The Straight Line
by Bob Henning
In pool there are many factors to take into account in order to contact an object ball with enough accuracy to send it to a distant pocket. There is the discrepancy between where the cue ball is aimed and where it actually contacts the object ball. There is the deflection involved when the cue ball is pushed off line by being struck either left or right of the vertical axis. There is the curve of the cue ball as the friction of the cloth wears away the rotational axis of english and resolves it into a natural roll. All of these adjustments, however, are referenced from a single straight line—the line of aim.
In this respect, a pool player is similar to a marksman aiming a rifle. The stock and barrel of the rifle form the straight line that he aims at the target. He makes all the adjustments that are needed to account for the effect of wind, trajectory, and barrel imperfections in reference to that straight line. If the wind is blowing strong from the right, for instance, he doesn’t imagine a curved path to the target. He factors in the effect of the wind and adjusts by aiming—a straight line of aim—a bit to the right. It’s the same with pool. When you prepare a shot you decide where the cue tip will contact the cue ball, you envision the expected path of the cue ball, and then you adjust your line of aim to accommodate the effects of deflection and curve. You don’t aim a curved line at the object ball, you aim a straight line that has been corrected for accuracy. And the straighter the line, the better the shooter.
So how do you find that straight line? It’s been said that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, but that’s not enough data to consistently establish a super-straight line of aim. In fact, having only two points is how people get lost in the woods and end up walking in circles even when they know that a straight line will eventually lead to a road. They have two points—where they are and some landmark in the distance, such as a rock or a tree. So they head for that and when they get there, they pick another target and continue. It sounds like a good plan, but it’s not enough to get out of the woods.
In the Boy Scouts they teach kids that walking a straight line requires three points of reference. When you get to the first one, you find a replacement point lined up with the remaining two. When you get to the next one, you add another. You keep adding a point of reference to the other two like a good 9-ball player keeps adding a third ball to his position plan every time he pockets one. Working with three points gets you out of the woods and out of the rack.
Let’s look at our marksman and his rifle again. When he aims at a target he lines up three distinct points: the target, the front sight, and the back sight. He sets the stem of the front sight in the slot of the back sight and that gives the first two points that sets the rifle true. Then he aims that unit at a third point—the adjusted target.
If he only used the target and the front sight, his accuracy would fall dramatically, and that’s what many pool players do. They focus on only two points: the contact point on the cue ball and the contact point on the object ball. The front part of the cue stick might be in their peripheral vision, but their attention is on the front of the cue stick and the target. They’re not using a rear site!
Shooting is a visual sport, so the sights are placed in front of the eye. Pool, on the other hand, is an eye-hand discipline so the third point can actually be behind you and out of sight. It’s the back end of your cue, of course, and it’s aimed not with your eyes, but with your hand. All you have to do is learn to “put” your back hand on the line (the rear sight), keep it there as you come down to place the cue tip on the cue ball (the front sight), and line these two points up with your target. You’ll have three points of reference and a guaranteed straight line. Even if you miss, at least you’ll never get lost in the woods again!
Good luck & good shootin’!