in: Games & Tricks, Living

• Last updated: June 1, 2021

Billiards Basics: Play Pool Like Minnesota Fats

Paul Newman playing billiards.

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from James Bringman.

“I got a hunch it’s me from here on in. One ball, corner pocket. I mean, that ever happen to you? You know, all of a sudden you feel like you can’t miss? ‘Cause I dreamed about this game, fat man. I dreamed about this game every night on the road. Five ball. You know, this is my table, man. I own it.” – Fast Eddie

You’ve just finished watching The Hustler and all the high stakes action has got you pumped to hit your local pool hall to move the rock with the best of them. Problem being you haven’t touched the felt since your college rec room days and need to get some oil back in that stroke and make the cue an extension of your arm. Here are a few tips to get the ball rolling so you can strike up the next local tournament league play or maybe just hustle a few bucks from some of the suckers in the joint.

Choosing Your Cue

Getting back into most sports often requires purchasing a few basic necessities, and buying your own cue is a great way to keep you motivated towards the game. But, if you’re short on funds or are somewhat hesitant about spending money on something that may end up just gathering dust, the house cue is for you.

House Cue

As the name implies, house cues are provided by the pool hall and can be found hanging up in the racks on the wall for your choosing. Most house cues, unfortunately, are extremely abused and damaged in more ways than one, so when searching for a cue, try to inspect a few areas of the stick to ensure you get the best shot possible.

  • Check the tip for wear. The more leather the better. Try to find one with at least ¼ inch of leather to it. Avoid ones worn down to the nub.
  • Place the cue on an empty table and roll it from one rail towards another while inspecting how warped the shaft is (and trust me, they’re all warped so go with the lesser of evils).
  • A heavier stick helps steady your hand and keep your stroke controlled. It helps with beginners and bigger guys. Some cues will be marked with the weight in ounces, so shoot for around 20 oz. if you can, or just pick a few out and go by feel.

Maybe you have some cash that’s really burning a hole in your pocket or you’re thinking about joining a league and can’t settle with an ordinary house cue. This is the time to purchase a personal cue.

Personal Cue

Now here is where you’ll find the most trouble, picking out a cue that will bring your game up a notch but you don’t know where to start and the price ranges are staggering. Remember, the most important thing is getting a cue you feel comfortable with. Always make sure the weight and the stroke feel good to you and test it out on a table if you can, or check for a return policy in case it doesn’t work out.

  • For beginner players looking for a decent stick, stay in the price range of $50-$175. Intermediate players around $300. And if you’re an advanced player, get whatever you want, you’re good enough.
  • Few things evoke manliness like threading together a two-piece wood cue. Stay away from aluminum and composites, if possible. Standard length is usually 57 inches long but the pros swear by 58 inches.
  • Be sure that the fit between the pieces is tight and secure when fully threaded. Also, a nice evenly rounded leather tip will give you a good strike on the ball.
  • Designs are more a matter of personal taste. Irish linen wrap? No wrap at all? Pearl inlays? Hardwood inlays? The options are nearly limitless. Get something that catches your eye and you would like to be seen playing with (when asked on several occasions how much my cue was, other players have been shocked to find out it was only $100).
  • Cues with at least a 1-year warranty against warping or breaking are a plus.
  • A few brands to look for are Cuetec, Players, McDermott, and Predator. (Note: Sneaky Pete’s are well-made two-piece cues that are meant to look like standard house cues. Pick up one of these and start your pool hustling career faster than you can spell M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A F-A-T-S.)


If your new cue didn’t come with one, get one. Enough said.

Custom Cue

If you spend several thousands of dollars on a custom cue, hang it up on the wall in your billiards room, and admire its beauty, that’s all it’s really good for. Accidents happen sometimes in pool halls and damaging a piece of wood that expensive isn’t worth the trouble. Or worse, it gets stolen.

Perfecting Your Game

Man posing with billiards balls in sleeveless white shirt.

It takes balls to be a good pool player.

The new cue stick is packed in its case and carried over your shoulder as you strut into the dimly lit room ready to run a few sets. But you don’t have a table at home, and your game is a little rusty. Here are three things to remember when practicing your technique.


  • Positioning your body in-line with the ball is key to making a good shot. So step back, visualize the angle, and then approach the table with your cue at hip level, making a directing line from cue ball to object ball.
  • Keep your eye on the ball.
  • Lower yourself to the table, like you’re staring straight down the eye of the cue ball.


Your bridge hand should take one of two forms: The Open-Handed Bridge and the Closed Bridge.

  • An open-handed bridge is when you cup your hand on the table and place the shaft of the cue stick in the groove between your thumb and index finger. This is typically used for easier shots that don’t need any fancy spin or “English” placed on the cue ball.
  • A closed bridge is when you touch your thumb to your middle finger, place the cue across those two fingers just above the thumb knuckle, and wrap the index finger over, creating a neat and stable bridge for more accented shots.
  • Try to position your bridge hand 6-8 inches from the cue ball. The closer you are, the less room for error in your stroke
  • Continue to keep your eye on the ball.


This is generally the hardest skill to develop, but with a lot of practice, and I mean hours upon hours of practice, you’ll be playing the long ball day in and day out with perfect accuracy.

  • With the cue stick still hovering around your hip, be sure your back hand grips the butt of the stick, about 1-2 inches from the end, with just your thumb and index finger (add the middle finger if you need a little more muscle behind the shot).
  • Aim dead center and bring the tip of the cue within an inch of the cue ball. Pull your stroke back slowly, and steadily bring it forward within an inch of the ball again. Keep your body and shoulders still; your back arm should only be moving at the hinge of your elbow.
  • Do this as many times as it takes until you feel comfortable taking the shot; with your eye still on the cue ball and the object ball in sight, make sure to feel out the cue and work on a steady and straight stroke all the way through.
  • When you’re ready to strike the ball, follow through with the shot. You want to stroke it, not poke it. Good house tables have fast playing felt so you never really need to hammer the ball. Don’t sacrifice accuracy for the sake of power. Practice shooting the ball as soft as you can to get an idea of how the table rolls.
  • And finally, after you take the shot, stay low to the table. Do not stand up immediately. Wait until the cue ball makes contact with the object ball and sinks into the pocket and then rise from your lowered position and step back from the table.

Like everything manly that is worth doing, a lot practice will improve your game. Pool halls are one of the few places where a man can escape in solitude and run a few racks to relieve a tough day at the office or invite the boys out for a few games, drinks, and possibly some gentlemanly wagers. Remember, good players usually don’t want to be beat, so be wary of the sharks and hustlers that try to give you some advice; it’s usually bogus and is an attempt to lure you into a “friendly” game that ends with you making several trips to the ATM. And, who knows? All of this newfound knowledge might earn you a manly new nickname at the tables like Fast Eddie, St. Louie Louie, Minnesota Fats, Toupee Jay, or Boston Shorty.

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