How to Aim
You might think that aim is a subjective aspect of the game — each person using his or her own intuition to find the right shot. Finding the shot will eventually become second nature, but aiming will take a great deal of practice until you perfect it as a skill. The trick to grasping the concept of “aim” is to understand the anatomy of the cue ball. Where you strike the cue ball will affect where the cue ball makes contact with the object ball. So you have two points of reference, the contact point on the cue ball and the contact point on the object ball. But how do you make one ball hit the other in just the right place to make a pocket?
Understanding the Contact Points
We discussed the concept of the “ghost ball” earlier. It is a concept that will not only help you in your game, but will help you learn how to aim. Use the concept of the ghost ball to visualize the shot (the imaginary cue ball at the point of contact with the object ball).
You need to consider two points of contact while practicing your aim and there is a certain amount of science involved. There's the spot on the cue ball that you want to hit and then there's the spot on the object ball where the cue ball will actually hit. Remember you are trying to hit one round ball into another round ball — the fact that they are spheres and have the ability to rotate means where you aim is not necessarily where the cue ball will strike. On cut shots, the aim and contact points are different on the object ball, but that's not the case in straight shots. With a straight shot (when a ball is in line with a pocket), the spot you aim for is the contact point.
A cut shot is any shot that is hit from an angle. In other words, it is not a straight-in shot. A “thin cut” is a shot where the cue ball skims the edge of the contact ball. If your opponent asks you if you “used to work in a deli” after you've pocketed a severe cut shot, consider it a compliment!
Aim and Approach
You've learned the basics of stance and aim and are now faced with the task of putting them both together without losing one or the other. The easiest and most effective way to accomplish this is by developing an approach that will help you keep your eye on the ball and find your stance at the same time.
Think of how a bowler steps up to a lane, eyes her target, takes a number of steps forward, eyeing her mark all the while, and finally releases the ball as she reaches her throwing position. An approach in pool is similar, but without as much action.
Once you've determined which shot to shoot, stand behind the object ball and visualize the line to the pocket to determine the contact point. Keeping your eye on the contact point, move behind the cue ball and visualize the contact point on the cue ball. Then take a step toward that contact point, placing your right foot directly in line with that contact point (if you're right-handed). (It'll take a few tries to get the right distance from the table.) Next take a small step forward with your left foot, with your feet shoulder-width apart, and begin to bend toward the table, placing your cue stick directly over your right foot and in line with the contact point on the cue ball.
Once you've placed your bridge hand down and secured it, you should be good to go, with minimal tweaking. If you feel your aim is really off, get up and try again. Once you place yourself down at the table, you won't be able to make any major changes or corrections without affecting your aim, so you'll have to get up and reapproach your shot. Don't worry. Pros do it all the time. It's part of the game.
Following this method will give you a firm foundation for a consistent approach to every shot.