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Pool Table Etiquette Tips

Updated on March 31, 2015

Pool, which is one of the many varieties of billiards, has been around for centuries, and the different ways that people play are nearly as diverse as the people who play them. All throughout the U.S., there are billiards halls and bars with pool tables surrounded by players of varying skill levels and attitudes. Each player is as distinct in these areas as they are in appearance. However, there are some common guidelines which can be followed by all players to ensure that fun is had by everyone, even those unfortunate enough to be on the losing side of a match.

Common pool etiquette is pretty universal. Organizations like the APA (American Poolplayers Association) and others have more stringent rules regarding the treatment of players and following of the rules, but outside of league play, there are still some guidelines which can be followed to avoid causing problems (as contests often do).

Do unto others

The most important thing to keep in mind when playing pool with someone, particularly someone you don't know, is simply to treat them like you'd want to be treated. If you're in a bar, it might also help to remember that alcohol can render some people less receptive to boastful behavior, so it's typically best to be a good sport about your shots, whether or not you do well.

Aside from that, I've prepared a list of common rules and points of etiquette. Some of the following pieces of advice might seem obvious at first, but it can't hurt to spread this kind of advice; there are a surprising number of people who could use a good coaching.

  • When approaching the table for the first time, make sure that it is not currently claimed by someone. Many times, people will play matches and leave with the winner "owning" the table. In order for a match to take place without them, they'd either have to be beaten or give up the table.
  • If there is currently a match being played, ask them if you can play the winner. If they say yes (or you don't feel like asking), place a quarter on the table. Some tables will have a rack for the coins; for others, simply place the quarter along the edge, preferably above the coin receptacle if one is present.
  • For any new game, the winner of the previous game breaks the rack. However, a person is not supposed to break their own rack, so their opponent must rack the balls.
  • If both players are new, a common method for determining the initial winner is to shoot a lag. Each player sets a ball within the kitchen on an otherwise empty table. They then shoot at approximately the same time. The object of the shot is to bounce off the far rail and stop your ball as close to the near rail as possible. Whoever stops closest wins.
  • Be honest. No one wants to play with someone who tries to cheat at something as insignificant as a friendly game of pool. Take the loss and play again - it's the only way to get better


Don't unto others

There are also some things which you should be careful of besides interacting with the other player. Don't:

  • place food or drink on the table. The material is felt; it rips, stains, and is deformed very easily, and that's not a bill you want to get slapped with.
  • attempt jump or masse shots unless you know what you're doing; the likelihood that you will instead damage the table or the pool cue is higher than you'd think.
  • stand within 2-3 feet of the table while the other person is shooting.
  • talk to someone who is shooting.
  • move across the shooter's line of site. That is to say, don't walk in front of them on the other side of the table.
  • forget to put your stick away. In particular, do not lay the stick down with the center unsupported.

Just have fun, and let others

While these guidelines are pretty universal and most would be followed under ideal circumstances, in reality, it boils down to whether or not everyone is having a good time. If someone isn't enjoying themselves, then something is wrong (or someone's a sore loser...), because a game - or two, or five - of pool can be a very enjoyable, relaxing, and gratifying experience.

So, have fun!


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