What Does Scratching on the 8-Ball Mean? Is the Game Over?

scratching on the 8 ball

We've all been there. You're at the end of an epic game of pool. Although you've taken the time to line up your shot on the 8-ball, you know that this is do-or-die. So you take your shot and scratch the 8-ball with the cue ball. What does scratching on the 8-ball mean? Is the game over?

Maybe not.

You see, there are lots of variables in the game of billiards. Not least of which are different people's interpretations of the rules.

For instance, did you know that there are two sets of rules? It's true!

Tournament rules are different from bar rules. Then there are different views on what scratching on the 8-ball actually means. Did you touch it? Did it go in the wrong pocket? Or perhaps it bounced off three rails?

Before you play your next game of pool, find out what does scratching on the 8-ball mean.

What Does Scratching on the 8-Ball Mean?

scratching on the 8 ball

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It's a question that drives you nuts. How do you determine if you're scratching on the 8-ball or if it's a legal play?

As we pointed out, there are many interpretations out there, and everyone seems to have their own variation of the rules.

But you can set the law down with some hard-and-fast rules taken right out of the Valley National Eight-Ball Association rule book. These are the guys (and gals) who play Champions tournaments in Las Vegas every year. This is the top of the sport.

Here's what it says about scratching on the 8-ball.

  1. 1
    If you pocket the 8-ball when it's not the legal ball (the ball you called)
  2. 2
    If you pocket the 8-ball on the same stroke as the last of the group of balls
  3. 3
    If you jump the 8-ball off the table at any time
  4. 4
    If you pocket the 8-ball and the cue ball on the same stroke
  5. 5
    If you pocket the 8-ball in a different pocket than the one you called

As you can see, there are five unbreakable rules as to when you lose if you scratch on the 8-ball.

But what about those people who swear up and down that you lost if the cue ball brushes past the 8-ball? Or what happens when you sink the 8-ball on the break?

Good news!

You're still in the game. Of course, a lot depends on which rules you're using.

Tournament vs. Bar Rules

billiards pool tables for scratching on the 8 ball

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Did you know that there are two sets of rules for 8-ball billiards? There are the highly-rigid tournament rules, and then there are the looser, yet honorable, bar rules.

Both have evolved over the years, and there's no denying that they've heavily influenced each other. After all, billiards began as lawn bowling and then moved indoors, into the taverns of 15th Century Europe (that's why the felt is green, to simulate grass).

But before we look at the differences in rules, let's look at some rules which are the same.

  • You must only sink your colors (solids or stripes)
  • You must call the shot on the 8-ball
  • The 8-ball must be in the center of the rack

That's where the commonalities end.

Tournament rules

So you want to know the tournament rules so you can better argue with your friends the next time you play? Let's jump right in.

  • Must flip a coin to determine who breaks
  • To perform a legal break, you must either pocket one ball or drive four balls along the rail
  • If you scratch, pocket the 8-ball, or jump a ball off the table on the break, the opposing player can choose to play through or re-rack and break
  • You must call every shot
  • If you pocket the wrong ball (illegal pocket), the ball remains in the pocket and scored for the owner of that ball

Bar rules

Next, we have the much more interesting, and controversial, bar rules of 8-ball pool. That's because everyone tends to interpret the rules differently. However, there are actual bar leagues, and they have some of their rules written down.

  • If you pocket the 8-ball on the break, you automatically win the game
  • If you scratch or the ball jumps off the table, your opponent must shoot from behind the head string (aka the Kitchen)
  • You only need to call your shots on the 8-ball
  • If you pocket an opponent's ball, it stays in the pocket and counts for them.
  • If you pocket one of your balls but not one you were aiming for, it counts for you and you can take another shot

See? There are some wild variations on the rules of pool depending on whether you're in a tournament or a bar.

That being said, when it comes to scratching on the 8-ball, there are some clear cut cases where you can keep playing.

When Is It Not a Loss?

ball eight pool billiard

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While it may be true that you want to keep away from the 8-ball as much as possible, you don't have to be terrified of it. That is until it's time to nail it home and win the game.

You see, there are lots of allowances in the official rules of 8-ball. For instance, did you know that you can use the 8-ball in a combination shot?

If you need to put another ball in a pocket and the 8-ball is blocking you, hit the 8-ball to push your ball into the pocket. Of course, you run the risk of sinking the 8-ball and losing, but if you're good at combos then why not?

But there's more.

According to the 1997 Standardized World Rules of 8-Ball Billiards, there are two times when you can scratch on the 8-ball and keep on playing.

Scratch on the break

Think about this for a moment: it's the beginning of the game. The balls are racked properly with the 8-ball in the middle of the triangle. You're lining up your break, and you fire.


A perfect break, except that the 8-ball rolled into a corner pocket! What now?

Well, according to the official rules of tournaments, you just pull the 8-ball back up, place it on the lower dot, and forfeit your turn to your opponent.

However, in bar rules, if you didn't pocket the cue ball, then you've won the game! But, if you did pocket the cue ball, the 8-ball is pulled up and placed on the lower dot, and your opponent gets to shoot from the kitchen.

Cue ball misses the 8-ball

Get this.

If you're shooting for the 8-ball, and miss the shot, you're still in the game so long as the cue ball doesn't roll into a pocket.

Now you're probably thinking "Duh. Everybody knows that!" but there are people who believe you have to make contact with the 8-ball or you lose.

That's just not true. If your cue ball doesn't touch the 8-ball but stays on the table, you're still in this.

How to Avoid Scratching on the 8-Ball

Billiard players

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By now you realize that you should probably take better care of your shots.

That can be hard to do after a few hours in the local bar. However, there are always some tricks you can keep in your back pocket.

If you want to avoid scratching on the 8-ball, start with the obvious. Don't drink too much. Nothing ruins your pool game like seeing double. But if you're not drinking, then you can turn to some other great tips to avoid scratching on the 8-ball.

Select the right cue.

Use the 90-degree rule

Call every shot

Don't Be a Pool Shark!

So, now you know what scratching on the 8-ball really looks like. Also, you know how to avoid it. Remember to use your new knowledge for good.

Clean up the table against your friends, feeding your ego. But don't use this for evil. Nobody likes a pool shark!

Do you have any tips to avoid scratching on the 8-ball? Let us know in the comments.


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