8 ball: play smart to win

So you are a solid shot maker in your own right, maybe one of the best in your league. But one thing plagues you: your 8-ball wins are just not up to par. Why can’t you win more of your games with such good shooting skills?

One of the biggest mistakes made when playing 8-ball is trying to run out every rack. Here is a very good “general” tip for playing 8-ball: Do not deliberately pocket open balls until all balls are open. Let this sink in for a minute. Let’s say you have a table with a “trouble” ball and six “open” balls.


The solids are in a very advantageous position, but the 4 is not open. What to do? A lot of players will pick off the open ones first, maybe with some hopes to run into something on the way to help with the trouble ball. This is usually a recipe for a  loss. Once you clear the easy ones you realize you don’t have a good shot on your trouble ball. You are forced to take a risky shot or play safe. Now your opponent has a much clearer table than you did. He can maneuver around and make his shots with a much better chance at breaking out any trouble balls he may have. Balls you may have had blocking pockets are gone. It is now very easy for him to play a strong safety on you.

Now let’s back up the game for a moment, before we shot anything in. Notice we have a trouble ball, the 4. We recognize we have a shot at breaking out the 4 with the 6 ball, given the correct angle. But this doesn’t give us good insurance ball options. We can also open up the 4 off of the 1 ball. We see that we can use the 2 ball to get a good angle on the 1. Now we are talking! So we shoot in the 2 and come off the rail for the 1, then play in the 1 with a nice easy run into the 11-4. (Not to hard, we just want to separate them.) If we don’t get shape on the 4 it’s no big deal, we still have plenty of balls to shoot (and insurance balls are why it’s important to go for breakouts early!) If we succeeded in getting the 4 open, we can now run the rack. If not, we can elect for a safety. When playing a safety it is a good idea to try to open up a ball for us, or create a problem for our opponent, or both. If you can lock your opponent up tight with a safety that virtually guarantees you getting the table back, that is even better.

Now I said don’t shoot in any balls before the table is open. There are obviously exceptions to that rule: If you are shooting a ball in to acquire position on either a breakout shot or a strong safety, then do so. This is often times required to get that position you need. Do not however shoot off ducks and try breaking clusters too late, as you leave your opponent far too many opportunities when you do not succeed.

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