Bullseye Billiards

Pattern Play: Rules of Thumb - Dealing with Clusters

This is the fourth and final article of a 4-part series on pattern play. In the previous article, we discussed how to Plan a Runout.

Looking ahead is essential to playing top-notch pool. Players that don’t think about their future shots are going to be crushed by an opponent who understands and practices the concepts of pattern play. The goal of pattern play is to use rules of thumb and intuitive judgements to create a plan that gives the highest chance of running out the table and thus, winning the game.

The concepts presented in this series are for offensive play only: how to decide which shot to shoot and how to shape future shots. To fully maximize your chances of winning, you should always consider defensive shots in your plan as well.

Rules of Thumb - Dealing with Clusters

A cluster is when one or more balls are close to each other and cannot be easily pocketed. In most games, clusters can be major hurdles for running out a rack, and they need to be addressed straight away. Breaking out a cluster is naturally more unpredictable than a normal shot because there are many more variables to consider.

  • Predict the Path of Each Ball
    You don’t want to just have the cue ball run into a cluster to break it apart because you might create another cluster, lose control of the cue ball, or accidentally pocket a ball causing you to be at a disadvantage or even lose the game (e.g. making the 8-ball early). In your plan to break out a cluster, you should have an idea of the path of every ball, especially the cue ball.
  • Leave an Insurance Ball
    When breaking out a cluster, try to leave an easy shot that you can make and also have a wide range of positioning. You don’t want to play position on a ball that is in the cluster you are breaking out, unless you are confident in predicting the path of the balls.
  • Alternatives to Breaking Out a Cluster
    You should always consider all of your options, and do not overlook other ways of making a ball, even if it looks like it is tied up. Often, you can position to make a ball in a pocket on the other side of the table. This is called playing “short side” on a ball.
    Also, a ball in a cluster can sometimes be banked, combo’d, or caromed in such a way that is easier than breaking the cluster out, especially if you position on the shot. For example, if your ball is on the rail and the pocket is blocked, a 1-rail bank can be a good option.
  • Consider Bumping a Ball
    Many clusters can be broken out by just nudging a ball a small distance, which is great for predicting the path of the balls. This requires good cue ball control so you can control the angle of the breakout.

Other Pattern Play Factors

In the last 4 articles, you have learned about offensive play for running out a rack, but unless you are a pro, you should generally not attempt to run out on your first inning at the table. Here are some other factors that might have implications for your decisions on running out:

  • Equipment
    You should familiarize yourself with various aspects of the equipment such as size of table, cloth speed, cushion rebound, pocket (mouth size, shelf depth, angle), levelness of the bed, and condition of the balls. Some shots become much more difficult on different equipment, such as shooting a ball down the rail on a large table with tight pockets.
  • Game Played
    Eight-ball and straight pool (14.1 continuous) have similar patterns. In rotation games like 9-ball and 10-ball, your shots are generally laid out for you. One-pocket is typically a very defensive game.
  • Opponent
    If you intend to run out, then you do not need to consider your opponent because hopefully they will not get a shot! Unfortunately, mistakes happen and you should always consider your opponent and/or the score when planning your out.

It’s Your Call

Ultimately, you decide the shot you are going to shoot. Take into consideration everything you might find relevant to the situation and make an intuitive judgement based on how you are playing at the time. If you only shoot shots within your abilities, you will run out more racks and be a very difficult player to beat.