How to Get Better at 8-Ball Pool

Many games have been invented around a pool table but my all-time favorite game has to be 8-ball. I guess this is natural since the majority of my pool playing has been in bars. This game just seems to lend itself well to the coin-operated type of tables that are the staple of most bars and taverns.

A major reason for this is, when a ball besides the object ball is made in this game, the ball is left in the pocket and not removed and spotted. This is an obvious 8-ball advantage because, with a coin-operated table, more money would have to be inserted to retrieve a ball that was sunk unintentionally.

There are 16 balls used in a game of 8-ball. Balls 1 through 7 are called “solids” (because of their solid color), or “low” balls (because of their lower numbers). Balls 9 through 15 are called “stripes” (because of their striped scheme), or “highs” (because of their higher numbers).

The 8 ball is a solid black and the cue ball is a solid white. The basic format of this game is that each player tries to sink all of the solid or striped balls, depending on which he has, and then whichever person legally sinks the 8 ball first is the winner. The game is won if the 8 ball is sunk on the break without scratching.

8-ball is a game that has basically the same rules all over, but depending on which section of the country, or even which particular bar or poolhall you are in, can have slight variations. I have played in places where every single aspect of every single shot must be specifically called out before the shot, and I have been other places where, as long as you make at least one of your solid or striped balls per shot, anything else goes.

I call this latter type of 8-ball play “slop”, meaning that it doesn’t matter what other balls you hit besides the object ball, as long as you make one of your balls, you keep on shooting. Most places will have rules that are a combination of the two.

After the flip of a coin, a lag, or whatever method is agreed upon, one person breaks the rack, hitting the cue ball into the racked balls. Should no balls go in, the opponent gets to shoot. If a striped ball goes in, the shooter continues shooting for the stripes. If a solid goes in, the shooter naturally continues shooting solids.

If one or more of both types of balls go in, the shooter has his choice or solids or stripes and picks which one he will continue to shoot. The opponent gets the other choice by default. If the shooter sinks the cue ball on the break it is called a scratch, and the cue must be spotted and the opponent takes over.

The game can be won by sinking the 8 ball on the break, as long as no scratch occurs simultaneously. Each player continues to sink his own balls until they are all pocketed and then attempts to sink the 8 ball to win the game.

That is basically the game of 8-ball in a nutshell. Of course there are other events that occur during a game that affect the play and outcome. A “scratch” is called when the cue ball goes into a pocket or when it leaves the table. In this event, the cue ball is “spotted” or placed anywhere behind the headstring that the opponent chooses, and from where he begins his shot.

In some 8-ball league play, such as that of the American Poolplayers Association, a scratch ball is designated as “ball-in-hand”. This means that, instead of having to place the cue behind the headstring, the opponent may place the cue ball anywhere on the table he chooses and commence shooting from there. Specific rules for the various games may be found on the rules page.


  • Be aware of where the 8 ball is at all times. If you sink it out of sequence you lose.
  • Plan ahead. Try to mentally map out a way to get the most balls in as possible before you have to give up your turn.
  • If you don’t have a shot play defensively. Try to leave the cue behind another ball or in a difficult position for your opponent to make a shot.
  • Always try to leave the cue in a good position for your next shot. Shot speed and English are essential here.
  • Attempt to leave the cue close to the center of the table after your shot.
  • Attempt to break out frozen balls after making a ball.
  • If you have a ball sitting in front of a pocket, try to leave that ball for last to block the pocket on your opponent.
  • If your opponent has a ball blocking a pocket and you don’t have a good shot, think about making his ball and leaving the cue ball in a difficult position. You will lose your shot, but you may get it back quickly if you can leave your opponent without a shot.
  • If you have a very difficult shot, it may be smarter to play a safety than leave your opponent with an easy shot.
  • If you attempt to run the table and leave only a ball or two of yours on the table, you give your opponent a much easier chance to run the table on you. Don’t attempt a run until you can see an opportunity to make all remaining balls.
  • Be very careful of where the cue ball goes after shooting the 8 ball. It’s a real shame to almost win the game and then immediately lose it by scratching.

General Tips

  • Consider playing safe instead of going for a low percentage shot
  • Choose “Solids” or “Stripes” wisely after the break
  • Pocket balls in groups to avoid having to go up and down the table
  • Think 3 shots ahead, not just 1 or 2
  • Have a plan but re-evaluate after every shot

We have more playing tips on how to better your game.

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