See Webster 1913
's writeup for a brief
, more-or-less correct definition
This shot deserves no less than its very own, correctly spelled and punctuated, node, and this is it. Here I will give you an introduction to the massé, as well as a fuller, more correct definition. Also, I will attempt to explain how and why you might go about executing a massé, and why you might not want to.
Fundamentally, a massé is a pool (or billiards, or any other cue sport) shot in which the cue ball's path does one of two things. First, the cue ball's path as viewed from above could curve. This is the most frequently encountered type of massé. Second, the cue ball could leave the cue in a straight line (still, as viewed from above) but at some point reverse direction and proceed back towards its initial location. This would be a linear path, but the direction of the ball's travel would change halfway through the shot. Both types of massés are achieved through the use of an elevated cue, and there is nothing illegal about either shot, so long as only the tip of the cue makes proper contact with the cue ball. There are a number of reasons why you might want to execute a massé, and a number of reasons why you might not.
When executed well, a massé can be a magnificent, heart-stopping shot. You can use it to make otherwise unmakeable shots. You can use it to impress friends, win bets, or invent trick shots. You should not use it (in public) until you've practiced it a lot. This brings me to my first point, which is this:
Massé shots can ruin the cloth of a pool table.
Let me repeat. Massé shots can ruin the cloth of a pool table.
(They can also make you look like a dumb, prissy chump, who's seen too many bad pool movies and thinks they're Steve Mizerak, but that's a story for another node)
I accept absolutely no responsibility for your destroying an $800 felt job on an antique Brunswick. Even when properly executed, the massé shot can leave small 'felt burns' in the cloth. It can also damage or destroy the slate or honeycomb playing surface under the felt. And that's if you execute the shot properly. If you miscue, you can (and more than likely will) send the tip and ferrule of your $1000 Meucci slamming down into the table, slicing the cloth and potentially ruining the shaft of your cue. That said, I've never actually seen it happen first hand. Nor do I want to.
One common misconception about the massé is that only a hustler would be able to (or even want to) execute one. Fortunately, this is not the case. Many reasonably good players use the massé shot. Most excellent players, however, spend tens of thousands of waking hours learning how to avoid really difficult shots (like the massé) to begin with. If you're counting on adding this shot to your arsenal in order to avoid adequate position play or speed control, I assure you that you'll be disappointed. However, anyone with a little patience and inquisitiveness can learn (fairly quickly) how to make and use this shot. Also, in many instances where a jump or massé could be used, a better bank or carom is available.
If you want to execute a massé shot, all you have to do is convince the cue
ball to take on a certain amount of abnormal spin. That's it. Normal spin is considerd to be follow, draw, left english, and right english.
There are a few ways of accomplishing this that are better than others, but on the whole, that's all there is to it. The traditional method of imparting strange spin directions to the cue ball is to elevate your cue (to form a 45 to 90 degree angle with respect to the playing surface), and striking the cueball somewhere between dead center and three-quarters of the way to the edge of the cueball. Striking the cueball dead center more or less just dents the table, and striking farther than 3/4's of the way to the edge virtually guarantees a miscue. Somewhere in between lies the promised land of effective massé.
Use a sufficient amount of chalk. This is read, 'use as much chalk as you can get away with, without leaving unsightly blue scars everywhere'. Chalk improves cue-to-ball friction, which in this case is good. You're looking to 'trap' the cueball between the cue and the table. The cue tip will 'grab' the cueball better when it's well-chalked. Also, use a reasonably thick, softish tip on a quality shaft. You can massé with house cues. You can probably massé with a toothbrush. I don't recommend it.
Strike the cueball with varying amounts of force, and note the effects. More force on the cue can lead to more drastic curvature in the path. It also increases the initial speed of the ball, delaying the onset of the spin-induced path curvature. With practice, it's nearly trivial to convince the cueball to swerve two balls' widths and back, over the length of the table. This is enough to leave from a corner pocket, curve around a ball near the adjacent side pocket, and return the cue ball to pocket a ball at the far corner pocket of the same rail. Cool, huh?
To get the cue ball to come directly back to you, employ a near-vertical cue. Strike the ball directly between your body and the center of the ball. Hard. The ball will (hopefully) move about 6 inches to 2 feet away, spin in place for a split-second, and return to you. Moving the contact point of the cue very slightly side-to-side makes for really pretty U-shaped trajectories. Some felt is better than others for this. Practice on cheap felt, preferably on a table that has already been cosmetically damaged or is about to be refelted soon.
Bracing the cue for an accurate, steeply inclined shot presents a number of challenges. It's easiest if the cueball is 2-5 inches from a rail. Learn to use your hand (or your hip) to brace with. Try to keep most of your weight off of the table, though, especially the rails. Ask around if you need help.
That's more or less it. Many pool halls don't want you learning massé or jump shots on their tables, and for good reason. Hopefully, you can find a friend with an old table to help you out. You could try using a 2-foot square piece of thin felt for extra protection for your friend's table. Don't be afraid to hit the shot a bit harder than you might otherwise think necessary. Try to keep the cue tip from impacting the table, though.
Best of luck, and once again, my apologies for yet another longwinded writeup.