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How to Play 10 Ball Pool: Quick Guide and Rules Overview

If you enjoy playing the game of 9 ball, it’s probably worth taking a few minutes to learn how to play 10 Ball Pool. 

The two games are very similar. Both are rotation style pool games where you must aim for the lowest number on the table in working your way up to the highest number. 

As you’ll see, though, there are differences in the rules of 10 ball pool that make this game a bit more challenging than your standard game of 9 ball pool. And for that reason, advanced pool players love this one. 

Let’s take a quick look at how to play 10 ball pool so you can give it a try on your home table. 

Getting Started

Ten ball is a game for two players. You will use the balls 1 through 10. The player who knocks in the 10 ball on a called legal shot wins the game. When playing, you must always make cue ball contact with the lowest number ball on the table first. There’s more to it than that, so let’s start with the rack.

Racking a Game of 10-Ball

Rack the balls in a standard 8-ball triangle rack, with 10 balls forming the triangle instead of 15.

The 10 ball goes in the middle and the 1 ball goes at the top. Place the 2 and 3 balls in the corner. You can place the remaining balls randomly. They do not need to be in order. Roll the rack up so the 1 ball is  placed on the foot spot.

Make sure you get the rack nice and tight. Read this if you need a refresher on how to rack pool balls correctly.

Deciding Who Breaks First

Before playing your first game, decide who gets to break first. Like any type of pool game, this is always an advantage. 

The easiest way to do this is to lag. This means you each take a shot from the head rail at the same time. The shooter with the ball that banks off the foot rail and ends up closest back to the head rail wins the first break.

You then alternate breaking after each game.

Breaking

In 10 ball, break shots must be made from behind the head string (see our guide on pool table anatomy if this isn’t clear).

A legal break requires that you either pocket a ball or scatter the rack so at least 4 balls hit a rail after the break.

Note: You do not win if you pocket the 10-ball on the break. Unlike 9 ball, the 10 ball is spotted if this occurs.

Push Out:

If no foul was committed on the break, the shooter can choose to play a “push out” (not the same thing as a “push shot”). This means he or she can take a shot and the rules of hitting the wrong ball first and not hitting a rail after contact are waived. The next player can then decide if he wants to shoot next or not, depending on where the push out ends up.

Note: Spot the 10 ball if it accidentally gets pocketed on the push out. 

Playing 10 Ball Pool

You must always aim for the lowest ball first. Each player must call the ball and the intended pocket for each shot. 

There is no slop allowed in 10-ball, even if you make contact with the lowest ball first and happen to get lucky by pocketing a different ball or land the object ball in a different pocket than the one you called. 

Like 9 ball, you can make combination shots, as long as you hit the low ball first, or carom shots. However, in 10-ball you can only call one ball per shot.

So for each shot, you must point to the intended pocket and say the number of the ball that will (hopefully) go into that pocket. No need to tell us how it will get there. 

If you accidentally pocket a different ball than intended, or if your object ball goes into a different pocket than intended, the ball stays in the pocket. The next player can either play on from that point or choose to hand the shot back to you. 

If you pocket your intended ball in the right pocket on a legal shot, but make an accidental additional ball, that ball stays down and you just keep shooting. 

Note: Only the 10 ball gets spotted. This happens if it is accidentally pocketed on the break or another shot, goes off the table, or goes in the wrong pocket.

If you miss your pocket on a legal shot, the next player just plays the cue ball from that spot. 

The player who pockets the 10 ball on any called legal shot, other than the break or a push out, wins the game.  

Fouls

Standard fouls of pool apply, including scratching the cue ball or shooting it off the table, hitting the wrong ball first, and not hitting a rail after contact.

On that last one, it means that if you don’t pocket a ball, after the cue ball contacts the object ball, either the cue ball or that object ball must hit a rail.

For a full list of standard fouls, including double-hitting and push shots, click here

If a player commits a foul, the next player gets to play the cue ball in hand anywhere on the table. For more pool and billiards terminology, check out this guide

After reading these rules, it’s probably obvious why this game is a little harder to win than 9 ball, and definitely more challenging than a basic game of 8 ball pool.

If you’re still not sure, though, here’s a quick recap:

In ten ball pool:

  • You cannot win on the break by pocketing the 10 ball
  • You must call every single shot
  • You can only call one ball per shot
  • No slop allowed
  • It’s ball-in-hand after any foul
  • You still must hit the lowest numbered ball first, and the rail after contact rule applies (along with all other standard fouls)

Additionally, because there are more balls in the rack, it’s harder to pocket a bunch of balls on the break and go on a run, as is more common in 9 ball. 

Otherwise, ten ball is a great way to practice and learn the game of pool. And is especially fun if you happen to be a pretty strong player to begin with. 

Top Image Credit: SMcCandlish / CC BY-SA

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