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Pool/Billiards/Safety shot on black ball


Hi Pool_teacher, I have a question that has been going around my head for some time and I couldn't find the answer anywhere. My opponent has only the black ball left on the table. I take my turn and call a "safety shot" so that he gets snookered and fails to hit his black loosing the game. Is this legal ?. Is it legal to call a safety shot when the opponent's only ball left is the black ?

Hi Mario.

Yes, it's legal, except that it only makes sense if you are playing with all authoritative rules, and what a safety shot is , is generally completely misunderstood by "bar players" who play by the chaos that passes for rules in informal venues.

First you must understand that there are two meanings of the word safety. Safety usually simply means any shot where you are engaging in defensive play and intentionally not pocketing one of your own balls to continue your inning. You never need to call this type of safety. The second kind is a called safety which has a defined meaning in eight ball and I'll get into that later.

The rub on defensive play is that you must complete a legal shot, and without the essential rule defining what a legal shot is (and the penalty for failure to comply) the game becomes very illogical and unfair. This is why safeties have a reputation and are called "dirty pool" by so many amateurs, when safety play is such a integral part of the game.

To complete a legal shot, the cue ball must contact one of a player's object balls first (a ball of your group, or the eight ball if all of your group is down), and then some ball (including the cue ball) must strike a rail or be pocketed.

Failure to meet this rule is a foul, with ball in hand for the opponent (i.e., they may pick up the cue ball and place it anywhere on the table--not behind the line, as is often played in informal rules).

Another rule you must know is that you do not lose the game if you fail to contact the eight ball; it's just ball in hand for the opponent.

So in your scenario, you can certainly play this kind of a safe, but to not commit a foul, you must complete a legal shot. Okay, so you do, and you've snookered the opponent from seeing the eight ball. He kicks at his eight ball; fails to touch it; it's a foul (not loss of game); you get ball in hand; now you need to run out.

The called safety in eight ball is completely different. A called safety is when you want to pocket one of your own balls but don't wish to go again.It is a relatively rare shot used for strategic advantage in such situations as when you have a ball in the jaws of a pocket but there's no way to play position on the next ball, and if you sink your ball you will normally be required to continue your inning. If you call a safety, you can pocket your ball and not go again, thus leaving the cue ball right there, having already seen that the opponent will be snookered by that position, and you might get ball in hand on the next shot. If the opponent then fails to touch one of his own balls and thereafter get a rail or pocket it, you will get the opportunity to run out or advance your position on his foul.

There are numerous other difference between what is commonly played in bars and authoritative rules

I invite you to read the BCAPL (Official Rules of the Billiard Congress of America Pool League), the best most logical and nuanced ruleset there is:

Once you come into the fold and start playing by these rules, you will begin to see that you were playing some form of checkers when chess was always available.

Best of luck,

Pool Teacher


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I have wide ranging knowledge of all the cue sports, with the exception of snooker. I can answer most questions related to playing any of the standard games such as straight pool (14.1 continuous) eight-ball, nine-ball, one-pocket and 3-cushion billiards and the variations on these games. Questions welcomed regarding technique, strategy and rules, history of the sport, trick shots, the mental game, practice, practice drills, pool/billiards publications, and so on. I DO NOT DO CUE OR TABLE APPRAISALS OR IDENTIFICATION. See below.


I have been a dedicated player of pool and 3-cushion Billiards for many years. I have given lessons professionally and have run and participated in too many tournaments to name, including professional events such as the U.S. Open. I am also a cue collector and student of all aspects of the game. Note: I was starting to get far too many questions about pool cue (and pool table) valuation and identification and will no longer take these questions, sorry. I am a player and historian of the sport and the heart of my expertise is not product comparison or appraisal.


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