How to Practice Pool Like a Pro

Solo practicing can improve the games of novices and veterans

Pool practice layout
How do the top pros practice pool? Using layouts as in the accompanying diagram, and the articles throughout this GuideSite.  Illustration (c) Matt Sherman, licensed to About.com, Inc.

One of the best ways to improve your game of 8-ball is to practice by yourself. The downside for novice or intermediate players jumping right into competitive games is that doing so could reinforce bad mechanics and provide little opportunity for you to learn. It's like trying to learn to play baseball before anyone tells you how to hold the bat or what to do if the ball comes at you in the field.

Even pros practice on their own, away from competition.

Tackle the Basics of Pool First

Learning the basic mechanics should come first, before trying to pocket balls or defeat an opponent. It's difficult to improve by just playing games and never doing practice exercises. So, if you're just learning the game, it can be better to practice alone at the outset.

Shoot around the table: A good start to solo practice is to take just the cue ball and shoot it around the table, to make sure that you have the fundamentals of shooting firmly in hand. This can give you a feel for the speed of a ball and its carom off the rails. If you have a coach, you could have him or her watch to make sure you're doing it correctly.

Do a practice run: When you have a respectable degree of cue-ball control, try racking seven balls—three stripes, three solids, and the 8-ball—and practicing a run by yourself as if it were a normal game.

You also can practice by slow-rolling a variety of shots to set up balls or by practicing shooting hooked balls—that is, a ball you want to hit with the cue ball that is blocked by another ball, making it difficult for you to reach it.

Simulate a game: Another way to practice on your own is to play a simulated game.

You can set up a rack for 8-ball, break, choose stripes or solids, and run your choice. When you finish, you can run the other set before making the 8-ball.

Observe the pros: Still another element of "practice" that many forget, especially for learning strategy, is simply watching skilled players play the game. You can't learn much strategy just by knocking balls into the pockets.

Test Yourself in Games

Once you get your skills in line by watching and practicing solo, it's time for games. A great practice game is one in which the shooter gets the ball in hand at least once a game before he or she can win. Getting the ball in hand means that you can place the ball wherever you want within a specified area because your opponent has committed an infraction, such as hitting the cue ball into a pocket or missing a ball that the rules say must be hit first.

After you've developed your skills sufficiently, there's no substitute for shooting against players with equal or better skills than your own, so you can learn from them.