Fouls and Penalties

Straight pool could be a little boring if you just shot object ball after object ball, missing a turn here and there when you miss a shot. So the game gets a little spice thrown in with the threat of penalties looming over you. If you are penalized for a foul, you lose your turn and some points depending on how many fouls you commit. What's a point here and there? After all, you have plenty of time to catch up. Well, don't be so sure … it depends on how many fouls you commit.

There aren't too many ways you can foul in this game, but you should keep all this in mind so you don't go awry:

  • Either the cue ball or the object ball is required to strike a cushion at least once after your strike.

  • When you commit a foul, 1 point will be deducted from your score.

  • If you pocket an object ball, but it is not the ball you called, your turn is over and you will have to spot the illegally pocketed ball on the foot spot — that is, unless you pocket both the ball you called and another object ball. In that case, you score 2 points and your turn continues.

  • Consecutive Fouls

    Ouch! Consecutive fouls? That doesn't sound good. If you've been practicing you shouldn't have to worry too much about it, but you will have to know about it or you'll be shocked at how many points you can lose — and who needs the added insult of embarrassment thrown into the mix. One or two fouls isn't really a big deal and you probably will catch up.

    So … if you foul once, you lose a point; you foul twice, you lose another point, but if you foul three times, you will lose 16 points (1 for the last foul and 15 points as an additional penalty!). That many points will certainly set you back and you'll need a really good run to be able to catch up.

    The penalties for consecutive fouls are not only granted within one inning, but per inning (each turn at the table). If you commit a foul in one inning, then a second in your next inning, and then a third in the inning after that, you will still be penalized for that third foul. But, if you commit two fouls in two separate innings, then in the next inning you pocket a ball and then commit your third foul, you will not be penalized the 16 points. In other words since you pocketed a ball before your third foul, the last foul is not considered consecutive.

    For example, let's say that in inning two you commit a foul. The scorekeeper makes a note that you are “on a foul” and deducts 1 point (even if that takes you into the negatives). If, during your next inning (inning three) you commit another foul in your first shot, you will be “on two fouls.” At inning four, let's say you successfully pocket a called shot and then commit a third foul. Well, not to worry, because you pocketed that one ball before your next foul, so you are off the hook and start all over again with foul counting — but you will still lose another point and you'll still be on your first foul, so don't commit two consecutive fouls after that!

    If you do have three consecutive fouls the balls are reracked as though the game is starting all over again. The player who committed the third foul will be the one to break since the opening break in straight pool is a defensive break, and your opponent shouldn't have to suffer because of your last foul. Straight pool is probably the only game where if you win the lag you would elect for your opponent to break.

    Exceptions to Penalty Rules

    There are a couple of exceptions to the rules on penalties.

    If you call a ball and a pocket and it all worked out just the way you planned — that ball goes into your called pocket, you can continue to shoot. If the ball you called doesn't go into your called pocket, you are not charged with a foul, but your turn at the table will have ended. If another ball mistakenly goes into a pocket, even if it's your called pocket, but it is the wrong ball, you will have to spot the ball for your opponent.

    If you call the correct ball, but it goes into the wrong pocket, again, you will not be penalized with a point deduction, but you will lose your turn. The ball is spotted on the foot spot.

    And if the correct object ball lands in the correct pocket and another one goes in with it, or into another pocket, you score 2 points and your turn continues.

    The Fifteenth Ball (or Break Ball)

    After the fourteenth object ball on the table is pocketed, the game is not over, so don't start packing up your cue stick. You may still have a ways to go before someone hits the predetermined point limit. When the fifteenth object ball is the lone object ball on the table, the fourteen pocketed object balls are reracked and play continues.

    Why leave the fifteenth object ball on the table at all? You'll need to use it on the break. If you've planned your strategy, you will have left yourself a shot on that fifteenth ball so that you can pocket it and have the cue ball run into the rack during the same shot. Basically, the cue ball should bounce off the break ball and then break the rack. Remember, you are leaving a gap at the apex to represent the missing fifteenth ball. You are not obligated to pocket the fifteenth ball before or after the break, but you can if you want to. If you haven't managed to get yourself into position to make the shot and break open the rack, you can call a safety and drive either the cue ball or an object ball to a cushion after the cue ball strikes an object ball.

    The apex of the rack should be placed on the foot spot. As it is lifted, the object balls should remain in their racked configuration and the person who still has control of the table continues play by pocketing the remaining object ball outside the rack, breaking the rack, and continuing to strike object balls until he or she misses or fouls.

    There are a couple of exceptions for the fifteenth (or break) ball:

  • If the last ball stops in the same place that the rack is supposed to go, you should spot the fifteenth ball on the head spot (the spot on the “kitchen” end of the table) and continue shooting from where the cue ball lies. You can shoot the spotted ball into a pocket if you wish, but it will be farther from the rack and you will have some trouble driving your cue ball back down to the other end of the table to break open the rack.

  • If the fifteenth ball sits anywhere on the table other than in the racking area, it stays in that position when the remaining fourteen balls are racked. As you become more experienced in the game, you will learn to choose a particular ball located in a particular position to keep for your break ball.

  • If you accidentally pocket the fourteenth and fifteenth balls at the same time, then all fifteen object balls should be racked.

  • If the fifteenth ball stops in the rack area and the cue ball stops on the head spot, the cue ball should be left where it is and the fifteenth ball should be placed on the center spot — or the center of the table. This very rarely occurs since the cue ball would have to stop on that particular spot.

  • The term “scratch” comes from the early days of pool when points were often kept on a chalkboard. If a player pocketed the cue ball, the scorekeeper would scratch a point off the shooter's score.

    Other Fouls

    Balls can jump off the table occasionally. When an object ball takes flight, it is spotted after the other balls on the table have stopped moving.

    If a cue ball jumps off the table or falls into a pocket, the incoming player should take the cue-ball-in-hand behind the head string. That means you can place the cue ball anywhere in the kitchen, behind the head string, and pick your shot. But be aware that you can only shoot a ball whose base is in front of the head string. When you have cue-ball-in-hand behind the head string, the cue ball must be shot past the head string in order for it to be a legal shot. Otherwise you will have committed a foul.

    Deliberate Fouls

    Another foul that will cost you (and this is a doozy) is the “deliberate foul.” This means that if you intentionally interfere with the movement of any of the balls on the table, you will be penalized 16 points (1 point for the foul and an additional 15 … just because!). So don't intentionally move anything around unless you're shooting it, and never put your hand inside a pocket to catch the object ball as it lands. Any one of these fouls could cost you some hard-earned (or yet to be earned) points and possibly the game. But keep in mind that this foul must be a “deliberate” act. If you accidentally touch the cue ball with your cue stick, let's say during your setup for your shot, you'll still be charged with a foul and lose one point, but it wouldn't have been considered deliberate.

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