Eightball Rules: How To Play

The most popular pool game (and the namesake of our site) is Eightball, commonly referred to as Eight-ball or 8-ball as well. The rules of Eightball are simple and straightforward, but we’ll cover house rules, bar rules, and other fun varieties played around the world later on.

Pool Table Terminology via UPA

If you’re interested in other pool games, scroll to the bottom for other options.

How to Win (or Lose)

The object of Eightball is to sink all of your assigned balls (stripes or solids) into the pockets, and then – after declaring which pocket you’ll sink the Eightball – successfully following through.

If you accidentally hit the Eightball into a pocket prior to sinking your assigned balls or after sinking your assigned balls but into a different pocket than you declared, you automatically lose the game.

How to Set Up

At the start of the game you must “rack the balls” which means placing balls #1 to #15 in the triangle with the tip of the triangle on the “foot”. This is a clearly marked dot towards the center of one side of the table. The back side of the triangle should be parallel to the back wall of the table.

The #1 ball should be at the tip of the triangle and should follow a solid/stripe/solid pattern running counter clockwise. The #8 Ball should be at the very center of the triangle.

The cue ball (unmarked white ball) should be placed at the other end of the table. The game is ready to begin!

Who Shoots First?

One player must “break” which is the term for shooting first to start the game. The goal is separate the pile with a strong shot, in essence “breaking” them up.

In a friendly game of Eightball, decide who goes first by flipping a coin, playing rock/paper/scissors, competing in a lag shot, or deferring to the person whose first name starts closest to the letter “Z”. If your name is “Aaron”… for once in your life you can hit the back of the line.

In a competitive game of Eightball, the player with the lower speed rating goes first.


The person breaking must place the cue ball on or behind the imaginary line known as the “headstring”, clearly marked by indicators (usually arrows) on the side of the table opposite the triangle of balls.

The player then strikes the cue ball with their stick, attempting to make it collide with the numbered balls, sending at least one ball into a pocket.

To be considered a legal shot:

  • In a friendly game, so long as the cue ball collides with one ball, the break is legal and the game may continue.
  • In a competitive game, at least one numbered ball must land in a pocket, or 4 numbered balls must contact walls, otherwise the shot is illegal and the opponent must re-rack and break.

Winning or losing on the break (House Rules):

  • If you hit the white cue ball into a pocket when breaking, you automatically lose the game.
  • If you hit the black eightball into the pocket when breaking, you automatically win the game!

If the player who broke sinks at least one ball, they may continue with a second shot, otherwise they relinquish control to their opponent.

Stripes vs. Solids

Immediately after a legal break the table is still “open”, regardless of whether or not a ball was pocketed, meaning neither player has been assigned stripes or solids yet.

The next player to sink a ball may claim stripes or solids immediately after a successful shot. Their opponent automatically inherits the opposing set of balls. If they forget to declare (or choose not to declare) the table remains open.

After stripes and solids have been assigned, ensuing shots must begin with the cue ball hitting a ball from their assigned group (stripes or solids, discluding the eightball). This rule may be ignored for beginners.

This raises the point of what you consider a “successful shot”.

Successful Shots

Each time a player makes a successful shot, so long as they haven’t also committed a foul, they may proceed to take another turn.

In a friendly game, depending on skill level, you may choose to consider any ball made in any pocket to be a “successful shot” prior to claiming stripes or solids. After being assigned stripes or solids, a player’s shot is only “successful” if they sink at least one of their own assigned balls (regardless of whether or not they also sink an opponent’s ball).

Skilled players should be required to make “called shots”, declaring what ball they intend to sink in what pocket prior to taking their shot. If they sink the declared ball in the declared pocket, their shot is successful, and they continue their turn. If their called shot is unsuccessful or they commit a foul, gameplay proceeds to their opponent.

Fouls & Illegal Shots

There are many actions that can result in a foul, immediately ending a player’s turn:

  • If you hit the cue ball into a pocket, this is a scratch and results in the end of your turn. Successful shots are removed from pockets and opponent’s sunk balls are left in. Your opponent may place the cue ball anywhere on the table and proceed with their turn.
  • If you hit the cue ball off the table, this is a scratch and results in the end of your turn. Successful shots are removed from pockets and opponent’s sunk balls are left in. Your opponent may place the cue ball anywhere on the table and proceed with their turn.
  • If you hit an object ball off the table, the ball remains “out of play” and your turn is over. The next player may play the table as is or place the ball anywhere behind the head string.
  • If you hit the eightball off the table, you automatically lose the game.
  • If you move or bump a ball, you lose your turn, and your opponent may take the ball in hand and place it anywhere.
  • If you don’t hit any balls, this is a foul, and your opponent may play ball in hand.
  • If a player takes a shot while balls are still in motion on the table, they lose their turn.
  • If a player takes a shot with one foot off the ground, this is a foul.
  • If the cue tip strikes the cue ball more than once in a single shot, this is a scratch.

Other Games

Eightball is the most popular game to play on a pool table, but there are plenty of other games worth trying:

  • Nineball (also called Nine-ball or 9-Ball)
  • Cutthroat Pool
  • One Pocket
  • Sevenball
  • Fifteenball
  • Bank Pool
  • Baseball Billiards
  • Bowlliards