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Navigating 9-Ball

Thorsten Hohmann

While it can be a lot of fun to see the pros running out, it is important to shift your focus to your game. When you're watching the best players, think about your own decision making, techniques, tactics and rhythm. Ask yourself what you would do in a certain situation, then see what the pro does.

1. Think ahead, but don't forget the big picture
If you only focus on making the shot in front of you, you probably won't get position for the next shot. If you make your shot and play position for the next ball, you might have the wrong angle to get to the third ball.

Think ahead. To be exact, think three balls ahead - always.

If you are constantly planning for your next three balls, you will give yourself a plan to get from one ball to another, while always leaving the cue ball in position to continue your run. After every shot, make sure you map out your next three balls. This will keep you in line and on the right side of your next ball.

This being said, you should never forget the big picture. Sometimes, you are able to break up a cluster and still remain in good position for your next shot. Doing this allows you to break out a ball that would cause problems later. When you can rid yourself of an obstacle while staying in position, include this in your plan.

Looking three or four or five balls ahead will strengthen your confidence, because you are in control of yourself and the table.

2. Play toward a position zone, not across it
Most of the time, you don't have to play pinpoint position. You just want to be on the right side of the next ball or maybe straight in.

Usually you have a few different ways to gain position. Always keep in mind that your position area is bigger when playing toward the target zone (show in blue), giving you a tight space of about three balls. With the follow shot, instead of crossing it. Diagram 1 is a common shot where you can play a stun shot (show in red) or go one rail with top spin (the green path) to the same position.

Playing the stun-shot option, you have to be pretty precise with your speed, since the path crosses the position zone however, notice how much of the cue ball's path is inside the position zone. You can be a little off with your speed and still have a perfect shot on the 3. Always look if there is an easier way to get position.

3. Finding the right side of the next ball
Especially in 9-ball, since you are playing position on only one ball, you often have to move the cue ball from one side of the table to the other to gain position for the next shot. Diagram 2 is a perfect example.

Important here is to always play the angles. As you can see, you are playing the 1 ball in the side pocket to get position on the 2. Now, this is of the utmost importance, you must decide where you want the cue ball to be for your shot on the 2 ball. Your ideal position for the 2 will dictate how you pocket the 1 ball.

If you follow the red path, which is a simple stun shot on the 1, you will be on the right side of the 2 ball. Pocketing the 2 shouldn't be a problem, but how are you going to get shape on the 3? The traffic around the 3 ball only complicates getting from the 2 to the 3.

Let's see what happens if you pocket the 1 with a rolling cue ball. Now, you are on the left side of the 2. You can still easily pocket it, and you have a fairly workable path to the 3. Naturally, you can send the cue ball off three rails, back down table for position on the 3.

So before you approach your shot on the 1, make sure that you are playing toward the correct side of the next object ball. If you do this, position for subsequent shots will be easier.

4. Play smart, play simple
Finally, it's cool to play and look fancy - like making a force-follow shot or hitting the same rail three times instead of just rolling the object ball in for easy position. And I have to admit, I do this many times too. However, you will become a winner by keeping things simple. By over complicating things, your risk of missing the shot or losing position is much higher.

Study these tactics, and your position play will improve in no time. Good luck in your next tournament ... except when you have to play me!

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