Welcome to the ultimate beginner’s guide on how to play pool, also known as pocket billiards.
It’s one of our favorite social hobbies, and we were very excited by the idea of creating this go-to guide for newcomers!
We are going to cover the basics of this beautiful game and cover everything you need to know to get started, including:
- the equipment and how to use it,
- the basic rules of pool,
- how to play the actual game,
- how to get better over time and improve fast,
- a bunch of other useful tips and tricks to help you on your way.
Without further ado, let’s get started!
The Origins of Billiards
Since you are trying to understand the ins and outs of billiards, we might as well start with a quick history lesson.
Don’t scroll away! There is a ton of interesting stuff here, and we promise – we will keep it short.
It’s surprising to know that pool has been around as early as the 14th century in France! However, back then, the French used to play it outside.
Yes, you read that right!
The first form of billiards was an outdoor game, and people played it on a lawn. It was a game similar to croquet.
Slowly, they replaced the fresh air and grass for the smooth green cloth and fancy wooden tables. The game started to take shape more similar to a game we all love so much today.
Since its inception, the game of billiards has surely evolved more than we know. Initially, there was much inconsistency in the exact rules and regulations. The game had many forms, but it is good to know that the basics have pretty much always stayed the same.
So, where did the name pool come from?
You may be familiar with the term – to pool money. It means putting together money from different people to create a collective bet of sorts. That is exactly where the now most commonly used name of the game originates.
Back in the 19th century, Americans loved horse racing. To pass the time between the races, they played billiards. Soon, the new name was born, and the game started gaining popularity rapidly.
A century or two later, and here you are – reading this amazing post about it! Let’s keep going.
Understand the Basics
Before you can start learning how to play pool, you need to understand the basics.
As is true with any solid game or sport, you can’t simply dive in without the proper equipment.
There are three main parts of the equipment that you should familiarize yourself with, and you will be ready to play in no time.
#1 – The Table
You might be wondering what a bland green table might hide for it to require a separate section. You’ll be surprised to know that that very plain appearing table holds many positions and strategies within its sneaky folds.
The pool table has six pockets. You will notice that four are in the corners and two in the middle of the long sides. These are the holes in which the balls are supposed to go.
The interior sides of the table are rails. There is the foot, the head, and the side rail. You use the rails to your advantage by mastering how to bounce the balls of them while playing the game.
You will also notice markings along the sides of the table. There are six on each of the long rails and three on the foot and the head rail. They are usually marked as diamonds, and they indicate important positions for the table’s geometry. You don’t have to worry about these until you reach a more advanced level.
Most pool tables fit three standard sizes:
- 3.5 x 7 feet;
- 4 x 8 feet;
- 4.5 x 9 feet.
However, you can find pool tables in many custom sizes, too.
They are green because the game of billiards initially used to be played outside on the grass. Once it transformed and people started playing it on tables indoors, they chose green cloth as the material for the table.
However, nowadays, blue tables are rising in popularity, especially in big tournaments. The reasons are practical – the blue makes the balls more visible and the game easier to follow when watching the game on your TV.
The average price of a proper pool table will run anywhere between $1500 and $3000. If you are on a budget, there are decent tables for as low as $800.
#2 – The Balls
What you should probably know is that you will be playing with 2.25-inch diameter balls. They are made from a particular type of dense plastic that makes them so hard and solid.
There will be a total of 16 balls on the table:
- seven solid ones (numbered 1-7);
- seven striped ones (number 9-15);
- the black eight-ball (number 8);
- and the white cue ball. It is slightly larger and heavier than the other balls.
Before you start a game, you will put all the balls (except the cue ball) in a triangular rack. It will help you set them in the correct position to begin playing the game.
If you are serious about getting your pool setup at home, we recommend this great guide on choosing the best billiard balls.
#3 – The Stick / Pool Cue
A pool cue is a stick you use to play the game. Since the game has two players, naturally, two cue sticks are mandatory for every pool game.
You shouldn’t bother too much with what kind of cue you are playing with when you are just learning the game. However, it would be best if you were comfortable with using whichever one you choose.
The standard pool cue is 57-59 inches.
However, there are many dimensions available. If you are shorter, you should use a shorter cue (even as short as 50 inches). Likewise, if you are a tall person, you might feel comfortable using a 60-inch cue.
Heavier pool cues are not necessarily better. It all depends on your personal preference. You should feel comfortable enough with your cue not to have trouble controlling the cue ball while still generating enough power.
Now that you understand the equipment required to play the game – let’s see how to use it.
Naturally, you can’t play until you have learned the rules.
There are many game variations, but we will be looking at the standard 8-ball pool here.
How do you play the game?
You push the cue ball into the object balls with your cue and try to put them into the pockets. The goal is to pocket all balls from your targeted group (solid or striped) before your opponent does so with theirs. You win the game when you pocket all seven balls and then end with the black one.
Here is a rundown of the gameplay:
- You start the game by racking the fifteen balls in a triangular rack. You can place the balls in various ways, but the black 8-ball must be in the middle of the triangle. You remove the rack once the balls are in position.
- One of the two players starts the game by performing a break. This is where you push the cue ball hard into the rack. The goal is to spread all the balls as evenly across the table as possible. You may even pocket a few balls while doing so.
- You claim the ball type (solid or striped) which you pocketed. If one ball of each type went in, you get to choose which group you prefer. Then, you shoot again.
- If you sink another ball, you keep playing until you miss. After that, it’s your opponent’s turn.
- You take turns pocketing the balls until one player has no balls from their group left on the table. The game ends by sinking the black one.
- The first person to pocket the 8-ball wins the game!
However, if you put the black ball in the hole before all the other ones, you lose the game on the spot!
The other rules you should be aware of are:
- Pocketing the cue ball or having it jump off the table is called a scratch. If you do this, you lose your turn, and your opponent places the cue ball on the table and continues playing.
- If you accidentally pocket one of your opponent’s balls, it counts as if they did it themselves.
- If a scratch happens at the same time when you pocketed the black ball, you also lose the game automatically.
Okay, we are getting the hang of the fundamentals pretty good so far. The only thing left is to learn some useful tips and tricks to play better.
How to Play Pool
Nothing can help you understand the basics faster than this great video explaining the fundamentals:
- what is a bridge, and how to choose the best one for you;
- how to maintain a solid stance while you play;
- and a consistently good stroke.
Take a look, and you will know everything needed to master the basics and improve rapidly:
We know you are an ambitious person, and you won’t settle for just learning how to play. You want to know how to be great at the game.
#1 – It takes time.
The most obvious advice we can give you is that you have to put in the time. Mastery doesn’t come overnight, and you will have to play many games before you start getting exceptionally good.
#2 – Focus.
The best investment you can make in a game of pool is your focus.
Don’t derail yourself simply by thinking that your theoretical knowledge can help you get results. Having and retaining focus at all times in the game will benefit you more than anything.
Paying attention guarantees that you can assess all the potential moves, game-winning strikes, and angles that might go unnoticed by your opponent.
#3 – Consistency wins the race.
Since pool is completely a game of skill and strategy, practice and consistency is the only thing that can guarantee that you will get better.
Also, as a beginner, winning should not be your prime focus. However, it is one of the perks that could come your way if you keep working on your skills consistently. The bonus is – you will probably have a bit more fun if you win more games!
We would like to hear what you have to say.
What is your experience with the game of pool? Do you play with your friends at the local club? Are you looking to get a table for your home?
Either way, let us know by leaving a comment down below!