For those not educated in the wisdom of a safety, I would advise immediate schooling. Those who practice and use good safeties significantly increase their chance of winning, since offense and defense play equal rolls in the game.
An effective safety does not necessarily require completely hiding the cue ball (hooking). Leaving your opponent with a difficult response can be good enough, and often better if it forces him or her to take a fatal risk. Of course hooking your opponent tightly behind and frozen to you own ball can give you ball in hand, which is the best possible result.
A good way to approach the table for your shot is to first look at possible safeties. This assures that you will not get so involved in thinking offense that good defense is never considered. Once you see a good safety, only then analyze the balls for an offensive attack. If you train yourself to look for good safeties, it will become automatic.
When you decide on your offensive move, weigh the consequences against your defensive option. Too often players miss great ball in hand opportunities simply because they are not conditioned to see the table from both the offensive and defensive points of view. In fact, don't think of a safety as a defensive action. Forcing a ball in hand foul is really good offense. You are not "protecting" yourself with a good hook. You are using your opponent in order to get the best possible position for your next, and possible run-out shot. There is nothing defensive about that way of thinking.
Of course there are times when a safety is as difficult to execute as going for the pocket- times when you really have a decision to make. Your choice depends on where your opponent's balls are located and how well you believe he can shoot. You have to play the odds, and you should always go with the best odds.
It is your shot. You have solids, and your last ball is on the rail near the corner pocket. Your opponent only needs the 8-ball, and it is wide open up table. Your opponent is a good shot maker, and he is waiting for you to make a mistake. Will you oblige him?
Call a safety. With the 8-ball in the open a failed attempt to pocket your ball will cost you the game. Go to the short rail using a very soft center-ball hit. If the object ball is frozen, the cue ball must drift to the rail after contact (or you must drive the object ball to another rail (which would be dumb.) If the object ball is not frozen, either the object or cue ball must go to the rail after contact. The key to this shot is speed. It requires a hit slightly harder than it takes to get to the object ball. If you pull it off (and you can do it easily with practice) you will hook your opponent tightly behind your ball and get ball in hand when he misses the 8-ball, or at the least a good second chance to sink your ball from a better position should he manage to hit it. Variations of this shot come up frequently. Try moving the cue straight back (toward the detail insert) to create more challenging angles off the short rail.
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