For as long as people have wagered on the results of pool games, there have been pool hustlers. Most people think it takes years of practice and nerves of steel to hustle pool. However, you don't need to be a professional pool player to win a few dollars at the local bar or pool hall. With a few simple tricks up your sleeve, you can scam almost anyone for fun and profit.

The key to winning bets around the pool table is learning a few proposition shots - i.e. arranging a few balls on the pool table, and wagering on the outcome of a single shot. Of course, unlike your mark, you know the trick to successfully making the shot. The proposition shots listed below don't require any special skill, except the ability to shoot a cue ball in a relatively straight line.

Halfcourt shot

This shot takes its name from a halfcourt shot in basketball - almost impossible to perform, but impossible to look away from. Unlike a halfcourt shot, this trick is impossible to mess up since it's all about how you set it up, not how talented you are at shooting the shot.

Take two balls and place them against the center of the short rail of the pool table. They should be pressed tight against each other and against the rail. Take a third ball and position it so it is resting on three points; the two balls and the top of the rail form a tripod which supports this third ball above the surface of the pool table. The weight of the third ball has a tendancy to cause the bottom two balls to roll out of position, so you might find it necessary to lighty tap them down in order to prevent them from moving.

Set up the wager by positioning the cue ball near the other end of the table. Announce that you can shoot the cue ball into the third ball without touching the other two balls. Folks will come from far and wide in anticipation of seeing your cue ball somehow fly through the air and strike the third ball without crashing into the two balls that support it.

Once you get enough suckers curious onlookers to bet against you, simply shoot the cue ball at a medium-slow speed towards the center of the two supporting balls, then bang your hip against the pool table. The jolt from your hip will dislodge the two supporting balls, which will roll out of the way, dropping the third ball onto the surface of the pool table, where it will be struck by the cue ball. Chagrined groans and delighted laughter will follow any demonstration of this trick, but most people will be more than happy to lose a small bet in order to witness something clever.

Thread the needle

This trick takes a modicum of shooting ability, but can be easily mastered with a few minutes of practice. Salesmanship is as important as skill with this shot, and unlike the preceding trick, this is one that you can perform multiple times without your mark learning the secret.

Take a ball and place it in front of a corner pocket. Place the cue ball approximately two to three feet from this first ball. Now, sandwich the cue ball with two other balls, so that an imaginary line drawn through the centers of these two balls is at right angles to a line drawn through the centers of the first ball and the cue ball. Remove the cue ball to reveal a 'window' between the two sandwiching balls that is a ball's-width wide. For the sake of the scam, you can roll these balls slighty farther apart, but it is not necessary to insure the success of this trick.

Position the cue ball about a foot farther back behind the two 'window' balls, so that you could ostensibly shoot the cue ball through the impossibly-narrow window and pocket the first ball that is hanging by the corner pocket. Announce that you can pocket the corner pocket ball by shooting through this narrow window - a task that seems highly improbable. To your mark's amazement, you will be able to make this shot every time! If he tries it, he will almost never succeed, as the slightest deviation from a true path will cause his cue ball to hit the 'window' balls and spoil the shot.

The trick is to elevate the butt of your cue somewhat, and to stroke down into the cue ball, thereby jumping the cue ball and sending it through the air. The shot will happen so fast, and the cue ball will be so close to the surface of the table, that your mark will not notice that the cue is flying through the air. This shot appears almost magical when you are not aware of the mechanics involved, but when you know how, it is very easy to do. The jumped cue ball will clear the two balls easily and will even clear two balls that are slightly closer than a ball's-width, though it is not recommended to set the shot up this way, as it gives the trick away.

Unlike most of the other tricks listed here, this shot is time-honored and extremely useful in actual games of pool. A good player, faced with a position in which a ball is barely obstructing his shot, will simply jump over the edge of the obstructing ball. Onlookers will judge that he wouldn't be able to shoot 'past' the obstructing ball, only to be surprised at his success - not realizing that the cue ball was airborne.

The impossible cut shot

A slight amount of shooting ability is required to perform this shot, but it is much easier than, for instance, drawing the cue ball - a shot that most people learn fairly quickly.

Place a ball against a rail, perhaps a foot from a corner pocket. Position the cue ball a comfortable distance away, and such that a line drawn through the centers of these two balls would almost form a right angle with the rail. Thoughts of cutting the ball into the corner pocket must seem to be almost impossible.

Announce that, contrary to common sense, you will indeed cut that ball into the corner pocket. This trick will work almost every time, given the ability to shoot the cue in a straight line.

The trick is to shoot the cue with inside english- i.e. spin the cue ball by striking it off center on the side of the cue ball that is inside the angle drawn through the centers of the two balls and the corner pocket. Aim not for the target ball, but for the rail just to the outside of the ball. The cue ball will depress the rail, then, thanks to its spin, rebound at an angle and hit the object ball. This will send the object ball down the rail and into the corner pocket as if by magic. With very little practice, you can make this trick work almost every time. Note that the object ball must be frozen to the rail in order for this trick to be effective.

To throw or not to throw...

In the parlance of pool and billiards, throw is a phenomenon related to the friction between two balls that come into contact with one another. Most people think of a collision between two pool balls as a classic elastic collision like the kind they learned about in high-school physics. However, this view of the system is not entirely accurate because two pool balls undergoing an off-center collision remain in contact with each other for a miniscule fraction of a second, long enough for the first ball to 'drag' the second ball along with it somewhat. Imagine two balls frozen against each other on the pool table. A cue ball striking the first ball so that it pushes against the second ball will send the second ball along a line drawn through the centers of the two frozen balls. No matter where the cue ball strikes the first ball, the second ball will roll along this line. When this line points to a pocket, the ball is said to be dead to that pocket. Pool players will stare at a jumbled pack of balls searching for dead balls to exploit. Dead balls are almost impossible to miss. And yet, a pool player can miss a dead ball if he fails to take throw into account. When the pool table's cloth is new, or when the humidity is low, or when the balls are dirty, throw can rear its ugly head. Friction between the two frozen balls can divert the path of that dead ball to an appreciable degree. When the cue ball strikes the first ball to the side of that imaginary line drawn between the centers of the two frozen balls, some degree of throw is always present. Good pool players will utilize throw to pocket balls that are almost, but not quite, dead.

By setting up two frozen balls to point dead to a pocket, you can pocket the dead ball consistently by hitting the first ball of the pair with the cue ball. Hitting to the left or right of center on the first ball will throw the second ball to the opposite direction. By setting up a frozen combination that is not quite dead, you can trick someone into thinking that the shot is impossible to pocket, then utilize throw to make the shot. Inexperienced pool players will have no idea how you made the shot since the concept of throw is not a particularly intuitive one.

If you have no qualms about cheating in the highest degree, you can 'cancel' the throw in a frozen combination and confound an experienced pool player. In order to do this, surreptitiously apply a thin layer of saliva from a moistened fingertip to the point on the balls where they touch. This will act as a lubricant and almost completely eliminate the effects of throw. An experienced pool player who thinks he knows what kind of tricks you are up to will attempt to pocket your not-quite-dead frozen combination by using throw, and be unable to throw the balls if you moisten the contact point as you set up the shot.

An easy way to demonstrate throw to yourself is to freeze two balls against each other, and place them against a rail. Shooting the cue ball at an angle into one of the balls will send the other down the rail, but it will drift off the rail because the friction between the two balls will bounce the second ball off of the rail slightly. Applying some chalk to the contact point will greatly accentuate the effects of this throw. Wetting the contact point will almost eliminate it, and allow you to send the second ball down the rail. By wetting the contact point, you can pocket the second ball every time you shoot the frozen combination. By not wetting it, you can watch your mark fail time and again to duplicate the shot that you just pocketed so easily. Simply make sure you set up the combination far enough from the pocket.

With these tricks, and some smooth-talking, you should be able to win a few bets no matter what your level of skill with the pool cue happens to be. Happy hustling!

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