Inexperienced players in bars who don’t know the official rules of pool often play under what are called “bar rules.” The problem with “bar rules” is that they can be different in every bar and in every part of the country, and they vary with the person you are playing, especially when the person has been drinking in said bar. In other words, “bar rules” = “anything goes at the whim of the people playing.” See:

There is no official rule set for “bar rules” 8-ball, but here’s a good summary of the main differences between typical “bar rules” and the “official rules” of pool:

  1. If you pocket one or more balls on the break, the group with the largest number of balls down becomes your group (i.e., it is “Take What You Make“).  If an equal number of group balls is pocketed, the table remains open.
  2. If the 8-ball is pocketed on the break, you win; unless you also scratch or jump the CB off the table, in which case you lose.
  3. All details must be called on every shot.  That includes combos, kisses, caroms, rail-first hits, kicks, and banks.  If not, you lose your turn and the CB remains where it is.
  4. If you scratch or if you jump the CB off the table, the opponent gets ball in hand in the “kitchen” (behind the head string), and the CB must be shot out of the kitchen before making contact with a ball or cushion.
  5. If you do not hit one of your balls first, you lose your turn and the opponent shoots from where the CB lies (i.e., no ball in hand for the opponent).  Others fouls like not driving a ball to a cushion, double hits, pushes, scoops, and intentional miscues are not called or penalized.
  6. The 8-ball cannot be used in a combination or kiss shot.
  7. When shooting the 8-ball, hitting an opponent ball first results in loss of turn.  Otherwise, a scratch or CB jump off the table results in loss of game, whether or not you pocket the 8.
  8. Safeties are considered “dirty pool” and should not be played unless they are the result of an honest effort to pocket a ball or break out something when no shot is available.

And here’s a good document (by Freddie Agnir) that summarizes many common variations:

Cornerman’s “Bar Rules”

What is “dirty pool?”

When playing under the WPA “official rules of pool,” there is no such thing as “dirty pool,” only “smart pool.” Even though some people in bars think of any defensive or safety shot as “dirty pool,” safeties are an important part of the game. However, under typical “bar rules” (see above) there is the potential to play shots that are considered “unethical.” For example, just dinking the CB with no attempt to pocket a ball, or hitting one of your opponent’s balls first “by accident,” or purposefully scratching knowing your opponent won’t have a reasonable shot needing to shoot from the “kitchen.” Under the “official rules of pool,” these sorts of “shots” provide no advantage since they are fouls that reward “ball in hand” anywhere on the table to the opponent. Here are many examples of “dirty pool:”

Other examples of “dirty pool” are ball gapping and pattern racking.

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