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CueTips Billiards Instruction – Ball in Hand

Posted on by Mark Finkelstein

By NYC Grind Contributor, Mark Finkelstein

I just got back from an exciting week teaching pool in Jacksonville, Florida with Tom Simpson.  It’s a shame I missed all the cold weather in NYC!

What I want to look at in this article is where to put the cue ball when you have ball in hand.  I am amazed at all the bad decisions I see playing every day.  Let’s fix that today.

The first rule of thumb for where to put ball in hand is to look to roll the cue ball rather than draw it.  Now I know there are some rare occasions that come up requiring you to do something crazy, but in most cases, a simple rolling cue ball will get the job done.

Take a look at this diagram.

CueTips: Ball in Hand - Diagram 1

What I see so many players do is shoot either from A or B to try and get down table.  I’m not even going to put the shot in where a player will try to draw the ball up the table.

Now shooting from A and B will work, but, when you have ball in hand, putting the cue ball under the 8 and as close as possible to it, gives you the best of it for pocketing the 8 ball and getting the exact hit and angle to roll the cue ball down table.  You have much better speed and directional control from this position.  The reason is that you can place the cue ball almost on the point of contact that you want!  This gives you the most accuracy hitting the object ball.

Next up is what to do with a ball within one diamond or so of a pocket.  In this example we need to pocket the 7 ball and get on the 8 with an angle to get on the 9 next.

CueTips: Ball in Hand - Diagram 2

Now most players would choose option A, pocketing the 7 ball and going one rail to get on the 9.  Some really reckless players would use cue ball B and draw off the 7 trying to get on the 8.  Either one of those options will work, but I prefer to roll the 7 in the opposite side pocket!  This lets me place the cue ball exactly where I need it to be to pocket the 7 and then roll to where I need to be on the 8.  This is the simplest option and has very little that can go wrong with it.

Now I’ll give you a little secret on how you can figure out exactly the line you need to put your cue ball on to pocket the 7 and roll the cue ball down the line you want.  I’ve never seen this written down anywhere so the pool gods might hate me for this.

First, find the center of the ghost ball position that will pocket the ball.  Next is to project the line from the rail or direction you want the cue ball to travel back to the object ball.  The spot you want is where this line contacts the back of the object ball.  Now you have two spots in your mind, one the center of the ghost ball to pocket the object ball and two, the spot on the back of the ball that you need to move the cue ball in after contact.

Put your cue stick on this line and shoot with a rolling cue ball.  Make sure you use a high cue ball and please be on the vertical axis!

The diagram shows you this.

CueTips: Ball in Hand - Diagram 3

Play around with this and you will be able to do things with ball in hand that others can not even imagine.

With ball in hand we also have combinations and carom shots we can look at.  Here is an example of this situation that came up in the recent Turning Stone Classic tournament.

CueTips: Ball in Hand - Diagram 4

The question in this puzzle is do we take the ticky (rail first) shot with cue ball A or do we play for position B and take the combination?  Our player went for the ticky and made it.  The point is that when you have two balls clustered together, depending on how they are laying, you have options to consider.  Pure offensive thinking is the carom, ticky or combination.  You also might think about a safety, if the layout dictates that way to go.

I believe that you should win every game you get ball in hand with, or at least a very high percentage of them.  Good luck with ball in hand.


I’m sure it is no surprise to you that your game is affected by your mental state.  What I want to look at in this brief piece is how that happens, and some things we can do to help stop any negative spirals.

Deep down in our minds we have a belief about ourselves and our abilities.  This belief leads to thoughts about what we can do, can’t do, what is hard, or easy, etc.

These thoughts lead to emotions, and these emotions affect how we play.

So underlying the panic you feel when shooting the case nine ball is a belief that you will miss this shot and that something bad will happen.

One of the reasons we practice and develop our skills is to build the muscle and mental memory of success.  If we make a shot enough times and believe in our skill set, our thoughts will be more positive and our emotions will be under control.

This leads to a better performance!

Take the time to examine your beliefs about how you play pool.  Are you a good pool player?  Do you choke on key shots?  Do you like your game?  Get your fundamental beliefs in order and your game will improve.

See you on the road.

Mark Finkelstein is the House Pro at Slate Billiards on 21st Street in Manhattan.

If you have questions, or would like to see a particular topic addressed, you can email Mark at

This entry was posted in Pool Instruction, The Latest and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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