How to Play Pool: A Roadmap for Beginners

This road map will take you through the key steps of learning how to play pool, with linked articles and resources that review the essential game rules, skills and equipment.


When we talk about the game of “pool”, we generally mean the type of cue sport played on a pocket billiards table.

And within this broad cue sport category, there are several types of well-known types of pool games, such as 8-ball, 9-ball, straight pool, and many more. 

So, to learn how to play pool, you need have a grasp of the rules for these popular game formats, along with essential skills that apply to each of these games, including breaking, aiming, shooting, defense, cue ball control, strategy and more.

You also should have a basic understanding of the equipment and terminology of cue sports in general. Our guide combines these elements, taking you through each resource on our site to helkp you learn how to play pool and develop a complete game along the way.

You can follow this guide by reviewing each section below:
 
Click on a link to navigate to each section

  1. Types of pool games to play 
    The first step is learning how to play some of the most popular types of games so you can join in at the bar. We cover Eight-Ball, Nine-Ball, Straight Pool, Cutthroat, Bumper Pool, and several other game f ormats in the pocket billiards category.
  2. Pool skills to learn and practice 
    Next it’s time to work on your skills, including how to hold the pool cue, how to practice the fundamentals, how to control the cue ball, and more.
  3. The best equipment to use for beginners 
    Finally, once you become more proficient in your pool game, you’ll need your own equipment. On this site we review the best cues for beginners, how to choose a breaking cue, the best billiard balls, and much more.

How to Play Pool: Introduction

Origins of Pool
Via Wikimedia Commons

The origins of pool, also known as pocket billiards, date all the way back to the 15th century.

Originally played as a lawn game, pool eventually moved indoors and became very popular in pool halls, bars and households.

As a professional sport, the game of pool peaked in the U.S during the 1970’s. 

With all of the games and digital options available today, pool’s popularity has declined a little.

Yet it remains one of the best overall bar games, and a favorite among families and avid players for home recreation.

One of the best aspects of pool is that it can be played and enjoyed by men and women of all ages, and players of all levels.

With this guide we hope to introduce you to the game of pool so you can learn how to play different games, improve your skills and enjoy it more with your friends and family, whether at the bar or at home.

Popular Pool Games and Variations

As you begin your pool playing journey, it helps to start with an understanding of popular game formats.

There are many different games and ways to play pool.

Perhaps the most popular pool game is Eight-Ball. Other popular games include 9-ball, Cutthroat and Straight Pool.

The following articles provide rules and general instructions on how to play several types of pocket billiards games:

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

This article provides an introduction to the game of 8-ball, including standard rules and common variations.

Keep in mind that how you play eight-ball in any given establishment depends on what the house rules say. 

Learn more about how to play eight ball

A Quick Guide to Nine-Ball

Nine-ball is what’s known as a rotation game. In other words, the balls must be pocketed in order.

Some new players are intimidated by nine-ball because it seems more technical, and less fun, than eight-ball. While it does require more precision, nine-ball is a great game for beginners.

This post provides a full overview of how to play, including how to rack the game, the various ways to win, and common fouls and penalties. 

Read a quick guide to 9-ball pool

How to Play Straight Pool 

Straight pool, also known as 14:1 continuous pool, is a game for more advanced pool players.

But if you’re ready to challenge yourself and have ample time to learn and play against another eager player, straight pool is a great way to enjoy pool in its purest form.

It will also help you get better at games like 8-ball and 9-ball.
 
Learn how to play straight pool

An Overview of Cutthroat Pool 

Cutthroat pool is a fun game when you have an odd number of players, such as 3 or 5.

This game involves picking your own group of balls and trying to knock in your opponents’ balls before they get yours.

It’s a fun game for bars and a great way to try something new.

Read the instructions and rules for cutthroat pool here

How to Play Bumper Pool 

You may not see it as often anymore, but bumper pool is a really fun game.

It’s played on a specific bumper pool table, either rectangular or octagonal, and is prefect for smaller spaces in a bar, arcade or at home.

This post explains the basic rules of bumper pool with game instructions. 

Read more about the fun game of bumper pool

Snooker, Pool and Billiards: What’s the Difference?

There are three main genres of cue sports: snooker, pool (aka pocket billiards) and billiards.

And there are several games within each main category.

The primary difference is in the type and format of the table used.

There are other differences, including the balls, scoring, and more. 

Luckily, we have an overview that will clear up the major differences between each category.

Learn more about the difference between snooker, pool and billiards

More Pocket Billiards Games to Try Out

Once your comprtable with the rules for the mainstream pool games, there are several more fun types of pocket billiards games to try out, such as 7-ball, 15-ball, one pocket, and bowlliards.

This post provides an overview of how to play each game with links to additional resources for more detail.

When you’re getting sick of 8-ball, or just looking for a game to practice with, this is a great resource.

Learning Basic Pool Skills

How to Hold a Pool Stick

If you’ve played a few games and realize you might like this sport, the next step in your journey to learn how to play pool is developing a solid and repeatable skill set.

This means working on the fundamentals of playing pool, such as your stance, grip, aim, stroke and follow-through, cueing the ball, and making solid and precise contact with the object ball.

The following articles will help you learn why these skills are important and how to practice them:

How to hold a pool stick: hand placement, grip and bridge.

To strike the ball correctly and sink it in your target pocket, you need to start with the very first step of learning how to hold the cue correctly. Many players skip past this step and start hitting the cue ball with force or trying out advance concepts like spin and english. But they missed out on the basic prerequisite of holding, gripping and bridging the cue correctly. 

Read: This post starts with the most basic elements of how to hold your pool cue.

We review basic concepts of hand placement and pendulum stroke, using a light and natural grip on the cue, and how to create a comfortable yet stable bridge.

Once you’ve established a better comfort level with holding and striking the cue, you can move on to more advanced practice tips.

How to get better at pool: 9 fundamental practice tips

Like any well-established game or sport, it takes a lot of practice to get better at pool. 

Yet, when it comes to a practice routine, most of us just like to go and hit some balls around the table. Maybe add in some power breaks. 

But, instead of just hitting balls at random, if you add a little structure and work on essential mechanics of your stroke and overall game, it can go along way in making you a better pool player.

Read: This post reviews how to practice pool, including gripping the cue, practicing the swing, aiming, pre-shot routines, stroke execution and follow through.

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Cue Ball Positioning 101

Once you are comfortable striking the cue ball and sinking object balls, it’s time to work on how to position the cue ball for subsequent shots and defensive leaves

The three fundamental cue ball strokes are the Draw, the Follow and the Stop shot.

These shots will allow you to bring the cue ball back, move it forward or stop it to line up an easy follow up shot. 

Read: This article reviews the fundamentals of cue ball positioning with video demonstrations for each shot and some additional resources.

Chalking Your Pool Cue 

Chalking a pool stick is one of the most basic but often overlooked aspects of playing better pool.

We’ve all heard that awful sound of the tip slipping off the side of the cue ball, also known as a miscue.

It’s usually because you didn’t put enough chalk on the tip, or you chalked it incorrectly (i.e. put way too much on).

Read this post to learn the basics of how and why to chalk your pool cue before each shot.

How to Use a Mechanical Bridge 

A mechanical bridge is the pool cue with a notched attachment or cross at the end of it.

These devices are used to extend your reach on the table.

Many players forget to avail themselves of this handy tool.

If you’re not sure how to use these, or even why a bridge stick would be helpful, read this post.

Pool Table Anatomy 101

When learning new shots and how to play certain games, it helps to have a basic understanding of pool table terminology. 

For example, many game rules and instructions on this site and elsewhere refer to different parts of the table when setting up a game (i.e. head post, foot spot, head string.

Read: This post provides a simple diagram and general overview of the parts of a pool table.

How to Rack Pool Balls

Don’t overlook the importance of racking.

Having a tight rack with correct ball placement, depending on the game you’re playing, will make for a much better break.

On the other hand, a loose rack can cluster easy shots for your opponent.

Not a good way to start off.

Luckily, learning how to rack properly is easy.

Just read this guide, which covers how to rack for popular games like 8-ball, 9-ball, straight pool, and cutthroat.

We also address how to achieve a tighter rack with a diamond or triangular rack. 

Further Reading:

Know Your Equipment

Pool Equipment Guide

Once you’ve established a basic skills set and have learned how to play a few games, or if you’re ready to jump right in, it’s time to find the best billiards equipment for your playing style.

Pool is played on tables of different sizes, and players use cues of varying weight, length and style.

There are also many accessories that are essential to a good experience on the pool table, including a quality set of billiard balls and the right rack for your preferred game(s).

Here are a few posts to help you find the best equipment when learning how to play pool and taking it to the next level at home or on the go:

The Best Pool Cues for Beginners

This is probably the first decision a developing pool player will make.

There are tons of options out there, so finding the right cue or set of cues can seem a little daunting at first.

This article breaks down what to look for in a quality beginner pool cue, as well as some of the best options on the market for new players.

Read More

How to Choose the Best Set of Billiard Balls

If you’ve invested in a high quality pool table, you should make sure you have a decent set of billiard balls to shoot with.

Like all other aspects of this game, there is more to the design and make-up of a billiard ball than meets the eye.

It’s not too complicated, but this post will help you find a good set that will meet the needs of most pool players

Do you Really Need a Breaking Cue?

Having a good break is one of the most important components to your overall pool game.

Many players use a heavier breaking cue with a reinforced tip and extra durability to increase their breaking power.

However, for many us, a breaking cue is unnecessary and can even be detrimental to our game.

Read this post and find out if a breaking cue makes sense for you, and how to choose the right one based on your speed and power.

The Best Mini Pool Tables and Portable Pool Tables

For some of us, a full size pool table just isn’t in the cards.

Whether we don’t have enough room in the house or in the budget, it’s OK; there are plenty of other options out there.

Of course, you could play out at the bar or pool hall.

But you can also opt for a smaller table that would be fun for the kids and save some space.

If you want to take the game with you, check out some of the best portable options on the market.

Read more about the best mini pool tables and portable pool tables.

Pool Table Lighting

It doesn’t matter how nice your table is if you can’t actually see the table.

Yup, the wrong lighting set-up can ruin a game of pool.

Don’t worry, if you want to get this right for your bar or rec room, our guide to pool table lighting will set you on the right path towards a properly lit pool table. 

Read More

Fun and Inspirational

If you need some extra inspiration while learning how to play pool, one of the best place to look is the moves. Or, you can dream about designing your very own custom billiards room. 

The Best Pool Movies

This post includes an overview of three of the best pool movies ever made: The Hustler, The Color of Money and Pool Hall Junkies.

These are not only fine films, they also serve as pool learning resources.

Just check out the trick shots analyzed in this article.

Billiard Room Inspiration

Here are 20 examples of billiard room designs to feast your eyes on, including modern looks, traditional and over the top whimsical.