Cue ‘old guy’ voice… Back in the old days they used to play two foul 9 ball, where you could push out on any shot and it wasn’t a penalty until you fouled a second time. It wasn’t till the 70’s that Randy Goettlicher created “Texas Express 9 ball” or one push out after the break, ball in hand on all fouls.
When: The very first shot after the break in 9-ball/10-ball is the only chance in the game you have to use a push out. At this point, if you decide to push, you must call “push” so your opponent knows it’s a push out, and you aren’t attempting a normal shot.
Why: This special shot exists in 9-ball and 10-ball because after the break, luck determines whether or not you have a shot on the next ball. It is most likely used when you are snookered (hidden) from the ball you must hit, because otherwise you would have to kick or jump at the ball to make a legal hit, and you would then risk giving your opponent ball in hand or leaving them an easy shot.
What: You can push the cue ball anywhere on the table, and you don’t have to make a legal hit like normal shots. The only foul you can commit is if you scratch (or otherwise hit the cue ball off the table), which is then ball in hand for your opponent like normal. You can even pocket any ball on the table. If you make the 9 (or 10 in 10-ball), it gets spotted, otherwise the ball stays down.
The most confusing part about the push is what happens after you complete the shot. Your opponent then has the option to either shoot the next shot themselves, or give the shot back to you, forcing you to shoot from where you pushed out to…
This is what makes the shot tricky. Your objective is to push out to a spot on the table that makes the shot easier than what you originally had (in the case your opponent decides to give the shot back to you), but is still a difficult shot for your opponent (in the case your opponent decides to shoot the shot). If you push out to a place that leaves a really easy shot, your opponent will choose to shoot the shot, and you have basically gift wrapped the game for them. If you leave too difficult of a shot, your opponent will give the shot back to you, and you are in no better shape than before the push out.
Example: Let’s say you break, make a ball, and you are hooked on the one ball in such a way you would have to kick three rails to even hit it. You could then call push and push to a place where the one ball still can’t be hit directly, but there is a fairly easy one-rail kick. Now, your opponent has the choice of whether or not to attempt the one-rail kick, or give the shot back to you. Either way, your opponent has a difficult shot, or you have a much easier shot than you originally had.
***A push out is not a safe. Leave your opponent something he wants to take but won’t make. A push out has the caveat that your opponent can give the shot back to you, so you never want to hard safe on a push out. It’s all about reading your opponents skill level and playing into it.