118-TinaPawloski1This article addresses 8-Ball strategy for SL5s and above. Once problem balls are out of the way, and the table is open, usually a SL5 player can run out. I do not teach weak SL4s and below to play this way. You have to be able to run out and complete the rack if you are going to be breaking out clusters of balls that involve the other player’s suit. For SL4s and under, it is usually just a race to see who makes their balls first, so this article does not apply to them. SL5 or above players should go through this same process of questions when they come to the table:

  • Do I have any problem balls?

The first thing you do when you come to the table during your inning is ask yourself if you have any problem balls.

If the answer is YES:

  • The problem balls need to be addressed first. You have to see if there is a way to break these balls out. Is there a ball near the cluster that you can use to do this? If so, you must immediately play to get on that ball.
  • Do not shoot a ball in the corner; shoot another in the side, then another in the other side to get yourself down on the foot rail for position to shoot the breakout you should have done in the first shot. You have just shot what I call your “saver” balls.
  • When you shoot a ball to break out two balls that are tied up, you should not play position for the balls you are breaking out. One of those two balls is ideally not good to be your next ball.
  • This is why it is good to have a “saver” ball—a ball that is up in front of a corner, or hanging the side. Something that you can shoot to get your position on something else or even one of the two balls you just broke out.
  • I am telling you to play position for a known ball, versus an unknown (the clustered or tied up balls).
  • To the higher skilled player, having many balls of your suit on the table are not obstacles, but options. It is very important for you to change your thinking on this. You do not simply start shooting your balls because they are there and out in the open when you have problems elsewhere.

If the answer is NO:
If you have no problem balls, and the balls are out in the open, you can proceed to the YES portion of No. 2 Can I run out?I have seen many people come to the table and start shooting various balls they have in the open and then save their problem balls for last. You cannot do this! Any ball you choose to start the inning with is to get you in position to break out that cluster.

  • Can I run out?

If you have no problem balls, the answer to this should be yes for a SL5 or above.

If the answer is YES:

  • Start at the 8-ball and work backwards. The game is played a bit like straight pool.
  • First, look at where the 8-ball is, and then pick a key ball. A key ball is the easiest ball for you to shoot before the 8 that gives you the simplest shape for the 8. Ideally, you want to be able to shoot the ball straight in the side with stop, and with that, your cue ball position would be perfect for the 8.
  • In the example posted below, if you have solids, the 1-ball should be used as the key ball. You would not want to choose the 4-ball or 3-ball as key balls in this situation because they are below the 8. You could under hit one of these balls trying to get above the 8, so shape would be speed dependent. The 1-ball is the choice because you could hit it in the side and stop, and you are perfect on the 8 without having to depend on speed or angle for the most part.


  • So, continuing backward from the 1, the 2 looks like a good ball to get straight on the 1, the 3 looks like the ball to get on the 2, and the 4-ball would be the one to start with. So again, 4,3,2,1 then the 8.

If the answer is NO:

  • The answer would be “No” if you cannot break out a cluster; there are no balls to get you there. In this instance, you would not hit one of your balls in until you knew you could run out. If you tried to break out a cluster, and failed, you must stop! Play safe here. Do not continue shooting balls if you find there is no other way to break out a cluster.
  • Do not shoot 3 of your open balls in, and then play safe. You would be making it very easy for your opponent to play safe on you. Remember, these balls are options for you, and obstacles for your opponent.

The above strategy covers most of it. I welcome your questions at tina@tinapawloski.com.

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