Pool Table Game Rules and Etiquette

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Pool game rules can differ depending on which game you play. Regardless, it’s important to know these rules if you plan on playing them with other players especially on a league base. Pool games can become heated if players aren’t on the same page with the rules and regulations. Here are the basics on a couple of the most popular pool games played.

Pool Table Rules

There are a couple of useful terms to know before we talk about the game play:

  • Scratch: This means you either sink the cue ball, you don’t hit any balls, you hit your opponents ball first, or you hit the 8 ball first when it isn’t your objective ball. Scratching can be defined differently for different games. This usually results in a foul.

  • Cue ball in hand: This is usually awarded after a foul made by your opponent. You are allowed to place the cue ball anywhere on the table unless a specific location is required by the game.

  • Foul: When a player breaks a minor rule they are served a foul. Fouls are given depending on the type of game you’re playing. They usually mean that a players turn is over but can also award your opponent cue ball in hand.

8 Ball:

Before we get started on the rules it’s important to know the objective of the game. Each player has their own group of balls, either stripes or solids. This is determined by the first ball to be sunk. If the first all to be sunk is a stripe then the player that sunk it has the stripes.

The players goal is to sink all of their balls before their opponent. Once all of a players balls have been sunk then they are allowed to sink the 8 ball. The 8 ball isn’t to be sunk until this moment. Here are the basic rules created by the VNEA International League:

  • Who Gets to Break- In professional pool, the player that has the least amount of points gets to break. If the players are tied they do what is called a lag (you can use this to decide). Players each hit a ball with a cue across the table the long way. Once the ball bounces back, the player whose ball is closest to the edge gets to break.

  • Racking the Balls- The triangle rack should be pointed towards the breaking player. In each of the corners farthest away from the breaker, there should be one solid and one stripe. The 8 ball should be in the middle of the third row. The rest of the balls can go in random order.

  • Breaking- If a player fails to sink 4 or more object balls on the break then it is an illegal break. The opponent has the option of playing with the setup or re-racking the balls and breaking themselves. If any player sinks the 8 ball during a break it’s an automatic win for the breaker.

  • Open Table- An open table is when the groups have not been decided. Groups can’t be decided on a break so it’s still considered an open table. This means that players are allowed to hit a solid ball to sink a striped ball (vise versa). After groups have been assigned you are only allowed to hit your group first.

  • Indicating Shots- Players are obligated to call the ball number and what pocket it’s going into before they make a shot unless the shot is obvious. If they don’t call their shots then it is a foul and the turn is over. Any balls sunk on a foul stay in the pocket.

  • Non-Indicated Shots- If the player fails to sink the ball they intended to then the turn goes to their opponent. When they sink their opponents ball it’s legal and the turn is still theirs if they also manage to sink the ball they called. A player has up to 3 turns before it’s their opponents turn.

  • Sinking the 8 Ball- Once all of your ball have been sunk, you are allowed to shoot the 8 ball into any pocket as long as you call which pocket you plan on shooting in. If the 8 ball is jumped off the table then it’s an automatic loss. If the play is a scratch then the opponent can come in with the cue ball in hand.

  • Automatic Loss- Pocketing the 8 ball when you still have other objective balls, not in the objective pocket, or making another foul when pocketing the 8 ball in the designated pocket will call for an automatic loss of the game.

9 Ball:

There are a lot of similar rules between 8 ball and 9 ball but they are played very differently. 9 ball is played with the first 9 balls. For every shot, the cue ball needs to hit the lowest numbered ball but they don’t have to sink the lowest numbered ball. Players are rewarded cue ball in hand after their opponents fouls but if they simply miss then they must leave the cue where it is and shoot from there.

Here are some of the rules made by the VNEA International League. These are the rules that differ from 8 ball. Rules not mentioned in this list will be the same for 8 ball.

  • Racking- Because there are less balls in play you use a diamond-shaped rack instead of the triangle shape. The rack is placed to that one of the point ends of the diamond are facing the breaker. The 1 ball is placed at the point closest to the player and the 9 ball is in the center. The rest of the balls are placed at random.

  • Breaking- In order for a break to be legal, the breaker must hit the 1 ball first and either pocket one ball or send 4 or more balls to make contact with the rail. If their break is illegal, the opponent has the option of re-breaking or playing as it is.

  • Sinking the 9 Ball- If during the break the 9 ball is sunk then it’s an automatic win if no other fouls are made. Any other time the 9 ball is pocketed is an automatic loss.

  • Push Out- A push out can be called at any time by the player in turn. This means that they are allowed to hit the cue ball without hitting any other balls without it being considered a foul. Any other fouls can be called. The opposing player can decide if they want to play after the push out or let that player continue.

  • Fouls- Fouls can be given if a player doesn’t call out the pocket and objective ball, first contact isn’t the lowest ball, failure to pocket the objective ball, and other fouls mentioned in 8 ball.

Etiquette

If you want to be a respectable opponent there are a few more things you need to remember to do and not to do during game play. These are just a couple of common courtesies players should always consider.

  • Give Them Some Room. After your turn is over it’s good to step back from the table. This allows your opponents free range of the table and insures that you don’t plan on bumping the table because some petty players do this.

  • Stand Out of Their Line of Shooting. This is another thing players do to throw off their opponent. While their opponent is concentrating on their shot they’ll stand in their line of sight and twitch, breaking their opponents concentration and causing a miscue. It’s nice to sit on a nearby stool and just be courteous.

  • Speak Respectfully and Quietly. This kind of depends on the type of area you’re playing in. Bars are going to be full of obnoxious people. The main goal here is to make sure not to distract your opponent with loud and stupid talk.

  • Play With Grace! Do not be rude during any point of the game and do not be sore if they whip your butt. It’s all in the fun of the game and you’re not going to make any friends if you continue acting like an ogre.

Not only do you need to be nice with the people you play with but also the equipment you use, especially if it’s not your own equipment.

  • Pool Tables Aren’t Tables. Any food, drinks, ash trays, or other substances that could harm the table should not be put on the rim or on the playing field. Things could easily go wrong and contaminate the felt or leave rings along the wooden rails.

  • The Rules of The House. Often times when people go to bars or arcades there will be a set of rules that you are expected to follow. They might be prohibiting certain types of shots. No matter how big of a hot shot you are, you are no exception to these rules!

  • Get Off the Table! This is a simple rule to follow but one of the biggest problems bar face. Sitting on the rails or even just leaning on them could affect the level of the play surface the pool table owner worked hard on maintaining. In bad cases it could even crack the slate of the table.

  • Take it Easy on the Powder. A lot of players use what is called talc to take care of their sweaty hands. However, too much powder on the table can affect the game play and get soaked up by the felt. Gloves are a good alternative if you’re using someone else's table.

Related Questions:

Can You Use an Opponent’s Ball in Pool?

You are allowed to use an opponent's ball in pool as long as you hit your own balls first. If you hit their ball or any unauthorized ball first then this is considered a foul. You are also allowed to score your opponents balls as long as the ball you called also goes into the designated pocket.

How Many Balls in a Pool Set?

There are a total of 16 balls in a traditional set of pool balls. There should be 7 solid balls (1-7), 7 striped balls (9-15), 1 8 ball, and 1 cue ball.

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