How do you interpret the letter ratings (ABCD) sometimes used to refer to player ability?

Interpretations of the ABCD ratings can vary in different regions and among different league/tournament systems. Also, sometimes different labels are used (e.g., “AAA, AA, A, B, C” or “Masters, AA, A, B, C, D” or “Open A B C D” or “A+, A, A-, B+, … , D” instead of “A B C D”).

A better system for determining and monitoring a player’s level of ability is the FargoRate rating and handicapping system. If you don’t have a FargoRating, you can approximate your rating with playing-ability tests like the Runout Drill System (RDS) or the Billiard University (BU) Playing Ability Exams. They assess a wide range of important pool skills in a methodical, thorough, and consistent way. They also provide a numeric and descriptive rating. The BU rating comparison chart shows how the BU rating correlates to other commonly used rating and handicapping systems, including the ABCD rating system:

BU Player Rating Comparison Table
BU Player Rating Comparison Chart

Here’s a simple interpretation of the A-D scale from the online glossary:

A:  a good player capable of running most racks and/or playing lock-up safeties.
B:  a decent player capable of running racks and playing effective safeties periodically.
C:  an average player who doesn’t run racks very often and doesn’t have much of a safety game.
D:  a novice player who makes many mistakes, can’t run even an easy rack, and never even considers playing safe.

Here’s an alternative and more-detailed interpretation of the A-D scale from Capelle’s “Play Your Best Pool” (p.386):

D: A beginner or someone who plays so infrequently that their game remains in the beginner category.

C-: A below average player – this denotes a player with some recognizable skills who has definitely risen from the ranks of beginners. This is the first major milestone.

C: An average player – describes a large section of pool enthusiasts with experience whose games perhaps have leveled off, or that only play occasionally.

C+: Above average player – this group plays a very acceptable game of pool. They tend to dominate their level of competition.

B-: This is perhaps the biggest hurdle, as a good number of players peak at the C+ level. A B- is a good player who is quite capable of running a rack of Eight Ball or Nine Ball. However, they usually lack consistency.

B: A solid, advanced player – these players can run out fairly regularly, but lack a little consistency.

B+: Players at this level are often mistaken for lower level A players when they are playing well because they play a very tough, well-rounded game. They can run out from nearly anywhere at anytime.

A-: Another big jump is required to break through to the “A” level. This group of players could be classified as semi-pros or top amateurs. They are very skilled in nearly all facets of the game. They run out easily and very often.

A: A professional quality player who can compete with and occasionally beat all but the best players. Very skilled, solid, and consistent. Runs multiple racks quite often. Tough to beat.

A+: Touring Pro – the best. Skilled in every area of the game. Breaks and runs out multiple racks regularly. Definitely in a class by themselves.

from Tom_In_Cincy:

9-Ball Tournament race to 7
(paraphrased from Dec.1997 “All About Pool” magazine article by Bob Cambell)

Handicap rankings

– will not run a rack
– average run is about 3 balls
– with ball in hand, will get out from the 7, one out of 3 times
– rarely plays a successful safe


will probably run one rack, but usually not more than one rack in a typical race to 7 avg. run is 3 to 5 balls
with ball in hand, will get out from the 7, two out of 3 times
mixed results when playing safe
inning ends due to botched position, missed shot or attempting a safe.

– Able to run 1 to 3 racks
– avg. run is 5-7 balls
– with ball in hand will get out form the 5, 2 out of 3 times
– most of the time a “B” player will play a “safety” which maybe hit easily 2 out of 3 times
– a typical inning will end with a missed shot, a fair safety, or a won game

– will string 2 to 3 racks
– avg. ball run, 7-9
– with ball in hand, will be out from the 3 ball, 2 out of 3 times
– typical inning will end with a well executed safety or a win.

– average 8+ balls
– string racks together more than once in a match
– is a threat to run out from every ball, from every position, every inning
– typical inning will end in excellent safety or win

Mr. Cambell continues this article with a handicap chart for the 4 levels of each type of player. The chart would look like this;

Lowest handicap is D4, then D3, then D2 and so on until the highest would be OPEN 1

from MattPoland (in AZB post):

D Player
Poor fundamentals, ball pocketing, cueball control, and patterns. Almost never runs a full table of 8 ball or 9 ball. Will give their opponent 3+ chances at the table.

C Player
Resembling good fundamentals but in need of fine tuning. Ball pocketing is good for easy and medium shots but struggles with hard shots. Cueball control sends the ball in the right general direction. Pattern selection is poor, 1-2 balls ahead with key shots commonly an afterthought. Attempting shots that require too precise of cueball control. Rarely runs a full table of 8 ball or 9 ball but on occasion they can. Typically will give their opponent 2-3 chances at the table.

C+ Player
Fundamentals are looking tight but there are a couple unaware hitches holding them back. Ball pocketing is good for easy and medium shots and percentages are rising to make hard shots. Cueball control sends the ball in the right general direction with more accuracy and speed control. Pattern selection is 2-3 balls ahead and more often looking at key shots. However challenges in speed control and pattern selection tends to give opponents 1-2 chances at the table.

B Player
Fundamentals are solid. Ball pocketing is good for easy, medium and hard shots. Cueball control sends the ball in precise directions. Pattern selection is 3-4 balls ahead with strong strategy for dealing with key shots and problem balls. Capable of running racks of 8 ball and 9 ball. Will give the opponent 1 chance at the table most games.

B+ Player
Just like a B player but will give the opponent 1 chance at the table every other game. Shot repertoire is fairly expansive.

BB Player
Just like a B+ player but will give the opponent 1 chance at the table every now and then. Is capable of stringing together multiple table runs. Shot repertoire is fairly expansive.

A Player
Just like a BB player but is more consistent. Able to break and run 3 or 4 out of every 5 racks.

AA Player
Just like an A player but is more consistent. They look like they play at the same level as an A player but they’ll edge out the set. Their safety and return safety game is likely a factor to that difference. Occasionally winning amateur state championships.

AAA Player
Just like an A player but is even more consistent. Frequently winning amateur state championships. Likely is within the Top 100 US players.

Pro Player
The gap between a AAA player and a top pro might as well be the same as between an A player and a C+ player. You can’t take their fundamentals and wisdom for granted but the noticeable thing is that their cueball control is darn near exact. Even when they fail, it’s typically due to playing at a level of pressure that would collapse an amateur. The pro level simply doesn’t fit this scale. That’s where Fargo is a lot more accurate for all levels but not quite comfortable for everyone to talk about yet.

from Chuck Fields (in AZB post):

D players are bangers, they dont stand right, dont shoot right. Making a ball is usually more luck than skill.

C players are figuring out how to stand and the importance of a good stroke. Theyre trying to play and can make a couple of balls here and there. If the balls are laying good they might get lucky and run out once in a blue moon

B players are a little more serious students of the game. Their fundamentals are usually consistent and their pocketing is better. Position play varies from rudimentary to knowing some of the safer routes to use. If the balls lay good they are a threat to run out 50% of those racks. A tough out takes some luck to get out of.

A players are gaining consistency. Their pocketing is good, their position play is good. They are expected to get out of an easy run most of the time, and the hard outs are getting consistently better but they lack the consistency of better players.

Short stops are players capable of pro speed play, but cant hit their gear at will. The short stop is usually the best A player in the area and is the shortstop based on consistency.

Pro level players have the knowledge and the skill set to get out most racks that are runnable, and are smart enough to know when not to push it. They have learned how to hit their top gear pretty much at will and are usually separated by consistency of hitting that gear. The top guys are “on” almost all the time, and when they are off the difference is usually only one or two shots a match. 

from Jude Rosenstock:

D – Will appear as though they are stumbling through the rack. Their occasional run-outs will either consist of very easy layouts (which they will nearly mess-up), a few lucky shots and/or unintentional position.

C – Greater sense of cue control and much more of a deliberate appearance than a D. They will undoubtedly run out with BIH with 3 or 4 left and will make it look routine but are suspect beyond that.

B – Really the beginning of the run out player. If they make a ball on the break and get position on the 1 ball, they should have a reasonable expectation to get out. Any cluster or unusual position play will diminish their chances significantly. Usually, B players possess unusual strength in either pocketing, strategy or position play. Rarely two of three, never all three. Their creativity is usually limited at this level but you may begin to see glimpses of what’s to come.

A – Definitely categorized as a run out player. They are supposed to capitalize on most mistakes. Greater attention is paid to more subtle details. Expect a consistent and strong break and strength in multiple attributes (pocketing, defense, position play, creativity). Most noticeable among players at this level and above is an aura of confidence.

Open & Above is very similar to what you see described in A only more refined. You will see advanced to expert break, pocketing, defense, position play and creativity. Low level opens might be advanced in all of these categories while world class professionals might be experts in most or all. All of these players are expected to run out with any routine opportunity. Any run-stopper situation (clusters, blocked position routes) is expected to be handled in such a way to still give the shooter an expectation of winning.

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