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Pool Terms: Basic Billiards Terminology for Beginners

Updated: Feb 26

red felt pool table in industrial modern room

Billiards, or pool, is a skill-based game played in bars, game rooms, and pool halls worldwide. Pro billiards players practice for years to reach their level of play, but even a first-time pool player can enjoy this classic game. Sinking a ball into the pocket is a satisfying experience, especially with your friends and family around the table.

If you're considering trying the game, you should understand pool terminology. Knowing how to refer to specific items and areas of the table can help you avoid confusion and keep the rules straight. Imperial has compiled this guide to help you understand the most critical billiards terms and phrases to get right into the action.

Pool Terms and Billiard Terminology

Here are some standard pool terms to help you better understand the game:

8-Ball: This is the most common version of pool, so it is crucial to know some 8-ball terminology if you want to get into billiards. It involves two players, and each tries to get all their balls into the holes before sinking the 8-ball to win the game. In this version, one player is stripes and the other is solids.

9-Ball: In this version of pool, the players attempt to hit the balls in numerical order instead of dividing them by solids or stripes. The player who hits the 9-ball into a hole first wins.

Cue stick: This pool term refers to the long wooden stick you use throughout the game to hit the cue ball and sink colored balls into the holes.

Chalk: You can find these small chalk cubes around pool tables, bars, and pool halls. You use them to apply chalk to the tip of your cue stick. This helps keep the cue stick from sliding off the cue ball during your shots.

Cue ball: You strike the cue ball with your cue stick to send it rolling into the colored, numbered balls on the pool table. The cue ball is white or off-white but can also have spots. The cue ball is slightly larger and heavier than the other balls on the table.

Object balls: This billiards term is used to describe the non-cue balls on the pool table. They're numbered, going up to 15 for a standard game of 8-ball. Object balls are either completely colored or have a colored stripe around the center of the ball.

Solids: Numbered one through eight, these object balls have a solid color. When playing 8-ball, players might also use the pool term "lows" to refer to solids.

Stripes: Numbered nine through 15, these object balls have a band of color around the middle. Players refer to them as "highs" in 8-ball.

Bridge: The bridge supports the cue stick as you line up to take your shot. The bridge can either be one of your hands or a separate device that guides the cue stick toward the cue ball during your shot.

Rack: This pool term refers to the triangle-shaped device used to align the object balls at the start of a game. You can also use this billiards term as a verb, such as, "Would you like me to rack the balls first?"

Scratch: A scratch occurs when the cue ball goes into a pocket. When this happens, the player who scratched must place one of their previously pocketed balls back on the table. The opponent then gets to retrieve the cue ball and put it on the table for their next shot.

Pocket a ball: When you strike the cue ball into an object ball, and the object ball goes into a pocket, you've pocketed a ball. You're one step closer to winning the game. Your turn continues after pocketing a ball, allowing you to take more shots — unless you scratched during your turn.

Pool Table Terms

Different parts of the billiards table have varying functions, so it's essential to know your pool table terms. That way, you can ensure you and your friends are playing a fair game. Here are some of the pool table terms you should know:

Cushions: These are triangular strips of rubber covered in cloth that outline the table's perimeter. Many players also use the pool term "rails" to refer to these. 

Long rails: Players also call these "side rails." These are the two longer sides of the pool table.

Short rails: This pool term identifies the two shorter sides of the pool table. Each one has a specific name.

Foot rail: This is the short rail found on the side of the table where you rack the object balls.

Head rail: This pool table term refers to the short rail found on the opposite side of the table of the foot rail.

Pockets: These are the holes found within the pool table rails. They are located at the table's four corners and in the center of both long rails. These are where you'll try to sink the object balls to win the game.

Sights: These are shapes found in the wood of the rails spaced evenly between all six pockets. They come in handy if players need a visual tool to help them line up their shots.

Strings: There are a few pool terms to know regarding strings. These are imaginary lines on the pool table. The "long string" runs down the middle of the pool table, parallel with the long rails. The "head string" is an invisible line running parallel to the head rail, and the "foot string" is the line running parallel to the foot rail. The "center string" is the line connecting the two middle pockets.

Spots: There are two visible, round spots on the pool table's surface. The "head spot" intersects the long string and the head string. The "foot spot" intersects the long string and the foot string. The foot string is where you rack the balls at the start of the game.

Miscellaneous Pool Terminology 

Here are some additional billiards terms that might come in handy as you continue playing and increasing your skill — including some new types of pool shots you can practice:

Backspin: This occurs when a ball spins in the opposite direction it travels after the shot.

Call shot: This pool terminology refers to a version of the game in which the players describe what will happen on the table before they take their shots. When playing 8-ball, many people like to call the 8-ball shot but keep all other shots in the game uncalled.

Break shot: After the opposing player racks the balls, you perform a break shot. This shot sends the clustered object balls in all directions, setting the tone for the rest of the game.

Breakout shot: This is like the break shot, except it can happen at any point in the game when you want to separate a cluster of object balls. Use it to make future shots a bit easier.

Bank shot: Perform a bank shot by hitting the cue ball off a cushion before it makes contact with the intended object ball.

Jump shot: This pool term is used when a player strikes the cue ball at a downward angle to cause the strike's momentum to launch the cue ball into the air. Use this shot tactfully to hop over your opponent's object ball and strike one of yours. 

Check out our Pool Table Buying Guide for more information on pool tables and billiards terminology. 

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1 Comment

sherwin acruz
sherwin acruz
4 days ago

This is a great resource for beginners who want to learn about basic billiards terminology. It covers the different parts of a pool table, the names of various shots, and the rules of two popular games, 8-ball and 9-ball.

Learn more about billiards here.

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