Stance: The Big Secret to Pool

Woman Playing With Ball
Marek Skalski / EyeEm / Getty Images

This may be the most important article you'll ever read as a pool player. Aligning your cuestick correctly, your body comfortable and head in place, (seeing the shot ahead accurately) is vital to your billiards success.

99% of casual players line up improperly at the pool table. Pictured here are the step-by-step wrong and right ways to stand to the pool table. To my knowledge, this information has never before appeared elsewhere.

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The Most Important Item in Pool

Starting (incorrectly) with "head over the shot". Photo (c) Matt Sherman

I frequently see the same two stance mistakes, so I will take you through the beginner's thought process before I demonstrate how the pros set to the shot (most of the pool pros). There are exceptions to each pool rule but most players reading this article will see their pool games immediately show great improvement with this method. Try all three methods (the two wrong ways and the right way) to prove my point, as have many of my clinic students to their amazement and delight.

Most players have heard the adage, "Shoot pool with your head over the cuestick, like sighting down a rifle." Therefore, the pool beginner puts their head straight behind the shot, as illustrated here. The cue ball needs to be hit straight into the maroon 7-ball. All is well until one bends down to shoot.

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Head Above the Line

Head in middle means a missed shot. Photo (c) Matt Sherman

I've started with my head above the line of the shot. My shooting arm, however, is set permanently, as is yours, to one side of the trunk of my body. Bending over with head in the middle directly over the shot has forced my cuestick to point subtly away from the shot!

In this photo, I want to knock the cue ball straight into the 7-ball. But my cuestick is on a tangent line outside the shot line. The correct line runs from beneath my chin over the cue ball and through the center of the maroon 7-ball. The stick comes from outside my chin as you can see.

In other words, when I stepped forward, my belt buckle went off to the left, my chin is over the shot, but my all-important cuestick and right hand are off to my right and point to my left (the right of the photo). See the cue pointing subtly off to one side of the true shot line running from straight beneath my chin?

This subtle offset will destroy most pool players' games if left unchecked. From here, the beginner will likely miss the shot or worse, start to develop a last moment stroke hitch to compensate on every shot.

Next, see how most intermediates and instructional books and videos err as they try to "correct" this error of "head over the shot to start".

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Close, but No Cigar

The stick starts right, but... Photo (c) Matt Sherman

The beginner may soon figure out that standing with their head over the stroke won't work. Next comes a flash of enlightenment--"I'll place my stick over the shot and stand to one side of the shot line!"

A good beginning, but regard the next photo to learn how most pool instruction errs and throws the player off their best game.

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Awkward Looking, Isn't It?

"Atop the cue" is still not the whole story. Photo (c) Matt Sherman

Standing with "head over the shot" threw my stick offline as seen in Photos 1 and 2. But standing with the cuestick online instead, then bending down (the "pointers" from most instructional pool teaching) leads to this awkward position.

I am exaggerating a bit to show you the folly of "Place your head over the cue like sighting a rifle". Most report after placing the cue on line then bending the head over the cue, as wrongly advised by most pool instructors, a "crumpled right arm" at play and fatigue after a short time. "Cue down then head over cue" is superb advice, if your head rests atop the shoulder of your shooting arm, and not your neck! Consider that perspective for a moment.​

The shooting arm in this photo must move unnaturally to produce results (not to mention an imminent headache and jaw ache). There is a better way I will reveal to you!

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Step 1 of a Great Stance

Yes, start with the cue on the shot line. Photo (c) Matt Sherman

We have examined starting with "the shot in the middle of the body" and then with the cue on the line. You do want to start with the cue on the line but that's half the story. Next comes the secret to success.

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The Big Stance Secret

The BIG stance secret is revealed!. Photo (c) Matt Sherman

The next step is to bend to the table, head coming straight down. In other words, place the cue on line, then firmly determine to let the head come down where the Creator set it, in the middle of your body to one side of your shot line.

Many masterful players use this method, and so should the beginner reading this article. There are some notable exceptions in the pool world, but most players do best 1) placing the cue on line, then 2) squatting or bending straight down to the table leaving the shooting arm in place, along the line of the shot.

Next, we'll tuck the head in a bit to the final position.

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Looking Like a Pro!

Set to win!. Photo (c) Matt Sherman

Compare this photo with Photo 4 entitled "Awkward looking, isn't it?"

The head is comfortably over the line of shot, the body is balanced and relaxed, if a bit off line, though the cuestick and shooting arm are in line.

I place the cue on line from a standing position, step forward as in the 45-degree stance with my head coming straight down and not "atop the cuestick". From there, I can see the shot easily and accurately (see last photo) but after, I can pull or tuck my head in over the cuestick as in this photo.

From this position, most beginners report their shooting arm and hand feel oddly "disconnected", almost as if their arm has left their body fully. Then per my insistence in clinic, they shoot from this "awkward" position, and most of the time, the shot goes in, an immediate success!

You want the shooting arm to move separately from a still body for the classic pool stroke.

The next photo shows this new, refined stance from a different angle.

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The Classic Stance Applied

Bingo!. Photo (c) Matt Sherman

This photo is the same body position as the previous photo but was taken from a different angle to the table. Here you can better see my 45-degree stance, especially my legs as I've stepped forward to the table from the original standing position.

Try this method, it works for nearly 100% of my clinic students! Simply:

1. Place the cuestick on the line of the shot, your head in its typical position atop your trunk. Your head will naturally be off to one side of the arm holding the stick, which is resting on the shot line.

2. Take a step forward with the foot opposite your shooting arm, then bend down, not forcing your head over the cuestick, but with the better goal of bringing your head straight down, to one side of your shooting arm. As your head comes straight down, it will remain to one side of the shot.

3. Optional step. Bring your head in somewhat over the cuestick as you like. I allow my head to swivel on the neck, as I can still see with binocular vision easily, though my head has rotated somewhat on the axis of my spine.

Looks like my right arm is "out there" and away from my body, doesn't it? That's pool, the arm on its "own". Just as I "trust my arm" when it slides back out of my line of vision on the backswing, the shooting arm does its forward action, indeed, all its range of motion, while my body and head stay out of "interference range". Try my 1-2-3 method and see your game improve immediately!