Chapter 3. WHERE TO HIT A BILLIARD BALL
To begin with, I want you to understand how much of the surface of a billiard ball you really can hit. This is a good deal less than is often supposed. If you look at Fig. 3, which depicts a ball of standard size, the black portion of the diagram shows as much of the ball as you can hit effectively.
That is quite enough for any stroke you are likely to want. If you can hit your ball fairly in its centre, that will do splendidly for a multitude of plain-ball strokes. If you hit it as far to the right or left as the black circle indicates, you will be able to impart enough right or left side for any stroke on the table.
The same is true vertically. All the top you want can be imparted by striking your ball at the top of the black circle, and you can get any amount of screw-back by striking your ball properly at the bottom of the circle. Remember this, the centre of your cue-tip will only strike the centre of the ball, or a point very near it. In every other case a sector of the cue-tip does the work. The small white sector on the right of the black circle makes this clear. It shows how the cue-tip would operate when imparting a maximum of right-hand side, the portion which stands away from the black circle never touches the ball; all the work is done by as much of the cue-tip as is merged in the black circle.
Position of Arms and Elbows
When you shape at your ball, the elbow of your cue-arm should be as directly over the butt of the cue as possible. Advance your cue until the tip is quite close to the part of the ball you wish to hit-your cue-arm should then point straight at the floor. Draw your cue back-then let it go forward and through the ball with all the freedom I stressed so strongly in my preceding chapter. No matter whether you are hitting your ball high or low, or to the right or left, keep your cue as level as you can. If you raise the butt of your cue, you will poke at your ball instead of striking it cleanly.
Figs. 4 and 5 illustrate this most important point-they show how level the cue should be kept. Of course, the cushion rails will prevent you from cueing with such a level cue on all occasions, but the ideal is one you should always strive after. You must also keep your cue straight. It is no use keeping the butt well down if your cue wobbles sideways as you deliver it. To prevent your cue from straying out of line in this way, keep the elbow of your cue-arm as close to your side as you can while the cue swings home.
"Sighting" the Stroke
I have told you to begin by advancing the tip of your cue quite close to the part of the ball you wish to hit. When you do this, you fix your eyes on the cue-ball, but when you actually make your stroke your eyes must rest on the object-ball. Some time ago
Mr. Sidney Fry created a mild sensation by advancing the argument that the eyes should always be kept on the cue-ball. This is quite wrong, or my father and I know nothing about billiards, and between us we cover well over fifty years of billiard playing. What is more, neither my father nor have ever seen a player of any note who kept his eye continually on the myself cue-ball; in fact, I had never heard of such a theory until Mr. Fry propounded it in his book. I advise my readers to forget all about it, as I consider it impossible to play billiards by sighting your stroke in that way. Naturally, when the balls are close together, you see all three of them when you make your stroke, but in every other case, sight your cue-ball first in the manner I have advised, and then concentrate all your power of vision on the object-ball.
That was how the great John Roberts used his eyes at the billiard table. It is the method exploited by Tom Newman, Willie Smith, and every other prominent professional billiardist now before the public, and I think it most unwise to go against it because of a theory advanced by even such a distinguished amateur.
A Test of True Cueing
If you are a beginner, or a man who plays fairly well and wishes to play better, I advise you to begin your ball striking with one ball only on the table. Place the ball on the centre-spot of the baulk line, strike it truly in its centre, and aim to send it straight over the line of spots facing you. Let your cue go straight through the ball, and if you have played the shot properly, the ball will return to the tip of your cue, coming back with beautiful truth off the top cushion. More likely than not, it will take you a considerable time to bring the ball straight back with any approach to consistency, as this old one-ball practice stroke is a very exacting test of good cueing. Your trouble will be that instead of hitting your ball in the middle, you will impart unintentional side, and bring the ball back to the right or left, as the case may be.
Nothing but steady practice will eradicate this fault, and I advise you to persevere with this one-ball stroke until you can hit your ball truly in its centre. By so doing you will always have a reliable test of the accuracy of your cueing ready to hand. You may depend on it that if you think you are hitting your ball centrally, and the rebound from the top cushion proves that you are not doing so, then something is wrong with your cue-swing. Most probably, you are inclining the butt of your cue out away from your body at the instant you strike the ball, which is quite enough to account for your inability to hit your ball accurately.
How to Put on "Side"
Besides practicing the hitting of your ball in the middle, it is a good idea to practice putting side on your ball. Do this by playing your ball straight along the baulk-line, or just clear of it, and seeing how far back into baulk you can bring it. A stroke played fairly out of baulk which brings your ball back off the side cushion into a baulk pocket shows that you have imparted a fair amount of side to the cue ball, but you must not be content with that. You should strive to reach the point indicated in Fig. 6, which is a good foot along the baulk cushion. I do not say this is the limit, I can put enough side on a ball to bring it back to the baulk cushion another six inches or so further from the pocket. But a foot will do very nicely to go on with. You will be able to make plenty of hundred breaks without ever needing more side than is required to bring the ball back as shown in my diagram. Practice this shot from each side of the table in order to coach yourself to strike your ball on either side with equal facility.
Use of Varying Strengths
Play at various strengths, it is very bad billiards to fall into the habit of being able to get plenty of side on your ball at just one strength, a fault which is much more common than many people imagine. The same is just as true as regards striking your ball centrally.
You should be able to do this at any desired strength, but you are very likely to become over-fond of playing at the one strength which happens to be most reliable in your case.
Avoid this, especially as regards forcing strokes. You will soon discover how very difficult it is to hit your ball truly in its centre when playing at top speed, or nearly so; and as this stroke is so valuable in literally completing free cueing, I hope you will not allow its difficulty to deter you from practising it.
Top and Screw
As regards striking your ball high or low, I cannot tell you to practise this with but one ball on the table, simply because you need an object-ball to see the effects of top or screw. Really, I am sorry this is the case, as there is so much in ball striking, pure and simple, that I want to keep you working away at the one ball as long as possible. I know it is tiresome, but you must allow me to tell you that constant practice at hitting your ball in the centre or on either side will make a billiard player of you. You cannot produce the simple effects I have described unless you swing your cue as you should, and this is everything in billiards.
Value of One-Ball Practice
And, surely, it is better to learn this thoroughly with but one ball on the table, which enables you to concentrate on ball striking only and to detect any fault in an instant, than it is to find your strokes going all wrong when you have three balls on the table, so that you lose points galore because you cannot account for your poor form. Therefore, I advise you to summon up all the patience and resolution you can command to enable you to make the most of what you can learn with but one ball on the table.
I assure you there is a great deal more in it than is commonly thought, and that by making full use of it you will base the whole fabric of your game on the only sure foundation I know.
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