Great Safety Drills
Do you need work on your safety toolbox? When I first saw some above-average 9-ball players, about 40 years ago, I was startled and amazed by the safeties they could execute. In the backwater rec room where I learned to play the game, there was no one who played much safe — for no other reason than we were mostly so bad there wasn’t any need for defense. But as you progress from one level of play to another, good safeties are a mark of a well-developed player — one who understands more complex strategy. So here are some drills to help you develop.
For all of the examples, assume you are playing 9-ball, so the object ball is the one to hide from the cue ball. Mostly these techniques can also be applied to 8-ball, but you don’t have to be so careful about hiding the ball you hit.
In Diagram 1, the goal is to leave the cue ball frozen behind a blocker using draw. Begin with the object ball fairly close to the blockers and take cue ball in hand to play the shot. Mark the position of the object ball with a coin. Consider the shot successful if there is no way to hit the object ball directly. If you make a good safe, move the coin a few inches farther away from the blockers and try again. Continue until you fail to get a snooker, at which time you can move the coin back toward the blocking balls a little. After each shot, remember to move the coin and so make the shot easier or harder, according to your success or failure.
In Diagram 2, the goal is to stun the cue ball to get it behind the blockers. (A stun shot is like a stop shot but at an angle, so the cue ball moves more or less at a right angle from the path of the object ball.) For this shot, the coin and the object ball move away from the blockers to make the shot harder. Try to do this shot without drawing to the end rail with the cue ball.
In Diagram 3, you have to follow to get behind the blockers. When you choose the position for the cue ball, pick a spot that will both drive the object ball directly to the end rail and allow the cue ball to get behind the blockers. This drill will force you to learn the follow angle for nearly full shots. Again, the shot is made more difficult by moving the object ball away from the blockers.
A second drill using Diagram 3 when the object ball is back about as far as the side pockets is to take the cue ball off the long rail to get behind the blockers (shown in blue). I think you will find the angle easier to judge for this side-cushion path.
In Diagram 4, the goal is to leave the cue ball and the object ball on opposite side cushions. This time I don’t see any easy way to make the shot more difficult, so just try each of the initial object ball locations. For each shot, the goal is to leave the object ball near A and the cue ball near B, which shooting a legal safe. Consider a shot successful if you leave the ball within a certain distance, such as a hand-span, of the goal.
Finally, in Diagram 5, the goal is not to snooker your opponent but rather to leave him “jacked up” by the helper balls. With ball in hand, play the object ball to the other end of the table and try to leave the cue ball frozen to both helpers. Consider the shot successful if the cue ball is within a chalk width of the helper ball. While this kind of safety is not perfect, it is often very effective if the object ball is left far from the cue ball. You will need to perfect your “finesse stun” for this drill.