Rules for the Road
There are many different rules to live by in pool. Before you play a game with a new group of people, be sure you are familiar with the rules they may be using. Nothing is set in stone unless you're in tournament or league play. These are some rules that you should keep in your memory banks wherever you play.
It seems silly that after practicing your stance, grip, and stroke, you would make the error of actually pushing the ball instead of striking it. It may sound silly, but it's not unusual for beginners. You may not even notice you're doing it, but another player is sure to see it and hopefully will let you know that you're developing a bad habit.
The ball is sitting precariously on the edge of a pocket. Everyone waits, wondering if the ball will drop or just sit there. What do you do? How long do you wait before the ball either stays on the edge or drops into the pocket? Sometimes the ball will sit there for a few seconds before dropping into a pocket. How long do you wait before moving on?
The Billiard Congress of America has set a 5-second limit and recommends the following guidelines:
If a player strikes the balls and pockets one while another hangs on the brink, that player still controls the table and can keep shooting.
If the hanging ball is the only ball that even reaches a pocket and it doesn't drop, the player loses control of the table when the cue ball stops rolling.
If the opponent takes control of the table when the ball is still hanging, and the ball drops while the opponent is in control, and the 5-second time limit has elapsed, the ball gets replaced to its position if the opponent didn't actually pocket the ball.
Who Goes First?
There are many ways to determine who breaks first. You can flip a coin, or you can jovially defer the break to your opponent — whatever works for you is fine. The tradition, however, is to “lag” for the break. This means that each player places a ball within the head string and they both strike their respective balls at the same time. The goal is for your ball to bounce off the foot rail and return to your end of the table (the head rail). The person whose ball stops closest to the head rail breaks first. It's okay for the ball to strike the head rail and bounce off. If the ball accidentally falls into the pocket, your opponent automatically wins the lag.
What do you do in round two and the rounds thereafter? That's up to you and the other players, and in cases of leagues or tournaments, whoever is officiating, but you should decide what you want to do before you start playing. You can let the winner break first, or you can alternate winner and loser. Remember, if you always let the winner break first, you may be letting the better player have an advantage.