Cutthroat Pool Rules: How to Play, Strategy, Tips, and More

Cutthroat Pool Rules How to play

By Phill Williams
9th Mar, 2023, 5 min read

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Are you bored of playing the usual 8-ball or 9-ball? Looking to try out a new game? Well, the cutthroat pool makes up for an excellent choice. 

The name 'Cutthroat pool' may sound intimidating at first, but in truth, it's a fairly accessible game that can be enjoyed by players of all skill levels. In fact, if you're familiar with the premise of eight-ball (a well-known pool game), then you already understand the essentials of the Cutthroat pool.

Cutthroat is the perfect game when there are an odd number of participants wanting to play pool (e.g., three or five), as individuals are allocated a particular set of balls they must pocket. 

This casual game is fast-paced, exciting and more importantly, a lot of fun. The beauty of the game is that it can accommodate up to 5 players; so none of your friends are left out!

Let's check out the rules in detail now.

Name Origin

Cutthroat, also known as 'Elimination', gets its namesake from its ruthless nature. This is likely due to the fact that players must pocket or sacrifice their own balls in order to remain on the table.

The name Elimination is somewhat misleading though as eliminated players can still return to the game if their opponent scratches.

How to Play:

Before we get started, I would like to make it clear that there are no official rules and regulations of the game of cutthroat pool as such. There are many regional variations with a subtle difference in the game rules. 

That said, there is a general consensus to playing cutthroat pool.

The object of the game is quite simpleto legally pocket the opponent's group ball(s) before they pocket yours. In other words, the objective is to have your group ball(s) last on the table.


  • Number of players allowed3 or 5
  • BallsStandard 1-15 object balls with a cue ball
  • RackStandard triangle rack. For a 3-player game, one ball of each group is placed at the corners with rest ball placed at random. For a 5-player game, all balls can be placed randomly. 
  • Groups: Usually there are three sets - 1-5 (low), 6-10 (middle) and 11-15 (high)

Quick Summary of the rules:

  • Each player tries to sink in the opponent's group balls
  • A player continues to shoot until he/she misses, scratches or commits a foul
  • You can even sink in your balls to continue holding your turn (may vary)
  • The player with all his/her group's balls pocketed is eliminated (but may still return if any of the other player scratches)
  • The winner is the one with one or more of his group balls remaining on the table and rest of the opponent's balls are pocketed

Starting a game

Based on the number of players of playing, the pool balls are split in different groups. Each player gets a set which he/she needs to preserve till the last.

For 3 players, each player gets five balls (1-5, 6-10 and 11-15).

In games with five players, the balls are divided into five groups - three balls per player (1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, and 13-15).

Cutthroat Pool Group Balls

Group Division for 3-players

How are the Groups decided?

There are a couple of ways in which groups can be determined.

a) Allocate the group sequentially

This is a more common variation where the groups are allocated beforehand based on the sequence in which players take the shot. For example, the first shooter gets the group 1 through 5, the second shooter gets the group 6 through 10, and the third shooter gets 11-15.

In the next innings, they switch turns. 

b) The first player to pocket a ball

In this approach, the first player who pockets an object ball (mostly during a break), decides which group he/she would choose. Then, the second player takes a turn, and it goes on. 

The trick here is to sink in the ball of the group which you don't want to take and choose the group which is more secure.

Note: if the player isn't able to pocket a ball, the next player would take the turn and have a chance to claim a group. 

For example: If player A, pockets ball 3 and 7 in the opening break, he would mostly choose the group 11-15 or depending on the how the remaining balls are laid, he would take a call.

Then player B would be given a chance to choose. And the player C would be automatically given the group which is left out.

Cutthroat Pool Ball Rack

The Rack

The ball rack is triangular similar to what you use in 8-ball. Place the one ball of each set at the corners (top and sides), and the rest of the objects balls can be placed randomly.

Although, some traditionally place the 1-ball on the top of the triangle (the foot spot) and balls six and eleven in the corners of the triangle.

For a 5-player game, it's best to keep all of the balls at random. As there are only three corners and five sets, this leaves a slight advantage to the groups with corner balls.

Break Shot Cutthroat Pool

Opening Break

The break shot should result in at least four balls touching the cushions or at least pocket one ball. While this is not a mandatory rule but it adds more fun to the game and prevents cluttering of balls in case any player decides to play safe shots.

If the player fails to do a legal break, the next player can either ask for re-rack or accept the layout and shoot.

Starting the Game

Just like 8-ball, as long as a player keeps on pocketing the object balls, he/she keeps on shooting. It doesn't matter if one shoots the opponent's ball or one of their own - one continues shooting until he/she misses.

The game is called cutthroat for a reason - to survive you may need to even sink in your balls to get better shot at somebody else's ball.

Note: In some variations, hitting your own set of balls directly isn't legal and results in a foul.

For a legal shot, the cue ball must touch either any of the numbered balls or the cue ball must touch the cushion.

Once all the balls of a particular group have been scored, the player gets eliminated, and his turn gets skipped. The eliminated player may get a chance back if any of the other player scratches (more on that below).

However, there is a caveat to this. In a situation where one of your balls is left, and a couple of your opponent's ball are left and the only shot you can take it yours. In such case, you can pocket your ball and then try to pocket the opponent's ball, and if you're successful, you win otherwise you lose.

What happens when you scratch in Cutthroat Pool

When you Scratch

In a situation when someone scratches either by pocketing or jumping the cue ball off the pool table, one random ball each from the other two players group gets pulled out and re-spotted. Which ball is placed first is up to the player's discretion, but mostly lower-numbered balls are kept before.

The next player will have the cue ball in-hand behind the head string. If all the other balls are behind the head string, the player can request the nearest ball to be re-spotted at the opposite foot spot.

So if a player was eliminated and someone scratches, he gets back in the game and will play in the same sequence as before.

If there are no balls pocketed from the opponent's group when the scratch occurs, then the penalty has no effect, and it is not carried forward.

Other Fouls

If a player hits a target ball off the table or makes an illegal stroke (not hitting any numbered ball or the cushion), results in the foul. In such cases, the player loses his turn, and the object ball is re-spotted (if the object ball jumps off the table).

After each Innings

After the match ends, the player switch turns as to who breaks first and who gets which set of balls.

So, this is pretty much everything you need to know to get on playing Cutthroat pool. 

Next, we have included some tips and tricks to get you started.

Tips and Tricks

  • Be ready to sacrifice your balls - Just like the game of chess, you should be prepared to sink in your balls to create better scoring opportunities.
  • Team Up: Work as a team to eliminate one of the opponents, after which you can fight each other.
  • Play defensive: The game requires playing a bit more on the defensive side and block your opponent's scoring opportunity. One such way can be when you no way to pocket the cue ball is to put the cue ball in such a position where the other opponent won't find it easy to play the stroke.
  • Don't commit fouls: Play safe and don't get adventurous.

The cutthroat pool lives by its name, guaranteeing your hours and hours of fun. The game might look simple to naive eyes but does require a good amount of strategic thinking.

The above rules are more or less the standard, but there might be some regional variation or houses rules with subtle differences.

Did I miss a certain rule or do you play differently? I would love to know. Please leave your thoughts in the comment box below.

4 thoughts on “Cutthroat Pool Rules: How to Play, Strategy, Tips, and More”

    1. Hey Joanne,

      The player who scratches misses his turn and one-random ball of the other two players gets re-spotted.

      I hope this was helpful.


  1. Note: We play that you cannot hit your own ball first…

    I know that on a scratch, anybody who is out gets to come back in with a ball placed on the foot point. But if ANY foul is committed (for example a remaining player hits the wrong ball first) does an “out” player get to come back in? Or does it have to be a SCRATCH only (cue ball in pocket or ball jumps off table)?
    I think that if a player makes ANY foul….an “out” person should be able to come back in with one ball spotted.
    Am I right?

    1. Hey Harvey,

      Yes, you’re right. Any foul results in an out player coming back in the game.

      I hope that helps.

      – Kevin.

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