Gimme a (8-ball) Break!

Part two of a short series on breaking

Other Gimme a Break! articles:

Last month, we started a conversation about breaking.  OK, it wasn’t much of a conversation; I did most of the talking.  But, I discussed breaks in general, and got into some details about the 9-ball break.

This week, we’ll focus on 8-ball.

I will assume that you know how to play the game of 8-ball, as it is usually the first game people learn.  Also known as Stripes and Solids, the object is to make all of your balls (stripes or solids, believe it or not) and then the 8-ball, before your opponent does the same with his set. For more information, go to

So, what is the best way to break an 8-ball rack?  First, let’s review the fundamentals.  They are basically the same as 9-ball:

  • Although you can break from anywhere behind the head string, the best spot for an 8-ball break seems to be close to the center of the head string.
  • 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 head ball as directly as possible.
  • Try to leave the cue ball in the middle of the table.  If a ball goes in, you want the best opportunity to shoot at another ball after the break.

So… that’s it, right?  Smack them hard, hope something goes in, and try to run out?  Seems pretty straightforward. But what about the 8-ball?  In many leagues, the rules state that if the 8-ball goes in on the break, you win automatically (BCA rules are different — you get to spot the 8-ball and shoot again or re-break if it goes in on the break). So, wouldn’t it be awesome if there was a good break that allowed that to happen more often?

Some would say “no.” After all, making the 8 on the break is a lucky shot, and this is supposed to be a game of skill, right? I happen to be in this camp, myself. I prefer the BCA rules.  But, as I said, some rules claim an 8 on the break a win, so let’s talk about how to increase the chances of this happening.

First of all, you’ll need to change your break.  Many people who don’t play in leagues or tournaments (and therefore don’t always follow official rules) don’t know that a legal break consists of striking the head ball or either of the two second balls in the rack. Our new 8-ball break is going to use this rule.  Here is what to do:

  • Place the cue-ball on the head string, about 4 to 6 inches from the side rail.  For our example, we’ll break from the left side.
  • Aim your shot at the second ball.  You won’t be able to aim directly at the ball; if you do, you’ll end up hitting the head ball, and most likely will scratch in the corner pocket!
  • Aim a little to the left (per our example. Aim to the right if you’re breaking from the right side).  You want to just barely miss the head ball, and hit the second ball as fully as possible.
  • Put a little bit of draw on the ball, and a little bit of left-hand english.
  • Use a controlled break; take a little bit of speed off the ball.  The problem with an all out, smash-the-rack-as-hard-as-you-can break is that the cue will most likely fly off the table.  You league players know what I’m talking about — this happens a lot!

If you perform this break correctly, the cue ball should deflect off the rack, and the left english/draw you applied should send the cue ball into the side rail, and back into the rack.

The idea behind this break is to get the 8-ball moving.  The more it moves, the greater the odds that it will eventually find a pocket.  I wish I had a magic formula for you that put the 8-ball into a certain pocket all of the time, but the fact is there are too many balls moving around on the table to reliably predict where the 8-ball will end up.  Make it move, and cross your fingers!

OK, so much for the luck side of things… what if you want to simply make any ball, so you can continue your turn at the table, and run out?  Your best bet, in my opinion, is to try to make the head ball in the side pocket.  Here’s what to do:

  • Place the cue ball on the head string, one diamond from the side.  Again, for our example, we’ll break from the left.
  • When aiming at the head ball, pretend it’s the only ball on the table.  Aim the head ball at the foot rail, one diamond from the right corner pocket.
  • Break using a good, solid, hard stroke, with a touch of left-hand english.  Note the direction the head ball goes; it should head toward the right side pocket.
  • Pay attention to how hard you shoot the break.  If the ball misses the side pocket, try using a little less speed on your break.  If you miss to the other side, try adding a little more speed.

Remember, you’re attempting to increase the odds of making a ball on the break.  There are so many variables going into the mechanics of the break, that there is no way to make the balls react perfectly every time.

Focus on your control and your speed, and practice!

Next month, we’ll talk about the straight pool 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, Table Talk, The Break / Rackem / Stroke Magazines
2 comments on “Gimme a (8-ball) Break!
  1. Michael says:

    I use the second ball break pretty much exclusively when playing 8 ball, and as such I’m gonna have to disagree with the instructions you have given here. Placing the cue ball that far from the rail not only limits the power you can transfer to the rack, but also highly increases the chance of scratching or popping the cue ball off the table.

    Instead, placing the cue ball 1 to 2 inches from the rail, shooting with slight inside english will give you much more surface area to hit the second ball, reducing the likelyhood of scratching. The only time I ever scratch this break or pop the ball off the table is when my break is too loose. I make a ton of 8’s on the break, scratching maybe 1 to 2 percent of the time. I dry break this way perhaps 5 percent.

    With a little practice, this is a solid break that wins games and matches again and again. It is important to make sure you don’t give too much bottom inside, as it has a tendency to drive the cue ball into the felt, making the cue ball airborne as it strikes the rack (this is why it flies from the table).

    Just my two cents.

    In case you’re wondering, I’m an A, sometimes AA, player. Not great, but I hold my own.

    • mkglass says:

      Thank you for your feedback, Michael.

      I will agree with you on one point: the second-ball 8-ball break is definitely prone to a higher percentage of scratching in the corner pocket, or off the table. However, placing the cue 1 to 2 inches away is not the answer for most players. My article attempts to address all levels of player, including the lower-handicapped APA players who do not have power breaks. 4-6 inches is less than half a diamond from the rail.

      For those players especially, placing the cue ball 1-2 inches away from the rail forces you to either cue too high (in an attempt to keep the cue level), or elevate the butt of the cue (in an attempt to apply a middle-to-low stroke). For many players, this can result in a miscue (in the former case), or jumping the ball off the table (in the latter).

      I stand by my instructions. I use this break most of the time when playing a game where making the 8-ball on the break results in a win (BCA rules do not allow a win by snapping the 8). I also use it sometimes when standard breaks don’t result in making a ball, and I need to try something different.

      One inch is less than half the width of a standard ball… that is just too close to the rail to be able to break with the power and control you need. I place the ball just under two ball widths away. That is what works for me, and it’s what works for my students. I always preach control over speed. Control the cue ball, and when you get comfortable with your break, increase your speed.

      Of course, I play and teach on 9-foot tables. That makes a little bit of a difference, if you’re playing on a 7-footer. But truth be told, I can make a very successful second-ball break even a full diamond from the rail. The goal of this break is to send the cue-ball back into the stack. If you hit the second ball too fully, and don’t hit with the proper English and draw, the cue ball will not have the proper speed and trajectory to accomplish its mission — to rebound back into the stack and get the 8-ball moving.

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