When I begin teaching students about one-rail kicking, I take the cue ball and put it in the jaws of the side pocket and then place an object ball in the jaws of the corner pocket on the same side of the table. I then ask the group, “Who knows how to make this shot?” A lot of the decent bar players will reply that they can make it some of the time or most of the time. My question to them then becomes, “How would you like to be able to make it all the time?”
According to the book, you should aim the cue ball at the point on the rail in front of the middle diamond of the opposite rail to pocket the object ball. This is mathematically correct because the cue ball is in front of Diamond #4, so you would aim at the point in front of Diamond #2. Now that you know how it works, you may not ever miss another kick shot, right? Of course when you visit your favorite pool room and eager to impress your buddies with your new-found knowledge you gather them around table #1 with the fresh Simonis 860 that was recently installed. Feeling very confident, you set the kick up and hit it exactly how I showed you. To your utter embarrassment, the cue ball hits the short rail half a diamond past the object ball hanging in the corner pocket!
As with most other things in pool, it’s not quite that simple. There are several variables that can alter your outcome, but the object is to simplify your task by understanding as many variables as possible and learning to overcome them. The cue ball’s angle off the rail can change as it is first coming off the rail. This change is caused by the slipperiness of the new cloth. To achieve consistent results you should shoot all of your one-rail kicks cueing at least one tip above the cue ball’s centerline. When you shoot the cue ball from in front of the side pocket to a point on the opposite rail in front of Diamond #2 with over-spin, the cloth on the bed and the rail, which on a new cloth is very slippery, does not rub all of the over-spin off the cue ball as it hits the rail. The cue ball comes off the rail still having some over-spin away from you that causes the ball to curve past the intended target. As the angle widens (becomes Diamond #5 to Diamond #2½ or Diamond #6 to Diamond #3) the ball will curve even further past the hole. As the angle decreases to Diamond # 3 to Diamond # 1½ or Diamond #2 to Diamond #1, the cue ball curves less and less and becomes much truer.
As was discussed in last month’s column on banking, the speed with which a ball strikes the rail can affect the angle of rebound of the ball. The harder you hit into a rail, the shorter the bank will rebound. It is best to choose one medium stroke speed to use for the greatest majority of your kick shots. You can therefore remove another variable from the kick shot equation. By using a consistent medium speed stroke that strikes the cue ball one tip above centerline on every attempt, you should be able to achieve very consistent results.
The mathematics of the diamond system on one-rail banks is only a guide. As the cloth wears the angles get shorter and shorter and become more accurate. On older cloth, especially with high humidity, the angles may actually become too short. On the Diamond #4 to Diamond #2 kick, the difference from a new cloth to an old cloth on a humid day may require adjusting your aiming point from as much as two inches left, above the diamond, to three inches right of the diamond, a total span of 5 inches.
In preparing for a match, set up the aforementioned shot and using the consistent speed and over-spin described, try aiming for the point in front of Diamond #2 and see what your results are. On subsequent attempts, adjust your aiming point to the right or left, depending on which side of the corner pocket the cue ball hit on. After a couple of tries, you should be able to find the spot on the opposite rail that rebounds the cue ball directly to the corner pocket. By comparing the aiming point that the book gives you with the one that actually works, you find how much and in which direction you must compensate to hit the object ball.
So take the guesswork out of your one-rail kicks and simplify the shot by consistently hitting the cue ball the same way. A couple of quick practice kicks and you can gain the information necessary to make quick calculations to determine your aiming point on that table. As with any other pool skill, practice will improve your kicking skills, so devote at least some of your practice time to making basic kicks.