Home Pool How To Play: 8 Ball Pool (English Rules)

How To Play: 8 Ball Pool (English Rules)


Pool. It’s up there with the greats of pub sports. Proudly clutching onto the winner’s trophy on the podium above darts and that see-how-beer-mats-you-can-flip-up-and-catch thing.

We’ve all played it and we’ve all enjoyed it. But how many of us actually know all the rules inside out? If you’ve ever been forced to embarrass yourself a little and ask or you’ve just flat-out blagged the rules of pool, then this is the guide for you.

There are quite a few different variations of pool, each with their own individual rules and quirks. Which is where a fair bit of the confusion comes in. So let’s clear up a wee bit of that uncertainty and lay out the rules for the English ‘pub version’ of the classic game of 8 ball pool…


The basics


Across the world there are probably hundreds of different games with a thousand different¬†variations that you can play on a pool table. But the main two? 8 ball pool and 9 ball pool. We’ll talk you through 9 ball in an upcoming blog very soon.

For now, though? Let’s just concentrate on 8 ball. Now, within that game you have the American version and the English one. We’re going to focus on English 8 ball pool here. But for a quick guide to the US version, you can click here.

The tables are 7ft by 4.5ft. The kind you find in pubs and bars across the UK. The balls are usually red and yellow (if you’re using 9 ball balls, just go ‘spots and stripes’) and the cue ball is the smaller white one. Obviously.

You know the drill. Quid’s in, cue chalked, run around the table with your trousers round your ankles if you lose…


The set up

english pool rack

Here’s how you set up (or ‘rack up’) the balls once your pound coin has released them from their horizontal prison. You’ll find the triangle in the area where the balls emerge from. If there’s a cloth attached, smooth it over the table before dropping the balls on the table, it helps preserve the actual cloth on the table.

Make sure that the black ball aligns with the black spot on the table. Remove the triangle, check all the balls are tight and touching each other and you’re good to go.


 The break

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A coin toss decides who breaks. The winner decides whether to break or not. Whoever’s up smashes the white ball from the ‘D’ into the pack of balls with force, attempting to spread the balls and, ideally, pot something. If they do, they can continue their break. Should they pot a red, they are assigned red and they go from there. Same with yellows.

If both colours are potted, though – well, the player at the table chooses which they want. This decision will be based on how easy the balls of each colour are to pot.


The rules

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The aim of the game is simple – pot all of your assigned colours. And then pot the black. Manage that and you’ve won the frame. Potting one of your coloured balls results in you being awarded another visit to try and pot another.

So, technically you can pot from the break and keep playing, potting every ball of your colour until you’ve a chance to pot the black. Manage that and you’ll have won without your opponent having a single shot. This is calling ‘a whitewash’ and – honestly – you’re unlikely to manage it too many times in your life.

Fail to pot and your opponent comes to the table. And so it goes until one player has cleared their colours and downed the black.


Some weirder, lesser known rules…

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If you take a shot that misses one of your coloured balls deliberately… You lose the game. Seriously. So don’t do it.

If you pot both colours from the break and fail to nominate your colour out loud, when you take your shot, that’s a foul too.

Jump shots where the ball is sent up to leave the table before hitting a ball are also banned in English 8 ball.


What counts as a foul?

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If both players are on form and playing well, fouls should be few and far between. But in reality, fouls are extremely common. They result in the player’s turn coming to an end and their opponent coming to the table with ‘two shots’ instead of the standard one. This allows them to miss once and continue to play. This bonus ‘carries’, meaning that should the player with the advantage pot on their first visit, the two shots are still able to be played.

A player fouls when:

  • They pot the white
  • They pot the wrong colour
  • They strike their opponent’s ball or the 8/black ball first instead of their own
  • Any ball leaves the table, falling on the floor
  • They touch a ball with their hand or body (or a piece of clothing or jewellery)
  • A shot is taken when balls are still moving
  • The cue ball is struck with the cue more than once in any given shot
  • They ‘push’ the ball with their cue instead of striking it
  • The shot is played with both feet off the ground
  • No ball is potted or hits a cushion (to prevent ‘tucking up’ and snookering)




Nail your coloured balls and send that black ball down and you’ve won. But you can also win by default too…

The game is instantly lost if a player pots the black or sends it off the table. The same is true if any foul is committed on the black. Even after potting it.


Annoyingly, the rules aren’t always the same…

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Here’s the rub… This guide has given you the lowdown on English 8 ball. But if you’re playing American 9 ball? It’s different. And even if it is English 8 ball, there are variations. Usually dictated to whereabouts in the country you are.

Our advice? Avoid any potential diplomatic incidents and check with your opponent over any of the rules that may be ‘open to interpretation’. Especially concerning the downing of the 8 ball.

So there you go. Knowledge is power. All geared up for a few frames now? Then get yourself down to Rileys and get on a table!

Then – once you get good – you can start working on your game with these 6 essential pool shots.

Steve Charnock A freelance writer who writes news stories, features, articles, reviews and lists. But *always* forgets to write his mum a birthday card. Follow him on Twitter or follow him into the pub and buy him a drink.