CueTips Billiards Instruction – A Tough Route to Master

Posted on by Mark Finkelstein

By NYC Grind Contributor, Mark Finkelstein

As we close out another year, I’d like to thank all my readers, and wish you a Healthy and Happy Holiday Season!

This week, I want to look at a layout that causes some of the greatest players problems, and some of the steps we can take to minimize the difficulties.

Here is the layout you are faced with:

A Tough Route to Master - Diagram 1

We have the 8 ball around the second diamond, and the 9 ball around the middle of the end rail.

One thing that makes this shot so difficult is that we need to use a more stroke to move the cue ball around the table, which makes the pocket play smaller.  We also have the side pocket scratch, the corner pocket scratch, coming up short, going too long, and missing the shot as other options.  I saw Efren Reyes draw back and hit the 9, freezing on it as well!  All bad outcomes for sure.

Since this layout comes up all the time in rotation games, we need a plan and a practice routine to make sure we own this layout.  This is one of those patterns that you need to practice until you get it.  You will be glad you did.

A Tough Route to Master - Diagram 2

Let’s look at some ways to get better at this.  First is drawing the ball back for position.  You need a smooth, zippy draw stroke that brings the cue ball back for the 9.  You don’t need any English on this shot, just good draw.  Some things to check for when you are practicing this shot are a consistent bridge distance to the cue ball, a light grip that keeps constant pressure on the cue stick, a slow pull back, eyes on the object ball when shooting, staying down on the shot and making sure you hit the cue ball really low.  I am amazed at how many players think they are hitting the cue ball low, and are really hitting it around the center.  Remember you are looking down on your stick so there is an optical illusion there! You are striking the cue ball with the top half of the tip, which is higher than you think!

The next thing to learn about your game is the transition point when draw won’t work anymore.  This will be different for each of you and will vary with the tables conditions and the cue balls size and weight.  Knowing this will help you decide where to leave your cue ball for the next shot.

Once we pass the place that draw works reliably for us, we need to think about going 3 rails.

A Tough Route to Master - Diagram 3

We are too straight to come off the side rail, but not straight enough to draw back as we will be coming right at the 9, which is not a good track.

The tendency on this shot is to over-hit it.  You need a truly level stick, and a smooth stroke to generate the spin and speed you need for this shot.  Remember, squirt is real, even if you have a high tech shaft, so you need to take this in to consideration when you are aiming.  I like to aim straight at the object ball with a little high right spin (2 o’clock or so), using the squirt to move the cue ball over enough to pocket the 8, and give my cue ball enough spin to get around the table.  This is another shot that is well worth practicing.

Finally, you get to the point that you have enough angle to the long rail to use it coming back down the table.  It is important for you to know this for your game and stroke as well.

The third flavor of this shot is when we can use the long rail to bring the cue ball back down table.

A Tough Route to Master - Diagram 4

I’ve shown two routes that you can use, depending on the table, where the 9 ball is, and your stroke.  One tip I have for this shot is that I like to use spin to control the angle coming off the long rail more than I like to use draw.  My reasoning is that spin is easier to control and predict than draw, and I can hit the cue ball a little slower.  I use more center left here than low left!

To be complete in looking at this shot, here is a good two way shot where you can play for the 8, get position on the 9 and be safe if you miss.  I aim to over cut the 8 a little so it hits the long rail first if it misses.  This puts the 8 on the short rail and the cue ball way up table, giving me the best of it.

A Tough Route to Master - Diagram 5

Finally, here is a stone cold safe you can play from here.  I might think about doing this on a really tight pocket table, but for my money this is too conservative and more like a one pocket shot.  I always like to swing at the money when I can!

Something to keep in mind as you practice these shots isn’t mentioned in too many places, but, what you put on the cue ball isn’t what you get on the object ball!  What happens is that the friction of the cloth eats up some of your spin so that you are not getting exactly what you put on the cue ball at the object ball.

What we need to think of is what do I need to put on the cue ball to have what I need on the object ball at the moment of impact?  For example, early in the day I play on slow tables that really eat up spin, and later in the day I play on faster cloth.  I always tend to over-spin shots for the first few minutes that I play on the faster tables.

This layout is tough and your game will improve when you master it.  There is no substitution for an hour or so working on this.  When it comes up in your next game, you will have the confidence to play this shot correctly.


I’d like to focus on a problem I hear from many students, and how to fix it.  A lot of my students say that they practice really well, then when the get to a match, they tend to choke, miss easy shots or not play up to their practice speed.

Here is what happens.  When you practice, you are relaxed and not trying to do anything.  Once you start a match, you are concentrating more, trying to do thinks and in general stressing yourself out.

The solution is really simple to say although much harder to do.  Make sure that when you practice, you do everything like you are playing!  That’s it.  So if you are free stroking in practice, and not free stroking in a game, you will eventually run in to problems!

Make sure you practice just like you play, that way every time you pick up a cue stick, nothing is different.

Good luck and see you on the road. Heading to Atlanta with Tom Simpson ( in early 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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