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The Break

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

Coming Soon

This lesson is incomplete, but feel free to read through what we have so far.


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Planned Topics

  • Analyzing the Rack

  • Common Breaks Triangle / Diamond (8/9/10 Ball)

Introduction

At the higher levels of pool, matches can solely be decided by who is breaking better. You'll struggle to succeed at the highest levels if you cannot make balls on the break and maintain control of the table. For lower-level amateurs, the break has little to no role in the outcome of the game other than determining which set of balls you might choose in a game like 8-ball.


Eventually, you will reach the point where you can run out most open tables. To continue your progression as a player, you will want to dedicate more time to your break. A game changer is the ability to consistently open up the table, make a ball, and leave yourself a shot. This makes you a threat to punish your opponent with multiple racks any time they make a mistake.

Control vs. Power

A common mistake that many players make on the break is prioritizing power over control while breaking. Any inaccuracy with your break will be punished with an out-of-control cue ball, a bad spread, or a dry break. Even if only one of these things happens, you will likely be unable to maintain control of the table.


Most breaks require a full hit on the head ball of the rack. This transfers the full energy of the cue ball into the rack, giving you a better spread to work with. This full transfer of energy also makes the cue ball easier to control. Power is valuable and shouldn't be overlooked, but don't commit more power to a break than you can control. If you want to increase the power of your break, you will need to build up to it through practice.

Making A Ball

Pocketing a ball is the number one priority in your break (8-Ball, 9-Ball, & 10-Ball). In addition to accuracy, you need to know which balls you should be trying to pocket and the adjustments you need to make if they are not going. Different tables break differently. A break on one table might not work on another table. Even the same table may change how it breaks based on the cloth condition, the temperature of the table, and even humidity.


If you are not pocketing balls, you can typically make three adjustments until you find a break that works for the specific table you are playing on. The first adjustment you can make is to change where you are breaking from. If you are playing 9-ball and breaking from the left side of the table with no luck, try switching to the right side of the table. If you are playing 10-ball and breaking from the center, adjust your slight offset or try changing to the side break to see if you can make the 1-ball instead.


The second adjustment you can make is speed. A slight increase or decrease in power can make a significant difference in your break. The third adjustment is the amount of top/bottom spin you use. Specifically, in 8-ball and 10-ball, this significantly impacts where the two balls behind the head ball strike on the long rail. For cut breaks, you can also adjust the cut angle.

Controlling the Cue Ball

The second objective of your break is to control the cue ball. This will allow you to leave yourself a shot and avoid scratching. The ideal place you want the cue ball to end up on the majority of your breaks is the center of the table. This will give you the greatest probability of having shape on any object ball that you need to shoot.


The standard way of doing this is to hit the rack full with a half tip of top spin. All of the forward momentum is removed from the cue ball and the rack pushes back against the cue ball, causing it to go backward. After the cue ball bounces backward off the rack, the top takes and brings the cue ball to a stop near the center of the table.


A second way of doing this is to embrace the backward momentum of the cue ball and use a little bit of bottom. This brings the cue ball back down to the short rail you broke from, where it bounces off and heads back up toward the center of the table. This is a less popular method. Even with a slight off center hit, you are likely to scratch in the corner pockets where you are breaking from.


In addition to full hit breaks, there are also cut breaks. The two most common are the 9-ball cut break and the 8-ball 2nd ball break. On these breaks, the cue ball goes toward the side rail. Control is critical on these breaks as inaccuracy tends to result in a lost cue ball which will often scratch. Most of the time, players use a hair of outside to bring the cue ball back out to the center of the table. Other times, players use no spin and try to run the cue ball back into the middle of the rack. This is a popular strategy for trying to pocket the game winning ball, or to further break up the balls when a table isn't breaking well off the first hit on the rack.

Controlling the Key Ball

In rotation games like 9-ball and 10-ball, you also want to control the 1-ball. There are different ways of doing this: changing the amount of side spin you use, how hard you hit the rack, and where you break from. One infamous break developed by Corey Deuel forced tournaments to literally change the rules of 9-ball. In combination with a bit of pattern racking, Corey would strike the rack with a soft break leaving the 1-ball in front of the side pocket, position for the 2-ball was a stop shot on the 1-ball, and the 3 - 9 combo would be lined up into the corner pocket for an easy early win. Corey would dominate tournaments with this break, but many players felt that the break was against the spirit of the game.


While this break isn't legal in most tournaments now, it serves as a reminder of how powerful a perfectly controlled break can be. While pattern racking is illegal and unsportsmanlike conduct in most leagues and tournaments, the 1-ball will always be racked at the front of the rack. If you control the 1-ball, you can leave yourself a shot on the 1-ball every break, giving you a chance to run out or at least maintain control of the table. The ideal break will pocket a ball, open up the rack, and place the key ball and cue ball somewhere, giving you an opening shot with a chance to run out.

Practicing Square Hits

The number one skill you need to develop for a great break is hitting a ball perfectly square at high speed. I did some coaching with a professional player who gave me two drills to practice that were very helpful. If square hits are something that you struggle with, I recommend that you try them out.


For the first drill, set up an object ball frozen to one of the long rails at the 2nd diamond. Place the cue ball 1 diamond from the opposite long rail parallel to the object ball. Shoot the cue ball straight into the object ball with a perfectly square hit. If the hit is perfectly square, the cue ball will come straight back to the same diamond on the opposite long rail. Get a small piece of paper about the size of a ball and see if the cue ball rolls over that piece of paper to grade your attempt. Once you get to where you are at about 90% on this drill, you can graduate yourself to the more difficult version.


For the higher difficulty version of this drill, place the object ball in the middle of the bottom rail. With the cue ball parallel to the object ball 2 diamonds from the top rail shoot straight at the frozen object ball. Your goal is to bring the cue ball back in between the 1st and 3rd diamonds on the top short rail. Practice this drill until you are consistent with it.

Standard Fundamentals Break

The break requires as much accuracy as any other shot in pool. This accuracy is difficult to maintain because of the extra power in your stroke. Solid fundamentals are necessary if you want to keep such a powerful stroke controlled and accurate.


Grip: With so much power being used, you may be tempted to use a firmer grip. This will not add power to your break. Use the same light grip that you would on any other shot.


Bridge: When breaking you'll want to a use longer bridge. This gives you more room to smoothly accelerate your cue up to speed. Using a bridge length that is too short will require a jerky stroke to get the cue up to speed which reduces accuracy. It is also imperative that the bridge is stable. Any slight movement or instability in the bridge hand will cause you to hit the cue ball slightly off target. At this speed, even slight mishits result in uncontrollable amounts of spin on the cue ball. Be sure that if you are bridging off the rail to use a proper rail bridge where the cue is resting on top of the rail. Using a standard bridge off the rail will result in additional elevation which reduces accuracy and jumps the cue ball into the air.


Level Cue: When breaking, most players will use what is known as a break cue. These cues have stiffer shafts and harder tips to transfer as much energy from a players stroke into the cue ball as possible. Other than length, these are the same properties of a jump cue. Additionally since the rails are slightly higher than the center of the cue ball, the cue will need to be slightly elevated to hit center cue ball no matter what. The cue ball will jump some amount on every break due to these factors. Players must be careful to keep their stroke as level as possible. Failure to do so when combined with a high power stroke and a break cue results in the cue ball flying up in the air. If the cue ball is too high in the air, it will be difficult to control and is likely to fly off the table which gives your opponent ball in hand. A slight pop up into the air is common and the norm at the professional level for power breaks. Even with the cue as level as possible, the cue ball will still hit the rack on a slight bounce.


Stroke: Same as on any other shot, use a slow backstroke with a smooth transition into your forward swing. A quick backswing will require additional muscle engagement to slow down the cue and transition to forward swing which decreases accuracy. A slow controlled backswing with a controlled and constant force to accelerate your cue in the forward swing is ideal to maintain accuracy. Utilize the extra room you have from the longer bridge to accelerate your cue with precision as opposed to using an uncontrollable amount of force.


Follow Through: The majority of breaks are aimed center cue ball with no left or right spin. One of the practices that I found was helpful for my accuracy was to follow through straight towards the center of the head ball of the rack and ignore the location of the cue ball. If my alignment is right, this will result in a perfectly square hit and ensure that I accelerate all the way through the cue ball. This also stops my body from making any unconscious preparations for impact with the cue ball which could decrease my accuracy.

Modified Fundamentals Break

Breaking with standard fundamentals is fine for most amateurs, but if you want a more powerful break, you will need to make some modifications. Shane Van Boening is widely recognized for having one of the best breaks in the game. Dr. Dave does a great breakdown of his break in this video. Shane and many other professional players modify their fundamentals for the break shot for extra power.


One modification Shane makes is to slightly choke up on the cue. This gives him a little bit more leverage when accelerating the cue. This also prepares his arm to be in the right position for when he drops his elbow in combination with raising his stance. In order to achieve extra power, Shane uses the muscles in his shoulder and chest to accelerate his entire arm into the stroke. This results in the elbow dropping which would usually result in the back of the cue lowering and the tip of the cue raising. To counteract this, Shane raises his stance to ensure the cue remains level. Combining all of these movements into one solid consistent action that you can rely on takes a ton of practice and serves as a reminder of the amount of time and dedication it takes to compete at the professional level.

Intelligence Gathering

Every table breaks differently. When playing on unfamiliar tables, you will want to do some intelligence gathering to find the right break for the right table. There are a number of sources you can use to help you quickly find a break that works so you can maintain control of the table early on in your match.


Track Lines: If you are coming onto a table completely cold with no information on it, you can look at the track lines to see where regular players on that table typically break from. The track lines on a table are the white marks that lead from the breaking location of the cue ball to the rack. Since the break shot occurs every game and is the most powerful shot on a pool table, the felt will have more wear and tear on it than any other spot on the table. This wear and tear is visible and can tip you off to the common spots that other players before you have broke from. It is safe to assume that players wouldn't continuously break from a location that doesn't work.


Pre-match Observation: If you have the time and know which table you will be playing on, you can go and observe any matches being played on the table before yours. Going into your match, you can use this information to start with a strong break that you know will work. You could also go the more simple route of simply asking someone who has played on that table. Be mindful of how long it has been since that player played on that table. If they played on that table at the start of the tournament when the felt was fresh and a number of matches have been played on it since, that break may no longer work.


Observe Your Opponent: There is no time like the present. Observing your opponents break during the match provides real-time intelligence. Whether their break is working or isn't, both are valuable pieces of information to take note of. If their break isn't working, then you know it likely won't work for you either. If it is working and yours isn't, you need to seriously consider copying their break.


Self-testing: You can also gather valuable information from your own breaks. Don't switch up your break if it is working. If it isn't working, take note and try something else instead. Keep doing this until you find something that works and stick with it.

Developing a Repertoire of Breaks

In order to try out different breaks, you will need to be aware of all of the common breaks for the specific game you are playing. The World of Pool and Billiards App makes this easy under the {Browse/Breaks} section. This section has all of the most popular breaks for 8-ball, 9-ball, and 10-ball. Each break has information on where to strike the cue ball, where to aim, how hard to hit, strengths, weaknesses, and a table diagram that depicts which balls have a chance to go in which pockets. Take a bit of time to read through each of these for your games of choice and try each of them out.

Defensive Breaking

If you've tried everything and nothing seems to work, you might consider using a more defensive break. Instead of opening up the table and handing it over to your opponent because you can't make a ball, you break in a way that will leave the balls tied up. In 8-ball you might use the 2nd ball break. In 10-ball, you might use the 1-ball cut break. While this doesn't guarantee another chance at the table, it at least increases your chances. These breaks allow you to still attempt to pocket a ball, but don't open up the table as well making it difficult for your opponent to run out in the case that you don't make a ball.

Pattern Racking

Pattern racking is the racking of balls in a specific order or pattern that is beneficial to the player who is racking. While prohibited in most leagues and tournaments, it is something that you need to look out for. The above illustration shows a common 9-ball pattern rack. The lower numbered balls all travel up table and the higher numbered balls stay near the 9-ball. This results in a fairly easy run out from the break as all of the balls will be fairly close to each other. This minimizes cue ball movement making the run significantly easier.


There are also pattern racks that make running out much more difficult. This is a defensive pattern rack that players will use to slow down a strong opponent. The above illustration is an example of this in 9-ball. This rack is set up so that next ball in the run is always on the opposite side of the table. This means the cue ball has to do a lot of traveling which increases the difficulty of the run.


If you suspect your opponent of pattern racking, take note of where they racked each ball the previous rack and watch the placement of each ball in the next rack. If it is an exact match, you can talk to them about it, or ask for a referee. In order to avoid being called on pattern racking, players may switch the place of balls that don't matter. For instance if you switch the place of the 2 and 3, 7 and 8, and 4 and 5, it is a completely different rack, but the balls all still end up on the same side of the table for an easy run out. It will be more difficult to call, but if you see a similar pattern multiple racks in a row, it is likely that they are pattern racking. The official WPA rules are that the balls that don't have an assigned spot should be racked randomly. Don't allow an opponent an unfair advantage.

Conclusion

The break is the most important shot at the higher levels of pool in 8-ball, 9-ball, and 10-ball. The primary skill needed for a great break is the ability to hit a ball perfectly square with a lot of power. This is easier said than done, and will require a ton of practice, so always prioritize an accurate hit over power. Take some time to familiarize with and practice all of the most common breaks in your games of choice. With this repertoire of breaks, you will have a number of options to choose from to find a break that works on whatever table you are playing on. Keep an eye out of savvy opponents who might try to pattern rack for themselves or even pattern rack you to reduce your chances of getting out. Keep practicing and eventually you'll have a few go to breaks that work on most tables. Maintain control of the table and punish your opponent with multiple racks for any mistake they make.

Completion Requirements

  • Read and comprehend this entire lesson

  • Practice the square hit drills until you are satisfied with your progress. If you ever start struggling with square hits again, these drills are always there for you to come back to and practice.

  • Familiarize yourself with and try out each of the breaks in the WPB app [Browse -> Breaks -> Filter by Game]











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