You've learned a lot about offensive and defensive play as you've moved along in this book. Position and safety play show that you have a handle on what you're doing rather than just striking at balls and hoping for the best. That's the way many beginners play, but skill and strategy are the things that will set you apart from other amateurs.
Ball Placement on the Break
While there is no rule that says you can or cannot rack the balls in any particular order, there is a strategy for racking for your opponent. More dirty pool? Well, yes, a little bit, but it's all in the name of competition.
The placement of the 1 ball in the rack is set. It goes in the front of the diamond on the foot spot. The placement of the 9 is also set, as the rules say it must be racked in the middle of the rack. So when you are looking down the table on your break, you will see the 1 ball closest to you in the rack. That 1 ball does play an important role in the break shot: It is the first ball on the table that needs to be contacted since it is the lowest-numbered ball on the table. Even if the 9 ball winds up hanging on a pocket, if your 1 ball and cue ball aren't in a good location in relation to each other, you won't be able to pocket that 9 ball and win the game during your turn at the table. That means you may have to turn over control of the table to your opponent with the game-winning ball hanging in the pocket!
It is almost a given that you or your opponent will pocket some balls on the break shot. That's the goal, after all. Based on this knowledge, the positioning of the balls after the break can be predicted to a degree. There is always the added element of luck, so there are no guarantees that the balls will wind up where you need them to — but to say that the pros study racking and breaking in nine ball very carefully is an understatement.
The trick to the break shot is to rack the balls so that they will scatter in such a way that your opponent will have a tough time getting to them in numerical order.
Rack and Positioning
To set the rack in a particular way for your opponent, you will have to have witnessed your opponent's skills in advance. If your opponent typically has a good run at the table, you will want to rack the balls in such a way that you will keep her on her toes.
For example, you could set your rack so that the lowest-numbered balls will scatter a certain way on the table. The farther apart they are from one another, the more you will force your opponent to maneuver his way up and down the table, and the harder it will be for him to pocket balls and continue a run. The best way to learn where to rack the balls is to watch the pros and take the time to experiment a little by yourself.
Know Your Opponent
While any good instructor or top-ranked player will tell you that you have to “play your own game” and not try to play your opponent's game, it's also good to know your opponent's weaknesses. For example: If you notice that your opponent has trouble shooting bank shots, then when you play a safety, leave him or her a bank shot. Maybe you notice that your opponent also misses a lot of long shots, but still goes for the try, nonetheless. If you find yourself without a shot, you can bait your opponent by leaving a long shot. If you're forced to make a defensive move, that's the perfect time to consider your opponent's weaknesses.