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How to Rack Balls in Pool [8-Ball] the Thinking Man's Game

Updated on May 11, 2019

8-Ball Beginner?

The Thinking Man's Game - Racking Explained

Billiards – (from the French: billard). Simply telling someone you play billiards will confuse them. They won’t know if you mean Billiards, Snooker, Pool or 9-Ball. Back in the ‘old days’ and in the ‘auld country’ there was no such confusion; billiards was a game played with one red ball and two white balls. Occasionally small wooden skittles were added to make the game more difficult. The only other game was snooker - a game played with a white cue ball and 21 coloured balls.

Humanity has had a fascination for ball games since the first Neanderthal ripped his enemy’s head off and blatted it with a saber toothed tiger’s molar. Over the millennium we became more civilized and invented soccer, baseball, tennis, badminton and polo – Playoff ice hockey is a step back in time, but that’s because they use a puck instead of a ball. Over the centuries we brought some of the games inside and began playing them on tables.

Snooker, is believed to have been invented by bored British Army officers stationed in India during the 19th century. There is no truth to the myth that the officers discovered a new strain of Indian elephants with multi-coloured tusks; if they had made such a discovery, they would have needed a helluva lot of cross breeding to get the striped balls needed for pool, and can you imagine the intense inter-breeding needed to get tusks with numbers on them?

With the invention of coloured television Snooker became an ‘instant rave’ - 200 years later. Snooker halls sprang up all over Britain. The most popular versions of the game on this, the Western side of the Atlantic, are – Pool (8-ball) invented in the early 1900’s and (9-ball) invented in the 1920’s.

Today, billiards is a generic term that includes not only billiards and snooker but 8-ball and 9-ball and any other number you can think of, as long as it is played on a table, needs a cue, and involves hitting balls into pockets or bouncing them off sides.

9 feet x 4.5 feet.../...29 to 31 inches high
9 feet x 4.5 feet.../...29 to 31 inches high
View from Above
View from Above


To boost your confidence during your first bewildering visit to the billiard/pool hall, here are some salient points about Pool tables and Pool balls

The Snooker tables are the largest tables, being 12’ long x 6’wide. The smaller tables are the ones you are interested in. Pool tables are 9 feet long by 4½ feet wide. The tables are always twice as long as they are wide.

When the Pool tables are being set up, there is a height tolerance to be considered. From the high point of the floor the slate-height tolerance must be between 29 inches to 31 inches high. Most tables are set up at 30 inches from the high point of the floor. The reason for this is because if the tables were any lower than that, tall people would hurt their backs as they played. The point of impact – where the balls must strike the cushion – is between 30⅞ and 32⅞ inches high.

Apart from being smaller, the pool table has fewer markings on it than a snooker table; the snooker table will have the identifying ‘D’ on the baize, but the only mark needed on a pool table is the circular black spot near one end. Ironically, the circular spot is known as the ‘pyramid spot,’ as that is where the top ball; the ball at the apex of the pyramid (triangle) must be placed.

On the diagram you can see the ‘headline’ [or head-string] – this used to be a visible mark, but after recent changes in regulations it will soon no longer be needed, and is no longer marked. However, do remember that the ‘headline’ is an imaginary line between the second diamonds.

The end nearest the spot is the ‘Foot.’ Walk to the other end of the table – The Head, and look down the table towards the spot, as if you were sitting in the driving seat of a car, and you are seeing the table from the professionals’ point of view.

When you are standing at the ‘head’ and looking down towards the ‘foot,’ think how you would describe the furthest away pocket from you on your left: it is the ‘left, foot pocket.’ The pocket up on your right hand side is the ‘right, head pocket.’

After passing on this magnificent scrap of pointless information to you, what’s the bets that you’ll still do what I did for a long time when I had to call a pocket – point your cue at a ball and then at a pocket and say, ‘That ones going in there, maybe.’

The Highs and the Lows.
The Highs and the Lows. | Source
All the Colours and Stripes - minus the cue ball and the 8-ball.
All the Colours and Stripes - minus the cue ball and the 8-ball. | Source


The balls come in two groups The low balls; 1 thru 8 and The High Balls; 9 thru 15.

For obvious reasons they are sometimes called stripes or solids. According to some sources, the first balls were made of wood. This makes sense, as it is the kind of thing civilisations would do until they ran out of forest. The next stage up, or should that be down, was taking handfuls of clay and baking them into ceramic balls. As they tended to chip and shatter easily, and as the world was running out of elephants, it was lucky for pool and elephants, that science, came up with the invention of Celluloid. Today, Pool balls are made of phenolic resin or polyester.

Not counting the cue ball – the white one without any numbers on it – there are 15 balls in the game of 8-ball. Have a look at the photographs and ponder. If the game is played between two players, and one contestant plays with the solid coloured balls and the other plays with the striped balls, how come there are 8 solid balls and 7 striped balls? There is nothing fair about that unless each player has 7½ balls each, and trying to make half a ball roll can be awkward.

The answer is that the 8-ball is neutral.

The reason for having 15 balls is probably because different numbers of balls were tried out but 15 turned out to be the most sensible, much in the same way as ice hockey is played over three periods, but soccer is played over two halves.

The photograph showing the high and low numbers in a straight line - without the 8-ball - will give you a better idea of the colours. The ball numbers tend to confuse beginners. For some odd reason, novices remember the solid coloured ball numbers, but get lost when it comes to the striped balls. They think that they will be able to read the numbers on the balls as they are playing, so why bother to remember.

But it isn’t always possible to see the numbers before a stroke, and nothing gives away the fact that you are a novice faster than your casual stroll up the table ostensibly to see the lie of the ball when everybody knows you are trying to see the number. And knowing the ball numbers is essential if you have to ‘call the shots’. (Depending on the rules of your local pool hall, you may be asked to ‘call’ the number of the ball you are about to strike and ‘call’ which pocket you intend to sink it in.)

If you are arithmetically inclined, there is a really complicated method of making sure you 'call' the correct number. Let’s say you see a striped ball at the other end of the table with a purple stripe, and you know that purple in the solid numbers is ball number 4 – all you need to do is add the neutral ball’s number – 8 to the 4 and you have 12 which is the striped ball’s number. Duh!

Do yourself a BIG favour and memorise all of the numbers; the game is complicated enough without you having to resort to mental maths at every stroke.

The Rack - nestling under the foot of the table
The Rack - nestling under the foot of the table | Source
A view of the racked balls from the side.  The yellow ball is on the spot.  The black is centred.  The bottom corners show an alternate stripe and a solid colour. The balls are still loose within the rack
A view of the racked balls from the side. The yellow ball is on the spot. The black is centred. The bottom corners show an alternate stripe and a solid colour. The balls are still loose within the rack | Source
As you can see there is a gap between the balls and the base of the rack.  This shows that the balls have been tightened towards the front.
As you can see there is a gap between the balls and the base of the rack. This shows that the balls have been tightened towards the front. | Source
This photograph shows the marks made by pushing the tightened balls up towards the spot, instead of rolling them up.
This photograph shows the marks made by pushing the tightened balls up towards the spot, instead of rolling them up. | Source

Racking the Balls

Beginners at the game of pool can get red in the face the first time they are told that it is their turn to ‘rack.’ I know - I’ve been there. You’ve seen players on other tables using racks so you know what they are; but not where they are. Apart from that, you don’t know in which order the balls have to be placed.

The rack is either a wooden or plastic triangle that holds all the balls before the ‘break,’ and it is held in its holder under the ‘foot’ of the table. The ‘rack’ is basically a triangle shaped item for collecting all the balls in one place before the start of the game. The balls must be placed in the rack the proper way – but which ‘proper’ way? Different players have different ideas of what the ‘proper’ way is.

A few years ago when I first began to play pool, I was told how I MUST prepare the balls for the rack. First of all I had to make sure the solid coloured yellow; ball number 1, was at the head of the pyramid. The solid black; number 8, had to be in the centre, and all the other balls had to be placed alternately in solids and stripe. As I said, this was how I was told it HAD to be done, and I still prepare the balls in this manner out of habit– even although I now know that some parts of the routine are unnecessary.

The rules of pool (8-ball) make only two stipulations regarding racking the balls.

1 The black must be centred - i.e. in the centre of the third row up from the base of the triangle.

2 The corners on the base of the pyramid must have opposite balls - i.e. a solid colour in one corner and a striped colour in the opposite corner.

After the break the two players have to decide whether to play Solid (Low) or Stripe (High). It is in the interest of fairness that the balls in the two base corners are opposites, as these corner balls are the most likely to be sunk on a break.

Keep the rack behind the Pyramid Spot (the spot) as you collect the 15 balls – the white cue ball is not included and is rolled up to the head of the table, ready for the player who is about to break. As you can see from the photograph, when the balls are being collected they are placed loosely within the rack.

When you have collected all the balls and are happy with their positions, roll the balls, still within the rack, until the ball at the apex of the pyramid is situated over the spot, and the base of the triangle is parallel with the foot. When it is in position, hold the rack in place and tighten the balls to the fore until they are all packed tightly to the front of the rack. Ensure that the apex ball does not roll off the spot, remove the rack and replace it under the table. If the apex ball does roll off, begin again until nothing moves when you lift the rack up.

It is a common mistake for beginners to tighten the balls up first and then move the rack forward. You can see in the photograph what a mess this makes of the baize - try not to do it.

P.S. According to the Pool & Billiard magazine, the slate covering isn’t ‘felt or baize.’ The covering is actually finely woven worsted wool, and it should be known as ‘billiard fabric.’


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    • Inquisitive2 profile image


      2 years ago

      Reading about the sport of Pool brings back memories of my younger days passing some time playing in our little village pool hall/ bowling lane variety store. The game provided many hours of entertainment trying to sharpen our skills.

    • John MacNab profile imageAUTHOR

      John MacNab 

      9 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence

      Oh, THOSE blue fingerprints. Yes, they are still there and they are still blue, but not quite so overwhelming.

    • mckbirdbks profile image


      9 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      I have some memory of blue 'chalk' cubes. That dust got everywhere. Did that change?

    • John MacNab profile imageAUTHOR

      John MacNab 

      9 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence

      Ooops! I'm sorry mckbirdbks. I was going to leave an apologetic comment on one of your hubs tomorrow because I basically posted the same hub twice, and I wanted to warn you not read it twice. Sooorree!

      I'm not with your 'blue fingerprints' comment. What I was trying to do was make the Hub more like Wikipedia information, and make a list of contents - but I screwed it up ever so slightly. I'll learn. Thank you for the compliment.

    • mckbirdbks profile image


      9 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      The expanded version is better. Are you leaving blue fingerprints everywhere?


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