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How To Play 8-Ball Pool: Rules & Variations

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Welcome to our guide to playing 8-ball pool!

When playing pool, it would be great if there was an official set of rules for everyone. Well, it turns out there is… but that hasn’t stopped a wide range of variations arising anyway.

Rack City Pool Hall & Bar is a Brisbane pool hall and many of our players favour rules regional to Queensland, Australia. At the end of this article, you'll find a link to the World Pool-Billiards Association (WPA) with the full list of official rules from the international governing body for pocket billiards. What follows then is a condensed set of rules, complete with variations that may be more familiar to you.

These rules provide a general overview of how to play 8-ball pool. It's always a good idea to clarify specific rules and variations before starting a game. In particular, you might like to clarify rules such as:

  • After the break does the player continue, or only if they sink a ball?

  • Do you play one-shot or two-shot rules after a foul?

  • What rule applies when placing the cue ball after a foul?

  • Do we need to call every shot, less obvious shots, or don't call any shots?

With that in mind, let’s play:

1. Equipment:

The game is played with a standard set of 16 billiard balls, including one cue ball (usually white) and 15 object balls. The object balls are divided into two groups: solid-coloured balls numbered 1 to 7, and striped balls numbered 9 to 15. The 8-ball is a solid black ball. The balls are racked with the black ball on the black spot on the table

A pool table with the balls correctly racked

2. Object of the Game:

The goal is to legally pocket all of your designated balls (either solids or stripes), and then pocket the 8-ball to win the game. The player or team that pockets the 8-ball before all their designated balls loses the game.

3. Determining the Break:

Before the game starts, a lag shot is used to determine which player will break. Each player simultaneously shoots the cue ball from the baulk line to the foot cushion, attempting to return the cue ball closest to the head cushion. The player with the ball closest to the head cushion wins the lag and decides who will break. Subsequent games are determined by rotating players, or by "mugs away" (the loser of the last game breaks).


1. The player to break the balls will be decided by the toss of a coin.

4. Break Shot:

The player breaking hits the cue ball from the baulk line, and must strike the racked balls with sufficient force; either pocketing a ball or causing at least four object balls to contact the cushions. If the break is illegal (no balls pocketed or fewer than four balls hit the cushions), the incoming player has the option to complete the break, or request their opponent re-rack and break.

A pool table showing a successful break

5. Continuing Play:

The first player to pot an object ball will then continue to pot the balls from that group (stripes or solids). The opposition player will have to pot the other group. If the table is open (i.e. no group decided) and a player pots balls from both groups, they then play the ball that fell first and continue until they fail to pot a ball.


1. If the table is open and a player pots balls from both groups , then the player nominates their category.

2. Selection of a group (stripes or solids) is not determined by any balls potted on the break shot. If any object ball is potted on a legal break, then that player continues his innings at the table, and the table is still open. The first legally potted ball after the break shot determines the groups. While the table is open it is legal to first hit any ball, (but not the 8-ball) in the process of potting the called object ball. If successful, the player continues shooting until they fail to pocket a ball, or they commit a foul.

6. Legal Shots:

A shot is considered legal if the cue ball first strikes a ball from the shooter's designated group and subsequently either pockets a ball or drives any ball to a rail. A player's turn continues as long as they legally pocket a ball on each shot.

7. Calling Shots:

It is common to call the intended ball and pocket for each shot, especially for shots where it is not obvious which ball is being targeted, or if a combination or carom (strike and rebound) shot is attempted. Failure to pocket the called ball results in the end of the player's turn. It's generally not necessary to call an obvious straight-in kind of shot.


1. In a friendly game with mates, you might decide not to call shots.

8. Fouls:

Fouls result in the end of the player's turn, and the incoming player gets ball-in-hand, meaning they can place the cue ball anywhere behind the baulk line. Common fouls include pocketing the cue ball, not contacting a legal ball, failing to hit any ball with the cue ball, sinking the other player's ball, or striking the cue ball off the table.


1. Following a foul, the player can place the ball anywhere on the table.

2. The cue ball must be played from behind the baulk line and it must be played forwards.

3. In Queensland, many players play a two-shot rule following a foul, while other regions play a one-shot rule. In the case of two-shot rule pool, if a ball is legally pocketed, this entitles the player to one additional shot.

9. 8-Ball Shot:

Once all the balls from a player's designated group are pocketed legally, the player can now shoot at the 8-ball. The shooter must clearly call the intended pocket for the 8-ball before taking the shot. Pocketing the 8-ball before clearing all their designated balls, or sinking the cue ball at the same time as the 8-ball, results in automatic defeat.

10. Winning the Game:

The player that legally pockets the 8-ball immediately after clearing all their designated balls wins the game.

player about to strike cue ball and play the 8-ball into the corner pocket to win the game

For more information, the WPA has a comprehensive Rule of Play. You could always consider bookmarking our page so you can find it quickly the next time you play.

If you have any suggestions, please let us know and we’d be happy to consider adding them.


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