How to learn pool shots: left and right English
Give your pool game some spin
When you shoot pool, you'll often encounter shots that seem impossible because you can't line up a straight shot, bank or combo shot. Learn how to put left and right spin, or "English," on the cue ball, to make those seemingly impossible shots. Find out how English works, and get practice tips.
How pool English shots work
Left and right English explained.
When you aim the cue ball with no spin or "English," in other words when you hit the cue ball dead-on in the center, it comes off the rail with the angle you'd usually expect.
However, it's possible to make the angle bigger or smaller by hitting the cue ball to the left or right of center. This is known as putting left English or right English on the ball.
Here are the two main things you need to know when applying English:
1) Putting the English on the cue ball in the direction in which you are shooting will lengthen the angle at which the cue ball comes off the rail. See the illustration below:
The cue ball is being shot to the right, so hitting the cue ball to the right of center (putting right English on it) will result in it coming off the rail at a larger angle than expected (compare to the first image).
If you were shooting the cue ball to the left rather than the right, you'd put left English on the ball to get a larger angle than expected.
2) Putting English on the ball that is the opposite of the direction you're shooting causes it to come off the rail at a smaller than expected angle. For example, see the illustration below.
The cue ball is being shot to the right, but the cue is positioned to strike the ball to the left of center. This will cause the cue ball to come off the rail at a smaller than expected angle, as shown above. Again, contrast with the first image which shows a hit with no English.
Similarly, if you were hitting the cue ball to the left, striking it right of center (right English) would produce a smaller than normal angle off the rail.
To summarize: English in the direction of the shot lengthens the angle; English in the opposite direction of the shot shortens the angle.
Tips on practicing your left and right English
How to get good at English quickly
The worst way to learn English is during competitive pool games. It takes a lot of shots to master left and right English, and you're going to lose a whole lot of games learning it if you don't practice first.
Instead, you need to have a pool table all to yourself. If you have one in your home, you're set. If not, find a pool or billiards hall that lets you play on a table for an hourly rate. If you attend a college or university, find out if it has a game room - table rental there will probably be as cheap as you'll find in town. If not a college student, look for pool halls near a college or university.
For best results, you can take a training ball with you. Several training balls are available for sale here. These balls will guide you where to hit the ball to produce the proper English, and you'll find that you can hit the ball pretty darn far to the left or right without miscuing, if your pool cue stick is properly chalked.
If you take a training ball into the pool hall with you, you may want to show it to the attendant, so that when you leave with it he or she doesn't think you're stealing one of their balls.
One note - the cue sticks in some of these pool halls, particularly college and university game rooms, can be pretty lousy. They can be warped out of shape, cracks, weights on the bottom missing. If you're serious about wanting to improve your pool game, it may be worth it to invest in a pool cue stick of your own. Nearly all pool halls and game rooms will let you carry your own stick in with you.
Once you're on a table, put all the numbered balls in the pockets; for now the cue ball and the rails are all you need. Shoot the cue ball off the rail to the right. See how far you can strike the cue ball to the right without miscuing. Then notice that the farther you strike the cue ball to the right, the larger the angle gets as it comes off the rail.
Then, keep shooting the cue ball to the right, but now start striking the cue ball to the left of center. Notice that the farther to the left you strike the cue ball, the smaller the angle off the rail gets.
Then turn around and start shooting the cue ball to the left. Notice that left English increases the angle off the rail, and right English decreases the angle.
A few of these practice sessions over a month's time, and your English will be so good that you'll be able to shoot at angles you used to think were impossible. In the sections below we'll look at a couple of shots you can practice to improve your English and impress your friends at the same time.
English side pocket practice
Use a pool table's side pockets to teach yourself English
Here's a way you can practice your reverse English, or spin put on the cue ball in the opposite direction of the shot. Consider the shot below:
The cue ball is being aimed to the right of the center pocket. We'd expect it to keep traveling in that direction down the table, toward the bottom right corner.
However, by putting English on it, we can direct the cue ball back to the bottom side pocket, a shot that doesn't even seem possible at first glance. Remember, to shorten the angle you need to apply English in the opposite direction of the shot. The shot is to the right, so we need to hit the cue ball to the left of center.
Give it a try a few dozen (or hundred) times. At first you won't even come close to bringing it back to the bottom side pocket (unless you're really lucky, or just naturally gifted with pool talent). However, with practice, practice, and more practice, you'll eventually master this shot, and become a master of reverse English at the same time.
Next we'll look at a trick that will not only improve your English and impress your friends, but it may come in very handy in actual games as well.
More reverse English practice
Use English to bring your cue ball back behind the foul line
In many pool games, if your opponent scratches, you get to shoot the cue ball from anywhere behind the line defined by two diamonds from the bottom of the table. However, the cue ball must cross that invisible line when you make your shot. What if your only remaining ball(s) are behind the line, as in the illustration below?
The only solution looks to be to hit a difficult bank shot off the far rail. However, if you know English you can get the ball across the imaginary line without sending it all the way down the table.
The trick is to put the ball slightly behind the foul line, and aim at a spot on the rail slightly in front of the foul line, therefore satisfying the requirement of crossing that line. However, by putting reverse English on the shot, you can bring the cue ball back to get to your balls.
In the example shown above, the shot is aimed to the left. However, we don't want the cue ball to continue to the left; we want to shorten its angle off the rail so much that it actually goes the opposite direction than one would expect. Yes, this is possible with English. Since the cue ball is being aimed to the left, we want to put right English on the shot - HARD right English if we want to bring it all the way back to the corner pocket.
This is another shot you're not going to master on the first try, and probably not by the 20th, and maybe not by even the 50th attempt. Practice, practice, and more practice. You may find that a pool training ball is a big help in learning how far you can hit the ball to the right (or left) without miscuing.
Once you've mastered this shot, you'll be able to impress your friends and have additional options when your opponent scratches.
One note: When using this move in a competitive game, it's best to explain to your opponent exactly what shot you're attempting, and get your opponent's agreement on whether that is indeed a legal shot. The official pool rule book is not necessarily the set of rules that are in play when your opponent is twice your size, possibly drunk, and able to use a pool cue as a weapon.
English is one of the subtle nuances of the billiards game that requires practice, practice, practice, but once you learn it, you'll find that your game is much improved, and you'll see options for sinking balls that were invisible before.
Now that you understand left and right English, give top and bottom a try
For more on English, be sure to check out my other tutorial, where I show how to use top and bottom English, also known as follow and draw, to control where the cue ball ends up after a shot.