118-TinaPawloski1First things first . . . First and foremost, you must hit the rack square, or head on. If you see your cue ball deflect to the right or left, you aren’t hitting the rack square. You want all of the energy from the cue ball to be transferred completely to the rack. Ideally, the cue ball should hit the rack and stop dead in the center of the table. If this is a problem, here are a couple ways to fix it.

First, take 50% power off your break. Concentrate on hitting the rack as square as possible, so that the cue ball sits in the middle of the table after hitting the rack. Start by adding a little more power each time it appears you’re breaking well. Repeat this process until you can hit the rack with maximum power, while still maintaining accuracy.

NEVER sacrifice accuracy for power. A big powerful guy can completely smash the balls, but should he? His goal is to be accurate every single time, not to demonstrate his power.

I hit the cue ball just below center like a powerful stop shot. I “pop” it. I normally use a long bridge when I shoot, but not when I break. I shorten my bridge. The less distance the cue stick has to travel from my bridge hand to the cue ball means more accuracy, and when you are hitting the ball that hard, that small adjustment counts. One of the things I also do is look at the cue ball last. On any other shot, I teach that you have to look at the contact point of the object ball last. The break shot, and when you are jacked up, are the only exceptions where it is allowable.

So as I get down, I look at the rack, so my body naturally gets in-line with the shot. Do not get down looking at the cue ball. As I am down, I am taking my practice strokes, getting comfortable, aiming. Once I feel I am ready, the last thing I do is look at the cue ball, and I imagine literally punching a hole through it with my cue stick. There are many ways to address the break shot.

One of my No. 1 tips . . . Most people underestimate the importance of a good rack. After I win a game, I always make sure I’m at the head of the table watching my opponent rack. That doesn’t mean being obtrusive about it, or leaning over, or at the side of the table past the line that you would break from. Your opponent will always give you a better rack when they know you’re watching. This is not to imply that people are inherently bad sports. But, when you’re not watching, your opponent may let a ball that rolled off, roll off, because it looks good enough. Generally if you’re watching, and they know you saw that ball roll off, they’ll always rack it perfect until nothing rolls, or let you know that they are having difficulty and where that difficulty is so you can adjust. I cannot stress enough how important this can be.

Cue ball placement . . . The cue ball should be placed wherever you feel is the most conducive spot for you to hit the rack as square as possible. In 9-Ball, most pros like to break from the side rail at the line, as it frequently makes the corner ball. This strategy is useless if you don’t hit the rack square. If you do not hit it square from the side rail, don’t shoot it from there! I don’t break from the side rail because I’m more accurate closer to the center of the break line. Because I hit the rack square, I still make the corner ball just as often as most do from the side. Again, accuracy is vital.

The rack . . . When I played my first pro event, Tiffany Nelson and I were becoming friends. During practice, she asked if I knew what the professional way to rack was. She showed me how and why, and I’ll share it with you now. Look at the picture below. This is the order the balls should be racked in 9-Ball.


Notice how the arrows are drawn. When the breaker is breaking from the right side of the table (from their perspective, not the racker’s perspective) this is how the balls should be racked.

When the balls are broken, this is what generally happens:

  • The 1-ball typically goes toward the side pocket (not drawn) or above.
  • The 2-ball which is placed under the 9 goes down toward the foot rail.
    (The foot rail is the short rail closest to where you rack).
  • The 3-ball goes up the table toward the head rail.
    (The head rail is the short rail closest to where you break from).
  • The 4-ball goes down like the 2-ball toward the foot rail.
  • The 5-ball goes up the table toward the head rail.

Note: If the person breaks from the right side of the head rail. The only thing that changes if the person likes to break from the left side of the head rail is that the 2 and the 3 switch sides with the 4 and the 5, staying either below or above the 9-ball as they were before, just the opposite side.

On the bar table, the balls tend to get a bit more jumbled and knocked around, so placement might be less of a concern. On the regulation size table (4-1/2 x 9), I am very sure to rack them in this order. On the bar table, I am sure to have the 2-ball below the 9 and the 3-ball above the 9 at the very least.
Etiquette . . . When I am playing 9-Ball, I have to get a good rack. It doesn’t matter if I am playing a Skill Level 3 or another 9. When I am playing a 3, I am giving up a whole lot of balls. I need to make a ball on the break to either run out, or attempt a safety. I never want to give up a ball, ever. When I am playing a 9, either I make a ball and run out, or they run that rack and the next three. As you can see, it is so very important to get a good rack.

If you are playing, it is your responsibility to get a good rack, not necessarily the person that is racking for you. What that means is, in the end, you need to watch out for you. If you are asked by your opponent to re-rack, it is not to be seen as being difficult or accusatory like you meant to give them a bad rack. Do not take it this way! When I am asked to re-rack, I say, “No problem!” and do so with a smile. I know they are trying their best to get something that they deserve to get. Sometimes I miss if a ball rolls off, or the rack is tilted, and I didn’t/couldn’t see it from where I was. The worst thing you can do is get upset over it, because this is surely not the intention. This only affects your game, makes you upset, and this may affect a future shot.

Next month, we’ll go over proper 8-Ball strategy. Whatever skill level you are, you will get something great out of it!

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