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How to Kick in Pool

Updated: Feb 23, 2023

Introduction:

If you find yourself shooting a kick, it is usually the result of an opponent's safety or your own cue ball control. Kick shots have an inherent level of difficulty. By the end of this lesson, you will have all the tools and knowledge necessary to train yourself to be a threat from anywhere on the table.

If a ball is sitting in a pocket, you'll be a heavy favorite to pocket it. When a ball is in the middle of the table, you'll be able to make contact with it and control what side of the ball you hit. While there is an inherent amount of luck in any well-executed kick shot, the better you are, the luckier you get.

Good Technique

It is easy for a player to get frustrated when forced to shoot a kick shot. Unsure of ourselves, we lob the cue ball in the general direction we need to shoot. While these high-difficulty shots can be frustrating, this is a terrible habit to develop. Sound fundamentals are necessary on all shots and kick shots are no exception.

When shooting a kick, spin plays a major role in the rebound angle of the cue ball. Even slight mishits of a few millimeters can cause you to completely miss an object ball. Careless cueing not only causes you to miss kick shots, but it also slows down the learning process. These misses cause you to lose confidence in the skills and systems that you have learned. The next time you see the same shot, your first thought will be how you missed it last time and don't know why.

Practice precision cueing and put the same amount of effort into kicking as you do on every other shot. Give each kick shot the same care and precision that you would a long straight-in shot. The feedback you receive becomes much more valuable. Missing the ball to one side or the other provides actionable feedback that you can act on.

The Equal-Angles Rule

We can use the same equal-angles rule that we used in the banking lesson to judge our kick shots. The equal-angles rule will serve as the basis of all our 1-rail kicking systems, but it has limits. Understanding those limits is the first step in learning how to kick. The primary difference between kicking and banking is that we have a lot more control over the spin on a cue ball. This gives us a lot more control over kick shots, but with great power comes great responsibility.

Speed Effects on Rebound Angle

The same principle of speed applies to kick shots as it does to bank shots. A medium-speed kick shot with a rolling spin will follow the equal-angles rule. In general, a medium-speed hit is roughly the same speed as a lag shot—two full table lengths. A faster speed will shorten the rebound angle, and a slower speed will widen the rebound angle.

When practicing kick shots, shoot the same kick at varying speeds. You won't be able to make accurate adjustments when the table layout calls for a softer or faster hit if you only practice medium-speed kicks. You need to practice kicking the way you play, which includes many different speeds.

Side Spin Effects on Rebound Angle

In this section, I will provide a more measurable approach to the use of sidespin, which will make it easier to decide how much side spin to use. This same knowledge can also be applied to position play.

The general rule is that half a tip of sidespin is equal to a 1-diamond change in the cue ball's final location over half a table's distance. The illustration above shows the rebound angle of a cue ball shot with varying amounts of side spin. Take note that this rule only applies when the approach angle is 45 degrees or steeper. Side spin becomes less effective as the approach angle grows shallower. It will still have some effect, but it won't be as pronounced.


This rule kind of works when using reverse side spin to try and kill the rebound angle of the cue ball. Reverse side spin is much harder to predict and control. I recommend avoiding reverse side spin on kick shots unless it is necessary.

For a lot of multi-rail kicks, the side spin used has little impact on the cue ball's path until it contacts the second rail. If you hear someone state that the side spin takes off the second cushion, this is what they are referring to. In the illustration above, the cue ball's path is close to identical until it strikes the second rail. The spin doesn't take off the first rail because the angle going into the rail is too shallow. The spin can't grab the rail and change the path of the cue ball with such a shallow angle.

Follow & Draw Effects on Rebound Angle

The use of follow and draw is another important tool we have when shooting kick shots. After a cue ball bounces off of a rail, the top and bottom spin are no longer parallel with the cue ball's path. The follow and draw can then begin pulling the cue ball off of the initial rebound angle. In the above illustration, the cue ball bounces off the rail and starts traveling down the rebound angle. The spin then starts to grip the felt and accelerate the cue ball away from the initial rebound angle. Once it runs out of top or bottom spin, the cue ball starts heading straight again.


These effects are most pronounced when the rebound angle is exactly 90 degrees to the approach angle. This happens when the approach angle is 45 degrees to the rail. Conversely, top and bottom spin have little to no effect if they are parallel to the rebound angle. This happens on both very shallow-angle kicks and kicks that go straight into the rail.


It is important to note that natural rolling spin corrects for a medium-speed bounce off of the rail. The natural tendency of any bank or kick where the ball has no top or bottom is to be tighter than the equal-angles rule. If you hit at a medium speed with no spin into the rail, your kick will come back tighter than the equal-angles rule predicts. The rolling spin corrects for this and widens it back out to the expected angle. If you want to widen out the angle more, you will need to strike softer or with over-spin near the miscue limit at the top of the cue ball.

Rail Proximity & The Big Ball Principle

Another factor that is worth considering is the location of the object ball. Object balls that are close to a rail can be much easier to hit. A ball that is one ball's diameter from the rail gives you a much bigger target, but only when coming from the right direction. This should be a consideration when deciding how you want to kick at the object ball. Using multiple rails can sometimes increase your chances of striking the object ball if the angle is better. In the above illustration, the object ball is much easier to hit when coming at it two rails.


Additionally, judging a kick shot becomes easier when the object ball is close to the rail you are kicking off. This allows for more precision making it easier to strike a specific part of the object ball.

Kicking by Feel

It is important to recognize that some professional players only kick by feel. They don't use any of the below systems. They can kick off the instinct that they have developed over thousands of hours of practice. If you can visualize and execute kick shots without these systems, then don't use them. If you are a player who needs more structure, I have compiled a list of all the most popular kicking systems below.


The below systems are great at getting you close, but a bit of guesswork is still needed. Every table plays a bit differently, and you'll have to learn how to adjust for that. The best way to deal with this is to determine if the table plays long, short, or "on system" before playing. From there, it'll be up to your instinct to correct for it.

1-Rail Kicking Systems

Mid Point Shift 1-Rail Kicking System:

This system uses the equal-angles rule. If you use this system you need to hit at a medium speed with a rolling top spin. If you want to hit faster or slower, you'll have to make slight adjustments. This system is a simple 3 step process that gets your cue lined up at the angle needed to execute the kick shot.

  • Step 1: From the object ball, imagine a line going straight to the rail that you plan to kick off of. Along that line, imagine a ghost ball that is frozen to the rail, and place the tip of your cue at the center of the ghost ball.

  • Step 2: Find the midpoint between the object ball and cue ball and shift the butt of your cue over until it is over the midpoint. The angle that your cue is at is the angle you need to strike the cue ball at to contact the object ball.

  • Step 3: While maintaining the same angle, shift the cue over until it is lined up with the cue ball. You are now lined up over the cue ball at the angle you need to strike it at to contact the object ball.

The biggest issue with this method is the guesswork involved. First, you are estimating the midpoint in step 2. This isn't difficult if the balls are close together, but becomes difficult if the balls are spread further apart. The longer distance also makes it more difficult to maintain the same angle as you shift your cue over to the cue ball. This system will take some practice, but once you get it down it can be very accurate. Even if the balls are far apart, the system can get you pretty close to where you need to be.

As a beginner, it is okay to aim directly for the object ball. Aiming at the center of the object ball increases your margin for error. Even if you are a bit off to the left or right, you can still make contact. As your kick shots become more accurate you should start aiming for a ghost ball. The ghost ball will be the exact point you want to contact the object ball. In the illustration above I am aiming to hit the center of the ghost ball that would pocket the 8-ball. I won't always make the ball, but I increase my chances. I will discuss the practice of kicking with purpose later on in this lesson.


Sid System:

The Sid System is useful for players who want to take a more mathematical and methodical approach to kicking. This system excels at kicking at balls that are either on or close to a rail. You will need to shoot at a medium speed with a rolling top spin.


In this system, there are three sets of numbers. The first set of numbers is the location of the object ball (o) you are kicking at. The second set of numbers is the location of the cue ball (c). The last set of numbers is your aiming point (A) on the rail. Assuming you remember your time's tables from the fourth grade, the calculation is quite easy.

A = co

In the above illustration, we are shooting at an object ball at position 4. The cue ball is coming from 3 diamonds away from the rail and is thus coming from 3. If we perform the calculation, our aiming point is equal to 3 times 4, or 12. An aiming point of 12 tells us that we need to aim slightly to the left of the first diamond. Notice that the cue ball numbers start at 0 and go up by 1 at each diamond. Similarly, the aiming point numbers start at 0 and go up by 10 every diamond. The object ball numbers start at 1 at the first diamond, 2 at the second diamond, increment by 0.5 at each diamond after that, and end at 5 in the corner pocket.

The difficult part of this system is determining where the cue ball is being shot from. This isn't difficult when the cue ball is close to the rail such as in the first example. When the cue ball is out in the middle of the table there is a bit of guesswork involved. One method to determine this is to first aim the shot by feel. Once you feel you have it pretty close, look at where along the rail your cue is. Use this as your cue ball location and then use the system to further dial in the exact kick point on the rail to aim at. Another difficulty with this system is that the numbers don't always work out perfectly. You might find yourself kicking at 3.6 from 2.8. This can muddy up the waters and make the calculation difficult to do in your head

This system also works for kicking at object balls on the short rail. The only difference is the numbers for the locations of the object ball. The corner pocket is still 5, but the decrements are at each half diamond on the short rail instead of at each diamond when kicking to the long rail. The above diagram shows the numbering systems used for short rail kicks. In the above example, we are kicking at 3 from 3 which gives us an aim point of 9.


Mirror System:

This system specializes in kicking balls to pocket them at a shallow angle when they are close to a rail. This system is highly accurate and with some practice, you will be a heavy favorite to pocket balls. You can break this system's aiming process down into 3 steps.

  • Step 1: Find the center of the ghost ball that pockets the object ball

  • Step 2: Using your hand or your cue, measure the distance from the rail to the center of the ghost ball

  • Step 3: Shift that same distance straight over and aim for that point with the cue ball.

There are two main points of failure with this system to look out for. The first is the shift when moving your hand to get the final aiming point. If your hand closes or opens during this shift you will be aiming at the wrong ghost ball. The second point of failure is the inability to stay focused on the aim point. As you walk around the table to get down on the cue ball it is easy to lose track of the exact aiming point.


You are not allowed to place anything down that would serve as a marker for you to aim at in a game. Sometimes you get lucky and you can aim straight at a marking on the table like one of the diamonds. When you have no strong visual reference point in the vicinity of your aiming point, you have two options. The first option is to stare at that point with 100% focus as you walk around the table and get the shot lined up. The second option is to find something that is part of the room that you can use to check your alignment. For example, you might look down from the aiming point to the cue ball and see that it aligns with the leg of a chair.


I like to try and use both methods. I look down the aim line and identify something to get lined up with. I will then use option one as I walk around to get down on the shot. After I get set up on the shot, I do one final check on my alignment with the object that I identified. This is a system that takes some practice but will pay dividends in the future


This same system can work on standard kick shots as well, but it won't be as accurate. It won't be as accurate because your aiming point will be floating out in the middle of the air.

2 Rail Kicking Systems

Mid Point Shift 2-Rail Kicking System:

This system is popular in 3-cushion. This system assumes that you will be using running english. The only exception is when the midpoint line gets close to parallel with one of the rails we are kicking off of. When you get close to parallel with the rail, you'll have to use little to no side spin based on how parallel the shot is. The aiming process for this system is simple and can be broken down into 2 steps.

  • Step 1: Align your cue so that the tip of your cue is at the center of the pocket between the two rails that you plan to kick off of and crosses the midpoint between the object ball and the cue ball.

  • Step 2: Maintaining the same angle, shift the cue over to the cue ball.

Once aligned, all you have to do is determine the amount of running english needed and strike at a medium pace. Striking at a harder pace the kick tends to come up short. Strike at a slower pace and the kick tends to go wide. Practice this system at varying speeds to get used to the adjustments needed.


This system works well for most two-rail shots, but you have to estimate the midpoint and adjust the amount of side spin you are using by feel. Getting a feel for this will require practice and experimentation.


+2 System:

This kicking system excels at measuring 2 rail kicks when the cue ball and object ball are on the same long rail. This system is known as the +2 system because of the numbering system. The corner pocket of the 2 rails you will be kicking off starts at 2. Every half diamond you go up the short rail increments this number by 1. Once you have this memorized, all you have to do is determine the distance between the cue ball and the object ball. Use the distance as the aiming point on the short rail.

In the above illustration, the cue ball and 8-ball are 5 diamonds apart. All we have to do is aim at 5 on the short rail and hit at a medium pace with running english. If shooting at the 5-ball, we just need to aim at 3. That is how simple this system is once you remember the numbering system.

One problem that comes up with this system is when the object ball and cue ball are not on the rail. One popular way of dealing with this is to add 1 for each diamond away the object ball is from the rail. If the cue ball is away from the rail, subtract by 1 for each diamond.


Shots where the object ball and cue ball are within 2 diamonds of each other are slightly outside of the bounds of this system. When the distance is 2 diamonds, play with a bit more inside spin and hit as close to the pocket as you can without catching the points on the corner pocket. If you play with a maximum inside spin, you can get the cue ball to come back within one diamond, but it isn't consistent.


One final note on this system is how it is taught in this lesson. Some tutorials teach this system with all of the numbers shifted down by one. 1 is in the corner pocket, 2 is at .5 diamonds, and the first diamond is 3. When shown this way, the tutorial has you aiming at the point on the rail that is parallel to the diamond. I prefer the method of aiming at the actual diamond as it gives you a stronger visual reference. It eliminates the guesswork of trying to aim at the point on the rail parallel to the diamond. Both ways work well, so if you prefer the other method, use that instead.

3 Rail Kicking Systems

Corner-5 System:

Most players are aware of the corner pocket to corner pocket 3 rail kick, but only a few know the system behind it. This system requires you to know 3 number systems and retain inherent knowledge of where the cue ball tends to head off of the third rail. The numbering systems and calculations get you to a certain point on the 3rd rail. From there, you have to remember which diamonds connect which points at the end of the table. This system is difficult when you first start using it, but with repetition and practice you can become proficient at it.

The first thing to remember is where the cue ball goes from each diamond off the 3rd rail. Above are the track lines associated with each diamond. While there are slight variations from table to table, the 3rd diamond will send the cue ball toward the corner pocket on most pool tables.

When using this system, remember that the calculation sends the cue ball at the diamond on the third rail. The cue ball hits the rail further up. When kicking 3 rails at a ball that is not near a rail, you will need to estimate where on the 3rd rail the cue ball will strike to get its actual line of travel. You will also need to keep this in mind when kicking at balls that are on the 3rd rail. If we need to hit a ball that is parallel to diamond 3, we need to aim at diamond 3.5.


The calculation involves 3 different sets of numbers. The first set describes the cue ball's location. The number system for the cue ball starts at 5 in the near corner pocket we will be shooting from. If we go up the long rail, each diamond decreases the number by 0.5. If we go down the short rail each diamond increases the number by 1.


The other two sets of numbers are associated with the impact locations on both long rails. They both start at 0 from the opposite corner pockets and increase by 1 at each diamond. The formula is:

C - R3 = R1

In this calculation, we already know where the cue ball (C) is. We also know where on the third rail (R3) we want the cue ball to impact. The thing that we are trying to calculate is where on the first rail (R1) we need to aim.

Above is an example of a 3-rail kick shot using this system. The cue ball is coming from 5 and we want to pocket a ball that is the corner pocket. We know that the 3rd diamond will lead us to the corner pocket. Using the calculation C - R3 = R1 (5 - 3 = 2), we need to aim at the 2nd diamond. This sends the cue ball toward the diamond which we know sends it to the corner pocket.


The biggest problem with this system is that it is hard to learn. Without practice, it can be difficult to perform quickly in a match setting. It is also easy to forget which diamonds connect to which points. The system looks like a standard calculation, but there is usually guesswork involved when finding the location of the cue ball.


3-Rail Spot on the Wall System

This system cuts out the guesswork of trying to figure out where the cue ball is being shot from. It simplifies the corner 5 system by establishing a single reference point on the table. From that single reference point, we can aim 3-rail kick shots from corner pocket to corner pocket. This eliminates the guesswork of trying to figure out where the cue ball is as well as all calculations we used in the corner-5 system.

The first step in this system is to establish the reference point. With running english, shoot the corner pocket to corner pocket shot aiming at the 2nd diamond. If the shot goes, then the 2nd diamond is now the reference point you will use on this table from now on. Some tables play a bit short and other plays a bit long. It may be that you need to aim a quarter of a diamond up or down the rail from the 2nd diamond. Once you have found the point on the rail that you need to aim for to get the cue ball to go in the corner pocket, never forget it.

This is where the magic of this system begins. We will start with getting the cue ball to head to the corner pocket from anywhere on the table. From the corner pocket, aim at your reference point and find something that is about 8ft to 10ft (2.5m to 3m) behind it. This is a practice referred to as finding a spot on the wall. Ensure that your spot on the wall is distinct and unlikely to move.


From anywhere on the table aim at that spot and shoot with a running spin to get the cue ball to the corner pocket. This system breaks down when aiming at the spot on the wall has you aiming at the short rail instead of the long rail. If aiming at the corner pocket, you can aim to barely miss the corner pocket with extra inside spin.


This system is easy to learn and execute, but it doesn't provide where on the 3rd rail the cue ball will be striking. Because of this, it is still useful to learn the corner-5 system and its track lines. It is also

Spot on the Wall Shifts

The calculations in kicking systems become complicated when the cue ball and object ball are not aligned on the system. A common practice is to use a spot on the wall from a nearby "on system" kick with easier numbers. If you remember back to the Sid System for 1-rail kicks, we had a shot where we were aiming at 3.6 from 2.8. If we want to simplify this kick shot, we can instead aim at 3.5 from 3. We can then look down the aiming line through 10.5 (3.5*3) for a spot on the wall. From the cue ball, aim for that spot on the wall. The above illustration is to scale. 3.6 x 2.8 is 10.08, so we should end up aiming at 10. Take note of how aiming at the spot on the wall from the cue ball takes us almost straight at 10.

Kicking With Purpose

Efren "Bata" Reyes revolutionized kick shots in the 1980s when he arrived in the United States. The big game in the United States at the time was straight pool, where kick shots were few and far between. In the Philippines, rotation was the game. In rotation, all 15 balls are in play and you have to make contact with the lowest-numbered object ball on the table. The game demanded a player be adept at kicking, and Efren didn't earn the nickname "The Magician" for no reason.


After Efren's arrival, it was no longer good enough to only make contact with the object ball. When Efren shot a kick, he kicked with purpose. While he didn't always pocket the ball, he did always have a plan. With his precision, he could aim to hit a specific side of a ball. This increased his chances of getting safe or even pocketing the ball.


When you are first learning how to kick, your primary goal will be to make contact with the object ball. As you develop as a player, your kicking will improve. With more accuracy, you will need to start kicking with purpose. This means identifying which general area of the object ball you want to strike and the right speed to hit it.


On the majority of kick shots, your chances of pocketing the object ball will be low. It is usually better to kick to play safe. My method of finding kick safes is to imagine shooting the cue ball like normal from the point on the rail I will be kicking off of. This simplifies the shot, making it easier to identify high-probability kick safes.

Conclusion

Kicking is one of the more difficult skills to master in pool. Every table plays a little bit differently. Even with multiple kicking systems in your arsenal, you still have to do a bit of the work by feel. Whether you are adjusting for speed, spin, or table conditions, you need the experience to adjust accurately. That experience comes from time at the table.

Dedicate time to learning these systems and their limitations. Get a feel for how to make adjustments. Becoming a great kick shot player is difficult, but once you get there, you'll be a threat to win any rack from anywhere on the table. Even in a deadlock safe, you are only 1 good kick shot away from regaining control of the table.

Completion Requirements

  • Read and comprehend this entire lesson

  • Give each of the systems above a try to get a feel for them and pick which ones you want to add to your arsenal

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