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Pool/Billiards/8 ball break query


I noticed that an answer to the question about balls pocketed are not spotted. A weird variation came up in a game recently. The breaker pocketed both the 8 ball and cue ball on the break. Big argument ensued. When we looked at BCA rules it said in that instance the incoming player can choose to spot the 8 ball or to have the balls re-racked and then break themselves. So it seemed like to us the Automatic response of either the first breaker wins the game because the 8 ball was pocketed or they lose because the cue ball was pocketed, didn't apply. What's your take on this?

Hi Terry.

As you note from BCA rules:

"2. If you pocket the 8-ball on the break and foul, your inning ends. Your opponent may:

a. have the 8-ball spotted and take ball in hand;
b. re-rack the balls and break"

I guess what you're really asking is why is this the rule — what makes it a good rule. In order to answer this, let me first have you step back and examine why it should ever be the case that you would win or lose by pocketing the 8-ball on the break. Most people are used to this but have not examined it; thought about whether it makes sense. So let's start there.

In pretty much all sets of authoritative rules played by aficionados and professionals, you do not win (or lose) if the 8-ball is pocketed (cf. IPT rules).

That you do is chiefly a bar and recreational player rule, and it varies. In some local rules it's counted as a win and in some a loss. The simple fact that the same event is given opposite outcomes in one rule set versus another says something about how arbitrary it is. There is little doubt that the rule (of either flavor) developed in some measure due to a mechanical restriction of coin-operated tables—if you pocket the 8-ball on the break you can't get it back (without putting in a new set of coins and paying again), so it became necessary for that poor result to not leave the players in limbo, and feeling like they had their money stolen. Thus, this illogical rule developed that awards mostly luck in the case of the 8-ball being pocketed on the break resulting in a win, or punishes mostly bad luck in the case of the 8-ball being pocketed on the break resulting in a loss.

I say mostly because there is some degree of skill involved. When it is played that you win when pocketing the 8-ball, you increase your odds by delivering the cue ball accurately with a solid hit; you may increase your odds by a side of rack break, but even when done perfectly it's a statistics game and not any great showing of skill.

A related point is that while you decrease your odds of scratching on the break by the same methods of control, it's still ultimately a crap shoot. Not so later in the game. After the smash and attempt-to-wrest-control-from-randomness of the break, you are the engineer of your fate.

So, it makes sense that you would lose when scratching while pocketing the 8-ball after the break, but would not when you scratch on the break and pocket the 8-ball, which after the explanation above, you should view as two possible chaotic eventualities playing out, and thus as more of a fluke than anything else.

All this is to say, the ideal is to maximize the role of skill, and rewarding or punishing players on matters that are in large part luck-driven diminishes the role of skill overall, so the rule as stated is a good one.

Nevertheless, luck remains a part of play, and so I will keep my usual sign off:

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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