Making a safety play is often your only option in pool. However, there are many different ways of playing a good safety, so you will sometimes have to discern which type of safety is your best bet in a given spot. The type of situation I want to address is when you can't use a safety to hide the cue ball from your opponent's balls, because there are no hiding places available. The best way to approach the safety shot in this spot is to put one or more of your opponent's balls into impossible positions, the type I usually refer to as "being in jail."
There are two ways to accomplish this: actually moving your opponent's ball on a legal shot (hitting one of your balls first), or moving one of your balls into a position where it is blocking an opponent's ball from an open pocket. In Diagram 1, I have shown an example of a situation where you can put two of your opponent's balls in jail in one shot. You are shooting stripes, and the 13 ball, which is locked up with the 2, prevents you from running out. Therefore, rather than clear off the table for your opponent, you must find a safety that will rob him of any opportunity to pocket the 3 or 6 and make a run at the 2 ball. With no good place to "hide" the cue ball, your safety must accomplish this in a different way. Here, drive the 9 to the area near the rail between the 6 ball and corner pocket 1, blocking any easy shot on the 6. In the same shot, the cue ball will carom off of the 9, into the 3 ball, and knock it between the 12 and the 8, so that it has no open pocket. Eureka! Your safety has robbed your opponent of any open shot.
Even though you were able to block two separate balls in one shot, you will often only have the ability to achieve one of these two outcomes in a single shot. At any rate, finding opportunities like this one requires an imaginative and informed mind. Remember to look for openings like this one in the future, and you will surely improve your winning percentage.
Since 1978, Billiards Digest magazine has been the pool world’s best source for news, tournament coverage, player profiles, bold editorials, and advice on how to play pool. Our instructors include superstars Nick Varner and Jeanette Lee. Every issue features the pool accessories and equipment you love — pool cues, pool tables, instruction aids and more. Columnists Mike Shamos and R.A. Dyer examine legends like Willie Mosconi and Minnesota Fats, and dig deep into the histories of pool games like 8-ball, 9-ball and straight pool.