In this article, I will focus on strategy for the lower handicapped players. There is a different way to address 8-Ball for these players and those coaching these skill levels. As written in my article for higher skill level players, 8-Ball Strategy for SL5s and Above, there is definitely a difference in how a SL5 should consider their inning compared to a SL3.
First, a lower skilled player pockets balls less accurately and less often than a SL5. Because of this, we cannot teach someone who is under a SL5 the same strategy as a higher skilled player. Successful strategy for a SL5 and above is dependent upon the player’s shooting ability (once their suit is open) to clear the table.
This is not to say that you cannot help the SL2-4 play better 8-Ball! It is just as important that you play as defensively in 8-Ball as you would in 9-Ball when faced with a low percentage shot, or no shot at all. In 9-Ball, it is easier to decide what to do. It is easier to devise a plan when there is only one ball that you have the option of shooting versus the many options in 8-Ball. It should be standard that if you are faced with a very tough shot when playing 9-Ball and no reward for making it, (i.e., no position on the next ball) then you should play safe.
Often, I see this not being done in 8-Ball! I’ll watch a player play smart 9-Ball, but then go over to 8-Ball and try to back-cut bank a ball because it is the only one they could see. Instead, they should push that ball in front of a hole controlled by the opponent’s suit, or place it in a position to break out a cluster of their own balls where there was no ball previously in position. This is playing intelligent pool! If you push one of your balls squarely in front of one or more of my balls, you are almost guaranteed to get at least one more inning at the table. This applies when I am playing a SL3 or a SL7.
In reality, 8-Ball for SL2s, 3s and 4s is just a race to see who makes their balls first. When a SL3 plays another SL3, the game will be won 90 percent of the time by the person who has one ball left to make and the opponent has four or more. When I am coaching and watching lower skill levels play, I am more interested in helping them run the maximum number of balls. With a SL5 or higher, I would be more interested in them being able to run the full rack at the right time. Let me show you what I mean:
I would tell the lower skilled player to shoot the 5-ball first with a little top to drift down for the 6-ball. I would then hope after they shot the 6-ball, they could shoot the 4, and if we get a long run going, on to the 1-ball and 3-ball. I want them to make as many balls as possible, even though they have no feasible way of making the 8-ball.
I would tell the SL5 and higher to shoot the 4-ball and stop the cue ball right where it hits the 4. As explained in my strategy article for higher skill levels, you should never shoot a ball in until you know you can run out. Because the 8-ball is so obscured, with no ball in position to break it out, the higher skill level should not be shooting open balls until he can run out all the way. Shooting the 4-ball in this way puts it in position to break out the 8-ball in the next inning. Stopping the cue ball where it is leaves the opponent no good shot.
A lower skill level can incorporate a little of that into their game. Say that the SL3 can see 3 of his balls out in the open, but there is no pocket available for any of them. It is then that they should not try some back-cut bank, but instead say to themselves, “What ball can I shoot that would leave the cue ball in the worst spot for my opponent?” This is the basis for playing safe, but it doesn’t mean that they have to completely hide the ball. When the SL3 is playing another SL3, sometimes it is good enough to try to get the ball to freeze against the end rail, so they would have to bridge flat on the rail. Sometimes a fair amount of distance is enough to earn another inning at the table when the other player only has one ball left. These are some things you can do as a lower skilled player without taking a time out. When you are thrown up against a higher skill level player that can make these long shots or rail shots easily, you would want to challenge yourself to come up with hiding the cue ball the best you can.
Another way of helping yourself when you have no shot is lagging your object ball in front of a hole, especially one that a ball of the opponent’s suit is going toward. How much better is it for you when you have your object ball hanging in front of a pocket (and blocking one of their balls) instead of in the middle of the end rail? If you have no good pocket to shoot one of your balls in, consider banking it toward a pocket, or hitting the long rail above the pocket for you to get it closer.
Look at this example…
On the left side of the diagram, I show you how to change a losing situation into a winning one. Lightly hit the 1 to the rail, and when it comes off it will be both in front of their ball and in front of the hole! It is the same for the situation on the right side. Your 2-ball is obscured, so you can’t cut it in, and the 13-ball is in front of the other hole, so you can’t bank it straight in. Here you may want to aim to bank the ball a little wider than you would if you were trying to make it, so it hits right before the pocket and sits in front of both their balls all going for the same place.
In the end, good 8-Ball strategy for any skill level involves playing intelligently. Know your strengths, what is low percentage for you, and what you feel comfortable with. Especially in 8‑Ball, you do not need to be a great shot if you play a very smart game. I’ve always loved playing in some of the scotch doubles events that the APA offers where I am paired with a SL3. I believe I can coach them to be a great winning partner by telling them the things written above, and not just hoping we get lucky by making more balls than not.