The Basics of Nine Ball

Nine ball is an increasingly popular pool game that is fast-paced and requires the ability to think several shots ahead. If you’re interested in learning this exciting game, this guide will give you the basics of nine ball so you can get started. Nine ball is a game that most pool enthusiasts have in their repertoire, and a favorite among professionals.

The Rack

This particular game, as the name suggests, only involves the one through nine ball and the cue ball.

  • The balls are racked in a diamond.
  • The one ball is placed at the front of the rack. The nine ball is placed at the rack’s center. The five ball is placed at the rack’s tail. According to nine ball rules the rest of the balls can be placed anywhere in the rack.
  • Usually a standard triangle rack is used, although diamond rack made specifically for this game are becoming popular.
  • Typically nine ball is a two person game. 

The Start of the Match

Generally players do not need to call shots in nine ball. However, some halls have their own nine ball rules that do require calling shots unless the shot is obvious. 

  • The object of nine ball is to sink the balls in ascending order. Start with the 1, then the 2, and so forth until you sink the nine ball.
  • The person that sinks the nine ball wins the match.
  • The person who is shooting must hit the lowest numbered ball on the table first. If the 1 ball is sunk, then the player must shoot at the 2, and so forth. The player must hit that ball first with the cue ball.
  • If a player makes a ball, he/she continues shooting. If not, then it’s the next players turn.
  • The object is to get the nine ball in as quickly as possible. Whoever does so, wins. So, combo shots are acceptable. A player can also win by sinking the nine ball off a combo shot, but the first ball to be hit must be the lowest numbered ball in play. For example, if the nine ball is sitting in front of a pocket, and you hit the one ball into the nine, an the nine goes in, you win the game.
  • You can not shoot directly at the nine ball unless it is the last ball on the table.
  • Every shot must first strike the lowest numbered ball on the table. However, once the lowest ball has been struck, the table is fair game to sink combo shots.

The Break

There are many different ways to select who breaks. One popular method is flipping a coin. Another is a lagging competition.

  • A lag 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, but without hitting the opposing bumper.

If the breaker does not strike the one ball first or does not sink a single ball, the opponent has the option to request a re-rack and break himself. According to standard nine ball rules, if the nine ball is sunk on the break, the breaker automatically wins.

Some Other Rules of Play

If no balls are sunk on the break, the second player shoots, trying to sink the one ball. If he makes it, he keeps going trying to sink the two ball. If not, his turn ends and action goes back to the first player. Here’s some information on fouls: 

  • If a foul is committed, such as striking a ball that is not the lowest number first, the other player gets to drop the cue ball anywhere on the table to set up his next shot.
  • This is referred to as a “ball in hand” shot. These shots also occur after fouls such as scratching—sinking the cue ball or shooting the cue ball off the table.
  • Another commonly called foul is lifting both feet off the ground. So on tough shots, it’s still important to keep one foot planted at all times.

Because of the quick nature of the game, usually a set number of games are played as a series, such as best-of-five or best-of-seven.
The subtle rules of the game are different depending on who and where you’re playing. For the official rules of nine ball check out the Billiard Congress of America’s Web site, which has standardized rules for nine ball.

  • These rules touch on subjects like the definition of a foul and legality of certain shots.
  • The rules also touch on the rules for push outs, which is when a player moves the cue ball so he has a better shot at the object ball.
  • Most halls don’t play by strict Billiard Congress of America’s rules, so consult with your opponent before any match. This guide is strictly for the basics of nine ball.

History of the Game

Nine ball surfaced in the United States in the 1920s. It has enjoyed much popularity since then, along with a rise in the last few years.

  • It has been referred to as “the money game” because of its popularity among the gambling segment of pool enthusiasts. However, it still is a popular tournament game among professional pool players.
  • Because of the quick, fast-paced nature of the game it has become a darling of television networks such as ESPN, which broadcast professional nine ball tournaments. The game also lends itself to exciting and complex combination shots, making it a natural spectator sport. The players that excel in this game are able to execute these kinds of shots at a high level.
  • Banks, kisses and caroms are common sites in a typical nine ball game.
  • Nine ball is also considered the game of highly skilled players, whereas eight ball tends toward more casual players. Nine ball forces players to think several shots ahead to position himself in the best place to sink ultimately sink the nine ball. Learning the basics of nine ball is recommended for any pool enthusiast.