9-Ball Pool Rules - How to Play

9-Ball Rules

By Phill Williams
09th Mar, 2023, 12 min read

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9-Ball Pool is the slightly lesser-known cousin to 8-Ball within the Billiard family. Whereas 8-Ball seems to be the default game of casual Pool players, 9-Ball is equally fun, albeit slightly less known.

We've covered the exact differences between the two games 8-ball and 9-ball, in details here.

Many casual players will admit that they do not know the exact rules of 9-Ball, and for that reason, they simply choose not to play it. However, you could be missing out on a whole world of fun, and strategy if all you are playing is 8-Ball. While 8-Ball is popular for a reason, 9-Ball can be equally rewarding or players who enjoy cue games.

Let’s take a quick look at what 9-Ball is, and how it is played.

9-Ball Rules Summary

The concept of 9-Ball is fairly simple, to ultimately pocket the 9-Ball. Much like with the 8-Ball pool, the 9-Ball is the key focus of the game. The game is played with 9 object balls, and is racked similarly to 8-Ball.

Upon the ‘break’ the players will take turns shooting, however they must aim at the lowest numerical ball on the table. They will take turns shooting until the 9-Ball is ultimately pocketed, resulting in a win.

9-Ball Rack Layout

The player who pockets the 9-Ball, regardless of how many balls they have previously pocketed, will win the game. It is typically a more fast-paced take on the traditional 8-Ball concept.

Commonly Used Terminology

There are a few different terms and phrases when referring to cue games in general that you should be familiar with before we continue, here are the important ones:

>> 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 9 of them, each numbered, and designated with a stripe or solid color. They will be numbered from 1-9 for the 9-Ball game.

>> Cushion/Rail

The cushion, or commonly known as the ‘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.

>> Pockets

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 cue ball for 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’ after a scratch.

>> 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.

>> Racking

The placement of the object balls in a uniform diamond formation, with the 9-Ball at the center and the 1-Ball at the front or ‘apex’. This is only done to start the game prior to striking the object balls for the starting ‘break’.

>> Scratch

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 9-Ball.

How to play 9-ball Pool

The Game of 9-Ball will begin when one player ‘breaks’ by striking the cue ball from the head spot, or ‘kitchen’ into the racked object balls. The balls will be racked in a diamond formation, as opposed to the triangle formation used in 8-Ball. The placement of the balls within the rack is random, with the exception of the 9-Ball at the center, and the 1-Ball at the front.

9 ball breaking guidelines

You will determine who breaks by either flipping a coin, or simply establishing who goes first among yourselves. The game will begin when the cue ball is struck from behind the head line, and into the 1-Ball. The break is successful if an object ball is pocketed, or if at least 3 balls hit the sides. If neither of these things happen upon the break, the balls should be re-racked and the other player will be given the chance to break.

Including the break, a player will continue to shoot until they fail to pocket a ball or commit a foul. If they fail to pocket a ball, or commit a foul, they forfeit their turn to the opposing player.

Taking Turns

The goal of 9-Ball Pool is to pocket the 9-Ball. However, it isn’t as simple as it sounds. In order to make a legal shot, a player must first strike the lowest numbered ball on the table. Bear in mind, that if you strike the lowest numbered ball, and that ball in turn pockets a higher numbered ball, that is ok and is perfectly legal. You simply must strike the lowest numbered ball with the cue ball first, you may pocket a different ball as a result of this action. You can even win the game by pocketing the 9-Ball by striking a lower numbered ball.

If the 9-Ball is pocketed on the break, the player who broke wins the game automatically. The turn changes if a player fails to pocket the correct ball, or commits a foul. On a given turn, the player must pocket a ball, or have one of their balls hit the rail, if neither of these happen the player commits a foul. However, bear in mind that while not a foul, simply 

Because 9-Ball typically ends much faster than other cue games, many players will agree to play until a certain player has won an agreed upon number of matches. This is most commonly done as a ‘best of 3’ format. However, you and your friends can decide on how many matches you wish to play, before establishing a clear winner.

Common Fouls

Common Fouls in 9-ball

In the case of a foul in a game of 9-Ball, the other player will almost always take over the turn, and be allowed to place the cue ball wherever they wish on the table. This is called ‘Ball-in-Hand’. A foul is not the same as the end of a turn, however a foul will always result in the end of a turn. The most common foul occurrences are:

  • Failing to strike the lowest numbered ball first.
  • The object balls failing to go into a pocket or hit the rails after being struck by the cue ball.
  • 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.

Unlike 8-Ball, there is really only one way to lose at 9-Ball. That is, simply failing to pocket the 9-Ball. If the 9-Ball is pocketed during a fouling play, or is knocked off the table, instead of a loss the 9-Ball is simply placed back on the ‘foot spot’ or as close to it as possible.

If a player touches any of the object balls in an illegal manner, the player forfeits their turn and the opposing player has the choice to leave the moved ball where it is, or move it back to the spot before the foul occurred.


9-Ball Governing Body

In the United States, there are two major associations that play 9-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).

The rule variances between 9-Ball and 8-Ball among these associations are typically the same, unless the rules of 9-Ball, in general, directly oppose the rules of the governing bodies.


  • 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.

Scratching on the 9-Ball Shot

  • APA: Scratching on the 9-Ball shot simply ends the turn in a foul, and will result in the 9-Ball being spotted on the ‘foot spot’. The opposing player will follow typical APA scratch rules.
  • 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 after the 9-Ball has been spotted, and the game will continue as normal.

Aside from these simple variances, the rules of 9-Ball are the same across both governing bodies. You may find that in bars or pool halls, local rules may vary slightly, and this can be discussed with the opposing players you are playing with.

However, in organized settings, the rules for 9-Ball are almost completely uniform.

Summing it up

9-Ball Pool is often a much faster-paced game than its other cue game cousins. As a result of this, it has become incredibly popular across the United States in particular. It can be played anywhere you will find a pool table, and does not require any extra equipment or table other than the standard for Pool in general.

Now that you know the rules, give it a try! Instead of playing the common 8-Ball, try a fast game of 9-Ball, you might be surprised at how fun it is!

Are you looking to try a new pool game? Check out these equally fun and challenging games:

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