Gimme a (Safety) Break!

Part three of a short series on breaking

Other Gimme a Break! articles:

Over the last two articles, we talked about breaking for 9-ball and 8-ball, and learning how to hit a hard yet controlled break.

This month, we are going to focus purely on control, while we talk about the softer breaks required for Straight Pool. Then, next month will close it out with One Pocket.

Straight Pool, otherwise known as 14.1 Continuous Pool, is a deceptively simple game that takes a lifetime to master. Simply put, you continue to make balls one after another, until there is only one ball left. You then rack the 14 remaining balls, and continue. As long as you keep making balls, you stay at the table, and your opponent keeps his chair warm.

When playing this game, your strategy is to maneuver the last (break) ball and cue-ball into a position that allows you to simultaneously make that ball, and break the balls in the rack. This takes considerable skill, and many books have been written on the subject of the continuous break in 14.1. I will leave it up to you, dear reader, to learn about that on your own.

I would, however, like to address the opening break, which in my opinion doesn’t get much attention. Do a Google search for 14.1 breaks, and you’ll see what I mean.

An important point about 14.1 is the fact that all shots must be called. EVERY shot. That includes the opening break, if you intend to break and continue shooting. Because the odds of making an opening break called ball is so slim, most will not attempt it. However, I will describe two that I have seen used in games I have played.

The first is to make the head ball in one of the side pockets. It’s similar to the “cut break” in 9-ball. One player I have seen attempt this shot is successful about 30% of the time. That isn’t enough to justify attempting it in my opinion, but he seems to enjoy experimenting with it. To be fair, he’s playing against people who average 10 ball runs, so it’s not too dangerous. Do it against Corey Deuel, and expect to watch him wipe the floor with you!

To attempt this shot, hit a half-ball shot on the head ball, with follow and right-hand English (if you’re breaking from the right). The cue ball should rebound off of the ball into the foot rail, then the side rail, and return to the head rail close to the left corner pocket. The head ball in this case should come close to entering the side pocket. The danger here, besides not making your called ball, is that you might hit another ball and scratch, or leave your opponent an easy opening shot.

The other aggressive break I have seen is to shoot past the rack, and rebound to strike one of the two corner balls. If done correctly (and with a little luck), the head ball will come off the rack to strike two rails and go in the side pocket. It’s a fun trick shot to try, but I would never attempt this in a serious competition.

Let’s discuss the break you are most likely more familiar with. It’s a safety break, meaning you have no intention of making a ball. In fact, ideally, the rack will be returned to its original configuration, with the cue ball on the head rail! Most players defer the break to their opponent upon winning the lag. If you practice this enough, you may elect to break yourself, or at least be ready for when your opponent gives you the break!

Start with the cue ball on the head string, about half to a full diamond from the rail. Shoot from either side, whichever you are more comfortable with. I like to break from the right side. Put outside (right in my case) English, and aim to hit about 1/4 of the corner ball in the last row of the rack. When I do this, I aim as though the rest of the rack were not there, and I am shooting the ball in the left corner pocket.

Use enough speed to have the cue ball hit the foot rail, right side rail, and come all the way back up to the left corner pocket on the head rail. A perfect break will have the right corner ball hit the foot rail and return to its original spot, and the other corner ball hit the side rail and return to its original position. The cue ball will be married to the head rail, forcing your opponent to attempt her shot with follow.

Be aware that two balls other than the cue ball must hit a rail. My preference is for the left corner ball to return to the original spot as I said, but to have the right corner ball barely make it to the end rail. It will be hidden behind the rack as long as the cue ball makes it to the correct spot, and it makes it a little bit harder for your opponent to play a good safety if there is a ball separated from the rack. To accomplish this, try hitting the object ball a little bit thinner.

Be careful with this break. If the balls are very clean, it should be easier to do. If they are dirty, then the right object ball might acquire a little spin that could push it to the right after hitting the foot rail, giving your opponent a shot. This is another reason I prefer having it barely touch the foot rail.

As always, I recommend you practice this break. You’ll find you’ll get the hang of it, and won’t mind losing the lag in your future 14.1 games!

Next month, we’ll close out this series on breaks by talking about One Pocket. This can be a little more controversial — there are many differing opinions; if you want to give me yours, drop me a line!


This article can be found in the January issues of The Break, Rackem, and Stroke magazines.  To view them online, visit


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!

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