The 9 Ball Break

by Timothy J. White

One of the most rewarding and physiological parts of the game is the break. The majority of pool players say that the break is the most important shot…not true! The ability to understand the most important shot, "the stop shot", and to incorporate this knowledge into your break is the key.

The break can lead us to defeat or victory in that split second moment, especially in the game of nine ball. So how do we master this moment? First and foremost we need to understand things backwards, so we'll start at the end of all motion. What has happened? Energy has been split and split and re-split again until all has neutralized. As we send our cue ball crashing into the rack, energy is dispersed. How much and how fast it transfers is most important. Basically, we want all the balls in the rack to have fractions of the energy totaling up to the energy the cue ball had at impact. If all the energy is transferred into the rack, as in a stop shot, the cue ball can remain very close to the center of the table with no energy, therefore no movement, while the remaining object balls come to rest. Energy in equals energy out. Seems simple, right? Well it is… We all make it seem difficult because we all think that if we don't create this massive explosion on the table, that we can't pocket any balls. Power is not the single answer, Aim is not the only answer, Speed is not the exact answer; CONTROL is the answer!!

Power through! Body positioning and movement through the stroke will increase your power. First, and I think most important is to keep your cue as level as possible. Keep in mind that it is totally impossible to have a perfectly level cue on the break because of the rail. Since this is true, the cue ball will leave the table at impact. The distance the cue ball travels before landing back on the surface depends on the speed. The faster the cue ball is traveling the greater the distance the cue ball will travel above the surface of the table. Second, place the cue ball within the field of your ability. The further away from the center point (left or right), the more precise you must be. Practice with the cue ball close to the center and as you improve gradually move it towards the rail. Also, place it far enough away from the head rail in order to maintain the closest level cue. The distance of your bridge, from the cue ball, should be adjusted an additional one to two inches from your normal backstroke distance. Be sure not to allow the ferrule to touch your bridge when you bring the cue back. Third, set the cue tip close (within ? - ? inch) to the cue ball and apply the 90 degree perpendicular position of the grip to the elbow. You should continue to form your comfortable stance around the cue with your toes pointing towards the rack. Now we need to understand that power comes from the way our body moves. We ask ourselves, where are the balls I want to break? Forward…. Many people try so hard to break a rack behind them. To increase power, simply move your body forward, toward the rack, during the follow through. As in martial arts, we know that the slightest forward movement will create a tremendous amount of power. The left elbow (right handed players) should be bent just slightly in the full backstroke (pause or stop) position and bent at approximately 90 degrees in the set position. Work these positions back and forth as you get comfortable and ready. This will allow your body to collapse forward through the stroke. Bend both knees and spread your feet slightly wider than your shoulders, while continuing to become more comfortable and stable. Allow yourself three or four warm up strokes (very slowly). Your upper body should pivot back and forth on the front ankle, with your cue close to your body. Be sure that you move in a horizontal line with your cue and not up and down. To execute the final stroke, be sure to STOP for at least one second at the final set and pause positions. As you finish, move your body with your stroke, allowing all forward movement to increase your power. Try to stay fairly relaxed, allowing freedom of movement.

Aim straight! How we aim is really up to the individual. There are many different aiming methods all part of one theory. Most important is that our perception is accurate. What to aim at is really most important. How you go about aiming is built into you by nature. Unless your constantly walking into things, I think your aim is pretty good. First, you need to see the two points you are going to aim at. The first one being the core of the cue ball and the second being the point where the first ball (1 ball in a 9 ball game) touches the felt. This point is the exact center of that ball. Position your head so that you can clearly see both points and then draw an imaginary line through them. Focus distances will vary depending on each individual's vision. The higher your head is from your cue the more your body weight will tend to move upward, so try to stay as low as possible. Set the cue tip slightly below center at the cue ball, as this will help you focus on the aim point through the cue. It will also prevent the cue ball from interfering with the rack as it separates. In this way, the cue ball will draw or jump back out of the way and hopefully come to rest near the center of the table (where you want it). During your warm up strokes, follow the intended path of the cue ball, with your eyes, point to point…slowly! Your eyes should be adjusting the focus time as your body feels for the connection. At the pause position, on your final execution, remain focused at the base of your object ball.

Speed things up! The key is to keep control of your highest speed. The greater control you have over your body's movement, the more speed you can generate. Speed is sometimes thought as synonymous with acceleration. So let's not confuse the two. Maximum speed at the moment you make contact with the cue ball will give you the best consistent result. The final rate of acceleration based on the maximum speed is pinpointed when the acceleration becomes zero. The maximum speed position is highest at the zenith point in the arc, which is also a mirror image of a perfect pendulum. The maximum acceleration is reached at about the one-fifth point, not at the zenith, which is the half way point. The maximum speed position needs to be located and perfected. Where is this position? Well, we hope it is at the bottom of your natural stroke. The area where you make contact with the cue ball (the sweet spot). When this is correct, all forces must come together at an instant. Your cue stick must continue forward effortlessly through the path of the cue ball and downward into the felt. The tip of your cue should continue forward a minimum of 10-12 inches, along the felt, on the exact aim line beginning 3-5 inches past the original cue ball position. Speed is basically the key. But how much speed is really most important. Remember that speed determines the distance the cue ball travels off the table. We want the cue ball to land on the table just a hair before the rack. The optimum point of contact would be a simultaneous hit on the rack when the cue lands. Using slow motion video analysis; with the cue stick as level as possible, at the moment of impact and a speed of 28 mph., the distance the cue ball will travel off the table is 58 inches. This distance (9ft. table) is perfect for the player who can generate this much speed and who breaks off the side rail (3 inches behind the second diamond). Since most players don't generate this kind of speed the bouncing of the cue ball must be adjusted with the speed and the aim for the best possible results. Start with your greatest possible speed and the work backwards. This speed can be accomplished with this knowledge and practice!

Many players, these days, have switched to a lighter break stick. The reason is that the science of the break has come a long way in the last few years, and one thing we've learned is that cue stick speed is more important than the weight you put behind it. It's much easier to propel a lighter cue faster. A lighter cue stick (17oz-19oz's) allows greater speed, whereas a heavier stick will create more spin on the ball. So find a weight that gives you maximum speed without loosing control.

By using your pendulum stroke with a relaxed grip you should be able to perform a much smoother and more effective break by controlling each one of these most important points. Find what works for you and stick with it until it is perfected. So "Rack'em" baby!

About the Author: Timothy J. White "The Australian Oyster" is a BCA Certified Instructor from Australia. He can be reached thru e-mail at australianoyster<at>billiardsanctuary<dot>com or you can check out his web site at www.billiardsanctuary.com

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