Amateur players who aren’t very familiar with pool always try to shoot shots that are the easiest for them to aim and to make the ball. This is why so often you see a player who has ball in hand and immediately sets up their next shot for a 2 foot straight in shot that’s easy to make. The problem with this strategy is that even though playing ball in hand straight in guarantees that you’ll make the ball, most of the time it doesn’t set you up for the second shot.
Not planning ahead usually cuts short most players run outs. So, when you have ball in hand during a game of 8 ball for example, you should have three goals.
- Place the cue ball in a position that makes it easy to make the ball at hand
- Make sure that you put the cue ball in a position with a good enough angle to get to the next ball. Sometimes no angle at all is necessary.
- Solve the biggest problem balls first, making the rest of your runout easier.
To accomplish this first goal, the easiest way to make another ball is when the cue ball is close to the ball you’re trying to make. You don’t want to be too close because when the balls are very close it’s hard to use follow through well without double hitting the cue ball and so players tend to let up on their stroke. You certainly don’t want the cue ball too far from the object ball because that increases difficulty. Instead try to keep the cue ball about a diamond or two away from the object ball for the easiest shot. Make sure to keep in mind to stay away from bridging over other balls or putting the cue ball in a weird spot on the table where you have to stretch to reach it.
To accomplish the second goal, put the ball at an angle. Even though it is more difficult to make shots that are not straight in, you’re almost guaranteed to increase your runout percentage with ball in hand this way. Of course, that’s not to say using ball in hand to get straight in is always a bad thing. There are plenty of scenarios where you want ball in hand to be straight in because it leads well to the next ball. The main point is to make sure that this type of position is not always your first choice when at the table.
The main reason why straight in shots are a problem is because it limits your options to maneuver the cue ball. You only have three choice with playing position on a straight in shot: draw, follow, or stop. You can’t use multiple rails to get position if you need to and you’re usually forcing the cue ball from one place to another when straight in.
The third task when playing 8 ball or sometimes 9 ball is you want to use your ball in hand to help get rid of the most difficult balls to pocket first. This means that you should survey the entire table first before deciding where to put down the cue ball. Problem areas are typically tied up balls, balls that require pin point position play, or difficult combinations and caroms. So, if you see these types of shots on the table, they need to be solved as early as possible.
The reason you want to solve these problems early in 8 ball is because if you break two balls in a cluster then you have plenty of balls around to give a chance at getting good shot. When you wait till the last balls to break up a cluster then you have to hope that you get a shot on one of the balls in that cluster. If that doesn’t happen, your run is over. That’s why it’s always a good idea to break out problem balls early while you still have insurance balls that you can pocket in a jam.