The Rules of 8-Ball Pool - Explained
By Phill Williams
09th Mar, 2023, 6 min read
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Out of all the cue games, perhaps 8-Ball is the most easily recognized. It is, in fact, the first game that comes to mind when most people see a pool table.
Many would say that 8-Ball is the only cue game that they know how to play at all, in fact. However, there are many different rules, and foul points that many people are not familiar with that can change the way that you play 8-Ball.
Before we dive too deeply into the official rules, and methods of playing 8-Ball, let’s quickly summarize the basic rules of the game for those unfamiliar.
8-Ball Rules Summary
8-Ball pool is a cue game played with 16 balls; 1 white cue ball, one solid black 8-ball, 7 striped, and 7 solid colored balls.
The basic goal of the game is to pocket all 7 of your designated balls, before finally pocketing the 8-Ball last to win.
The game begins when the first player, or team ‘breaks’ to open the match. They do this by striking the cue ball into the racked balls. The players will take turns until a ball is potted. Depending on whether the ball is striped, or solid, will determine the target object balls for each team.
The players will then take turns attempting to pot their designated balls until they miss, in which case their turn will end.
Seems pretty straight forward, right? Well, there is a bit more to it than just this general summary.
Let’s get a bit more detailed, and take a look at how a typical game of 8-ball pool breaks down.
Commonly Used Terminology
Before we dive too much further into the article, let me take a moment to break down some commonly used terms, and their definitions, so that way there is no confusion moving forward.
>> Cue Ball
The solid white ball that is used to strike into the object balls.
>> Cue Stick
The long stick that is used to strike the cue ball into the object balls.
>> Target/Object Ball
These are the balls that are targeted for scoring. There are 15 of them, each numbered, and designated with a stripe or solid color. This includes the solid black 8-ball.
The cushion, or commonly known as rail, is the soft padding that lines the sides of the table and is used to protect the table from damage, as well as an aid in the bounce back of target balls in certain circumstances.
The 6 pockets or ‘pots’ that are used to catch the balls for scoring. There is one in each corner, and two at the midway point of the table.
>> The Kitchen
This is a term used to describe the area of the table behind the ‘head string’, which is an often imaginary line on the table behind the second diamond marks on the side rails. This is the area where the ‘break’ to start the game must typically start from. In addition, there are some rules that will require the cue ball to be placed back in the ‘kitchen’.
>> Head Spot/String
The headspot is an area of the table where the head string, and the long string intersect. These are points from end to end on the table, either vertically or horizontally, that are marked by diamond markers along the outside rail. Where these two ‘points’ meet, in the ‘kitchen’, is where the cue ball will be placed to begin the game for breaking. The opposite of this is the ‘foot spot’ where the rack will be placed.
The placement of the object balls in a uniform triangle formation, with the 8-ball at the center. This is only done to start the game prior to striking the object balls for the starting ‘break’.
A scratch is a foul in which the cue ball goes into the pocket at any time. This typically results in the forfeiture of the turn, and no points awarded.
Now that we have the basic terminology established, let’s talk about how to start your game of 8-ball.
The game of 8-ball will begin when one player, or member of a team if you are playing doubles, will ‘break’ the rack by striking the cue ball into the racked object balls. The object balls are racked by placing them in a ‘rack’ which is a metal, or wooden geometric frame in a triangle shape. This frame will help you to tightly group the object balls together which will help with a clean ‘break’.
The order in which the balls are placed does not matter, with the exception of the 8-ball and the back two corner balls. The 8-ball must be placed in the middle of the third row from the front, the back corners of the rack will have one solid, and one striped object ball in each. The remaining object balls will be placed at random.
The ‘rack’ will be placed with the lead or ‘apex’ ball in the rack formation on the foot spot. The cue ball will be placed directly opposite of the rack, in the head spot. Now it’s time to begin the game!
Determining who will ‘break’ and thus go first, is largely dependent on your agreed upon terms with the other players. In official tournaments, the player who is lowest on the official rankings will break. However, if you are playing with friends or in a bar, you can decide by simply flipping a coin.
Once the player who will break is determined, the break will occur. This begins when the player places the cue ball in their desired spot within the ‘kitchen’. For most, this is the head spot. The player will then strike the cue ball with the cue stick, and scatter the object balls.
If the 8-ball is potted on the break, that breaking player will have the choice of spotting the 8-ball back on the table, or taking a re-rack/re-break. If the cue ball is scratched upon he break, the opposing player will have the chance to spot the 8-ball, or re-rack/re-break. A successful break is when at least 4 balls hit the rails, or an object ball is pocketed on the break.
If no object ball is pocketed on the break, the players will take turns shooting until an object ball is pocketed, this will designate the target object balls for each team. If the first object ball to be pocketed is striped, that player who pocketed the object ball will now only shoot to pocket striped balls, with their opponent's aiming to pocket the solid balls, for example. Until an object ball is pocketed, and each team is assigned their target object balls, the table is referred to as ‘open’.
The table will remain as ‘open’ until the first object ball is pocketed.
Once the target object balls are assigned to each player or team, the game will continue in turns. If you are playing on teams of two, or ‘doubles’ the players will rotate during turns. For example: The first turn will start with player 1 of each team shooting, when the first turn of each team is completed, the second turn for each team will be played by player 2 of each team. This pattern will continue until the game has ended.
The players will continue to shoot until they fail to pocket any of their object balls. This means that, if a player continues to pocket object balls, they will not forfeit their turn until they fail to pocket one of their object balls, or they pocket an opponents object ball or otherwise commit a foul. The first player or team to pocket all 7 of their object balls, and finally the 8-Ball, will win the game.
The 8-Ball cannot and should not be pocketed until all 7 of your object balls have been pocketed first. Failure to follow this order will result in loss of the game.
Note that in many official settings, the player must ‘call’ their shot before making it in order for it to count. This means that the player must establish which ball they will be striking, and into which pocket they intend for it to land. Failure to do this will result in the turn not counting, and a forfeiture of the turn. However, if you are simply playing with friends in a pub, you can choose to not follow this rule.
There are multiple fouls that can occur within a game of 8-Ball that will result in various penalties, either a forfeiture of the turn, or the immediate loss of the game. The most common fouls include:
- Striking your opponent’s object ball.
- Pocketing your opponent’s object balls.
- The cue ball not striking an object ball.
- Pocketing the cue ball, or a ‘scratch’.
- The cue ball being struck off the table.
- Pushing the cue ball as opposed to striking it.
- Hitting the cue ball twice in a row.
- Touching the cue ball, or any of the object balls with your hands or otherwise aside from with the cue tip.
- Striking the balls before they have settled and come to a stop.
Any of these fouls will result in the end of a turn, and no points awarded. While there is only one way to officially win at 8-Ball, there are several ways that a player can forfeit the match by default. These ways include:
- Failing to pocket the 8-Ball into the ‘called’ pocket.
- Pocketing the 8-Ball prior to pocketing all of your object balls.
- Striking the 8-Ball off of the table.
- Scratching the cue ball after pocketing the 8-Ball.
Any of the above mentioned scenarios will result in the forfeiture of the match by the player who committed them, and the opposing player or team will accept the win.
BCA vs. APA vs Common Bar Rules
In the United States, there are two major associations that play 8-Ball officially, and there are some slight variances to their rules that you may want to be aware of. The two leagues are the American Poolplayers Association (APA), and the Billiard Congress of America (BCA). While these leagues have their own sets of official rules, you may find that ‘bar’ rules differ slightly. Some of the major differences in rules are as follows:
- APA: If a scratch occurs, the opposing player will set the cue ball anywhere within the ‘kitchen’, and make their shot from there.
- BCA: The opposing player gets the cue ball as ‘ball-in-hand’. This means that they will be allowed to place the cue ball anywhere on the table they wish.
- Bar: Commonly in bar rules 8-Ball, when a scratch occurs, the cue ball simply stays where it was struck from, and the turn is forfeited to the other player or team. There is no placement of the cue ball, or ‘ball-in-hand’ of the cue ball.
- APA: You are not required to call any shots, with the exception of the final 8-Ball shot.
- BCA: You are required to call every shot, failure to do so will result in a foul.
- Bar: This is largely up to you, and should be established prior to beginning the game.
Calling the 8-Ball Shot
- APA: You must call, and ‘mark’ your shot with the 8-Ball. This means you must place a coin or other ‘marker’ on the pocket you intend to pot the 8-Ball into.
- BCA: You must call your pocket and ball always.
- Bar Rules: This will be established by the players prior to the game starting, as mentioned above.
Scratching on the 8-Ball Shot
- APA: Scratching on the 8-Ball shot is an automatic loss for the player who is shooting.
- BCA: This will not result in a loss, and instead will result in a ‘ball-in-hand’ placement of the cue ball by the opposing player, and the game will continue as normal.
- Bar: Most commonly scratching on the 8-Ball shot will result in a loss in bar rules.
Summing it up
So, as you can see, the game of 8-Ball Pool is simultaneously simple, and complex. The objective of the game is rather easy to grasp.
However, players will want to learn the subtle nuances of the game that make it far more challenging to play. Because of this interesting mix of strategy, and skill, 8-Ball has become the most popular cue game by a pretty wide margin.
It has become extremely commonplace among pubs, and pool halls across the globe, and remains the most easily recognizable of all the cue games because of this.
Now that you have learned the rules, all you have to do is go out and play!
Are you looking to try a new pool game? Check out these equally fun and challenging games: