How many times in a game of billiards have you encountered a combination shot where your ball is contacting another ball? The shot looks as though all you need to do is hit the object ball just the right way and you can send the contacting ball into a pocket. Most of the time these shots are easy to read where to hit but other times it can be tricky.
The truth is combination shots are sometimes easy and sometimes hard to read how the balls are going to react once they are contacted, and even more complicated the more balls you add to the mix. I never recommend trying a combination shot of more than 3 balls as your chances of success go downhill very fast.
The best way to figure out a combination shot is to work your way back from the pocket, running the shooting line through the first ball and then through the second and back to the cue. Find your contact points on each ball and adjust your aim to achieve the shot. Be sure to understand how the English (spin on the balls) is transferred across the balls.
Combination shots are always underestimated for their complexity which normally results in a bad shot. Below I will break down everything you need to know about combination shots so you will start making them instead of missing them.
How To Evaluate The Combination Shot?
Not all combination shots are equal, they all have their own risks that need to be considered. In order to decide how risky a combination shot is there are a few questions that need to be answered. This is a very important process, do not just assume the combination shot will work.
Is the combination shot the best shot you have on the table or are there other options?
Combination shots can be higher risk shots compared to others so only decide to take one if there are no better alternatives. If the object ball can be pocketed without contacting another ball the probability that it will go in is much higher.
Is the combination shot makeable?
Not all combination shots are lined up with a pocket or even makeable. So be sure to analyze the combination before just assuming it will go in.
Is the level of risk to take on the combination worth it or should you consider defense instead?
Combination shots are difficult, some more than others, so is the level of risk worth trying, or is playing a defense shot the better alternative. I know defense shots can be hard to commit to for newer players but sometimes they are the smarter move and can make the difference between winning and losing the match.
Once you have answered all these questions and determined that shooting the combination shot is worth the risk, now you need to know how to aim the shot.
How To Aim The Combination Shot?
In order to aim a combination shot, you have to be able to visualize every point of contact in order to pocket the ball. The best way to do this is to work backward from the pocket to the cue ball.
This may seem weird at first but since there are so many moving parts, working your way from the pocket allows you to figure out where each ball needs to be contacted to send it in that direction.
Step 1: Pocket To Object Ball #2
I want you to pretend that there are no other balls on the table and visualize a line from the center of the pocket through the center of the object ball #2.
If you have trouble visualizing the line use your pool cue to point out the line. If it helps get down as if the object ball # 2 was the cue ball and aim at the center of the pocket. This is the point of contact that you will need to send object ball #1 into in order to pocket object ball #2.
Step 2: Object Ball #2 To Object Ball #1
Now repeat the same steps as step 1 for step 2 but work from the contact point on object ball #2 from step 1 through object ball #1.
Again, if you have trouble visualizing this line, get down on object ball #1 like it is the cue ball and line the shot up to hit the correct contact point on object ball #2. Now you have your contact point on object ball #1.
Step 3: Object Ball #1 To Cue Ball
We are almost there, now that you have both the contact points on object ball #2 and object ball #1, you now need to figure out where to hit the cue ball.
As you have done in the previous steps, line up the cue ball to hit the contact point on object ball # 1.
Step 4: Putting It All Together
Now that you know where each ball needs to be hit in order to send the object ball #2 into the pocket, you can shoot the shot. If every contact point is hit correctly then the object ball #2 should find its way into the pocket.
Other Factors To Consider
Obviously there are several more factors that will need to be addressed for certain combination shots such as speed and power of the shots, as well as English on the cue ball that get transferred to each and every ball it contacts.
When English is transferred from ball to ball the spin will be reversed after each contact. For example, if you apply right spin on the cue ball it will apply left spin on the object ball #1 which will transfer right spin on object ball #2. As you can see it can start to get complicated, and we haven’t even factored in deflection from the cue and drift from the spin and how the speed at which the ball is hit will affect these things.
If all that were not enough to make you second guess the combination shot, you will also need to factor in the distance between the two object balls. The closer they are to each other the easier it is to control their contact points.
How To Get Better At Combination Shots?
Now that you know how to evaluate and aim combination shots, your next step to never missing them again is to practice. Practice going through the steps for different combination shots work on evaluating the risk of the shot and aiming. The more you do it the better you will get at determining the risk level of the shot and determining the best course of action if it is higher risk.
By practicing not only shooting combination shots but evaluating the risk of them you are able to avoid shooting high risk combination shots and making the ones that are lower risk. Be sure to change up the distances between the combos and the angles. Also work on using English and being able to visualize the transfer of spin to the balls.
After you have started to make most of the combination shots you try, begin to work on position of the cue ball afterwards. Being able to plan the position of the cue ball after the combination is valuable in any game of billiards.
For example, if you are playing 9-ball and your object ball is the first ball in the combo, when you make the combo shot your next shot is still the same object ball. So being able to predict where the cue ball and object ball will go afterwards is key to keeping you at the table.
Understanding the tangent lines (the line parallel to the contact point of the two contacting balls) is key to being able to visualize where the balls will be heading. This can also be helpful when playing combination shots that are not lined up to go towards a pocket but rathe the tangent line from the two balls contacting will send one of them towards a pocket. These shots come up often in matches so being able to spot them is valuable.
That is all I know about shooting combination shots, they can be a great skill to have in a game of pool, but by far the greatest is being able to determine the riskiness of the shot and deciding when to not go for the combo. I hope you were able to learn a lot from this article, and if you are having trouble with these shots just know they take a lot of practice and they get easier with time.