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How to Play Pool Like You Know What You’re Doing

To start with some history, the game of pool as it is known today evolved from table sports popular principally among the aristocracy of the era spanning from Renaissance to Revolution (American or French, take your pick), gradually becoming a favored pastime of the masses during the course of the 19th century (unlike axe throwing, which is a favored pastime of the masses these days). The etymology of the word “billiards” can likely trace its roots to the French word “bilette” which meant “stick” or “mace.”


Today, eight ball pool is far and away the most popular cue sport the world over. The sport has been the subject of literature (remember that famous pool player Minnesota Fats was originally the fictional creation of author Walter Tevis; pool shark Rudolf Wanderone later took the moniker for his own), cinema (The Color of Money, anyone?) and song (Rack ‘Em Up is a lurid tale about the struggles of the table).

And if you want to have some fun with the boys, or you simply want to avoid having your ass handed to you by a hustler, then you should learn the basics of the game.

Basic Rules of 8 Ball Pool

Rack the balls with the black eight ball in the middle and the yellow 1 ball at the front. Now you or your foe opponent will make the opening shot using their cue and the white cueball.

Based on which type of ball is first pocketed by a player, you are going to be solids or stripes. Still with me? If not, notice that the balls are either solid or striped in color. OK, good. It’s now your job to use that cue and cueball combo to drive all those striped or solid balls of yours into the pockets, switching whose turn it is each time a player fails to do so, but wait.

Caspar Benson

If anyone sinks the eight ball before they have gotten all the rest of their balls into the pockets, they lose. And if you scratch while shooting for the eight ball, you also lose. Ah, yes: a scratch is when you drive the cueball into a pocket, or when you hit the cueball and it fails to connect with any balls or with at least two sides of the table. Oh and also, if you scratch on the break? Yeah, you lose.

So there you go, there is your painfully brief summary of the rules of eight ball. Now let’s teach you how to play like a pro. First step? Hire a professional teacher and practice for years. Or just read on.

How to Hold the Cue

Choose a pool cue that feels easy for you to heft; they vary in weight between 18 to 21 ounces, usually.

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When lining up your shot, place your nondominant hand squarely on the table some seven to nine inches behind the cue ball, and with the other hand grip the shaft of the cue a few inches above the base.

Rest the narrow tip of the cue between your thumb and forefinger (called “open bridge”), or curl your forefinger over the shaft (yep, “closed bridge”) if you want added stability.

How to Take a Shot

Make sure to chalk the tip of that cue! It may help you get a cleaner shot and it will make you look and feel awesome.

You should aim the tip of the cue just below the center of the cue ball when the table’s layout allows, and your shot should have its force directed at a slightly downward angle. Your arm should only move at the elbow and shoulder, hands stay still, and the cue should be held just a few degrees above parallel with the table.

Westend61/Getty Images

Play through the cue ball, driving the cue forward with follow through as opposed to jerking it backward after connection; this will help the cue ball to follow the trajectory you want. Remember that when your shot is not a straight line to the pocket, knocking the cueball against the left side of the intended ball will make it travel to the right, and vice versa. That’s not magic, that’s physics, baby.

If your cue ball is too close to the side of the table for a standard shot, aim your cue downward at the ball, staying a few degrees off vertical. A short, strong thrust down will make the ball pop out in the direction opposite the tip of your cue.

And to put some spin, or “English,” on the ball, aim your shot off-center. English is very effectively applied with a downward shot such as when the cue ball is close to the rail.

Winning a Game of Pool

When you sink all of your balls and then, at the last, the eight ball into those pocket-looking things surrounding the pool table, you win! Good job, sir!

Now go make money hustling. Or by trading stocks. Or by establishing a successful landscaping company.

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Steven John
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Steven John is a writer and journalist living just outside New York City, by way of 12 years in Los Angeles, by way of…
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