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Racking the Balls in Pool (9-Ball) The Lucky Man's Game

Updated on May 17, 2019
Photo 1 The  9  Ball
Photo 1 The 9 Ball | Source
Photo 2.  The 9-ball above and the other 8 balls needed to play 9-Ball.  Of course the white cue ball comes in handy as well.
Photo 2. The 9-ball above and the other 8 balls needed to play 9-Ball. Of course the white cue ball comes in handy as well. | Source

Racking and Breaking for the 9-Ball Beginner

What's lucky about 9-Ball? If you compare 8-Ball and 9-Ball to other table games, 9-Ball is the equivalent of Chess. 8-Ball on the other hand is closer to Blackjack (Pontoon).

Racking in 'The Lucky Man's Game'

9-Ball is radically different from 8-ball. 9-Ball is the Lucky Man’s Game. It is a bit like playing the billiards I used to play when I was a teenager, where there was one red ball and two whites (one for each player). You could win points for caroms (cannons), in-offs and pots.

And the beauty of it was that there was no order in which they had to be played or potted – you could slam your cue ball as hard as you wanted, and keep your fingers crossed that something would either go-in, cannon, or be sunk. It was sometimes difficult to keep a straight face and pretend that you actually meant an impossible shot that ‘happened’ somehow or another.

Of course there are variations of the game where you have to ‘call’ the shot. (Calling the shot means you must stipulate which ball you intend to sink and which pocket you intend sinking it in.) Calling the shot makes life that little bit more complicated.

Photo 3 Racking the balls for 9-ball, in numerical order.
Photo 3 Racking the balls for 9-ball, in numerical order. | Source

9-Ball became popular in the 1920’s.

Whoever invented it deserves a huge pat on the back, as it is now the most popular game in the country. The balls necessary to play 9-ball are all of the low numbers from 1 thru 8 + the 9. Photo 2. This makes for an unusual diamond shape set up for the break as you can see from Photo 3. The balls don’t need to be set up in any order EXCEPT the 9-ball must be in the centre of the diamond and the 1-ball must be at the leading edge of the diamond – nearest the head of the table.

Whereas 8-ball can become very boring and puzzling, causing lots of yawns from viewers, 9-ball has that free, easy - and understandable – attitude, which makes it more interesting to television viewers. With 9-ball, whatever goes into a pocket counts, regardless, as long as you have hit the appropriate numbered ball first. You can strike a 4 ball and if the 6 goes in you keep playing – still aiming for the 4 of course.

Photo 4. This is the ideal set up to make life difficult for your opponent.
Photo 4. This is the ideal set up to make life difficult for your opponent.

Place the '2' at the opposite end to the '1'

As a beginner you might decide to set the balls up as in Photo No. 3, after all it does make life easier to set them up from 1 thru to 8. However, there is a problem with that set up.

Let’s say you break, and it is a good break with the balls being spread all over the table. The odds are that Balls 1, 2 and 3 will end up beside you, at the head of the table. If you didn’t sink any balls on the break, your opponent will now have a perfect situation with balls 1, 2, and 3 all at one end of the table. With such a start, the chances are your opponent will clear the table, giving you plenty of time to finish your coffee.

Instead of making life for your opponent so easy, make it more difficult; instead of setting the balls up in numerical order on the break diamond, place the ‘2’ ball at the opposite end to the ‘1’. That way, if you don’t sink a ball on the break, at least your opponent won’t find clearing the table too straightforward. Photo 4.

Interestingly enough, in some parts of the country, if you are playing in a league and you set the balls up for the break yourself, it is a rule that the ‘2’ must go to the opposite end. If you are setting the balls up for your opponent to break, there is no such rule, but you’d be daft not to do the ‘2’ at the opposite end on every break.

How to Break

During the break, the 1-ball must be struck first. After that all the balls must be hit in numerical order, beginning with 1. (If you have not sunk a ball after the break, and your opponent cannot see the 1-ball, he is allowed to ‘push’ the ball. This means he is allowed to push the cue ball to a more acceptable position – a more acceptable position to him, that is. If you are not happy with his ‘push,’ you can insist that he make another one, but that’s it for both of you.)

The beauty of 9-ball is that if you sink the 9-ball during the break you win the game. If you don’t sink the 9-ball on the break but sink any other ball, you still continue to play but you must strike the 1-ball first – it doesn’t matter which other ball goes in as long as you hit the 1-ball first.

In fact, one of the aims of a 9-Ball break is to sink the 9-Ball – this makes for an extremely fast game and if things are going your way, you can spend most of your time setting up for the break.


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    • John MacNab profile imageAUTHOR

      John MacNab 

      9 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence

      It is amazing how the rules can change even from one pool hall to another.

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 

      9 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      I played a lot of billiards in college as the housing had one in the basement! I got fairly good at it. Yep--it is amazing how a different set of rules can change the game dramatically like this.

    • John MacNab profile imageAUTHOR

      John MacNab 

      9 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence

      You might understand & enjoy another one of my hubs, leroy64 -'clenched butt behind the 8-ball'. Believe it or not I learned to play 8-ball at a college course,'Encore Seniors.' I found it ironic that I skipped college courses when I was young so that I could play billiards, and here I am.... The cycle of life?

    • leroy64 profile image

      Brian L. Powell 

      9 years ago from Dallas, Texas (Oak Cliff)

      I had not thought about looking up nine ball on hub pages. Great Hub. It brings back a few good college memories.

    • John MacNab profile imageAUTHOR

      John MacNab 

      9 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence

      I haven't been putting in much time at the pool hall, mckbirdbks, as I have been 'indisposed', but I do listen a lot.

    • mckbirdbks profile image


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

      Hello John. You must have put in a good deal of practice on the pool table since your last Hub. I had not heard of Table speed before. Pool players are starting to sound like bowlers describing their environment.


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