The Joys of Bumper Pool

In 1955 Valley Manufacturing introduced a new game to the world of coin-operated amusements. 

This game was played on a smaller table with two holes, one on each end of the table.

There were eight bumpers placed in a cross-like pattern in the middle of the table.

You would put a dime in to start a game and each player would get five balls (red or white).

The object of the game was to shoot your ball into your opponent’s pocket at the other end. 

Known simply as bumper pool, tavern owners now had a new version of pool for their patrons to enjoy.

The new billiards game was hugely popular and ultimately became a staple in the bar and arcade scene. 

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If you grew up in the 70’s or 80’s, you probably played a bit of bumper pool. 

But the popularity of bumper pool has declined over the years. In fact, finding a bumper pool table in a bar is rare these days. 

But it’s still a great bar game.

And if you’re looking for a fun version of billiards that fits into a small space, as a homeowner or bar owner, and offers some retro entertainment for your friends and/or patrons, it’s definitely worth revisiting. 

Whether you played bumper pool in your youth and need a refresher, or if you’re completely new to the game and want to try it out, this post will go over the basics of how to play bumper pool. 

Read on to learn about bumper tables, rules, and basic strategy.

The Basics of Bumper Pool

Bumper Pool Table Basics

Bumper pool is a billiards game. In its simplest form, it is like traditional pool.

The game is played on a traditional flat green surface, made from the same material (felt) as a standard pool table.

Like traditional pool, bumper pool is played with billiards balls and wooden pool cues.

But that is where the similarities end.

The Bumper Pool Table

octagonal bumper pool table
Classic octagonal bumper pool table

Bumper pool is played on a rectangular or octagonal table that is much smaller than a traditional pool table.

The common dimensions for an octagonal table are 48″ (width) x 48″ (length) x 30″ (height).

And the standard dimensions of a rectangular bumper pool table would be 41.5″ x 57.5″ x 32″. 

Both designs are much smaller than the smallest BCA recognized standard pool table size of 3.5′ x 7′. 

(Related: A guide to the best mini pool tables)

Whether playing on a rectangular or octagonal table, the layout and concept of playing bumper pool is the same.

Bumper Pool Table Layout

There is one pocket at each end of a bumper pool table. And each pocket has two adjacent bumpers that act as goal posts.

Rectangular bumper pool table with 8 bumpers

In the center of the table are two crossing rows of bumpers.

Larger bumper pool tables include six bumpers in each row. While smaller tables include four bumpers in each row, for a total of eight bumpers in the middle. 

The bumpers are usually colored red or white and have a round rubber top that will bounce the ball in various directions.

This is the most challenging aspect of the game, and what makes it fun.

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Setting Up a Game of Bumper Pool

The object of the game is simple: Be the first to sink all five of your balls in your opponent’s pocket on the other side of the table. There is no cue ball.

But before we dive into bumper pool rules, you need to set up the game correctly.

To begin, five balls are placed on both ends of the table surface, five white and five red.

At the start of the game, you must place your balls on the white dots that correspond with your pocket.

There are two white dots in a horizontal line on each side of your pocket, for a total of four.

The 5th dot is directly in front of your pocket.

The ball that lies on this dot is specially marked and must be struck first during game-play. This is one of the most important rules of bumper pool.

(Bumper pool is a lot of fun. If you want something on a larger scale that’s more challenging, check out the classic game of straight pool, aka 14:1 continuous).

Bumper Pool Rules

Bumper Pool Rules

The game is pretty simple, but there are some rules to this game. And the rules of bumper pool can be difficult to follow the first time playing. But after a couple trial runs, you should get the hang of it.

Bumper pool can be played with two players, or four players as teams.

Starting the Game

First, decide on a count down and strike your marked balls at the same time to begin the game.

You will each shoot your marked ball off the right side cushion. Your goal is to sink the ball in your opponent’s pocket. Or to get as close as possible.

The player who shoots his marked ball into the cup or closest to the cup shoots again.

If each player sinks the opening shot, you must once again strike a ball at the same time. This time, you will each shoot the ball located farthest to the left of your home pocket.

During Game Play

Bumper pool rules get fairly simple after the start of the game.

If you sink a ball, you continue with your turn.

Though rare, it is possible to sink all of your balls before your opponent even gets a chance. If you can do that, your friends may have reservations playing with you again.

If you do not sink one of your balls during your turn, possession goes to your opponent.

This continues until a player has sunk all five of their balls. However, if you sink the fifth ball in your own pocket, you forfeit the game.

Penalties for Breaking the Rules of Bumper Pool

Marked balls must be pocketed first. If you fail to make your marked ball before making another one, your opponent may freely sink two balls.

As you painfully watch, your opponent may place any two balls by hand into the pocket. Avoid the sadness, don’t break the simplest rule of bumper pool.

The same rule applies if you sink one of your balls into your own pocket.

Or, if you happen to hit your ball off the table. Though it was accidental, your opponent will receive another automatic two-ball score.

However, this time, your opponent may place your fallen ball anywhere on the table.

Hopefully, your opponent is the heavier handed player. Jumping your balls over other balls will result in the same penalty.

Basically, if you break the bumper pool rules, you are at an extreme disadvantage.

Be mindful of the marked ball and play with finesse, not power.

Once you learn how to play bumper pool correctly, odds are you will have fun.

That’s it. Bumper pool rules are pretty simple. Now on to some strategy.

Bumper Pool Strategy 

While the rules are simple, there is still plenty of strategy, skill and technique involved in bumper pool.

Here are a few ways to improve your game:

Playing defensively

Don’t just think about scoring with each shot. You can also use your shot to block your opponent’s ball or knock them out of position.

Bumper pool is similar to shuffleboard in this way.

You can also nudge your opponent’s balls into tighter spots by placing them closer to or behind the bumpers.

And some players even manage to knock their opponent’s ball into the center of the bumpers, which then requires a re-serve for their next turn.

Know Your Banks

Good bumper pool players can easily sink long shots or serves by knowing exactly where to bank on the table with an angle that ends up right in the opposite pocket. 

Set it Up

Sinking the ball on the serve is difficult, though. Plus, it’s not always an option as more balls clutter the table.

Instead of trying to pocket off the bank, try to set up your next shot with two banks – one of the side and then the end of the table to leave you with a direct shot on the next turn.

Play the Bumpers

Another option is to use the bumpers as a bank to redirect your shot into the pocket. For example, if you don’t have the angle to sink the ball directly, try banking off the bumper into the bole, or even playing a bank of the back rail, into a bumper then into the hole. 

Watch this video at about 27 seconds to see an example of this type of shot:

Where to play bumper pool today

Finding a place to play bumper pool is hard these days. Usually you just get lucky and stumble upon a table at a dive bar. 

For example, if you happen to be in Chicago, you can play bumper pool at the popular dive bar Shoe’s Pub in Lincoln Park West.

Personally, I think bumper pool is the perfect game to play at home. The tables do not take up much space. Plus, they are less expensive than a regular pool table. Kids can play and adults will have plenty of fun

Whether you play at home or at the bar, enjoy this game. And refer back to this guide if you need a refresher on the rules. 

And now for a (somewhat) helpful but entertaining video on how to play bumper pool:

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