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Shooting with Side Spin

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

Side spin or “english” is caused by striking the cue ball left or right of the vertical axis. This puts a left or right hand spin that changes how the cue ball bounces off of rails. This in turn opens up a number of new positional options that you wouldn’t have if you stuck strictly to top and bottom spin. This makes maneuvering the cue ball around the table to a desired position much easier.

While side spin can make moving the cue ball around the table a lot easier, it comes at the cost of accuracy and consistency in your pocketing of the object ball. Because of this loss of consistency, there are a lot of instructors who recommend using only the vertical axis for the majority of shots, but to reach a high level of play, side spin is an integral part of mastering the game. From my observations of professional players, around 60% of their shots had a noticeable amount of side spin on the cue ball.


This lesson will explain why adding side spin makes shooting accurately much more difficult, how to begin correcting your aim for side spin, and how to eventually start making these corrections automatically.

Inside and Outside Spin

Referring to the spin used as inside or outside spin is a common practice. Inside spin is when the spin used is the same direction that the object ball is being cut. Outside spin is when the spin used is the opposite direction that the object ball is being cut. For example, if a ball is being cut to the left, inside spin would be the use of left spin and outside spin would be right. These terms make it a bit easier to explain the spin and cut of a shot without a full description of the table layout.

The Perils of Using Side Spin (Squirt, Swerve, & Throw)


When performing a shot with side spin, players must account for three variables when aiming. Accounting for all three is quite difficult as the amount that a player must adjust their aim by will change based on the speed, distance, and spin of the shot at hand. Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all aiming system for side spin.


The next sections will discuss each of these three variables describing what they are and how to adjust for them independently. Having an understanding of each of these effects individually should speed up the learning process for the following section, which addresses how to train yourself to start adjusting for all three of them automatically.

Squirt / Deflection


When striking the cue ball along the vertical axis (with no left or right spin), it will travel in the same direction that the cue is pointed. This changes however when using left or right spin. Hitting the cue ball off center pushes the cue ball to the opposite side of where the cue strikes the cue ball. Hitting with left spin pushes the cue ball slightly off to the right and right spin pushes the cue ball off slightly to the left.


The effect is more pronounced the harder the cue ball is struck, and the further away from center the shot is. This effect varies greatly based on the type of cue that you play with. A low deflection cue has less weight towards the front of the shaft which results in the cue ball traveling closer to the line of aim.


If squirt was the only variable to account for, the cue would need to point slightly in the direction of the spin that you were putting on the cue ball. For example, when striking with left spin, the line of aim of the cue should be pointed to the left of the desired path of the cue ball.

Swerve


Striking the cue ball with spin also influences the cue ball’s path to the object ball. You can think of this effect as something similar to a masse. The cue ball starts off on its initial path which is slightly off of the line of aim of the cue due to squirt, but as the cue ball travels across the felt of the table, the spin begins to grip the felt and change the direction of the cue ball back towards the original aim line of the cue. Eventually this spin reaches an equilibrium point and the cue ball will start traveling in a straight line again.


Swerve is greater the more spin you use, the lower you strike the cue ball, and the more elevation a shot has. Speed and distance also play pivotal roles as they will determine how much swerve is allowed to occur prior to impact with the object ball. When hitting at a slower speed on a long distance shot and with a slightly elevated cue, the cue ball can actually cross back over the line of aim of the cue. On a shorter distance shot when struck hard, the cue ball’s spin never has the chance to grip the felt of the table and swerve has nearly no impact on the shot.

Spin Induced Throw


Spin Induced Throw (SIT) occurs when some of the angular momentum of the cue ball is imparted onto the object ball. Rather than traveling in a straight line from where the cue ball struck the object ball, it will be “thrown” a bit to the left or right of that line. When the cue ball has left on it, the object ball is thrown to the right. When the cue ball has right on it, the object ball is thrown to the left.


SIT is most pronounced at slower speeds when striking the object ball with a stun shot (no top or bottom spin). In addition to the slight throw that occurs, the cue ball will also impart a bit of its spin onto the object ball. You can think of the 2 balls as gears where the spin of the cue ball imparts the opposite spin onto the object ball. While this spin won’t have much of an effect on cut shots, it plays a significant role in bank shots where the spin will impact the rebound angle of the object ball when it bounces off of a rail.

Three Steps to Learning How to Shoot with Side Spin

As you can see, there are a large number of variables that are introduced when you begin using side spin and this is why a lot of players struggle with it. When you first start using side spin, you can expect to miss nearly every shot. Any aiming system you previously learned goes straight out the window and it feels like you have to learn everything all over again. This section is focused on helping train your feel for these shots as quickly as possible.


As a player, it really isn’t beneficial to try to think about all of these effects separately while shooting. Rather, you need to develop your feel for shooting with varying amounts of side spin at varying speeds and distances. This is done through practice and training your ability to visualize these shots before you shoot them. While there is no shortcut, you can take a more systematic approach to your training which can help speed up the process.


Step 1: Learning How to Adjust for Squirt and Swerve

The first thing that I recommend to players who are brand new to side spin is to start learning how to adjust their aim for squirt and swerve. There is a very useful drill for this that was creatively named the “Squirt and Swerve” drill. To perform this drill, set up two balls centered on the short rail and two balls apart. Then at varying amounts of speed and spin practice shooting the cue ball directly between the two balls. Your goal is to have the cue ball hit the rail right between the two balls and bounce off the rail without striking either of the object balls.


Once you become proficient at this, slowly move the balls closer together until they are a little under a ball and a half apart. Once you can consistently get the cue ball between both balls when they are less than a ball and a half apart, you are ready to move on to step 2.


Step 2: Go All In

Now that you have a good feel for adjusting for squirt and swerve, it's time to dive head first into using side spin. Take a month or so and dedicate it to shooting every shot with varying amounts of side spin, even if it isn’t necessary. This initial step is kind of the opposite of a systematic approach, but it is a temporary necessity to start getting used to shooting with side spin. The trick here is to take mental notes of every shot. Compare and contrast where you expected the cue ball and object ball to go with what actually happened. Visualization is an extremely important step in this process and should already be part of your shot routine, but if it isn’t, then now is the time to start. Visualize the entire shot before you shoot it and the feedback you get will be much more useful as you will be able to see where your visualization was inaccurate.


Assuming you practice a reasonable amount over that month, you should start to get reasonably accurate with your side spin shots. As you start to get a feel for the side spin and are pocketing the majority of the easy to medium difficulty shots you take, you can begin scaling back your use of side spin to only when it is necessary for position. You’ll be looking at using side spin about 40 to 60% of the time.


Step 3: Scale Back and Train Your Weak Shots

From here you need to begin tracking and training the shots that you are missing. Take notes on every shot that you miss and revisit them in your practice time. I personally use the Table Maker under Tools in the World of Pool and Billiards App to document all of my misses.


The majority of the time when you revisit one of your misses, you will make the shot multiple times with ease. This indicates that bad fundamentals were at fault for the miss and not your aim or feel for the shot. You will also come across shots that you should be making, but keep missing. This likely indicates an error in your aiming and visualization of the shot rather than your fundamentals. Upon finding such a shot, you need to dedicate some amount of time to working on this specific shot during every practice session until you can make it consistently. Make it part of your practice routine and shoot it for five or so minutes every session until you can consistently make it. Whatever you do, don't fall into the trap of shooting a shot like this until you make it once and then never revisiting it. You want to get to a point where you are pocketing the shot 90% to 95% of the time depending on the difficulty.


One disclaimer here is that you shouldn’t be working on extremely difficult low percentage shots. They are low percentage for a reason, so don’t try to get really good at a shot that you aren’t supposed to be a favorite to make in the first place as it will likely be a waste of your time.


By repeating this process over and over, you will eventually start to run out of shots that you don’t know how to aim. Almost every miss will be attributable to poor fundamentals and it is at that point in time that you will have truly learned how to aim with side spin automatically. From here your best bet for improvement will be revisiting your fundamentals and studying more closely good position play, which just so happens to be the next module in this course.

When to Use and Avoid Side Spin

While I stated that side spin is an essential part of becoming a well rounded player, remember that even professional players only use it on about 50% to 70% of shots. That means that they are not using side spin 50% to 30% of the time. It is important to avoid side spin when it serves no purpose or decreases your odds of making the shot so significantly that any positional benefits would be outweighed by your decreased odds of making the shot.


If you aren’t going to be hitting any rail after striking the object ball, then there is basically no positional benefit to be derived from the use of side spin. The only time that you would do this is if you are hitting a shot in a way that there would be a large amount of CIT, such as on a soft stun 30 degree cut shot. On shots like this, it is common to put a bit of outside spin to counteract the CIT with SIT.


If there is no benefit to be derived from using side spin on a shot, then it is best to not use side spin. There is no sense in decreasing your odds of pocketing a ball when there is little to no benefit in doing so. High level pool is all about consistency, so these slight percentage decreases will play a large role over the course of a game, a match, and certainly your career in the game.


The same can also be said of sacrificing too much accuracy for the sake of positional. Decreasing your odds of making the current shot by 30% by adding side spin to get only nominally better position that might increase your odds of making the following shot by 10% or so certainly wouldn’t be worth it. This isn’t to say that you need to be making these calculations in your head, but rather just to ask yourself if the increased shot difficulty is worth it. Play the percentages and accept what the table gives you when necessary.

Conclusion

Side spin is an integral part of pool if you wish to play at a high level. It opens up a number of positional options that the average player doesn’t have access to. These positional benefits come at the cost of accuracy and consistency to your pocketing, but with dedicated training, you can learn how to “feel” these shots and aim them automatically. Once you have trained this “feel” it is important that you revisit shots that you find you are weaker at to continue growing as a player. Finally, be sure that when you use side spin that it is for a purpose and the benefits outweigh the risks.

Completion Requirements

  • Practice the Squirt and Swerve Drill until able to successfully complete the drill with the balls being placed 1.5 balls apart

  • Shoot nothing but side spin shots for a month or so until able to pocket a majority of easy shots

  • Begin the practice of documenting and training your weaknesses




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