One thing that surprised me watching the recent Gotham City event was how stubborn some players can get regarding the break. And these are terrific players who went far in the tournament. The one that struck me most was the young Spanish player, Francisco Ruiz-Sanchez. He's going to be a force to be reckoned with, but in the quarterfinal against Warren Kiamco, he insisted on breaking head on, even though he was not making a ball. Meanwhile, he could see that Kiamco was consistently making a corner ball or the 1 in the side using a cut break.
That really surprised me, because if I'm playing and I see my opponent have success with one break, I'm going to that break. And I've seen this happen many times. Players watch their opponent succeed, but they are too stubborn to change what they're doing. They continue to try to impose their will, even though the table just isn't breaking that way.
When I'm at a tournament and I'm scheduled to play on a certain table, I will try to go to that table while the previous round's match is still going on. That way, I can watch the players and I study where they are breaking from, and whether or not they are having any success.
When their match is over, I go to the table and immediately practice the break that was most successful. But I only do this if my opponent is not at the table yet. If he is already therewhen I start to practice, I don't use the break I'm going to use in the match. I don't show my hand. I'm looking for any little edge that might make a difference in the match. I'm not going to share the knowledge that I spent time studying. If I plan on using the cut break, I will practice with a head-on break and vice versa. I've won so many close matches where little edges like this made a difference.
When I don't get a chance to observe someone else before a match, I usually start by breaking from one side of the table and then the other. I start with the cue ball a ball or two's width from the spot and keep working out. I try to rack and break as quickly as possible, because I want to get a read on the table before my opponent gets there. Again, if that edge wins you one game, it could be the difference between winning and losing the match.
As for the cut break, Jose Parica was the first player I recall using it. This was back when the Pro Billiards Tour enacted the rule where players had to break from the "box". He aimed for the point on the 1 ball that he would normally aim from if he were breaking from the side. I teach my students to break aiming at three-quarters of the 1 ball, then two-thirds of the 1, half of the 1 and so on. If you keep racking the balls, one of those cuts is going to force that corner ball to go in. Once you figure it out, particularly if it's a thicker hit, it becomes automatic.