BREAKING UP CLUSTERS & MOVING BALLS IN 14.1 STRAIGHT POOL

While this concept will apply to all games such as 8-Ball, 9-Ball, and 10-Ball, it really comes up all the time in 14.1, enough so that you could say 14.1 really is ALL about how well you break up clusters, and manage the cue ball after it contacts the cluster.

It is really easy to fall into the trap of being happy with just hitting the cue ball into a cluster and then taking what you are left with and assuming it will be good because you did your job of breaking the cluster.

With the World Tournament of 14.1 coming up in a month at Steinway Billiards in Astoria, NYC, this topic is at the top of my mind now and the more I play 14.1 the more I see the importance of this part of the game.

A cluster could contain anywhere from 2 to 14 balls (as in the break shot), and if you want to get really technical, just bumping a solo ball into a new position as in creating a break ball could be considered a cluster as this is the type of accuracy or planning that I’m going to be addressing in this article.

When to break up a cluster…
First off, consider whether a “cluster” needs to be broken up in the first place.  Often there are one or more loose balls next to a cluster that could be picked off first but because of their position, they appear to be part of the cluster.  Many times you can pick a few of these off first or use one of them as a mid rack break shot to get to the cluster in mind.

You’ll want to consider the timing and angle of approach that you attack a cluster from.  Breaking a cluster too early may just create more problems by driving balls out of the cluster and getting tied up with other loose balls nearby, thus defeating your effort.  So you may want to pick off nearby balls first that are just hanging around near the rails or waiting to tied up with other balls.

Or if breaking a cluster looks good but there is no insurance ball handy, you may want to wait a shot or a few and approach it from an angle where there IS an insurance ball nearby just waiting to bail you out of trouble just in case the cue ball does get stuck in the pack.

Where to attack the cluster…
The trick here is to get specific with exactly which ball you plan to hit first with the cue ball, which side of the ball, and even how thick you plan to hit the ball on the chosen side.  The first consideration is getting the cue ball into the clear after you hit the ball.  You can choose to play position on a specific ball outside of the cluster or try and predict where a ball from the cluster will land and play position on that ball.

Having an “insurance ball” handy is really nice because you will not be forced to make the cue ball escape so much as that insurance ball will bail you out.

The real fine part of the game, after controlling the cue ball, is controlling the way the balls spread on these cluster break outs and it all begins with being able to hit a specific part of a specific ball.  While you may not always be perfect here, I promise you that just by planning and trying to predict where you hit a specific ball, you find yourself running more balls where before your run would have ended… without this planning.

How hard to hit the cluster…
OK so now that you are going for and sometimes hitting your specific ball and getting your cue ball loose for another shot by design, now you can start choosing the speed with which to hit that ball based on a few things such as how many balls are in the cluster (the more balls usually means the harder the hit required, just think break shot) how full will you hit the ball, the specific configuration of all the balls in the cluster, and whether or not you want them to travel very far or just separate enough to be open and make able (and not create new clusters with nearby balls).

Just study the cluster for a bit, look at the combos and caroms and make predictions based on what you think will happen if you hit the first ball here with this speed…  This is the fun puzzle part of the game and 14.1 presents opportunities for this like no other game, although one pocket will present several.

Straight pool requires more urgency than one pocket as you just can’t hide your opponent and feel safe, you actually have to keep running, stay in the clear, don’t miss etc.  That’s what makes running balls in 14.1 so great… you simply can’t hide.  You are forced to stay on top of things to continue a run.

Hitting a single ball into position…
Once in a while there will not be a good break shot after a nice opening break or mid rack break out.  This means you’ll have to manufacture a break ball by pocketing a ball and pushing another ball into a good position to become a good break ball.  For this you’ll have to get creative and most importantly exercise great direction and speed control to hit the ball where you want with the proper speed…  Just attempting to do this will make you better at it, and you’ll start to see all kinds of possibilities.

The break shot…
Before each break of a new 14 ball rack, walk over and take a look at the tangent line from the break ball and see where the cue ball would head if it goes 90 degrees into the stack.  Will it be hitting the top or bottom of a ball in the rack.  Use this info to base how hard and what spin you will put on the ball, or simply to observe what happens to the cue ball when the rack is struck off of a “made” break ball.

The better you get at predicting and controlling what happens to the cue ball on the break shot, the longer your average run will become.  Start to play actual shots from start to finish and through observation of what happens, gain valuable wisdom to increase your stock as a 14.1 player and artist of the green felt…

See you soon…

Max Eberle

PS:  To hear sample chapters or order my newly released 3 hour CD Set,
The ZEN POOL AUDIO BOOK, click here