Dealing with Clusters

Welcome back, fellow dead-strokers. Today I want to talk to you about something that probably plagues each and every game we play (especially on a bad night): clusters.

You know what I mean: Your opponent smashed the rack with a perfect break, pocketing the 4-ball and 13-ball. He scratches on his next shot, giving you ball in hand, and you can’t wait to run the table!

You take the cue ball as your opponent graciously (yeah, right) hands it to you on his way to his seat. You approach the table, and you’re greeted with this mess:

Photo Jun 06, 4 12 49 PM

At first, it doesn’t look too bad, right? But whether you elect to take solids or stripes, you have two clusters that are going to be problems. Not only are they going to make it difficult to run out, but you don’t have an easy way to make a ball, even with ball in hand.

So, what will you do?

One option might be to take the 10-ball in the side, breaking up the 3/12 cluster, like so:

Photo Jun 06, 4 13 21 PM

This is a nice option, because you may leave a good shot on the 12, and if you don’t, the 11-ball is available as your insurance. Unfortunately, the 15-ball is still stuck in another cluster. Plus, it doesn’t have any balls close by to help break it out.

Another option might be to take the 7 in the corner, breaking out the 1- and 5-balls, like so:

Photo Jun 06, 4 14 10 PM

There are a couple of dangers here:

  • You might lock the cue behind the 5 and/or 15 ball, leaving yourself with no subsequent shot.
  • You might free the 1-ball, but leave the 5 even more stuck (and free the 15 for your opponent).

So, what should you do?


Whatever you like! Honestly, when it comes to pool, sometimes it’s more art than science. And your decisions are based on many, many factors, including your skill set, your opponent’s skill set, and how aggressive you are feeling. However, I wouldn’t be much of an instructor if I didn’t offer some sort of advice.

Here’s what I would do: With ball in hand, make the 6 into the corner pocket (to establish your ball set), and drift over to the position in the diagram above (Alternatively, you could shoot the 6 into the upper side pocket, and follow to the same position. See? Depends on your skill set!).

Now, call a safety and shoot off of the 7, breaking up the 1/5 just a bit (enough to have a free ball to break out the 5 later on). If you play it well, and get ball in hand, you can now work on getting the 3 free. It’s not going to be easy, though; there is no ball close to the 3 to accomplish this without some effort. Given the proper angle, you may be able to shoot this safety while banking the 7 down near the 3.

You might also consider starting by making the 2-ball, caroming the cue off the end rail and into the 3-11 cluster. This is risky, because you might snooker yourself. However, the payoff is that you still have the 7 ball available to break up the other cluster. If you’re accurate enough, or feeling lucky, this might be the route you’ll want to take.

Try setting up this table and seeing if you can run it out!


Let’s look at a 9-ball example:

Photo Jun 06, 4 18 21 PM

Here, you have broken the rack, and you’re left with a fairly easy table, with the exception of the 3-7 cluster. The two is not near it, so how will you break it out?

While you could easily make the 1-ball and leave yourself in position for the 2 so that you can try to get near the 3-ball, I propose a safer, more devious option. Make the 1-ball, and leave yourself in position to shoot this safety:

Photo Jun 06, 4 19 37 PM

Done correctly, you can leave the 2-ball on the end rail, with the cue ball behind the cluster, and ideally nudging them into a more favorable position.


When it comes to dealing with clusters, there are many options to choose from, and frankly, I can hold an entire clinic on just this topic alone. I wish I could give you definitive answers in this article, but every situation is unique, and your goal should be to learn how to analyze the table and play in a way that maximizes your chances of winning the game.

I do have a few ground-rules, however, when it comes to dealing with clusters:

  • Break them up earlier rather than later. If you leave a cluster alone until after you have run all of the easy balls on the table, your opponent will have the advantage. How many times have you played a game of 8-ball and only had the 8-ball left to shoot, only to have your opponent play safe on you 5 times until she beats you?
  • Play to run the table, or play to a safety. If you can’t run the table, then your last shot before you leave the table should leave your opponent with a difficult shot. You might shoot 3 balls before playing the safety, but it can still be a part of your plan.
  • Try to leave or even manufacture “key” balls to help break out clusters. If you don’t have a ball near a cluster, try to position one near it during a shot or a safety.
  • Don’t be afraid to play a safety even when you have ball in hand! If you can bust up the cluster while leaving your opponent no shot, do it! If he complains, then you’re doing your job, and you will probably win. There is no such thing as a bad shot or a “dick move” if it’s within the rules of the game.


Do you have a difficult cluster situation you can’t figure out? Take a pic or diagram it and send it to me!

Special thanks to DrawShot for iOS for the screenshots.

Posted in Clusters, Safeties, Tip of the Day