Blackball Rules Visual Guide

blackball rules visual guide
The following is a comprehensive visual guide to blackball pool rules as sanctioned by the World Pool-Billiards Association (WPA) and as played throughout the United Kingdom and indeed worldwide.
This is the original page compiled with the help of a senior WPA official upon the introduction of blackball and has been updated subsequently to show minor rule changes.
From the opening break to the completion of a frame, this is a colourful exposition of general play, legal and illegal shots, play resulting in fouls or loss of frame, combination shots and more.

 1. Setting Up Balls And Breaking Off

blackball pool rules break
Rack the balls with the black ball positioned at the intersection of two imaginary diagonal lines. The lag winner decides who breaks. Opposing players break alternately in successive frames.
Position the cue ball anywhere within baulk.
The centre of the cue ball may be placed directly above the baulk line.

 2. Legal And Illegal Breaks

blackball pool rules legal break
To achieve a legal break at least two object balls (reds, yellows or black) must completely cross an imaginary line joining the middle pockets. Alternatively, at least one ball must be potted.
If no balls are potted and two object balls do not pass over this line, then the oncoming player is awarded 'one free shot and one visit'.
The cue ball may then be played from where it lies or from baulk. Alternatively, the oncoming player may request a re-rack. It is also a foul if the cue ball is potted on the break. The retrieved white must be played from baulk. If the black is potted the table is set up again and the same player breaks.
On a break shot, no matter the outcome, the table remains 'open'. Groups are never decided on the break. There is no 'nomination' of groups with blackball pool rules.

 3. Open Tables And Determining Groups

blackball pool rules groups
With an 'open table' the designated group (that is whether a player continues on red or yellow balls) is NOT determined in the following situations...
On the break shot.
When a foul is played on a shot.
When taking a free shot after a foul.
Where a combination shot is played in which balls from both groups are potted.
With the exception of those aforementioned situations, if a player pots a ball or balls from a single group the player is then 'on' that group for the duration of the frame. So, above, potting only the red in the middle pocket would determine 'reds' as that player's group; but pot both red and yellow in a combination shot and the table remains open.

 4. Play Either Group On Open Table

blackball pool rules open table
If an 'open table' (that is groups have not been decided) players may play the cue ball to strike a ball from either group (reds or yellows).
In this scenario, with an open table, a yellow ball has been played directly onto a red which in turn drops into the pocket.
That player's group then becomes reds.
A number of exceptions are described at '3' above in which an open table situation could continue.
Also note above, if the red had fallen short of the pocket and no balls struck a cushion the shot would not be 'legal' and a foul would be called (see further examples of legal and illegal shots, below.)
Remember that the black cannot be used as a ball to pot another object ball unless a foul has been committed and a 'free shot' has been awarded to the oncoming player.

 5. Legal Shot Defined

blackball pool rules legal shot
To play a legal shot a player must cause the cue balls initial contact to be with an 'on' ball and THEN....
(a) Pot any 'on' ball or balls, OR...
(b) Cause the cue ball or any other ball to contact a cushion.
An 'on' ball might include balls from either group or the black if a player has a 'free shot'. In the situation above, if the red ball falls short of the pocket and no ball strikes a cushion after the cue ball hits the red, then the referee calls a foul. There is one exception to this definition.... escaping from a snooker, which is described below.

 6. Snooker Defined

blackball pool rules snooker defined
A player is 'snookered' when it is deemed impossible to strike any part of an 'on' ball by way of a straight line shot... which is the case in the these examples. Players should seek confirmation that it is a 'full snooker' from an opposing player, a referee or other official before attempting to play out of a snooker.

 7. Legal Shots And Laying Snookers

blackball pool rules laying snookers
A direct consequence of the need for a ball to strike a cushion after contact with an 'on' ball is that it is not possible to simple tap up behind a ball to lay a snooker.
Here, in the upper shot, to lay a snooker on the black ball, either the cue ball or the red must touch a cushion after the red after has been struck.
Similarly, in the second scenario, the white gently glances against a red ball before it hits the cushion. This results in a snooker behind two reds. In this case, because it initially touched a red ball, the cue ball need not necessarily reach the two reds before it comes to rest behind them off the cushion.

 8. Legal Shots And Escaping Snookers

blackball pool rules escaping snookers
There's an exception to the requirements of a legal shot as defined at '5' above.
When successfully escaping a snooker, as in the diagram, it is not necessary for a ball to touch a cushion after the object ball has been struck.
It is sufficient for the cue ball to simply make contact with an 'on' ball.
It follows that in escaping a full snooker by way of a 'swerve' on the cue ball, it is not necessary for any balls to strike a cushion during the successful execution of such a shot.

 9. Balls Leaving The Table

blackball pool rules balls off table
At any stage in the game, balls which leave the table are returned to the playing surface.
If the cue ball, then it's played from baulk.
Balls are always 're-spotted' on, or as close as possible to, the black spot in a direct line between the spot and the end cushion which is closest to that spot.
Above, three object balls (red, yellow and black) had left the table on the break. In this case, with an 'open table', object balls are replaced in order of black, red and yellow. Return balls to the playing surface in a straight line, as close as possible, without touching.
When not an open table a black ball is again always returned first but is followed by any ball or balls from the group of the player just about to play... that is of the 'on' player.

 10. Combination Shots Explained

blackball pool rules combination shots
Two or more object balls can be potted without penalty in a single shot. These may be balls from both groups and could include the black ball.
In such shots the balls can drop into pockets in any order.
The object ball with which the cue ball makes initial contact must be a ball which can be legally struck.
A combination shot might be used to clear an opponent's ball which is 'blocking' a pocket. In the situation depicted the player on reds plays a combination. Sinking both the red and yellow creates an opportunity for the player on red balls to clear the table.

 11. Frame Winning Combination Shot

blackball pool rules skill shot
Players may sink their last remaining group ball (or balls) and the black in the same shot and so win a frame.
Initial contact, as always, must be with an 'on' ball.
In this instance the player on yellows pots the final yellow ball and in the same combination shot wins the frame by potting the black ball.

 12. Same Pocket Combination

blackball pool rules same pocket combination
In certain circumstances a combination shot can be played in which two balls are potted in a single pocket.
In this example the red ball is struck and directed in such a way as to pot the black and then to follow through to drop into the same bag and clinch the frame.

 13. Combination On A Free Shot

blackball pool rules free shot
After a foul the oncoming player has a 'free shot' and may play onto any object ball on the table.
Here, the player on reds may legally strike and pot the black ball and then, in the same shot, sink the last remaining group ball to win.
Potting only the black would of course result in loss of frame.

 14. Play Away From Touching Ball

blackball pool rules touching ball
It is necessary to play away from any object ball declared to be touching the cue ball.
If, in doing so, the touched object ball moves, then it is a foul.
If the cue ball is touching a ball from your own group (or indeed any 'on' ball) then that object ball is regarded as having been 'struck'.
When playing away from a touching ball it is necessary to meet the requirements of a legal shot. That is a ball must be potted or a ball strike a cushion. Above the player is on reds. The cue ball is deemed to have struck the touching red. The player takes advantage of this opportunity by playing the cue ball onto the cushion and laying a snooker.
If playing away from a touching ball 'not on' the requirements of a legal shot must be met plus the initial contact of the cue ball, on playing the shot, must be with an 'on' ball.

 15. Another Touching Ball Situation

blackball pool rules touching balls
In this scenario the cue ball is touching a red ball. The player is 'on' reds and is considered to have struck the touching ball when playing the shot.
By striking the yellow it's possible to sink the red over the pocket. The player then has an excellent opportunity of winning the frame.

 16. Free Shot After A Foul

blackball pool rules foul
Following a foul the table is declared 'open' and the oncoming player takes a 'free' shot.
In doing so it is permissible to play onto any object ball. Any ball may be potted, including the black if it is 'on'.
In  each of the three situations, the player taking the free shot is 'on' reds.
To the top left, a shot is legally played on to a yellow to sink a red ball.
Bottom right, an opponent's yellow ball is played to clear the way to pot the black later in the frame.
Finally, bottom left, the player uses a free shot to bring two red balls into play.

 17. Loss Of Frame Shots

blackball pool rules loss of frame
A player who clearly fails to attempt to play an 'on' ball OR deliberately plays a ball which is 'not on' will lose the frame.
The player's group is red in this image. Only the black remains to be potted, but the player is snookered. There is a possible shot, up and down the table, to escape the snooker.
If in playing up and down the player is considered to have made little attempt to make the shot (for example by leaving the cue ball well short) there is a risk of losing the frame for playing a deliberate foul. The decision is with the referee. An alternative call would be a 'standard foul' giving a free shot.
Alternatively, the player could (unwisely) decide to strike the nearest yellow and in doing so open up access to the black. This is undoubtedly a deliberate foul and results in loss of frame.

 18. Foul But Not Loss Of Frame

blackball pool rules foul
Here the player 'on' yellows intentionally plays a yellow ball onto a red which is potted.
The player was NOT on a 'free' shot.
In striking a ball from his own group first the player has fulfilled the requirements of a legal shot described above.
It is a foul for potting an opponent's ball, but is not loss of frame.
This may be regarded as a tactical option. The player on yellows pots a red in the expectation that, despite the award of a free shot to the opposing player, that player will not finish the frame. The hope is the red balls are so badly positioned the player on yellows becomes the most likely frame winner.

 19. Stalemate Defined

blackball pool rules stalemate
Where no legal shot is playable, whether this be by accident or design, the frame will be re-started.
Top right, the black and two reds remain on the table. The player is 'on' the black. The cue ball cannot pass beyond the reds to strike the black. This is a 'stalemate' and there is a re-rack.
Moving clockwise, the cue ball is touching the black and must be played away from that ball. The player is on reds. However, regardless of the direction in which the cue ball can be played, what matters is the space between black and yellow. If the cue ball is able to pass through that gap then it is theoretically possible to play a legal shot and the player must attempt to do so.
In the final example a legal shot can be attempted, although it's unlikely to be successful. There are two pathways to the black ball between the reds, so it's NOT a stalemate.

 20. More About Blackball

blackball pool rules
The game of blackball is played extensively in pubs, clubs and pool leagues. There are numerous national and international events.
There's news, articles and a good deal more on the rules of blackball on this website.
Comments and queries about blackball pool are welcome.

The above guide and accompanying images were created with the assistance of the late Peter Hawley and first published online by Bill Hunter in 2005. The guide was revised in 2008 and 2015.
Peter was Vice-President and Treasurer of the World Pool-Billiard Association and pioneered the introduction of blackball pool. A great ambassador and tireless worker for the sport, Peter was also President of the All Africa Pool Association.

This content may of course be freely reproduced (it has been extensively) but accreditation and/or a link to the web page would be appreciated.
There's also a overview of the rules in a format suitable for downloading and printing.
Finally, blackball players may also be interested in a series of blackball pool training routines on video designed to improve your cueing skills and your approach to playing the game.


Anonymous said...

So in #17 if the white is played up and down the table and stops in the position shown is that always loss of frame?

UK Blackball Pool said...

Not necessarily. The decision is with the referee and can be tough to make. If the referee is convinced a genuine attempt has not been made by a player to escape a snooker then it is loss of frame. Otherwise it's a 'standard foul' giving a free shot.

Anonymous said...

Image 10 you pot the yellow and its not a foul!!!

UK Blackball Pool said...

Yes, that's right.
It's a legal 'combination shot'.
Those shots are described in images #10, #11 and #12
Players unfamiliar with blackball sometimes criticise the rule which allows balls from both groups to be potted in a single shot.
Critics may say that the rule promotes a hit and hope approach to play.
In fact, as any reasonably competent player knows, potting balls from both groups by chance does not in fact happen very often.
Intentionally potting both red and yellow balls in one shot requires skill. It also contributes to a faster more open game.

James Million said...

so what happens when the black ball leaves the table,do we return it on the black spot or its game over

UK Blackball Pool said...

It is a standard foul and the black ball is returned to the table as in image #9 above.

Anonymous said...

If I am on the black, shoot and pot the black, only for the white to then pot my opponents ball, do I still win the frame? ie do I still win if I pot the black and then pot an opponents ball?

UK Blackball Pool said...

In a combination shot two or more object balls can be potted without penalty in a single shot. These may be balls from both groups and could include the black ball.
So, to answer your question, if you are 'on' the black which you play and pot, then you win the frame even if you go on to pot an opponent's ball in that same shot.

Dan Harrison said...

During a recent game of doubles, the opponent had a yellow covering the pocket. I was on black ( all my colours potted ) and the black ball was near to the yellow covering the pocket. Is it then possible for me go hit the black onto the yellow, pot yellow first, then have the black follow into the same pocket for me to to win the frame

UK Blackball Pool said...

That is correct Dan, the shot you describe is legal and would win you the frame.

Anonymous said...

I have a question please: If you get awarded two shots, and you sink one of your balls on your first shot, do you still have another two shots? Thanks

UK Blackball Pool said...

No, two shots don't 'carry' as in certain pub rules and other lesser version of 8ball pool.
In blackball its best to think of it, not as two shots after a foul, but as a free shot followed by a normal visit.

If a player commits a standard foul, play passes to the opposition.
The incoming player takes a free shot, before continuing with their visit to the table in the normal way.

In taking that free shot the incoming player may then play the cue ball from the existing position on the table or choose to have the cue ball in hand. In which case the player plays the free shot from baulk.

When taking that free shot a player may, if he or she wishes, first strike or even pot a ball or balls from the opponent’s group.

Play then proceeds with the same player continuing with a normal visit to the table.
Play passes to the opposition if that player fails to pot a ball.

Ian G said...

In fig 16. It states that with your "Free Shot" you can pot the Black. What happens to the Black once it is potted?

I'm assuming that it isn't game over if there are colours left on the table, so does the Black get put back on the Black Spot?

UK Blackball Pool said...

Hi Ian,
It says that any ball may be potted, including the black... if it is 'on'.
An 'on' ball is any ball that can be legally played or potted.
It is not legal to pot the black if any of the object balls from a player's own group remain on the table after the black has been potted.
That would result in loss of frame.
So when the black is legally potted the game ends.

UK Blackball Pool said...

Any object ball is said to be 'on' when it is legally playable.
What is an 'on' ball will depend on circumstances.
For example when taking a 'free shot', after a foul, an incoming player may first strike any object ball including the black. So in that instance all object balls are 'on'.
However if any foul is committed on the free shot (such as potting the black and balls from his or her her own group then remain on the table) it is loss of frame as normal.

Anonymous said...

What is the rule about racking the balls to begin. Do you have to have the 2 reds at the top or does it matter if its yellows?

UK Blackball Pool said...

It can be red or yellow. It's the relative positioning of the racked balls from the two groups which must be maintained.

Anonymous said...

If it is obvious that it is a 'total snooker' do you need to seek confirmation that this is the case? e.g. If the player does not seek confirmation that it is a 'total snooker' and gets out of the snooker but does not contact a cushion after hitting the 'on' ball or pot a ball, is this deemed a foul?

UK Blackball Pool said...

Always ask a referee or an opposition player to confirm you are totally snookered on a shot.
This is the only way to be certain that your successful shot in escaping that snooker is not challenged or declared a foul.
It can't be left to chance that your opponent or the referee was aware of the total snooker... no matter how obvious that may have appeared.

UK Blackball Pool said...

In the situation you describe a referee would correctly call a foul.

Anonymous said...

Great detail on the black ball rules thanks. I had an unusual situation, after a dry break the cue ball ended up on the top of the side rail. On the cloth part. We didn't know what to do so my opponent played the ball from where it stood. I.e. stroked it off the cushion top onto the table to hit a ball. Was this correct?

UK Blackball Pool said...

Hi, that is a standard foul and the incoming player should play from baulk with a free shot.

Ivan Nagasuka said...

Hi, how are balls racked following a stalemate? Also, who breaks the re-racked balls for example if the stalemate happened by design?

Anonymous said...

In image 12, if the red failed to follow the black into the pocket would that be loss of frame or is it respotted black?


UK Blackball Pool said...

If red does not also drop into pocket it would be loss of frame.