We’ve all dreamed of being the extraordinary person who walks into a bar and assembles their pool cue in front of everyone, and then beats the local favorite. Well, before you get ahead of yourself, it may be in your best interest to formally learn how to play pool. With so many different games and table sizes, it can be a bit confusing at first. Here we discuss the most popular style of pool, eight ball. However, we will cover some other variations as well. It won’t be long until you’re calling bank shots and sinking combos much to the dismay of your opponents. But first, let’s go through some of the basics.
The main things you need to know about this popular cue sport.
Object Of The Game
The object of a pool game is to sink your billiard balls and the 8-ball during gameplay before your opponent sinks theirs. At the start of the game, you will be assigned a group of pool balls, either stripes or solids. These will be the group of balls that you must sink in no particular order. If you sink one of your assigned balls, then you are rewarded with another turn.
The only order that must be followed is that all of your stripes or solids must be potted before the 8-ball. Sinking the 8-ball before all your other balls are sunk will result in immediate loss of that game.
In theory, you could win the game without your opponent ever taking a shot!
Equipment & Players
The fundamentals to get you started.
Pool can be played 1v1 or 2v2. In 2v2 play. You and your teammate will both shoot for the same type of ball (solids or stripes). Turns are alternated between teams. So if player 1 from team A goes first and does not sink any balls, then Player 1 from Team B is next to play. If they don’t sink any balls, then player 2 from team A is third to play, and player 2 from team B is last to play.
This order stays constant throughout the game.
The first piece of equipment needed is the pool table which should have six pockets. As you can see in our best pool table article, the standard size is 9’ x 4.5’, but pool tables can come in a variety of sizes to fit whatever space you want. Next, you’ll need at least one cue stick since players can share. Lastly, you will need the balls:
- seven striped balls
- seven solid balls
- one 8 ball
- one cue ball
How To Score
There is no scoring per se in pool. But if you want to know who is winning a game while it’s being played, you can count the number of balls still on the pool table.
If there are five stripes and four solids, then it’s a safe assumption that the player assigned the solids is winning by a narrow margin.
To win at pool, you must sink all of your assigned balls (solids or stripes) and the 8-ball in that order. The first player or team to do so will be crowned the winner.
You can also win if your opponent sinks the 8-ball before they have potted all their balls. If this happens, the game is over, and you win.
Pool Rules & Penalties
The most common rule in pool is you are not allowed to sink the white cue ball. This is called a scratch. If a player scratches then they lose their turn immediately. If they sink one of their object balls on the same shot as their scratch, that ball comes out of the pocket and back in play on the table.
The cue ball is then given to your opponent, who may place it anywhere on the baulk line by hand. They may shoot at any of their object balls but must shoot down table.
The second most common rule is that you cannot sink the 8-ball before your object balls have been potted. If you do so, then you lose the game immediately.
Top Tips For Playing Pool
How to impress with your game play and cue ball control.
How To Rack The Balls
Racking the balls is made easy by utilizing the triangular rack that is provided:
- Every ball except for the cue ball are placed in this triangle.
- Arrange the balls that are around the outside of the formation in an alternating fashion of stripes and solids. In the very middle, place the 8-ball.
- Using the triangle, line up the front ball so that it’s in between the two spots marked on the railing of the table. Inlaid diamond shapes usually designate these spots.
- Then ensure all of the balls are touching and not moving. Remove the triangle, and you are ready to break.
Holding The Cue
To hold the cue effectively, first you must determine which one of your hands will be the “bridge” hand. This hand will be used to support the weight of the cue and help you align properly. Once you have chosen a hand, then there are two different options:
Index Finger On Top — Gently rest the cue on the thumb of your bridge hand. Lay your index finger over the top to secure the cue in place. Keep your index finger loose and relaxed. You don’t want to have a tight grip so that your cue can glide easily between your thumb and index finger.
Index Finger On Table — Lay your bridge hand on the table and press your thumb and index finger together. Raise your index knuckle off the table to create a guide between your thumb and index knuckle. This is where you will lay your cue.
Your backhand should be firm on the cue, as this is where your power will come from.
- Ensure that all the balls within the triangle are touching each other and staying in place
- Place the cue ball on the baulk line about 2 inches to the right or left of the dead center
- Position your bridge hand a little further away from the cue ball than you usually would to create more power
- Aim for the front ball
- Strike the cue ball just above its center point
- Follow through with your cue while being careful not to make contact with the table
Essential Shots To Master
Draw Shot — Is used to bring the cue ball backward after it strikes your object ball of choice.
Follow Shot — Use this shot when you want the cue ball to keep moving forward after it strikes your object ball.
Stop Shot — This shot is used when you want the cue ball to stop immediately and stay in place after hitting your object ball.
Versions Of Billiards
This is one of the most mainstream pool games being played in North America. You will find this popular game at most pool halls and bars.
It starts with the balls being racked in a triangle and then broken up. Whichever ball you sink first is the type of ball you will try to sink for the rest of the game. If you drop a solid on your first shot, then you now are responsible for all the solids.
Once all your object balls have been potted, you can now go for the 8 ball. Whoever sinks all their object balls and then the eight ball first wins.
Nine ball is played using only the striped balls, the nine ball and the cue ball. Start by arranging the stripes and the nine ball in a diamond formation with the nine ball in the middle. This is what you will break with the cue ball.
Once the break has been made, each player tries to sink the balls in numerical order, starting with the 1-ball. If a ball is sunk, then that player shoots again. The first person to sink the 9-ball after all the other balls have been sunk is the winner.
Other Billiard Games
Snooker — This is played on a much larger table and with a different set of balls. It’s a very popular game in Europe. There are other colored balls that each represent a different point value. Once all of the balls have been pocketed, then whoever has the highest score wins.
Cutthroat Pool — This game is perfect for when you have either 3 or 5 players. If there are three players, then you would divide the balls up into three groups. Numbered balls 1-5 for player 1, 6-10 for player 2, and 11-15 for player 3. The object is to sink your opponent’s balls before they can sink yours. The player who is the last to have balls on the table is the winner.
What To Look For When Choosing Pool Equipment
How to choose the best for you amongst all the pool tables and cues out there.
The most important part about choosing the right table is ensuring you get the right size. The size of the table will depend on how much space you have to work with. If you are looking to put a table in your basement, you must consider how to get it down the stairs as well.
One aspect that is often overlooked is the amount of space needed to shoot. Even though your table will fit in the area you have picked out, do you have room to shoot?
The fun part about getting a table is choosing the color and design of it. You can get your table made with any color felt you like. Green is the most popular, but blue and red are common as well. You could even get one with your favorite sports team logo.
Pool cues are all about the same length, 59 inches. The weight is up to the player, though. Most cues weigh between 16 and 21 ounces. This is a personal preference, and you should get whichever weight feels the most comfortable.
Cues are also made with different materials ranging from maple wood, ash wood or fiberglass. This is again a personal preference, and the more you play, the more you will favor one or the other.
Frequently Asked Questions
The basic rules of pool are to sink all of your pool balls before your opponent sinks theirs. If you sink one of your balls, then your turn continues. If you drop the cue ball, then you lose your turn. If you drop the eight ball before sinking all of your assigned object balls, you automatically lose the game.
To play pool for beginners, first you must learn how to hold the cue. Once you have done that, then learning the rules of the game will be next. Once you know the rules and how to shoot, then you are ready to start practicing. No one is perfect at pool so enjoy the journey of slowly but surely improving one shot at a time.
No, you cannot hit your opponent’s ball first in pool. You always must strike the white ball first and then an object ball of your own. If you do happen to hit an object ball that belongs to your opponent, resulting in one of your object balls being sunk, then your object ball is removed from the pocket and placed back on the pool table.
The two types of balls in pool are called solids and stripes. There are seven of each and represent the two teams playing. There is also an eight ball that stands alone and is not part of either category even though it is solid in color. The white ball or cue ball is the only other ball on the table and is the only ball that a pool player can hit with their cues.
No, pool is not hard to learn. The rules are pretty basic, and learning how to play pool requires little to no physical exertion. However, to become very good at playing pool will take time and practice. This part may be difficult depending on how good you want to be!
Learning how to play straight pool can be a fun experience. Chances are there is a pool table at your local restaurant or bar. The game’s culture is friendly, so if you see people playing, then don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and ask to have the next game. They may even include you in a team game. Ultimately pool is fun and meant to be shared amongst friends and acquaintances, so play your best and enjoy.