Friday, January 21, 2011

Them's the Breaks

We are only three weeks into the Spring season for APA and I actually haven't even played many matches in these opening weeks but so far I've managed to log three 9-ball "snappers" during league 9-ball matches and one 8-ball break during an 8-ball match. Time will tell if the trend continues, of course, but needless to say I've been pretty happy with my break lately.

The 8-ball break is particularly significant since it's the first one I've done in a long time (6 months, maybe?) due to pretty much abandoning attempts for intentional 8-ball breaks during that period of time. I stopped trying them because aiming at the second ball in the rack tends to be a riskier shot - it's fairly easy to scratch either by pocketing the cue ball or by hitting the cue ball off of the table. I was getting a good spread and pocketing balls more often than not with a 'normal' break, so I opted to reduce my risk and stick with that.

So what's changed recently? Well, after chatting a bit with Sondra Friestad earlier in the month, I realized it had been some time since I dedicated much more than perfunctory practice on my break. While very little of our discussion about breaking and break practicing made it into the edited version of the interview, she and I talked at length about the importance of a good break and how so few seem to dedicate time to practicing such a critical shot.

We were in complete agreement during that discussion because I remembered doing nothing but breaking for hours on end for a period of time about a year and a half ago... my kids ducking for cover and calling me names every time I sent the cue ball into the family room where they were... but I made some big improvements; got my power dialed up to a reasonable level, and got to the point that dry breaks were more the exception than the rule.

As a result of that intensive practice period, I've got a fairly strong break. I generally clock in at or just under 20 MPH as measured by the iPhone Break Speed app, which I think is pretty respectable. Once I got to the point that I was satisfied with my break, I more or less put it on the back burner while working on other areas of my game. (Hat tip to Michael Reddick for turning me on to the Break Speed app)

After my discussion with Sondra, I decided it was about time to circle back around and focus on my break again for a bit. Since I'm generally satisfied with the power of my break, I decided to put some time into improving my accuracy.

Probably the biggest factor in increasing my accuracy was an improved bridge, particularly when breaking from the side rail as I often do in both 9-ball and 8-ball. The bridge I used to use was a simple two-finger bridge as shown in the first picture to the left. Basically, the shaft glided over the felt on the rail and was loosely guided by my index and middle fingers.

While it's not apparent in the picture, the palm of my hand is elevated and no part of my hand (other than the two fingers) come in contact with the shaft. This is a fairly common rail bridge, but not a particularly stable one. It's extremely easy to move the tip side-to-side by moving the butt of the cue side-to-side, for example.

My improved bridge is shown at right. Notice how I've tucked my thumb underneath and laid it next to the shaft. The shaft now slides alongside my thumb and middle finger, and my index finger actually serves to snug the shaft up against my thumb and middle finger. This seemingly minor change results in a huge gain in lateral stability of the shaft.

With the old bridge, my fingers were only in contact with about 1/2 inch or at most an inch of the shaft (lengthwise) and they created a simple pivot point. I could easily move the butt of the cue side-to-side to freely move the tip side-to-side. With the newer bridge, my thumb and middle finger come in contact with about four inches of the shaft which eliminates the simple pivot point... I get much more resistance when I try to move the butt of the cue side-to-side. This bridge, in addition to some recent concentrated practice, has definitely improved my aim to the point that I'm much more confident in getting a good hit on the second ball (which is generally considered to improve your chances of sinking the 8-ball on the break).


  1. on top of the bridge i also like to stand up higher to give myself extra room.

  2. I like the new bridge. Much more stable than your previous version. Nice improvements in your breaking technique. Keep up the great work!