The Break

So many pool games have their turning point right at the start, following a good break or a bad break, that it's no exaggeration to say the break is the most important shot. When we break the balls we want three things. First, you want to have enough force to send a ball or balls into pockets. Second, you need to scatter the balls enough to have a chance at running the rack. And third, you need enough control for the cue ball to end up in the best possible position to make your next shot.

The break shot is the hardest you will ever hit a cue ball. If you hit the cue ball this hard and your stick is not level to the table, you can bounce the ball off the table. Always keep your cue as level as possible. Everything is magnified when breaking.

If you hit the cue ball a little above center when breaking, you could miscue, or the ball may race forward out of control. This often leads to a scratch. In addition, that forward spin that the cue ball has is wasted energy. Instead of breaking up the balls better it goes to spinning the cue ball. And if you hit it even a slight bit below center, the cue ball comes racing back toward you while you end up with a crowded cluster of balls for a break. The draw that you gave the cue ball was wasted energy too.

Ideally the cue ball should be struck dead center. Hit that target ball as square as possible. When done correctly the cue ball will bounce straight off the rack and stop. It has no spin or wasted energy.

Position the cue ball as close to the head string as possible (the head string is the imaginary line between the second diamonds of the rails that passes passing through the cue spot). Anything behind that is just adding friction to the cue ball on the way to the rack.

Breaking in a game of eight ball sometimes is done from the side, aiming to hit the second ball of the rack. This is a matter of choice. Some players seem to get more action of the balls this way. But the technique has a couple of negatives. The cue ball rarely will get back to the center of the table, which mathematically is your best chance to have a good first shot. It also increases your chances of scratching in the corner pocket.

Breaking in a game of nine ball is most common from very near the side rail, but close to the head string. The one overriding reason for this is the tendency of the 1-ball to go in the side pocket opposite the breaking side. This is a good thing. When done correctly the cue ball also stays near the middle of the table, increasing your chance for a good look at the next ball.

A quick review: Keep your pool cue as level as possible or the cue ball will bounce off the table. Place the cue ball as close to your target as possible to eliminate unneeded friction. Learn to hit the center of the cue ball so it can be in a good position for your next shot and reduce the possibility of scratching.

Specialized sticks for break shots are very common today. They are extremely effective in transferring the power of the hit to the cue ball and then to the rack. They do this by having stiffer and sometimes thicker shaft wood. They also do this by using very hard tips often made with phenolic materials.