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.”

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:

  • there are no fouls (except scratches).
  • a scratch on any shot results in ball-in-hand in the “kitchen” (behind the head string), and you must shoot the CB out of the kitchen before contact with a ball or cushion.
  • if you pocket one or more balls on the break, the group with the largest number of balls down becomes your group (i.e., the table is not open).
  • if the 8-ball is pocketed on the break, you win (unless you scratch, in which case you lose).
  • if you hit one of your balls first and pocket one of your balls, you keep shooting (i.e., “slop” counts).
  • safeties are considered “dirty pool.”

And here’s a good summary (by Freddie Agnir), that summarizes some 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.

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


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