How to Play Pool - The Unwritten Rules

Pool Player Waiting For Turn

How To Play Pool With Proper Etiquette

There is a lot more to learning how to play pool than just the rules of the game. There are also the unspoken rules of pool etiquette. These may not impact your final score, but they can affect the overall gaming experience, whether positively or negatively. Here are some of the unwritten rules that you are nevertheless expected to follow when you play pool. 

Knowing How To Play Pool Means Owning Your Mistakes

Once you know how to play pool, you should respect the integrity of the game. If you make a mistake when lining up the shot (example: touching a ball you are bridging over) and the other player doesn't notice, you might be tempted not to say anything. However, think about how you would feel if another player tried to fudge the rules like that. You would probably feel cheated, and understandably so. 

When you make a mistake, own up to it immediately. It just compounds the problem if you mention it only much later. 

The Table Needs You To Look After It

It isn't much fun to play a game of pool on a table that is damaged. The issues may seem mostly cosmetic, such as beer stains, but these can impact how the ball rolls or spins. More serious damage includes cigarette burns, torn fabric, or sagging rails. 

Once this damage occurs, there is not much that you can do to fix it unless the table belongs to you. However, you can help to prevent it by not doing anything that might harm the table. Examples of inconsiderate acts that can damage pool tables include: 

  • Attempting jump shots or other extreme shots (the ‘house’ might have rules about jump shots)
  • Sitting on the rails between games
  • Grabbing the rail cushion to help pull yourself up after racking 
  • Setting food, drinks, or cigarettes on the rails

If the table belongs to someone else, it is especially important to respect the property of whoever is allowing you to use their equipment. 

Staying Out of Your Opponent's Line of Sight Is Important To Knowing How To Play Pool

If you get into your opponent's line of sight while he or she is lining up the shot, you could create a distraction. You wouldn't want someone distracting you during your turn, so don't distract someone else. If there are chairs to the side of the table, you can sit while you wait for your turn. Otherwise, step back and stand at least 3 feet away from the table and to the side of the other player. 

It Is Respectful To Stay Quiet During the Other Player's Turn

Sharking, the deliberate attempt to sabotage the other person's shot by making a distracting noise during his or her turn, is very rude behavior. It is not tolerated during formal play but occurs more frequently in informal settings. Even if sharking is not officially frowned upon, other players do not appreciate it, so you should refrain from it at all times. 

You may not mean to distract your opponent, but making any noise during his or her turn is still very rude. Do not carry on a conversation with other people when it is your opponent's turn. Wait quietly until you get to shoot again. 

This also applies to commenting on your opponent's shot before it is taken - never say an opponent's shot is easy unless you are conceding the rack (more on that below).  

Learning How To Play Pool Doesn't Require Your Cell Phone To Be On

Do not use your cell phone at all while you're playing pool. Even if you only take it out when waiting for your turn, it's rude to disengage from the game like that. Even if you are not talking on your phone and it is not making any noise, the sight of you on your phone could still distract your opponent unfairly. 

Because your phone could ring unexpectedly and distract either you or your opponent, consider turning it off while you are playing. If there is some reason that you have to keep the phone on, switch it to silent or vibrate mode. That way, you can fulfill your obligations without disturbing your opponent. 

Your Attire Should Be Appropriate to the Activity

What you wear to play pool should be comfortable and appropriate for bending over the table during gameplay. Avoid clothing that is either too loose or too constricting. If you are not sure that the outfit you have chosen is appropriate, have a "dress rehearsal" before you head out to make sure. 

You Must Keep At Least One Foot on the Floor at All Times

The rules of the game say that you must keep at least one foot on the floor when you are making a shot. Furthermore, getting up on the table could damage it. 

The House Rules Should Always Be Observed 

If you are playing in someone else's establishment, the house rules of how to play pool there will probably be posted prominently. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the rules so you can observe them. Ignorance is unlikely to be an excuse, especially when they are posted where everyone can see them. 

Even if you're an experienced player, the house rules always apply to everyone equally. Acting like you are above them could anger not only your fellow player but also the owner of the establishment. One common one to watch out for is that some establishments do not allow jump shots. 

Using the Chalk Correctly Helps To Keep Everything Clean

If you're an experienced player, you know how annoying it can be if the chalk gets all over your hands, your clothes, and the table. You can prevent this from happening by placing the chalk side up when you set it down rather than putting the blue (chalk) side down on the rail. 

Polite and Respectful Are Always the Way To Be

Even if you are frustrated, do not grumble, scream, or swear. Keep your temper under control at all times. Be polite to your opponent during the game, and when it is over, shake your opponent's hand and congratulate him or her on a good game, regardless of its outcome. 

The Game Isn’t Over Until It’s Over

Did you just leave your opponent on the 8-ball (or 9 or 10, depending on the game) with a straight-in shot? Is it the golfing equivalent of a 3-foot putt on a flat green? In both scenarios, you might think that the game is lost - but there is a difference between conceding the hole/putt and requiring your opponent to finish the game. Do NOT break your cue down or put it on the wall rack, do NOT congratulate your opponent on a good game, etc. unless you are conceding the game and not requiring they make the shot. This ‘gamesmanship’ can impact a player’s focus. This form of psychology is not polite - we aren’t playing a sport like football where goading your opponent is normal. 

Learning how to play pool with proper etiquette isn't that difficult. It basically boils down to treating your opponents the way you would want to be treated and respecting other people's property. If you are playing on your own table, you can make your own house rules, but you should still show consideration for others and keep your equipment in good repair. Contact us at Penguin to see how we can help you maintain your pool table. 



1 comment

  • Eve Mitchell

    Thanks for mentioning that you should always play by the house rules of whatever establishment you’re in. I’m thinking about finally getting a pool table for my home so I can teach my kids how to play. I’d really like to get something with a vintage feel to it so it looks classic.

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