The Basics of Eight Ball


Eight ball is probably the most popular billiards game (at least in the United States), so learning the basics of eight ball is essential. There are many different sets of rules for eight ball, but this guide will get you started with the basics and let you know how to find out more. From the neighborhood bars to the world of professional pool players, eight ball is frequently the game of choice.

The Rack and Balls

The game begins by racking all fifteen balls, designated by the "stripes" and the "solids". The “solid”s are numbered 1-8, and are solid colors, hence their name. The “stripes” are numbered 9-15, and have a single colored stripe around them. The lone white ball is called the "cue ball"; This ball is the actual ball you shoot with the cue toward the other balls with the objective of knocking the target ball into a pocket.

Here Are a Few Tips on Racking:

  • Eight ball is a game involving all fifteen pool balls. Put all the striped and solid balls into the rack, leaving the cue ball at the other end of the table.
  • The balls should be racked at the end of the table with a large spot, designating where the apex of the rack should be aligned.
  • When racking the balls, make sure the eight ball goes in the center and place a striped ball in one corner and a solid in the other corner. Some players insist on alternating solid ball, striped ball throughout the rack, however official rules don’t require this.
  • Making sure it is a tight rack—that the front ball is flush with the apex of the triangle—is essential for a smooth game. A tighter rack will make for a better break.

The breaker is selected through a variety of means. Some people like to flip a coin. Others like to have a lag competition. Here’s a breakdown of a lag competition:

  • It involves shooting the cue ball across the short part of table off the bumper. The goal is to get the cue ball closest to the opposing bumper without hitting it.
  • This mini-competition involves finesse: Strike the ball hard enough to hit the bumper and roll back without hitting the opposing bumper.
  • Set the rules prior to any lagging competition—for example, winner gets to break.

The Beginning of the Game

The object of eight-ball, the most popular pool game, is to sink all of your balls, either striped or solid, and then sink the eight ball. Whichever player does this first is the winner. The first ball sunk determines which player has solids and which player has stripes. For example, if one player sinks a solid ball first, that player will seek to sink all of the solids.

  • Start with the break. If a single solid or single striped ball is sunk, the breaker is then either solids or stripes, depending on which was sunk. If an equal number of stripes and solids are sunk, then the table is still “open” and the player can shoot at any ball. If no balls are sunk, the table is open, and it is the next player’s turn.
  • As long as a player keeps making balls, he/she continues their turn. If a player misses, or fails to call their shot, it is the next players turn.
  • Sink all of the designated balls, and then shoot at the eight-ball last.
  • The eight ball must be sunk last—sinking it before then will result in an automatic loss.

Basic Eight Ball Rules

Another basics of eight ball rule is that any scratch, or when the cue ball is sunk in one of the pockets or misses the object ball, results in the opponent having a ball in hand shot. If you scratch, your opponent gets to place the ball anywhere behind the head string, which is an imaginary line that runs horizontally across the table from the second diamond on one outside rail to the second diamond on the opposite long rail on the breaking side of the table.

Eight ball is a call shot game. This means:

  • You have to make known which shot you’re intending to make either verbally or through gestures.
  • Failure to make the shot called will result in an end of turn, however any sunk balls (other than the cue) remain in the pockets.
  •  If the shot called is made, that player continues his turn.
  • An automatic loss will result if the eight ball is sunk in any other pocket than the one called, or if there is a scratch while trying to sink the eight ball. 
  • If you “scratch” while shooting at the eight ball, you automatically lose.
  • You can hit “combination shots.” That is, hitting a solid ball into another solid ball, or striped ball into another striped ball, as long as you call the shot. You can not hit a striped ball into a solid, or vice versa.

More About the Rules

The rules of eight ball are quite different depending on settings, so check with your local hall first before playing. Different locales often play by different rules that can affect the outcome of the game. For more official rules beyond the basics of eight ball, check out the Billiards Congress of America’s Web site.

One of eight ball’s lesser known rules is a safety shot. This is when a player declares, prior to his shot, that he is engaging in a safety shot, which means that if he makes the shot called, he will forfeit his next turn. This may be advantageous in such situations where the player is seeking to put his opponent in a difficult situation on the table.

Tips on Eight Ball Play

It is essential in eight ball to have a crisp, accurate shot, since one is seeking to execute a called shot.


  • Use your non-dominant hand as a guide resting on the table, cradling the front, or shaft, of the pool stick.
  • With your dominant hand, gently grip the butt-end of the stick. Then use your arm to glide the stick through the bridge formed on your non-dominant hand, striking the cue ball in its intended direction.
  • Lining up shots accurately and then hitting the ball straight is deceptively simple. One pointer on helping aim is to keep the dominant eye above the stick, and use it to aim.
  • Hit the ball soft. Frequently amateur players feel the need to strike the ball hard, but eight ball is essentially a finesse game with a premium on setting oneself up for the next shot. There’s no reward for hitting the ball harder than the other guy.

Now you have the basics of eight ball, America’s most popular pool game. The next step is to start practicing. Go to a friend’s house, a neighborhood bar, or even a local pool hall. Just be sure not to start betting on the games until you get good!