Unless you play in a league or professionally, you probably play 8-ball according to rules you’ve learned over the years. Most people who play 8-ball pool do so under the umbrella term of “bar rules.” But, the problem with this is that it seems like everyone has their own set of bar rules. The overall structure of the game is the same, but there are some key differences that can turn a friendly game into an argument. No one wants that. This is why I’ve gathered information on how to play 8-ball: 8-ball rules explained.
Here’s everything you need to know, based on rules that the major tournaments follow.
How to Win
8-ball is played with 15 object balls and a cue ball. Balls numbered 1-7 are the “low balls” or “solids,” whereas balls numbered 9-15 are “high balls” or “stripes.” The object of the game is to legally sink all the object balls of your group and then pocket the 8-ball before your opponent does.
There is no set placement for each of the different balls in a rack, save the 8-ball and one of each solid and stripe. The 8-balls should always be placed in the middle of the triangle rack, and the two sides of the bottom of the triangle should be occupied by a solid and a stripe. It doesn’t matter which side they are on, only that there is a solid and a stripe on each bottom corner of the triangle. The other balls can be placed randomly.
The top of the triangle should be placed at the foot spot on the table, which is generally clearly marked. If it is not, you can find the foot spot by looking at the diamonds/spots along the railings of the table. If you drew an imaginary line between the two parallel spots denoting the bottom quarter of the table. In the middle of this line is the foot spot.
Once the balls are racked in the triangle, they should remain touching when the rack is removed.
Once the balls are racked, it comes time for the break shot. To determine who breaks, a coin is generally flipped in a friendly game. In league or tournament play, the player with the lowers speed rating breaks first. If both players have similar speed ratings, or there is no rating system in place, a lag shot determines who breaks first.
Each player has a ball placed behind the headstrong with enough room between them for each player to shoot at the same time. Each player shoots their ball down to the foot string with the object of having it come to rest back near the head of the table, without touching the rail.
A lag shot is bad if the ball becomes pocketed, touches a side rail, passes over the long string (the imaginary line that bisects the table lengthwise), or contacts the other player’s ball.
The player whose ball is closer to the head cushion gets to break. If one player has a bad lag shot, the other player gets to break. If both players have a bad lag shot, then they reshoot the lag.
The break shot must be done from behind the head string, otherwise known as “the kitchen.” The cue ball doesn’t have to strike any particular ball first. For the break shot to be legal, one of two things must happen:
- A ball must be pocketed legally (without a foul).
- Four object balls must make contact with cushions. It doesn’t matter which four or which cushions.
If the player legally pockets an object ball (other than the 8-ball) he or she gets to keep shooting until a foul occurs or a shot is missed.
If the breaker pockets an object ball on the break, the table is still open, meaning solids of stripes can go to either player. The same can be said if no ball is pocketed on a legal break shot.
However, if the breaker makes another shot, then that group belongs to that shooter for the duration of the game.
Now is a good time to mention call shots. Most professional tournaments require players to call their shots, unless the ball and the corresponding pocket is obvious enough that it doesn’t need to be called.
However, if you’re playing a friendly game, it’s up to you and the other player(s) to determine if you want to play a call shot game. If you do, then you must call balls and pockets before each shot, aside from the break shot.
Fouls on Break Shots
There are many different ways to foul in the game of pool. And the break shot is no different. Here are the different ways to foul on break shots, and their consequences.
- Scratching on the Break
- If the cue ball goes into a pocket on the break, most rulebooks state that the opposing player can choose to have the balls re-racked or can take the cue ball in hand and play as is.
- Sending Balls Off the Table
- If any object balls go off the table during a break, it’s considered a foul. The balls stay out of play and the opposing player can either play the table as is, or can take the cue ball in hand behind the head string.
- Sending the 8-Ball Off the Table
- If the 8-ball is sent off the table (or pocketed) on the break, the rules differ. According to the World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA), the 8-ball is placed back on the table at the foot spot and the opposing player can accept the table as it lies or take ball in hand behind the head string.
- According to the UPA, if the 8-ball comes off the table on the break shot, the offending player loses the game.
- Pocketing the 8-Ball on the Break Shot
- According to the UPA, legally pocketing the 8-ball on the break shot results in a win for the breaker.
- According to the WPA, the opposing player can choose to place the 8-ball on the table and play as is or have the table re-racked to start over.
- If the 8-ball is pocketed and another foul occurs (like scratching) then, according to UPA rules, the offending player loses the game.
- Again, WPA rules differ here. They say that when the 8-ball and the cue ball are both pocketed on the break, the opposing player can choose to have the 8-ball placed at the foot spot and shoot from behind the head string, or can have the table re-racked to begin again.
Fouls During Gameplay
There are several ways to foul during the course of a game. Here are some of the most common.
- If a player pockets the cue ball (or sends it off the table), the opposing player takes over with ball in hand anywhere on the table.
- If a player scratches on the 8-ball shot, and the 8-ball is pocketed, that player loses the game. If the 8-ball is still in play, the opposing player gets ball in hand.
- Hitting the Wrong Ball
- If a player accidentally hits a ball from their opponent’s group first, it’s considered a ball in hand foul. The same goes for hitting the 8-ball first when you still have balls of your group on the table.
- Moving Balls
- If a player moves any balls on the table, accidentally or otherwise, it’s a ball in hand foul. This includes loose clothing moving balls, bumping balls during a shot, or purposely moving balls for any reason. The only balls that should move are the cue ball and the object balls of a legal shot.
- No Rail or Pocket
- When a player legally hits their object ball with the cue ball, but the object ball fails to touch a rail or pocket, it results in ball in hand for the opposing player. Balls that are already touching the rail, considered “frozen” balls, do not count since they are already touching a rail.
- Other Ball in Hand Fouls
- When any player shoots while balls are still moving on the table.
- When a miscue happens on a jump shot.
- Touching an object ball while placing the cue ball for a ball in hand shot means ball in hand for the other player.
- Failure of a player to have at least one foot on the floor.
- When the cue tip hits the cue ball more than once during a shot.
- Playing out of turn.
- Marking the table (as with chalk to help the player’s shot).
- Interfering with or distracting the opposing player.
During call shot games, there’s usually an option of calling a “safety” before a shot, which would end a player’s turn regardless of the outcome of the shot. The rules surrounding safeties vary depending on the game and the rulebook. Most “friendly,” bar rules games don’t have a safety rule.
Winning/Losing The Game
The player to win the game of 8-ball is the first player to legally pocket all of the object balls of their group (solids or stripes) and then to legally pocket the 8-ball without fouling. But, there are other ways games can be won, generally if the other player makes a game-losing mistake.
- Scratching and pocketing the 8-ball at once.
- Driving the 8-ball off the table (unless on a break, according to some rulebooks).
- Pocketing the 8-ball while there are legal balls remaining on the table of that player’s group.
- Pockets the 8-ball in any other pocket than the one called (if playing call shots).
- When one player leaves the table without any indication they are coming back, it’s considered a forfeit.
The information above is a detailed framework for playing 8-ball with friends. If you’re playing in a league or a tournament, it’s best to familiarize yourself with those particular rules, because there are some differences. Like other pool games, the rules can vary depending on who you’re playing with and what rules they follow.
But, most of the professional pool and billiard organizations follow similar frameworks in terms of the major rules governing the game. If you’re looking for a simple version of 8-ball rules, visit my other article here.