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Types of Pool/Billiard Games

Types of pool/billiard games

Since the game of billiards was first invented in 15th-century France and Northern Europe, it's become a worldwide pastime. With a vast array of variations, there's something for everyone — from regular pool to snooker and carom billiards. The options are endless! In this article, we attempt to give you a brief overview of some of the more well-known billiard and pool games that your friends and family can try at your next gathering.

If any of the pool and billiard terms in this article are unknown to you, follow this handy guide as a reference!

5 Games to Play on a Pool Table

The standard American pool table is either 7, 8 or 9 feet long and 3.5, 4 or 4.5 feet wide. While an 8-foot by 4-foot table is technically considered professional, most professional tournaments use a 9-foot by 4.5-foot table. 7-foot by 3.5-foot tables are considered "bar" size and best suited for smaller spaces. You can play the following five games on any standard-sized American pool table.

modern billiard table in a well lit room

1. 8-Ball Pool

8-ball is the most common type of pool in North America. It's often simply referred to as "pool," even though the game of pool encompasses several variations. With that in mind, 8-ball is the classic "stripes and solids" game of pool where one player is assigned the solid colored balls numbered one to seven and the other uses the striped balls numbered nine to 15.


The first objective of 8-ball is to pocket all of your assigned balls before your opponent while carefully avoiding the black 8-ball. Once you've pocketed all of the solid or striped balls, the next objective is to pocket the black 8-ball in a pocket that you'll call before making the shot. If you pocket the black ball before your assigned striped or solid balls are pocketed, your opponent wins.

Rules and Gameplay

To begin an 8-ball game, place the numbered balls in the triangular rack with the apex ball (the ball placed on the front corner of the triangle) on the foot spot at one end of the table. A striped ball goes in the right corner and a solid ball is in the left corner of the rack.

Once the triangular rack is removed, one player will perform the break shot with the cueball behind the head string on the other end of the table. The player chosen to perform the break shot can be decided using a coin-flip, lag or any other means the players see fit to use.

A proper break shot requires that a minimum of four balls hit the rails or sides of the pool table. If this does not occur, the opponent can allow the incorrect break shot and make their shot from that position or re-rack the balls and have their opponent retake the break shot. The first player to legally pocket a solid ball will be assigned to the solid balls, while the other will focus on pocketing the striped balls.

Players take alternating turns that last until one player commits a foul or fails to pocket one of their assigned balls. The players begin their turn wherever the cueball is positioned from the opponent's last turn. If the opponent's previous turn ended in a foul, the other player can move the cueball anywhere on the table to begin their turn, known as "cueball-in-hand."


  • Standard fouls include pocketing the cueball, striking the cueball twice on one shot, striking an object ball with the pool cue, failing to hit any object balls with the cueball, knocking a ball of the table, illegally moving the cueball and no contact after a break shot.

  • Failing to call the pocket before knocking the 8-ball into it.

2. 9-Ball Pool

Whereas 8-ball is played with 15 numbered balls and a cueball, 9-ball is played with only nine numbered balls and one cueball. Furthermore, while 8-ball is the most popular game played in non-professional circles, 9-ball is the most widely played professional game of pool in North America.


The main objective of 9-ball is to pocket the 9-ball legally, which can be done at any point in the game. Therefore, games of 9-ball are played rather quickly and competed in sets, such as best-of-5 tournaments, to determine an overall winner.

Rules and Gameplay

While you don't need to wait until every ball is pocketed before pocketing the 9-ball, there's an order to follow before you can legally pocket it. At the beginning of each player's turn, the cueball must initially contact the lowest numbered ball on the table. With that in mind, the break shot needs to hit the 1-ball, so the 1-ball is used as the apex ball. The rest of the break shot rules from 8-ball pool also apply to 9-ball.

However, once the cueball hits the lowest numbered ball on the table, you don't need to pocket the balls in order, which means that the 9-ball could conceivably be the first pocketed ball in a game of 9-ball pool. The order and length of turns in 9-ball is the same as 8-ball.


  • Standard fouls apply.

  • If the first ball contacted with the cueball is not the lowest numbered ball.

Like 8-ball, a player can begin his turn after an opponent's foul with the cueball anywhere they choose on the pool table. However, if a player commits three consecutive fouls, the opponent is declared the winner of the match.

3. Cutthroat Pool

Cutthroat pool involves the same number and types of balls as an 8-ball pool game. However, it's usually played in teams or with three or more players where everyone fends for themselves — hence the name "cutthroat" pool.


The objective of cutthroat pool is to pocket all of the opposing players' balls before they pocket yours. The winner of cutthroat pool is the player with at least one ball remaining on the table at the end of the game after the other players' balls are all pocketed.

Rules and Gameplay

Before a game of cutthroat begins, the 15 balls are divided up according to the number of players or teams participating. As such, in a three-team or three-player cutthroat game, each team is assigned five balls. Typically, the balls are divided from lowest to highest, so one team or player will be assigned balls one to five, the next assigned balls six to 10 and the last team given balls 11 to 15.

In a three-set cutthroat game, the one ball is placed in the foot spot, while the six and 11 balls are placed at the other rack corners. After the first player makes a break shot, their set is determined by the balls they pocket. So if they pocket the six ball and two ball, their set to protect are the balls numbered 11 to 15.

Like 8-ball and 9-ball, each player's turn continues until they commit a foul or fail to pocket a ball. A player can even pocket one of their own balls to continue their turn whenever it's strategic to do so. This move is known as "cutting your throat."


  • Pocketing the cueball or knocking it off the table, which allows each opponent to reintroduce one of their balls into the game.

  • Standard fouls apply.

4. One-Pocket Pool

modern pool table with graphic overlay explaining how one picket pool is played

One-pocket pool is played with all 16 balls, but only two pockets on the pool table are active. Each player has one designated pocket into which they can pot the balls.


The primary objective of one-pocket pool is to be the first player to pocket any eight balls into your designated pocket, regardless of their number or whether they're striped or solid. Each pocketed ball equals one point.

Rules and Gameplay

In one-pocket pool, the numbered balls are racked randomly at the foot spot. Before the first player performs the break shot, they select one of the corner pockets as their pocket, and their opponent takes the other corner pocket by default. A break shot in a one-pocket game must result in either a pocketed ball or at least one ball hitting the rails.

The same rules apply for alternating turns with one-pocket pool. However, to continue one's turn, you must legally pocket a ball in your designated pocket. If a ball is accidentally or purposefully knocked into your opponent's pocket, a point is awarded to the opponent.


  • Standard fouls apply.

  • Potting a ball in your opponent's pocket (point awarded to the opponent).

  • Potting a ball in a neutral pocket, unless an object ball is simultaneously potted into the player's pocket.

  • Three fouls in a row is an automatic loss.

5. Straight Pool

Straight pool is played with all 16 balls and operates on a point system that often involves players re-racking the balls multiple times in one game to reach the agreed-upon winning number of points.


The objective of straight pool is to be the first person who reaches an agreed-upon number of points, usually between 100 and 150. Each pocketed ball in straight pool equals one point.

Rules and Gameplay

With straight pool, the balls are racked the same way as in 8-ball. The opening break must result in either one pocketed ball, the cueball contacting an object ball and then the rail or at least two object balls contacting the rail. If none of those results occur, two points are subtracted from the breaking player's total.

Straight pool is also a call shot game, meaning the player must call the ball and pocket before making their shot for it to count. The ball's color or number does not matter when calling a ball to pocket. A player can call a safety instead of calling a ball and pocket. However, any pocketed balls will be spotted, which means they'll be placed on the long string at the end of the player's turn.

After the 14th ball of a rack is pocketed, play stops momentarily to allow the players to re-rack the 14 pocketed balls. The remaining ball from the previous rack is kept in its position. For the player to continue their turn, they must pocket the 15th ball in a way that causes the cueball to rebound into the racked balls, thereby making a break shot. If they cannot do so, their turn ends.


  • Pocketing a ball without calling it (results in spotted ball).

  • Standard fouls apply.

Different Types of Billiard Games