Beginners Guide to Playing Pool

There are a few different types of pool (8 ball, 9 ball, etc.) 8 ball is the most common so we’ll stick that for this instructional. The game starts with a “break” and players try to hit all of their assigned balls into pockets using the cue ball (the white ball). All of the balls must be hit into the pockets before the 8 ball is hit into a pocket. The first person to do this is the winner!

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How to Play Pool for Beginners

Here’s the short version with details below:

  1. Start by racking the balls
  2. One person “breaks” the rack to start the game.
  3. Each player tries to hit each of their balls into a pocket.
  4. The person who sinks the 8 ball last is the winner.

The Basics

  • 15 balls on the table
  • 7 stripes
  • 7 solids
  • 1 eight ball

Racking & The Break

How to play pool for beginners

This is how the table should look at the start of the game. Stripes and solids are racked at the opposite end of the table with the 8 ball in the middle and the 1 ball in the front at the point. The cue ball is lined up on the head string (red line). The cue ball can be placed anywhere behind this line. Diagram courtesy CueTable Software

Start by using the cue rack (aka “diamond”) to “rack” the 15 balls on the table with the 8 ball placed directly in the middle. The rack is placed at one side of the table (length wise) and the cue ball is placed at the other end. The rack should have one point aimed at the opposite end of the table like the picture below. You’ll know where to put the rack because there is a small dot at either end of the table. The front V of the rack should be placed directly over the dot.

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Now that you have your rack setup, one player places the cue ball at the opposite end of the table. The cue ball must be placed behind the head string, which is in the middle of the corner pocket and the middle pocket of the table. You can look for wear marks in the table or look for notches in the table along the side rails. The middle notch indicates where the head string runs along the table width wise.

Stripes & Solids

Billiard balls stripes and solids

Here you can see a complete set of billiard balls. 7 have a striped pattern, 7 are solid colors, 1 is the 8 ball, and 1 is the all white cue ball (lower left hand corner).

On the table you’ll find that there are two sets of numbered balls; stripes and solids. Continue taking turns until one player sinks a stripe or solid into a pocket. Whichever pattern is pocketed first is assigned to the player who made the shot. The other player has to knock the other pattern into pockets.

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Whenever a player sinks a ball of their pattern, their turn continues until they don’t sink anything. Consecutive shots that pocket all balls in one turn is called “running the table.” Your turn continues until you don’t make one of your balls into a pocket.

Sinking the 8 Ball

8 Ball corner pocket

Think you can sink this one? (CC)

Both players continue taking turns until all of the numbered balls of their pattern are no longer on the table (7 total). When this occurs, that player can “call” a pocket to sink the 8 ball to win the game. The person must “call” the pocket to say which pocket they plan on hitting the 8 ball into. If it doesn’t land in that pocket, that player looses.

Whoever sinks the 8 ball first wins!

Other Rules of Game Play

  • What happens if I hit the cue ball into a pocket? – This is called a “scratch”. Your turn is over and the other player gets to place the cue ball anywhere on the table to resume play. This is called “ball in hand.”
  • What happens if I accidentally sink the 8 ball before finished the numbered balls? – You lose!
  • What happens if I scratch on the 8 ball shot? – You lose!
  • What happens if I hit the other player’s ball in? – It counts for the other player.

Read through our archives of instructional articles from BCA Master Pool Instructor Mark Finkelstein. There are a ton of great tips to help you get better at pool! Also check out more Pool and Billiards Tips on our blog.

More Tips for Beginners

  1. How to Stand at the Table: 5 Steps to the Perfect Pool Stance
  2. Developing Your Pre-Shot Routine – Pool Table Basics
  3. The 5 Most Common Mistakes ALL Pool Shooters Make
  4. The Basics – Hitting Softly I A Pool Odyssey