How to Play Billiards?

English Billiards is played between two people or two sides. Understanding the arrangement of balls on the board is important before how to play. Three balls are used; a white, a yellow or spotted white (with more than two black dots for identification), and a red. Player or team scores when striker pots the ball in the pocket, for in-offs, cannon, and combination of both.

The points from a penalty made by a player are given to opponent player. One of the most popular tactics used to score more points is to leave the object balls in baulk area when the next player is in-hand. Any means made to disturb the balls must be by an indirect stroke, a difficult one.

The winner of the game is declared based on player who scores maximum points or stipulated points of the game within the allotted time.

The winner of the match is decided on the highest average and total number of points.

Starting the Game

Most sports begin with a toss to decide who plays first. Stringing is the method of toss in Billiards.

The choice of cue-ball and who to play first is decided by stringing. The winner has both options provided opposite player also mutually agrees. The game is considered to have begun after the cue-ball is placed on the table and hit by tip of the cue.

It is the player’s responsibility to play with correct cue-ball even if the wrong ball is passed by the referee. The players take turns alternately unless one makes a score and continues the strike.

Playing from in-hand

  • The cue-ball must be struck from a position within “D” to play from in-hand

  • The referee has to check whether the cue-ball is placed correctly, if asked.

  • The cue-ball is not considered to be in play by the referee if the tip of the cue is not touching the cue-ball; provided attempt to play is not made.

  • When in-hand, the cue-ball must be placed out of baulk. In case, it touches an object ball out of baulk, it is considered to have played out though it doesn’t cross the baulk line.

  • The cue-ball may be played against a cushion provided it touches a ball outside baulk. Before re-entering the baulk, the cue-ball must have contact with cushion or ball out of baulk.

  • If an object ball is in baulk, no part of its surface can be played on directly from in-hand.

During the play, a player goes through certain instances that have been clearly marked by the WPBSA to handle them better. Below are some those instances with next steps.

Spotting Object Balls

Starting with red ball, if it is pocketed then, it is placed back in its spot. In case the spot is occupied, red ball is placed in pyramid spot. If the pyramid spot is also occupied then, it is placed in the centre spot.

  • A ball is considered to be on spot if and only if it is placed by hand.

  • A striker can check with referee for count of continuous pots of same ball.

  • If a ball touches another ball on spot then, the ball is not considered to be on spot even though it hasn’t moved.

  • An object ball not spotted correctly by the player cannot be raised as a fault by referee in any case.

Limitations Of Cannons

A maximum of 75 consecutive cannons are allowed for a striker. The referee has to call out for last five after the player reaches count of 70. In case the referee misses to make note then, the last five cannons will be counted from the moment the referee announces.

Alternately, the player can also know the number of cannons upon request.

Limitations To Hazards

Just like limitations to consecutive cannons, a player can make only 15 consecutive hazards. The player and referee rule applies here also. In case the referee misses to announce for last five hazards, the player will get additional five chances from the moment referee announces. Similarly, player can also make request to know the count of continuous hazards.

If the non-striker’s ball is off the table in his last stroke of a turn, it will be placed on spot of baulk-line or right corner of D.

Ball on Edge of a Pocket

  • If a ball is pocketed without being hit or doesn’t touch a ball in the process is put back on the table while the striker gets score for the stroke played.

  • In case, the ball is hit by another one and is pocketed while there is no faulty stroke then, all the balls are replaced and either same stroke is played or different stroke upon discretion of the player.

  • In case, it happens to be a foul then also all balls are placed back and the turn moves to next player.

  • If the ball balances on edge for a while and then falls off later, it is counted as pocketed and not replaced back on table.

Ball Moved By Other Than Striker

A ball moved by Striker’s partner or any other person at the table is repositioned to most probable place that referee thinks. The same rule doesn’t apply if the ball has moved due to defective table surface.

No players are penalised when balls are disturbed by referee.

Touching Ball

It is referee’s responsibility to shout for a touching ball. In such situation, red is placed on the sport and not-striker’s ball is placed in Centre spot.

Another instance is when a cue-ball is touching an object ball just before the striker is about to play his stroke, the referee can pause the game and adjust the ball for satisfaction.


Given below are some of the fouls made by striker/partner/opponent player during course of the game.

  • Striking a ball other than the cue-ball
  • Striking the cue-ball more than once during a stroke
  • Striking when any ball is not at rest
  • Striking when both feet are off the floor
  • Playing out of turn
  • Playing improperly from in-hand, including the opening stroke
  • Playing the cue-ball directly into a pocket, or off a shoulder of the pocket
  • When in-hand with no object ball out of baulk (running a coup)
  • Playing a jump shot
  • Making a push stroke
  • Causing a ball to be forced off the table
  • Making more than fifteen consecutive hazards
  • Making more than seventy-five consecutive cannons
  • Touching a ball or ball marker in play
  • Striking before the referee has completed the spotting of a ball
  • Playing with a non-standard cue
  • Using a ball off the table for any purpose
  • Using any object to measure gaps or distance

Outcomes Of a Foul

The referee calls a foul and the player in strike has to stop playing immediately. If the player continues to play even after the call then, the penalty is much higher.

The striker doesn’t get any points in a foul even though an object ball is potted in faulty stroke. The ball is placed back on the table in its original position.

Every foul carries a penalty of two points. Suppose the referee or opponent player doesn’t call for a foul then, it is forgiven.

A miss is also a type of foul where the cue-ball is pocketed directly without touching any ball on table. It may hit cushion and go into pocket as well. Two points are added to opponent’s score and the next miss is called foul.

Billiards – Variants

Apart from English Billiards, the other variants are Snooker, and Pool. After knowing and have played Billiards, Snooker could be easier to understand. In Pool, the balls have stripes and dots with numbers on it. These two sports will be discussed as separate tutorials.

In a doubles game, the order of play is decided by stringing and cannot be changed during course of the game. The partners can confer during course of the game though.

Billiards Variant

Use of Ancillary Equipment

The striker owns responsibility to all the rests and additional equipment owned and used during the game unless they are taken from the referee or lying at the table.

The player is not penalised for any fouls committed due to faulty ancillary equipment provided by the referee. In such cases, the stroke made is ruled out and all the equipment involved in faulty stroke are replaced immediately.