Rack ’em up and learn how to play 8 ball pool with our comprehensive guide. From breaking to sinking the eight, we’ve got you covered!
How To Play 8 Ball Pool
8 ball pool is a popular game that is enjoyed by millions of people around the world. The game is played on a pool table with six pockets and 15 object balls – 7 solid coloured balls, 7 striped balls, and the 8 ball.
To play the game correctly and fairly, it’s important to understand and follow the rules established by the Billiard Congress of America (BCA). In this “How To Play 8 Ball Pool” guide, we will provide an overview of the BCA rules for 8 ball pool and explain how to play the game, how to set up the table, how to take shots, and how to win the game.
The Object of The Game
The object of the game 8 ball pool is to pocket all seven of your designated object balls (either stripes or solids) followed by the 8 ball (black) before your opponent.
However, if you pot the 8 ball before you have potted all of your object balls, or if you pot the 8 ball into the wrong pocket or illegally, you lose the game.
Learning The Terminology
Before we dive into the rules and how to play 8 ball pool. It’s important to quickly familiarise yourself with some basic terminology that will make the rest of this article easiest to understand.
Cue ball: The white ball that is hit with the cue stick to strike the object balls.
Object ball: Any of the 15 balls numbered from 1 to 15, other than the cue ball.
Solids: The group of seven balls numbered from 1 to 7, also known as “low” balls.
Stripes: The group of seven balls numbered from 9 to 15, also known as “high” balls.
Rack: The triangle-shaped device used to arrange the balls at the beginning of a game.
Pocket: One of the six holes on the pool table where the object balls are sunk.
Rail: The cushioned padded edge that surrounds the playing surface of the pool table.
Head string: A (sometimes) imaginary line connecting the second diamonds on the side rails at the end of the table you break from.
Break: The first shot of the game, where the player strikes the rack of balls with the cue ball.
Scratch: When the cue ball is pocketed or leaves the table, resulting in a foul.
Foul: A violation of the rules that results in a penalty.
Ball in hand: A penalty where the opposing player can place the cue ball anywhere on the table before taking their shot.
How to Rack The Balls
Align the triangle so that the apex ball (the one at the top of the triangle) is positioned on the centre of the table dot.
One ball from each group (solids and stripes) should be placed in the bottom corners of the triangle. The 8 ball (black) should be placed directly in the centre of the triangle (the middle of the third row).
The remaining balls are then randomised within the remaining spaces. There are no official rules regarding the randomisation of these balls, however, most players prefer placing them so they alternate between solids and stripes.
Make sure that the balls in the rack are tightly packed together, with no gaps between them. You can ensure this by using your hands to push the 5 balls on the bottom row forward whilst holding the triangle in place.
Once the balls are properly arranged in the rack, gently lift the rack off the table, leaving the balls in place. If you see a ball wobble out of position, you should reapply the triangle and remove it more carefully.
When I play with my friends, we play that whoever is breaking does their own rack. This way you can ensure it’s compact and have no complaints if there’s an illegal break due to the balls not dispersing normally (usually the cause of a misaligned apex ball).
Rules of The Break
The two most common ways to decide who breaks first is either a coin-flip or a “lag”. A lag is when both players shoot the cue ball from behind the head string towards the foot rail.
The objective is to get the cue ball to return and rest as close as possible to the head rail without touching it. The player whose ball stops closest to the head rail wins the lag and gets to choose whether they want to break first or second.
Breaking will alternate for the remaining games. The coin flip or lag is only used to decide who takes the first break of the session.
A legal break in 8 ball pool is when the breaker either:
- Pockets a ball
- Drives at least 4 balls (excluding the white) into the rail
Failing to complete either of the above is considered a foul. The opposing player then has the option of accepting the table in its current position or having the balls reracked. If the opposition player opts for the rerack, they also have the choice of who rebreaks.
If the breaker completes a legal break but pots the cue ball (white). All pocketed balls remain pocketed and the table remains open. The incoming player can place the cue ball wherever they choose behind the head string.
The incoming player is not allowed to shoot at any ball that is behind the head string, unless he first shoots it past it, causing it to come back.
In the instance where the breaker shoots an object ball off the table, the opposing player has the option of accepting the table as it is and proceeding with the shot, or moving the cue ball anywhere behind the head string and shooting.
If the breaker pots the 8 ball (black) on the break, the breaker can choose to re-rack or to have the 8-ball replaced in its starting position and continue.
If the cue ball (white) and the 8 ball (black) are both potted on the break, the incoming player has the option to either rerack, or have the 8-ball replaced in its starting position and the option to place the cue call anywhere behind the headstring.
Calling The Shot
Calling the shot in 8 ball pool refers to declaring which ball and pocket you intend to sink before taking your shot. This is typically done to avoid accidental shots, to ensure fairness between players, and to add an extra level of challenge to the game.
Before taking your shot, you must declare which ball you intend to hit and which pocket you intend to sink it in. If you successfully sink the ball in the called pocket, you continue your turn at the table. This applies to every shot except from the break.
You do not need to call the shot on when it’s obvious, for example, a straight shot into the most logical pocket. It’s the opponents duty to seek clarification of the shot if they are unsure of the object ball and/or its intended pocket.
If you sink a different ball or sink the called ball in a different pocket, your turn ends and your opponent gets ‘ball in hand’ (meaning they can place the cue ball anywhere on the table for their shot).
If you fail to hit any ball or scratch (for example sinking the cue ball), your turn ends and your opponent gets ‘ball in hand’.
It’s important to note that you must be very specific when calling your shot. Simply stating the number of the ball or the general area of the pocket is not enough. You must clearly indicate which ball you are aiming for and which pocket you intend to sink it in.
Any balls pocketed on a foul remain pocketed.
Choosing Stripes or Solids
The choice of stripes or solids is not determined on the break, even if you pocket a ball. The choice is determined only when a player legally pockets a called object ball after the break shot.
If you legally pot a ball from break, it is then your turn to shoot again. On this shot (and all future shots) you must call the pocket. If you call, for example, ball number 12 (stripe) in the bottom right pocket and successfully make the shot – you will continue the rest of the game as stripes.
If you fail this shot, the table remains open. The table remains open until a choice of groups (stripes or solids) has been chosen.
Whilst the table is open, it’s legal to hit a solid into a stripe or vice-versa. It is also legal to hit the 8-ball first in the process of pocketing a called stripe or solid.
If you are to use the 8-ball to pot a called object ball, whilst it’s not considered a foul, it does result in a forfeit of the turn and the table remains open. As it’s not a foul, the incoming player is not given ball in hand and must continue with the table as it is.
Learning The Shot Terminology
Bank shot: A shot where the object ball is banked off a rail before being sunk in a pocket.
Jump shot: A shot where the cue ball jumps over an object ball to hit another ball.
Massé shot: A shot where the cue ball is struck with extreme spin, causing it to curve around an obstacle and hit another ball.
Safety shot: A defensive shot where the player intentionally leaves the cue ball in a difficult position to make it harder for the opposing player to sink their next ball.
Making a Legal Shot
Now that you know your group (stripes or solid), the objective of the game is to pocket all 7 of your balls followed by the 8-ball before your opponent.
However, aside from just calling the shot, there are a couple more rules you must follow to ensure that you’re shooting legally.
On all shots following the break, the shooter must ensure they hit one of their group of balls first and either pocket a numbered ball, OR cause the cue ball or any numbered ball to contact a rail.
If you opt to bank the cue ball off the rail before contacting your object ball, you must ensure that after contact with your object ball, it’s either pocketed, OR the cue ball/any numbered ball again contacts the rail. Failure to do so will result in a foul and the opposition getting “ball in hand”.
Playing a Safety Shot
A safety shot is played with the intention of leaving your opponent in a difficult position or to avoid leaving yourself in one.
If you opt to use a safety shot, you must first call the shot, but before taking the shot you must declare it’s a “safety”. This will discontinue your turn after the shot, regardless of whether you make the shot or not.
If you fail to call “safety” in advance, and you pocket your shot, you will be forced to shoot again.
What is an Illegal Shot?
In 8-ball pool, an illegal shot is any shot that violates the game’s rules. An illegal shot is considered a foul and results in “ball in hand” for the opposition. Here are some examples of illegal shots:
Pocketing the cue ball: If you accidentally pocket the cue ball, it is considered a foul. This results in ball-in-hand for your opponent, meaning they get to place the cue ball anywhere on the table.
Striking an opponent’s ball (or the 8 ball) first: If you hit one of your opponent’s balls first before hitting one of your balls, it’s a foul.
Touching or moving balls: If you touch or move any ball with your hand or cue while it is in play, it is considered a foul.
Jumping the cue ball: If you jump the cue ball over any ball with your cue stick, it is considered a foul unless you are using a jump cue.
Push Shot: Push shot is when the cue tip remains in contact with the cue ball for an extended amount of time, resulting in a pushing or shoving motion of the cue ball. This is considered a foul.
Double Hits: If the cue ball is struck twice in one shot, it is a foul. This can happen if the cue ball rebounds back and makes contact with the cue tip again.
Cue Ball not hitting a rail: After contact with an object ball, the cue ball must hit a rail or be pocketed, otherwise, it’s a foul.
Playing out of turn: If you take a shot when it’s not your turn, it’s considered a foul.
Fouls That Result in a Loss of Game
A player loses the game if he commits any of the following fouls:
- Commits an illegal shot or foul when pocketing the 8-ball.
- Pockets the 8-ball on the same stroke as their last group of balls.
- Jumping the 8-ball off the table.
- Pockets the 8-ball in a pocket that they didn’t call.
- Pockets the 8-ball before pocketing all of their group.
How to Win at 8 Ball Pool?
A player is entitled to continue shooting until he fails to legally pocket a ball of his group. When a player has pocketed all 7 of their numbered balls, they then shoot the 8-ball.
The first player to legally pocket the 8 ball wins the game.