Here are 12 simple, straightforward ways to improve your break shot. They may not all work for you, and YMMV. Many of them benefitted me a great deal. There's also, at no added charge, a brief discussion of what a good break shot is and why you should put in the effort to cultivate one. Most of these ideas are culled from Robert Byrne's 1990 book, Advanced Technique in Pool and Billiards, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, ISBN 0-15-115222-5. It's interspersed with my opinions and judgment, however, so don't blame him for what's to follow.

Pool is a game of kinetic energy. The table is large, flat, and solid. 99+% of the life of a pool ball is spent within a six inch vertical range between the top of the table and the bottom of a pocket. There is next to no potential energy consideration in pool. The kicker, the real nail-biting nose-thumbing kicker, is this; despite its outward appearance, pool is not a two dimensional game. If it were, it would be a lot easier.

If you place a dime in front of the cue ball (by about an inch or so), on an empty table, and gently cue the ball forward, you'll hear a 'clink'. This 'clink' is the sound of the ball rolling over the thin metallic dime. Try it ten times. Ten clinks. Now, instead of cueing the ball gently, shoot it hard. Shoot it hard enough to traverse the long axis of the table, back and forth, five or so times. If you bother to try this, you'll probably notice something peculiar. There is no clink. The cue ball never touched the dime.

Have you ever taken a basketball, resting on a wood floor, and whacked the top of the ball, hard? With a quick, impulsive blow, you can convince the ball to spring into the air, and you can start dribbling it. The reason you're able to do this is because the ball is rather elastic, and it compresses before snapping back into shape, pushing it off of the floor. Believe it or not, the exact same mechanics are at work all the time on a pool table. If your cue is not completely level, to within +/- a few degrees, every time you cue the ball hard, it leaves the surface of the table by a millimeter or more. It sails through the air, skimming just over the surface of the felt, much like Brian Boitano on a cushion of liquid water at the ice's surface. It will land, bounce, and rise again several times. At the moment that it impacts an object ball or rail, that impact can be all it needs to Turbo Boost its way onto the pool hall floor.

I'm assuming here that one desires a break in which the majority of the object balls separate from one another with as much speed as they can, with the speed well-distributed amongst them. Man cannot survive on eight ball alone, however, and breaks in straight pool, one pocket, etc. are not in any way covered here.

The key to an effective break is twofold. First, get a lot of kinetic energy into the cue ball. Second, convince the cueball to give up all of its kinetic energy to the pack, saving little or none for itself. If you do these two things, the pack of object balls will literally (meaning figuratively) explode, and each ball will scream around the table looking for pockets in which to hide. If you fail to perform either one of the two folds, that can be OK. Gentle breaking can be very effective if it's accurate and there's little energy wasted. Hard breaking can be OK even if the cue ball runs around the table. On average, women seem to pick up the control half easier than the guys, whereas guys tend to pick up the speed/power half more easily. Truthfully, the control is the more critical half. The trick is getting the two to come together. Cookies and cream. Yin and Yang. nate and bones. You get the idea.

How do you do that? I'm glad you asked.

  1. Use a level cue. Keep the butt of the cue as low as you can. Sometimes, bridging off the rail can help this. If the cue ball is on the headspot, you can actually shoot up on the ball if you try hard enough. Don't actually do this, but know that it can be done. Level cue == two-dimensional game == no lesbian Mexican jumping object balls

  2. Use a cue with a 'hard-ish' tip. Le Pro is good, Elk Master and Triangle are better (IMHO). Ball peen hammers aren't usually rubber, aluminum bats hit balls farther than wooden bats. This is a generalization, but I'd be happy to talk materials properties and instantaneous momentum transfer with you if that's your thing. The point is that a hard tip transfers KE better than a mushy one. Because I say so.

  3. Use a closed bridge. This means to use a loop formed by your thumb and index finger instead of resting the cue on top of your knuckles. This generally improves accuracy and keeps the cue under control.

  4. Lengthen your bridging distance, i.e. the distance between your bridge hand and the cue ball. Not ridiculously, of course, but longer than your average shot.

  5. Concentrate on getting the cue up to speed, and fast. Explode. The amount of kinetic energy the ball gets is proportional to the square of the amount of speed the cue gets. Linear momentum is your friend. Get the cue-cue ball collision to occur at the peak of the cue's speed. Anything else would be uncivilized.

  6. The optimal cue weight, for most people's musculature, seems to be about 18-21 oz. Any heavier than that and you'll have trouble getting it accelerated in time for the impact. Use a cue in that range, if available. Luckily, many cues are in that range. Good, that one's easy.

  7. Control your stroke to avoid sidespin, draw, massé, and jumping. You're looking for a clean, smooth center-ball hit. English merely complicates a process which is needlessly complicated already.

  8. Hit square-on center with the lead (apex) ball. This gives you your best opportunity to 'kill' the cue ball, i.e. leave it in the center of the table with little or no kinetic energy remaining after the break. Glancing across the supported lead ball == bad idea.

  9. Avoid scratching and jumping any of the balls off the table. No matter how effective your break shot, fouling just gives a well-broken table posiiton to your opponent. Not a good idea. Also, it makes people who know what they're doing look at you scornfully. That's rarely a good sign.

  10. Use a stiff cue. It will vibrate less and impart a higher fraction of its energy to the cue ball. Thin, spindly shafts are great for precision play but lousy for breaking.

  11. Slide your non-bridge hand a bit closer to the butt of the cue. This seems to help most people achieve a harder break.

  12. Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice. Nobody practices this shot enough, mostly because it's a pain to rack up the balls time after time. Forget that. Be strong. PRACTICE MAKES YOU STRONG!! STRENGTH CRUSHES ENEMIES!! PRACTICE!!

There you go. Sorry this wasn't teenage angsty poetry. Perhaps later I will thrill you with my next node, 'Bittersweet Autumn and her nymphomaniacal Slashdot fantasies'.

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