Blackball Rules Visual Guide
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
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
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
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
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
(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
7. Legal Shots And Laying Snookers
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 www.blackball.uk 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.