Introduction: How to Break in Nine Ball

Nine Ball is a popular 2-4 player billiards game involving, you guessed it, nine balls. The object of the game is to sink (or pocket) every ball numerically, ending with pocketing the nine ball.

This Instructable is meant for beginners. It goes over the basics of playing on a billiards table, setting up the game, and breaking the rack. If you already know billiards basics (how to use the cue stick and hit the cue ball), proceed to Step 5: Setting up the Rack.

For a detailed look at how to play the game, go to my tutorial on How to Play Nine Ball.

Step 1: Materials Needed

A standard billiards table will come with the following items:

  • 16 billiards balls
    • 7 solid-colored balls (numbered 1-7)
    • 7 striped balls (numbered 9-15)
    • 1 black 8 ball
    • 1 white cue ball
  • 3 cue sticks + accessories
    • 1 standard-length cue
    • 1 short-length cue
    • 1 bridge
    • 1 cue chalk
  • 1-2 racks
    • 1 triangle rack (standard)
    • 1 diamond rack (non-standard)

The billiards balls are what are used to progress the game in billiards. Only the cue ball should interact with the numbered balls, it being the only ball you are allowed to hit with a cue stick. In the case of Nine Ball, we will only need the balls numbered 1-9, as well as the cue ball for hitting. You should remove balls 10-15 from the table, either by pocketing or storing them.

Your cue stick is what you use to hit the cue ball. It should be a length that is easy to grip but long enough to span a large portion of the table. The short-length cue is mainly used for play in tight quarters, however can be used normally if preferred. The bridge is used for spanning the table for tough-to-reach shots, and should be used sparingly.

The rack is normally a wood or plastic tool used to place the billiards balls at the start of a game. A standard billiards table will always have a triangle rack, meant for 15-ball games such as Eight Ball. Sometimes your table will come with a diamond rack, which is specifically made for Nine Ball. If you only have a triangle rack, don’t worry – we’ll go through how to use both the diamond and triangle rack in setup.

Next we are going to explain cue maintenance, an important step in improving your shots.

Step 2: Maintaining the Cue

Since your cue stick is the only item that should ever make contact with the cue ball during a shot, it is imperative that you make sure your cue stick is in top shape prior to playing.

The top felt piece of the cue stick is called the tip, and is what allows for spin when hitting the cue ball. To ensure proper grip for spin, make sure to brush the tip of the cue stick with chalk prior to playing a game. A spinning motion while carefully pressing down on the chalk normally works best for covering the entire tip, but always check after brushing for any missed spots. Lightly blow on the tip after brushing to remove any stray chalk so that you don’t scuff the table while playing.

WARNING: Do not press hard on the chalk while brushing the tip of your cue stick. You will loosen the adhesive and possibly remove the tip from your cue.

Once your cue stick is properly chalked, it is time to hit the cue ball.

Step 3: Hitting the Ball

As said previously, the cue ball is the only billiards ball that should be manipulated directly by the player. The following instructions for hitting a cue ball are explained for right-handers, so if you are left-handed flip all hand and arm positions.

When holding a cue stick, your right hand functions as the grip and your left hand the bridge. While your right hand and arm will control speed of shot, your left hand provides support for the cue stick and allows for precision aiming. In the case of a long shot the standard bridge can be used instead of your left hand but the concept still applies.

To ensure a confident shot, maintain a light firm grip with your right hand near the end of the cue stick. When the stick is gripped properly it should not touch the palm of your hand. As you lean in for your shot your right elbow should be bent to allow for full extension when carrying through your shot.

Your left hand can hold the front end of the cue stick in one of two styles: the open bridge and the closed bridge. The open bridge is used mainly for shots over obstacles, such as a bank or another ball, as it allows for full extension of the fingers. A closed bridge would be used for straight shots closer to the player as it maintains a straighter line with the cue stick. In most cases these styles can be used interchangeably, so pick whichever you prefer.

To shoot open bridge, place your palm flat on the table. Next, bend your fingers towards your palm so that the angle from your fingertips to your knuckles is about 30 degrees. All of the bending should be from your knuckles so that your fingers and your hand form a triangle with the table. Lift your thumb up so that a “v” shape is formed between your thumb and your palm. The cue stick will rest in this “v”. To adjust the angle of shot, raise or lower your fingers accordingly. Closed bridge is formed by placing the cue in an open bridge and then forming an “o” shape with your pointer finger and the table over the cue. The cue stick should not touch the top of the pointer finger but can brush the sides.

With this in mind we can move on to controlling spin.

Step 4: Controlling Spin

A good billiards player will adjust the spin of their shot so that the cue ball will move to a desired location.

Depending on where you hit the cue ball the spin of the ball will change accordingly. Hitting the top of the ball creates forward spin (topspin), causing the ball to continue moving forward after contacting another ball. Hitting the bottom of the ball created backward spin (backspin), causing the ball to move backwards after making contact with another ball. Hitting the center of the cue ball is considered a flat shot and will cause the cue ball to stop wherever it makes contact with another ball.

NOTE: Angling the cue stick up or down prior to hitting will also cause spin, but too forceful of a backspin or flat shot from a high angle can cause the cue ball to jump up off of the table. If used properly this can be a very useful shot but if not can cause an off-of-table foul.

With this information in mind we can set up the game to start play.

Step 5: Setting Up the Rack

Nine Ball is slightly different than most billiards games in the way that the rack is set up. Instead of the traditional triangle shape, the balls must be arranged in a diamond with its longer side following the length of the table. As with all traditional racks, the top (the point closest to the other side) must be aligned with the “foot spot”. This will either be marked with a small dot on the table or can be approximated as one quarter of the length of the table.

In the case of Nine Ball, the player must hit the balls on the table in ascending order, winning the game by pocketing the nine ball. Due to this rule, the 1 ball must always be placed at the top of the diamond closest to the player and the nine ball in the center. All other balls in play may be placed arbitrarily.

A diamond rack is preferred for ease of use, however if only a triangle rack is available use the top two sides to align the top point of the diamond while using your hands to push up the bottom point.

NOTE: The “tighter” you make the rack, or the closer you place the balls to each other, the more responsive your break will be. To make your setup as tight as possible lift the rack straight up without touching the balls in the diamond. Any shifting can cause a “loose rack”, which should be corrected prior to starting.

After the rack is set up, it’s time to lag for break.

Step 6: Lagging for Break

“Lagging for break” is a way to determine who breaks, or starts the game.

Each player will hit the cue ball down the length of the billiards table and bounce it off of the wall, or bank. Your goal is to put the cue ball as close to the bank closest to you without touching, and whoever does so wins the lag. If there is a tie or all players hit the bank, lagging for break is done again. To designate your cue ball’s position on your lag, place your finger on the side of the table until all turns have passed or someone has bettered your shot.

When the winner is decided, they will break.

Step 7: Breaking the Rack

Breaking the rack is one of the most important shots in the game, as it can determine an instant win or loss as well as sets initial placement of balls on the table.

As said before, you must hit the balls in ascending order, and breaking is no exception. If you hit any other ball before the one, miss all of the balls entirely, or sink the cue ball in the pocket on the break it is considered a foul, or scratch, and you lose the game. Therefore it is considered best practice to place the cue ball closest to the center width of the table as it sets a straight line to the 1 ball in the rack.

There are restrictions on ball placement, however. You may not place the cue ball further than one quarter down the length of the pool table. This, just like racking, will either be designated by a dot on the table known as the “head spot” or two markers down the side of the table. Anywhere within this boundary is allowed, however it is recommended to place the cue ball as close to the edge as possible for the easiest shot.

For hitting the cue ball, a hard topspin is recommended however a flat shot will work just as well. A harder shot will disperse the balls more evenly across the table, which makes later shots easier during the game. As long as one ball touches a bank the break is considered fair, however, so if you want to set up a more difficult game for your opponent hit with a moderate backspin.

If a ball is pocketed on the break you may continue hitting. If the nine ball is sunk on the break you have won.

And there you have it! Now that you know how to break you can start Nine Ball with more skill and strategy. Have fun!