English is side spin that the cue tip applies to the cue ball on contact. It can occur only if you hit the cue ball on the left or right side of the vertical center line. FYI, contacting the cue ball on the center vertical line is NOT English. And another FYI, English (British) players call this “side”. My preference is to call it “side spin”. The term is more accurate. If you are talking with any player influenced by the former British Empire (England, Canada, Ireland, India, Australia etc.) the use of “side spin” won’t cause confusion. (It also makes sense to any player anywhere on the planet.)
Back to the ball – when your cue tip makes contact off the left or right side, there is a physical reaction to the stick and the ball. The amount of the action and reaction varies depending on the distance out from center of the cue ball and the speed that the tip moves forward.
The miscue is the ultimate unintended consequence. This occurs when the tip slips off the ball – either because it was too far out from center and thereby can’t physical “grab” the ball – or because there wasn’t enough chalk on the tip – which slips off the ball.
To get the best understanding on what happens with side spin, use a measles (dotted) cue ball. If you pay close attention to the cue ball, its movements will reveal if your intention was translated to reality. If it doesn’t match what you expected, you have something to be fixed on the practice table.
Here are some cue ball reactions to the contact of the cue tip to the ball off the vertical center line:
- Squirt – this is the side shift of the cue ball when contacted with the tip. The further out to the side, the greater the shift. The speed will also exaggerate the shift. The movement is simultaneous with the start of forward momentum.
- Swerve – when side spin of the cue ball can interact with the cloth, the cue ball will curve in the direction of the spin. At slow speed, the curves are greater.
- Cushion angle – when the cue ball contacts the cushion with side spin, the ball will rebound in the direction of the spin. With high side spin, rebounding ball will try to dig into the cloth (losing a little energy) and slightly increase the angle out. With low side spin, the rebounding ball will actually speed up on the out angle.
The biggest problem with applying side spin is the unpredictability of the cue ball. The amount of squirt and swerve that occurs based on the distance out from center, the angle out from center, and the speed of the contact are difficult to precisely apply to the cue ball. The imprecision leads to unpredictable behavior of the cue ball and it’s interaction with the table cloth, other balls, and the rails. For a serious pool player, unpredictable behavior is not a good thing.
However, with some serious practice, you can learn to apply some intentional side spin and get predictable results. Stick with precise distanced out from center (i.e., 1/2 tip, 1 tip) and precise angles (i.e., 12:00, 1:30, 3:00, 4:30, 6:00, etc.) Practice with exact repeatable speeds. Then determine the change in aiming necessary for cue ball and object ball separations of one, two, three, and four diamonds apart.
It is an excellent rule of thumb – 95% of all your shots should avoid putting any side spin on the cue ball. When trying to establish a consistent aiming technique, adding English to the cue ball introduces uncontrollable consequences that will throw the shot off.