Tom Simpson ©
December 2000 – All Rights Reserved – PoolClinics.com
Any time the cueball is too close to the rail to put your bridge hand on the table, you’re forced to use a rail bridge. The smaller the table, the more often this happens. On barboxes, a healthy percentage of your shots are from the rail. Rail bridges are needed frequently, and they’re worth a little attention.
Let’s begin by looking at what not to do. Do not elevate the butt of your cue any further than absolutely necessary. Looking around the poolroom, you’ll see this a lot – players thinking they have to elevate to keep from miscuing. Some use a closed bridge (finger loop) because that’s the bridge they always use. What’s wrong with this? It’s too high. Using a closed bridge off the rail forces you to elevate simply to get the tip down to the vicinity of the ball. Others elevate because they feel they will miscue if they’re flat. Nah – chalk the edges of your tip, get your tip low enough on the cueball, get your stick flat, stroke well, sink balls.
So, what’s wrong with elevating? For starters, when you elevate, the cueball jumps. It leaves the table surface on nearly every shot anyway, but as you elevate, you might get enough “air” to cause a miss. Also, if the cueball is frozen to the rail and you elevate and hit a little too high on the cueball, you risk trapping the ball between the tip and the table and not getting a clean hit. Worst of all, as you elevate, the amount of massé (curve) you get from left or right english dramatically increases. In other words, if you are elevated and you don’t hit precisely on the vertical axis of the cueball, the cueball is going to curve a lot more than with a nearly level cue. This is difficult to control, and if it’s unintentional, you’ll miss.
Rails are made in two basic styles: flat and rounded. The curved ones allow you to get your bridge hand a little lower, making it easier to approach a level stroke. In addition, rails that are wider provide more options for hand placement and bridge length.
Two rail bridges are all you need for the vast majority of shots: the Open Bridge and the Four Finger Bridge. The Open Bridge is almost the same as the version used on the table bed (palm down, thumb pressed against forefinger to make the bridge). The difference is you want to be very flat on the rail, so your bridge is low and you don’t have to elevate to get the tip down. Start with your hand flat. Pressing down with the tip of your forefinger, drag the fingertip back toward your hand, allowing the middle knuckle to point up while the fingernail knuckle curves down. This makes a little “wall” for the stick to glide against. The best way to get lower with the Open Bridge is to lay the stick on the cushion cloth and then raise it up just enough to avoid touching the cloth on your stroke. Raise the stick that little bit by squeezing your thumb in closer to your forefinger. Experiment with this. It makes a big difference.
The Four Finger Bridge is really the easiest way to control the stick from the rail:
The Four Finger Bridge will give you confidence and control, while allowing the stick to be as low and flat as possible. Caution: Don’t use this bridge when the cueball is close to the rail – you might catch the tip on that little bump you sometimes find between the cushion cloth and the rail surface.
Which bridge should you use when? It depends on which is more comfortable for a given shot. If the cueball is close to or frozen to the cushion, you’ll need the Open Bridge. Sometimes you need to make the Open Bridge with your fingertips out at the edge of the rail, to get far enough from the ball to have room to stroke. For these shots, press your fingers against the rail to stabilize the bridge hand. Sometimes it helps to lower your wrist also.
As your aim line moves from perpendicular to the rail toward parallel, an Open Bridge will gradually become too long (too far from the cueball). Switch to the Four Finger Bridge. When the cueball is a little too far from the rail to bridge on the rail, but too close to bridge on the table, use the Four Finger Bridge and drape your fingers over the nose of the cushion and hug the cushion with your fingers to get stable.
If you don’t like rail bridges, play on bigger tables, or play better position. When you can bridge with your hand on the table, you have the freedom to strike the cueball anywhere you choose.