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Pool/Billiards/8-ball shot dispute


QUESTION: My fiancÚ and I play 8-ball, but we don't use ball-in-hand rules.  We have both played this way for about 7 years.  Neither of us ever heard of "ball-in-hand" until meeting each other here in The Villages, Florida, so we just keep on playing the way we were taught to play decades ago.  

Our dispute has arisen over the fact that my fiancÚ, once he gets down to the 8 ball, maintains that it's okay to shoot the cue ball into the 3 ball to get my ball into a pocket that's blocking his final shot.  I get one more play, then he shoots the 8 ball into the now-unblocked pocket to win the game.  Has this way of clearing the pocket with the 8 ball ever been a legitimate shot?

ANSWER: Hi Alli,

What you describe is a perfect example of why the ball in hand rule is now used. In eightball the first rule of play is you have to hit your own ball first; always. So it is a foul for your  fiancÚ to hit your ball first in any circumstance. But when you play with no penalty for the foul, the foul doesn't mean anything.

Back in the day if your opponent's last ball(s) was behind the head string, and you didn't have a shot, you could shoot the cue ball into a pocket, scratching on purpose. That gave your opponent ball in hand behind the head string but they couldn't shoot directly at their ball(s); they had to kick down table and come back at them. Later the rule was you would spot the ball nearest the head string and shoot at it from behind the line. But those shots are no bargain either and, if other balls are near the spot, they can be impossible.

In situations like these it used to be that a player could benefit from intentionally hitting an illegal shot. Today, in all league and professional play the ball in hand rule is used largely to stop a player from benefiting from an illegal shot. In your example the only ball on the table your fiancÚ could legally hit first is the eight; failure to do so would give you ball in hand anywhere on the table.  So if he intentionally hits your 3 ball into the hole you take ball in hand and do whatever you want as long as you hit your own ball first.

At first (back in the 80's) I didn't like the ball in hand rule. But it sure keeps players honest about iffy shots like the one you describe; I never play serious pool any other way now.

Play well and enjoy,


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Bill - I'm so sorry.  I had a typo in my question!  I never meant to type "3 ball" at all anywhere!  Let me start over and revise the question.  

Picture this:  One of my balls, say the 7, lies directly in front of a pocket.  The 8 ball is right behind the 7. After shooting his last ball in, my fiancÚ goes for the final 8 ball.  Instead of trying to shoot the 8 ball away from the blocked pocket, he shoots the cue ball into the 8 ball and the 8 sinks my 7. (Since we are pretty much "duffers", we play that the first one to get the 8 ball in wins.  You don't lose if you miss getting the 8 in.  Play continues.) So now I get another shot at one of my remaining balls.  If I miss and can't go for the 8 ball myself, he takes another shot at the 8 that's now in front of the pocket. How is this fair, after that combo shot with the 8 into the 7?  I would think he should either lose or he should have to spot the 8 ball before shooting again.  

I wish I could get him to learn the ball-in-hand rules, but he won't.  This is the only way he'll play.  And since we're improvising on the way the game ends, I'm not sure you'll even offer your opinion!!  What a mess.

Hi again, Alli,

The requirement is always the same to make a legal shot in 8 ball. You have to hit your own ball first, then, any ball must touch a rail or fall in a pocket. The cue ball, of course, can't fall in a pocket, that would be a scratch, but it can touch a rail to make a shot legal.

So shooting one of his balls (in this case the 8 because all other balls of his suit are already pocketed) into your 7 ball and pocketing it meets the requirements of a legal shot. He hit his ball first and *any* ball touched a rail or fell in a pocket. This is a perfectly legal shot.

I should say, if the angle is right an experienced player can stroke so that after hitting the 8 and making the 7, the 8 follows the 7 into the same pocket. This is also legal and wins the game if the 8 was called in that pocket. In 8 ball all that is necessary is that you call the ball you intend to pocket, hit one of your own balls first, and pocket the ball you called. The called ball could miss by a mile, hit any number of other balls, and go four rails around the table; if it falls where you called it, it's good and you continue to shoot.

So legally striking the 8 ball, knocking your ball into the pocket, and having the 8 ball follow it in is a good shot; actually, it's a great shot.

Ball in hand is easy enough to learn though. Just a couple of things to remember.

1) For a shot to be legal you have to contact one of your own balls first. After that initial contact *any ball* has to touch a rail or fall in a pocket.

2) Any way a shot fails to meet item #1 causes it to be a foul and gives the other player ball in hand anywhere on the table.

3) The only exception is on the break. If the cue scratches on the break the incoming player gets ball in hand but is required to shoot from behind the head string.



P.S. If he absolutely refuses to play with the ball in hand rule, even just some of the time because you want to learn it, are ya sure he's the one for you? Just sayin'. I've been married almost 40 years and would be willing to play by any crazy rule my wife wanted to try. Between the two of you it should be about fun as much as competition. My opinion only. :D


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Bill Newsted


I can answer questions related to shot-making, aiming, position play, strategies, practice, mental preparation and the psychology of the game. Also, rules as they vary from venue to venue and how to become a winning player. I have experience recovering and maintaining tables and will also answer questions related to cues and billiard equipment. However, I prefer not to make brand recommendations. I do not offer information identifying old tables and equipment or estimating their values.


I have played over forty years in every state in the US (except Alaska). My experience is largely in pool rooms but I have also played extensively on bar tables and in league organizations. I have directed numerous tournaments up to the professional level and have played several world champion players. I am a former Billiard Congress of America instructor.


B.S. in Visual Communication M.A. in Education: Career and Technology Education

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