Firstly, the game at all levels of play starts with fundamentals. With no solid fundamentals, nobody can improve or compete to a decent level. I see too many players—even good players—with poor fundamentals; they hold the cue wrong, along with bad stance and no balance.
The three main keys to good fundamentals are cue action, stance, and head.
Loose grip and a nice smooth follow through; this creates feel and smooth cueing, and a smooth backstroke. Addressing the cue ball should be consistent. For example, if you watch me play I will address the cueball three to five times before I “pull the trigger,” whether the shot is easy or difficult. It’s important to feel comfortable on every shot.
Too many players, especially amateurs, stay down and address the cueball two or three times longer on a difficult shot than than they would on an easier shot. This creates a mental block. Not trusting the arm and mind, the fundamentals will break down. What usually happens is they end up gripping the cue too tight, and on the backstroke follow through way too quickly and choke the cue. The shoulder will drop, and the head will move, and there’s a good chance they will not hit the cue ball on their target. That’s usually when a miss cue will appear.
So, again, consistent addressing of the cueball, a nice loose grip, and smooth follow through are essential. Even on long draw shots the same same applies.
Too many people think they have to hit the cue ball harder to draw it. This is simply not true—all you need do is put a slightly longer backstroke on the shot, or give your cue a little more elevation.
But a nice smooth back stroke the key. The best drill for cue action is mid-range draw shots straight in. Draw the cue ball to the rail, making the shot a little longer when comfortable. Use the same stroke, but with a slightly longer backstroke. The results will be amazing.
Again, pre-shot routine is very important. Too many amateurs address the shot too quickly, go straight down into the stance and, immediately of balance, they’ll try to adjust their body and feet to find the target while down on the shot. This the worst thing to do.
It’s important to look at the shot, envision it, and see the line before you get down to your stance.
The left foot—if right handed—should always be the leading leg. It’s basically like walking. Walk into the stance with left leg leading, with left (leading) leg slightly bent. The right (back) leg shouldn’t be bent—or hardly bent—but good balance is key. The cue should follow the line down your right side leg. This will give you a good, balanced, solid foundation to work with, and good alignment . Once you master this, the cue action will automatically improve and be more stable and consistent
Too many players, including pros, miss the most shots because they move their head before they shoot. This leads to choking the butt of the cue in a tight grip (which I also highlighted in cue action.) Usually it’s “pressure” or nervousness that causes this. They could also be anxious to see the result of the shot.
The same thing applies in golf. What usually happens when they lift their head too early is the shoulder drops, and they grip the butt of the cue too tight. Most importantly, they’ll miss the target on the cueball because they took their eye off it for that split second on the backstroke. Like I said—stress, tension, nerves, pressure, and anxiety all contribute to head movement.
The best way to cure this is a good stance, a nice loose grip, and an easy smooth backstroke. Also, practice staying down on the shot until the object ball has hit the target. Practice this over and over again, and you will be amazed by the improvement. Again, don’t try to hit the ball too hard, and practice staying down on the shot until the object ball you target disappears It will help a lot.
The reason I’m successful is because I’m pretty consistent with my stroke and fundamentals. This makes me trust my ability, especially in high pressure situations.
Over the years I’ve changed my cue action, and I’m always looking to improve it even now. Around 2006-2010, when I first started playing American pool from English 8-ball, my cue action was a lot like a snooker player; cueing across the body, staying very low, and I paused on my backswing before follow through. This is good for snooker and English 8-ball because we play in small areas, and don’t spin the ball too much (center ball hit on cueball is essential for solid cue action.)
Around 2010, I realized that American pool is more feel and loose grip, especially after spending a lot of time in the Philippines and watching them spin the ball—me, with me snooker style, had no chance to spin the ball and create cue power like them. So I brought my cue of the chin slightly, so I was not as low in my stance. I also started to pause at the cueball like most American style players do. I started using a loose grip, and I also pulled my cue away from my body slightly to give myself more room.
This really improved my game—I could spin the ball so much better, and could also control the cueball more. But, around 2013, I felt I was losing my pocketing skills because of this cue action. So again I changed it—more so the stance and my grip. But I still felt I was having bad days and good days, so my consistency wasn’t quite there.
When it worked I was on, but when it didn’t I played awfully for the standards I set myself.
So in 2014 I again changed. An observer might not see the difference, but to me they were big changes. Sometimes I sacrificed not winning for two or three months because of the changes I made. Anyway, last year I went back to cueing closer to the body— holding the cue tighter to my chest—and getting down lower.
This resulted in me sighting the ball much better, and my long game really started to come back. But I was also more solid again. This has given me lot of confidence, and over the last six months I feel it’s clicked into place now. I’m really excited that I’ve finally found the right balance in my fundamentals. It’s basically half “snookerish” and half Americanized, in terms of my fundamentals and cue action.
I really believe my fundamentals are the main reason for my success, because I know under pressure that 90% of the time they will pass the test. This makes me strong mentally.
Again, it’s importaant to not get lazy or let yourself get into bad habits with fundamentals. If you do, it will take a long time to recover—if you ever do—and you will never improve. Work hard. Study the videos, especially the guys with good fundamentals. It will not work overnight; when making changes it will take months to trust it or feel comfortable. But eventually you will reap the rewards. Trust me.
Again, practice is the only cure. Practice properly—drills are important. Lazy practice creates bad habits. My DVD will help you a lot. It’s called Perfect Practice, and you can find it here.
Darren “Dynamite” Appleton, from Pontefract West Yorkshire England, was into sports from a young age. A 15 years old his cousin was a professional English 8-ball pool player, and that’s how Darren got started. He joined a pool league with his brother, and never looked back. He went to national level very quickly, and turned professional at 19. He was number one in the world for six years in English 8-ball won over 200 tournaments—including over 30 major titles. In 2008 he started playing the tournament circuit full time. He won the world 10-ball that year, and the doors started opening up. He’s won world four world championships in four different disciplines; “I’m the only guy in history to win the 10, 8, and 9 and 8-ball world championships.” He is a five time Mosconi Cup champion, two time Challenge of Champions winner, two time US Open champion, plus many more. He now lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Angie.
Photo: provided by author
Editor: Hannah Blue