My love of straight pool is no secret, but I also love 8-ball. Eight-ball and straight pool compliment each other, because both games are all about pattern play. Many patterns that come up in a straight pool game also come up in 8-ball.
The number one mistake I see players make in 8-ball is trying to run out when the balls just don't allow it. Starting a run out and getting stuck on the last ball or on the 8 ball is a cardinal sin.
When I approach the table after the break, I look to see if any balls from either or both groups are tied up, preventing me from running the table. If it's possible to run out the table, I look to see if one group has fewer potential problems than the other. The key in making that determination is looking for the group that will allow me to run out while using minimal cue ball movement. When you minimize the movement of your cue ball, you maximize your chances of running out.
If the table offers a run out, do not proceed before you have a plan for the entire run out. I start by determining which pocket the 8 ball will go in. Then I work backwards from the 8, determining which ball gives me the best chance to gain perfect position for the 8. I consider the balls in my group "candidates". If, say, the 3 ball gives me the best angle for shape on the 8, I look for the candidate that gives me the best chance to pocket the 3 ball. I continue that process through the remainder of the object balls, until I have the entire pattern mapped out. It's like having seven "key" balls in straight pool.
In determining the best pattern, I often separate the balls into groups. If I have three balls at the top end of the table, I look at those three balls as Group A. And if there are three balls in the middle of the table, they might comprise Group B. The final two balls at the bottom end of the table would be Group C. I attack one group at a time. Avoid moving the cue ball from one end of the table to the other. Work your way from one group to the other.
One aspect of 8-ball that is often overlooked is banking. Banking balls is a great way to keep cue ball movement to a minimum. Knowing how to bank can get you out of a lot of situations in which a good connect-the-dots pattern isn't available.
This is the way I teach 8-ball to my students, and it doesn't take long for them to start recognizing the proper pattern. The problem then comes down to execution. Invariably, they are going to get stuck working through some of the patterns. When they miss a ball or miss position, I tell them to stop everything and keep shooting that particular shot until they get it right.
Of course, there are many instances in which a run out isn't possible, and that's when safety play is critical. Next issue I will discuss the keys to effective safety play in 8-ball.