Your Guide to More Smarter 9-Ball
After upping your 8-Ball IQ last month, let's turn to the fast-paced and crazy world of 9-Ball. The “slop” rules, sinking the 9-ball on the break and winning when your opponent hangs the 9-ball might have you fooled into thinking it's a game of luck, not skill and strategy. Spend a little time with a highly-skilled 9-Ball player and you'll soon learn that nothing could be farther from the truth – as he or she runs multiple racks at a time, wins every defensive battle and generally makes you feel powerless. This game calls for every tool you've got in your belt both offensively and defensively – any weakness is a chance for your opponent to take control . The element of luck makes it even more important that you do things correctly and stay in charge of the table.
1. It all starts, and sometimes ends, with the break.
The objective is to leave the cue ball in the middle of the table and pocket a ball. The balls with the greatest chance of dropping are the 1-ball (in the side) or one of the balls on the “corner” of the rack. Vary your break speed and cue ball placement (left side rail, head spot, right side rail, etc.) to find the sweet spot for pocketing a ball. Maintain a square hit on the rack to keep the cue ball from scratching. Breaking in the 9-ball is usually a result of loose balls and not the breaker's skill – your best protection is a tight rack.
2. Angles, angles, angles.
There's much more cue ball movement required in 9-Ball as opposed to 8-Ball – quite often the layout will cause you to transverse the entire table multiple times within a single game. Pattern selection in 9-Ball is no longer about selecting the order of balls you shoot (such as in 8-Ball,) you're selecting the angles and position by which you can make things the easiest on yourself. If you have to move the cue ball a great distance you'll want a steeper cut than if your next ball is close.
3. Work to get close to your next ball.
There's a temptation in 9-Ball to rely on shotmaking or to “cinch” somewhat difficult shots without attempting to play position. You must balance your objectives – of course you want to pocket your shot but you also want to push and improve your position play on easy, medium and hard shots. Get lazy on position from the 7 to the 8 and you could soon be faced with a superhuman shot from the 8 to the 9.
4. Middle of the table.
Unsure of where to leave the cue ball for your next shot? When in doubt, the middle of the table is an acceptable position for pocketing most of the balls on the table.
5. Aim for the rails.
When moving the cue ball around the table from shot to shot, choose positional routes that send the cue ball safely into rail points that make scratching unlikely.
6. Learn to love long shots.
Long shots in 9-Ball are a constant, whether it's a result of the break, being left badly by your opponent or your own positional mishaps. Commit to putting a good stroke on even the most difficult shots – many people give up before they even try, believing they have no hope of making the difficult shot, which reinforces this idea with a bad shot!
7. Specialty shots.
Since there's only one legal ball to hit on the table at a given time, you'll often be faced with unique situations that require you to play banks, combinations, caroms, kicks, jumps and curve shots just to try to remain in control of the table. These are all types of shots you should practice to have a well-rounded 9-Ball game.
8. The two-way shot.
Many difficult shots - especially cuts and banks early in the rack - will come with an opportunity to play both defense and offense at the same time. Go for the gold if that low percentage shot leaves you with position on your next ball but won't leave your opponent position on the current ball if you miss.
9. Keep an open mind to defense.
The safety possibilities in 9-ball are too numerous to catalog here, but given the fact that you only have to hide your opponent from one ball, playing defense is often an easier option than that three-rail bank you're envisioning. Remaining in control doesn't require playing above your own head, but being realistic about your own odds and abilities and choosing something within your power.
10. Don't succumb to the siren call of the combo.
Nothing will call attention to you as an easy mark faster than playing a lot of goofy, low-percentage combos on the 9-ball. As you become a more highly-skilled player, you'll realize that playing five easy to medium difficulty shots in a row has a higher chance of success.