Here, we’ll cover how to play 9 ball pool, with a quick and dirty overview of racking, rules for the game, breaking, and standard fouls.
9 ball is a very popular type of pool 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. It requires a unique combination of skill and strategy, and it’s often the game players prefer as they get better at pool.
The object of this game is simple: sink the 9-ball to win the game. Of course, there’s a little more to it. Let’s start with the rack.
How to Rack a Game of 9 Ball Pool
Only balls 1 through 9 are used. The balls are racked in a diamond shape using a traditional 9 ball diamond rack. The 1-ball must 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 in a random order. Don’t place the balls in order.
If you don’t have a diamond rack, just use a standard triangle rack and shape the diamond with your hands. Make sure you push firmly from the bottom of the diamond shape up to the top of the rack.
The rack should be as tight as possible. Read this post if you need a review of how to properly rack a game of pool.
The top of the diamond and 1 ball should line up on the foot spot of the table. This the center spot in the racking end of the table.
Basic 9 Ball Rules
The object of 9 ball pool is to sink the balls in ascending order, 1 – 9. The player who legally makes the 9 ball in the called pocket wins.
However, combo shots allow for the win to occur before all balls are removed from the table. You can combo into higher number balls, including the 9 ball, if you contact the lowest number ball first.
For example, say you’re shooting for the 5 ball, but you see that you could “combo” the 5 into the 9 and pocket the 9. If you call that shot and sink the 9 ball without scratching, you would win the game.
You cannot shoot directly at the nine ball until it is the only ball remaining on the table. And you must always hit the lowest number object ball first.
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. (Learn about cue ball control)
Breaking in 9 ball pool can be a distinct advantage. If the 9 ball is made on the break (without a scratch), the breaker wins!
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. (Learn more about pool table anatomy)
For the first match, you can flip a coin to decide who gets to break. But I prefer the “lagging” method.
Lagging means 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. It’s a fun and popular way to determine who breaks in the first match.
For subsequent games, most people just play that the winner gets to break.
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.
Related: How to play straight pool
Standard 9 Ball Fouls
- Cue ball scratch or off the table. A scratch is when you pocket the cue ball or launch it 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
As we mentioned, many bars and pool halls have rules that govern their 9 ball matches. But the above fouls that are generally accepted.
If the shooter commits one of these fouls during play, the next player will have cue ball in hand. More on this below.
If you commit several of these fouls on one single shot, it’s still counted as only one foul. However, if you commit three fouls in a row – that’s three straight shots with a foul and not making a legal shot – the rule is that you lose the game.
The is a fundamental part of 9 ball. If you commit a foul or scratch while playing, the other player may choose where to place the cue ball. And he or she can place it 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 only 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.
Further reading for 9 Ball Pool:
- 9 Ball Strategy: Instructional videos about lining up shots, breaking, playing defensively and much more from Colorado State
- Official Rules from the Billiards Congress of America