8-Ball Rules: An Overview of Pool’s Most Popular Game

It’s time to 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 rules.

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A History of the Game

8 Ball Pool History

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.

Due to its simplicity, 8-ball eventually became the most popular recreational version of pocket billiards. And a beloved bar game for generations.

Here’s how you play the game. 

Related: Your complete road map to learning how to play pool…

Standardized Rules of Eight Ball Pool

8 Ball Standard Rules

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 8 ball rules:

Eight Ball Pool Equipment

Regulation Size Pool Table

Harvil 8 Foot Slate Pool Table

Eight ball can be played on pool tables of many different shapes and sizes. Of course, you don;t really need to worry about whether your table complies with standard 8-ball rules.

But just in case you want to know

The standard size for recreational 8-ball pool are as follows:

  • 3 1/2 feet x 7 feet
  • 4 feet x 8 feet
  • 4 1/2 feet x 9 feet

Notice that the the tables are twice as long as they are wide.

The standard size for professional eight-ball tournament play is 4 1/2 feet x 9 feet. 

A pool table should be at least 29.25 inches high, with a maximum height of 31 inches. 

Billiard Balls

There are seven solid-colored billiard 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.

The standard specifications for billiard balls is: Weight 5.5 – 6 oz. and Diameter 2.25″ (allowing for plus or minus .005″ in diameter).

(Learn more about selecting the best billiard balls.)

How to Rack in 8-Ball 

Eight Ball 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 apex ball of the rack centered on the table’s foot spot.

One ball from each group (solid and stripe) should be placed at the two lower corners of the triangle. Otherwise the rest of the balls can be placed at random.

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.

Rules of the Break

The break in 8-ball pool 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 cue ball does not need to hit any particular object ball first.

However, unless the breaker pockets a ball, at least four balls must hit cushions

If the breaker does not pocket a ball and fails to drive at least 4 balls to one or more rails, it is an illegal break. 

In the case of an illegal break, the opponent can either accept the table as is and play from there; choose to re-rack and break; or re-rack and have the breaker go again. 

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 the breaker pockets the 8-ball and scratches the cue ball, the opponent may either spot the 8-ball and take the cue ball in hand behind the head string for his next shot; or re-rack and choose to break. 

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

Finally, if a ball is jumped off the table on the break, that ball stays out of play (unless it’s the 8-ball, which would be re-spotted) and the opponent then can either play it as is, or take ball in hand behind the head string.

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. Just keep this in mind. 

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

During the Game

8 Ball Rules During Game: Fouls and More

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.

The 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 8-ball rules and 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.