How To Play Pool

Maddy Marcus / April 9, 2020

Learning how to play pool may seem pretty straightforward. However, the more you play, the more you’ll be able to visualize angles and use them to plan your next shot. For now, let’s start with the basics. 

Pool has many versions, each with its own set of rules and regulations. The most popular is Eight-Ball Pool, where each player needs to sink eight solid or striped balls, followed by the 8-ball, into one of the six pockets. 

Equipment Check

First, we should go over the three basic necessities in playing a game of Eight-Ball:

  1. Pool Cue: This is what each player uses to strike. 
  2. Cue Ball: The white ball.
  3. Object Balls: These are the striped or solid color balls numbered 1-15. 

Rack ‘Em Up!

Before grabbing your cue and knocking the balls around, the table needs to be set up correctly. Each of the 15 object balls should be arranged inside the triangular rack. The order of the colored balls can be random, but the 8-ball must be placed in the center of the third row in the rack. The shot that begins the game is called “the break.” 

Generally, the player who breaks must ensure that at least four balls hit any cushion around the table in order for the shot to be legal. However, in our version, only two balls must hit the cushions. If the break shot is legal, it’s time to choose sides. 

If a ball is potted on the break shot, then that player may shoot again. If they do not sink an object ball on that shot, or if they did not pot a ball on the breaking shot, then play passes to their opponent, and players continue alternating shots until someone pots an object ball. Once a player sinks an object ball, they are assigned that category (either stripes or solids) for the game, and their opponent will be assigned the opposite category. 

Once the balls have been assigned, the player may continue making shots until they fail to sink one of their assigned balls during the turn, or commit a foul. In either of these cases, play passes to their opponent, and if a foul was committed, the opponent may move the cue ball wherever they like. Players continue alternating turns, maintaining control of the board if they sink a ball on their turn unless they commit a foul. See the following section for a full list of fouls.

Once a player sinks all the balls in their category, they must sink the 8-ball to win. If the 8-ball is potted before a player finishes clearing their balls, then they must forfeit the game. 

In some common rules variants, the rules may require a player to nominate a pocket to send their ball into. If they fail to pot the correct ball in the correct pocket, that is considered a foul and the turn is handed over to the opposing side. If a pocket is nominated for the 8-ball and the player sinks the ball in the wrong pocket, it’s game over. 

Foul Shots

There are certain mistakes in pool that you’ll want to avoid making. These are generally referred to as fouls. If you commit a foul, your opponent will gain control of the table and may place the cue ball wherever they like. Some of the common fouls made in a game are: 

  • Sinking one of your opponent’s object balls
  • Sinking the cue ball itself, regardless of whether you sank any of your own balls on your turn
  • Striking the cue ball into an opposing ball or the 8-ball before your own
  • Failing to strike an object ball with the cue ball on your turn
  • Hitting the cue ball off the table 
  • Sinking the 8-ball when you still have object balls remaining - this will cause you to lose the game

To The Scoreboard - Who’s Winning? 

There are no points in pool. The objective is simply to clear the table of your designated balls, and then pocket the 8-ball. The player who first pockets the 8-ball claims victory. However, some matches are played in a “best of” style: Best out of 5, best out of 7, and so on. 

Tips & Strategies

While pool presents an opportunity to analyze angles and use real world physics to get the perfect shot, you don’t have to be a physics master or geometry whiz to win a game. There are a few simple tips and tricks you can use in any game to score winning shots right off the bat. 

  • Aim for the center. When lining up the cue ball, aim the tip of your cue for the dead center of the ball. Striking a ball in the middle will give you the most accurate shot that most likely won’t miss. Once you get a bit more strategic in your plays, you can hit the ball at different angles and sides to make more complicated shots. 
  • Hit the object ball in the right spot. Where the cue ball hits the object ball determines where the object ball will go. How do you know where it will go? Simple! It will always go in the opposite direction from the point of contact. So if you want to sink the blue 2 ball, hit it on the exact opposite side of the ball from the center of the pocket you’re aiming to sink it in.
  • Get your grip right. Keep your grip on the cue somewhat loose. If you hold it too tight, your shots may become inaccurate. Your less dominant hand should sit on the table and act as a bridge to rest the cue and point it in the right direction.
  • Use the boundaries. The cushions surrounding the table can be your best friend if you use them correctly. Bouncing the cue ball off the boundaries can make your shots more creative and help get you out of sticky situations. The more you play, the better you’ll be able to utilize the cushions to your advantage. 
  • The diamond system. The diamonds on the sides of the pool table aren’t just for show. A skilled player can use these diamonds to coordinate shots based on the angles and basic mathematics. Although, this tactic is something developed over many games and tons of practice. The more you play, the better you’ll be at coordinating your shots, but if you’re still confused, this video may help!

Practice Makes Perfect 

Now that you’ve learned how to play pool, it’s time to put your knowledge to the test. Play a few rounds against a computer or another player and see how you fare. 

Play enough rounds and you’ll be able to visualize angles and use basic geometry to easily pot all your balls. Play some Pool Geometry to really hone in on the angles and perfect your strike.