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Straight pool may just sound like a different name for the game of normal eight-ball that most pool players know well. However, in reality, it is an entirely different game and is a fun alternative, especially if you are looking to play slightly longer matches than usual.
In this post you, will find out all the equipment you need to play straight pool and all the rules you need to know to play a proper game. Finally, at the end, you will also find a few tips that will allow you to be better at this pool game.
What Equipment Do You Need to Play Straight Pool?
You will need essentially the same equipment to play straight pool as you would for regular eight-ball. Straight pool requires 16 balls (15 numbered balls and one cue ball) and at least 2 pool cues as well (one for each player or team). If you are looking for a new set of balls, check my recommendations.
Chalk for the tips of the pool cues is optional but certainly recommended and you will also need to play on a table that allows pocketed balls to return. Otherwise, you’ll be spending a lot of quarters having to re-rack pocketed balls over and over.
How to Play Straight Pool: The Rules
Now that you have everything you need, let’s take a look at the rules of straight pool.
Starting a Game
Both players shoot a lag shot to determine who goes first. A lag shot is when you shoot a ball (typically the cue ball) from the head of the table and try to bounce it off the back rail and get it as close to the head rail on its way back as possible.
Some people will shoot lag shots at the same time as their opponent and whoever ends up being closer to the head rail gets to break first. If your ball doesn’t touch the back rail, or if it touches any other part of the table other than the head or back rail, you lose the lag.
Other people will have house rules and, if you’re playing casually, just flip a coin to see who goes first. Then, simply rack up all 15 balls in no particular order and whoever breaks first can begin.
You can shoot at any object ball after the break and each legally pocketed ball counts as one point for the player shooting. You must call your ball and pocket for it to count and any other balls pocketed on a successful shot count as one additional point per ball sunk.
Games are often played to 150 points but, of course, you can set your own total if you’re playing casually. There are penalties that deduct points from your score as well which you’ll find in another section below.
The break is as important in straight pool as in any other games, and, if done incorrectly, can cost you some early game points and your turn. The starting player has to either call their pocket and ball and make it or have the cue ball make contact with another ball and a cushion after. Also, the starting player has to make two object balls hit a cushion if they do not call their shot.
You can make a ball on the break without calling it and have it count towards your score so long as it is a legal break. After this, you can continue playing but you must call all future shots.
If the breaker misses their called shot or does not accomplish the “balls-hitting-cushions” criteria above, it’s a breaking violation and that player is docked two points. After this, the opponent can either accept the break and play on or have the balls re-racked and broke again.
Scratching on a legal opening break is just a regular foul and the breaker is charged a one point penalty and loses their turn even if they make a ball. The opponent then gets ball-in-hand behind the head string.
Proceeding with the Game
A player continues to shoot until they miss a shot or perform a penalty. Once 14 balls have been sunk, the player who made the 14th ball has to re-rack the 14 balls with the foot spot of the rack left open.
Players alternate turns after missed shots or penalties, and this process continues until someone hits the total points to win the game and ends it.
The 15th ball and cue ball should stay in their positions on the table unless they obstruct the new rack in some way. If the 15th ball obstructs the rack or is sunk on the same shot the 14th ball is made, put it in the foot spot and play the cue ball as it lies. Furthermore, if the 15th ball obstructs the new rack and the cue ball is not on the head spot, put the 15th ball on the head spot and play the cue ball as it lies. If the cue ball is blocking the head spot, put the 15th ball on the center spot instead, and play on.
Also, if both the cue ball and 15th ball are obstructing the new rack, place the 15th ball at the foot spot and the cue ball can be played anywhere behind the head line. At this point, follow the same rules as described in the break section.
If the cue ball obstructs the new rack, it will depend on where the 15th ball is to know where to place the cue ball. If the 15th ball is behind the head string but not on the head spot, put the cue ball on the head spot and keep the 15th ball where it is. In the unlikely circumstance that the 15th ball is on the head spot and the cue ball is obstructing the new rack, place the cue ball on the center spot. Finally, if the 15th ball is not behind the head string, the cue ball can be placed anywhere behind the head string and shot normally.
Fouls and Penalties
Fouls in straight pool are typically one point deductions from the player’s total score. There were some fouls already mentioned above in the “break” section that all fall under this one-point deduction rule as well.
Scratches are also fouls and the opposing player gets the cue ball in hand behind the head line after the point deduction. Jumping or illegally pocketing object balls is also a foul and the ball that commits the foul gets spotted after it comes to rest.
Also, if a player commits three successive fouls they are also charged a 15-point deduction from their score along with the three fouls. Three successive fouls mean a foul on three shots in a row, so any legal shot will break this streak and reset the successive foul count to zero.
After the deduction, the opposing player can choose whether to play the balls as they lie or call for a re-rack and have the offending player break.
Penalties are automatic 15-point deductions and these are things like intentionally obstructing an opponent’s ball as it heads towards a pocket or catching the ball as it enters the pocket. This is considered a deliberate foul and is a 16-point deduction counting both the penalty and foul.
Mistakes to Avoid, Tips & Tricks
If you are a skilled eight-ball player, your skills should carry over fairly well to straight pool and vice-versa. So even if you aren’t practicing straight pool itself, the more you play, the better you will be at this new game.
As far as important things to keep in mind include, of course, committing fouls is something you particularly need to avoid in straight pool. Not only is it a point deduction, but it also gives your opponent an advantageous position for the next shot.
Since you can shoot at any ball in this game, unlike most other pool games, you can really set yourself up well for the long run. Think about where you are going to leave the cue ball for your next shot and try to keep your options open after you sink a ball.
Going off this idea, you should also leave your easy shots for last. Say if a ball is right in front of a pocket, it is a much better idea to take a different shot and save that ball for when you have no other easy options.
Now that you have the rules down and the equipment you need in mind, be sure to try this game out the next time you have a friend or two over to shake things up from the usual eight- and nine-ball games. Straight pool is one of those games that can last a while and can get very competitive towards the end. It is a fun alternative that most people can pick up and get good at fairly quickly.
Make sure you keep in mind the tips, tricks, and mistakes to avoid outlined above, and hopefully you will enjoy this type of pool for a long time to come.