Pool is one of those games which grabs your imagination while you're on vacation. Perhaps the constant availability of a free table takes you over a little, and you find that the vacation’s all over just as you’re getting into the rhythm of things.
When this happens, the craving to improve to bar-kudos levels tends to follow you home.
This article is very much for the pool newbie. If you fancy evolving your pool skills so that your three successful shots in a row are the result of your good technique (rather than divine intervention), then read on.
We're going to look at three things:
- your grip on the cue
- forming a bridge
- adaptations for different needs
Your Grip on the Cue
Face the pool table, standing with your hips about a foot back from the rail.
Now, hold the cue upright, like you're safely waiting in line for a javelin throw in a Phys Ed lesson.
Lift it until the palm of your dominant hand is wrapped around the base, about a palm's width from the bottom. The position of your hand will change with the angle of the shot, but consider this a good default grip position to begin with.
Now, lean forward just enough to form a fist with your non-dominant hand on the table. Just for the moment, you’re forming a temporary bridge with your knuckles so that you can focus on aligning your cue stick. Rest the tip between your first and second knuckles for the time being.
Keeping your grip on the end of your cue exactly as it is—so that your forearm is at 90° to the cue—lean forward and pull the cue into your side. You’ve got the right posture if:
- your elbow forms a right angle between upper and forearms
- you have to release the grip with your little and third fingers if you pull the cue any further back.
For guys, the cue should pass along the middle of your rib cage. For girls of average height, it should slide along the lower elastic of the bra strap.
Now, practice this lean down to the table a few times, placing your bridge hand about 6-8 inches behind a cue ball in different positions. Practice pulling the cue back slowly, adapting to a thumb and forefingers grip if you need to, then swing the forearm forward steadily, regaining your full-palm grip on the cue as you do so.
To begin with you’ll have to experiment with your ideal distance from the table so that you can move quickly into position.
You might feel that your lean is quite low, but if you keep:
- a long arm forward
- a 90° starting elbow angle behind you
- the cue resting against your side
- and a long line of sight over the cue to the ball
then you have the best control over the speed, the accuracy, and the grip. When you’re more upright, it’s easy for the base of the cue to wander outwards. This means you’re more likely to miss the center of the cue ball.
Forming a bridge
We’re going to look at 2 types of bridge for now: open and closed. The type you choose is the one which feels the most stable and natural to you.
Think of your non-dominant hand as an anchor which provides a little V-shaped notch through which you steady the tip. To form this notch:
- Flatten your palm on the table with a relaxed gap between your fingers. In other words, make sure they don’t feel like you’re spreading them artificially.
- Now that you’re nice and relaxed, we’re going to un-relax you. Move your index finger across until your thumbnail is touching the bone between the main and middle knuckles of your index finger.
- Raise your thumb until the thumbnail knuckle is almost the same height as the main knuckle on your index finger. This creates a generous V-shaped notch—a valley between the pad of your thumb and your index finger’s knuckle.
As your thumb rises, you’ll find that your index finger automatically rises with it, forming an angle of about 30 ° to the table surface. The natural tilt of your hand will mean that ball of your thumb, side of your palm and your pinkie are pressing down on the felt, which gives you a nice, stable bridge.
As you line up your notch with the cue ball, you’ll find your elbow travelling out to the side somewhat. This is absolutely fine.
Now, adopt your previous leaning stance and practice getting your hand in a comfortable place so you can line up the cue through the notch to meet the ball in an absolutely straight line. Slide the cue back and forth gently.
This is a good bridge for humid environments in particular as palms and undersides tend to get sweaty faster than the backs of your hands or the tops of your fingers.
The Closed or ‘Loop’ Bridge
With the open bridge, only your grip on the base of the cue stops the tip from rising up from the notch between thumb and index finger. The closed or loop bridge takes no chances and steadies the cue tip from every angle. Here’s how to form the closed loop.
- Lay your bridge hand flat on the table, the fingers pointing towards 1 o’clock for righties, and 11 o’clock for lefties
- lay your cue across your thumbnail knuckle and middle knuckle of your index finger.
- With the angle of the cue visualized, retract your index finger from beneath the cue and hook it over the top, making sure you have a light and loose grip.
- raise your thumbnail to meet the tip of the index finger, closing an oval, horizontal loop.
- Now that you have your loop established, practice lining your body and hand up with the cue ball so that you achieve that straight line from your side, through the loop, and to the ball.
This is not a particularly easy bridge for beginners compared to the open V-notch. When you raise the bridge height of a closed or loop bridge, the pressure is on your forefinger and thumb to keep the cue raised up and steady. You can only use the pads of your middle to pinky fingers to stabilize your hand, which might tilt outwards.
With the open bridge, the tips of all four fingers remain on the table surface and you simply pull all four slowly towards your palm when you need to raise the V-notch and gain height. If you do get used to the closed grip, you may find that you develop a very serious game.
However, to begin with, you’ll either need to chalk your hands like you’re about to free climb Mount Rushmore, or you can buy pool gloves to get rid of the natural friction that occurs between smooth wood and warm, potentially clammy fingers.
If you're playing with children who have a strong independent streak, then you can help them to aim by standing slightly to the side and volunteering your hand as a bridge so that they can concentrate on holding the cue straight, using the rail as partial guidance.
If you’re tall, it’s easy for the end of the cue to keep rising up. Stand well back from the table so that you can achieve that long line of sight over the top of the cue, use your lower ribs as a rest guide for the cue, and lean from the hips to avoid back problems.
Unwanted Cushioning (A Particularly Female Problem)
If your bra comes in an E-cup or larger, you may find that it’s quite frustrating aligning the cue with your side as you aim, thanks to the slight convex protrusion.
To improve the stability of your grip, go for a longer cue, relax the angle of your elbow so that your forearm can travel further back (you might have to adopt the two-finger-and-thumb grip) and tuck the body of the cue almost up into your armpit. This helps to control involuntary cue tilt, where the shaft follows the line of your bra instead of your ribs.
If you know that you’re going to be playing pool, then it’s worth wearing a balconette bra which gets its fuller shape in the front by having a more rigid, silhouette-enhancing construction at the side. Goodbye, mild but irritating convex protrusion.
If you now have regular access to a pool table for practice and would like to accelerate your learning a little, then there are a couple of handy items that you might like to know about.
First off, this highly rated guide: The 99 Critical Shots in Pool. This book covers the full anatomy of the pool table, provides a very comprehensive glossary, and gives you the geometric lowdown on more shot angles than you’ll ever need to know about.
As you learn how to cut the object ball and coax it out from hideyhole positions behind your opponent’s defensive clusters, it’s worth practicing with a training cue ball so that your shooting angle becomes second nature.