Straight Pool: Tips For Improved Play

Jennifer Barretta Pool Billiards

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Straight Pool is a grand and glorious game, the king and queen of all pool games. You score 14 balls from the rack and the 15th remains on the table, the rest reracked, to be shot at in an attempt to break the next-and the next. Theoretically, one need never leave the table, running 14 and breaking again and again.

Some pointers follow for making your Straight Pool runs high indeed. The old saying about a newbie is "He can't run ten balls" so let's do so and make your hi-run ever higher using these classic tips.

The Opening Break

For the Straight Pool opening break, which is normally (okay, unless you are insane) a defensive, soft break, (since all balls are called for pockets including on the break). You are looking to just nick the bottom corner ball off the pack and roll the cue ball three (or better, four) rails to die in the corner of the table where you broke from.

The cue ball goes between the middle diamond of the table and the diamond just to its right to start. There are two good ways to clip the rack:

  1. You may break with the bottom of the cue ball on the head string opposite the first diamond, then aim not more than one tip's width northeast of center ball. You are seeking to hit the edge of the last ball. With good speed and spin, you aim for a half-ball hit and curve the cue ball to create a quarter-ball thin hit at impact. Two balls leave the rack, hit the rail, in every so often (okay, not more than once every few years if you shoot Straight Pool daily) the balls come back to the rack where they started like they've been freshly racked!
  2. Place the cue ball one-and-a-half, not one, diamonds toward the middle string and really feather that last ball as if the cue ball is the sixth along the five ball rear row.

Offense in Straight Pool

  • Don't duck tough shots and think conservative play guarantees a win. Defense can win football games between interceptions run for touchdowns and safeties, but only scoring points on the offensive wins Straight Pool games.
  • You have three needs on any of those 15th ball breaks 1) pocket the break ball, 2) bust that cluster, brother and 3) get the cue ball free. Smooth strokes tend to bust racks better than powering through so Forget #2 and save the hard strokes for other times.
  • Speaking of busting clusters, by the way, look to move particularly the first and last balls in those long combination shots. The hits should strike there too. Try to hit the ends of the pack so your cue ball doesn't die against the pack. Again, too hard a stroke can be trouble (when balls fly off the cushion and back to the middle to ruin the table).
  • Forget playing fancy spin on the third ball in combinations. Spin doesn't transfer much past the second ball. That third ball in a line or cluster, however, is what you eyeball to see if it will easily throw into or is dead on a pocket. You won't want to smash into the pack even on a dead combo. You have been warned!
  • Always look for a safety ball on break and cluster shots. Say you want to sink the 3-ball in the corner and scatter a cluster. Well, there is hopefully another ball, say the 12-ball, that is on its own and lonesome and ready to drop in the opposite corner with ease if you clear the three but the cue ball dies on the side of the pack.
  • Take long sequences of balls apart with precision. When you're not sure which balls to play in which order, sequence "outside-in", meaning, take off every "corner-most" ball, ridding trouble early and leaving lots of little stop shots for your convenience late in the rack. This strategy can go for 8-Ball at times also, seven corner-mosts in a row toward the 8-Ball.
  • Where you have clumps of three or four balls on both side of the table, try to play back and forth between the sets so you don't get stuck on only one pocket later. A huge tip learned the hard way is to shoot the middle of three balls nearby one another first, to open up cue ball paths for later use.