Pool and Billiards - Rules of Play

House Rules” are the rules of the particular pool playing location such as local billiard parlors and taverns etc. The rules change dramatically from location to location and geographical area of the country.

There is so much variation of rules, that in the popular game of Eight ball, one establishment or league rules that the eight ball pocketed on the break shot wins the game for the player that broke open the rack. While other locations and league’s rule that the breaker loses the game if the eight ball is pocketed on the break shot. Others simply spot the eight ball back on the table.

Some locales rule that balls pocketed on the break determine in varied ways which balls the breaker calls his own and proceeds to continue shooting.

Other billiard establishments rule that any balls made on break only allow the breaker to shoot again and only the next successfully pocketed ball determines which balls (stripes or solids) are his.

It is not the intention of the author to interfere with, alter, or take sides for or against, any existing house rules. However, it is my intention to answer most often asked questions and thus eliminate most arguments regarding certain important points of the game.

This book will now provide the few rules of pool that, regardless of existing house rules, should be adhered to. Because they are the basic rules of the game of Pocket Billiards itself which includes all games within the category of pool such as,“8 Ball,” “9 Ball,” “One pocket,” “Straight pool,” “Rotation,” etc.


The following rules are from “The Billiard Congress of America” or excerpts from these rules. Page numbers and rule numbers will precede each rule. The author will give explanations when believed to be helpful.


AUTHOR: Every so often, just prior to, or attempting a break shot during a game of “Eight ball” or “Nine ball, the shooter may miscue on the shot or in some way accidentally cause cue tip contact with the cue ball and cue ball then rolls beyond the head string (out of the kitchen area.) The shooter usually springs forward after a miss hit to stop and retrieve the cue ball and shoot the break shot again. This is a foul (scratch) and the shooter must surrender the break shot to the next shooter.

#6: Cue ball in hand behind head string.

“When the cue ball is in hand behind the string, it remains in hand (not in play) until the player drives the cue ball out of the kitchen by striking it with his cue tip. The cue ball may be adjusted by the player’s hand, cue, etc, so long as it remains in-hand behind the head string. Once the cue ball is in play as defined above, it may not be impeded in any way by the player. To do so is a foul.”

#8: Position of balls. “The position of a ball is judged by where its base (or center) rests.

#9: Foot on floor. It is a foul if a player shoots when at least one foot is not in contact with the floor.”

#12: Kitchen Defined. “The head string IS NOT part of the kitchen. Thus, an object ball that is DEAD CENTER on the head string is playable when specific game rules require that a player must shoot at a ball outside of the kitchen. Likewise, the cue ball, when being put in play from the kitchen (cue ball in hand behind the string), may not be placed directly on the head string; it must be behind it!”

AUTHOR: Never, during a pool game, are there more complaints and arguments than when, following a scratch shot, the opponent does not want the shooter to shoot at a particular ball because it is not in the playing field according to his understanding of the rule. (This is when game calls for “ball in hand behind head string only.) Is the ball in front of the head string, more than half in front, behind, or on?

The above rule answers that question. In almost all sports, the borderline is considered part of the playing field. In baseball, a batted ball coming down on the chalk line beyond first or third base is a fair ball.

In Tennis, a ball bouncing off the baseline chalk or either sideline is still playable, and on the serve, any ball touching lines forming service area is good and playable. This is so, even if ball lands on extreme outside portion of the line!

To play pool correctly and legally, the kitchen is similar to the end zone in football with a goal line (head string) and all area forward of it considered the playing field. (See diagram page 60).

#14 Fouls by Touching Balls. “Unless otherwise stated, it is a foul to strike, touch or in any way make contact with the cue ball in play or any object balls in play with anything (the body, clothing).

Object balls in play with anything (the body, clothing, chalk, mechanical bridge, cue shaft, etc.) except the cue tip, which may contact the cue ball only in the execution of a legal shot.”

AUTHOR: The above rule covers the act of moving balls on table while trying to position the Mechanical Bridge, moving a ball while attempting to shoot over it, or double hit on cue ball (double kiss.) Cue tip may contact cue ball in the execution of a LEGAL SHOT and two hits is not legal. See Rule #15.

#15 Fouls by Double Hits. “It is a foul if the cue ball is struck more than once on a shot by the cue tip. Such shots are usually referred to as double hits. If the cue ball has left initial contact with the cue tip and is then struck a second time in the course of the same stroke, it shall be a foul.”

#20 Jump Shots. “Unless otherwise stated in the rules for a specific game, it is legal to cause the cue ball to rise off the bed of the table by elevating the cue stick on the shot and forcing the cue ball to rebound from the bed of the table.”

#24. Balls Moving Spontaneously. “If a ball shifts, settles, turns or otherwise moves by itself, the ball shall remain in the position it assumed and play continues.

A hanging ball that falls into a pocket by itself after becoming motionless for five (5) seconds or longer shall be replaced as closely as possible to its position prior to falling, and play shall continue.”

AUTHOR : Many players believe that if a ball falls over the edge and into a pocket on its own or as a result of a table movement, that the ball is placed back on to the foot spot. Not so!

#31 Object Ball Frozen to Cushion. “This rule applies to any shot where the cue ball’s first contact with a ball is with one that is frozen to a cushion or to the cue ball in itself. After the cue ball makes contact with the frozen object ball, the shot must result in either a ball being pocketed, the cue ball contacting a cushion, or the frozen ball being caused to contact a cushion (not merely rebounding from the cushion it was frozen to), or another object ball being caused to contact a cushion with which it was not already in contact. Failure to satisfy one of these four requirements is a foul.”

AUTHOR: “ Many players believe that shooting the cue ball into a ball already frozen against the rail is a legal safety. It is not, as per above rule. You are not driving an object ball into a rail when the object ball is already frozen to that rail.” The following are rules that apply to and are important to the proper playing of the game of Eight Ball which is the most widely played and popular game on tavern pool tables.

#2 Call Shot (Gentlemen’s Call) “Obvious balls and pockets do not have to be indicated. It is the opponent’s right to ask which ball and pocket if the opponent is unsure of the shot. Bank shots and combinations are not considered obvious and both the object ball and the pocket must be called.”

#3 The Eight Ball Rack. “The balls are racked in a triangle at the foot of the table with the eight ball in the center of the triangle, the first ball of the rack on the foot spot, a stripe ball in one-corner of the rack and a solid ball in the other corner.“

AUTHOR: The above rule should eliminate the slow racking of balls by players who believe all balls should be alternated, i.e; stripe, solid, stripe, solid, etc. and their belief that the one ball must be in front of the rack. Any ball can be in the front point of the rack and the rear corners must have stripe on one corner and solid in the other corner. These are the only requirements for an official Eight Ball rack.

#80 Head String Rule. “This rule applies only when incoming player has ball in hand behind the head string after opponent scratches cue ball into a pocket. Incoming player may place cue ball anywhere behind the head string. He may shoot at any object ball as long as the base of the object ball (the point of the ball touching the table) is on or beyond (past) the head string. He may not shoot at any ball, the base of which is behind the head string, unless he first shoots the cue ball past the head string and then by hitting a rail causes the cue ball to come back behind the head string and hit the object ball driving it or cue ball itself into a rail.

The base of the ball determines whether it is within or out of the head string (Kitchen area!)

#11 Legal Shot (defined).

“On all shots (except when the table is open and on the break) the shooter must hit one of his group of balls first and pocket and object ball, or cause the cue ball or any object ball to contact a rail. Note: it is OK. for the shooter to bank the cue ball off a rail before contacting his object ball, however, after contact with his object ball, an object ball must be pocketed, or the cue ball or any object ball must contact a rail.”

AUTHOR: Above rule states, in effect, that a scratch on the break shot is not charged against the shooter. The break shot, obviously is before choice of balls is established. This also pertains to any scratch prior to assignment of balls (stripes or solids) is established in the game of “8 Ball.”

#20 Object Ball Frozen To Cushion. “This rule applies when the object ball to be struck by the cue ball is frozen to the rail. After the cue ball contacts the object ball you must pocket the frozen ball or any other object ball, or drive the frozen object ball to another cushion, or drive the cue ball or another object ball to any cushion. Failure to do so is a foul (scratch.) When there is any doubt whether the object ball is frozen to a cushion, the players should ask for a ruling before shooting.”

#22 Playing Eight Ball. “When shooting at the Eight ball, a scratch or foul is not loss of game if the Eight ball is not pocketed or jumped from the table.”

AUTHOR: Being hidden from the 8 ball by opponent’s ball and thus failing to hit the 8 ball with the cue ball is not loss of game. Opponent then takes the table and continues play (whether it is ‘ball in hand’, behind ‘head string’, or from where the cue ball came to rest.) However, if shooter pockets 8 Ball in a non-called pocket or the cue ball enters a pocket during the shot, the shooter loses game.

#6.3 Jump Shots. “It is legal to cause the cue ball to rise off the bed of the table by elevating the cue stick on the shot, and forcing the cue ball to rebound from the bed of the table.”

AUTHOR: Rule forbids shooting under cue ball in order to scoop cue ball up and over intervening object ball. Cue ball must be bounced down onto and off table bed.

#8.3 Split Hit “If the cue ball strikes a low numbered ball and another object ball at approximately the same instant, and it cannot be determined which ball was hit first, the judgment will go in favor of the shooter.

AUTHOR: The above rule should settle all questions and arguments as to whether a shot was a good hit or not. If one player believes it was and one claims it was not, then the shot is called a ‘split hit’ and too close to call correctly. As in most other sports that cannot and will not accept a tie or too close to call final verdict.

i.e; Baseball: Runner gets to first base at exact same time as the ball enters first baseman’s glove. Too close for Umpire to call? Not so! Tie goes to the runner!

Tennis: Player blasts a ball extremely close to or on a line in opponent’s court. The hitter claims shot was in (good). Receiver calls the shot out.

Decision: If the shot was too close to call, it goes to player making the shot. In the game of pool, the shooter should announce that he is about to make what could be considered a “split hit.”

#9.2 Behind The Head String

“A ball is behind the head string if it’s center is inside the head string (toward the head end of table.) A ball is outside the head string if its center is on or below the head string (toward the foot or rack end of the table).”

#9.5 To A Rail.

“A ball is driven to a rail if it is not touching a rail, and then touches a rail.”

#8.2 Regarding A Safety.

“On all shots, a player must cause the cue ball to contact an object ball and then pocket an object ball, or cause the cue ball or any object ball to contact the cushion. Failure to meet these requirements is a foul (Scratch.).”

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