American Pool Rules

American pool tables are typical used to play either 8-ball or 9-ball pool games. 8-ball pool is by far the more common of the two and is played using 7 solid balls, 7 striped ball, a cue ball, and a black ball – the 8-ball. The first player to pocket his group of 7 balls and legally sink the black wins the contest.


A coin toss usually determines which player should break. In subsequent games, players will normally alternate breaking. To make a legal break, the breaker must strike the cue ball from behind the headstring (the line at the top of the table) and either pot a ball, or, drive at least four balls to the cushion. Failing to do so is a foul and the opposing player has two options:

1. Accept the given position and take a shot.
2. Re-rack the balls and break; or offer his opponent the opportunity to break again.

If the 8-ball is pocketed on the break, the player has the option of re-racking or spotting the 8-ball and continuing to shoot. However, if the player scratches while pocketing the 8-ball those options pass to the incoming player.

Open Table

In pool, the table is open whenever the choice of ball group (solid or stripes) has yet to be determined. During open play, it is legal to strike a ball from either group first. Contrary to common belief, the table always remains open after a legal break regardless of whether balls were potted from one or both groups. A player determines his group when he legally pockets a called object ball after the break shot.


A player scratches when he hits the cue ball or an opponent’s ball into a pocket, fails to hit any ball at all, or makes an illegal contact with the 8-ball. Knocking the cue ball off the table is also a scratch. When a player scratches he loses his turn and control of the table shifts to his opponent. If a player scratches on a legal break shot then all pocketed balls remain pocketed (exception: 8-ball), he is deemed to have fouled, and the table is open to the incoming player.

Legal Shot

To make a legal shot the shooter must hit one of his group balls first and either:

1. Pocket a ball
2. Cause the cue ball or a numbered ball to contact a cushion.

Failure to meet these requirements is a foul. A player is permitted to continue shooting until he fails to legally pocket a ball from his group.

Illegally Pocketed Balls

A ball is illegally pocketed if it is pocketed on the same shot as a foul or a called ball did not go into the designated pocket. All illegally pocketed balls remain pocketed.

Fouling Penalty

Following a foul, the incoming player has the cue ball in hand and may place the ball anywhere on the table (exception: scratch on break). However, in most pool halls and pubs this rule is seldom applied. More typically, players agree that a foul constitutes a loss of turn and that the incoming player has a free shot. In such a scenario, the player with the free shot is allowed to retain control of the table even if he fails to pot a ball from his group – provided that his first shot was legal.

Winning & Losing the game

A player wins the game when all of his group balls have been pocketed and he legally pockets the black 8-ball. When playing the 8-ball, a scratch or foul does not constitute a loss of game. A player loses the game if he commits any of the following infraction:

1. Fouls when pocketing the 8-ball
2. Pockets the 8-ball as part of a combination shot
3. Jumps the 8-ball off the table
4. Pockets the 8-ball in a non-designated pocket
5. Pockets the 8-ball when it is not the legal object ball

Other Rules

  • Players must call the pocket when potting to determine their grouping or potting the 8-ball to win the game.
  • Players are permitted to make combination shots.
  • If the object ball is jumped off the table, a foul has been committed. All balls (exception: 8-ball) are re-spotted in numerical order.
  • Three consecutive fouls by one player does not constitute a loss of game in 8-ball pool.