How to Play Billiards

Learning how to play billiards can provide you endless hours of entertainment, and give you something fun to do while hanging out with friends. Billiards is fairly simple to understand, but it can take a lifetime to truly master the game.

Getting Started
If you want to begin playing billiards, you need a few basic pieces of billiards equipment: billiards cues, a billiards table and billiard balls. Some real enthusiasts have extra cues and racks, but these basics are all you need to get started. Pool halls and bars often have everything you need to play, but experienced players prefer using their own cues.

A billiards table may range in size from 3.5 x 7 feet at the small end to 5 x 10 feet at the large end. When shopping for a billiards table, it's important to find a table that's absolutely flat and has good cloth, so the balls run true and the table doesn't change the shots.

Playing in Public
You don't have to buy a pool table to get started playing. If you're interested in learning how to play billiards but don't want to spend all that cash, or simply don't have the space, head to your local billiards hall. As you get better, you might want to buy your own billiards cues to bring along when you play so you can ensure consistency in your shots and improve control in your game. You'll generally pay a per-game fee to play at bars and a per-hour fee to play in billiard halls. Keep an eye out for discounted time in pool halls, which provides a great opportunity for solo practice.

Know the Games
When you're playing billiards, you can play several different variants.

  • 8-ball: This classic billiards game uses all 16 balls. Each person or team attempts to hit all of their object balls into the pockets using the cue ball. One person or team aims for the solid balls (numbered 1 to 7), while the other person or team shoots for the striped balls (9 to 15). Once the team has hit all of their balls into the pockets, they attempt to hit the black 8-ball into the pocket. The balls need to be racked in a set sequence of stripes and solids, though they don't need to be arranged numerically. If you sink a ball on the break, that determines the set (stripes or solids) that you'll be shooting. If you sink one of each, you can choose which set of balls to play. If you fail to pocket a ball on the break, your opponent gets to decide which set of balls to shoot.
  • 9-ball: This game is a popular tournament game and is usually a called game, in which players must describe their shots before they make them. Only nine balls and the cue ball are used, and the balls are racked in a diamond shape with the nine ball in the center and the one ball at the front. In nine ball, players must always hit the lowest-numbered ball on the table first, but they don't have to pocket the balls in sequence, so a skilled player could hit the one ball into the nine ball and pocket it. The game ends when the nine ball is pocketed.
  • Straight Pool: This game uses all 15 balls, which are typically racked with the eight ball in the center and the one and five balls on opposite corners at the back of the rack. Players or teams take turns sinking balls, gaining a point for each ball pocketed, until a predetermined score is reached.

Turn to the Pros to Learn Technique
You can begin playing billiards immediately, but without some effort, you won't learn the technique that enables you to win games consistently and decisively. When you're ready to get serious with your billiards playing, consult how-to books, videos and online resources.

Regular practice and drills are also a must to learn how to make shots. You'll find ideas for good drills online; one common drill has the player line up the balls a few inches apart from one another in a straight line down the center of the table, then pocket them one by one from one end to the other.

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