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How To Play Pool For Beginners | Billiards 101

Pool which is commonly referred to as Billiards in the United States is a game enjoyed by many people in bars, pool halls, and homes.

The name Billiards truly means any game that is played on a table with balls and sticks. However, due to the popularity of 8 ball pool, it is commonly referred to as Billiards.

So, Pool and Billiards are commonly used interchangeably.

If you’ve never played pool, it takes a little while to learn the lingo and the basic rules. In this article, I will cover all the basics that you need to know for playing pool.

Billiards 101

Billiards originated in Europe in the 15th Century. It was originally a game played outdoors similar to croquet. It was then moved in doors and played on a table with green felt most likely to simulate the grass it was previously played on. Over the years Billiards has evolved into what we call pool today.

The word Billiards is believed to be derived from the French words “billart” and “billie”. Billie means ball and billart means wooden sticks. So, Billiards means a game played with balls and wooden sticks.

Billiards is a complex game that takes years to master but there is some basic knowledge you should have in order to understand how the game is played.

Billiards Equipment

There are multiple items you need in order to play Billiards. There’s the table, pool cue, balls, a rack, chalk, and the list goes on but today we’re just covering the basics.

Billiard Tables

billiards table

A Billiard table is a bounded table on which cue sports are played. Not all tables are the same though. There are multiple types of Billiards tables.

  • Pool Tables, also known as Pocket Billiards tables are the ones that you have most likely seen. These tables have 6 rails and 6 pockets. There’s 1 pocket in each corner 2 in the middle of the long side.The 6 rails make up 4 sides of the table. The long sides of the table is split by the middle pocket. So, some may say there are only 4 rails counting the two pieces on each side of the middle pocket as one rail.
  • Snooker Tables are similar to pool tables. Snooker tables also consist of 6 rails and 6 pockets positioned in the same manner as a pool table. The main difference between a snooker table and a pool table is the size of the table. Pool tables are typically between 7 and 9 feet long. A Snooker Table is typically between 10 and 12 feet long.
  • English Billiards Tables are similar to a 9 foot pool table in size but it doesn’t have pockets. English Billiards is a game where the object is to hit the object ball, 3 rails then hit the other ball. Since the object isn’t to make the ball in a pocket, you don’t need pockets to play English Billiards.

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Billiard Lights

Wellmet Retro Pool Light

It is common for Pool tables to have a hanging light above the table. This creates a focus on just the pool table while keeping the area around the pool table dim. This is not a requirement for a pool table, but it gives the feel of a bar/pool hall, which is where most people are used to playing pool. So, if you have a pool table in your home, I would recommend getting a hanging light similar to the one pictured above.

Billiards Cue Sticks

predator revo 12.9 mm

Pool Cues are commonly referred to as pool sticks. They may also be called billiard cues and sticks, or just cues. It depends on who you’re talking to but it’s worth knowing all ways they can be addressed.

The pool cue is what you use to hit the balls when playing billiards. There are a large number of pool sticks.

  • House Cue Sticks are the sticks that you will typically find in a bar or at a pool hall. These sticks are usually cheap sticks for players to use that don’t have their own personal stick. These sticks are one-piece meaning they don’t screw apart like most people’s personal sticks.
  • Break Cue Sticks are sticks that are only used for breaking. These sticks are made to improve a players ability to hit very hard while still having great control over the cue ball. Break sticks are also used by a lot of people in order to preserve their personal cues. Hitting very hard can wear down cue sticks. So, many players use break cues to mitigate the wear and tear on their personal cues.
  • Jump Cue Sticks are sticks made for performing jump shots. These sticks are shorter in length so that you can easily aim down on the cue ball in order to perform a jump shot.
  • Jump Break Cue Sticks are a combination of break cues and jump cues. They are typically 3 piece sticks where the butt breaks into 2 pieces allowing you to make them shorter for jumping.
  • Personal Cue Sticks are sticks owned by individuals. A good pool cue can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars, it all depends on the quality of the stick. Sticks can be made of wood, carbon fiber, and an assortment of other materials. Carbon fiber cues are becoming the industry leader for high-quality cues.

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Billiards Balls

pool balls

It would be very difficult to play pool without the balls. There are multiple different types of Billiard Balls too. Depending on the game you’re playing, you may have to use a portion of a full set of balls or a completely different type of Balls.

  • The Cue Ball is the white ball in Billiards. In English Billiards there are 2 cue balls, 1 white and 1 yellow. The cue ball is the only ball you’re allowed to hit with your pool stick.
  • A Pool Ball set consists of 16 balls. These are the balls that you have probably seen. They are numbered from 1 to 15 and have varying colors. A set of pool balls consists of a white cue ball, 7 solid balls, 7 stripe balls and a black 8 ball. The 8 ball is a solid black color but in the game of pool it is a neutral ball. It isn’t considered a solid or stripe.
  • A set of Snooker Balls consist of 22 balls. Unless you watch professional Billiards, you probably haven’t seen a set of snooker balls before. A set of Snooker Balls consists of a white cue ball, 15 red balls, and 6 other balls. The other 6 balls are each one color and consist of a blue, black, yellow, brown, green and pink ball.
  • A set of English Billiards Balls consist of 3 balls. A red ball which is the object ball, a white cue ball for 1 player, and a yellow cue ball for the other player.

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Billiards Rack

Wooden Billiards Rack

A billiards rack is what is used to set the balls in the proper position to break. A pool rack is typically a diamond or a triangle.

  • A 9-ball rack is in the shape of a diamond. When racking for 9 ball, you use the standard pool balls but only the first 9. In this game, the object ball is the 9 ball instead of the 8 ball.
  • An 8-ball rack is in the shape of a triangle. Each side of the triangle is 5 balls wide. There are multiple different ways to rack in 8 ball pool but the most important rule is that the 8 ball is in the middle of the rack.

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Billiards Chalk

Master Billiard Chalk

Billiards Chalk also referred to as pool chalk is a very important aspect of pool. Pool chalk is applied to the tip of a pool stick. Without Billiard Chalk, the tip of your stick would slip off the cue ball, commonly called miscuing.

When playing pool it is important to chalk your stick regularly to avoid miscuing. Miscuing usually causes you to miss your shot and in some cases it causes you to damage the pool table.

Another way that Billiards Chalk is used, is by putting the chalk on their bridge hand in order for the cue stick to slide smoothly through their hands. Some players use chalk other players use a glove which is discussed in the next section.

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Billiard Glove

A billiard glove is a glove that you put on your front shooting hand, your bridge hand, in order to allow your stick to slide through smoothly.

Billiard gloves are very useful if your hands sweat a lot. Wearing a billiard glove will allow your stick to slide smoothly through your bridge even when your hand is sweaty.

Playing Billiards

The rules for each game are different but there are some basics that apply across most billiards games. So, we’ll discuss the common rules before moving to the rules and strategies for each game.

The Rack

Racking is the act of organizing the balls, so, the first shot can take place. The first shot is called the break. The goal of the break in most games is to spread the balls out so that they’re easier to shoot. When racking for 8 ball pool, the most important thing is that the 8 ball is in the center.

When racking for most games the front ball in the rack should line up with the head string and the middle of the table, pictured below. The front ball marker can be found by using the middle diamond on the short end of the table and the second diamond on the long side of the table.

the head string marker

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The Break

Breaking a billiards rack

As mentioned in the previous section, the goal of the break is to spread out the balls so that they’re easier to shoot. The other goal of a break is to make a ball so that you can continue shooting. There are some games where you don’t necessarily want to spread the balls out or make a ball but for most games, you do.

If you don’t make a ball on the break, it is the other person’s turn. If you achieved the goal of spreading the balls but without making a ball, you could put yourself in a bad position for the start of the game.

When breaking it is common to hit the balls very hard. As a safety precaution when hitting the ball very hard on the break, people shouldn’t stand or sit at the end of the table during the break. The cue ball can jump off the table and cause bodily harm.

If you’re borrowing someone’s stick, for the break, you should always ask if it is okay that you break with their stick. Many players have designated breaking sticks and don’t like breaking with their personal shooting stick.

After The Break

After the break, it’s time to make your assigned balls. For most games, the goal is to make your assigned balls in before the other player. There are a few games where you have the same balls. For these games, there is either a point system or there is a target ball that you have to get to and make in first.

Once the break happens the rules begin to differ more depending on the game. For most games, there is one thing that is common and that is a scratch. A scratch is when a player hits the cue ball in the pocket. When a scratch occurs the other player gets to choose where the cue ball should go on the table. A scratch also occurs if the cue ball jumps off the table.

The Basics of Shooting Shots

When you watch someone shoot pool, they make it look very easy. You just lean over and hit the ball, right? Not exactly, there’s a proper form to shooting pool that makes you very consistent over time. Proper shooting form consists of multiple parts including your stance, your bridge, how you hold your stick, your stroke, and where you hit the cue ball.

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The Stance

The stance is one of the most important parts, without a proper stance, you will have bad balance. Having bad balance will cause you to miss shots and make your shot inconsistent.

Not everyone’s stance is the same but there are key points that need to be present in a good stance. The number one being your balance.

Here’s a short video by Pool School on Youtube that shows a good pool stance. In the video, he talks about the proper stance, backhand positioning, and how you should be in line with your shot.

The bridge

There are many ways to bridge your hands when playing pool. I personally use an open bridge which means the stick rests on top of my hand without anything holding the stick in place.

For beginners, I typically recommend a closed bridge which means the stick goes in between your fingers. I recommend this one because when you’re first learning how to shoot, it is easy to lift your stick up during or after your shot. Having a closed bridge keeps the cue stick in place which results in better control.

Hitting The Cue Ball

As a beginner, you should always hit the cue ball dead center. Over time, as you get better, there are reasons why you would hit a different spot of the cue ball.

When you hit a different spot on the cue ball, you’re putting english on the cue ball. Putting english on the cue ball means you’re putting a spin on the ball. This can be used to control how the cue ball moves on the table but is a bit more advanced.

You should not start working with english until you can consistently make shots and hit the cue ball dead center.

Understanding Where The Cue Ball Will Go After Your Shot

Most beginners just hit the ball and pray that they are set up for another shot. While it’s nice to make a shot, if you don’t have another shot afterward, it’ll be difficult to win games. To win consistently you need to be able to make multiple shots in a row.

There are multiple strategies that can be utilized to figure out where the cue ball will go but the most important is the tangent line. The tangent line shows you the direction the cue ball will go after hitting a stationary ball. It is a great indicator for predicting the trajectory of the cue ball.

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Different Types of Pool Shots

There are multiple types of shots in Billiards. It’s not necessary to know the names right away but it can make you sound like an experienced player when you know the names. Here’s a list of common pool shots with explanations.

  • Straight Shot: A straight shot is a shot where the cue ball and object ball make a straight line to the pocket.
  • Cut Shot: A cut shot is where the cue ball and object ball don’t line up. So, you have to hit the object ball on one side or the other in order to make the shot.
  • Kick Shot: A kick shot is when you hit the cue ball into a rail before hitting the object ball.
  • Bank Shot: A bank shot is when you hit the cue ball into an object ball and then the object ball hits a rail before entering the pocket. It is not considered a bank shot if the rail is on the same side as the target pocket. A bank shot usually goes from one side of the table to the other.
  • Combination Shot: A combination shot is when you hit one ball into another in order to make your object ball. Depending on the game you’re playing, the ball you hit first must be one of your balls. If the first ball hit isn’t your ball, you will lose your turn even if you make the shot.
  • Jump Shot: A jump shot is when the cue ball jumps up in the air and lands back on the table. This is typically used when the line to your ball is blocked by another ball. Most players jump improperly and can end up damaging the table. The improper way of jumping is commonly referred to as scooping which means hitting under the ball to make it jump up.

Common Billiards Games

As mentioned previously Billiards just means a game played with balls and cue sticks. So, all the different games on a billiards table are technically billiards. Since, pool also known as pocket billiards is the most popular, people commonly use billiards and pool interchangeably.

8-Ball Pool

how to rack in pool

8 ball pool is the most common form of pool. 8-ball pool is played with 15 balls and the cue ball. The balls 1 through 7 are solids and 9 through 15 are stripes. The 8 ball is a solid black ball but it is a neutral ball in this game.

In 8-Ball pool the object of the game is to hit your object balls (solid or stripe) in before your opponent and then pocket the 8 ball in the specified pocket. If you hit the 8 ball in before making the rest of your balls, you lose the game. The 8 ball must be your last ball and you must call the pocket where the 8 ball will go. You can’t just hit it and hope it goes in.

There are many different rule sets when it comes to 8 ball pool but the 3 major ones are American Pool Association (APA), Billiards Congress of America (BCA), and bar/ house rules. APA and BCA are tournament rules and have a written rule set that you can check out on the APA and BCA website.

House/Bar rules are the more generic rules. They aren’t a written rule set but they tend to be very close to the same at most places you play.

Related Posts: How to Rack 8 ball pool?

9-Ball Pool

9-ball pool is another fun game but it is played with 9 balls plus the cue ball.

When playing 9 ball, you and your opponent share object balls.

The object of 9 ball is to make the 9 ball before your opponent but you have to shoot the balls in order from 1 to 9. However, unlike in 8 ball pool, you don’t have to make the 9 ball last. If you hit your object ball first you can make the 9 ball and still win the game.

The object ball goes in order from 1 to 9. You start with the 1 ball, if you make the 1 ball then the object ball becomes the 2 ball. This continues until you make the 9 ball.

In 9 ball, it is required that you hit the object ball first. If you don’t hit the object ball first, then you have performed a table scratch which means you lose your turn and your opponent gets ball in hand.

Ball in hand means that your opponent can put the cue ball anywhere on the table they want. This gives them a huge advantage.

Scratching in 9 ball also results in your opponent receiving ball in hand. So, you want to avoid scratches and table scratches as much as possible in 9 ball.

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Cutthroat Pool

Cutthroat pool is a great 3 player pool game.

In cutthroat the goal is to keep your balls on the table. With most games you’re trying to make your balls first but in cutthroat the last man standing wins. So, the object is to make your opponents balls in so that they can get knocked out.

The first player to make a shot gets to determine who has what balls. The balls are split up in 3 groups: 1-5, 6-10, and 11-15. If you’re the first one to make a ball, you want to give the group that’s hardest to make to yourself. This way it is more difficult for your opponents to make your balls.

Once a player’s balls are made they are no longer in the game and it becomes a 1 on 1 game.

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Bank Pool

Bank pool is a game where only bank shots are allowed. This game is typically played with the same rules as 8-ball or 9-ball but only bank shots are allowed. A bank shot is when you hit a ball into a rail and then the ball goes in the pocket.

One Pocket Pool

One pocket is a more complex game that takes a lot of strategy. At the beginning of the game, you pick a pocket. All of your balls must go in the same pocket.

This is usually played with similar rules to 8-ball pool. You use 15 balls plus the cue ball and then your goal is to make all your balls in the same pocket before your opponent.

Last Pocket Pool

Last Pocket is another variation of 8 ball pool. With last pocket pool, you play the game the same as 8 ball pool but the 8 ball must go in whichever pocket you made your last ball.

This requires a bit of strategy, if you make your last ball in a pocket that would be hard to make the 8 ball in, then it makes it very easy for your opponent to catch up and win.

In Conclusion

Billiards is an assortment of different games and rules but the most common game is 8 ball pool. 8 ball pool is the game that most people in the United States is talking about when they say Billiards.

There’s no way that I can explain everything about Billiards in 1 article but I have covered as much of the basics as possible.

Billiards is a very popular game but it is also pretty complex. It is an easy game to play but it’s not an easy game to master. I’ve been playing pool for 19 years and I still learn new things every day.

I hope this article was helpful for you to understand the basics of billiards. Please leave questions and feedback in the comments. I would love to hear how this article has helped you on your Billiards journey.

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