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Don’t Get Beat by the Rules. ~ Jacqueline Karol  

Have you ever heard anyone arguing over pool rules?

First of all there are hundreds of different rules for pool and different games of pool. It is best to go over  the rules with your opponent or league/tournament director before a match. However, there are so many, that it is near impossible sometimes to think of every one that might come up.

Furthermore, there  are some gray areas within specific rules that lead to more confusion. This could be a very long article if I tried to cover every detail and variation, but at least we’ve started the conversation and will hopefully clear up some confusion. The following are rules that get the most questions from players.


What is a double hit and how do you know if you made a double hit?

Basically when two balls are  really close to one another and the shooter does not elevate or aim at an angle towards the cue ball,  he/she risks double hitting the cue ball. Because the cue ball and object ball are so close together, after the cue ball hits the object ball, the cue stick keeps moving forward, not leaving the cue ball enough time to get out of the way and hits it a second time.

The way you will know if it is a double hit depends on the cue ball’s reaction after contact.

If the cue ball chases the object ball at about the  same speed it is a double hit. In addition, the shooter can usually feel and hear the double hit.

How long do players get when they’re on the Shot Clock?

Typically players get a 45 second shot clock. Once a player in down in his/her shot, he can take as long as he wants. The referee is supposed to say “ten” when there are 10 seconds left and a player gets one “extension” of time per game.

What’s a legal shot?

  1. Shooters must make contact with their ball first.  In 8-­‐ball, a player must hit their stripes or solids  first. In 9-­‐ball a shooter must hit the lowest numbered ball first.

  2. Any ball (any object ball on the table or cue ball) must hit a rail after contact or an object ball going into a pocket counts as “hitting a rail after contact.”

Balls frozen to a rail?

If the object ball is frozen or almost frozen to a rail and the shooter is not going to drive any other ball including the cue ball to a rail, both players need to both look at it and agree whether or not it is frozen.

A referee can also be asked to make this call. It helps to put your hand above the ball to make it cast a shadow to see if it is “frozen” or touching the rail. If it is not frozen, then an extremely soft hit can me made to drive the object ball to the rail, which makes it okay for nothing else to hit a rail.

What’s a legal break?

How many balls need to hit a rail for the break to be legal?  The rules state that  either “a ball can be pocketed” or four or more balls must hit a rail.

What if only one ball goes in and it’s the cue ball?

If the cue ball is pocketed, it is a foul and opponent can re-­rack and break again.

What’s an obvious shot?

Beginners are particularly confused by this because many shots are not obvious to them. Basically, if a shot is straight in or a slight angle, then it is obvious. A kick, bank or combination is never obvious and must be called. If you are concerned that there may be an argument, then just call the pocket even when it is obvious.

Advanced Players:

Cell phones:

Cell phones and headphones are not allowed during a match (See 1-­‐3 Use of Equipment in  BCA Rules). However, many tournaments and leagues allow it.


Practicing is not allowed during a match. You cannot hit balls on another table while waiting for your turn to shoot.

Putting together a second cue:

Most of us know that you cannot unscrew your playing cue during your match or it will be declared a forfeit. But what about putting together another cue in the middle of a match?

In the 25th Annual  Ocean State 9-­‐Ball Championships, Jason Shaw asked for a ruling on Earl Strickland because he tried to put together his other cue to make a jump shot. The referee ruled that he could not use it because he did  not put it together at the beginning of the match. However, this rule can vary widely from place to place.

Wrong Suit:

What if a player shoots the wrong suit in 8-­‐ball two times in a row?

If an opponent does not mention that his opponent is shooting the wrong ball until after his 2nd shot, now he must switch suits. Both players are responsible for watching the match.

“Move it back” where?

In an 8-­‐ball match between pros, a player accidentally bumped another object  ball and asked his opponent if he should “leave it there or move it back” like he should. However the opponent moved the object ball in between the cue ball and the player’s next shot. This was definitely  not where the object ball was, but it is a gray area in the rules and there was no referee there to settle it.

Walking away:

Did you know that if a player walks away from his shot (as if he thought he missed but  the ball ends up actually going in) he forfeits his next shot?

This is rare, but it has happened and the official ruling is that no credit is awarded and it becomes the opponent’s shot.

Even when you may know the rules as a player, sometimes the referee or director doesn’t  know, understand or enforce the rules. Always remember that a referee can overrule anything if he/she deems appropriate.

Rules are not always completely black and white.

Please email me at with others that you can think of or can add to this article.

(References: BCA Rules, Texas Express Rules)

Photo: Andreas Moller/Flickr Editor: Dana Gornall
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