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Learn the best breaks for 8-Ball

By Gerry Kanov and Shari Stauch

The break is one of the most important shots in the game. Some would argue it is the most important. It sets the stage for the rest of the game. It determines whether your next shot will be a nightmare or a dream come true. It determines whether or not you will have a next shot!

In 8-Ball, you should use the power break. The object of the power break is to pocket at least one ball while scattering the rest of the balls as much as possible. When scattered, the remaining balls can be pocketed more easily than if clustered in small groups around the table. The rack is very important in achieving a good ball spread. In an 8-Ball rack, be sure that the stripes and solids are alternated throughout the rack as much as possible. If the balls are not alternated in this fashion, you may end up with clusters of like balls. In addition, ensure that the two wing balls are not both stripes or solids, since they are the two balls most frequently pocketed.

In many formats, the privilege to break is earned by winning the previous game. In order to string racks together and impose some kind of mental anguish on your opponent, you must have a solid break. Breaking the balls without pocketing one is like being all dressed up with nowhere to go but back to your chair.

Achieving a great break is a matter of directing enough force through the racked balls to get them to move about the table in such a way that one or more falls into a pocket and the others are spread nicely for future conquest. There are two important factors in this equation—power and contact.

Some people think you have to hit the rack at 100 miles an hour to get a good break. The fact of the matter is that the top cue ball speed of professionals tested reached only 31 miles an hour. Even so, those high-speed breaks had a tendency to mishit the target ball and fly off the table. You must achieve a solid hit on the target ball in order to transfer all that energy to the pack.

Lining It Up

In order to get yourself into good position for a solid break, you need to do a number of things. First, take a slightly wider stance than usual. This will allow more power and spring in your upper body. Place at least 60 percent of your body weight on your front leg so you can rock your body forward on the shot and increase the cue stick speed. Also, stand up a little taller on the shot to give your swinging arm more room. This will enhance your follow-through. Next, adjust your grip and bridge placement. For the break shot, you should move your grip hand back on the cue stick and increase your bridge length about the same distance—a distance that allows the forearm to still be nearly vertical at the moment of impact on the cue ball. This will naturally allow you to have more cue stick with which to follow through. Keep your cue stick tip very near the cue ball—about an inch away. This helps the tip find its way to the spot on the cue ball you want it to contact. You may also need to change the way you bridge. It’s easier to follow through with an open bridge. In fact, if you use a closed bridge, you will find that you have to open it up to allow for the proper follow-through anyway. Begin with whatever feels comfortable to you.

Keep your back hand as loose as possible while still maintaining control over the cue stick. This is the key to an explosive break. A loose hold allows the wrist to accelerate through the shot, speeding the cue stick through the cue ball as it does. For those of you who play golf, you will recognize the similarities: The lighter the hold on the club, the more club head speed is generated.

Turn your back hip toward the shot. While your normal stance is more likely to have your hips angled at 45 degrees, to get more power on the break shot, square them up. In other words, if you are right handed, as you execute the shot, turn your right hip toward the rack.

Getting a Solid Hit

If you are not getting a solid hit on the rack, then only a fraction of the force you have applied to the cue ball is being transferred to the rack. Another side effect is that the cue ball has retained that energy, so instead of stopping in the center of the table it continues to bounce around at the mercy of the pool gods, or it flies off the table, endangering the health of the people around you.

On most shots, you will sight the object ball last before you propel the cue ball toward it. However, on the break shot, you may find it better to sight the cue ball just before you pull the trigger. The reason for this is when you look at the cue ball last you will create more of a stunning action on the cue ball. If you look at the target ball last, you will create more follow-through. The stunned cue ball is less likely to carry with it any spin that will detract from the transfer of energy to the rack.

Building Power

Once you have mastered a solid hit on the target ball, you can build up the power in your stroke. Develop your break by exerting just 20 percent of your hit strength, similar to a slow or medium hit on the cue ball. Slowly build up the speed of your stroke. When you hit four or five solid breaks in a row, step up to 40, 60, and 80 percent of your strength in a similar fashion. Most players will settle in the 70 to 80 percent range. Avoid digging your cue tip into the table bed while performing your break stroke. This has a tendency to slow down the speed of the cue stick. You also risk breaking the spine of the shaft, making it more likely to warp.

Making the Break

Place the cue ball along either side rail in the kitchen (just behind the head string) and aim for the second ball in the rack, that is, the ball just behind the head ball. Use a below center hit on the cue ball lest it become a flying object. By hitting the second ball solidly, two good things are likely to happen. First, you will get a good spread on the balls, and second, the cue ball will come back into the center of the table ensuring that you get a good shot to start your run. This break shot carries an added bonus of enabling you to make the eight ball on the break more frequently.

However, a break shot that uses the head ball can also be quite effective. It is still critical to get a solid hit on the target ball. Aiming at the head ball is advantageous because it is a bigger target. You can get a full hit whether your cue ball is in the center of the table or all the way to the side rail. The cue ball can be controlled more easily with a frontal attack, since it is a more straight-on shot.

This is an excerpt from Pool Player’s Edge.

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