CueTips Billiards Instruction – Moving the Cue Ball

Posted on by Mark Finkelstein

By NYC Grind Contributor, Mark Finkelstein

I hope you all had a great New Year’s!  I’m excited to be heading to Atlanta to teach and play pool for 5 days at Johnny Archer’s room in Marietta.  What a great way to start the year.  I’m also off to Houston and Jacksonville this month as well.

Thinking about all that travel got me to thinking about moving the cue ball around the table.  I want to look at two ideas in this article to help you run out racks of nine ball.  We have looked at one of these ideas before, but the other idea is new for these articles.

Here is a random spread from CueTable.

I have made a box in the center of the table.  What I want you to see is how every ball in this rack can be made if the cue ball is in some part of the center of the table.  Let’s see how this works.

First, notice if we come back two or three diamonds from the one, we have a slight angle on the two ball.  We need this angle to have the correct angle on the three to go for the 4.  Getting on the correct side of the 4 is key in this rack, as the 4 to 5 transition is the key to running this rack.  If we get on the left side of the 4 to the corner pocket, we can easily slide the cue ball over past the 9 and get on the 5.  Get straight on the 4 or on the right side of the 4 ball, and we have problems and our run will screech to a halt!

The error I see most intermediate players make is that they don’t take the extra pains needed to get on the right side of the 4.  They have a vague idea what they want to do, but they don’t really make sure they get there.  Taking this extra time to get this angle right makes a huge difference in running the rack.

Let’s see how we can look at this shot and maximize our percentage in running out.

In this diagram, cue ball A is what I see most players try to do.  Sometimes they get good on the 4, but a lot of the time, they get straight or on the right side of the 4.  Then they have to shoot a heroic draw shot, or a three rail spin shot to get somewhere on the 5.  Once you get on this slippery slope, getting off is really tough and the run usually ends.

Take a close look at the track line of cue ball A.  Most of the time this cue ball is rolling, it is in a bad position to fall on the 4.  In fact, only a very small percent of the time is cue ball A in a good position to go from the 4 to the 5.

Now let’s take a look at cue ball B.  Granted, we are moving the cue ball more to get on the high side of the 3 ball, but once we do, notice the track line to the 4.  We are almost guaranteed good position as we are coming down the line we want to be on to play the 4.

This is a big idea that I see most intermediate players miss.  In their rush to get the 1, 2 and fall on the 3 to go one rail to the 4, they miss the percentage play that actually gets them on the correct side of the 4!

I have actually seen good players miss one of those heroic three rail spin shots to a small window, and practice them for an hour, when spending an extra minute looking over the layout might have saved them some stress.  Now I suppose it is good to be able to pull off super spin shots when you need them, but I would rather not need them, and play safe most of the time when those low percentage shots come up.

Now let’s look at the last few balls.

As you can see from this diagram, where ever we fall on the 5 ball, we have a path to get on the correct side of the 6 to run this frame out.

So what we did in this rack is first look to see what balls can be made from the center of the table.  Then we looked at the transitions from one ball to the next and saw were our most difficult transition was.  Once we saw this, we mapped out a plan to make moving the cue ball over to the other side of the table as easy as possible.

Now let’s look at another rack with a specific problem I want to highlight.

Again we have our square in the center of the table.  In this layout, if I can get to the center from the one ball, stop the 2, and roll the 3 in the side, I can get straight on the 4.  Now here is the second part of this article.  Anytime I have to make a transition from one end of the table to the other, I take the extra time to get the track just right.  We have three choices to falling on the 5.  (Assuming you get straight on the 4, which in this layout should not be too much of a problem!)  We could land high on the 5, straight on the 5, or below the 5.

Let’s rule out straight right away, as I would have to juice up the cue ball to draw it back and I never like doing that if I can help it.  So, we can either fall on the high side of the 5, or the low side.

On the high side, we would have to go three rails to get on the 6, and this track brings the 8 and 9 into play.  I like falling on the low side of the 5.  This way, I go one or two rails and avoid bringing the 8 or the 9 into play.  Now once I have mapped out this plan, I take pains to make sure I stay in line and stay down on my shots.

So we looked at two key ideas to running out racks in 9 ball.  First, how many balls can we pocket from somewhere in the center of the table, and second, take extra pains when we have to move from one end of the table to the other.

Take care of these two areas, and your percentage of racks you run will increase significantly.


I see so many good players trying too hard to be better.  They really sweat trying to do things perfectly, and with all this tension, never seem to improve.  I think this is a lot like squeezing your eyes tighter if you can’t go to sleep.  Now I can tell you that doesn’t work!

The same thing happens when you are practicing, you are relaxed, looking at the shots and taking nice easy swings at it.  Ten minutes later you are in a game and you are trying really hard to make shots.  I don’t have to tell you what happens.  You miss all over the place and can’t figure out why you play so well in practice, and can’t make a ball in a match.

Well, part of the answer is you are trying to go to sleep by squeezing your eyes lids harder.  It just doesn’t work.  Relax, breathe and have fun playing the game.  You will smile more and play better!

See you on the road!  Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Houston in January.

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

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