip the cue stick comfortably about a quarter of the length from the end in whatever is the most natural position for you.

  • Start by holding the stick in your hand, with your thumb and first two fingers gently wrapped around the stick.
  • Don’t put your thumb along the stick because it can mess with your stroke.
  • Hold it loosely and let your wrist have free movement, don’t lock it up.

But the key isn’t in just holding it, but also how you release it when preparing for the shot. Because you can only take the cue stick as far back as your wrist allows. By releasing part of your hand, you can extend your wrist position farther. This especially applies to power shots, when you need to send a ball across the table.

When you’re pulling the cue stick back, hold it loosely and gently. Then you need to release the cue stick by letting go with part of your hand. Do this by one of two ways.

  • You can either slowly release the cue stick with the back of your hand, holding it with just your thumb and forefinger.
  • Or you can release the cue stick with the first three fingers and hold it with the back of your hand.
  • Use either one, but not both, and choose the one which feels most natural to you.
  • Then grip the cue stick again and drive it forward.

When you are preparing for shorter shots, in which you have less of a distance to cover, there will still be a need to release the cue stick. But not as much.

Also make sure to move your hands further up by a couple inches to give yourself more control over the shot.

A good rule of thumb is to imagine you are holding a stick of butter. If your grip is too tight, you’ll squish the stick of butter.

Also, for more power in your shots, hold the cue stick further back. For better control, hold it further forward.

How to Successfully Bridge with Your Hand

When you are preparing to hit the ball with your cue stick, you need somewhere to rest the cue stick. You need to create a bridge with your hand. If you are right handed, then it will be your left hand. And vice versa.

Position your hand half way between the cue ball and the edge of the table. If you put it too close to the ball, you won’t have enough room for your back swing.

You need to leave enough for the pull back and follow through. If it’s too far away, you don’t have good control over where the tip of the cue stick lands on the ball.

Forming a Bridge with Your Hand

There are two types of bridges you can form with your hand. The open bridge and the closed.

To create the open bridge,

  • To start, you place your hand on the table forming a tent, with your fingers spread apart. This gives you a nice solid base from which to shoot.
  • Form a V by lifting your thumb and part of your hand off the table
  • Pull your thumb close to your hand.
  • The cue stick rests in the V shape and runs across the first finger.
  • As you lean into the shot, the weight of your body rests on the fleshy part of the hand. This gives it a firm position.

To form the closed bridge,

  • You set yourself up as if you are creating an open bridge with your hand
  • You wrap your first finger around the stick, instead of running the cue stick over it.
  • You want your grip to be just snug enough that it doesn’t grab your skin, but holds the cue stick steady.

The main reason to use a closed bridge technique, as opposed to the open bridge, depends on the shape and taper of your cue stick.

If it is thin at the tip and quickly grows fatter, use an open bridge because it allows for the most control. But if your cue stick is thicker at the tip and gradually thickens, then using a closed bridge is best because it helps with the control.

Also, deciding when to use the open and closed bridge depends on the position of the ball and the kind of shot you have to take. Using an open bridge is necessary when you need to adjust the height of your cue stick.

Tips on Adjusting the Height of the Cue Stick

To adjust the height of the cue stick, pull your fingers in until your hand is arched and the stick is aimed at the part of the ball you want to hit.

If you have to shoot over another ball

  • Lift the back of your hand and splay your fingers wide to create a solid base.
  • Form a tripod with your back three fingers
  • Use your thumb and forefinger to hold the cue stick steady.

This gives you the extra lift you need.

If you have to lift your cue stick even higher, tuck the two middle fingers in, possible, to create more stability.

There may be a time when there isn’t enough room for your hand because the cue ball is too close to the edge.

In this instance, use the edge of the pool table to rest your cue stick on. This is called shooting off the rail.

  • Place your hand next to the cue stick
  • Use your thumb and middle finger as a guide
  • Wrapping your first finger around the stick to keep it straight.
  • Hold the back of the cue stick with the back two fingers, it helps give you greater accuracy when shooting the ball.

If the cue ball is right next to the edge, use an open bridge technique where your fingers are splayed wide against the edge of the table. Lift the cue stick higher until the stick barely brushes the edge.

Make sure there is plenty of chalk on the end of the stick to provide friction and doesn’t brush off the edge of the ball.

No matter what kind of shot you are taking, the key is to create a stable solid base with which to rest your cue stick on.

How to Achieve the Perfect Stroke

Now that you are familiar with how to grip the cue stick and form a bridge with your hands. It’s important to get your stroke fundamentals down.

The key to developing a perfect stroke, hinges on your elbow. Think of your elbow like a swinging pendulum. A weighted object uses gravity to swings back and forth. In this case, the weighted object is your cue stick.

  • Hold the cue stick gently in your hands
  • Keep your arm tucked in a straight line against your body.
  • Keep your forearm perpendicular to the floor
  • Swing your forearm back and forth using the weight of the cue stick
  • Do a few practice strokes first, until you find the “sweet spot” on the ball before you hit it.
  • Try to get the tip of the cue stick as close as possible to the ball without hitting it.   

When the cue stick hits the sweet spot on the ball, your forearm will to be perpendicular to the floor. With lots of practice, you’ll get the perfect stroke every time.

The Best Stance for Successful Shots

How you stand while taking the shot is very personal. Not every person is going to stand the exact same way. But there are some tips that you can apply to your own stance that will help you be successful in pocketing the ball.

  • Stand back from the table and examine the shot you want to take.
  • Mentally draw a straight line that runs through the ball you want to hit and the cue ball.
  • Extend the line from the table to the floor.
  • If you’re right handed, place your right foot on that line at an angle. If you’re left-handed, use your left foot.
  • Where you place the other foot depends on what’s comfortable for you. Some players like to place their feet square to the table. The point is to give yourself a stable platform to take the shot.
  • Bend your body over the imaginary line in an almost vertical fashion. If you are too high, then the stick has room to move back and forth.
  • Use your chest as a guide for the cue stick. Let the stick lightly brush your chest as a way to keep it on that imaginary line.
  • Keep your shooting arm close to your body and use your chin as another guide. Your whole body should be aligned with that imaginary line.
  • Your forearm needs to be straight down because your elbow acts as a pivot.Before you take the shot, look back to make sure you’re holding the cue stick just right. If your elbow sticks too far out to one side or the other, it will interfere with the shot.
  • With your chin and chest as extra guides, this keeps your cue stick nice and tight.
  • Feather the stick to make sure you’re lined up properly before you take the shot.

With your whole body lined up on that imaginary line and the cue stick tucked nice and tight along your body, there should be no room for it to move one way or the other.

By following these steps, you should be able to take a successful shot and pocket the ball where you want it every time.

The Different Kinds of Ball Shots in Billiards

There are also several types of shots you should be aware of. These shots refer to the cue ball and the object ball. The object ball is the ball you are trying to hit into a pocket. These shots each have their own strategy on how to achieve them.

Shots such as

  • Breaking shots: This is the first shot you take to break up the balls. You can shoot from either side or slightly off-center. This is an important shot because whoever takes the first shot can control where the balls go as well as control the game.
  • Banking shots: When you do a banking shot, you are hitting the cue ball into the object ball, which bounces off the rail and into the pocket. Use the diamonds along the side of the edge as a way to measure where your cue ball hits.
  • Kicking shots: When you do a kicking shot, you are bouncing the cue ball off the rail and into the object ball, then into the pocket. Use the diamonds along the edge of the rails as a way to gauge where your cue ball needs to go.
  • Carom Shots: This shot is when you use the cue ball or object ball to move another ball to get it into the pocket. This is useful when the ball you need to pocket is sitting next to another ball and you need to use that other ball to sink your ball.
  • Defense or Safety Shots are shots where the player deliberately misses the object ball but puts the cue ball in a position so that the other player can’t easily pocket their ball. This is a legal defensive move and useful when the player is unable to make a good shot or wants to put their opponent in a difficult situation. Good players call out their intentions of making a safety shot, before taking it.
  • Draw Shots happen when you want to make the cue ball spin backward after hitting the object ball. This is a useful shot to know when you want to break up a cluster of balls and stay out of trouble. Do this by striking the cue ball low and to the side.
  • Follow Shots are when you make the cue ball spin forward to strike the object ball. This is a useful shot when your cue ball isn’t in a straight line from the object ball and you need to have your cue ball strike the object ball just on the side so that it will drop into the pocket. Or if you want the cue ball to travel farther after hitting the object ball.  
  • Jump Shots are when you make the cue ball jump over an obstacle, like another ball, to strike your object ball. You need to lift the end of your cue stick very high, then hit the cue ball right in the center and hard enough so that it jumps over the obstacle and hits the object ball, but not over both balls.
  • Masse Shots are when you lift the butt of your cue stick over sixty degrees and strike the cue ball cause the cue ball to spin. Then curve it around an obstacle and hit the object ball. This is very difficult to achieve, but there is a science to it to help you break it down.
  • Stop shots are designed to prevent the cue ball from following the object ball into the pocket. This is a useful tool when you have to shoot an object ball from half way or all the way down the table. You do this by hitting low on the cue ball to create backspin and turn the rolling ball into more of a slide.

Billiards Aiming System Fundamentals

 There are some aiming systems you should be aware of when learning to play billiards. These will help you be very successful in getting the balls into the pockets. Aiming systems such as the

  • Ghost Ball Method
  • Diamond system for banking and kicking
  • English or sidespin to make more complicated shots. You should know when to use them.

Using the Ghost Ball Method for Aiming

Using the Ghost Ball Method aiming system is a very useful tool to help you position the cue ball just right.

The Ghost Ball method comes in to play when you are trying to line up the cue ball with the object ball and decide which direction to shoot or strategy you need to pocket the ball. It’s where you imagine where the cue ball needs to be in order to hit the obstacle ball and pocket it.

This involves

  • Deciding where the aiming line is by lining the cue ball up with the opposite edge. This is an imaginary straight line that runs from the cue ball and past the obstacle ball to the opposite side.
  • Then visualizing the impact line. This is an imaginary line that runs straight through the heart of the obstacle ball and sends it in the direction you want it to go.
  • The heart of the imaginary ghost ball is the aiming point, which is where the two imaginary lines intersect.
  • Where the ghost ball makes contact with the obstacle is where your cue ball needs to end up.
  • Once you’ve lined up the shot, aim for the heart of the ghost ball and strike.

One quick way to find the aiming point is to

  • Physically eyeball the aiming line through the obstacle ball by walking around the table and getting level with the ball.
  • Place the tip of your cue stick about half a ball away from the obstacle ball on that line.
  • While holding your cue stick in place, walk back to your original shooting position and line up the cue ball with your aiming point.

By using this technique, you can be sure to hit your obstacle ball on a consistent basis and send it where it needs to go.

Using the Diamond System for Banking and Kicking Shots

The Diamond System is an aiming system that utilizes the little diamonds or dots that are placed around the edge of pool tables equidistant from one another and the pockets around the table.

Using a mathematical formula, you can calculate where the cue ball needs to hit in order to sink the obstacle ball into the pocket. Whether you use the banking shot or the kicking shot, the formula is the same.

This formula is based on a rectangle where you have X=L x 2W or length times twice the width. Because the length of the billiards table is twice its width. It also includes acute angles and parallel lines.

The idea is that if you hit the cue ball directly toward the diamond on the opposite side, it will come rolling back to you.

So if you are trying to make a bank shot, you can visualize which diamond you need to hit on one side and estimate where it will hit the obstacle ball on the other, sending it to the correct pocket.

To start

  • Assign numbers to each of the diamonds starting at one end.
  • Make sure to include the pockets. The center of the pocket is where the two cushions that line the edge meet.
  • There will probably end up being nine diamonds on the length and five on the width.
  • Consider the space between each diamond to be a segment.
  • There will be eight segments on the length and four on the width.

One of the most common formulas is the rolling ball 2-to-1 rail kick and bank shot.

  • Say you need to do a bank shot because the cue ball is at the side pocket and the obstacle ball is in the corner pocket.
  • The cue ball is at diamond number 4 and the obstacle ball is at the corner pocket.
  • Divide by two and you get two diamonds.
  • This means you need to aim for diamond number two on the opposite rail to sink the ball or half the distance between the two balls.

In essence, you are drawing an imaginary triangle, in which the two legs are equal to one another. Where ever you hit the cue ball to the opposite side, it will bounce back and travel to the other side. Creating a perfect triangle.

No matter how tight the angle, the principle is still the same.

Going more complex from there, you can use this method to bounce the ball off two rails rather than just one or even more.

Using the English or Sidespin to Make More Complicated Shots

The English or Sidespin shot is useful when you need to make more complicated shots and you need to control the cue ball’s direction after the shot.

To get this shot, you hit either to the right or left of the cue ball centerline when calculating your shot. This alters the path the cue ball takes when hitting the rail cushions.

There are four different ways to side spin the ball. These are

  • Inside English. This is the sidespin created when you strike the obstacle ball with the cue ball on the inside of the direction of the shot.
  • Outside English. This is the sidespin created when you strike the obstacle ball with the cue ball on the outside of the direction of the shot.
  • Reverse English or hold up is where the sidespin created after the cue ball hits the obstacle ball makes the cue ball slow way down and it has a small rebound angle after hitting the rail cushion.
  • Running English or natural English is where the sidespin created after the cue ball hits the obstacle ball makes the cue ball speed up and rebound off the cushion and have a larger rebound angle.

The trick is knowing when to take what shot.

  • First, look at the position of the cue ball in relation to the obstacle ball.
  • Decide which direction you want the cue ball to bounce off the rail cushion, either to the right or to the left.
  • Line your shot up with the obstacle ball.
  • Hit the cue ball on whichever side it needs to bounce off.

By hitting the cue ball either on the right or the left, you can create a sidespin that puts it right where you want it.

Learning the Fundamentals of Billiards

Learning and practicing these foundational tips can improve your shots and be successful. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different cue sticks and different angles. But knowing the fundamentals of billiards is necessary to help you become a better billiards player.