This sums up everything I’ve read or learned about these concepts over 20+ years of playing, studying, and teaching the game. I try to follow these tenets as closely as possible myself, and when I teach I try to convey these same principles, allowing for personalization and fine tuning for each person’s physical makeup and skill level. I don’t believe in a cookie cutter approach, although certainly many of the key concepts discussed and the “keep it simple” approach do apply pretty universally.
This is probably the area where I tend to be very lenient, but also one where a few simple tweaks can sometimes result in drastic improvements for a player. In general, you should form a solid, balanced base and be positioned the correct distance from the cue ball so there is no excessive lean one way or the other. I don’t subscribe that your feet have to be in a certain position, or favor a closed or open stance, etc. Balance is the key, the stance should allow you to position your eyes correctly over the shot, allow freedom of movement for your shooting arm, and overall just help tie everything together.
I’ve shot well with both an “American”-style closed stance as well as a more snooker-style open stance. I’ve experimented with having my back foot at a 90 degree angle to the shot, 45, or somewhere in between. I’ve had my front foot pointing at a 45, down the line of the shot, or in between. I’ve had both legs bent or a straightened back leg and bent front leg. Point is, any of these can be acceptable, it’s all based on your physical makeup and shooting style. Often tweaking a foot or leg position or changing how someone “hinges” into their stance can make a world of difference. If you feel uncomfortable or cramped when shooting, seek out some advice to see if a simple change in this area is the key.
This is another area that allows for varying degrees of personalization and where there may not be one conclusive answer. Most players go through an evolution, starting with an open bridge, then a sloppy closed bridge, then a decent closed bridge, then back to using an open bridge on 50% or more of their shots. I find that transition very interesting…
Many pros shoot quite a lot of their shots with an open bridge, and snooker players use an open bridge almost exclusively. It allows for more of a sight line down the cue and keeps everything very relaxed. It also requires better technique, or put another way, it will expose flawed technique in your stroke, since any tightening or jabbing of your grip hand will be very evident when your cue comes flying off of your bridge hand! To form this bridge, simply lay your hand flat on the table, squeeze it together a bit almost like there is something under your hand, and then just bring your thumb up toward the base of your forefinger to form a “V”. Most players will also have their fingers spread comfortably and their hand turned in somewhat, and it’s important to keep the base of your hand on the table whenever possible. Players vary whether their arm is bent or straight, just try to maintain consistency. An open bridge can be difficult to form comfortably when close to the rail because of having to place your hand directly over the rail, so a closed bridge may be more advisable in those situations.
Speaking of, most American pool players tend to focus more heavily on the closed bridge anyway. Here it’s just important to form a nice snug bridge, without being too snug, as that can actually have an adverse effect on the stroke. The cue really rides on a V formed by your middle finger and thumb, while the forefinger is wrapped around the cue and can either touch the tip of your thumb, outside of your thumb, or even overlap the top of your middle finger. The important thing is to spread your fingers out to form a solid base and try to keep a consistent connection between all three fingers. If you are just learning the closed bridge, put in some time practicing at home on a dining room table or even while sitting on the couch, maybe even in front of a mirror, it will save a lot of frustration at the table trying to force your fingers into the proper positions.
With either bridge, try to keep the length between 8” and 10”. Any shorter and you will have trouble accelerating through the shot, any longer and inconsistency can creep in. Many good players and pros have long bridges, 11” – 12” or even longer. But if you notice, many of those same players do not pull the cue all the way back to their bridge hand, but rather pull back just a few inches on most shots and smoothly punch through the ball. That’s actually the approach I take, and one I find effective, as I can simply pull back farther on shots requiring more power. Just guard against a bridge that’s too long, especially if you are a beginner or intermediate player.
Of course the more you play the more variation in bridges you will experience. You will need to learn to raise your bridge slightly when shooting a follow shot and lower it slightly when shooting a draw shot. You will need various types of rail bridges, elevated bridges, and other odd ball bridges when in awkward positions on the table, they are all part of the game. Watch a pro when they have an awkward bridge and they will spend extra time to make sure they get it into a stable position, since it’s so critical for the bridge to be formed properly to support the stroke. Again, if you are unfamiliar with these bridges I would recommend checking out information on YouTube or in print, there are a ton of resources with pictures or video to help you out.
3) Grip and Alignment
As with stance and bridges, there are all sorts of effective grips. I mostly advocate a neutral, relaxed hand position that allows you to stroke the cue straight back and forward. Try not to cock your wrist forward, backward, or sideways too much, as trying to keep your grip in that position day in and day out will prove difficult. It’s usually pretty effective to lay the cue along the middle knuckles of the hand and gently wrap your thumb around the cue. When looking from the front your hand will form a sort of “V” at the top where the webbing of your hand is.
Hold the cue with anywhere from 2 – 5 fingers, really just personal preference. Anything that feels good and allows for a natural hinging of the hand during the stroke will work just fine. You can also vary your grip pressure somewhat, just guard against too tight or too loose, with too tight being the bigger mistake. Holding the cue too tight restricts wrist movement which in turn restricts the speed at which you can move the cue forward, making power shots, draws, etc. difficult to execute. Holding it too loose in a “teacup” type grip, where the cue would fall to the ground without some small amount of pressure on the cue, is also a mistake. Think of forming a cradle for the cue and allowing the cue to do the work – if everything is neutral and relaxed that’s exactly what will happen.
In addition to the grip, you ideally want your upper arm directly in line over the cue and should be holding the cue so when you make contact with the cue ball your lower arm is roughly at a 90 degree angle to the cue. If you upper arm is not in line it can make it very difficult to stroke in a straight line, causing swerving, chicken winging, etc. If the lower arm is not at 90 degrees it will be difficult to return the cue to the cue ball in a consistent manner and can also cause a lot of up and down arm movement, premature elbow drop, or lack of power. You will find good players and even pros who deviate from these guidelines somewhat, but many of them just have raw natural talent, some physical variation, or perhaps learned the game at a young age and those “flaws” just stuck with them. As long as everything is repeatable then there is no overriding reason to change.
4) PSR (Preshot Routine)
This can be an often overlooked area for intermediate and even better players. You need to develop a solid PSR that you can rely on over and over again, and especially under pressure. Again, watch most good players and pros and you will see a consistent rhythm, routine, and number and type of strokes being used on all but the easiest or most difficult of shots. You need to develop a cadence around the table, a “flow”, something that you can sink yourself into and just let your subconscious take over. Do all of your thinking while upright and looking at the shot, once you get down just let your training take over and execute the shot.
Two other important areas of the PSR are eye patterns and pauses. You have to coordinate your eye movements with your routine so that you can draw that imaginary line between the cue ball and object ball, or stare at your contact point on the object ball, whatever it is that you do to make sure you are locked on to the shot. It’s best to have some quiet time for your eyes as well, if they are constantly moving it’s hard to get optimal feedback. So staring at one spot for ½ second, 1 second, or even 2 full seconds can make a big difference. Most people look at the object ball last, while others look at the cue ball last and then typically bounce their eyes up to the object ball during the final stroke.
Which brings me to the pauses, very important. I think most people benefit from having a defined pause when finished with their aiming, warm up, or practice strokes and before the final stroke. It gives you a chance to integrate a ready signal, where you tell yourself whether you are ready to pull the trigger or not. If you aren’t feeling it, take another stroke or two and pause again. If you still aren’t feeling it, then you should get up and go through your routine from the beginning. The second pause is between the backswing and forward swing. You don’t have to have a definitive pause like Buddy Hall or Allison Fisher, but some sort of slight pause will enable you to stop one movement (the backswing) and smoothly transition into the forward swing.
I spent years trying to find my ideal routine, always thinking that if I took an extra stroke, moved my eyes differently, sped up, slowed down, paused longer, etc. that I would hit that next level. I tried to emulate players who moved and shot in a rhythm that seemed comfortable to me. What I found was that while the routine was important, it wasn’t so much which routine I was using as it was the fact that I used a consistent routine. I will try to help other players find their own routine and rhythm, as I know how important it is to your feel and confidence as a player. I now found one that works for me, and while I may tweak it here and there, I can definitely rely on it and it supports my rhythm around the table.
Finally we come to the stroke, that elusive concept that so many people struggle with. There’s really nothing overly mystical about it – if the above fundamentals are reasonably solid, then during the forward swing everything should just release and flow naturally. Don’t try to force any sort of wrist snap or release, just keep a relaxed grip and feel that you are letting the cue do the work. If you keep your backswing slow and your transition smooth, then you should be able to accelerate very smoothly and effectively and develop an excellent sense of speed control with all of the power you need. Many of the shots in the game require more finesse or precision than raw power, and you should be hitting your average shots with a controlled speed that allows the object ball to roll into the pocket rather than sliding all the way, it just makes for a larger effective pocket.
When you see those trick shot artists, or you hear someone say “They’ve got a great stroke”, again there is nothing magical about this. By keeping everything smooth, you can give the impression that you are generating effortless power, so you look like you are exerting less effort or force than the next person. For students having issues drawing the ball, I will demonstrate a table length draw shot from a foot or two away by holding my cue loosely resting on my open hand, no thumb involved at all, it actually slides after impact. But all you need from that distance is a smooth acceleration of the cue and hitting the cue ball a full tip below center, letting the cue do all the work. (Most don’t actually hit where they think they are aiming, but that’s another discussion…)
The cue ball reacts purely from a physics standpoint, so executing an extreme draw stroke or some other sort of power stroke is nothing more than hitting the proper spot on the cue ball (sometimes at the extreme limits of a miscue) while accelerating the cue up to a certain speed before impact. Most of us are not as accurate when shooting at faster speeds, flaws tend to come out in our strokes which either limit the speed we are trying to use or cause us to hit somewhere other than where we are aiming. When trying to develop your stroke, above all just think smooth and pay attention to your fundamentals and it will all fall into place.