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Billiards 101: How to Play 8-Ball

Billiards 101: How to Play 8-Ball

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The most popular pool game in the United States is 8-Ball. Because it’s not a tournament game, and because leagues control the rules that their members play under, the rules for 8-Ball are all over the road. But whether you call it Stripes and Solids, Highs and Lows, or 8-Ball, there are some basic principles and common rules that will give you a head start in learning the game. Here they are.

The Basics of the Game

The object of 8-ball is easy: whoever sinks the 8 ball wins. But before you can pocket the 8, you have to pocket all the balls in your group. The two groups of balls are the solids (1–7) and the stripes (9–15). There is absolutely no difference between the solids and stripes (same weight, size, and so on) other than their markings. You can also think of the groups as being the low balls and the high balls.

Which player gets what group is determined by the break. If a ball is pocketed on the break, the pocketed ball’s group becomes the breaker’s group, and the breaker keeps shooting. If a ball is not pocketed on the break, it’s the next player’s turn; just as with the break, whichever ball is pocketed first becomes that player’s group.

Some other general rules of the game:

The 8-Ball Rack

All 15 numbered balls are used in 8-Ball, and they are racked in the familiar triangle shape.

The 8-Ball rack.

The 8-Ball rack.

The 8 always goes in the middle, and the 1 ball is traditionally placed in front. The rest of the balls should be alternated (stripe/solid). The rack must be as tight as possible (all balls touching their neighbors).

The 8-Ball Break

The 8-Ball break is an open break, and the more powerful and accurate it is, the better off you are. The goals of your break shot are to separate the balls as widely as possible, give them enough momentum to roll around a lot and find a pocket, and to pocket at least one ball (preferably, two or three).

The best break shot in 8-Ball is to hit the second ball in the rack. This shot causes the most action (spreading of the balls) and may push the 8 ball into the corner pocket.

The most effective cue-ball position for the break.

The most effective cue-ball position for the break.

It’s a rail break, and some people prefer to move the ball away from the cushion just a little so that they can get their hand on the table. You wouldn’t want the cue ball to be closer to the cushion than this for your break shot in 8-Ball. A little reverse spin will keep you from scratching in the right corner pocket.

The Most Important Thing to Know

The most important thing that you need to know about how to win a game of 8-Ball is which group—the solids or the stripes—gives you the best opportunity. Sometimes, you don’t have a choice; your opponent gets first pick. But when you can make that decision, choose carefully. Approach the table, and look over the layout carefully. Isolate the two sets of balls (solids and stripes) in your mind. Look for trouble balls—clusters or balls with no pocket (that is, balls that are blocked by other balls from going into a pocket or are otherwise impossible or difficult to pocket). Then consider the possible solutions. Work out a pattern for each set, and only then decide which group you want.

Another Important Thing to Know

Since half the balls on the table aren’t balls that you can hit, not making a ball can sometimes be better than making it. That may sound strange, but blocking your opponent’s easy shots can actually be beneficial.

For example: Player A breaks, and a solid ball goes into the pocket. She looks over the table and likes the looks of the solids, except for one that’s a bit of a potential problem. With one down, she begins popping the solids into pockets. The last ball is the trouble ball, and there’s still no way to deal with it, so she taps it to another position where she can make it on her next turn. However, with almost half the balls cleared out of her way, player B has no trouble finding a pocket for every stripe. Player A’s decision to pocket almost all the solids removed any blocking balls to player B’s stripes.

With seven of your opponent’s balls in the way, 8-Ball is a great game for learning to manipulate the cue ball. It’s also easy, and a lot of fun—so grab your cue and have a great game!

From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pool and Billiards, Second Edition, by Ewa Mataya Laurance and Thomas C. Shaw