wikiHow to Play 9 Ball Pool

Three Parts:Getting StartedBasic RulesThe Push-Out

The simple rules and straightforward goal of 9-ball pool make it easy for new players to learn. More advanced pool players might enjoy this fast-paced change from other pool games, and the opportunity to show off precise positioning skills. All you need to get started is a standard set of pool table equipment.

Quick Pool Terminology

  • Diamonds: The marks on the long side rails.
  • Head string / Foot string: Starting from the head rail, count two diamonds. The head string is an imaginary line between them. The foot string is a similar line, counting from the end rail instead.
  • Head spot / Foot spot: The center of the head string or foot string. These are often marked with black spots.

Part 1
Getting Started

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    Choose teams. 9-Ball is usually played one-on-one. If you have more than two people, divide into two teams.
    • In a friendly game, you can play with three or more teams. This is not recommended if some of you are much better at pool than others.
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    Decide who goes first. You can just flip a coin, but "lagging" is a more entertaining way to decide the first player. On an empty table, every player places a ball just behind the head string. Each player hits his ball at the same time. The goal is to have your ball touch the far end of the table, then bounce back as far as possible without touching the near end or the sides. Whoever gets closest gets to break (see below).[1]
    • Try again if two of the balls touch each other, or if no one manages to hit the end without touching another side.
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    Set up nine balls inside the rack. Pick out the nine balls numbered 1 through 9, and place them inside the rack. Arrange them in a diamond shape, with the 9-ball in the center and the 1-ball closest to the shooter. Place balls in the rest of the diamond at random.
    • The rack goes in the usual place, with the closest point on top of the foot spot.
    • If you can find a diamond-shaped 9-ball rack, use it. If you have to use a triangular 15-ball rack, just make the diamond shape as tightly packed as you can.
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    Break. Have the first player set down the white cue ball anywhere behind the head string. That player hits the cue ball at the 1-ball to break.
    • The break should pocket one ball, and/or send at least three balls to any rail (side).[2] If neither of these happens, set up the rack again and let the next player break instead.

Part 2
Basic Rules

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    Take your turn until you fail to pocket a ball. Whenever you pocket a ball, you get to take another shot. Continue taking shots until you fail to pocket a ball, or you foul. When this happens, play passes to the next player.
    • This includes the break: if the person who broke pocketed a ball, they get to take another shot.
    • Just like 8-ball, you can only hit the cue ball, usually a white ball with no numbers.
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    Know your objective. In 9-ball pool, whoever pockets the 9-ball wins the game. You can even win on the break this way! Of course, there are other rules that makes this goal harder than it sounds.
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    Aim for the lowest-numbered ball. Every time you take a shot, the cue ball must hit the lowest-numbered ball still on the table, before it hits any other balls. If it hits a different ball first, or if it doesn't hit any balls, the shot is a foul. (See below for more info on fouls.)
    • You can pocket any numbered ball without a penalty. For example, the cue ball can hit the 1-ball, then bounce off and knock the 7-ball into a pocket. This is a legal shot. You can even pocket the 9-ball this way to win the game.
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    Avoid soft hits. After hitting the lowest-numbered ball, at least one ball must hit a rail or enter a pocket. If this does not happen, the shot is a foul.[3]
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    Place the ball anywhere if your opponent fouls. If a player commits a foul, the next player picks up the cue ball and places it anywhere on the table before making her shot.[4] As mentioned above, fouls include hitting the wrong ball first, or failing to drive any ball into a pocket or rail.
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    Obey standard pool rules. Standard pool fouls also apply: knocking a ball off a table, pocketing the cue ball ("scratching"), touching a moving ball, or hitting the cue ball out of turn are all fouls. The next player gets to move the cue ball anywhere on the table.
    • If the 9-ball is knocked off or pocketed during a foul, "spot" it back to the foot spot, or as close behind the foot spot as possible.[5] Other numbered balls that leave the table illegally stay out of play.
    • Accidentally touching a non-moving ball is not a foul, but the other players get to decide whether to leave it in the new position or move it back.
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    Play several games. Compared to other types of pool, 9-ball plays ends quickly. Typically, the players agree to play until one person or team has won a certain number of games. Try playing first to three games if you are new pool players, or first to seven if you are intermediate or advanced.

Part 3
The Push-Out

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    Add this rule for more competitive play. The push out rule gives the players a little more control over the starting position following the break. This adds more strategy to competitive matches. In a friendly game involving beginner pool players, this rule is not necessary.
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    Declare "Push out" right after a break. The push out rule only applies on the first shot following a break. The player about to take the second shot can choose to announce a "push out." If he does not announce it, then play proceeds as usual.
    • If the shooter pocketed a ball on the break, he may announce a push out, since he's about to take another shot. If he did not pocket a ball, the next player gets the option to push out instead.
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    Ignore the 9-ball rules for the push out. On an announced push out shot, the shooter does not have to hit the lowest-numbered ball, and does not have to send a ball at a rail or pocket.[6]
    • If the push out pockets a 9-ball, "spot" it back to the foot spot. Any other numbered ball stays in the pocket.
    • Other foul rules still apply.
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    Let the next player choose whether to play. After the push-out, the next player chooses whether to play or to pass the turn. She gets to make this decision even if the "push out" pocketed a ball. After this decision, play proceeds as usual.
    • If a foul occurred on the push out, follow the usual foul rules instead. The next player places the cue ball anywhere and takes a shot.


  • Sometimes, the best option is a "safety" shot. The goal of a safety shot is to leave the cue ball in an awkward place where the opponent has no good shots to take, and might even be unable to make a legal shot. A safety shot still has to hit the lowest-numbered ball and send any ball to the rail.
  • In most tournaments, if you make three fouls in a row, you lose the game. You might not want to use this rule if you're playing with friends.
  • You do not need to "call your shot" in 9-ball. Accidentally pocketing the 9-ball will win you the game, as long as you made a legal shot.
  • Some pool associations run 9-ball tournaments based on number of points scored, instead of the number of games won. Check with the tournament organizer to find out how points are calculated based on your handicap and the number of balls pocketed.
  • If you're paying for the balls, save money by using higher numbered balls for subsequent games.[7] For example, if balls 1, 5, and 9 are sunk in the first game, rack the second game using balls 10, 11, and 12 as the new highest-numbered balls. Whoever sinks the 12 ball wins that game.


  • At tournaments, your shot is a foul if both of your feet are off the floor, or if the cue tip is still touching the cue ball when the cue ball contacts another ball.[8] You don't need to play with these rules in a friendly game.

Things You'll Need

  • Two or more players
  • Pocket billiard table
  • Cue stick
  • 9 numbered billiard balls

Article Info

Categories: Cue Sports