A habit deplored by refined pool players is putting the chalk upside down on the rail. The resulting smudges get on the cloth and on everybody's hands and clothes. Always lay the chalk down exposed side up. If you don't, onlookers may conclude that you tend toward the slovenly in other areas of life as well.
When you grasp the cue, don't clench it like a baseball bat with the thumb and all the fingers tightly encircling it; nor should you hold it delicately with just the fingertips like a fop holding a teaspoon. Most players enclose the cue lightly but firmly with the thumb and forefinger. Another finger or two can rest lightly on the underside. At the limit of the backswing, just the thumb and forefinger touch the cue; at the end of the follow-through, all of the fingers grip it. Don't lay the thumb along the top of the cue because that blocks proper wrist action. Don't lock the wrist.
The position of the right hand can vary somewhat from shot to shot. For a soft shot requiring maximum precision in speed and English, one for which the right touch or feel is critical, move the right hand forward to the front of the wrapping, a few inches behind the balance point. For shots requiring maximum force, position the hand at the rear of the wrapping. On most shots the right hand should be about six to eight inches behind the balance. When you are ready to hit the cue ball, the forearm should be roughly perpendicular to the floor.
Please do not write in to point out that two of the greatest players of all time, Willie Hoppe and Ralph Greenleaf, violated these and other precepts. There are professionals in every sport with peculiar styles. Talent, years of heavy practice and a fanatic will to win can compensate for any number of flaws in technique. Those of us who have better things to do than play pool all the time had best stick to orthodox methods.
Simply laying the cue across the left hand in the groove formed by the thumb and forefinger provides an unobstructed view of the shaft and is O.K. for shots that can be stroked softly, that require no English. Beginners who use such a bridge, as the lefthand support for the cue is called, on every shot shouldn't be ridiculed too much for it. The open, or V-bridge, is serviceable—even professional players use it on occasion—and beginners have enough to worry about without being forced into uncomfortable and distracting hand positions. Later, though, they'll have to find a satisfactory closed bridge with the forefinger encircling the shaft, the best insurance against miscues and the only way to apply draw, follow and English with security.
Once you've selected a shot and are in the aiming crouch, move the cue back and forth to get the feel of how fast the stroke will have to be. Take a few more practice strokes while concentrating on the aim, making fine adjustments if they are called for. When you feel you are on target, take one or two more rhythmic strokes and strike the cue ball evenly, following straight through.
Don't dillydally once you are in the aiming crouch. The human eye can't stay focused on a point for very long and neither can the brain. Don't hurry, but don't drag things out, either. Find the aiming point, take a few smooth, authoritative warmup strokes, and fire. Study top players and you'll notice that they don't waste much time. Sawing the cue back and forth endlessly erodes your confidence and strains the patience of your opponents and loved ones.
A good stroke is not easy to teach because it is partly instinctive. If you feel your stroke leaves something to be desired, study an expert and try to imitate the way he handles the cue when addressing the cue ball; better yet, ask him to give you a lesson. In the meantime, review the following checklist, an amalgam of my own convictions larded with the tested wisdom of yesteryear:
?Decide on what to do before bending over.
?Plant your left or bridge hand closer to the cue ball for soft shots than for hard ones.