Gimme a (9-ball) Break!

Part one of a short series on breaking

Other Gimme a Break! articles:

If you are serious about your game at all, then you practice. If you are very serious, then you practice a lot, sometimes just lining up shot after shot for hours on end. I have shot thousands of practice bank shots myself, to the point where it’s almost a “gimme” shot.

But how often do you practice the one shot you shoot more than any other? Can you guess what shot I’m talking about? Hint: it’s in the title…

That’s right! The break shot. This month, we’re going to talk about the 9-ball break.

I’m going to assume you know the rules of 9-ball. In summary, you must hit the lowest ball on the table, and keep shooting if one of the numbered balls goes in. If the 9-ball is potted at any time, you win. If you need more, here you go.

Honestly, I could write a whole book on just the break. I don’t have that many words available to me, so I’m going to stick to the basics, and hopefully help you improve your 9-ball break. In future posts, we’ll talk about 8-ball, Straight Pool, and One-Pocket breaks.

So, in 9-ball, what is it that makes a good break? Let’s make a neat bullet-point list. Those are fun, right? Some of these are no-brainers:

  • Although you can break from anywhere behind the head string, the best spot seems to be close to the side rail. Position the cue about 4 to 6 inches from the rail, and use a rail bridge.
  • Keep your cue stick as level as possible.
  • Use a firm, controlled, hard stroke. Speed is important, but control is paramount–keep the ball on the table!
  • Hit the 1-ball as full as possible.
  • Try to leave the cue ball in the middle of the table, or come back to the head of the table. If the 1-ball doesn’t get potted, it will most likely end up at the head as well, and you want a decent chance to shoot it.

In 9-ball, you’re going for a strong, hard break (unlike straight pool and one-pocket, which require finesse breaks). I cannot stress enough how important it is that you control your cue ball when you are breaking. This is much more important than speed. You can break as hard as you possibly can, potting 4 balls, but if the cue ball ends up off the table, in a pocket, or even in a bad position preventing a shot on the one, then what have you accomplished? If nothing else, you have given your opponent a very good chance of running out on you.

Make a ball on the break, and put the cue ball in a good position. That’s how you win 9-ball games.

If you have people helping you with your game, you’re going to get all kinds of advice. Many of them will tell you to pivot your hips, or step into the shot. While I will agree that these techniques will help add speed to your break, I strongly believe that you must first master your control. Keep everything still, and only move your forearm.

I have a drill that will help you with this. A bonus for this drill is that it will help you determine your maximum break speed.

Place the 1-ball on the foot spot. Do not rack a full set of balls — just the 1-ball. Place your cue ball in position to break on the head string, one diamond from the side rail. Now, get into “break” position, and shoot a stop shot on the 1-ball. Shoot it as hard as you can while shooting a successful stop shot.

The 1-ball should come very close to banking into the corner pocket.

Keep trying this shot, shooting harder if you are successful, and shooting softer if you are having trouble controlling the cue ball and making it stop. When you have found the maximum speed you can use while still successfully stopping the ball, you have found your maximum break speed!

Now, put together a rack of balls behind that 1-ball, and do the same thing: a stop shot on the 1-ball. You should get a nice scatter on the balls, hopefully pocketing a ball or two, and get shape on the 1-ball for your next shot.

Keep practicing the break shot using a single ball. After a while, you will probably find that you can increase your speed while still controlling the ball. An added bonus on practicing in this way is that you don’t have to put together a full rack of balls every time. That can be a bit frustrating, and is probably one of the biggest reasons most people don’t practice the break. You might even try just racking three balls… still just as easy as breaking 1 ball, but with the satisfaction of scattering some balls.

Next month, we’ll talk about the 8-ball break.

Do you have some tips on breaking that you’d like to share with me? Do you have any suggestions for future articles? Drop me a line at I can also be found hanging out with fellow billiards enthusiasts at Come on by and join the discussion!

Posted in Article, Break, General, Table Talk, The Break / Rackem / Stroke Magazines
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