Learn How to PlayThree Ball

A Fun And Fast Game That Provides Belly Laughs And Pool Insight

three ball, pool gambling, billiards, pool
Three Ball is pure fun!. (c) Matt Sherman

Three Ball is an outstanding party game, one that lends itself to 8 or more players at a single table. It goes fast and is almost as interesting to watch as to play. The more players the better for a party!

The rules are simple but pay attention to the subtle differences between other classics such as Chicago Pool or 8-Ball, and note how much fun you can have with this game’s more wild rule selections.

The Rules

1. Set any three object balls into the head racking position, then break from the kitchen as illustrated.

2. Here’s a fun rule. Short of sharking the player with distractions during their stroke, any amount of discussion, bargaining and advice can be shared with the player. 3. The player has one inning or turn consisting of four (4) strokes only to attempt to pocket all three balls. As in golf, the player’s score is the number of strokes taken. The best possible score of “1” is achieved with the rare feat of sinking all three balls on the break. A “5” is awarded if the players fails in 4 turns or less.

4. Only scratching the cue ball or jumping it off the table to the floor ends your turn. There is no foul taken in missing a rail or even an object ball with the cue ball.

In other words, the cue ball need not touch a ball and no ball need be driven to a cushion. If you don’t scratch or knock the cue ball from the table, your turn continues. The ability, therefore to set cue ball position with a shot illegal in other games is powerful and should not be overlooked.

5. Each player takes one full turn and the lowest score wins. Ties are carried over, making for a wild game indeed as you’ll see below.

Tie scores, risking wild combination and carom shots on all the balls, and a chance to “table talk” and offer the player ongoing if unwanted advice make for some of the most fun you can have in pool. Consider the example of 8 players who gamble at Three Ball:

Eight players put in a token $1 each on their next rack of Three Ball, providing an $8 pot for the winner. The first 4 players, “A, B, C and D” earn the worst score of 5 points, failing to pocket their balls in four strokes or less...

The fifth player “E” scratches the cue ball on the break and also scores 5. Of the remaining 3 players, “F” takes all four strokes for a 4 and “G” than “H” tie with the low score of 3 strokes each.

With no clear winner, everyone puts in a second dollar and tries again, this time for $16. Now’s where the fun really begins.

Our 8 “pool hustlers” are in it again, now for $16 to the lucky winner. Player A shoots a 4, breaking no balls in than pocketing each of the remaining balls with his next three strokes.

Player B steps to the table again and here’s where it gets crazy and fun:

Player B wants to break hard and shoot for a low score of 1, 2 or 3 to win, however;

Player A is cheering for B to screw up and shoot a 5, and;

The other six players will do everything in their power to ensure that B scores a 4 and ties Player A so that A can’t possibly win but they can by scoring below 4.

Here’s Where It Gets Even More Fun

When there is a low score on the board, all the other players not shooting use psychology, reverse psychology and every trick they can muster to get that tie achieved...

What is shouted is often sound if at other times hilarious advice. You can see how smart a player is as they voice aloud their normally silent pool thoughts.

Normally, you are happy to see an opponent scratch on the break or break weakly, now you advise against it like you’re being paid to coach pool (which you are).

You avoid having your “new best friend, Player B” make a risky shot that could bring a low, winning score. Shouts of “No, dummy, aim a little more to the left!” and “You keep scratching in the side pocket. Break with more backspin this time!” and etc. are heard.

A Typical Three Ball Switch Moment

At what I call a “Three Ball Switch”, everyone in the game changes their motivation and attitude due to a change in the score.

Let’s say Player A scored 4 then Player B tied with 4 in the scenario just described. Now everybody else drops all pretense of friendliness toward Player C. They don’t need his lousy 4 anymore so a scratched or jumped cue ball will do them very nicely, thanks.

And if Player C does beat the tie and scores 3, then Players E through H are now best buddies with incoming Player D, and do all they can to root him on to score 3 for a tie. A 2 is a rare score, so if someone gets a 3, everyone puts in $1 again and play continues for $24.

For about $9, you can play Three Ball with a group of 7 friends for a couple of hours, with a chance to win $30 or more, too.

Multi-Ball Madness

Another fine aspect of Three Ball is in watching players risk it all on one or two strokes. Say you break and make nothing on the next two strokes as well, but you need a 4 to win. Will you quit or go for it?

It takes rare insight and a bit of character to try to sink three balls or even two as needed. I can tell much about my opponent from their choices in this desperate situation. Will they give up or settle in?

Learn more about shot making in general.