How to Play Pool (And Look Like You Know What You’re Doing): An Animated Visual Guide

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Andrew is the founder and editor of Primer. He's a graduate of American University and currently lives in Los Angeles. Read more about Primer on our About page. On Instagram: @andrewsnavely and @primermagazine.

  • SenorPilkington

    These are really good tips with excellent illustrations to emphasize the point. Might help my next game of pool.
    Minor nitpick, under the Push Out, you have “the” twice in the sentence with parentheses.

    • Andrew

      Blast! Thank you, I’ve fixed it.

  • DaveNJ

    I think this is a great idea but I’m afraid that you’re too quickly going over topics that have entire books written about them. Do you want to look like you know what you’re doing or do you ACTUALLY want to know what you’re doing?

    Some of these points, while somewhat true, are not 100% true and you know what they say about a little bit of knowledge…

    What about a series of weekly articles designed to help people get into this game. Each week you can give readers something new to practice throughout the week. This way, you can go into greater detail and not have to touch briefly on some hugely important aspects of the game.

    This game is a huge part of my life and I’m more than willing to share it with anyone and everyone.

    • JCallaway

      If the point is simply to ‘look’ like you know what you’re doing–fake it ’til you make it, and all–then this guide is excellent. It covers all of the basics for how to play the most popular games of pool in the U.S., without going too in-depth. To be honest, for something like this, I thought even the description of how to use English was too much for this article–adding English is something one learns after spending time just learning to hit what you’re aiming at.

      That said, I’m a big fan of the game too, so I’d love to see a series on it.

      [Nitpick: you may want to include lagging in the section on describing who shoots first, as it’s the method used by professionals and in many amateur/bar leagues]

      • Dave S

        My thoughts exactly. We’re right on the line between fake it and actually make it, and I don’t think this blog is about faking it.

        and please please please don’t spin the cue into the chalk. paint it on. like an artist. a pool artist.

        Andrew, why don’t you let Mr. Callaway and I help you develop a weekly article?

    • Andrew

      Hey Dave,

      Thanks for the comment. You could say the same thing about virtually every article on any subject. We feature things on finance, style, self-improvement, fitness; and all have thousands of books written on them. This is just supposed to be a fun intro that covers more than what’s apparent when two friends play at a bar.

      I’d definitely be interested in a more advanced article

      • Dave S

        100% true I guess I’m just a little more invested in this topic than others.

        Perhaps you could try to focus more on series this year rather than single articles or if that’s not within the realm of the possible, can you add in links to resources where one could acquire more information on a given subject?

        • Andrew

          That’s a great idea!

        • Evan85

          There are entire books and resources and blogs on pool already, but that is the problem. I don’t want reams of technicalities about a topic from Primer; I have a great resource for that called ‘Google’. I just want a summary so I have a basic idea. E.g. I might still be a terrible pool player but at least I understand the game better.
          It’s the clear and succinct summaries that are often hardest to find.

        • FireFly

          I’ve gotta agree with Evan85, I saw this as just some basic info (as it does specifically and “look like” you know what you’re doing) for someone with casual interest. I don’t care enough to read in depth explanations of every technicality, just nice to have a slightly better idea so I look a little less completely useless on the occasional night out at a bar, haha. And I think this is accomplishes just that which I assumed is what it set out to do.

      • Tim B

        I think you have a very appropriate about of information for what I feel you were trying to convey. “Here’s the basic information to get you started and not look like a complete fool.” Granted I didn’t read what you have listed as the rules because I always just ask how the other person plays and follow those rules. As for people saying “this part has full books written on the topic”…well yeah, a truly excellent player could write a full book just on how to break, every topic can be expanded upon endlessly. I’ve been playing casually for decades and was still able to gain a bit of knowledge from your article.

  • JolleyMan

    I enjoyed the article as I play with pals at the local pub. A common debate is what actually happens when a player causes certain fouls in 8-ball. Seems like everyone has their own opinion. Unless there’s money on the line, I don’t really care and will play by my opponent’s rules (Dale Carnegie style, I guess). I would like to know, at least for posterity, what is correct with each foul.

    • Jon David Steiner

      In 8 ball, a foul committed on any ball other than the 8 ball results in a “ball in hand” for the opposing player. This means that they can place the ball wherever they want on the table, shooting which ever direction they please. Scratching or fouling on the 8 ball, however, results in a loss of the game.

      • Tom

        Actually I don’t believe fouling on the 8 ball (missing it altogether) results in a loss…it results in ball in hand. Scratching on the 8 ball does result in a loss. I seem to remember fouling three times in a row on the 8 ball resulted in a Serious Foul, which means you lose the game.

        Also, ball in hand does apply to anywhere on the table except for the break, where it results in ball in hand in the kitchen.

        • Dave S

          Tom is correct. The Billiard Congress of America’s World Standardized Rules states that a foul on the 8 ball will result in ball in hand for the incoming shooter. You can lose the game if you sink the cue ball, sink the cue ball along with the 8 ball, sink the 8 ball in the wrong pocket, jump the cue ball off the table (i think), or jump the 8 ball off the table.

          Please note that in 8 ball, there is no penalty for committing 3 consecutive fouls. In 9 ball, if you foul 3 times in a row, you lose the game however, your opponent MUST alert you that you have committed your 2nd foul BEFORE you step to the table to take your 3rd shot. If your opponent does not warn you, your foul count resets to zero.

          • JolleyMan

            Thanks, guys. These are easy enough to remember.

          • Tom

            Ahhh…must have mixed my 8 ball with 9 ball rules there. Good catch.

  • Tom

    I’ve played more than my fair share of pool over the years and my biggest tips are:

    – pick a stick with a tip as close to an even half-moon shape as you can find…I don’t worry about straightness or rolling the cue on the table. This will make it a lot easier to get the cue ball to go where you want.

    – agree on the rules before you start. Just quickly say what makes a scratch and what the penalty is. This will save a lot of hassle later. You can’t count on everyone to have memorized the United States Pool Players Association rules, and even if they have, there might be different “house rules” if you’re playing with people you just met.

    Then (since this is obviously intended for the casual, once in a while player) just drink and have fun.

    • Dave S

      Great advice, Tom. If you’re in a pinch and need to check your cue tip, hold a nickel up to it. The shape of the tip should just about match the curve of a nickel.

      • KevinC

        If I only had a nickel…

    • JolleyMan

      These are good tips. I’ve got a pretty good handle on the third point. I’ll add the others to my repertoire.

      • Tom

        Haha…the third point may be the most important.

  • Dbakeca Italia

    great tips:)

  • Nordic

    Sink on opening shot does not designate solid/stripe to the player. The first called sink does.

    But not the first time European rules differ from US. Hopefully the weird double-shot to the opponent with cue ball scratch is buried..

  • XincontriAdulti.It

    I like the article

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  • Kyle Boureston

    Such a great article. The section on “hitting the cue” was sooo helpful. Don’t add more than one cue tips length on either side. Wish I had known that. I have been jumping the ball every time I try to put english on the ball…

    • Andrew

      So glad you liked it!

  • WuZeroZero

    If I play pool, I would like to have some to teach me In the field

  • CDR

    So use to the open bridge… learned in the beginning and can never switch up my form.


  • James
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    teach lessons billiards. contact me

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  • poolguy

    theres a couple problems in the article

    1. the 8-ball rack image above is incorrectly set. this is the WPA regulated proper way to set the balls:

    2. after contact with the proper object ball, any ball (object or cue) must contact a rail or else the shot is illegal and opposing player has ball in hand
    3. illegal shots and fouls are usually penalized with ball in hand (anywhere on table), however after a break foul, the cue ball is respotted in the bulk (behind the breaking line)

  • poolguy

    oh and one more thing:

    scratching/fouling on 8-ball does NOT constitute automatic loss, but the following do:

    1. prematurely pocketing the 8
    2. pocketing both the 8 and the cue ball
    3. pocketing the 8 in the wrong pocket (which must be called before the shot)

  • Facts

    knowing what i need to do and doing it are two different stories…putting it in practice is a son of a bitch.

  • William McCosby

    Despite all the advanced players commenting on how this infographic isn’t detailed enough, I’ve been playing for a decade and a half, knew most of this and still loved reading it. Clear and concise.

    One incorrect piece of information I noticed was the point about the break in 8 ball. If you pocket a ball on the break, the table is still open, meaning whether you’re solids or stripes has not yet been decided. You’re still free to choose based on the lay of the table.

  • MikeyD22

    Nice little introductory tutorial. Very useful for beginners or people wanting to learn the very basics of the game. I’m humored by some of the comments from so-called “pool experts” who think this article wasn’t extensive enough. Evidently they don’t understand that you’re not a pool instruction website but one that is multi-faceted covering many different areas.

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  • John Fitzpatrick

    I really like this article. Just recently got access to some pool tables and a few of my friends and me play now and again. It’d be nice to get better at it. The illustrations were really helpful and I hope this can make the game a bit easier.

  • Lindsay Raschelle

    Nice tips that explains how to play pool! The lovely part is the very well upgraded illustration that makes it even better & interesting to follow, WELL DONE!

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  • Jordan Anderson

    Love the visual tips!