8 Ball Pool Rules

Learn the Rules for 8-Ball Pool.

If you walk into a bar or a pool hall and you see people playing pool, there’s a good chance they’re in the middle of a game of 8-ball.

It’s so common for pool players, both novices and experts, that we don’t even give it much thought.

Yet 8-ball pool has some distinct rules and do’s and don’ts.

Here, we’re going to give you a bit of a breakdown on 8-ball pool rules.

A History of the Game

It’s believed that the game of 8-ball originated around 1900, since the first records of it date back to 1908.

It was introduced by the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company, and for years was known as “B.B.C. Co. Pool” rather than “8-ball.”

The original game was played with seven yellow balls, seven red balls, a black ball and the cue ball – it wasn’t until much later that numbered stripes and solids (with an 8 on the black ball) became the preferred system.

This early game had simple rules, by comparison to today’s games, and was not even added to any official rule books until 1940.

Standardized Rules of Eight Ball Pool

American-style 8-ball pool is played by professionals and amateurs round the world, yet there’s still a great deal of debate over specifics of the rules.

Non-profit bodies like the World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA) and the Billiard Congress of America have standardized rules for the game.

But the rules from the American Pool Players Association, Valley National Eight-Ball Association and BCA Pool League deviate from the international rules.

And, of course, since 8-ball is played informally in bars, pool halls, rec rooms and basements, there’s an almost infinite number of “house rules” that change from one venue to the next.

Nonetheless, this is a roundup of some of the most commonly accepted rules for the game:

Regulation Size Pool Table

The regulation size for a pool table is 9 feet by 4 ½ feet. Some leagues may allow for smaller tables, as small as 7 feet by 3 ½ feet, while some 10 feet by 5 feet tables from the early 20th century might still be seen in use.

See how complicated it gets?

Eight Ball Pool Balls

There are seven solid-colored balls numbered 1 through 7, with seven striped balls numbered 9 through 15, an 8-ball and a solid-white cue ball.

Regulation pool balls are usually cast from plastic materials such as phenolic resin or polyester, with a uniform size and weight for the proper action, rolling resistance and overall play properties.

(Learn more about selecting the best billiard balls.)

The Rack

When the balls are racked in a triangle shape, the order of the balls is to be random with the 8-ball dead-center in the triangle.

They should be racked tightly so that the balls are all in contact with each other.

The base of the rack should be parallel to the end rail of the table, with the lead ball of the rack centered on the table’s foot spot.

Some variations call for the 1-ball to be the apex ball at the front point of the triangle, with the rest of the balls alternating solid/stripe, solid/stripe so that a solid color ball is at each corner.

This variation isn’t in any regulation set of rules, however.

The Break

The break is determined by a coin toss or win or loss of the previous game.

The breaker can position the ball anywhere behind the table’s head string.

The break is considered successful if at least four balls hit cushions, or if a stripe or solid ball is pocketed.

If the 8-ball is pocketed on the break, the breaker can either re-spot the 8-ball and continue play, or re-rack and break again.

If no balls are pocketed, the opponent can opt for a re-break or can continue play from the cue ball’s current position.

If the cue ball is pocketed on the break, the opponent can choose to re-spot the cue ball behind the head string, or re-break the balls.

Note that some regional or house rules call for instant win or loss by default if the 8-ball or cue ball are pocketed on the break.

(Find out about the pros and cons of using a breaking cue.)

During the Game

The players take turns, with the aim of pocketing all the stripes or solids in their suit.

The game is considered to be won when a player pockets the 8-ball after pocketing all of his suit, or when the opposing player accidentally pockets the 8-ball.

Some house rules will require a player to call every shot by the ball and the intended pocket.

This varies from venue to venue, but in most games it’s required for the player to call the pocket for the final 8-ball shot.

Shooter Loses When . . .

Shooter Loses if he does any of the following (except on the break):

  • Scratches or fouls when pocketing the eight ball
  • Pockets the eight ball before pocketing all the other balls in his group
  • Pockets the eight ball in an uncalled pocket
  • Drives the eight ball off the table

Standard Fouls in the Game of 8-Ball

The following are considered a foul in most 8-ball games:

  • Cue ball scratch on or off the table.
  • Shooter misses a ball from his suit (or the 8-ball, if the rest of the suit is pocketed) with the cue ball, without any of the other balls being hit by the cue ball.
  • No ball bounces off a rail or is pocketed, after the cue ball strikes the object ball.
  • The shooter takes more than one shot at the cue ball during a turn.
  • The shooter’s cue pushes the cue ball and moves it before the shot.
  • The cue ball is touched by anything other than the tip of the cue.
  • The shooter touches any balls on the table, other than shooting the cue ball. (In this case, you might need the old mechanical bridge.)
  • The cue ball is “jumped” over another ball.

There are all sorts of variations on how to play 8-ball pool, as we mentioned.

What’s acceptable on your buddy’s pool table down in his basement may be out of bounds at the bar down the street.

The main point is that 8-ball is a fun and relaxing game, regardless of where it’s being played and who’s playing it.

It requires skill, judgment, and practice. It can even be used to demonstrate object lessons in physics and geometry.

Don’t take the game too seriously, don’t get too worked up over it – just get together with your friends and enjoy a traditional bar game that people have been playing for a century or more.

Looking for other pool games?

Check out how to play Nine-Ball, Cutthroat Pool and other billiards games.

For a complete list of all our favorite bar games, check out this resource.


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