Stop Testing and Start Training

We all know that drills are one of the best ways to improve your game. I’ve seen countless forum posts asking how to improve and the answer is always “Do some drills”. However, different drills serve different purposes, and two of the most commonly performed drills don’t really serve the purpose you might think. So we’re going to look at the difference between drills that test how well you are playing, or how straight you are stroking, and drills that actually make you improve as you run them. There’s a big difference, and it’s important to understand this and plan your practice routine accordingly.

Testing Drills


If you’re a snooker player, you’ve undoubtedly run The Line Up many times in practice sessions, searching for a new high run. I’ve certainly spent long stretches where it seems that’s the only thing I’m doing. But is this really making you a better player?

A great test, not an all in one training drill.

Basically, if all you are doing is lining all 15 reds up and constantly trying to set a new high run and missing halfway through, I don’t think you are improving as quickly as you could be (if at all). I have seen many players whose practice is basically just this, and their progress is slow, or sometimes non-existent.

This is because the line up doesn’t really isolate any part of your game. It presents a very wide array of shots, you can pick any colour, you can play position on 15 different reds, so you must use all of your skills at once. This makes it an excellent test. A player with a high break of 120 in the line-up is probably a better player than the one who has only made a 55. But when it comes to improving that number, just the line-up is probably not going to be enough. If you get a B on a test, just taking the test over and over again probably won’t improve your score.

That being said, sometimes you are at a stage, due to putting in your time with other drills usually, where you are rapidly improving and constantly setting a new personal best in the line up. In this case there is nothing wrong with riding that wave until you come to a plateau. It’s important to get used to making higher and higher breaks. But if you haven’t set a new record in many sessions, it’s time for another plan of attack.


The pool equivalent of banging your head against the line up is The Ghost. The ghost is an excellent part of a practice routine, but too often it is used as an excuse to just bang balls. Just the same as the line up, the ghost forces you to use every single part of your game in order to succeed. You need to make shots from every angle, play every positional route you know, and hit every part of the cue ball. This is great because it forces you to use everything you know. At the same time, it’s terrible for practicing any specific part of your game, because as soon as you miss a low inside cut shot, you’re re-racking and never dedicating the time to master the shot that you missed.

If you’re not Efren this might not be the best use of your table time.

This is why the ghost is a great test of your ability, you only get one shot (and if you’re not re-racking and marking a loss after every miss you are not playing the ghost). It effectively simulates a real match. So if you miss a bank, better luck next time. But it’s not ideal for improving. That one tricky 3 rail route you’re bad at? You’ll avoid it and never get any better at it, same as every other weakness you have. So what should we do so that the next time we test ourselves against the ghost we do better?

Training Drills

I like to look to the world of fitness for ideas on how to structure practice. Imagine every single time you go to the gym, you just load the bar up as heavy as you can and try to squat the most you ever have. Is this making you stronger? You might set a couple of personal bests but it won’t last long. To get stronger you do more reps with lighter weights, work on your weak spots and sticking points, and perfect your form. Then when it comes time to peak and test, you all of a sudden can lift more than you did 2 weeks or a month ago.

You know this shot will come up every game, why not isolate it now?

The billiard equivalent is using drills that target specific parts of your game, like one rail positional shots, or stroke drills and doing a lot of them. Then use larger drills such as the line up and the ghost as a way to put those skills into action. So if you’re a pool player, before you lose to the 9 ball ghost again, why not schedule in time to practice moving up and down the table? This shot is going to come up many times during your next match against the ghost, and it’s much more efficient to practice it in isolation a hundred times in a row than to rely on improving it one shot at a time while trying to run a rack. You could also spend some time working on the Wagon Wheel to tighten up your cue ball control. Anything that lets you take a specific part of your game, isolate it, track it, and make progress.

For snooker players, you can use The Zipper to tighten up your play around the black. You can even just do specific parts of the line instead of the whole thing. Try two reds on either side of the blue. Without the other reds as a backup, you are forced to focus on one single aspect of positional play and spend some focused time improving on it. This way, the next time you’re on a 60 break and end up on the blue you will know for sure you can score an easy 24 points and continue on. Break the drill down into smaller parts that you can actually complete, and then string them all together in the full line.

You’ll get a lot more quality practice around the blue this way.

One final way that players tend to test when they should be training is with individual shots, especially Stroke Drills. If you are practicing your draw, it’s going to be a lot more effective to spend 5 minutes practicing drawing one diamond, then a diamond and a half, then two, instead of always trying to put maximum draw or follow on the ball just to test how big your stroke is. This applies to everything. If you set up this shot,

it might show you that your stroke isn’t straight, but it won’t really help in making it better. Try for shots you can make 50-80% of the time and only test the huge stroke shots when you want to show off to your buddies.

Make Time to Test and Train

These types of tests, both drills and tough shots, certainly have their place. I wouldn’t have them on the site if I didn’t think they were useful. But they should not be the only, or even the majority, of what you do when you’re at the table alone. Use them to assess your skills and discover your weaknesses. Then use smaller, focused isolation drills to get better at those things. You’ll progress much faster and when it comes time to test, you’ll feel accomplished at setting a new personal best instead of frustrated by failing in the same spot.

Grease the Groove to Straighten your Stroke

We all know that the key to any cue sport is a good stroke and that you develop that by countless hours of focused repetition on the table. I want to show you a way to shorten that time-frame and get more high-quality stroke practice in without having to be at the table all day every day.

Grease The Groove

Grease the Groove is a training technique developed by Pavel Tsatsouline that is widely used today to develop movements such as the pull-up. The basic idea is to perform a few reps of an exercise many times throughout the day. For most people, this means putting a pull-up bar in their doorway and cranking out a few reps every time they walk through it. For us, it will mean executing several strokes as often as possible throughout the day. Anyone who has tried this technique can attest to its effectiveness, often going from just 1 pull-up at a time to double digits within months. This is because it allows you to accumulate more volume of work throughout the day than you would in the course of just one workout. It makes you stronger, but also helps develop the neurological connections that make the movement more natural.

This means we can also apply this technique training for skills that don’t require strength, like a pool stroke. Basically, every time you perform an action you strengthen the neural pathways that cause that action. The more you activate those pathways, the faster and stronger they become, making the action more automatic. This is caused by myelin insulating the neural pathways a little more every time you activate them, which lets them fire faster. Our goal then should be to build up as much myelin along the pathway that activates during a perfect stroke (and as little as possible along pathways activated during a poor stroke), so we need to perform as many perfect strokes a day as possible.

In a single practice session, you may shoot 100 shots, but not all of them will be perfect. You may twist, steer, or any of the other bad habits that come up when trying to pot a ball. Using this technique, you can also put in dozens more strokes in addition to your normal practice, but spreading them out over the course of the day means they can all be hyper-focused and as straight and smooth as you’re able to stroke. The pathway will fire faster and the next time you are at the table it will be easier to “get in the zone”.

How To Do It

First, find a flat surface in your home roughly the height of a pool or snooker table. Most desks, kitchen tables and counters are a similar enough height. Keep something on this surface that will give you some feedback on the straightness of your stroke. An empty bottle thats opening is not much larger than your cue tip is standard and what I use. However, some people find that a bottle does not work well with their “piston” style stroke, or that hitting the back of the bottle limits follow through. If this applies to you I recommend using two golf tees as posts to stroke through.

This drill has been around since the invention of cue sports. The problem I often see however, is that people do the drill one time, for about 5 minutes, get bored and never pick it up again. The key is consistency, and greasing the groove makes it very easy to be consistent, you only need to devote 20 seconds at a time and you will see results.

So, leave your cue out beside the table or desk that you are using to stroke on and pick it up every single time you walk past it. I have a bottle on my computer desk, and a cue leaned beside it. Every time I walk into the room, I pick up the cue, slowly and carefully drop into my stance, and stroke through a plastic bottle 2 or 3 times before using the computer.

Why it Works

Too easy right? This might not seem like much, but just like with pull-ups, it adds up throughout the day to dozens or hundreds of high quality, focused repetitions. The focus is by far the most important part. Since you are only performing a couple of strokes at a time, you can easily give 100% attention  You are not trying to pot a ball, win a game, or play shape, all you have to do is 1 perfect stroke. Anyone can stroke straight once, but this builds the neurological connections that allow you to do it every time. So the next time you are at the table, the cue will go in a straight line and you can focus on positional play and shot selection.

Although your stroke is the main benefit, this will also improve every aspect of your mechanics if you devote the focus to it. You can ensure that your feet are exactly where they should be, that your balance, bridge and head position are exactly as they should be. The stroke is the easiest thing to get feedback on, but the rest can be mastered with focus. Remember, practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. This technique lets you practice perfectly and do it a lot. Make use of it at home and reap the benefits at the table.

The 5 Most Important Beginner Pool Fundamentals

Beginner Pool and Snooker Lessons Part 1

This beginner pool lesson covers the most important fundamentals for a novice player to master before moving on to more advanced techniques.

I was lucky enough to spend my university years working in a pool hall. As such, it was my duty to settle rule disputes for new players, and give many players their first ever pool lesson. I’ve shown enough novices the basics to notice that there are some easy to learn fundamentals that will allow a beginner to quickly beat other casual players and be on the road to becoming a serious player. Those I taught that learned even just a proper bridge and how to keep a level cue almost immediately moved past their friends.

So what I want to give you is what I have found to be the best bang for your buck fundamentals in the order a beginner should learn them. These are the basics that can be quickly incorporated into your game while providing the greatest immediate benefit. They are all about maximizing your chances of making any given shot, keeping you at the table and your opponent in their chair. If you are looking to join your first league, get serious about the game, or just beat your friends in the bar, these 5 things are the most vital to being successful in snooker, pool or any cue sport. Master these and you will virtually always beat those who haven’t.

Check out our drills to hone these fundamentals and improve all aspects of your game.

#1 Use the Pro Bridge

The easiest way to tell if someone knows what they’re doing or not at a table is to look at their bridge hand. Good players all do pretty much the same thing. This is because it works and is absolutely vital to making the balls go where you want. Luckily, it is actually quite easy to learn, just follow these steps.

Assuming you are right handed, lay your left hand flat on the table. I’m a lefty so this is my right hand.

Next, spread your fingers, not quite as wide as possible, but fairly spread out.

A wider base provides a more stable bridge

Now, raise your knuckles off the ground. Your fingertips and heel of your hand should stay firmly planted on the table.

The middle of your hand rises, leaving the heel of the palm and fingers on the table.

Finally, the thumb. Place the joint of your thumb against the side of the knuckle of your index finger. Flex your thumb back so it is pointing upwards. This creates a groove where your cue will slide, so squeeze your thumb tightly enough against your hand so that it cannot move.

Your thumb and first knuckle create the channel for your cue.

There you have it, the bridge that has won every snooker world championship ever played and will help you win more games. The key points are: keep your thumb tight, don’t let it move, and keep the heel of your hand on the table.

Don’t do this.

You may have seen a bridge like this,

it works and has some benefits down the line, but it’s harder and not necessary right now. The basic, easy, open bridge will serve you right up to the highest levels of play. Master it and you will instantly have an immense advantage over anyone using an improper bridge.

#2 Keep a Level Cue

Have you ever lined up for a straightforward shot, and after you hit it the cue ball seems to swerve all over the table before missing where you were aiming entirely? The culprit here is almost certainly a “jacked up” cue. You should always try to keep the cue as close to perfectly level with the ground as possible.

A level cue ensures the cue ball goes where you aim.
Shooting with your cue on the red line will cause unnecessary misses.

Basically, an elevated cue exaggerates the effects of sidespin, causing the cue ball to veer off course. In contrast, a level cue will make the cue ball go where you aim it. Any elevation will cause the ball to swerve and you to likely miss the shot. Perfectly level isn’t possible but always try to be as level as possible. I’ve seen reasonably talented bar players that would instantly play several balls better if they simply followed this rule. Also important to note, raising the back of the cue will not help you draw the cue ball backwards. There are very limited circumstances where your cue should be anything but level.

#3 Use the Ideal Backhand Position

So we’ve got our front hand figured out, cue nice and level, what about the back hand? The ideal position, and one that very few beginners naturally use, is to have your backhand form a 90 degree angle with your cue.

Your back forearm and the cue create a 90 degree angle.

What this means is, as you are down on the shot and the tip of your cue is almost touching the cue ball, your backhand should be pointing more or less straight at the ground.

This position makes it so that when you actually strike the white, your arm is in the optimal position for generating force and hitting the target accurately. Of all basic fundamentals, this one might be the hardest to get used to, but the benefit is massive. For most people, it does not feel natural right away and there is a tendency to choke up on the cue, or hold the very end of the butt. But once you get used to this position you’ll find that swinging through the cue ball feels much more natural and you will be far more accurate.

Having your backhand too choked up on the cue limits power and accuracy.
At this angle it is impossible to smoothly stroke through the cue ball.

#4 Hit the Center of the Cue Ball

Our first three tips basically cover the most important aspects of positioning your body. Where your two hands go, and how the cue is positioned. Now for actually striking the cue ball. If you want to maximize your chance of making any given shot, the best thing you can do is to try to hit slightly above the center of the cue ball.

This position maximizes your shot making chances.

You might know that hitting the bottom can create backspin, pulling the cueball back, or that hitting the sides can change the angle of the ball off the rail. But as beginner, these are to be avoided, especially in game situations. Deviating from a center ball hit, especially to the side, adds variables that create unnecessary difficulty in the shot. At higher levels, off-center hits are vital to running out, but if you want to make more balls right now, stick to the middle. Hitting just above the center lets the natural roll of the ball keep it rolling straight and allows for a more level cue.

#5 Shoot “Pocket Speed”

Easily the number one mistake beginner and even fairly high-level intermediate players make is just shooting too hard. Just like throwing a ball, the harder you try to shoot, the harder it is to make the ball go exactly where you want it to go. Try lobbing a piece of paper into a garbage can and then throwing it as hard as you can. Which one went in?

Hitting too hard makes balls that might drop rattle out of the pocket.

If you watch really high-level players, you’ll find that they all have the ability to hit very hard, but rarely do. If you want to make more shots and win more games, shoot softly, hit the center of the cue ball, and the balls will go where you want them to.

Even if your aim is a bit off, a light touch can make the ball drop.

Not only will your shots be more accurate, soft shooting greatly increases your margin for error on many shots. What this means is, a shot that rattled and flew out of the pocket at high speeds, likely would have dropped if hit just hard enough to go in. We call this “pocket speed” or the minimum speed required to make the shot. Shooting this way means more of your balls go in and even if you miss, your balls will cover the pocket, meaning your opponent can’t make theirs! Of course, sometimes hitting harder is needed to play position on your next shot, but the general rule of always hitting as soft as the shot allows still applies.

In 8 ball, covering the pocket when you miss makes it very hard for your opponent to run out.


There you have it, 5 key fundamentals that you can bring to the table the next time you play to shoot better. Use the pro bridge, keep a level cue with your back arm pointing at the ground, and softly hit the center of the cue ball. Mastering these techniques will make you a formidable player in any bar and give you the foundation to move on to more advanced techniques. Stroke Drills are a great way to solidify these fundamentals and make your game more consistent.

As you develop as a player you will discover all sorts of situations where you must break these rules. So, subscribe at the bottom of this page for updates in this beginner series where we cover foot position, grip, and more. Thanks for reading and play well.

Create Your Own Practice Routine

Use this short guide to learn how to choose and organize your drills and create an effective practice routine. Use the fillable PDF’s provided at the bottom of the page to plan and track your practice sessions. Pre-made routines are available at the bottom of the page, but ideally, you should create multiple routines that target specific parts of the game you need to work on and cycle through them.

How to create a practice routine

Pick appropriate drills

In order to plan a practice session, you need a realistic idea your current skill level and choose drills that match it. All the drills on this site have variations rated for beginner, intermediate, and advanced players. Here is a rough idea of what I mean by those levels.

In pool, a beginner is someone who has never had a break and run in any game, or if they have, is very unlikely to do it in any given night. In snooker, a beginner will very rarely make a break of 20 or more.

An intermediate in pool regularly runs out but has trouble stringing racks together. If last time you played for a night you did not have a break and run, you are probably not an intermediate player yet. In snooker, an intermediate likely has a high break of around 50 and regularly makes 30’s.

If you always run out multiple times in a set and frequently run multiple racks at a time, you are an advanced pool player. The equivalent in snooker likely has run a century in competition and routinely puts together frame-winning breaks in the 40’s and 50’s.

These are obviously pretty general categories and most players will find themselves somewhere in between. But they offer some guidance in terms of what drills to pick. If you’re not sure what version of a drill to use, start with the beginner drill and work your way up. The point of drills is consistency and this is how you develop it.

Another aspect of drill selection is specificity. Some drills are more applicable to certain games. If you are primarily a 9 ball player than some of the open table drills may be less effective for you than drills that force you into a certain shot order. For a more in-depth explanation of what drills are right for you, read How to Practice Effectively.

Organize the drills

You want your session to follow a logical sequence that gets your in stroke so you perform at your best while running drills. This involves starting with simple, focusing on stroke, and moving on to more complex patterns and shots. Follow these general guidelines when creating your routine.

Start with stroke drills
This is critical, every single practice session must begin with stroke drills. Start them easy every session to build confidence that you are stroking straight that day. Don’t try firing in power draw shots as soon as you get to the table! Simple up the spots stroking gets your back arm grooved and will improve every aspect of your practice. Spend 5 to 10 minutes on 2 stroke drills to begin practice. I like up the spots for 5 minutes, and stop shots for another 5.

up the spots
Make sure you are stroking straight before moving on to potting. Your entire session will benefit from a few minutes here.

Isolate at the beginning
After making sure you are stroking straight and refining your technique to do so move on to drills that isolate either shot making or positional play. This can mean setting up a specific shot that has been giving you trouble or using a target such as a ball or piece of paper to master a positional route. At this point in your routine, focus on one or the other. Spend 5 minutes mastering a pot (setting it up exactly the same every single time) and then move on to a position drill such as Carom off the Black.

Isolate your positional play near the beginning of your session to get your cue ball under control.

Move on to more complex drills
At this point you should be 10-20 minutes into your routine and, if you have followed the steps so far, your stroke should be dialled in and your cue ball on a string. Now start doing more complex drills that involve more balls. Start with open table drills that give you freedom in positional play (like The Line or Pot Quiz) before moving on to drills that limit your shot choices (like The Zipper or No Rail). Slowly increasing the challenge this way is the best way to keep your focus and make sure you’re shooting better at the end of the session than you did at the beginning. Give each drill 10-20 minutes and work through 3 or 4 to round out an hour-long session. At this point, at the end of your routine, is where just playing some games against yourself and unstructured shooting should go.

Set Goals

A routine should not be static. If you practice diligently you will improve, and your practice must change to reflect that. Set goals for drills and move on to different ones, or more difficult variations of the same drill, once you achieve them. For instance, with The Stop Shot stroke drill, you could have a goal to make 10 in a row from the starting position, and once you have achieved that increase the distance. Planned progression like this keeps you motivated to improve, shows you where you have improved, and keeps you challenged and improving. Use the 50-80% rule outlined in How to Practice Effectively to determine when you should move on from a drill.

Create multiple routines

If you only have time to put in one practice session a week, then a single routine that you slowly make more difficult as described above might be all that you need to keep improving. If, however, you have more time to dedicate to the game, then using multiple routines can keep things fresh and be more effective at improving all aspects of your game.

This can be done any number of ways. If you are a pool player, you might have one routine made up of drills focused on 8 ball, and another focused on 9 ball. A snooker player might have one routine focused on mid-game break building when there are many reds on the table, and another more focused on the end game and clearing the colours. It’s up to you to decide what parts of the game are most important for you to improve, and design a routine that effectively addresses them.

Another type of routine that you can incorporate into your practice, is a challenge routine that you return to every month or so. To do this, pick a set number of drills that you have been working on and give yourself 5 minutes on each of them. If you complete the drill, immediately move on the next one and see how many drills, or cycles of drills, you can complete in an hour. Anything that gives you variety, while still following smart sequencing, will keep you interested and keep you improving.


The final and most important step in creating a routine is to track. Write down your results, every single time you practice. Do it any way you like, a spreadsheet, a chart, paper and pencil, just make sure you do it. I like to mark down a check or an X for each successful or failed attempt at a drill, giving a completion percentage. You can also just mark down how many successful attempts you make in a 20 minute drill. Either way, It holds you accountable, makes you focus, and gives you objective feedback about your level and rate of improvement. Make a habit of recording your results and you will make a habit of getting better. For easy tracking, I’ve made a fillable PDF that links back to all the drills found on the site and lets you enter drill name, time, success rate, and notes.

Click to download

Pool Practice Routine Fillable PDF

Snooker Practice Routine Fillable PDF

Printable Pool Routine

Printable Snooker Routine

Pool Routine

Below are sample beginner routines for pool and snooker, use them and the information provided here as a guide to planning your own sessions. More are being added all the time. Check out the Routines page for a full list of available routines and a point form breakdown of this guide.

Beginner Pool Routine

Beginner Snooker Routine

Tangent Line Aiming

The internet is littered with various “aiming systems” and methods to visualize the line of the shot. What most of them have in common is that they focus on the contact point on the object ball and aiming different parts of the cue or cue ball at it. This method is different. Instead of focusing on where to hit the object ball, we are going to focus on where the cue ball will go if the shot is made using the tangent line. This is much simpler than trying to find a contact point on a sphere and has the added bonus of improving your positional play.

If you’re not familiar with the tangent line, read about it here. It is crucial for playing position and the rest of this article won’t make much sense if you don’t know how to use it. The basic gist of it is, when the cue ball is sliding and hits an object ball, it always separates at 90 degrees from the cut angle. This article shows you how to use this fact to aim.

Take a standard back cut.

backcut tangent
The tangent line is sometimes easier to see than the shot line.

You could visualize a line from the ball to the pocket (the green line), but this is out of your line of sight once you’re down on the shot, making it difficult to judge. This problem is compounded the further the object ball is from the pocket. Instead, we can imagine the tangent line (the black line) if the pot was successful. Shoot the shot in such a way that the cue ball, with no spin, would travel down that line and the pot is guaranteed.

For any given object ball position, the tangent line will form a triangle on the table that will be the same no matter where the cue ball is. The triangle always extends into two rails. This gives you multiple points of reference for the shot and at least one is always in your line of vision.



For example, in the shot above, you can see the tangent line extend into 2 points on the rail. Even if you can’t see the pocket when your down on the shot, you will be able to see one of those contact points.

So rather than focus on a point on the object ball, we can just imagine sending the cueball to one of those points on the rail, depending on which direction you are cutting the ball. Using multiple points of reference takes a lot of the guesswork out of potting balls. Not only this, since you are focusing on the point you will hit on the rail, you will be more precise playing position off that rail. You are already visualizing the angle of entry into the rail so the exit angle will be the same on a plain ball shot.

You may be thinking that his technique only works with a centre ball hit, but it’s easy to adapt it to using different spin. While standing at the table, aim as if using a centre ball hit. From there decide what spin is needed and drop down into the shot. Using the tangent line to aim doesn’t mean you have to make the cue ball follow it, just know that it’s there. Focusing on the tangent line first will actually make you more accurate when using follow and draw since you will see the line that you are moving the cueball off of.

Besides making you a better shotmaker, this method will seriously improve your positional play. By imagining the tangent line on every single shot, you will intuitively develop a better sense of where the cue ball is going. You will see plain ball positional routes much more clearly, and incorporate them into your game more often. This means less use of spin and more consistency in both potting and shape.

For instance, when playing a carom game you will see that plain ball will get you many places on the table just by following the tangent line, or deviating slightly. You will also notice that break out shots are much easier using this aiming technique. Since you are imagining the tangent line of every ball you need to pot, you will quickly notice which ones easily take you into a cluster.

This method works especially well on shots that are normally difficult to aim. Trying to cut a ball across the table when it is close to the rail is usually a nightmare.

tangent close to rail.png
Shoot the 11 so the cue ball heads towards the rail, following the tangent line, and the pot takes care of itself.

So instead of shooting the 11 ball at a point seven feet across the table and out of your line of sight. Shoot the cue ball at a point six inches away and right in front of you. Your pot percentage on these types of shots will go up dramatically using this method.

On frozen to the rail shots the tangent line is parallel to the adjacent rail, making it one of the easiest shots to aim. This is especially helpful in snooker and Chinese 8 ball where rail shots must be hit perfectly.

snooker tangent.png


The farther the ball is off the rail the more the tangent line angles away from the pocket. After practicing this shot a few times its easy to see how much the tangent line changes from parallel the further the ball is off the cushion and to adjust your aim accordingly.

snooker off the rail.png


No system works completely, and if you are not stroking straight no aiming technique will help. Still, proper visualization is going to make problem shots much easier, and visualizing the path of the cueball is going to give you the pinpoint positional technique needed to play tight shape and effectively break out clusters. You might not use this method on every single shot, but at least try it out on shots that normally give you trouble, like blind cuts, and I am sure you will see the difference.

Let me know in the comments how this has worked for you and if you have any questions.

One Ball One Pocket

This is a gambling game my Dad learned in the early ’80s and taught to me as a kid. It’s a more casual and more shotmaking focused version of one pocket that still develops some of the same skills. It’s a fun game to play with your friends, even just for a quarter a point. It focuses on an important aspect of safety play that is often neglected, keeping the object ball safe. You also learn to dial in your 2 and 3 rail banks and kicking. I haven’t been able to find many references to it online so here are the rules as I know them and some tips on how to play.


Each player has one of the bottom corner pockets that they must make the ball in, just like one pocket, but there is only 1 object ball on the table. Sinking the ball is one point and then re-rack and play again. Race to x number of points or play for a set amount per point. Any foul is an automatic loss of that rack. Potting the object ball in any pocket other than your own can be counted as a loss or re-spotted ball.

one ball one pocket
The table setup.

The Break

Set the balls up as shown, the breaker nominates 1 of the end pockets as their own. A legal break involves kicking at the cue ball, usually following the path shown. Winner breaks. Break by hitting just above the corner pocket with inside spin, this gives you the best chance of cutting the object ball in. When you get the hang of it you should be able to knock in multiple kicks in a row. Missing the object ball is an automatic loss, opponent breaks.

one ball one pocket break.png
The break. You need right spin to get to the object ball, and a slight rail first hit to have a chance of cutting it in.

Common Shots

Unless your opponent completely sells out, you are usually going to have to win with a bank. Standard 1 rail bank and cross banks off the long and short rails are common. Be careful to hit them at pocket speed and try not to leave a bank on yourself. When the object ball is up table try these shots.

one ball one pocket 3 rail
3 Rail bank towards your own pocket. Pretty safe if you hold the cue ball where the 14 was.

one ball one pocket 2 rail.png
2 Rails towards your pocket. Be careful, if you bank it long you can sell out the cross-bank.

Below is the ideal position to leave your opponent in. In this scenario, the pocket closest to the cue ball is your opponents.

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There’s little your opponent can do here besides a containing safety. If you’re leaving the object ball up table, leave it like this.



Speed control is essential here. Hanging the ball over your pocket on a bank can win the game, over or under hitting can easily sell out.

You need to control the cue ball and the object ball, take the lessons you’ve learned here to your next game of 9 ball and you will give your opponent fewer chances.

Shoot your safeties and banks with focus and proper technique, or when it comes time to actually shoot a straightforward shot for the win, your form will be off and you’ll dog it.

Get creative. There are many more shots than the few covered here. As your kicking and banking improves you’ll find new ways to put your opponent in trouble and make big shots.


How to Break a Habit

So you have figured out that you are doing something wrong. Maybe you twist your wrist at the end of your stroke, or your elbow moves to the side, or any of the other thousand bad habits one can pick up. How do you go about fixing it permanently?

Many of us have probably had a similar experience. You discover a bad habit, fix it, and immediately start playing better. The balls have eyes, your stroke is smooth and confident, and the game just feels easy. Then, league starts, or you start playing a friend, and it all falls apart. Some shots you shoot the new way and it feels great, others you revert back to your old habits and you dog. Sometimes you do a mix of both and nothing goes right. Your arm feels clunky and the game is all of a sudden really hard.

Often times after this, we just revert back to our old habits. It seems easier just to follow the same old pattern than try something new, even if you know that the new way is the proper way to do it. Or, we frustratingly continue this cycle for many months and possibly fix the problem eventually.

The problem in this scenario is not that the new technique was wrong, or that it is some herculean task to break a bad habit. It was that the new habit was not properly grooved before putting it under the pressure of competition, so it faltered and the old habit took over. Forming a new, good habit doesn’t have to take years and be filled with struggle. If we approach ingraining the new habit in a systematic way, it can be relatively quick and painless. Here’s how to do it.

When to Break a Habit

One of the most important aspects of breaking a habit is timing. This means if you have a tournament is this weekend, and you just realized your grip is holding you back, it’s probably best to stick with what you have been doing and work on the new grip afterwards. Likewise, if you play in a weekly league, don’t try to incorporate a new technique the night of. Start the day after league to give yourself a full week to fix your problem before testing it in competition.

Start with 1 Ball

Next is deciding what kind of practice to do in order to break the habit. I think it is important to start with drills that do not involve pocketing an object ball. If you are trying for a pot with a new technique and you miss, you can start second-guessing whether or not the change is worth it, even if you know it is proper technique. For instance, someone who has never played with their back arm perpendicular to the cue at address is going to miss some shots when they fix that, but there is no question it is the proper way to play. It is better to remove the possibility of missing at first to focus on just the technique.

So start with some drills that allow you to put in reps with the new technique, but don’t have the pressure (and inevitable emotional response) of ball pocketing. The Tor Lowry Stroke Drill is great for this. Set up all the balls in a line and shoot them directly into the corner pockets. This requires some discipline on your part to not get sloppy, but it lets you very quickly get in a couple hundred repetitions with your new technique. You can shoot about 100 shots in ten minutes this way, which is significantly more than you would playing games. Shoot as many shots as you can like this without losing focus.

The Tor Lowry stroke drill. Don’t get sloppy!

By now you should be feeling comfortable with your new grip, foot position, bridge, or whatever it is you are trying to fix. The next step is to slowly incorporate drills with more feedback. Shoot Up the spots and then Stop Shots, making sure to start very easy. When starting to ingrain a new habit, you should be striving to make it easy enough that you never miss. Don’t set up long straight ins that you might miss, shoot balls off the spot and get very confident with your technique. The hard stuff will come later.

Basic Potting

Next, you will begin to start cutting balls. Ideally, this should take place on a different day than the last set of drills. Usually, you cannot correct a habit in a day, spread it out over the course of several practice sessions and you will be much more successful. Quickly go over the stroke drills from last time, then, pick a common angle, like a half ball cut. Set it up exactly the same every time, and shoot it for 5 minutes. Focus much more on your technique than if the ball goes in. There will be a tendency to revert back to steering or jumping up in order to make the ball, but if you have followed the steps so far it can be avoided. Pick 3-4 different shots and work them for 5 minutes at a time, centre ball, just focusing on using your new technique. Pick easy shots you are comfortable with, this is not the time to work on your shot making, it’s the time to fix your technique.

Use the Entire Cue Ball

Now, work on using different parts of the cue ball. As you shoot shots you are less comfortable with (high inside for instance) there will be a tendency to revert to old habits. These shots will come up in a game, so conquer that tendency now. Use a drill like Carom off the Black or the pool equivalent Carom Drill and use every part of the cue ball. You can then apply yourself to some open table drills like The Line or Pot Quiz, keeping it easy and building confidence. If you are successful at both the drill and using proper technique, move on to more challenging and complex drills. If at any point you are struggling, or feel bad habits creeping back in, return to the easy stuff.

Test it out

At this point, you might be ready to play some games.

I suggest playing some friendly games with a friend of a similar skill level, instead of playing games by yourself. You’ll have more focus and are less likely to just bang balls around. Don’t worry about winning, just try to apply your technique to a game situation. Use it on every shot, safeties, banks, power shots. This is the time to be honest with yourself if it seems like the habit is broken. If you find yourself twisting your wrist again to make the game ball, you are not ready. Go back and repeat the previous steps and try again. If you are able to play a friendly game completely with the new habit, then you are ready to apply it to league or a tournament.

There’s a reasonable chance that, despite this, you will still revert back to your old habit under real pressure. Simply apply the same formula for another week and try again. If you are diligent and focus on taking it slow, you should easily have grooved the new habit in 2 weeks, or even less depending on how old the bad habit was. If it’s something that just crept into your game recently, you might be able to do all this in one session and be fixed. If it’s been ten years, a few weeks might be in order.

The important takeaway here is, don’t focus on potting balls and winning games when trying to break a bad habit, this will undermine your confidence in your new habit and cause you to revert. Focus on hitting lots of balls in a way that lets you focus solely on technique. This means starting and just getting in as many quality repetitions as possible. The ball potting will take care of itself once the new habit is formed, and is something to be practiced in isolation, separate from your fundamentals. Remember, breaking a habit doesn’t have to take months or years. Approach it smart and understand that you can change your game relatively quickly if you are willing to put the work in. Thanks for reading, play well.


One of the most fundamental and least understood aspects of improving in cue sports is learning how to practice. Other sports have practice down to a science. In football or hockey, for instance, every action is broken down into its smallest parts and polished to perfection. This results in a movement that is completely controlled and highly repeatable. You don’t develop a slapshot by playing a bunch of games and hoping it gets better, but by isolating it and perfecting it.

In pool, however, we are still a little in the dark ages in terms of practice. Many players do almost no practice beyond playing games against their buddies or themselves. The problem with this is you never isolate the most important parts of the game and give them the time and focus they deserve. It’s kind of like going into the gym and just doing random exercises for 1 rep. No surprise you aren’t any stronger a year later. Instead, you can systematically approach practice with a plan and a program to ensure you keep getting better all the time. Luckily, in all cuesports, there are shots and patterns that come up again and again, so they are relatively easy to isolate and, with a little thought, put together a plan of attack to master.


The best way to do this is through drills. Drills are a shot, or series of shots, that you can set up the same way every time, track your success in, and repeat them until they are mastered. Some people might say they get bored by drills, but I think that is mostly because they haven’t done drills this way. Using the principles outlined here, drills have all the pressure and challenge of a match, while ensuring you are getting better every time you play. Besides, I think the really fun part of pool or snooker is running out in a big match and drills make you do that more often. Here is a short guide on how to get the most out of the drills on this site.

To start, set the balls up as shown as closely as possible. Be precise. When resetting a drill, do your best to reset the balls exactly as shown. If a ball doesn’t pass into a pocket, there is a reason why. Using paper hole reinforcements is a great way to ensure that the balls are in the same place every time. Set them up and the beginning of the drill to make it quick and easy to get the proper set up every time. Sloppiness in the set up defeats the purpose of having a set shot or series of shots that you perfect by shooting the same way every time. This is especially true if you are working on just a single shot. You will get much more out of the practice if that shot is the exact same every time you shoot it.

Stroke Drills

When choosing what drills to do, you should always start with stroke drills. If there’s one thing you learn from this site, I hope it is that the stroke is the most important part of any game involving a cue. These stroke drills are designed to get you stroking straight and groove your stroke so it stays straight, even when the pressure is on. If you are just starting out with drills, do the stroke drills first. If a straight in shot, or shooting up the spots is challenging then this is something you should address before really diving into the other drills. You can still do the other ones, but the majority of your time should be spent getting your stroke in line first. If you feel comfortable and confident with them, they should still be a part of every practice session. Start each session with basic stroke drills to make sure you’re cueing well before moving on to the more challenging parts of your routine. It’s always a good idea to practice your stroke at home whenever you get a chance as well.

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Stroke drills should be a part of every practice session, especially for beginners.

Drill Selection

When deciding which drills or variations to incorporate into your practice, the golden rule is to start easy. All the drills on this site are labelled as beginner, intermediate, or advanced. No matter how good you think you are, start with the beginner drills and master them before moving on. The best players all have one thing in common, they are consistent. Consistent players win tournaments and are very hard to beat. Having more successes with an easier drill is a better way to build consistency than struggling with a drill that is beyond your skill level. Of course, you want to challenge yourself, but starting easy is the best way to find out what drills are going to give you the most bang for your buck.

Success Rate

Putting it into more concrete terms, when practicing, you should be shooting for a 50-80% success rate. That long masse that you make 1/20 times? Not an effective use of your time. A hanger that you make 100 times in a row? You aren’t getting better that way. Shooting shots (or entire drills) that you can do more than 50 but less than 80 percent of the time matches the challenge to your skill level. When you are adequately challenged, but still doing something within your ability, this is the recipe for “getting in the zone”. It also gives you an easy goal, take something you can do half the time, and work it until its something you can do almost every time.

With working on specific shots, this is easy. If you are making a shot 40% of the time, make it a little easier by moving the object ball closer to the pocket, or the cue ball closer to the object ball. If you make it 90% of the time make it more challenging by adding distance or adding a positional target to get into that 50-80% success zone.

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When you can make this shot over 80% of the time, use a different cue ball or object ball position to make it more difficult.

Running drills this way is a little trickier. Even a fairly easy drill can be quite difficult to run 80% of the time, and limiting yourself to only drills you can do half the time might mean you don’t have very many drills that you can do. Instead, try finding drills that you can consistently complete at least half of. If you can’t get halfway through it, it is likely too difficult, but as long as you are having success with the majority of the drill, it is still falling in that zone of success. Work on taking these drills from one success in a session to many, and eventually to completing it the majority of the time. Don’t take this as a licence to bang away at drills that are much beyond your skill level, be honest about working in that effective range.

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If you can’t routinely get halfway through a drill like this, use fewer balls or an easier variation until you can.


The best way to keep yourself honest is to track. Tracking your drills gives you an absolute measure of your own improvement and lets you know which areas you need to work on most. Tracking is probably the most effective but least utilized technique in practice. It works, there is no question about it. It holds you accountable and is objective and honest. But it is tough to admit your failures and mark them down on a piece of paper. If you can get over it and be honest with yourself, you will see a big improvement in your practice, and in your game. Try using our free fillable PDF tracking sheet that links to all the drills on the site and allows for easy tracking from your phone.

Drills that you know you can complete regularly should be reset after every miss. The goal in most cue sports is to clear the table, and resetting every time is the best way to practice getting in a runout mindset. As noted above, however, some drills you will not be running out very consistently and shouldn’t be reset every time. Instead find out where the problem area lies, a certain positional shot, or a shot that is giving you trouble, and work on it in isolation. Once you’ve conquered your sticking points you can go back to attempting to run the table completely. Be aware though, if you are missing a lot in a drill, it may be a better use of your time to use an easier version and get more completions in.

Time Limits

You should also give yourself a time limit for every drill, I recommend 10-20 minutes for drills, and 5 for specific shots and stroke drills. This does a few things. First, it keeps you from banging away at something that just isn’t working. We all get frustrated, and it’s easy to just get worked up and keep trying a drill all night with little success. The timer gives you a point to move on and try something new. Second, it keeps you focused. The timer gives you a time when you have to stop, so putting pressure on you to succeed in that time frame or beat your best score. It also stops you from getting distracted shooting random shots. Finally, it gives you a good baseline to track from. If you do everything for the same amount of time, its easy to tell if you’re getting better at it because you will complete the drill more often in the same timeframe.

So that’s how you to run drills effectively. You find a drill within your skill level, set the balls up, set a timer, and track your successes. Sound like a lot of work? In a way it is, it’s more work than just playing without a plan, but in the long run, I think it’s actually a much easier way to practice. You will get better so much faster and experience so much less frustration this way. I think constant improvement is easier to live with than stagnation. Streamlining your practice like this will also save you a lot of money on table time!


Now that you know how to run drills, the last thing you need to do is string some of these together to form a practice routine. As noted before, all routine should begin with stroke drills to get you cueing well before trying to run balls. From there, it’s up to you to decide which areas you need to work on and decide which drills will help you. All the drills on this page have variations for any level of player and will improve your game if you apply the lessons learned here. For an in-depth explanation of how to create an effective routine and some samples, click here.

Thanks for reading, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments. Play well.