Nine ball is a very popular billiards game. It’s played by professionals on television and in pool tournaments all over the world.
Yet, when it comes to most bar and rec-room pool games, 9 ball might still take a back seat to standard 8 ball pool.
But nine ball is actually the perfect bar game.
It’s fast paced, so games can move quickly, and it requires a unique combination of skill and strategy. It’s often the game players prefer as they get better at pool.
In this brief introductory guide, we’ll cover how to play 9 pall pool, including the basics of racking, breaking, strategy and important 9 ball rules and common fouls.
(New to pool? Learn more about how to find the right beginner pool cue.)
Racking Nine Ball Pool
The name of the game is nine ball, and the game is played with—you guessed it—nine balls.
Only balls 1 through 9 are used. The billiard balls are racked in a diamond shape using either a diamond rack (if the bar has one), or by creating the shape using the standard triangle rack.
If using a triangle rack, just form the diamond in the top of the triangle and push the bottom of the shape firmly. You want to create a very tight rack if possible.
The 1-ball will be placed be at the top of the diamond (apex). The 9-ball will go in the center of the rack. The rest of the balls can be placed anywhere in diamond.
The top of the diamond and 1 ball should line up on the foot spot of the table (the center spot in the racking end of the table).
Basic Game Strategy
The object of the game is to sink the balls in ascending order, 1 – 9. The player who legally makes the 9 ball in the called pocket wins.
But, combo shots allow for the win to occur before all balls are removed from the table.
For instance, you could be shooting at the 5 ball, but if you see that you could “combo” the 5 into the 9 and pocket the 9, calling that shot and successfully making it would give you the win.
You cannot shoot directly at the nine ball until it is the only ball remaining on the table. You must always hit the lowest number object ball first.
(Improve your game with these pool practice tips.)
Different rules may apply, as halls and leagues have their own rules. However, in 9 ball you will generally NOT need to call all shots, except for the 9 ball.
If you make your shot, without committing a foul, you keep shooting. If you miss, your opponent plays the cue ball from the position you left it.
Breaking in nine ball pool can be a distinct advantage. If the nine ball is made on the break (without a scratch), the breaker wins!
(Learn more about whether you need a breaking cue to smash the rack.)
Many people play with a “winner breaks” rule in place.
Flipping a coin or “lagging” (shooting the cue ball across the table hard enough to return and get the ball back to the bumper—the person who gets it closest wins) is a popular way to determine who breaks in the first match.
The player breaks from behind the head string. That means behind the center spot at the breaking end, between the second diamonds along the side rail of a full sized table.
Seasoned 9 ball players have different approaches to the break.
One accepted strategy is to line up to the left side of the table and aim the cue slightly to the left of center of 1 ball.
Using a controlled stroke – not too powerful – the goal is to sink the right corner ball and free the one ball to the left side of the table.
This will open up your options and give you a clean shot at the lowest ball to start the game.
A Few Rules to Remember
As we mentioned, many bars and pool halls have rules that govern their 9 ball matches. But there are certain rules that are generally accepted.
Beginning with standard fouls, here are some of the most important 9 ball rules and concepts to remember when learning how to play 9 ball pool.
Standard 9 Ball Fouls
These are basic fouls recognized in most 9 ball venues. Generally, if the shooter commits one of these fouls during play, the next player will have ball in hand with the cue ball and can place it anywhere on the table.
- Cue ball scratch or off the table
- Striking the incorrect ball first. The first ball contacted on each shot must be the lowest numbered ball remaining on the table
- Double hitting the cue ball. (Having trouble holding the pool cue? Check out this guide.)
- Failing to hit a rail with any ball after making contact with the object ball
- No foot on floor (you must always have at least one foot on the floor when shooting)
- Push shot (cue tip maintains contact with the ball longer than the split second allowed for normal shot)
- Slow play
- Balls still moving when you shoot (You must wait until balls have stopped moving before your next shot)
- Cue stick on the table
- Playing out of turn
Ball in Hand
As mentioned, if a foul or scratch occurs, the other player may choose where to place the cue ball anywhere on the table for the next shot—this is called having “ball in hand.”
However, on a break, the cue ball is placed in hand behind the head-string.
Spotting the Ball
If the nine ball is pocketed on a foul or push out, or shot off the table, it is spotted.
Note that the 9 ball is the only ball that gets spotted in 9 ball pool.
If you jump a different object ball off the table, for instance, it is a foul and you lose your turn. But that ball does not get spotted.
(If you like playing 9 ball, you may also enjoy a game of cutthroat with 3 players).
Some pool halls and leagues allow for something called a “push out” after the break. The player who breaks, or the opposing player, can hit the cue ball anywhere on the table to leave their opponent a tougher shot.
However, if the opponent chooses, they may decide NOT to shoot the shot and return it to the original player. Most halls don’t play by strict Billiard Congress of America’s rules, so consult with your opponent before any match.
Those are the basics of how to play 9 ball pool. It’s a simple game in concept, but it takes a lot of skill to win. Because there are less balls, every shot matters and a game can end rather quickly with a legal combo shot that pockets the 9.
Learning how to play 9 ball is also a great way to practice. There is so much strategy involved in this game. Plus, there is more room on the table, so you will need to work on placing the ball and lining up shots correctly.
For additional 9 ball rules, check out the official rule-set from The Billiards Congress of America.
Of course, if your bar or league does not have its own set of rules, you can use these to clear up any confusion.