The Rules

Often, it seems like the rules of eight ball have more to do with what you can't do versus what you can do. As you know, the object of the game is to pocket all your object balls — either solids or stripes — depending on whatever you or your opponent chose after the break. You don't want to pocket the 8 ball before you've pocketed all your object balls and you want to get a good run on the table to stay ahead of your opponent. Those are the basics, but there is much more to it.

Illegal Breaks

An illegal break means that you didn't break according to the general rules of the game or according to the specific rules of the game you are playing at the time. An illegal break shot, generally speaking, occurs when four numbered balls don't strike one or more cushions. If you fail to make a legal break, you are charged with a foul, and your opponent can choose to shoot as the table lies, have you rerack the balls and your opponent breaks, or your opponent can rerack the balls and have you break again.

If your opponent is the one to break illegally, you should survey the table and see if there are any good shots for you. If so, take your turn. If not, choose to rerack and break again, or if you feel your break is not your strongest asset — have your opponent break.

If you don't pocket any balls on the break, you should consider your stroke speed. If this becomes a problem, you may have to go back a few chapters and review a little bit. You don't want to lose the first go at the balls, because you'll hand your opponent the advantage.

The 8 Ball

Even though the tough part of pool is to dodge all your opponent's object balls in order to pocket your own, you always have to keep your eye on that 8 ball. You want to make sure you don't land it in a pocket before it's time.

If you pocket the 8 ball on the break, you can either rerack and break again or you can choose to spot the 8 ball and continue playing. If you scratch and pocket the 8 ball, or any ball on a break, it's not just an unfortunate shot, but you will also lose your turn. Your opponent takes his or her turn at the table and can either rerack or spot the 8 ball. In this case the opponent would take ball-in-hand behind the head string.

You cannot pocket the 8 ball for the win by combining the shot with your last pocketed object ball. The 8 ball must be pocketed separately in order to win the game. Otherwise you will have fouled.


If you scratch on the break it is considered a foul and your opponent takes ball-in-hand behind the head string. All the object balls that were pocketed on the break remain pocketed. The table is considered open at this point. Your opponent will have to remember the general rule about taking ball-in-hand behind the head string. In this situation, he or she may not hit an object ball that is behind the head string, unless he or she first shoots the cue ball outside the head string, causing it to come back and strike the object ball within the head string.

Pocketing Both a Stripe and a Solid

It doesn't matter if you pocket a stripe and a solid or two stripes or two solids on the break. The table is considered “open” after the break regardless of the balls pocketed. You must still legally pocket a ball before you claim your stripes or solids. But beware … that first ball you pocket after the break determines if you will play stripes or solids, so choose your shot wisely!

There are other rules and fouls you should be aware of:

  • If the 8 ball jumps the table, you automatically lose the game.

  • If an object ball jumps the table, you lose your turn and are charged with a foul. You must spot the jumped ball on the foot spot and your opponent may take cue-ball-in-hand anywhere on the table.

  • If you pocket your ball and knock another ball to the floor at the same time, it is a foul. You must spot the jumped ball, but the ball you pocketed must stay down. Since you fouled, your opponent gets cue-ball-in-hand.

  • If a called shot bounces in and out of a pocket it is not considered pocketed, and your inning ends. If the cue ball bounces out of the pocket, it is not a scratch. If the 8 ball bounces out of the pocket, it is not considered pocketed.

  • If you miss the 8 ball after pocketing all your object balls, it is not considered a foul. It's simply your opponent's turn to shoot.

  • If you have stripes and your cue ball doesn't hit a striped ball first, you are charged with a foul and your opponent gets cue-ball-in-hand. If you do strike a striped ball first but nothing then hits a cushion, it is still a foul and your opponent gets cue-ball-in-hand.

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