Blackball Rules Visual Guide

The following is a comprehensive visual guide to blackball pool rules as sanctioned by the World Pool-Billiards Association and as played throughout the United Kingdom and worldwide.
From the opening break to the completion of a frame this provides a colourful exposition of general play, legal and illegal shots, play resulting in fouls and loss of frame, combination shots and more.

 1. Setting Up Balls And Breaking Off
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
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
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 OR 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 open table remains open.

 4. Play Either Group On 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 the diagram opposite 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 that 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 an 'on' 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
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
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
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
There's an exception to the requirements of a legal shot as defined at '5' above.
After successfully escaping a snooker, as in the diagram opposite, it is not necessary for a ball to touch a cushion after the 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
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 always returned first followed by any ball or balls from the group of the player just about to play... that is the 'on' player.

 10. Combination Shots Explained
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 is commonly 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
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. Balls In 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
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
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
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
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 scenarios opposite, the player taking the free shot is 'on' reds.
To the top left, a shot is legally played on 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
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.
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
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
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, in the next situation, the cue ball is touching the black and must be played away from that ball. If the player is on reds and the cue ball is unable to pass through the gap between yellow and black then it is not possible to play a legal shot. Again, the frame must be re-started.
It's a little different in the final example to the left. A stalemate is not called when it remains physically possible to play a legal shot..... however unlikely it is to be successful. There are two pathways to the black ball between the reds, so it's NOT a stalemate.

 20. More About Blackball
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. 
Note. This guide and the accompanying images were first created by Bill Hunter in 2005.
Content may of course be freely reproduced (and it has been) but accreditation and/or a link to this web page would be appreciated.

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