The Best Practice Session Ever!

I only had one and a half hours today to squeeze in a short practice session and I wanted to make the most of it, so prior to arriving at the California Billiard Club (CBC) I made a short list of things I wanted to work on.  This was my list:
 1. The corner pocket drill (Classic 1) – to work on my short game
 2. Kicks to the corner pocket – a lot of my kicks have been off recently
 3. One-rail kicks – ditto above
 4. 9 Ball break shots – I’ve been scratching a lot lately (~40%)

The first lesson I learned today was the power of making a list and sticking to the plan.  Today’s practice session was probably my most valuable practice session ever.  Ever!  I learned so much that I started typing notes into my iPhone to make sure I captured it all.   I think I have enough new information to fill a week’s worth of blog posts, but I’m going to cover just one item today:  The 9 Ball break shot.

Traditionally I’ve always broken 9 Ball racks from a location about six inches to the right of the head spot.  Why?  I don’t know.  That’s the same location from which I normally shoot 8 Ball break shots, so I guess I just adopted the same location for 9 Ball.  Over the last several months I’ve been very disappointed with the number of times I’ve scratched on the break (~40%), and also the number of dry breaks that I’ve gotten.  I decided to move my break location today after remembering my experiences playing against Jeff Gregory a couple months ago.  Jeff has one of the best 9 Ball break shots I’ve ever seen, and today I started experimenting with variations of his technique.  I’ll shorten the story now and just get right to the point:  I made drastic changes to my technique, and here’s the data on my new 9 Ball break shot (data from 30 breaks after I honed my new technique):
 1.  P(sink some ball somewhere on the break) = ~ 86.6%
 2.  P(sink the 5 ball into pocket 6 on the break) = ~ 73.3%
 3.  P(sink the 1 ball into pocket 3 on the break) = ~ 36.7%
 4.  P(sink the 2 ball into pocket 4 on the break) = ~ 20.0%
 5.  P(sink the 8 ball into pocket 2 on the break) = ~ 10.0%
 6.  P(sink the 4 ball into pocket 1 on the break) = ~ 10.0%
 7.  P(sink the cue ball somewhere on the break) = ~ 3.3% 

Here’s how I was racking the balls to make it easier to track them:

Cue Ball Location, Pocket Designation, & Rack Configuration

 Here’s my technique (I’m right handed):
 1. I leave 3 3/8” between the cue ball and the left side rail on the head string (i.e. the left edge of the cue ball is 1.5 ball spaces from the left side rail)
 2. I hit the cue ball about ½ tip below center (no spin)
 3. I aim directly at the center of the head ball (actually, just a very slight hair to the left of center)
 4. When I stroke, I don’t use ANY body motion AT ALL.  I just stroke the shot from the elbow down!  Yes, I know it sounds strange…I’ll explain later.
 5. I make sure I’ve chalked the tip, and bridge off the side rail.
 6. I make sure I think about fundamentals…technique here is much more important than speed.

That’s it!

The stroke that I learned today (not moving any part of my body) is probably unique.  It is significantly different from what all other players do, at least that I’m aware of.  Why did I adopt this approach?  I made the decision to give up a lot of speed to make sure that I hit my stroke with the least amount of variation possible.  (My breaking speed decreased from ~23.5mph to ~19.5 mph)  The biggest shocker was the unbelievable consistency in the ball pocketing results.  On every break, the same balls were taking almost EXACTLY the same path every single time!  Even when I didn’t pocket a ball as I explained above, the balls were still very close.  It was a little spooky!

I hope this information helps you with your break shots.  My plan is to work on this breaking technique, change some of the variables slightly, and see if I can improve upon the results.  With a little practice you should be able to replicate this and improve upon it also.  Good luck!

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12 responses to “The Best Practice Session Ever!

  1. I spent the evening watching Shane Van Boening playing 9-ball here in town, and was impressed with his break. He was consistently sinking 2, 3 & 4 balls each time… and planted the cue ball center table more often than not.

    I recorded some of it and will post sometime this week when I get a chance. Unfortunately, my camera ran out of juice as he was really getting up a head of steam. In his second set of the finals, it was pretty much all Shane while his opponent (Oscar Dominguez, who won the hot seat) sat and watched.

    I’ll see if I can get an estimate of the break speed using my break speed app on the recorded video… not sure if that will work well or not. I didn’t get the feeling he was really hammering it – it was a good solid ‘pop’ but very controlled.

    • I would love to see the video. On several occasions I made multiple balls also…rather intoxicating! I’m sure with a few adjustments I could up the percentages a little. It’s nice to watch the pros and understand what is possible. Let me know when you post. Thanks!

    • During the recent Super Expo, one of the commentator’s on the stream (Alvin, I think) mentioned that Shane practices breaking exclusively one day a week for six hours or seven hours. It certainly shows.

      • Hey Michael – Wow! I was not aware of this. I’ve always talked about, but rarely ever practiced, break shots. This knowledge, plus my experience over the weekend has convinced me to really dedicate some serious time to it. Think about the guys who play at Shane’s level… Shane is already good enough that he’s very hard to beat straight up, but if you have to “spot” him 2 or 3 balls every break, he’s gonna be looking at a 6 or 7 and out scenario, and there’s almost no chance that you are going to beat him.

  2. Now you have discovered the secret to Corey Deuel. Heh. After my tip-launching faux-pas from a few months back, I significantly decreased my body motion during the break. I worked on it more than anything else when I had alone time at the table. I never used to break from the side-rail, but after a while, I found it to be quite comfortable. (see http://vimeo.com/19609778) I’m making the wing-ball with some consistency and sometimes the 1 in the side as well.

    I still focus on the CB last to ensure contact-point accuracy with the cue, but I’m getting a little more comfortable with going to back to focusing on the rack and trusting my break-motion a little more.

    When you move over to 10-ball, put that CB back to where you started at in this post. 😉

    • I enjoyed watching your break shot collection video. It validated the ball movements that I saw in my breaks. I find your eye/contact comment interesting, because I was doing the same thing at first, but later on in my session I started focusing on the 1 ball instead of the cue ball, and I generally got better results. I actually need to practice my 10 ball break instead of the 9 ball break since I’ve got a 10 ball tournament coming up. Any ideas on where Corey or SVB break from?

      • Michael, I’m not sure about Corey or SVB… but I’d recommend giving it a try from the same spot and see what kind of results you get.

        I had a 10-ball tourney last month and did just that with very good results.

        Keep it simple!

      • I don’t think Corey’s 10-ball break is worth investigating, but I know Shane breaks from either of the 2nd row balls, straight back to the head string. Or… a ball’s width or so off the headspot, so that it lines up with the 2nd row ball. I have another video of me breaking 10-ball (if you missed it earlier – http://vimeo.com/19609920); nothing special, but I am trying to emulate Shane’s position and motion (though I don’t get to spend 6 hours breaking a week). I’m breaking from about 2-balls off the headspot to the left and I’m making the 2nd row ball on the left in the left side pocket a decent amount of time. Getting on the 1 is a little tricky because my corner balls are colliding uptable with each other and/or the 1 ball.

        The balls you are trying to make on the 10-ball break are either of the 2nd row balls into their respective side pockets. The 1 will head up table to around the headstring, so you’ll want that CB to come back a little back. The 2 corner balls go 4-rails to end up down-table near the pockets.

        I do get better accuracy on my break when I focus on the 1-ball, but I have to be feeling *really* confident in my break to take my eye off the CB yet. When I do though… I generally get that wing ball and the 1 in the side (9b).

      • Thanks for the 10 Ball advice. I’ll give the “cue ball 2 balls to the left of the head spot” location a try later this week and see what happens. I’ll let you know.

      • I’ve seen a lot of great 9-ballers (on streams and locally) try to break 1o-ball from the rail and there’s no consistency there. Everyone I saw in the Fatboy 10-ball challenge at the DCC this year has converted their break to be from the box (IIRC) because it just gets better results. There’s a bunch of SVB 10-ball videos on youtube if you’re interested. Somewhere on AZB someone did a slow-mo analysis of his break, with images and descriptions of what he’s doing. I think if you search of “break analysis” or something you should find it. This was about a year or so ago when I saw it.

  3. Cool! Thanks for the tip!

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