When to Use the Ghost Ball vs. Contact Point Aim in Pool

Get the Ultimate Pool Aim Primer

aiming the ball in pool

Getty Images/Peter Cade

Should you use the ghost ball or fire directly at the contact point in pool and billiards? Here, you can learn the whys and hows here as part of our ultimate pool aim primer. It's not pool versus billiards, it's the aim tools you need to play both games beautifully.

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Limitations to Ghost Ball Aim

Ghost ball vs. contact point aim, which to choose?

Matt Sherman

As most any amateur player who has attempted ghost ball aim can testify, it is easy to visualize two-dimensional circles, but whether standing erect or bent into the pool stance it is challenging to imagine a featureless, three-dimensional white ball with precision.

"Cloning" the 2-ball in the accompanying diagram to create a second ball adjacent helps but a little, as the real and imagined balls, assume different sizes in perspective as they are not equidistant from the player.

Ghost ball aim requires can demand to aim the cue stick at empty space. A standard pool ball is 2¼" inches in width, so the way some players perform ghost ball aim requires pointing the cue stick 1⅛" away from the contact point and into the air above the cloth. Other methods let the player point a stick at real objects including the object balls themselves instead of space in the air, blank green or blue cloth, etc.

Amateurs frequently overcut ghost ball aimed shots as they want to give the object ball "enough angle." But the differences between center ball aim and real intersection complicate matters.

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Contact Point Aim System: A Top Pool And Billiards Technique

Contact Point Aim System
The Contact Point Aim System. Illustration (c) Matt Sherman, licensed to About.com, Inc.

By contrast, contact point systems are simpler and more effective than ghost ball systems:

1. As illustrated in the diagram, the player marks the contact point on the object ball with an early terminus to the aim line as shown.

2. The shot line runs from the cue ball base toward the contact point.

Note: The contact aim shot line is indeed different than in previous aim systems (center ball toward contact point and not the ball's edge) and is geometrically inexact.

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Contact Aim Controversy

A fascinating paradox of contact point aim (one of the more popular systems professionals use and teach) is that it works despite being geometrically untenable for all angles of cut shots.

Recall that the correct shot line geometrically aims the cue ball's base and center ball at a spot 1⅛" off the object ball. Shooting the center ball to the contact point directly will result in too thick a hit for any non-straight shot.

Reasons why contact aim remains highly effective as an aiming method:

1. Contact-induced throw tends to drive balls to undercut. As one result, the amateur tends to overcut shots and strike too thinly using other aim methods, which contact point aiming thickens and corrects.

2. Pool is a game of misses, and hits played slightly thick provide better aim and feedback then thin cuts.

3. Contact point aim provides an easier target for aim. A real point on a real ball is used for aim rather than a difficult to discern ball edge or difficult to visualize ghost ball.

4. The player's vision moves from large target (whole ball) to small target (contact point) like an archer focusing on the whole target then the bulls-eye or a basketball player taking in the basket area than focusing on the hoop's rim or backboard. The ghost ball, by contrast, is too large to become an effective target for most.

5. Good players tend to subconsciously refine aim to account for a variety of factors. Professionals sight on the contact point so intensely they sometimes affirm they are aimed there with the center ball even when subconsciously aimed closer to true geometric (ghost ball) aim. (The cue stick may blur or double in one's peripheral vision with eyes angled off the shot line in the stance so it becomes difficult to discern where the cue stick is truly aimed.)

Contact Point Aim Refinement

Contact point aim is highly effective for shots between full and about ¼ thickness of hit. For shots thinner than ¼ hits, continue to point the cue stick through center ball while aiming the cue ball's edge and not the typical cue ball point to strike the contact point.