Eight-ball (often spelled 8-ball or eightball, and sometimes called solids and stripes, spots and stripes in the UK or, more rarely, bigs and littles/smalls, and highs and lows) is a pool (pocket billiards) game popular in much of the world, and the subject of international professional and amateur competition. Played on a pool table with six pockets, the game is so universally known in some countries that beginners are often unaware of other pool games and believe the word "pool" itself refers to eight-ball. The game has numerous variations, mostly regional. Standard eight-ball is the second most competitive professional pool game, after nine-ball, and for the last several decades ahead of straight pool.
Eight-ball is played with cue sticks and 16 balls: a cue ball, and 15 object balls consisting of seven striped balls, seven solid-colored balls and the black 8 ball. After the balls are scattered with a break shot, the players are assigned either the group of solid balls or the stripes once a ball from a particular group is legally pocketed. The ultimate object of the game is to legally pocket the eight ball in a called pocket, which can only be done after all of the balls from a player's assigned group have been cleared from the table.
- 1 History
- 2 Standardized rules of play
- 3 Informal rule variations
- 4 Derivative games and variants
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
The game of eight-ball is derived from an earlier game invented around 1900 (first recorded in 1908) in the United States and initially popularized under the name "B.B.C. Co. Pool" (a name that was still in use as late as 1925) by the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company. This forerunner game was played with seven yellow and seven red balls, a black ball, and the cue ball. Today, numbered stripes and solids are preferred in most of the world, though the British-style offshoot, blackball, uses the traditional colors (as did early televised "casino" tournaments in the U.S.). The game had relatively simple rules compared to today and was not added (under any name) to an official rule book (i.e., one published by a national or international sport governing body) until 1940.:24, 89–90
Standardized rules of play
American-style eight-ball rules are played around the world by professionals, and in many amateur leagues. Nevertheless, the rules for eight-ball may be the most contested of any billiard game. There are several competing sets of "official" rules. The non-profit World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA) – with national affiliates around the world, some of which long pre-date the WPA, such as the Billiard Congress of America (BCA) – promulgates standardized rules as Pool Billiards – The Rules of Play for amateur and professional play.
Meanwhile, many amateur leagues – such as the American Poolplayers Association (APA) / Canadian Poolplayers Association (CPA), the Valley National Eight-ball Association (VNEA, international in scope despite its historic name) and the BCA Pool League (BCAPL) – use their own rulesets; most of these are at least loosely based on the WPA/BCA version. Millions of individuals play informally, using colloquial rules which vary not only from area to area but even from venue to venue ("house rules").
A summary of the international rules follows. See the WPA/BCA or other leagues' published rules (which may conflict on minor points) for more details.
The regulation size of the table's playing surface is 9 by 4.5 ft (2.7 by 1.4 m), though exact dimensions may vary slightly by manufacturer. Some leagues and tournaments using the World Standardized Rules may allow smaller sizes, down to 7 by 3.5 ft (2.1 by 1.1 m). Early-20th-century 10 by 5 ft (3.0 by 1.5 m) models are occasionally also still used. WPA professional competition generally employs regulation tables, while the amateur league championships of various leagues, including ACS, BCAPL, VNEA, and APA, use the 7 foot tables in order to fit more of them into the hosting venue.
- 1 and 9: yellow
- 2 and 10: blue
- 3 and 11: red
- 4 and 12: purple (TV: pink)1
- 5 and 13: orange
- 6 and 14: green
- 7 and 15: maroon (TV: tan)1
- 8: black
- Cue: white
- 1Special sets designed to be more easily discernible on television substitute a rather light tan shade for the normally darker brown of the 7 and 15 balls, and pink for the dark purple of the 4 and 12; these alternative-color sets are now also available to consumers.
To start the game, the object balls are placed in a triangular rack. The base of the rack is parallel to the end rail (the short end of the pool table) and positioned so the apex ball of the rack is located on the foot spot. The balls in the rack are ideally placed so that they are all in contact with one another; this is accomplished by pressing the balls together toward the apex ball. The order of the balls should be random, with the exceptions of the 8 ball, which must be placed in the center of the rack (i.e., the middle of the third row), and the two back corner balls, one of which must be a stripe and the other a solid. The cue ball is placed anywhere the breaker desires behind the head string.
One person is chosen by some predetermined method (e.g., coin toss, lag, or win or loss of previous game or match) to shoot first, using the cue ball to break the object-ball rack apart. In most leagues it is the breaker's opponent who racks the balls, but in some, players break their own racks. If the breaker fails to make a successful break—usually defined as at least four balls hitting cushions or an object ball being pocketed—then the opponent can opt either to play from the current position or to call for a re-rack and either re-break or have the original breaker repeat the break.
If the 8 ball is pocketed on the break then the breaker can choose either to re-spot the 8 ball and play from the current position or to re-rack and re-break; but if the cue ball is also pocketed on the break then the opponent is the one who has the choice: either to re-spot the 8 ball and shoot with ball-in-hand behind the head string, accepting the current position, or to re-break or have the breaker re-break.
A player (or team) continues to shoot until committing a foul or failing to legally pocket an object ball (whether intentionally or not); thereupon it is the turn of the opposing player(s). Play alternates in this manner for the remainder of the game. Following a foul, the incoming player has ball-in-hand anywhere on the table, unless the foul occurred on the break shot, as noted previously.
Selection of the target group
At some point in the game, one of the players can select balls 1–7 (the "solids") or balls 9–15 (the "stripes") as their group (or suit) of object balls by legally pocketing a ball from one group. The other player is assigned the other suit. Balls pocketed on the break shot are not used to assign the suits. Once the suits have been assigned, they remain fixed throughout the remainder of the game.
Pocketing the 8 ball
Once all of a player's (or team's) group of object balls are pocketed, the player attempts to sink the 8 ball. In order to win the game the player first designates which pocket the 8 ball will be pocketed into and then successfully pockets the 8 ball into that pocket. If the player knocks the 8 ball off the table then the player loses the game. If the player pockets the 8 ball and commits a foul or pockets it into another pocket than the one designated then the player loses the game. (For regional amateur variations, such as fouling while trying to pocket the 8 ball resulting in instant loss despite not pocketing the 8, see "Informal rule variations", below.) Otherwise (i.e., if the 8 ball is neither pocketed nor knocked off the table) the shooter's turn is simply over, even if a foul occurs. In short, a World Standardized Rules game of eight-ball, like a game of nine-ball, is not over until the "money ball" is no longer on the table. This rule may be unfamiliar to some bar and league (e.g. APA) players, for whom such a foul normally means losing the game. The rule has been increasingly adopted by amateur leagues, including VNEA beginning with the 2008/2009 season, BCAPL, and USAPL.
Any of the following results in a player winning the game:
- The player legally pockets the 8 ball into a designated pocket, after all of that player's object balls have been pocketed
- The opposing player illegally pockets the 8 ball (e.g., before clearing all of that player's object balls, does so on the same shot as the last such object ball, or sinks the 8 ball into a pocket other than the one that was designated, or commits any foul, including scratching the cue ball into a pocket or knocking it off the table, while pocketing the 8 ball)
- The opposing player knocks the 8 ball off the table
- The shooter fails to strike one of their own object balls (or the 8 ball, if all of said object balls are already pocketed) with the cue ball, before other balls (if any) are contacted by the cue ball. This excludes "split" shots, where the cue ball strikes one of the shooter's and one of the opponent's object balls simultaneously.
- No ball comes into contact with a cushion or is pocketed, after legal cue ball contact with the (first) object ball (or 8 ball, if shooting for the 8).
- If an attempt is made to pocket a ball, and the ball hits the pocket, bounces out and lands on the ground, the ball is placed in the pocket and the game continues.
- The shooter does not have at least one foot on the floor (this requirement may be waived if the shooter has a relevant disability, or the venue has not provided a mechanical bridge).
- The cue ball is shot before all balls have come to a complete stop from the previous shot.
- The cue ball does not strike any ball.
- The cue ball is struck more than once during a shot
- The cue ball is jumped entirely or partially over an obstructing ball with an illegal jump shot that scoops under the cue ball.
- The cue ball is clearly pushed (shoved slowly, rather than struck), with the cue tip remaining in contact with it more than momentarily.
- The shooter touches the cue ball with something other than the tip of the cue.
- The shooter touches any ball (with body, clothing or equipment), other than as necessary to move the cue ball when the player has ball-in-hand.
- The shooter knocks a ball off the table.
- The shooter has shot out-of-turn.
- On the break shot, no balls are pocketed and fewer than four balls reach the cushions (in which case the incoming player can demand a re-rack and take the break or force the original breaker to re-break, or may take ball-in-hand behind the head string and shoot the balls as they lie)
Informal rule variations
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In Canada there are similar levels and types of variation as in the US (see below). One particularly common feature of Canadian bar pool is the "hooked yourself on the 8" rule – failure to hit the 8 ball when one is shooting for the 8 is a loss of game, unless one was hooked (snookered) by one's opponent (even then, if a pocket is called for the 8, as opposed to "just a shot", i.e. a safety, failure to hit the 8 is an instant loss). Pocketing an opponent's object ball while shooting for the 8, even if the shot was otherwise legal, is also a game-loser, often even in local league play. It is also an automatic loss if a player scratches while shooting for the 8, regardless of whether the eight ball is pocketed or not. "Split" shots, where the cue ball appears to simultaneously strike a legal and an opponent's object balls, are generally considered legal shots in informal games, as long as they are called as split shots, and the hit is in fact simultaneous to the human eye. A further Canadian bar-pool rule is that a shot is a visit-ending (but not ball-in-hand) foul if one pockets one's called shot but also pockets another ball incidentally, even if it is one's own (however, if that secondary pocketing was also called, the shot is legal, regardless of the order in which the balls were dropped). Finally, it is also a visit-ending foul if the cue ball touches any ball that is ultimately pocketed more than once on the same shot (this is colloquially known as a "double kiss"), even if the player called for the ball to enter that particular pocket on the shot.
The racked balls are often loose, crooked and/or not exactly on the foot spot (it is not considered to matter), and the rack itself may be made of rubber, and flexible, making a tight rack physically impossible to achieve. Other than the 8 ball, other balls may be placed far more randomly than players in other areas would tolerate, with large clusters of solids together, and stripes with each other.
In most of Latin America, including Mexico, shots are un-called, as in British pool (i.e. slop shots count, a concept foreign to most American players other than APA league members). In many if not most areas (Brazil being an exception), fouls result in ball-in-hand behind the head string only, as in American bar pool (allowing for intentional scratches that leave the opponent a very difficult shot if all opponent balls are "in the kitchen", behind the headstring).
A common Latin American variant of "last-pocket" is that each player is allowed either one (or even two) cue-ball scratches when shooting for the 8, which must be pocketed in the same pocket as the shooter's final object ball. Such fouls simply end the shooter's turn at the table and give the opponent ball-in-hand behind the head string; only the second (or third, respectively) such scratch is a loss of game (though scratching the 8 ball itself off the table or into the wrong pocket is an instant loss). This version is common even in US pool bars that are frequented by recent Latino immigrants. This requirement has a profound effect upon game strategy – it is effectively 5 times harder to run out – and most North American (and British, etc.) players are completely unprepared for it, unless they are last-pocket players. Players must be very mindful what they do with their last few balls, and common failure to get shape that allows for the last object-ball shot to set the player up for an easy 8 ball shot into the same pocket leads to long games with many bank, kick and kiss shots on the 8.
In some parts of Latin America, especially South America, the 1 ball often must be pocketed in the side pocket on the right-hand side of the table (relative to the end of the table one breaks from), and the 15 ball must be pocketed in the left side pocket. This rule probably developed to make it harder to run out after the first shot. Position play takes a larger role in this variation, and a player's strategy must necessarily initially revolve around getting the 1 or 15 in while preventing this opponent from doing likewise. When racking the balls for this variation, the 1 and 15 balls are placed behind the 8 ball at the center of the rack, the 1 ball on the left and the 15 ball on the right (from the racker's perspective). Latino last-pocket is virtually the only version of eight-ball played in Mexico, other than in the Mexico–United States border area. Another variant in Latin America is that the only ball-in-hand (behind the head string) foul is scratching the cue ball into a pocket; other fouls are simply loss-of-turn.
In Mexico, a minority of players rack with the 8 ball rather than the apex ball on the foot spot, a trait in common with British-style blackball/8-ball pool. Pocketing the 8 ball on the break shot is an instant win, as it usually is in American bar pool, but is not in the international rules. Because Mexican pool, except near the US border, is almost always played on open-pocket pool-hall-style tables, rather than coin-operated tables that trap object balls, any of one's own balls pocketed on a foul are spotted (but how they are spotted varies widely, with the balls often placed against the foot cushion on the center string, and adjacent to nearby diamonds if more than one must be spotted, instead of on the foot spot, but sometimes even to the side at long rail diamonds, due to the influence of coyote, a Mexican variant of Chicago; foot-spot spotting is neither common nor uncommon.) Pool itself is not considered a very serious game in the country other than in the northern states; in most of Mexico, three-cushion billiards is the serious game, while pool is mostly played by youths, by groups of friends (including many young women) as a bar game to pass the time, and by older working-class men as an after-work activity. In many recreation halls, dominoes is more popular than pool.
In many bars in Brazil (and not an official rule), a foul is generally punished by pocketing the lowest-numbered ball of the opponent. In that case, the cue ball remains where it stopped, as ball-in-hand is not commonly used. Additionally, in the case of scratching the cue ball, the opponent places the cue ball in the kitchen, on the head spot, or most commonly anywhere inside the "D", indicating some British snooker and/or blackball influence.
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New Zealand eight-ball in many respects is closer to British blackball, but with numbered balls being used. A "D" is typically drawn on the table above the baulk line (as on a snooker table) and the shooting player is required to place the cue ball within it on the break-off and after an opponent scratches. The shooting player can shoot the ball in any direction from within the "D". If no "D" is drawn on the table then the "forward play" rule is followed: After a scratch, the player with ball-in-hand must shoot forward of the baulk line, i.e. towards the rack area, even if all legal balls are behind the baulk line. The "two-shot rule" of blackball may or may not be followed; this depends on individual players and/or pubs.
The "nomination" rule is unique to New Zealand: A player snookered on the 8 ball may nominate one of the opponent's balls (if any remain) to hit as an alternative, legal "ball on". However, the shooter is not permitted to pot (pocket) such a nominated ball – doing so results in a loss of game.
In North African countries (as in Latin America, but reversed), both the 1 and 15 balls must be pocketed in the sides, the 15 on the right and 1 on the left (relative to the end of the table one breaks from). The North African version of the informal game is always played "last-pocket". Ball-in-hand is not taken on fouls, and "bank-the-8" is a very common rule in addition to last-pocket.
United Kingdom and Ireland
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Pool is popularly played in two forms. Traditionally it is played with smaller balls than the internationally standardized version, on a 4.5 by 7 foot pub-sized table, with differently shaped, smaller pockets. The cue ball is also slightly smaller than the object balls. "American-style" pool tables are also common in the UK, especially for nine-ball competition; the tables themselves are often referred to as "nine-ball tables", with that game being played only rarely on the more common, smaller traditional British-style tables. The two most common competitive rule sets used on the traditional tables are WEPF world eightball pool rules (replacing old EPA rules), and WPA world-standardized blackball rules. Most amateurs play "pub rules", meaning the local rule variation established at that venue.
The two standardized competitive rule sets have features which some amateur pub players object. As one example, WEPF rules permit intentional fouls. Despite opponents being awarded two visits for a standard foul in pub pool, for one to cause an intentional foul or to not try to play a legal shot is seen as unsportsmanlike (as it is in pub/bar pool in the US and many other places). As another example, in WPA rules, rather than getting two independent visits after a foul, the incoming player gets one free shot and then play returns to normal. As most pub rules are based around old EPA rules, in which two visits are awarded (rather than a free shot) amateurs are often unhappy with this difference in blackball, although it is in no way as offensive as intentional fouls which are illegal in blackball and result in loss of frame.
Not all differences are controversial. Both WEPF and WPA require a player to either pot on their visit, or drive any ball, including the white, into a cushion after hitting a legal object ball, or else they give a foul. Although the precise specifics of the rule are a mouthful, many amateur players find the it acceptable. It is primarily as a way to prevent "tucking up", whereby a player does not attempt to pot and instead just rolls up to their object ball to use it to snooker their opponent; tucking up is seen as unsporting, so being forced to play harder shots is quite welcomed.
There are several sets of rules which use a combination of many others in an attempt to find a balance between WPA rules, which are seen as more aggressive, and WEPF rules which are often referred to, pejoratively, as "chess" because of the amount of safety play they encourage, which can drag a game out.
During game play, if the player fails to hit a ball of the designated group, or hits the opponent's ball with the cue ball, then the opponent receives 2 shots unless the opponent has pocketed all his or her balls and only the 8 ball remains, in which case the opponent will only get one shot. In case of such a foul, the game continues with the player playing the cue ball at the place where it stopped. If a scratch occurs, then the opponent plays ball-in-hand, but is only allowed to place it anywhere in the D. However, that player may shoot the cue ball in any direction. Knocking a ball (apart from the cue ball) off the table carries no penalty. Instead, the misplaced ball is returned to its original place and the game continues.
If a scratch or other foul occurs while playing the 8 ball, as long as the opponent has at least one ball of his or her group present on the table and the 8 ball is not pocketed, the game continues. In both cases of this foul-on-the-8 situation, the opponent gets two chances (regardless of whether any balls are potted on the first chance) before the fouling player may shoot again. In these circumstances, treatment of the cue ball depends on the type of foul. If the cue ball had been scratched, the cue ball must be placed behind the break line.[clarification needed] If it was some other foul which had occurred while playing the 8 ball, the cue ball is not moved. If the incoming opponent scratches,[clarification needed] the player who originally fouled now receives two chances. When the 8 ball is the only ball on the table, any kind of foul ends the game, and the opponent of the fouling player wins.
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Most commonly of all in American bar pool – sometimes called straight eight by its aficionados, and usually played on coin-operated, smaller tables – a requirement may be that all shots be called in detail. This typically includes what balls and bank/kick cushions will be involved in the shot, and in what order. The shot considered a turn-ending (but not ball-in-hand) foul if not executed precisely as planned, but a loss of game if the "foul" shot pocketed the 8 ball. Contrariwise, some Americans hold that nothing other than the 8 ball has to be called in any way – i.e., that "slop" counts.
In informal amateur play in most areas, the table will only be considered open if no balls were pocketed, or an equal number of stripes and solids were pocketed, or the cue ball was scratched (into a pocket or off the table), on the break; if an odd number of balls were legally pocketed, such as one solid and two stripes, or no solids and one stripe, the breaker must shoot the balls that were pocketed in the greatest quantity (stripes in these examples). The table is almost never considered so open as for it to be legal to use a ball of the opposite suit, much less the 8 ball, as the first ball in a combination shot while the table is open (despite this being perfectly legal in WPA World Standardized and many US league rules). In non-money games it is fairly common for a foul break in which the rack was not struck at all (e.g., due to a miscue) to be re-shot by the original breaker.
Fouls, in common bar pool, that are not cue-ball scratches generally only cause loss of turn, with cue ball left in place (even if it is hooked). Even in the case of a scratch, this only results in ball-in-hand behind the head string. Regionally, there is a great deal of bar pool variation in the handling of fouls while shooting at and/or pocketing the 8 ball. In some cases any foul while shooting at but not pocketing the 8 is a loss of game, in others only a foul while otherwise successfully pocketing the 8, and in yet others only certain fouls, such as also sinking an opponent's ball and the 8 on the same shot, or hitting the 8 then cue-ball scratching, are game-losing.
What is considered a foul further diverges from established, published rulesets. Scoop-under jump shots are usually considered valid (these are fouls in WPA and most league rules, as they are double-hits, though few players realize it). When a cue ball is frozen or near-frozen to an object ball, shooting it dead-on, in line with both balls, is a foul in most formal rulesets (as another kind of double-hit), but is generally tolerated in bar pool.
Other US bar pool oddities varying from area to area include: Knocking the cue ball off the table on the break may be an instant loss; scratching on the break may be an instant loss; pocketing the 8 ball on the break (without scratching) may be either an instant win or instant loss (the latter being a rare variant); no safeties may be allowed at all – all shots may be required to be at least vaguely plausible attempts to pocket a legal ball; all jump shots may be banned; massé shots may be banned; it may be illegal to use the 8 ball in any way in combinations, caroms, or kisses; the 8 ball may be required to be pocketed "cleanly" in the sense of no contact with other object balls (even if the kiss shot can be accurately called); failure to hit one of one's own object balls (or the 8 if shooting for the 8) may be considered a "table scratch" that gives the opponent a shot in-hand from behind the head string; failure to hit the 8 if shooting for the 8 may be a loss of game; and a "split" shot, where the cue ball appears to simultaneously strike a legal ball and an opponent's object ball, may be considered a legal shot, as long as it is called as a split shot, and the hit is simultaneous to the naked eye.
"Bank-the-8" is a common American amateur variation, especially on coin-operated bar tables (because it usually makes the game last longer), in which the 8 ball must be banked off one or more cushions (kick shots may also qualify in some versions), into the called pocket; either player may suggest bank-the-eight at any time before or during the game, and the other may accept or refuse; all other rules apply as usual. Playing bank-the-eight may be considered rude if other players are waiting for a turn at the table.
A similarly motivated variant is "last-pocket", in which the 8 ball must be pocketed in the same pocket as the shooting player's last object ball (i.e., each player may be said to eventually "own" a pocket in which their 8 ball shot must be played if they have already run out their suit); all other rules apply as usual. This variant is also popular in Mexico.
Due probably to the influence of nine-ball, in which the 1 ball must be the apex ball of the rack, most American bar players traditionally rack a game of eight-ball with the 1 ball in this position. Racking is also typically done solid-stripe-solid-stripe-solid along the two sides of the rack, resulting in solids being on all three corners. This is not a legal rack in World Standardized Rules, nor any other notable league ruleset other than APA.
Derivative games and variants
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In the United Kingdom, eight-ball pool (and its internationally standardized variant blackball) has evolved into an overall rather different game, influenced by English billiards and snooker, and has become popular in amateur competition in Britain, Ireland, Australia, and some other countries. As with American-style eight-ball, there are multiple competing standards bodies that have issued international rules. Aside from using unnumbered object balls (except for the 8), UK-style tables have pockets just larger than the balls. More than one type of rest is typically used. Most tables do not have diamonds on the rails, and consequently the racking spot is on the baulk line not at the second-diamond headstring. The rules significantly differ in numerous ways, including the handling of fouls, which may give the opponent two shots, racking (the 8 ball, not the apex ball, goes on the spot), selection of which group of balls will be shot by which player, handling of frozen balls and snookers, and many other details.
The hybrid game eight-ball rotation is a combination of eight-ball and rotation, in which the players must pocket their balls (other than the 8, which remains last) in numerical order. Specifically, the solids player starts by pocketing the 1 ball and ascends to the 7 ball, and the stripes player starts by pocketing the 15 ball and descends to the 9 ball.
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- "Scottish Pool Association". Archived from the original on 13 April 2014.
- Shamos, Mike (1999). The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Billiards. New York: Lyons Press. ISBN 1-55821-797-5.
- Jewett, Bob (February 2002). "8-Ball Rules: The Many Different Versions of One of Today's Most Common Games". Billiards Digest Magazine: 22–23.
- Hickok, Ralph (2001). "Sports History: Pocket Billiards". Archived from the original on 5 December 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-13.
- Shamos, Mike (1995–2005). "A Brief History of the Noble Game of Billiards". Billiard Congress America. Archived from the original on 27 January 2007. Retrieved 2006-12-13.
- Pool Billiards – The Rules of Play (PDF). World Pool-Billiard Association. January 1, 2008. Retrieved March 21, 2012.
- "ENGLISH POOL ASSOCIATION". Retrieved 13 December 2015.
- "ENGLISH POOL ASSOCIATION". Retrieved 13 December 2015.
- "World Pool-Billiard Association - 9 Ball Rules". Retrieved 13 December 2015.
- See for example: Mauro, Ted (2007). "Billiard Rules? Bar Rules, League Rules, Which Rules Are Straight Eight?". Pool-Billiards-Game.com. Pueblo, Colorado: self-published. Retrieved 2009-06-13. Many other blogs and offline personal writings can confirm this author's take on the matter, but little authoritative has been written on the subject, as "bar pool" is of little consequence in the world of organized pool.