Big Red Instructional #5: 9 & 10 Ball Break Strategies

Erik InstructionalHello everyone. Today we will be looking at the differences in strategical play between 9 ball and 10 ball. Most other popular games like 8 ball, 9 ball, one pocket, banks and straight pool are so different in premise and therefore do not show a lot of similarities in strategical play. However, 9 ball and 10 ball are the only two pool games that are fundamentally the same. In this article I will attempt to demonstrate some hidden differences that come from adding the one extra ball to the classic rotation style game of 9 ball.
The first thing that everyone will immediately notice is that in 9 ball the rack is a diamond shape, in 10 ball the rack is a pyramid shape. Because of the difference in the structure of the rack we have to consider if the same style break will be equally effective in both games. In 9 ball the most effective break is from the side rail. Remember the goal in execution of a proper break is to break in a way that you will make the same ball in the rack consistently.
In 9 ball the most consistent ball is the wing ball and the most reliable angle to break from to make the wing ball is from either side rail. In 10 ball the most consistent balls off the break are the ones directly behind the 1 ball. These balls travel on a direct path diagonally towards the side. In 10 ball the balls at the very bottom corners of the rack travel on a 4 rail path back to the same corner they are racked near. Oddly, in 10 ball there are six balls in the rack that take a path toward a pocket. The four that I have mentioned and the two balls in the middle of the back row also take a path banking to the bottom rail and back to the top corner pockets. In 9 ball there are only 3 balls that take a consistent path towards pockets.
Relevant to the previous analogy you would think that the 10 ball break is easier to execute, but in reality it is much harder. Here are the 3 main reasons why the ten ball break is harder:
#1 – In 10 ball you have to hit the rack much harder to get the desired effect of the wired balls
#2 – The most effective angle for the cue ball to start at must be somewhere near the middle of the table, using a closed bridge on the bed of the table rather than being able to use the rail as an aid for bridging.
#3 – The previous tracks for wired balls are extremely sensitive to hitting the 1 ball square from the angle you are breaking from, which again is harder to do than in 9 ball because of the amount of force required and because of the difficulty of the bridging.
In professional tournaments, most 9 ball tournaments have made rules that require the breaker to break from the centre in order to take away from the wired balls. In 10 ball tournaments, and I have heard that they are already doing this in Europe, I believe that they will eventually force the breakers to break from the side rail which is a very interesting contrast.
The main differences in pattern play in 9 ball and 10 ball are that after the break in 9 ball, the balls end up coming to rest near the rails. In ten ball the balls end up in the middle of the table more often. There are a lot of implications for this and I will attempt to shed some light on them.
Implications in 9 ball:
When the balls are positioned near the rail it makes pattern play much easier because the middle of the table is more open. When you are forced to move the cue ball from end to end this open space is very useful. You will also see consistent patterns that come up relative to playing position from one ball on the rail to another ball on the rail. When playing safe in 9 ball, professional players will usually attempt to play safe behind one of the balls near the rail. It is actually tougher to get into these small areas but professionals are able to do so at a much higher rate than amateurs. I believe this is an area where pros have a big edge on amateurs and semi pros when playing 9 ball.

Big Red using the side rail break at the China Open 2011
Big Red using the side rail break at the China Open 2011

Implications in 10 ball:
When balls are positioned near the middle of the table, position play becomes a lot more variable. There will be a lot of shots where the cue ball is moving a shorter distance but there will be a smaller landing area. When moving the cue ball end to end it will often take more precision because the middle tracks of the table will be less accessible. Because the break is so hard to execute there will often be more balls on the table at the beginning of the game and this makes playing safe a lot easier. When the balls are positioned in the middle it will generally be easier to play safe and you will notice that it is easier to fluke a safe after a miss.
Big Red playing Andy Aupin at this years Canadian Championship, Photo by Ivar De Laat
Big Red playing Andy Aupin at this years Canadian Championship, Photo by Ivar De Laat

Both games have a lot of merit and I think for pros the best game to play is 10 ball, mainly because of the increased difficulty in executing the break and in overall cue ball control. However I think as our sport develops, 9 ball is still a good game for TV. Mainly because the cue ball is moving a lot more and because although 9 ball is definitely more offensive I think ten ball can swing into long defensive battles that can tend to drag on for the average home viewer.

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