Great cue ball control is derived from your knowledge and experience on how to send the cue ball on a specific path by choosing the right spin, speed, and angle, and then executing that shot with precise cuing. This section will focus on giving you the knowledge you need to control the cue ball's path. This includes the three factors that determine the path of the cue ball after striking the object ball; tangent line, spin, and speed.
Note: This section is an introduction to how to control the path of the cue ball after impact with the object ball. Later sections will discuss the more advanced concepts of position and pattern play. While the terms are often used interchangeably, I will be using cue ball control to describe a players ability to send the cue ball on a specific path while position/pattern play will be used to describe a players ability to choose the right path to send it on.
The tangent line is is the natural line that the cue ball will travel down after impact with the object ball when hit with stun (no top or bottom spin). This is the natural line that the cue ball wants to travel down and spin is the only thing that will take it off of that line. The tangent line is drawn at 90 degrees to the line that the object ball will travel, but starts from the center of the cue ball at impact with the object ball. This is the single most important concept of cue ball control as it is the basis upon which we will build the rest of this lesson.
Hitting a stun shot is simple when the cue ball is close to the object ball as there isn't enough time for the felt to grab the cue ball and put a rolling spin on it. This means all you have to do is hit a dead center ball. As you get farther away from the object ball, you need to begin accounting for that distance. This is done through a combination of how low and hard you strike the cue ball. The further away the object ball is, the lower and harder you will need to hit for the cue ball to have no spin at contact with the object ball.
In the above example, the cue ball is about 2 diamonds away from the object ball. This gives the felt time to grab the cue ball, so you will need to strike the object ball below center for it to have no forward spin by the time it contacts the object ball. You have a number of choices of how low and hard to strike the cue ball. The softer you hit, the lower you need to strike the cue ball. Note that if you hit too low or hard you will end up drawing the cue ball. Hit too slow or high, and the cue ball will end up with a bit of forward spin.
Since the tangent line is such a predictable path, it is worth dedicating a significant amount of time to mastering the stop shot at a variety of different speeds and distances. Even if the shot is angled, knowing how to shoot a stop shot at any particular distance means that the cue ball will have no top or bottom spin at impact with the object ball. This of course will send the cue ball down the tangent line. The Stop Shot Practice Drill is dedicated to mastering the stop shot at a variety of distances on the table giving you the ability to predict the cue balls path with great accuracy by giving you the ability to consistently send the cue ball down the tangent line. Mastering the stop shot is the first step in achieving great cue ball control.
It is important to note that being inaccurate in your aim will adversely affect your position play. I see many players shoot "easy" shots with little care for which side of the pocket they plan to shoot into. This can significantly change the tangent line as well as the amount of energy left in the cue ball. Not only is the cue ball likely to go off at a different angle than you anticipated, but if you hit too thin, the cue ball will travel much farther causing you to overrun your position. On the other side of the coin, if you hit it too thick, the cue ball will die out on you causing you to come up short. Take care with your aim on all shots and choose a specific portion of the pocket to shoot at when possible. This will help you better control the tangent line and the speed of the cue ball. An easy shot should be viewed as an opportunity to play more precise position.
Now that we have identified the natural path that the cue ball will take after it impacts the object ball with stun and we have the ability to reliably send it down that path, we can start looking at the effects that top (follow) and bottom(draw) spin will have on the cue ball's path and begin to manipulate it into something more desirable.
Both top and bottom spin cause the cue ball to deviate away from the tangent line. After contacting the object ball, the cue ball begins traveling down the tangent line, but the spin will then begin to pull or push the cue ball away from the tangent line until the cue ball reaches a natural rolling state at which point it travels in a straight line. Top spin will push the cue ball in front of the tangent line while bottom spin will pull it behind the tangent line. Both top and bottom spin have a more dramatic effect the thicker the hit is on the object ball. The thicker hit leaves the cue ball with less momentum in the direction of the tangent line, which means that top and bottom spin will have a more dramatic effect on the cue balls path. Additionally, the spin the cue ball will have is more perpendicular to the tangent line increasing its effectiveness at changing the cue balls direction.
When performing sharp cuts, top spin and bottom spin have little to no impact on the cue balls path directly after contact with the object ball. On these shots the cue ball's spin is nearly parallel with the tangent line, leaving it little ability to move the cue ball away from the tangent line.
The draw shot pulls the cue ball back away from the tangent line. Draw is caused by the cue ball having a backwards spin on it when it strikes the object ball. You can achieve this backwards spin by striking the cue ball below center. The below center hit causes the bottom of the cue ball to accelerate faster than the top of the cue ball giving it a backwards rotation. The lower you strike the cue ball, the greater the acceleration difference which causes more spin.
The biggest challenge with draw shots is trying to determine how low and how hard to strike the cue ball to get the desired amount of draw at impact with the object ball. As the cue ball travels towards the object ball, friction with the cloth on the bed of the table is constantly working to stop the cue ball from spinning backwards. This makes getting a high action draw shot much easier at shorter distances.
Good Action Draw
Developing a high action draw shot is all about becoming proficient at striking the cue ball as low as possible without miscuing. While the initial speed that you strike the cue ball at does play a significant role in the amount of bottom spin the cue ball will have when it contacts the object ball, the location that you strike the cue ball has a much more profound impact.
If a player fails to draw the cue ball well, it is usually because they aren't striking the cue ball low enough. This can typically be attributed to them simply not aiming low enough on the cue ball. When aiming at the bottom of the cue ball it is actually the top of your tip that strikes the cue ball and not the center. Likewise, another common issue is that players will drop their elbow prior to impact with the cue ball which causes the cue's tip to strike higher than where they originally intended.
How to Unlock a Powerful and Controlled Draw Shot
The best way to control your draw stroke is to practice it, and that is exactly what this drill is designed to help you do. The Draw Shot Control Drill is designed to help you develop a consistent, controlled, and reliable draw shot you can count on. You will practice drawing the cue ball back to each diamond starting with the closest diamonds and working your way back to the opposite side of the table. I recommend occasionally working on this drill until you can consistently score above at least 5 points. I personally average a score of about 14 on this drill.
When shooting angled draw shots, a great system for calculating the the cue ball's final path when using good action draw, is Dr. Dave's double the angle system. Essentially, the system states that when struck with good action draw, "the angle between the final and initial cue ball's direction is three times the cut angle", or two times the cut angle from the object ball's travel line (visual in the works and coming soon). For more on this system, you can read the entire write up on Dr. Dave's website. - Dr. Dave Alciatore, billiards.colostate.edu (Follow Dr. Dave on YouTube)
The follow shot pushes the cue ball in front of the tangent line. This is caused by a forward spin on the cue ball at contact with the object ball. The primary difference between top and bottom is that the the cue ball has a natural tendency to end up with a rolling forward spin. This makes it much easier to predict how much spin the cue ball will have based on how hard you hit it; how fast it is traveling. It can get tricky however if you need to use anything less than natural rolling spin as it will require the same type of feel and timing for the shot that you need when shooting with draw.
For the majority of your follow shots, you will want to hit about a tip above center and adjust your speed for how much follow you need for that particular shot. It will start off spinning slightly slower than the natural roll, but will quickly pick up that natural roll. It is important to remember however that natural roll isn't instantaneous with just 1 tip of top. If you are shooting a shot where you need a natural rolling cue ball, but the object ball is quite close to the cue ball, you will need to aim about a tip and half above center. This will give you an instantaneous natural roll.
One final thing to note is that when you strike near the miscue limit at the top of the cue ball, the cue ball will actually be spinning faster than it is rolling for a brief period of time, this is called over spin. If you ever need to come up with a big stroke on a follow shot, it'll probably be necessary to hit the cue ball hard and near the miscue limit at the top of the cue ball.
Controlling Your Follow Shots
The Follow Speed Control Drill is designed to help you develop a consistent and controlled follow shot that you can rely on. Similar to the draw shot control drill, you will progress from the nearest diamonds and work your way up to the diamonds that are farther and farther away. I recommend working on this drill until you can at least consistently score above a 5.
Another great system for natural roll follow shots is the 30° rule developed by Dr. Dave Alciatore. This rule states that a cue ball with a natural roll, "over a wide range of cut angles, between a 1/4-ball hit (49 degree cut) and 3/4-ball hit (14 degree cut)" will deflect by about 30° from its original direction after hitting the object ball - Dr. Dave Alciatore, billiards.colostate.edu (Follow Dr. Dave on YouTube)
Speed plays a number of factors in controlling the cue ball. The first and most obvious is the distance that the cue ball will travel. A higher speed shot means the cue ball will travel farther. This is a pretty simple concept and requires no further explanation.
The second and less obvious effect that speed has on the cue ball's path is how quickly top or bottom spin will take after striking the object ball. As seen in the above graphic, a slower speed results in the spin taking the cue ball off of the tangent line in a much shorter distance. A faster shot delays the spin from taking the cue ball off of the tangent line. If you need spin to take quickly, it is better to use a slower stroke and to strike lower or higher on the cue ball. If you want to delay the effect of the spin, a faster speed is more appropriate.
Another way that speed can impact the path of the cue ball is how it recoils off the rails at higher vs lower speeds. Left and right spin are more effective the slower the ball is traveling. This means that even when striking with the cue ball with the same amount of left or right spin, but at different speeds, the paths will be different.
Lastly, even when no spin is involved a ball will rebound off of a rail at a shorter angle when traveling fast and a longer angle when traveling slower. While this effect plays a minor role in the cue balls overall path, it is mostly negligible when it comes to cue ball control and position play. This plays a much larger role in banking and kicking which will have their own sections later in this course.
The Wagon Wheel Drill
One of the most useful drills out there when it comes to mastering the vertical axis is The Wagon Wheel Drill. This drill utilizes the vertical axis to its full capacity, challenging a player to move the cue ball along a wide variety of different of paths utilizing only the vertical axis of the cue ball. For players of any level, it can be quite amazing to see how many diverse paths the cue ball will take by simply adjusting how high or low you strike the cue ball. It is easy to forget just how powerful the vertical axis is once you start utilizing the horizontal axis. While the horizontal axis can be just as powerful as the vertical axis in controlling the cue ball, the vertical axis is a much more reliable way to move the cue ball without invoking all of the additional variables that come with using the horizontal axis. I recommend practicing this drill until you can score at least a 15/33 points on this drill.
The horizontal axis refers to striking the cue ball to the left or right of the vertical axis, or more simply put, using left and right spin. Using left and right spin has some, but very little ability to deviate the cue ball from the tangent line and is mostly negligible until the cue ball strikes a rail. In the graphic above, you can see that greater amounts of spin result in a greater change in the rebound angle of the cue ball off the rail. Left side spin will cause the cue ball to bounce off the rail further to the left than it would naturally with no spin and vice versa. The Horizontal Axis will have its own section later on in the course where I will also discuss all of the variables that it brings to the table with it, including deflection, swerve, and spin-induced throw.
Controlling the path of cue ball is understanding where it naturally wants to go, knowing the limitations of how much you can deviate it from that path, and finally being able to successfully perform the shot you have visualized. Failure to deliver the tip of your cue to the intended location on the cue ball will undoubtedly result in position that is different from what you have visualized in your head. In the same way that putting the wrong spin on the ball will change your position, so will inaccurately cutting the object ball, which changes the tangent line and the speed left on the cue ball.
Read and comprehend this entire lesson
Ability to consistently score a 9 out of 10 on the Stop Shot Practice Drill
Ability to consistently score at least 5 on the Draw Shot Control Drill
Ability to consistently score at least 5 on the Follow Speed Control Drill
Ability to consistently score a 15 out of 33 on the Wagon Wheel Drill