In every pool hall, bar, or home with a pool table there are balls, cue sticks, and of course, chalk. Everyone knows you’re supposed to use chalk when playing pool, but not everyone why you put chalk on a pool cue. So, to shed some light on this mystery, here are the reasons that you should use chalk during your games and the right way to use it to avoid those pesky miscues.
Why Use Chalk?
To understand chalking you need to understand the relationship between the ball and the cue stick first. The tip of a pool cue and the cue ball are both round shaped. This means that unless you’re hitting the direct center of the cue ball, the two curved surfaces will cause the cue to slip off the cue ball when you hit it. In addition to that, most cue tips are made from leather and the cue ball is made from a smooth polymer, which basically means that you have two slippery surfaces hitting each other which is what causes a miscue when you don’t use chalk. The cue will slide off the cue ball and you’ll miss your shot.
Chalk is the solution to this problem of rounded, slippery surfaces. It’s made from crushing silica and corundum and combining both powders together. Every chalk brand has their own proprietary mix to make their chalk unique, but the main ingredients are the same.
Chalk helps create friction and grip between the cue tip and the cue ball which allows players to put spin on the cue ball by hitting the cue ball away from the center. Without chalk it is difficult, if not impossible, to use draw, follow, or english to move the cue ball around the table. When you try to use english without chalk, there is a high chance of a miscue, that’s why it’s important to apply chalk before every shot.
How to Apply Chalk?
Even though most people tend to know that they need chalk for some reason or another, most don’t know that there is a right way and a wrong way to apply it to the cue. The most common way beginners put on chalk is to screw it on the cue by twisting the chalk around the cue tip back and forth. This generally doesn’t apply chalk well because every time you turn the chalk in the opposite direction, you take off some of the chalk you just put on. This adds patches of chalk onto your cue without an even spread, which is what your goal should be.
The correct way to apply chalk is to wipe it on the cue tip in a straight line and turn the cue stick as you apply the chalk. This should give you an even spread of chalk that will prevent miscuing for longer. And there are a lot of ways to chalk your cue, what really matters is that you have an even layer of chalk across the whole tip.
Which Chalk is Best?
Different types of chalk have a couple different characteristics that are important when playing pool. The two main characteristics of pool chalk are:
- Number of shots possible without re-chalking the cue stick before a miscue
- How long chalk marks are retained on the cue ball after several shots increasing likelihood of skid.
For players who are focused on their game the numbers of shots before a miscue is important since they don’t want to worry about whether or not they need to chalk again before their next shot. How long chalk marks are retained on the cue ball is important because chalk left on the cue ball causes skids. A skid is when the cue ball is thrown off course of it original trajectory because of friction between the cue ball and object ball, which is often caused by chalk marks left on the cue ball. So you can play a shot absolutely correctly, but leftover chalk on the cue ball will create friction and causing the ball to skid and miss.
In order to figure out which chalk is best Dr. David Alciatore, a professor in physics at Colorado University, performed a test to show how well different brands of chalked performed in both categories:
The first category tested compared how many hits it would take to strike the cue ball before a miscue occurred after only chalking the cue once.
In this category, the best brands of chalk are clearly Magic Chalk and Kamui, with an average of 29 and 15 hits needed before a miscue respectively. Master Chalk is near the bottom of the chart, but 8 hits before a miscue is still a respectable number of hits needed before chalking to avoid a miscue.
The second category tested chalk retention on the cue ball. The test was performed by chalking the cue stick and playing 6 consecutive shots to see how much the chalk would stick to the cue ball after being hit by the cue. Each brand was given a chalk retention score which represents the likelihood of chalk sticking to the cue ball after being hit by the cue stick. The higher the score the higher the probability the cue ball will retain chalk on the cue ball resulting in a skid.
The best chalk in this category is Master Chalk and Lava Chalk with retention scores of 10 and 9. Using these chalks will minimize your chance of a skid while at the table which is extremely important for high skilled players where any miss could cost them the match.
The main takeaway from this study is that no chalk is perfect. For chalks that you don’t need to chalk as often as others you risk getting a skid. The best thing to do is to find a chalk that you like and chalk often. If you’re worried about skids then a chalk like Master or Lava will help to avoid skids and as long as your chalking regularly, you won’t have to be concerned about skids on the table.