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Back a few decades ago, you could find an opportunity to play billiards in almost every town and city. After all, pool halls were very popular among young people and adults alike. Today, though, you tend to only find pool tables in bars and other similar establishments. Besides that, there are still plenty of competitive pool leagues in existence, both at a local and national level.
Because billiards and pool have lost some of their popularity over the past couple of decades, many folks assume that a pool table is a one-trick pony. While it is true that most folks use these tables to play the game commonly known as “pool” or 8-ball, it turns out there is a lot of billiard-style game available to anyone who wants to grow their repertoire of cue sports.
Many of these cue sport variations have evolved over time to the point that they have an established rule set and goal today. As such, this guide will highlight a handful of today’s most popular billiards games while also describing their basic rules and objectives.
In all, these should give you a good taste of what other billiards games are out there. Perhaps you can try a few out one day with friends and discover the versatility (not to mention history) imbued into every pool table.
In most countries, if someone challenges you to a game of “pool” or “billiards,” they are actually asking you to play a round of the game known to professionals as “8-ball.” In the past, this game has also been known as “highs and lows” as well as “stripes and solids.” These names all reference the basic premise of this pool game, which requires a player to hit all of the striped or solid-colored billiard balls (as well as the black 8 ball) into any of the pool table’s six pockets.
In terms of rules, 8-ball is fairly straight forward. A round opens with a “break,” which is achieved by one player hitting the cue ball into a rack of all 15 billiard balls. From there, the players compete to score either a solid or striped ball. After this is done, the players continue to try to score all of the other balls in their set. Once that is done, a player must “call” a pocket and then immediately sink the 8-ball in that pocket.
This results in a win for that player.
Ideally, this game is designed for two players who alternate turns striking the cue ball until the win condition is met. However, 8-ball can also be played in even-numbered teams, with each team alternating back-and-forth while each team cycles through its several players in a repeated order. In amateur settings, this may be done to balance out the skill levels of the match’s several players.
Also, 8-ball is noteworthy for its long list of potential play fouls (many of which are a result of this game’s enduring popularity and widespread play).
This includes a foul for sinking the cue ball in a pocket (often known as a “scratch”) and a foul for failing to hit any of the object balls with the cue ball during a shot. Players may also be assessed a foul if they fail to “call” their shot on the 8-ball (though this rule is sometimes waived in amateur settings).
9-Ball is another common billiards game that can be played on a standard pool table and utilizes some of the same billiards balls as a standard game of 8-Ball. To be specific, this billiards game requires the nine “lowest” billiards balls (numbers 1-9) to be racked together in a diamond shape. From there, players alternate striking the cue in an attempt to score each of the nine object balls in ascending numerical value.
In practice, an individual round of 9-ball is won by the player who successfully pockets the 9-ball.
Usually, several rounds are played in succession to form a match. The winner of the majority of a set of rounds may be declared a match’s victor, in turn. However, any pocketed ball may be ruled out if the player commits a foul while scoring it. These fouls include scoring the cue ball or failing to make the first contact with the lowest-valued ball still in play.
9-ball is also noteworthy because it has several derivatives that utilize the same basic rules and win conditions.
These include 10-Ball, which utilizes 10 object balls that must be scored in ascending numerical order. However, a player of 10-Ball must “call” every pocketing shot they make during regular play. 6-ball is another common 9-ball derivative with the same rules, but with the 15-ball serving as the “money ball.”
Don’t let the name “straight pool” fool you. This is not the style of pool played by most common folks today (that would be 8-ball, which is described above). Instead, straight pool is among the most popular forms of competitive billiards in the US, Japan, and Europe. In this game, players are competing to reach a certain pre-set score by totaling up the value of object balls they score. Usually, this score is set at 125 or 150 points per match.
To achieve that goal, a player may shoot at and score any object ball in play. However, when doing so, they must “call” their shots to indicate which pocket they intend to score their targeted ball in. Failing to do this can result in a foul, as can a “scratch” after causing the cue ball to enter a pocket.
Once all but one of the balls on the table are pocketed, a re-rake occurs, and play continues in this pattern until a winner emerges.
As noted, this game is a popular option for competitive play. As such, it is common for this game to be played between two players. However, this game’s rules also allow it to be played solo, with the player working to achieve the win condition score in as few shots as possible. Similarly, a solo player may attempt to count down their score to zero using these same game mechanics, but with subtraction of scored points instead of addition.
Blackball pool is seen as a common variation on the 8-ball pool that is most widely played in the UK, Australia, and other Commonwealth nations. In some localities, this game may also be known as “reds and yellows” as well as “English 8-ball.” Regardless of what it is called, this game centers around players competing to score either all of the red or yellow balls on the table before sinking the remaining 8-ball to achieve victory.
This core premise is very similar to 8-Ball, save for the color of the object balls. Rather than using solid and striped object balls that bear numbers, blackball uses solid color red and yellow balls. A blackball set also uses one black “money ball,” which often bears an “8” numeral as a holdover from 8-ball pool ball sets. This ball may be entirely black without a number, though.
Like 8-Ball, blackball can easily be played by two players as well as even numbered teams of rotating players.
However, blackball does come with its own set of noteworthy fouls. These include penalties for striking an opponent’s ball before striking one’s own ball. Blackball also assigns penalties for failing to “call” shots on a shot against the “money ball.”
Cutthroat is a unique billiards game because it routinely calls for three players (or teams of players in multiples of three).
In general, the game is played with a standard set of numbered billiards balls and a cue ball. These numbered balls are split into three even groups, one of which is assigned to each player. Over the course of the game, each player is working to defending their ball set while knocking in all of their opponents’ balls.
These mechanics make cutthroat a “last man standing” billiard game, thus leading to its aggressive name.
At the same time, this game’s mechanics allow for it to be played by more than three players, so long as the number of balls assigned to each player is reduced accordingly. Through this process, five players could play for three balls each or seven players could play for two balls each (with one ball removed or used as a “money ball”).
As for other mechanics, cutthroat relies on most of the standard functions of 8-ball pool when it comes to fouls. As such, a scratch is considered a foul that negates a pocketed ball from being counted. Also, striking any object ball with the cue (typically on accident) results in a foul that negates the results of the shot.
Snooker remains a popular cue sport played primarily in the United Kingdom.
There, it has maintained its popularity for over a century after being formally invented by British military officers stationed in India. In fact, the game has had its own championships since 1927 and now has a world tour circuit comparable to other popular billiards games.
The game itself is seen today as a hybrid of the game mechanics of blackball and pyramid (another billiards game). To that end, this game calls for a player to strike a cue ball in the direction of an all-red object ball for the purpose of “potting” it in a pocket. If this is done, the player must then knock in one of the several other colored balls (called “colors”) to score points.
This sequence is then followed until all red balls have been potted, at which point the remaining colors must be potted in ascending order according to their point value.
Given this game’s complex scoring structure as well as a dedicated (large) table required to play it, snooker is not nearly as popular with casual players. However, its skill ceiling remains a productive challenge to many players.
Typically, two players will compete in a match of snooker, especially in tournament-style play.
For many people, the classic 8-ball pool will always be their favorite when picking up a cue.
But as you’ve now seen, you have quite a few options for play when you step up to the table. Whether you want a little variety with a game like 9-ball or want to branch out for a game like snooker, you can certainly find a billiards game that piques your interest in this collection above.
Don’t hesitate to try them all out – you might just find a new favorite!