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Pool Instruction: Cuetips #5 – Breaking in Nine Ball

Posted on by Mark Finkelstein

Adam Kielar breaks at the Blaze Tour

By NYC Grind Contributing Writer, Mark Finkelstein

I want to look at the break in nine ball this week.   A lot of players take the break for granted, or just hit the pack as hard as they can, run the cue ball all over the table,  and hope for a good outcome.  What I’d like to do here is give you another way to look at breaking and some things to practice your breaks and have some fun.  Breaking is a lot more than hitting the cue ball as hard as you can. 

The first and most important thing, especially if you don’t feel you can break well, is to make sure that all the balls are frozen.  Let me repeat that, make sure all the balls are frozen.  Also make sure the head ball is on the spot and frozen and the bottom row of the rack is parallel to the short bottom rail.  Your breaks will improve 30% by just making sure that all the balls in the rack are frozen.  Not doing this is one of the reasons your breaks don’t spread out nicely.  Check the rack if you are in doubt


Oscar Bonilla checks the rack at the Predator Tour

Oscar Bonilla checks the rack at the Predator Tour


Next on our list of things to have in mind is accuracy over power.  We want to have a plan!!  Tony Robles has an excellent article in a recent Billiards Digest that talks to accuracy and using a stop shot as the foundation of a good break.  What great advice.  It does you no good to make three balls on the break and have the cue ball running all over the table to scratch and give your opponent  ball in hand.  I have heard that when average pool players play nine ball, about 65% of the time, the breaker loses the game.  Let me know what your results are.  If you are a gambler you might think about what the break is really worth

We would like for all the balls to spread out, leaving us a shot and parking the cue ball in the center of the table so that we have the best chance for another shot.  For the average player this advice is very good, but let’s look a little closer at what we are trying to accomplish.   If you play enough pool, you realize that when you break in nine ball, the one ball usually heads towards the side rail and then down the table.  In the old days, players tried to “trap” the nine over by the side rail, or send it down the table cross corner.  The reason was that if the cue ball was parked in the middle of the table, you had a shot on the one more often than not.  This is a big edge.  Just swinging away wildly on the break leaves everything up to chance.  In the ideal break, one of the corner balls goes in the pocket, the cue ball parks in the center of the table, and the one ball lands somewhere between the side pocket and the back corner pocket.   


Shaun Wilkie breaks, leaving the balls spread out & cue ball in center to maximize his next shot

Shaun Wilkie breaks, leaving the balls spread out & cue ball in center to maximize his next shot


So in a nine ball rack what maximizes our chances to accomplish this?  A tight rack, controlled power, and an accurate hit.  With the correct speed and location of the cue ball, you can learn to accomplish all these goals.   

How can we learn to do this?   

Well, first I want you to go to the bank and get a roll of dimes…seriously.  Then lay them out from where you break from to the head ball.  You’ll have a nice line of dimes.  Now I want you to hit your break shot.  You should see how the cue ball is in the air for a good part of your break stroke.  This “flying” cue ball explains why the cue ball sometimes flies off the table.  You want to practice this way to find the speed that has the cue ball landing on the table well before the one ball and not hitting the one ball on an upward glancing blow.  Of course, an accurate hit is the most important part of this.  Once you realize what the flight path is of your cue ball, you can control the speed to get your desired result

Next, I want you to just use the cue ball, aim at the spot and swing away with your break stroke.  What does the cue ball do?  Do you put left or right English on the cue ball.  Shoot this shot ten times or until you know what your tendency is.  Since we don’t want the cue ball arriving at the head ball with spin, you can aim a little off center to compensate, knowing that your tendency will bring you to the center when you stroke hard.  This is a practical solution to the problem of not striking the cue ball exactly in the center. 

Now where do we put the cue ball when we break?  I recommend putting the cue ball over near the side rail and aiming full at the one ball to start with.  Pay attention and see if the corner ball goes in, the one ball gets trapped and you can put the cue ball in the center of the table.  See where others have broken from by looking at the marks on the table.  The Cuetable diagram below shows where to aim your break shot to start. (You will need Adobe Shockwave to view the diagram.  Click here to download it for free if you don’t already have it.)  Watch your opponent break and see their results.  After a few breaks, depending on the results, move your cue ball a half diamond to the right and see what happens.   


US Open Champion Mika Immonen prepares to break, placing the cue ball on the side rail

US Open Champion Mika Immonen prepares to break, placing the cue ball on the side rail


Finally, to practice accuracy, do as Tony Robles suggests, and put one ball on the spot, and shoot stop shots at it.  One tip to help you aim a little bit better is to use the base of the one-ball as your target.  

Once you have built the foundation for a good break, let’s play a little breaking game.  I haven’t thought of a name yet for this game so if you have any ideas, please let me know.  Here go the rules: each player (with alternate breaks) will break ten racks. 

Scoring is as follows:  make a ball on the break, one point for each ball; cue ball in the center of the table, 5 points; cue ball scratchs or jumps off the table, minus 10 points; cue ball goes to the foot rail, minus 5 points; and one ball in the open by the side pocket or towards the middle of the table so you have a shot at it, 5 points.  Go get a couple of $5000 dollar lottery tickets with the dimes you have left over from above and play someone this breaking game for the lottery tickets.   A lot of good things can happen, your break will improve, you can tell your friends you matched up for $5000, and one of the lottery tickets might be a winner.   

Now I want to add a twist to breaking in nine ball, the safety break.  How can you put your opponent on the defensive, get him off balence, and change the pace of the game?  This is useful if you want to slow down an opponent or get in a safety battle to wear them down.  In this break your object is to softly break the balls and drift the cue ball to the end rail, separating it from the one ball and hopefully hiding it.  Your opponent then pushes, and you can now give it back to him or play a safe with the balls clustered.  It may leave an opportunity for an early combination on the nine.  Not the most exciting or dramatic pool, but it has its place in your arsenal of tools. 

Practice the break, it is an important part of the game. 

See you on the road. 


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

You can send your billiards questions to

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