9-Ball Game Rules and Strategy

Positioning the balls for succeeding shots is vital

Hand of woman pool player
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For decades, 9-ball has been the darling of televised pool for its explosive open break and pocketing action. The rules and the strategy for playing  9-ball are deceptively simple, but there is far more to the action than meets the eye. 

9-ball is a rotation game. You shoot at the lowest numbered ball on the table and, when the 9-ball falls on any shot, even on the break, it's a win. Take full advantage of 9-ball's rules for your benefit.

Racking the Balls

The balls, numbered 1 through 9, are racked in a diamond shape. The 1-ball should be in front, so the player breaking can hit it first, as required by the rules, without the added difficulty of other balls being in the way. The 9-ball should be in the center, for added protection from pocketing on the open break and ending the game too quickly.

If you're racking the balls and forget to "hide" the 9-ball in the center, a more experienced player could sink it on the break or soon after for the win.

Basic Strategy

After the break, you must hit the lowest numbered ball first with the cue ball. Following that, one of the remaining balls on the table must touch a rail or sink into a pocket or your opponent receives a ball-in-hand, meaning he or she can place cue ball as desired, with certain restrictions.

Skilled 9-ball players always have an eye on the strategy of pocketing the 9-ball early for the win. But beginning and intermediate players often try to sink the 9-ball early and miss, leaving the 9 near a pocket, making it an easy shot for the opponent. 

Advanced Rules

Those are the basic rules and strategy of 9-ball, but there are other rules to heed. One is the "Three Foul Rule," where committing three fouls or scratches on three consecutive turns ends the game. This rule is enforced only if the opposing player has announced when two fouls have been made. Skilled players often leave the balls in a position to make their prey foul three times and lose the game.

The "Push Rule" allows the opposing player following the break to shoot the cue ball anywhere without touching the lowest ball for a safety or defensive play. The other player may accept the new position or force the person who made the push to shoot again and attempt a regular shot.

Practicing for 9-Ball

A good way to practice for 9-ball is to play 7-ball instead to start your experience with rotation games. 7-ball offers a chance to play a game similar to 9-ball but with fewer balls on the table to interfere with one another. 

Newcomers should remember that great pool is less about shooting long, hard shots than about making simple shots and wisely positioning the cue ball for the next shot. It also pays to watch more skilled players compete at 9-ball.