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Creating a Stable Bridge in Pool

A bridge must be both loose enough to allow the cue to effortlessly glide through it while also being secure enough to steadily hold and guide the cue with millimeter precision. In this lesson, I will go over the open and closed bridge, choosing a bridge length, bridging off the rail, and dealing with obstructions.

Open Bridge

The Open Bridge is formed by pressing your thumb against your pointer finger. The cue will rest in the V shape formed between the thumb and pointer finger as well as the groove formed between the thumb and hand. Spread your fingers out to add some stabilization with a tripod like formation. I like to keep my pointer and middle finger together. You can bend or flatten your knuckles to change the height of the bridge to change where you are striking the cue ball.

The primary benefit of the open bridge is sighting. It allows the player to see down the entire shaft of the cue without any obstructions which makes aiming easier visually. All of the top snooker players use the open bridge quite exclusively because aiming in snooker requires much more precision due to the smaller pockets and larger tables. Another benefit of the open bridge is that it is the easier of the two bridges for beginners to form, but this really shouldn’t be a determining factor for anyone reading this lesson.

The drawback of the open bridge is that it is quite dependent on perfect fundamentals and well balanced equipment. Since the cue isn’t being held in place from all angles, it can quite easily slip out of place with poor fundamentals.

Closed Bridge

The closed bridge is made by forming a ring with your pointer finger and thumb. Press the point where your finger and thumb meet to the side of your middle finger. The ring formed above the middle finger is used to hold the cue. Spread out your pinky and ring finger to form a tripod for added stability. You can also twist your hand slightly into the cue to add a bit more stability by adding additional contact points on the cue along your thumb, index finger, and hand; similar to using the groove referenced in the open bridge.

The closed bridge use to be the go to bridge for most pool players. Nowadays it is quite common for pool players, including myself, to switch between an open and closed bridge from shot to shot. The primary benefit of the closed bridge is that it holds the cue in place more securely. This makes precision cuing more consistent on power shots, which come up more often in pool than they do in a game like snooker. Most professional pool players use a closed bridge on the majority of shots. Pocketing in pool is much easier than snooker, and cue ball control is typically more important. Pool players often have to send the cue ball from one side of the table to the other, or all the way around the table much more often than they do in snooker.

The primary drawback of the closed bridge compared to the open bridge is limited sighting. Since the bridge hand will obstruct the eye from seeing all the way down the shaft of the cue, aiming is a bit more difficult, especially when using a shorter bridge length. One thing to note is that the closed bridge is not necessary. Any shot is possible with an open bridge with good fundamentals. Another drawback of the closed bridge is that there is more surface area contact between the hand and the cue creating more friction. If shooting in conditions with a higher coefficient of friction, such as bare handed in humid conditions with a dirty cue, the amount of friction can become an issue. This however can be quite easily solved by using a glove and cleaning the shaft of the cue. If it is still an issue after this, then you are holding the cue too tight.

Bridge Length

Bridge length can be defined as the distance between your bridge and cue ball. There are two main factors to consider from shot to shot when deciding on your bridge length for that shot.

Accuracy: First and foremost is accuracy. The shorter your bridge length, the easier it will be to deliver the tip of your cue to the intended location on the cue ball. With a longer bridge length, even slight inconsistencies in your stroke can result in you missing your mark by a significant amount. If because of an obstruction you have to choose between a really far bridge length or a really close bridge length, it is typically better to go with the closer bridge as it gives greater accuracy.

Shot Speed: The second thing to consider is the speed of the shot. It might seem like a closer bridge length would help you on a power shot since it makes it easier to deliver the tip of your cue to the exact intended location, but choosing too short of a bridge length can be detrimental to your stroke since you won’t have enough room to accelerate your cue to the intended speed. This means you either hit the shot too soft, or you have to really engage your muscles to get the cue to speed in time which will result in a jerky movement and detracts from your accuracy.

The Sweet Spot: This is a terminology that I am making up, but there is essentially a sweet spot. A spot that balances tip delivery accuracy while allowing enough room to accelerate the cue to speed with a smooth and unrushed forward swing. There is a point of diminishing returns for both of these factors. Once you have enough room to smoothly accelerate the cue to speed, any additional room you give offers you little to no additional benefit, as it will detract from your cue tip delivery accuracy the farther you get.

Left/Right Spin Pivot Length: Another factor you may want to consider is the pivot length of your equipment. As you strike the cue ball off of the center axis, you introduce deflection, but with right bridge length a pivot will pretty much cancel out the deflection that you put on the cue ball making it easier to execute off center axis shots.

Bridging Off the Rail

Just like regular bridges, there are two types of bridges when shooting off the rail, closed and open. What is different here though is the reasoning for choosing one or the other. While with standard bridges the primary factors in choosing one over the other is aiming and tip delivery accuracy, the choice of closed or open bridge when bridging off the rail will be based on the distance of the cue ball from the rail. The use of a standard bridge on top of the rail should only be done when elevation is wanted or there is an obstruction preventing level cuing.

• How to Form the Closed Bridge: Move your thumb so that it forms a straight line with your middle finger. This straight line will be in contact with the cue to guide it. Place the cue firmly to the line created by your thumb and middle finger, then wrap your index finger over the top and to the right of the cue forming another straight and parallel line to the thumb and index finger. The cue is now held firmly in place via contact with the table from the bottom, the thumb/middle finger to one side, and the index finger holds the cue in place on the other side and from above. The closed bridge is ideal when the cue ball is close enough to the rail that a standard bridge off of the bed of the table is impossible and use of the closed bridge still allows enough bridge length to get the cue to speed. When shooting away from the rail, the cue ball would be anywhere from 3 to 7 inches off the rail. If the cue ball were closer to the rail, you likely wouldn’t have enough bridge length to stroke the cue ball. If the cue ball were farther away, you would be able to bridge off the bed of the table. (Note: this is the primary bridge used for breaking because the cue is so well secured, and the cue ball is usually near the side rail)

• How to Form the Open Bridge: The open bridge off the rail is made in essentially the same way you would make a standard open bridge. What is different is that you will move your hand back so that your fingers hang off the edge of the table, and the formed V is low enough that the cue will rest on the rail as well as the formed V. You can also use your pointer finger to help hold the cue straight. The open bridge is the ideal choice when an off the rail closed bridge doesn’t offer enough bridge length to get the cue to speed. When shooting away from the rail, if the cue ball is closer than 3 inches away from the rail, the open bridge gives you the additional bridge length needed and is the bridge to go with.

Dealing with Obstacles

While playing you will likely come across a variety of vicarious situations when it comes to trying to find a level, stable, and comfortable bridge. Sometimes a ball will be right where you want to place your bridge hand for a shot forcing you to use an abnormally long or short bridge and you will be forced to choose between a shorter back stroke or an awkwardly long bridge length making accuracy quite difficult. In these situations, I recommend taking the shorter bridge length for the additional accuracy it provides. In situations where you are forced into a shorter bridge length, visual aiming can be difficult with a closed bridge, so I recommend using an open bridge.

Shooting over the top of a ball that is right next to the cue ball is one of the hardest shots to deal with in pool. You have very limited access to the cue ball and aiming is quite difficult as you will have to elevate your cue a significant amount. Bridging is also difficult in these situations. You will want to get as close to the obstacle ball as possible with your hand and then you will be using the same open bridge, but you will need to lift the palm of your hand off of the bed of the table to raise the V where your cue will rest. You will be putting quite a bit of weight on just your fingers, and it can be hard to get use to as a newer player. The only way to get better is to practice until it feels natural. A great drill to practice to get use to shooting over obstacle balls is the cleverly named Obstacle Ball Practice Drill. Spend some time practicing this drill to improve your proficiency with these very difficult shots.

As you continue to play, you will find the occasional new vicarious situation where you just aren't sure how you should have made your bridge. Any time you feel your bridge was unstable, there is surely a better way you could have handled the situation. Take note of the scenario and revisit it in a practice session.

Completion Requirements

  • Read and comprehend this entire lesson

  • Familiarize yourself with and practice using each of the bridges discussed in this lesson

  • Practice the Obstacle Ball Practice Drill to become proficient at shooting over obstacle balls.

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