Billiards: Rules Of The Game

There are quite a few different variations of pocket billiards, and knowing the rules and how to play can increase your shot proficiency.

First it should be understood that there are a couple different types of billiards tables and while billiards describes the huge genre that is pool, there is also a game specifically called billiards. The game Billiards is played on a pocket-less table that is slightly larger than the common pool table and uses only three balls: a red ball, a white ball, and a yellow ball. There are a few different disciplines, but generally the object of the game is to make the cue ball (either the white or the yellow) strike one of the other balls, then rebound off of at least three rails, then striking the remaining ball.

For the remainder of this article we'll focus on those games played on the common, six pocket pool table, and are all variations of pocket billiards.

The most popular variation of pocket billiards is Eight Ball. Eight Ball is a call shot game played with the cue ball and fifteen object balls. One player must pocket the balls numbered one to seven, while the opponent must pocket the balls numbered nine to 15. The first player to pocket all of the balls in their group wins the game. Determining which group of balls a player will shoot is simple, but often misunderstood. The table is always open after the break. Even if a player pockets a ball from one or both groups, the table remains open. The groups are not decided until a player pockets a shot from either group of balls, after the break. An interesting aspect in Eight Ball allows a player too win the game immediately on the break. If the breaker pockets the 8-ball on the break, then he is immediately declared the winner. If he pockets the 8-ball and the cue ball on the break then the opponent has the option of spotting the 8-ball and shooting ball-in-hand from behind the head string or he may also choose to re-rack. There are five fouls that will result in a loss in Eight Ball.

1. If any player pockets the 8-ball before his group of balls has been completely pocketed.

2. If a player jumps the 8-ball off the table.

3. If a player scratches when pocketing the 8-ball.

4. If a player pockets the 8-ball on the same shot as the last of his group balls.

5. If a player pockets the 8-ball in any pocket other than the designated one.



In the world of billiards, Nine Ball is right behind Eight Ball in terms of popularity. Nine Ball is remarkable in that it only uses nine object balls, numbered one to nine, and is racked in a diamond formation. When racking, the 1-ball must be placed at the head of the diamond and the 9-ball in the center. The other balls can be in any other random order, as long as the rack is as tight as possible. For a legal break to occur, the cue ball must strike the 1-ball first and pocket a ball, or cause any four object balls to strike the rails. If the breaker scratches, or causes any of the object balls to jump off of the table, then the opposing player is awarded his turn with ball-in-hand anywhere on the table. When the game commences, the first ball the cue ball strikes on each shot, must be the lowest numbered ball on the table. You don't have to pocket that lowest ball, but your cue ball always has to hit that one first. The player who pockets the 9-ball first, wins the game.

Another popular variation on pocket billiards is Bank Pool. In Bank pool called shots have to be banked off of at least one rail before being pocketed. There are fifteen object balls used in bank pool and the first player to legally pocket eight of those balls wins the game. If the breaker pockets a ball on the break, that ball is spotted and the breaker still has the table.

A game that is very good for developing table skills is One Pocket. In one pocket, each player chooses one of the foot pockets in which they have to sink eight balls. The first player to sink eight balls, any eight balls, in their designated pocket wins the game. This game is a good learning tool for evaluating the lay of the table so that you can put together the most likely chain of successful shots.

One of the most entertaining but little known variations of pocket billiards is Cowboy Pool. This game is very easy, fun, and any number of players can join in. Only three object balls are used in Cowboy: the 1-ball, 3-ball, and 5-ball. Cowboy is also the only recognized billiard game that does not utilize a rack. The 1-ball is placed on the head spot, the 5-ball is placed on the center spot, and the 3-ball is on the foot spot. Rather than the traditional break, the player who won the lag, takes a shot from behind the head line assuring that the cue ball strikes the 3-ball. If the cue ball does not strike the 3-ball then a foul is called, the table is reset and the next player takes his turn. To score a player can pocket any of the object balls with the points-earned being equal to the numerical value of the ball pocketed. If the cue ball strikes two of the object balls in the same shot, they receive one point. If the cue ball were to strike all three object balls in the same shot then the player would be awarded two points. Once a player reaches ninety points, the scoring changes. A player may only score points 91-100 by caroming the cue ball off of two or three object balls, and earning the two or three points awarded by each shot. To score the 101st winning point, a player must carom the cue ball off of the one ball into a called pocket without touching any of the other object balls.

These differing variations of pocket billiards can test a player's skill in different aspects of their game. Whether it's banking shots, concentrating on numerical planning, or caroming, these all will help improve a player's overall game proficiency.

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