Importance of the Break
All the general rules of breaking apply to the break in eight ball, with a few subtle differences. The main rule to a legal break is to shoot from behind the head string and either pocket a ball or strike at least four balls into one or more cushions.
Open Break In eight ball, the break shot is an open break, which means you strike the balls as hard as possible to scatter them on the table. There is no way to really plan on pocketing a particular ball, which is why the setup of the rack is so particularly important. If luck is going to play a part in the success of your game, you want to make sure that your chances are as equal as possible from the start.
If you have just stepped up to the table with your opponent(s) you can either flip a coin or lag for the break. The person who wins the lag can either choose to break first or pass the break to the opponent. While the official rules say that the players alternate breaks, other “house” rules may say that the winner breaks. This method is pretty popular in taverns where the winner gets to keep the table and challengers will line up to play. Some people play that the opponent racks the balls for the person who is about to break. But again, that is upon agreement, not by rule. It is generally accepted that the opponent racks the balls for the breaker.
Table setup for the break shot in eight ball.
The table is always considered open after the break. This means that it is not yet determined which object balls you will play: solids or stripes. There are a couple of rules that apply to the open table.
While it is illegal during play to strike a solid into a stripe to pocket that striped ball (and vice versa) this is not the case when the table is open. Since the table is always considered “open” until the first ball is legally pocketed (meaning the first pocketed ball after the break shot), you can mix up stripes and solids in your combination shot until the first ball is pocketed.
If the table is open and the 8 ball is the first ball you strike, you will lose your turn, but are not charged with a foul and your opponent will play the cue ball as it lies. In this case, all the pocketed balls stay pocketed and the table stays open until a legal shot is pocketed. Once that occurs, whatever that ball is, stripe or solid, determines what that player must shoot for the rest of the game.
One of the variations on the rules of eight ball is that you don't get to choose stripes or solids after the break, but you have to play whatever ball(s) you landed in the pocket(s). If you made a stripe and a solid, you can choose, but if you pocket a stripe (or two stripes) you have to take stripes. Keep in mind that this rule is a “house” rule rather than an official rule.
The Upper Hand
If you are the lucky one who gets to break, you will automatically gain an advantage over your opponent because chances are pretty good that on an open break you are going to pocket an object ball. If you do pocket an object ball on the break, you are the first at the table. Why is that so important? Well, everyone likes to go first when they are doing something fun, right? Sure, but there's more than just having fun involved.
You have a strategic edge. If you are first at the table you automatically gain an advantage over your opponent. A good run on the table could make you the winner in the end, especially if you've been practicing and have gotten good with that cue stick of yours. Even though you don't know for sure where the balls will wind up after your break shot, you still have an advantage of being at the table and in control of the next move.