The first shot in a game of pool or billiards. So called because the pack of balls being targeted (object balls) are broken from their orderly starting positions.

Most pool players break badly, and break badly often. Many break atrociously.

The first shot in any given game of pool is one of the most important. It sets the stage for the rest of the match. With a good break, you can finish off an opponent without giving her/him even a chance at the table. Coincidentally, it is also one of the most poorly executed shots. Let us suppose that you've won the lag (or coin toss, or whatever) and are the designated breaker. Let's further suppose you're playing 8 ball on a nine foot full-sized table. With that in mind, here's a quick explanation of what often goes wrong with a break shot. For additional (likely more helpful) pointers, see also How to improve your break shot.

There are 7 likely bad outcomes to your break shot, each of which you have at least some control over. Some you can more or less prevent entirely. Here they are, in ascending order of severity, along with how you may be able to avoid them.

  • You made an illegal break by failing to drive four numbered balls to rails. This is not too big of a deal, except that you've wasted your shot. Your opponent has the choice of accepting the table as is, or forcing you to re-break. This generally happens when you miscue and the cue ball limps weakly down the table. You can control this outcome by aiming the cue ball carefully up the center of the rack, and restraining your urge to prove your Herculean strength. A 6 year old child has more than enough strength to drive four numbered balls to the rail, but a 35 year old beer-guzzlin' mullet-type can have less than the requisite amount of brainpower. C+.

  • You sunk the 8 ball on the break. You may or may not have scratched in the process. Not much harm done, and there's little you can do to control this. You neither win nor lose, and your opponent has the option to ask for a re-rack, or spot the eight ball and shoot from behind the headstring. You can usually avoid scratching on the break by making sure to 'kill' the cue ball; shooting it dead-center into the rack with a little bit of follow, causing it to transfer all of its energy to the pack. If your aim needs work, the cue ball can (and will) glance off the pack and race around the table looking for a pocket in which to scratch. If you get it right, the cue ball bounces off the pack and freezes in the middle of the table with no sidespin. C.

  • You jumped the cue ball off the table on the break, but didn't sink any other balls. It bounced and slid across the tiled floor, announcing your incompetence. This happens when you strike down on the cue ball, with the butt of your cue elevated, and use excessive force. The cue ball hits the pack and leaps off the table. Not too much harm done, except to your pride, and the fact that you've wasted your break shot. Your opponent gets an open table and may shoot from behind the head string. You can control this by using a level cue, slightly less than 100% force, and/or a more 'square' impact with the lead ball in the pack. Also, excessive topspin on the cue ball can make it try to 'climb' over the pack. Many people disagree with this, however. Your best bet is to watch your butt (of your cue). C-.

  • You jumped some other (non-8, non-cue) ball off the table on the break. It, too, bounced across the room. The ball is returned into a pocket and stays off the table. Your opponent now has the choice of taking the table from behind the head string, or shooting from the current table position. This outcome is a bit harder to control than jumping the cue ball off the table. Strive for a level cue and a square hit to the pack. You're now at a disadvantage. D+.

  • You sunk 1 or more balls on the break, but scratched or jumped the cue ball off the table. Now you're in trouble. The table is always open immediately after the break shot. Any time you scratch on the break (without sinking the 8 ball), or jump the cue ball off the table, your opponent gets ball in hand from behind the head string. Since you made a couple of stripes (or solids) for her, she can shoot an easy stripe (or solid) and be a quick three or four (or more) balls up on you. She'll probably run out. Good going. If you don't want to scratch on the break, do your part to keep the cue ball from running around on the table. Break with the cue ball about an inch to the left or right of the footspot. This prevents the cue ball from ramping off any dents or lumps in the immediate area of the footspot. Aim for dead-square-center in the pack. Use a closed bridge for more control. Follow through your stroke to avoid last-instant swerving. Use center ball stun or slight follow to keep the cue ball from coming straight back at you. Try to 'kill' the cue ball. To keep from jumping the cue ball off the table, keep the cue level. Avoid sidespin. D.

  • You make many balls on the break, leave the table with an easy runout, and foul. Your opponent picks up the cue ball, shoots from behind the headstring, and runs out the table. You lose. Try again. See above for ways to prevent fouling on the break. Unfortunately, a really energetic break that sinks many balls can, untintentionally, pocket the cue ball as well. There's not a whole lot you can do about that, though. You should not be jumping the cue ball off the table, though. Ever. D -.

  • You somehow manage to jump the eight ball off the table on the break. You lose. Tough luck. Don't do that anymore. :-). F.

  • Once again, feel free to see How to improve your break shot, which contains some cheerier pointers and a gratuitous reference to Brian Boitano. It gives some general advice on how to make your break shot more consistent and effective.

    Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.