First, here are some important definitions:

  • legal shot: With a legal stroke and no foul, you must contact a legal OB and then something (CB or OB) must be driven to a cushion or be pocketed.
  • legal stroke: a single hit of the cue tip on the CB with a forward stroking motion of the cue stick.
  • foul: scratch, double hit, no foot on floor, ball driven off table, touching or interfering with balls, scoop, push, intentional miscue.

The following video provides a good overview of everything you need to know about how to identify, detect, and avoid fouls in pool. It is based on the World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA) World Standardized Rules (WSR) (the “official rules of pool”), which are also recognized and used by the Billiard Congress of America (BCA) and many international tournaments and pool organizations.

For more information on how to both detect and avoid all types of fouls, see the fouls resource page.

Here is a concise rules summary for 8-ball and 9-ball, based on the official WPA rules. And here is a 1-page summary for 8-ball (PDF version, editable Word version), suitable for posting in a bar (created by Nathan Rhoades, Newport RI).

A good way to practice and test your understanding of how and when to call fouls is to take the Pool Rules Quiz.

Documented rules for different league systems can be found below. The rules deviate slightly from the official WPA rules, but not by much. A good summary of the differences can be found here:

differences among APA, BCAPL, and VNEA league rules

Inexperienced players in bars who don’t know the official rules of pool often play under what are considered bar rules.

There are also many “unwritten rules” of pool etiquette, dealing with how to behave properly when playing, that one is expected to follow:

Here’s a useful 1-page handout summarizing the etiquette rules demonstrated in the video.

Pool Rules Documentation

Other Useful Learning Resources

Should rules be changed to allow an anything-goes one-continuous stroke?

No. This would allow double hits, miscues, pushes, scoop jump shots (see the fouls resource page) an many other things that might not be desirable additions to the game. For more info and examples, see “Legal Fouls” (BD, Nov ‘ 16) and “A Modest Proposal” (BD, January, ’06).

What rules should the WPA and league systems consider changing?

All of the CSI/BCAPL/USAPL rules changes listed on the league rules differences page seem to be improvements, so they should be considered. Here are some others:

  • In general, remove as many rules and fouls as possible to make the game less tedious, more friendly (for players, referees, and spectators), and easier for inexperienced players to learn and understand.
  • Allow a person to use the cue, CB in hand, and any part of their body to aim and measure things, and allow the cue to be put down without a hand touching it.
  • Revise the “driven to a cushion” legal-hit rule so an OB frozen to a cushion struck by a ball (CB or OB) is considered “driven to a cushion.”
  • Instead of the traditional “all ball fouls” or “CB fouls only” rules, the following might be a less harsh compromise that is easier to enforce with less potential arguments and disappointments: It is a foul to touch the CB (when you do not have ball in hand) or to move any OB before or during a shot. If you accidentally touch (but not move) an OB with your shirt, hair, hand, arm, or cue, no foul would be called.
  • When the 3-point break rule is in force, the requirement concerning balls touching the head string should be changed back to crossing the head string. Whether or not a ball is in the kitchen should always be judged by where the resting point of the ball is relative to the head string.
  • The rules concerning mechanical bridges should be changed to allow one or two mechanical bridges to be used in any way the player chooses to bridge for a shot. This would legalize all the creative bridge options shown in this video.
  • Consider changing the rule concerning balls bouncing out of a pocket. Currently, if an OB bounces out of a pocket and lands on the playing surface, play continues as if the ball were not pocketed. However, if the CB bounces out of a pocket, it is a foul if any balls in the pocket are touched (which might be a judgement call, for example if the CB bounces off the back of the pocket with lots of balls in the pocket). Here’s a possible alternative set of rules: “If any ball (CB or OB) hits any part of the rails or pockets or balls in a pocket during a shot, but ends up on the playing surface after the shot, the ball is in play with no foul (unless balls are purposely left or added to a pocket to make it more difficult to scratch, which would incur an unsportsmanlike conduct foul).
  • Consider setting 9-ball break rules to a more-modern standard (e.g., rack 9 on the spot, break from the box, 3-point rule in effect, racking template, random placement other than the 1) that solves many of the problems associated with the break.
  • Consider making all miscues fouls since pretty much all miscues involve double hits or secondary contact per the videos on the miscue resource page. This would also eliminate the need to judge “intent.”
  • Consider requiring that jump shots be allowed only if the tip hits the top half of the CB (above the horizontal equator). That would prevent scoop shots, cue-lift jumps, and through-a-mesh-pocket jumps demonstrated in this video.

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