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Beginner Billiards Terms: Basic Pool Terminology

Updated: Jan 28

Billiards, or pool, is a skill-based game played in bars, game rooms and pool halls around the world. Pro billiards players practice for years to reach their level of play, but even a first-time pool player can enjoy this classic game. Sinking a ball into the pocket is a satisfying experience, especially with your friends and family around the table.

If you're thinking of trying the game, you should understand pool terminology. Knowing how to refer to certain items and areas of the table can help you avoid confusion and keep the rules straight. HB Home has put together this guide to help you understand the most important billiards terms and phrases so you can get right into the action.

Basic Pool and Billiard Terminology

Here are some common pool terms to help you better understand the game:

  • 8-Ball: This is the most common version of pool. It involves two players, and each tries to get all their balls into the holes before sinking the 8-ball to win the game. In this version, one player is stripes and the other is solids.

  • 9-Ball: In this version of pool, the players attempt to hit the balls in numerical order instead of dividing them by solids or stripes. The player who hits the 9-ball into a hole first wins.

  • Cue stick: This is the long wooden stick you use throughout the game to hit the cue ball and sink colored balls into the holes.

  • Chalk: You can find these small cubes of chalk around pool tables at bars and pool halls. You use them to apply chalk to the tip of your cue stick. This helps keep the cue stick from sliding off the cue ball during your shots.

  • Cue ball: You strike the cue ball with your cue stick to send it rolling into the colored, numbered balls on the pool table. The cue ball is white or off-white, but it can also have spots. The cue ball is slightly larger and heavier than the other balls on the table.

  • Object balls: These are the non-cue balls on the pool table. They're numbered, going up to 15 for a standard game of 8-ball. Object balls are either completely colored or have a colored stripe around the center of the ball.

  • Solids: Numbered one through eight, these object balls have a solid color. When playing 8-ball, players might refer to solids as "lows."

  • Stripes: Numbered nine through 15, these object balls have a band of color around the middle. Players refer to them as "highs" in 8-ball.

  • Bridge: The bridge supports the cue stick as you line up to take your shot. The bridge can either be one of your hands or a separate device that guides the cue stick toward the cue ball during your shot.

  • Rack: This refers to the triangle-shaped device used to align the object balls at the start of a game. You can also use this term as a verb, with statements such as, "Would you like me to rack the balls first?"

  • Scratch: A scratch occurs when the cue ball goes into a pocket. When this happens, the player who scratched must place one of their previously pocketed balls back on the table. The opponent then gets to retrieve the cue ball and place it on the table for their next shot.

  • Pocket a ball: When you strike the cue ball into an object ball, and the object ball goes into a pocket, you've pocketed a ball. You're one step closer to winning the game. Your turn continues after pocketing a ball, allowing you to take more shots — unless you scratched during your turn.

Parts of a Pool or Billiards Table

Different parts of the billiards table have varying functions, so it's important to know your pool table terms. That way, you can ensure you and your friends are playing a fair game. Here are some of the terms you should know:

  • Cushions: These are triangular strips of rubber covered in cloth that outline the perimeter of the table. Many players refer to them as "rails."

  • Long rails: Players also call these "side rails." These are the two longer sides of the pool table.

  • Short rails: This term identifies the two shorter sides of the pool table. Each one has a specific name

  • Foot rail: This is the short rail found on the side of the table where you rack the object balls.

  • Head rail: The short rail found on the opposite side of the table as the foot rail.

  • Pockets: These are the holes found within the rails of the pool table. They are located at the four corners of the table as well as in the center of both of the long rails. These are where you'll try to sink the object balls to win the game.

  • Sights: These are shapes found in the wood of the rails spaced evenly between all six pockets. They come in handy if a player needs a visual tool to help them line up their shots.

  • Strings: These are imaginary lines on the pool table. The "long string" runs down the middle of the pool table, parallel with the long rails. The "head string" is an invisible line running parallel to the head rail, and the foot string is the line running parallel to the foot rail. The "center string" is the line connecting the two middle pockets.

  • Spots: There are two visible, round spots on the surface of the pool table. The "head spot" is the intersection of the long string and the head string. The "foot spot" is the intersection of the long string and the foot string. The foot string is where you rack the balls at the start of the game.

Miscellaneous Pool Terms

Here are some extra billiards terms that might come in handy as you continue playing and increasing your skill — including some new types of pool shots you can practice:

  • Backspin: This occurs when a ball spins in the opposite direction it is traveling after the shot.

  • Call shot: This is a version of the game in which the players describe what's going to happen on the table before they take their shots. When playing 8-ball, many people like to call the 8-ball shot but keep all other shots in the game uncalled.

  • Break shot: After the opposing player racks the balls, you perform a break shot. This shot sends the clustered object balls in all directions, setting the tone for the rest of the game.

  • Breakout shot: This is like the break shot, except it can happen at any point in the game when you want to separate a cluster of object balls. Use it to make future shots a bit easier.

  • Bank shot: Perform a bank shot by hitting the cue ball off a cushion before it makes contact with the intended object ball.

  • Jump shot: Strike the cue ball at a downward angle to cause the momentum of your strike to launch the cue ball into the air. Use this shot tactfully to hop over your opponent's object ball and strike one of yours.

HB Home Has the Perfect Pool Tables for Any Game Room

The home is where friends and family members come together and make memories that will last a lifetime. At HB Home, our mission is to help you furnish your game room with high-quality game furniture, making it the go-to place where your loved ones can gather to have a good time and catch up. We have many pool tables and accessories to choose from, as well as plenty of other classic games your whole family will love.

Contact us today for more information on how we can help you bring your game room to the next level.

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