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What is 9 Ball?

By S. Mithra
Updated May 17, 2024
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One game of pocket billiards is 9 ball. As the name suggests, this popular game of pool uses 9 balls plus the cue ball that are pocketed in order from lowest to highest. Many players can play 9 ball, which makes it a popular choice for parties. It can be fun, entertaining recreation, or a serious sport that demands skill and concentration.

Like any variation of pool, 9 ball begins with racking the balls. In a diamond rack, place the 1-ball at one tip of the diamond and the 9 ball in the center, with the others randomly arranged. The first shooter is decided by chance. The shooter must break the rack by either pocketing a ball or bouncing at least four balls off the rails. The winner is the first one to pocket the 9 ball. This can be done after all the other balls have been pocketed, or by hitting a lower numbered ball into the 9 ball in a combination.

Now play has begun. The shooter must use the cue ball to hit the balls in order, from lowest to highest, but the balls do not need to be pocketed in order. The shooter loses his or her turn if a shot is missed or foul is committed. Missing a shot means no ball is pocketed. Examples of fouls are the balls bouncing up off the table's surface, the cue ball getting pocketed, the shooter touching or moving balls with hands or the cue, or the cue ball hitting a ball that isn't the lowest numbered on the table. A game can be over quickly if, after the break, the shooter pockets the 9 ball using the 1-ball.

When another player takes over, they may place the cue ball anywhere on the table to line up a shot. However, the shooter must stand in the same place as the previous shooter. Play continues until someone pockets the 9 ball. If any shooter commits three fouls in one game, they must forfeit. You can combine many games to form a match, where one player wins the best out of an odd number of games.

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Discussion Comments
By anon214681 — On Sep 15, 2011

If your opponent fails to contact the object ball or scratches, the situation is called "ball-in-hand". You are indeed free to place the cue ball in any position on the table. I have never heard of a requirement to stand in the same position as the previous player, though. Maybe I've been playing it wrong all along, or that rule is just a variation of the game.

I've also learned over the years that 9 ball can be a game of "leave strategy" as much as sinking balls. If I can somehow manage to make clean contact with the object ball, I'm going to leave my opponent in a pretty good lurch for his own shot. If you let a good 9 ball player have ball-in-hand, he'll most likely run the table on you. Even if you have no chance of sinking the object ball or the 9 ball in combination, think about a good defensive safety shot to avoid losing the game.

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