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). These videos cover all the important rule basics:

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.

Here’s an explanation of how refereeing works in pro tournaments, including area referee practices, the shot clock, unsportsmanlike conduct, colored cards, and miscues:

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?

Here are some rules changes that should be considered:

  • 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.
  • Consider moving all rules-related stuff from the Regulations document to the Rules document so all important rules details are in one place. Otherwise, if the Regulations contain important advice and guidance concerning rules, always link to the appropriate Regulations section in the appropriate Rules section.
  • 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 ball (CB or OB) after at hit is considered “driven to a cushion.” Otherwise, when hitting an OB frozen to a cushion, require that the OB be driven to a different cushion (or off a ball and back to the same cushion) if nothing else hits a cushion or is pocketed. Alternatively, change the rules so contacting a ball frozen to a cushion satisfies the “driven to a cushion” requirement. This simplify things quite a bit with no real downsides.
  • 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, forceful break, random ball placement other than the 1 and 9) that solves many of the problems associated with the break.
  • 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.
  • 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 (intentional or not), cue-lift jumps, and through-a-mesh-pocket jumps demonstrated in this video.
  • Make it clear that a foul should not be called unless visual evidence (live, or with instant video replay, when available) is clear. Otherwise, the benefit of the doubt should always go to the shooter (i.e., no foul should be called).
  • When the CB hits a cushion and an OB frozen or close to the cushion at nearly the same time, it can be difficult to determine if there is a foul or not (based on whether or not the CB is driven to a cushion after contact). For example, see: SVB UK Open FOUL Shot FOLLOW-UP .. Do You Still Think The Call Was Correct?. There should be a specific rule dealing with this situation, maybe: “When the CB hits a cushion and an OB at nearly the same time, if there is no conclusive direct or indirect evidence of a foul, the benefit of the doubt should go to the shooter (i.e., no foul should be called).”
  • Consider making all scoop jump shots fouls (whether they are intentional or not) per the info and videos on the scoop shot resource page. Otherwise, provide clear guidance on when a foul can be called on this type of shot based on intent or clear visual evidence of a foul (e.g., when the CB clearly hits the CB first before the scoop).
  • Consider making all miscues fouls since all miscues involve a sliding contact (a push) and secondary hits per this video. A foul should be called on a miscue only if the miscue is obvious based on the distinctive sound and clear visual evidence of the miscue (the CB having motion very different from what would be expected for the shot being played, as a result of the sliding-tip push and secondary contact). Otherwise, be more clear that even though miscues almost always involve sliding and secondary contact, they are not called as fouls unless there is clear visual evidence of a foul (and provide examples).
  • Make it clear what kind of evidence can be used to judge double-hit fouls. For example, if super-slow motion video is available, could otherwise-imperceptible double hits be called (e.g., for secondary hits that often occur with scoop shots, miscues, and fouette shots)? Or can the CB be inspected after a hit to call a foul based on a distinctive and obvious line of multiple chalk marks and skids on the CB that often occur with elevated follow shots, as demonstrated in the pertinent videos on the double-hit foul resource page?
  • In 8-ball, when the table is open, consider allowing any object ball (including the 8) to be hit first to pocket a called solid or stripe.
  • In 8-ball, if a player shoots the wrong group and no foul is called, and it is later noticed that someone is shooting at the wrong group, the game will be replayed with the same breaker. If the game has already ended, the game is not replayed and the result stands.
  • If the game ball is pocketed and the CB is still moving but has no conceivable chance of scratching, consider not penalizing a player for removing balls from pockets or moving any remaining balls on the table.
  • Eliminate the “CB fouls only” rules option so fouls on all balls are called. Otherwise, when playing under “CB fouls only” rules, if an impeding ball moves during a jump or massé shot, whether it is hit by the CB or not, it should be a foul.
  • Consider enforcing a minimum cue weight (e.g., 8 oz). For example, a jump cue should not be allowed to be close to or less than the weight of the CB (6 oz). Otherwise, it makes highly-elevated jump shots and avoiding small-gap double hit fouls too easy.

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