How to Play Cutthroat Pool (Rules, Tips & Tricks)

Home Rec World is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Cutthroat might sound intimidating at first but it is actually a very fun alternative game for billiards lovers. It is one of the more unique games and is a great way to include everyone when you have an odd number of players.

You will see all the equipment you need to play cutthroat as well as the rules to keep in mind when playing this game on this page. Also, we will go through a few helpful tricks and mistakes to avoid so you can enjoy a fun, competitive game.

How to Play Cutthroat Pool (Rules, Tips & Tricks)

What Equipment Do You Need to Play Cutthroat Pool?

Cutthroat pool requires almost all of the same equipment to play as regular eight-ball does. You will need 16 balls in total (15 numbered balls and one cue ball) and three pool cues (one for each player) as well unless you plan on sharing pool cues.

Cutthroat is played on the same kind of table eight-ball is played on with six pockets, two in the center and one on each corner. Also, you may want to include chalk for the tips of your pool cues in your gear. While technically optional, it is highly recommended.

How to Play Cutthroat Pool: The Rules

With the basics out of the way, let’s take a look at the rules of cutthroat pool.

Starting a Game

Unlike most other pool games, cutthroat is played with either three or five players. The initial rack will start off in a normal, 15-ball triangle with the balls placed in no particular order.

Before you begin, figure out if you are going to call your ball and pocket or not as well. For more advanced players, this is probably a good idea as the game will sway heavily in the favor of whoever breaks if you do not have to call your ball and pocket.

To figure out who breaks, all the players can shoot a lag shot which is when you shoot a ball from behind the head line of the table and try to bounce it off the back rail and get it as close to the head rail on the way back. When shooting a lag shot, if your ball doesn’t touch the back rail or if it touches any other part of the table besides the head or back rail, you lose automatically.

In cutthroat, you may want to shoot the lag separately and place a coin or button where your shot was to avoid bumping any shoulders.

Using a lag shot to determine who breaks can also determine the order in which players go as well. The person who is 2nd closest to the railing goes second, 3rd closest goes third, and so on.

Of course, you can use house rules and just play rock, paper, scissors or come to some kind of agreement to determine the order as well, if you are playing casually.

How to Rack Cutthroat Pool

Object of the Game

Each player is going to choose a certain set of balls and once all those balls in the set go in, that player is out. So you will want to sink every ball on the table but your own set of balls to win the game. If you are playing with three players, everyone will get a set of five balls. One player will get 1 to 5, the other player will get 6 to 10, and the last one will get 11 to 15. In five-player cutthroat, it is the same thing but each player gets a set of three balls.

Once a player is out they cannot come back in unless another player commits a foul. We’ll go over fouls in a later section but if another player commits a foul, the penalty is all their opponents can spot one of their balls that was already sunk.

The Break

Whoever gets to break has to shoot the cue ball from behind the head line of the table and strike the rack hard enough to where at least 4 object balls touch a railing. If the breaker fails to do this, the next player up can call for a re-rack, and then that player will get the chance to break. This process repeats until one player makes a legal break, then the game begins.

If a player makes a ball on the break that player gets to choose which section of balls they wish to shoot at. Most of the time, they will choose a set that the ball that went in was not a part of, but it can sometimes be a good strategy to choose the set that the ball was in as well.

Continuing the Game

Once a player successfully breaks, if they make a ball they continue to shoot after announcing which set of balls is their own. If they miss a shot, make a foul, or scratch, the next player goes until they miss, make a foul, or scratch, and so on.

Once all of a player’s balls are made, that player is out and the remaining players skip their turn unless they come back into the game through a foul.

Finally, whoever has any of their set of balls left on the table is the winner. You could honestly not even make a single ball and still win this game. So long as at least one of your balls remains on the table in the end, you are the victor.

Also, so long as you hit your opponent’s ball first, you can make your own balls and continue to shoot. This is a risky strategy, but it can work in some circumstances especially if you have a substantial lead.


There are not many fouls you can commit in cutthroat as scratching is not considered a foul, it is simply just ball-in-hand behind the head line for the next player in rotation.

However, some fouls include jumping an object ball off of the table or sinking an illegal shot. These fouls result in a loss of turn and each of your opponents gets to spot one of their already sunk balls back on the table. If there are no sunk balls yet, the foul simply results in the loss of a turn.

An illegal shot is any shot that hits the player’s own ball first before hitting another ball or any shot that does not sink an opponent’s ball and does not cause another ball (including the cue ball) to hit a cushion.

An illegal shot only results in a foul if an opponent’s ball is sunk. If you shoot an illegal shot that does not cause another ball to hit a cushion or make an opponent’s ball, this is considered a scratch and the next person gets ball-in-hand behind the head line.

Mistakes to Avoid, Tips & Tricks

There are plenty of creative and different strategies to cutthroat pool that people use to gain a competitive edge in this game. There aren’t many rigid rules in this game, so you can work around them a bit and pull off some fun tactics in certain situations.

As stated before, you can make your own ball and continue shooting so long as you hit an opponent’s ball first. This can keep your momentum going and keep your opponents from taking a potentially easy shot.

Of course, this strategy will not only require you to hit a difficult combination shot, but you will also need to sink one of your own balls. It is a risky strategy but if you have a lead and only need to make a few more simple shots afterward, it could possibly win you the game.

A mistake to avoid is leaving your opponent an easy shot if you do not make a ball. If you do not think you can make any of your opponent’s balls or even one of your own, you should try and hit a legal shot that will leave the next person in line a tough shot.

If you are able to place the cue ball right next to another ball, it will make it much more difficult for your opponent to shoot one of your balls in. Before you know it, your turn will be back up in no time and, hopefully, your opponent left you an easy shot to start off your run.

All in all, the best tip is to just continue to play pool in any capacity. If you are skilled in eight-ball, snooker, or even bumper pool, your skills will quickly translate over to cutthroat. At that point, all you really need to do is familiarize yourself with the rules, which you are already doing right now.


Hopefully, you now have all the knowledge you need to play cutthroat pool and can break it out if you ever find yourself in the sticky situation of having an odd number of players at the pool table. Cutthroat is one of the most popular alternative pool games that you will see all the time in bars and basements alike.

It is usually fairly quick and easy to understand once you get the hang of it.

Now that you know what you need to know, get out there to practice and improve your billiards game while enjoying a nice switch from the usual eight-ball.