How to Play Cutthroat Pool: A Few Things to Keep in Mind

cutthroat pool

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If you’ve never played cutthroat pool before, then you’re in for a treat. Picture this:

You and two friends are standing around the pool table. You’re taking turns playing 8-Ball, with one person sitting out each game. You know that a game of pool can last quite a while. You’re paying for that time. That’s boring and ultimately expensive. Surely there’s a better way.

Then it hits you.

What if all three of you could play at once?

Good news!

With cutthroat pool, you can. That’s because cutthroat pool is one of the few billiard games designed specifically for three people. And get this. You can’t play it with two players or with four players. You need exactly three people to play.

Best of all, cutthroat pool is vicious and incredibly fun. A word of warning, however: When playing cutthroat, temporary alliances are often necessary, and one friend always gets the short end of the stick.

If you’re a sensitive person, that can suck. But on the other hand, it’s a lot of fun when you’re clearing your friend out of the game to put you one step closer to victory.

Sure, friendships can get frayed, but that’s the point of sports, isn’t it?


What on Earth Is Cutthroat Pool?

So you want to learn how to play cutthroat pool, do you? Are you sure?

You see, once you play a few rounds of cutthroat pool, you could end up looking at your friends differently. How could they do that to you? The traitors!

That’s because, in cutthroat pool, the object of the game is to keep all your balls on the table. You want to clear your opponents from the table by sinking all their balls. Often two players will team up to target all of the third player’s balls.


And while it sucks if that third player is you, the strategy itself is sound. If you want to win, you want to remove your opponents as quickly as possible. Your odds of survival are much higher when only one person is shooting at your balls instead of two.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s look at the basic setup of cutthroat pool.

First off, you will use the regular 15 numbered pool balls. Don’t worry about stripes and solids. Instead, you’ll be using the numbers. Now, because there are three of you playing, you need to divide those numbers into three. That means you’ll get five balls each.

One person will be one to five. The next will be from 6 to 10, and the third will be from 11 to 15. But how do you decide who will get which balls?

That’s where the fun really begins.

How to Play Cutthroat Pool

Are you ready for it? Okay, let’s dive right in.

To start a game of cutthroat pool, rack the balls in the standard triangle rack, such as this gorgeous Trademark Gameroom billiard ​​rack with an oak finish. It doesn’t matter what order they’re in.

However, we purists prefer to keep the regular 8-Ball order. You know, the eight ball in the middle and the solids and stripes alternating. Although it really doesn’t matter in this game.

Got the balls racked? Great. Everyone grab a pool cue. Something like this Viper Revolution Spider 58-inch pool cue will do the trick. Once everyone has their cue, all friendships are off. It’s time to battle.

Breaking balls


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First, you need to break. The same rules as in standard 8-ball apply. But instead of flipping a coin to determine who breaks, you’re going to engage in a vicious round of paper-rock-scissors. See? The friendly times are over.

The last person standing gets to break.

Now, shoot from behind the kitchen. If a single ball goes down during the break, congrats! That’s your number range. For instance, if you sank the 8 ball, then your range is 6 to 10. Pull it back up and put it on the center dot. Remember, you DON’T want your balls to get sunk!

But what if you sink more than one ball? Easy. You get to pick which range you want and pull that ball back up. Leave the others in the pockets for whichever sucker ends up with their depleted range.

Choosing balls


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If you sunk something on the break, you get to shoot again. In fact, you’ll be shooting until you miss a shot, just like in standard 8-ball. If you didn’t sink anything on the break, the second person left standing in your opening round of paper-rock-scissors gets to now shoot.

If that’s you, it’s time to try and choose what range you want. Remember, you don’t want to aim for a range that already has balls sunk. So take a shot and try to sink a number in a range you want. If you’re successful, pull that ball back up and place it on the center dot.

Congrats! That’s your range. If you’re a miserable failure, however, then it’s the third player’s turn to shoot.

The third player to shoot was the first person eliminated from paper-rock-scissors. If both the first and second players already sunk balls and have their number ranges, then your range is pre-determined. You don’t need to try and sink one of your own balls. Chances are, they’ve already started in on you anyway, so there’s no use in helping.

However, if there are two or more ranges still available, now is your chance to recover from the handicap paper-rock-scissors applied to you and take the lead in the game.

Shooting balls

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Imagine for a moment that all three of you have your ranges decided. Next, it’s time to win this game. You do this by sinking all your opponents’ balls. So, if your range is 11 to 15, you want to clear all the balls between 1 and 10.

Remember that the goal is to be the last player standing with balls still on the table.

When playing cutthroat pool, it’s important to keep some semblance of civility. That’s why you need to call your shots. If you sink your shot in the pocket you called, you get to shoot again. You do this until you miss a shot.

However, if you sink one of your opponent’s balls in the wrong pocket, that is, a pocket you did not call, then they get to pull the ball back up and place it on the center dot.

But here’s the kicker: If you accidentally sink one of your own balls, tough luck. That’s because your ball is staying down there while your former friends laugh at you.

Winning balls

Finally, you’re down to just a few balls on the table. One of your friends was already eliminated and is quietly sulking in their beer over by the table. It’s just you and that dastardly ex-friend of yours.

When you put their last remaining balls down, you win! But it’s usually do-or-die at this point because they’re thinking the exact same thing about your balls.

Whoever has the only balls from their range on the table wins.

Tips to Help You Dominate

Are you a good pool player? If not, don’t worry, because there are always some tricks you can pull out of your sleeve to help better your game. And if you are a decent pool player, then you’ve got a leg up.

But the thing is, when you’re playing cutthroat pool, you need to be a lot better than you usually are. That’s because you only have five balls on the board and they can go down really fast.

You see, you need to be vicious and quick in cutthroat if you expect to survive. So hunker down with some strategic tips that can help you dominate.

Allies always win

The first thing you’ll want to do is choose just one player to eliminate right off the bat. Remember when we said that feelings often get hurt in cutthroat pool? Well, this is why.

That’s because if you’re the person, your other two friends are shooting at, it sucks. They’ve got two shooters gunning to put your five balls down, while you need to somehow clear ten of theirs.

It’s not fair. And honestly, the odds are stacked against you. You’re not Russia holding back the Germans. You’re more like Poland, getting tag-teamed by Russia and Germany. Good luck.

However, if you’re quick on your feet, you can start knocking off one of your friends. Be the leader in this, and the person you’re not aiming for will most likely join you without a word being said.

Play defense

Next, you want to make sure your balls aren’t sitting ducks. If you have balls hanging out near pockets, nudge them out of the way. Or better yet, hook your opponents by making the cue ball loop around behind your balls.

If you don’t have a good shot on any of your opponents’ balls, use the opportunity to save one of your own. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense.

Think ahead

Finally, remember that you’re probably not going to play just one game. So you need to think ahead. If you tag-team one of your friends and then mock them remorselessly when they get knocked out of the game, don’t be too surprised when they return the favor in the next game.

So be professional and civil. One way to do that is the winner buys the next round. Also, that saves you from being utterly humiliated in your next round.

Remember, It’s Just a Game!


Do you know what the worse thing about cutthroat pool is? We’ll tell you. It’s that feeling you get when two of your friends team up to eliminate you. It’s like being picked last for a sport, or losing your favorite contestant in Survivor before the merge. It sucks.

But you need to remember that it’s just a game. Of course, that sounds cliche, but it’s true. The nature of cutthroat is just like that. You need to do it to them before they do it to you.

Now, if your friends team up against you every single game, then you may want to start questioning your friendships.

Do you have any cutthroat pool tips to share? Let us know in the comments!

Featured Image via Pixabay


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