Cutthroat or cut-throat is a three-player or -team pocket billiards game, played on a pool table, with a full standard set of pool balls (15 object balls and a cue ball). Each player is assigned a set of five consecutively numbered object balls . The object of the game is to be the last player with at least one ball still on the table.
The name "cutthroat" is not unique to pool, but is used to refer to other games played with three or more players in which all players must fend for themselves, e.g. cutthroat bridge and cutthroat American handball.
In cutthroat, the "low" balls are 1–5, the "mid" balls are 6–10 and the "high" balls are 11–15. Each set of five balls is initially unclaimed, the assignment of groups of balls to each player is done during the initial stages of game play. The three players take turns attempting to knock any ball into a pocket. Once a player has knocked in a ball, he knows that he does not own that group of balls. For example, if a player started the game by hitting in the 3-ball and the 8-ball, he would own the high balls, as he has knocked in a low ball and mid ball. The other two players would still not have ownership over a set of balls, and would, during their turns, attempt to knock in balls to gain ownership over a set. This may vary by region. The most common variation is to assign the sets ahead of time in order of play (the first shooter is 1–5, the second shooter is 6–10, and the third shooter is 11–15).
A player's turn continues so long as he knocks in a ball with each shot. A shooter can even knock in his own ball, allowing him to continue a turn in exchange for the now-weakened position. This circumstance is called "cutting one's own throat". If a player sinks his own last ball, he must sit out the rest of the game unless another player scratches (see below).
Another peculiarity of this game is the consequence of a scratch (knocking the cue ball into a pocket or off the table). In most circumstances,[clarification needed] a player's opponents are rewarded by taking one of their balls each out of the pockets, and spotting them back onto the table.[clarification needed]
If a scratch occurs after first pocketing an opponent's ball on the same turn, still only one ball per opponent may be returned to the table, as the penalty is intended not to nullify the effects of the scratch, but to punish the offender and reward the other players evenly. Therefore, any ball pocketed prior to the scratch (on the same turn) remains in the pockets (otherwise the potentially unaffected third player would be placed at a disadvantage without fault).[clarification needed]
In the uncommon case that the final shot leaves only the cue ball on the table (i.e., the shooting player has pocketed both the last opponent ball and inadvertently the shooter's own last ball in a single shot), one ball of each of those players will be spotted,[clarification needed] and the shooting player continues.
Winning the game
The object is to be the last player with at least one ball left on the table. When a player has no balls on the table, he is said to be "out" and his shot is skipped in the rotation of taking shots. Under normal rules (where balls are retrieved on a scratch), if one of the remaining players scratches, the "out" man can recover a ball and return to the game.
Team play can be pairs (or more) of players being assigned to each of the three sets of balls and taking alternating turns or (in Scotch doubles format) alternating shots during their turn.
The game generally is also playable by five players or teams, player owning three balls rather than five. Variant ball sets (smaller, more numerous balls, with a custom rack) have also been manufactured for a larger number of players.
Various point systems may be used to play matches or sets, rather than just one game. With its uniqueness as a three player game, counting games won is possible but does not give credit for finishing second. One system is awarding three points for a win, plus an additional one point for each of the winner's remaining balls at the end of each game. The player last eliminated receives two points, the first eliminated player none. There may also be a bonus awarded for playing a perfect game, sinking both opponents' sets of 5 balls while having all 5 of yours remaining (Usually 2 points, making a perfect game worth 10 points total: 3 for the win, 5 for remaining balls, plus 2 bonus). This system adds great importance and strategy regarding whom to eliminate first as the match goes on, often creating alliances of the two trailing players to catch the leader in points. The match may be won by reaching a set amount of points, or reaching a set deadline in time.
Coin-operated table play
When played on coin-operated tables (such that balls cannot be returned to play at will once pocketed, only after paying for another game) a player who selects one of his or her own balls to be pocketed immediately, in lieu of opponents' balls returning to the table. In the event that a scratch first pockets an opponent's ball in such a game, the affected opponent is permitted to select the ball belonging to the offender which is to be removed.[clarification needed]
In popular culture