How to Play a Respectable Game of Billiards: Essential Pool Tips

We’ve all been there: a spontaneous game of pool, or billiards if you’re feeling bougie, at some social gathering. Bars, buddy’s rec rooms, work travel outings and dull wedding receptions come to mind. Unless you travel with a custom maple cue stick with Pterodactyl bone unlays, you may be wondering how to play a respectable game of pool, considering you have little experience and never practice. Never fear; practical pool tips are here. These won’t make you an overnight sensation but might help minimize embarrassment and lightening of your wallet.

If you’re a pool hall shark, you’re not going to learn anything in this article except perhaps how drunk noobs are going to fail to beat you at your own game. Why not head over to a different story, like What Aliens See on Satellite TV, A Brief History of Beer or perhaps The Moon Landing Conspiracy… Conspiracy. Or, read on, and if you want to help your fellow casual pool player, leave some additional tips in the comments.

Pick Your Stick

Since you’re most likely an occasional player, there’s a 97.3% chance you’re not carrying a custom cue stick in an alligator case, so you’re stuck with what’s lying around the bar or your friend’s rec room.

When trying to hit a straight shot through the haze of recreational beverages, equipment really does matter. While once in a blue moon, a crooked shot hit with a crooked stick will result in a dead-nuts-straight cue ball launch, the odds are against that. So, choosing a straight cue stick will help your game immensely.

To find the right one and passive-aggressively impress your opponents, lay a candidate stick down on the table and roll it back and forth. If you hear or feel thumps and bumps, it’s warped, as most cheap ones are. Repeat this exercise until you find the one with the smoothest roll. That’ll be the straightest one.

Rough Tips?

You’re also fighting a losing battle with the tips on public loaner cues. Most will be compressed into a round and smooth point almost as hard as the balls you’re striking. If you can find a non-warped stick with some soft texture on the tip, you’re sure to win. Or, more realistically, you won’t be able to blame the equipment quite as much when you lose.

Worst case, you can discreetly scuff up your best available option using a handy rough surface. I’m not sure if severely chapped lips will do the job or not, so you’ll have to try. Just don’t let anyone at the bar see you doing it.

Once you have your gear, use that nifty blue chalk cube every shot or two to keep it fresh. All this tip maintenance is to allow you to spin the cue ball as needed, or as the sharks say, “apply a little English” to the cue ball. Sometimes, you want to encourage the cue ball to keep rolling after it hits something, which requires top spin. Other times, you’ll want it to stop, which requires backspin. As for side spin, that’s an advanced technique. Let’s stick to the basics.

A Great Rack

If it falls on you to rack the balls (you shouldn’t let others do all the work), the process for a game of standard eight-ball is pretty straightforward. While minor variations in the pattern exist, it rarely matters except in far more serious matches than we’re talking about here.

Here’s the most important rule: the eight ball (the black one!) goes in the middle. That’s the third row back in the center of the row of three balls. For bonus points, be sure that solid and striped balls alternate along the forward-facing edges of the triangle.

Once the pattern is full, place your fingers inside the rear of the rack, pressing all the balls forward. Roll the whole shebang back and forth a couple of times if you want to look like a pro and intimidate your opponents. Stop with the front ball right on the racking dot and carefully slide the rack forward a fraction of an inch to break contact with the balls. Carefully lift it up, and you’re good to go.

If the table is lousy or worn, you might have to tap the leading ball with the cue ball before removing the rack to hold everything in place. A successful rack means no balls move, the lead ball is on the dot, and all balls remain in direct contact with each other, so repeat if necessary.

Break Like a Boss

Let’s be real here: You’re not going to beat the reincarnated Minnesota Fats based on the content of this article; you’re just going to look respectable and play with a modicum of confidence. Accordingly, let’s select a break strategy that has a realistic chance for at least some observable success, given there’s little, if any, practice involved.

First, you want to be sure to make a solid hit, so after you aim according to one of the next couple of strategies, focus on the spot on the cue ball you want to hit, and make sure you hit it! Nothing will expose you as a noob faster than grazing the cue stick alongside the cue ball after a failed power strike attempt, leading to a dribble.

Option one is to align the cue ball slightly off-center (like an inch or two off the center baulk line dot and nail the lead ball dead on. The baulk line marks the boundary you can’t cross when placing the cue ball for the break. It’s defined by the center dots on each side between the side and corner pockets.

If you want to look like a regular, try placing the cue ball all the way alongside either side rail, then aiming at the second or third row in the stack. That’s right; unless you’re playing specific rules, there’s nothing that says you have to strike the lead ball first.

Quick and Dirty Etiquette Tips

Just a couple of etiquette tips to consider. If you see quarters lined up on a pay-to-play table in some public establishment, that’s the line to play. Don’t butt in—add your quarters to the line.

Always call your shots, even if you are playing a casual game at a friend’s house. You’re supposed to per the rules, but it’s also good etiquette, kind of like not wearing Timberland boots on the golf course.

As in golf and NASCAR races, don’t walk in front of the field of play when your opponent is about to do something.

Of course, there are a million and seven other details to master before you’ll be earning a living on the circuit, but these tips will allow you to enjoy a casual game among friends without looking like a dork.

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