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One of the basic things that you will have to learn before playing pool is how to rack balls. In other words, how to set-up the pool table before beginning each game.
In this guide, I will take you through the basics of how to rack pool balls properly. Besides that, I will also take you in detail through the order in which you should place balls in several different games including 8-ball, 9-ball, and straight pool.
How to Rack Pool Balls: The Basics
No matter what type of pool game you are about to play, it is critical that you rack the balls tightly before you start. Making sure that there are no gaps between the balls will keep things fair and square for each break.
While I will go through the racking process in detail in the following sections, first, I want to mention three things that you should keep in mind regardless of the game you are racking for:
- As mentioned earlier, you should rack the balls as tightly as possible, there should be no gap between any two pairs of balls
- The rack should be placed straight, it should not be tilted in either direction
- The apex (front) ball should be placed on the foot spot (i.e. on the spot marked with a dot on the table)
Before we get started, let’s also take a look at what a regular set of pool balls consists of:
- One cue ball – that is the (usually) white ball without any markings that, as its name suggests, is struck with the cue
- Fifteen object balls – those are the colorful balls that players aim to pocket
Now that you know the basics, let’s get to the individual games.
How to Rack in 8-Ball
The first game that we will look at is also the most common one in many places around the world. It’s a game that’s played a lot by both amateurs and pros in pool halls, pubs, and at home.
To get started with racking 8-ball, you will need the full set of pool balls (15 object balls and a cue ball) and a triangle (or a Magic Rack).
In case you are wondering why more than eight balls are required, that’s because the name of the game is derived from its rules and from the fact that “eight” is the last ball to be pocketed. When playing 8-ball, you will need to think of the object balls in three groups: solid (1 – 7), striped (9 – 15), and the 8-ball itself.
Whether you are using a triangle or a Magic Rack, you should be placing the 8-ball in the middle of the triangle. That is, it should be in the center of the third row of balls.
You should also ensure that one of the two back corners of the triangle is a solid ball and the other one a striped ball. In other words, the last row of balls should start with a striped or a solid ball and end with the other.
The rest of the balls should be placed in the rack randomly.
Once you have the balls in the triangle in the right order, make sure that the apex ball is placed on the foot spot. Also make sure that the last row of the triangle is parallel with the foot rail.
Finally, squeeze your fingers behind the last row of balls to make sure the rack is tight and remove the rack. With that, you are ready to start the game.
How to Rack in 9-Ball
Likely the second most popular, and in many parts of the world the most popular, pool game is 9-ball. Unlike 8-ball which is played with fifteen object balls, 9-ball is actually played with only nine object balls like one would guess after seeing its name for the first time.
The interesting thing about 9-ball is that the balls are not racked in a triangle shape. After all, if you start making a triangle in your mind with balls, you will realize that you cannot rack nine balls into a triangle.
What you can rack them into, though, is a diamond. A 9-ball rack consists of an apex ball, a row of two balls, a row of three balls, a row of two balls, and finally a single ball at its very back.
Even though there are specialized diamond racks, you will not find them in most pool halls nor homes. That’s not a big deal, though, as you can easily rack 9-ball using a regular triangle as well.
Regardless of which one you are using, the more important thing is to make sure the order of the ball is correct.
In the case of 9-ball, there are two simple rules to follow:
- Place the 1-ball at the apex
- Place the 9-ball in the middle
The reasons for that are simple. Because in 9-ball, the first object ball that your cue ball hits needs to be the lowest one on the table, the 1-ball has to be at the front so that one can do a proper break. The 9-ball is in the middle since it is the last one to be pocketed.
You can place the remaining seven balls randomly.
If you are using a diamond rack, the process is easy once you have the balls in the right order. Simply put your fingers in the rack to make sure the balls are tight and then remove the rack. If you are using a triangle, you will need to press the diamond from both sides.
The one thing you should make sure is that the imaginary line that connects the apex ball and the ball in the last row should be perpendicular to the foot rail.
How to Rack in Straight Pool (14.1 Continuous)
In straight pool, just like in 8-ball, all 15 object balls are used. However, since the goal of the game is to shoot a predetermined number of points with each ball pocketed counting as one point, the order of the balls in the rack doesn’t matter at all.
As such, when racking to start a game of straight pool, you can simply fill the triangle with balls in random order. Every now and then, you might see some people placing the 1-ball and the 5-ball in the two back corners, however, that is a tradition. It is not a rule.
Then, place your fingers behind the last row of balls to make sure they are packed tightly. Make sure the apex ball is on the foot spot and that the last row is parallel with the foot rail.
Remove the triangle and you are ready to start.
What sets straight pool apart from most other pool games is that there are mid-game re-racks. That is because the game is usually played until one of the players reaches 100 or 125 points, a number way higher than the number of object balls in a set.
A re-rack takes place every time the number of object balls on the table is down to one (i.e. when 14 object balls have been pocketed).
Just like with the initial rack, the order of the balls doesn’t matter at all when re-racking. The only difference from the initial rack will be the fact that there will be a single ball missing in one of the two back corners.
How to Rack in Cutthroat Pool
While most pool games are played by two players, cutthroat pool is typically played by three players. Just like in 8-ball and straight pool, all 15 object balls are used in cutthroat pool.
As such, the racking process itself is the same as that of the other two games. The only difference is the order of the balls.
A cutthroat pool rack consists of the 1-ball at the apex, the 6-ball in one of the back corners, and the 11-ball in the remaining corner.
Other than that, the balls can be placed in the rack in any order.
How to Rack in Bowlliards
Another game that can be played with more than two players is bowlliards. In fact, the game can be played with any number of players, even just one.
Unlike the games I mentioned above, in bowlliards, ten object balls are used. With its scoring system being similar to straight pool, i.e. one pocketed ball counting as one point, the order of the balls in the rack doesn’t matter at all.
To make sure your rack is tight, you can use a 10-ball Magic Rack. Alternatively, you can use a regular triangle designed to fit 15 balls and push the 10 balls towards the front with your hands.
Printable Pool Ball Racking Chart
If you want to make sure that you rack pool balls in your game room properly each time, I have something for you – a racking chart that you can download for free if you sign-up to the Home Recreation World newsletter.
The chart is a PDF file that you can print, laminate, and keep handy near your pool table.
With the right tool (either a good triangle or a Magic Rack), racking pool balls tightly is a breeze. That leaves only one issue and that is placing the balls in the right order.
Even that, however, is very simple for most pool games (snooker is a different story, though).
In some games, like straight pool and bowlliards, the order can be completely random. In others, there are some simple rules to follow.
For example, in an 8-ball rack it’s key for the 8-ball to be in the middle and for one of the two back corners to have a solid ball and the other a striped ball.
In 9-ball, on the other hand, it’s important to place the 1-ball at the very front and the 9-ball in the middle.