Spin It to Win It (Part 1 of 2)

Posted by : Liz Ford

Spin It to Win It – Using English in Pool, Part 1

They say English, or side-spin, is a lot like salt – some people use a little, others a lot but we all agree that without it things would be very, very bland. It’s true that the majority of shots and position plays can be made without straying from the vertical axis of the cue ball, but it’s impossible to ignore the very important ones that can’t! Like it or not, using English is a huge part of what it means to be a pool-player and can’t be avoided forever. In this first part of a two-part series, I’ll be explaining five terms that apply to using English and are often confusing, even for advanced players.

Inside, Outside – What’s the Diff?

Let’s imagine a cut shot, one where you’re aiming at the right side of the object ball to cut it to the left. Using outside English means hitting the cue ball to the right of center or on the same side as your aiming point. Inside English is left of center or the side opposite your aiming point.

Running Versus Reverse

Running English and reverse English are terms used when the spinning cue ball contacts a rail – regardless of whether the shot started out classified as “inside” or “outside.” Let’s imagine that the cue ball is bouncing off rails going clockwise around the table – if it has right-hand spin, or running English, it will be rotating in a complementary way, turning and gliding off the rail as it hits it. If the cue ball has left-hand spin, or reverse English, it will be rotating against the grain, fighting with or trying to “reverse” off each rail.


A number of factors can gang up on you when you’re trying to use English, affecting your aim and causing you to miss your shot. Deflection is something that happens when you strike an object, such as a cue ball, off-center with a forward-moving force, such as a cue stick. Most of that force goes into propelling the cue ball forward but a portion of it will push the cue ball to the side opposite where it was hit. Just imagine that you were pushed by someone in the middle of your back – you’d fall straight forward. If you were struck with a glancing blow on your right shoulder, you’d spin around and careen off to the left.


One of the most spectacular shots in pool is the masse which uses spin and a downward stroke to cause the cue ball to curve dramatically. Unfortunately, when you use English you might be learning to do this without meaning to. If your cue stick is elevated even slightly when you’re applying English, your cue ball will curve before it reaches its target. It might not be enough to see, but it will be enough to make you miss your shot. Keep it level!


You might not have realized it, but putting spin on the cue ball affects the path of the object ball, especially if the equipment hasn’t been cleaned in a while. Our old pal friction is at work again! Let’s take the cut shot from our first example and hit it with outside spin. When the cue ball hits the object ball, friction will cause the two objects to stick together momentarily. The right hand spin that was only affecting the cue ball will now cause the joined pair to rotate counter-clockwise, altering the direction from which the object ball will depart.

Whew! It’s a lot to think about, I know. Luckily, you’ll have a month to process it before I show you how to apply English to your game. Have no fear, spinning the ball may be one of the most difficult elements of the game to master but luckily, just like salt, a little goes a long way.