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Improving Your Pool Game Starts with the Break

You’ve seen him. “That guy”, who tries to hit the cue ball as hard as he can, only to send it directly into the corner pocket.


Being loud is usually obnoxious, but when it comes to the break in billiards, it’s completely necessary. No one is guaranteeing you’ll have Tom Cruise’s “sledgehammer break” from The Color of Money (more likely you’ll end up ripping a hole in the table), but perfecting a good break isn’t as difficult as it looks. Below is a short guide to breaking in 8-ball — if you’re playing 9-ball, you probably don’t need a guide.

1 Don’t break your shaft. The speed and power necessary for a good break make it an easy way to bend or utterly destroy your pool cue. For increased speed, most players use a separate, lighter cue for breaking. Grab the house cue off the wall and chalk the tip — it’s probably already been through hell anyway.

2 Allow me to break the ice. You want the rack to be frozen — meaning all the balls are touching each other — otherwise half the balls won’t move.



According to the World Pool-Billiard Association, the 15-ball rack should be packed as tightly as possible, with the front ball resting on the “foot spot” — usually an adhesive marker at the center point of half the table (mirroring the head spot). The base of the triangle rack must have one striped and one solid ball on either corner and be parallel to the end rail, with the 8-ball in the center of the third row. Other than that, just try for a random ordering (so one player’s balls aren’t unfairly clustered together after the break) and you are ready to roll.

3 Spot the ball, form your bridge. Even among professionals, the spot of the cue ball varies widely. Some place it on the head spot (the center point of the half of the table from which you break, a.k.a. that little dot that’s probably worn to shit), others a few inches off the rail (the padded wall enclosing the playing area). As long as it’s on or behind the head string (the midline running the width of the breaking half, you need a damn glossary for this game), it’s really up to you. Just place it where you’re most comfortable and where you’ll avoid scratching off the break (pocketing the cue ball and losing a turn). If you can, use a closed bridge — in which your index finger wraps around the pool cue — in order to keep the cue from pulling up during the shot.

4 Stand and deliver. During the game, keep your legs spread, knees bent and body low for the most accurate shots. However, for the break shot you want to straighten up a little so you can generate more power. When breaking, keep your grip loose and slowly draw back the cue, then drive forward with both your hand and hips simultaneously. When the cue tip makes contact with the ball, your hand should be at about your hip and your forearm should be perpendicular to the floor. Don’t lock your wrist. As you follow through, your dominant foot will most likely kick up a bit from the force of the shot. Ideally, you want to leave the cue ball near the center of the table for your next shot, so aim slightly below the center of the ball so that it “deadens” after breaking the rack.

5 Aim for solid contact. There is no disagreement among the pros: always aim to hit the front ball in the rack “full face.” Hitting the center of the ball best translates the force of your shot to the rest of the rack, effectively spreading the balls and maybe pocketing a few. Optional: If you want to impress your friends, aim for the second row of balls in the rack. You’re more prone to scratch this way, but with the right angle and enough luck, you can hit the eight-ball in off the rack and win the game (some tournaments don’t recognize this rule).

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