A bank shot is hitting an object ball into a cushion with the objective of sending it either into a pocket or to a strategic place on the table. That sounds easy enough, but hold on, there's more to it than just hitting the ball into the cushion. You have to think about angles when you're trying to make a bank shot — so get out your old geometry books and take your head back to your school days. Even the pros say that bank shots are not easy. It takes a lot of trial and error and a lot of experience to successfully pocket balls with the bank shot.
The great billiards player Eddie Taylor holds the unofficial record for banking the most consecutive shots. He banked twenty-eight consecutive balls and is considered one of the greatest bank shot players of all time.
Planning the Shot
Think of the bank shot in terms of a triangle — one line of the triangle is the path the ball follows to the cushion and the other line is the path out after the ball strikes the cushion. The apex of the triangle is the point at which the object ball contacts the cushion. The two lines are referred to as the angle in and the angle out. Some terms you should be familiar with include:
Angle in: The approach angle, or the angle between the cushion and the approach path of the cue ball to the cushion.
Angle out: The departing angle, or the measurement from the cushion to the cue ball's path away from the cushion.
Shortening the angle (coming off short): This occurs if the angle out is greater than the angle in. For example, you angle in at 45 degrees, but the angle out is 75 degrees.
Lengthening the angle (coming off long): This occurs if the angle in is greater than the angle out. For example, you angle in at 75 degrees, but you angle out at 45 degrees.
The angle in and the angle out, depending on certain conditions, are usually equal to each other, meaning that one angle mirrors the other. The angles can range anywhere from 0 to 90 degrees. If you hit the ball at 0 degrees, you'd just be running down the edge of the cushion. At a 90-degree angle, you'd be striking the ball in a straight perpendicular line to the cushion, which would bring the cue ball right back toward you after it strikes the cushion.
Before even considering a bank shot, you should think about a few factors that will affect the direction the object ball will travel after it strikes the cushion. First, the speed of your stroke: Hitting the object ball hard will cause the object ball to leave the cushion at a smaller angle. A medium shot will allow the object ball to leave the cushion at the same angle it went in. A soft shot will cause the object ball to leave the cushion at a wider angle. The ideal is the medium shot, which is the best way to mirror the angle. Next, English: If you want to change the angle-out of the bank shot, use English. Inside English will shorten the angle out. Outside English will widen the angle out. No English will cause the angle out to mirror the angle in.
And finally, the condition of the cushions: If you are playing on an old table, check the condition of the cushions. If they look or feel lumpy or lopsided, don't attempt a bank shot. Your shot will only be as effective as the cushions are reliable.
Measuring the Angles
There are many systems by which to measure the angle of a bank shot. The first is to simply walk around the table, analyze your position visually, and make the shot. To be more precise, you can measure the angle with your cue stick and an imaginary line.
The way to bank a shot into a pocket is to find the midpoint of the triangle you read about earlier. Line up your cue stick over the object ball from the opposite rail (without touching the object ball). Count how many diamonds (markings on the table rails) the handle of your cue is from the pocket. Now line up the tip of the cue so that it is pointing toward the opposite side of the table at the halfway point between those diamonds at the base of the triangle. In the example (on page 131), the handle of the cue stick is three diamonds away from the pocket, so the tip of your cue stick should be 1ﬁ diamonds away from the pocket on the opposite side. This will mark the midpoint, or the apex, of the triangle. The midpoint is the spot on the cushion you will use to gauge your measurement.
Depending on the distance of the cue ball and object ball to the cushion, you will most likely need to adjust your contact point on the cushion some degrees either left or right of the midpoint. When first learning how to bank balls, start by using a medium stroke with no English. As you become familiarized with the angles in and out you will be able to experiment with speed and English to acquire different results.
When making a bank shot, use your cue stick to measure the angle in and the angle out.
Short Rail Bank Shots
A short rail bank shot is one made across the width of the table. This is a good one to practice because it is the most common bank shot and once you learn it, you will be able to successfully bank a high percentage of your shots.
Long Rail Bank Shots
The long rail bank shot is one made across the length of the table. This is not an easy shot because of the distance the balls have to travel. It's harder to estimate the angle, but not impossible.
If the object ball is too close to the cushion that the cue ball will rebound from, there is a possibility that the object ball could kick back into the cue ball in a cross-bank shot, which will end up in a missed shot.
The cross-bank shot is generally used when the object ball is close to a rail. The cue ball passes briefly in front of the object ball, driving the object ball into the cushion and across the table into a pocket. This may seem intimidating at first sight and there are a couple of risks involved, but a confident stroke and some practice will help ensure success.
You can use a cross-bank shot when your object ball is too close to a rail.
Multirail Bank Shots
This is a bank shot that hits two or three cushions before the object ball is pocketed. It is tricky to measure the angles on these shots. In many cases you will have to measure visually or apply one of several diamond systems to calculate the angles. Diamond systems are mathematical systems that are used to help the pool player calculate the contact point on a cushion in order for the cue ball or object ball to bank off one or more cushions to a desired destination. Depending on the game you're playing, your destination can be a pocket, a strategic placement on the table, or another object ball on the table. There are books that deal strictly with diamond systems. Take warning: They're very mathematical!