These general rules apply to all pocket billiard games, unless specifically noted to the contrary in the individual game rules.
1. Tables, balls, equipment. All games described in these rules are designed for tables, balls and equipment meeting the standards prescribed in the Billiards Congress of America Equipment Specifications.
2. Racking the balls. A triangle must be used when racking the balls and the apex ball should be placed on the foot spot. The other balls must be lined up behind the apex ball and compacted together so they all touch each other.
3. Striking cue ball. To make a legal shot you must strike the ball with the tip of the cue only. If you strike the ball with any other part of the cue it is a foul.
4. Failure to pocket a ball. If a player doesn't sink a ball on their shot, the player's inning is over and the opponent will take their turn at the table.
5. Lag for break. The following is used for the lag for the opening break. Each player should use balls of equal size and weight (preferably cue balls, but when not available, non-striped object balls). With the balls in hand behind the head string, one player to the left and one to the right of the head spot, the balls are shot to the foot cushion at the same time and back to the head end of the table. The player whose ball is closest to the innermost edge of the head cushion wins the lag. The lagged ball must touch the foot cushion at least once. Other cushion contacts are immaterial, except as prohibited below.
You will automatically lose the loss of the lag if : (1) your ball crosses into your opponent's side of the table, (2) the ball doesn't contact the foot cushion, (3) the ball falls into a pocket, (4) the ball jumps from the table, (5) the ball touches the long cushion, (6) the ball rests within the corner pocket and past the nose of the head cushion, or (7) the ball touches the foot rail more than once. If both players break any of the automatic-loss lag rules, or if the referee cannot determine which ball is closer, the lag is called a draw and is then replayed.
6. Opening break shot. Which player gets to break is determined by either lag or lot. (The lag for break is required for tournament and formal games.) Whoever wins the lag or lot has the choice of breaking or letting their opponent break.
7. Cue ball on opening break. The opening break shot is taken with cue ball in hand behind the head string. The object balls are placed according to the game's specific rules. The game is officially started when the cue ball has been struck by the cue tip and it crosses the head string.
8. Deflecting the cue ball on opening break. Stopping or deflecting the cue ball after it crosses the head string, and before striking the racked balls, is a foul on the break shot and you will lose your turn. The opponent has the choice of receiving cue ball in hand behind the head string or passing the cue ball in hand behind the head string back to the player who committed the foul. (Exception: ball in hand on the whole table: see rule 1.3 for 9-Ball). A warning must be given that a second violation during the game will cause the offending player to lose the match by forfeiture (See Rule 28).
9. Cue ball in hand behind the head string. This occurs in specific games when the opening break is administered or a player's scratching is penalized by the incoming player having cue ball in hand behind the head string. The incoming player can then position the cue ball anywhere behind the head string.
The shooting player may shoot at any ball as long as the base of the ball is on or below the head string. You can't shoot at a ball which has its base above the head string, unless you first shoot the cue ball below the head string and then after hitting a rail the cue ball comes back above the head string and hits the object ball. The ball's base (the point of the ball touching the table) determines whether it is above or below the head string.
If the incoming player accidentally puts the cue ball on or below the head string, the referee or opposing player must tell the shooting player of the mistake before they shoot. If the opposing player fails to do this then the shot will be considered legal. If the shooting player is told of the improper placement, they must move the cue ball. If a player places the cue ball completely outside the kitchen and then shoots it, it is considered a foul if it is called by the opponent or the referee.
When the cue ball is in hand behind the head string, it stays in hand (not in play) until the player drives the cue ball past the head string by hitting it with their cue tip.
The cue ball may be moved by the player's hand or cue, etc., as long as it remains in hand. Once the cue ball is in play it may not be impeded in any way by the player, if it is it is considered a foul.
10. Pocketed balls. A ball is considered to be pocketed if as a result of an otherwise legal shot, it falls off the table into the pocket and stays there. (A ball that falls from an automated return system is not counted as a ball that has not remained pocketed.) A ball that rebounds from the pocket back onto the table isn't counted as a pocketed ball.
11. Position of balls. The position of a ball is judged by where the ball's base (or center) lies.
12. Foot on floor. If a player shoots when at least one foot isn't touching the floor it's a foul.
13. Shooting with balls in motion. If the cue ball or any object ball is in motion (a spinning ball is in motion) and a player shoots, it is a foul.
14. Completion of stroke. A stroke isn't completed (and therefore isn't counted) until all the balls on the table are still.
15. Head string defined. The area behind the head string doesn't include the head string. An object ball that is dead center on the head string is playable when specific game rules say a player must shoot at a ball past the head string. The cue ball, when put in play behind the head string (cue ball in hand behind the head string), may not be placed directly on the head string; it has to be behind it.
16. General rule, all fouls. The penalties for fouls are different from game to game but the following apply to all fouls: (1) a player's inning ends; (2) if on a stroke, the stroke is invalid and any pocketed balls are not counted to the shooter's credit; and (3) any ball(s) is respotted only if the game's rules require it.
17. Failure to contact object ball. If the cue ball doesn't touch any legal object ball first it is a foul. Playing away from a touching ball doesn't constitute having hit that ball.
18. Legal shot. Unless otherwise stated in a specific game rule, the cue ball must touch a legal object ball and then (1) sink a numbered ball, or (2) cause the cue ball or any numbered ball to strike a cushion. It is a foul if you fail to do this.
19. Cue ball scratch. If you sink the cue ball on a stroke it is a foul (scratch). It is also a foul if the cue ball strikes an object ball that has already been sunk (for example, in a pocket full of object balls).
20. Fouls by touching balls. If you make contact with the cue ball or any object balls in play with anything except the cue tip it is a foul. During a refereed game, any object ball moved during a foul has to be returned as close as possible to its original position as judged by the referee, and the incoming player doesn't have the option of restoration.
21 Foul by placement. It is a foul if you touch any object ball with the cue ball while it is in hand.
22. Fouls by double hits. If the cue ball is touching the required object ball before the shot, the player may shoot at it as long as any normal stroke is employed. It is a foul if the cue touches the cue ball more than once on a shot, or if the cue touches the cue ball when or after the cue ball strikes an object ball. If a third ball is close by, make sure you don't foul that ball under the first part of this rule.
23. Push shot fouls. It is a foul if the cue ball is pushed instead of being shot by the cue tip.
24. Player responsibility fouls. Players are responsible for chalk, bridges, files and any other items or they use at or around the table. If any object touches a ball in play it is a foul.
25. Illegal jumping of ball. If a player strikes the cue ball below its center ('digs under' it) and purposely makes it rise off the table in an attempt to clear an obstructing ball it is a foul. If it happens accidentally they aren't considered fouls although they may still be ruled foul strokes, if for example, the ferrule or cue shaft touches the cue ball in the course of the shot.
26. Jump shots. Unless otherwise stated in specific game rules, it's legal to cause the cue ball to rise from the table by elevating the cue on the shot and forcing the cue ball to rebound from the bed of the table. However, any miscue while attempting a jump shot is a foul.
27. Balls jumped off table. If a ball lands anywhere other than the bed of the table (on the cushion top, rail surface, floor, etc.) it is considered a jumped ball. Balls may bounce anywhere on the table as long as if they return to the table bed under their own power and aren't touching anything that isn't a part of the table. If a ball touches anything that isn't a part of the table, such as a light fixture or chalk, etc. and still lands on the table, it is considered a jumped ball.
If any ball is considered a jumped ball the stroke is a foul. All jumped object balls are spotted (except in Nine Ball) when all the balls are still. See specific game rules for putting the cue ball in play after a jumped cue ball foul.
28. Special intentional foul penalty. You can't touch the cue ball with anything other than the cue tip; if you do it is an automatic a foul under the provisions of Rule 19. If the referee rules it is intentional contact the player will be warned once that a second foul during the game will result in a loss by forfeiture.
29. One foul limit. Unless specific game rules state otherwise, only one foul is called on a player in each inning. If different penalties apply, the most severe penalty is the factor determining which foul is assessed.
30. Balls moving spontaneously. If a ball moves in any way "by itself", the ball stays in the place it stops and play continues. A ball that falls into a pocket "by itself" after being still for at least five seconds shall be placed as close as possible to its position before falling and play can continue.
If an object ball falls into a pocket "by itself" while a player is shooting at it, so that the cue ball passes over the spot the ball was in and is therefore unable to hit it then the cue ball and object ball are returned to their spots before the stroke and the player is allowed to shoot again. If any other object balls are disturbed on the stroke they are also returned their original positions before the shooter goes again.
31. Spotting balls. When specific game rules call for spotting balls, they are replaced on the long string on the table after a stroke is completed. A single ball is placed on the foot spot. If more than one ball needs to be spotted, they are placed on the long string in ascending numerical order, beginning on the foot spot and advancing toward the foot rail.
When balls on or near the foot spot or long string interfere with the spotting of balls, the balls to be spotted are placed on the long string as close as possible to the foot spot without moving the interfering balls. Spotted balls are to be placed as close as possible or frozen (at the referee's discretion) to such interfering balls, except when the cue ball is interfering. Balls to be spotted against the cue ball are placed as close as possible without being frozen.
If there isn't enough room on the long string between the foot spot and the foot rail cushion for spotted balls then they are positioned on the extension of the long string "in front" of the foot spot (between the foot spot and the center spot), as close as possible to the foot spot and in the same numerical order as if they were spotted "behind" the foot spot (lowest numbered ball closest to the foot spot).
32. Jawed balls. If two or more balls are locked between the jaws or sides of the pocket, with one or more of them suspended in air, the referee inspects the balls in position and follows this procedure: he shall visually or physically project each ball directly downward from its position; any ball the referee judges would fall in the pocket when moved directly downward is considered a pocketed ball, if the ball is judged that it would come to rest on the table it isn't pocketed. The balls are then positioned based on the referee's judgment and play continues according to specific game rules as if no locking or jawing of balls had occurred.
33. Additional pocketed balls. If extra balls are pocketed on a stroke they are counted in accordance to the rules for that specific game.
34. Non player interference. If any ball is moved during a game by a non-player the ball will be replaced as close as possible to its original position immediately before the incident and play shall continue with no penalty. The referee shall replace the balls if the game is officiated. This rule also applies to "act of God" interference, such as an earthquake, hurricane, power failure, etc. If the balls can't be restored to their original positions then the game should be replayed with the original player breaking. This rule doesn't apply to 14.1 Continuous Pool where the game consists of successive racks: the rack in progress will be terminated and a new rack shall be started with the players lagging for break. The score at the time the game was disrupted shall be kept.
35. Breaking subsequent racks. In a match that consists of short rack games, the winner of each game breaks in the next game. The following are common practices which may be designated by officials in advance: (1) Players alternate break. (2) Loser breaks. (3) Player trailing in games score breaks the next game.
36. Play by innings. Players each alternate turns at the table during a game with a player's inning ending when they either fail to sink a ball or a foul is committed. When an inning ends without a foul the incoming player accepts the table in position.
37. Object ball frozen to cushion or cue ball. This rule applies to any shot where the cue ball's first contact with a ball is with one that is frozen to a cushion or to the cue ball itself. After the cue ball touches the frozen object ball, the shot must result in either (1) a ball being sunk, or (2) the cue ball striking a cushion, or (3) the frozen ball being caused to strike a cushion (not just rebounding from the cushion it was frozen to), or (4) another object ball being caused to strike a cushion to which it was not already in contact with. It is a foul if none of these requirements take place. (Note: 14.1 Pool and other games specify additional requirements and applications of this rule; see specific game rules.)
An object ball isn't considered frozen to a rail unless the referee or one of the players states so before the ball is involved in a shot.
38. Playing from behind the string. When a player has the cue ball in hand behind the string (in the kitchen), he must drive the cue ball outside the kitchen before it touches a cushion or an object ball. If the match is refereed and you fail to do this it is a foul. If there is no referee the opponent has the option to call it a foul or to make the offender replay the shot with the balls restored to their positions prior to the shot.
Exception: if an object ball lies on or outside the head string and is playable, but so close that the cue ball touches it before the cue ball is out of the kitchen, the ball can legally be played.
If, with cue ball in hand behind the head string and while the shooter is attempting a shot, the cue ball accidentally hits a ball behind the head string, and the cue ball crosses the line, it is a foul. If, with cue ball in hand behind the head string, the shooter causes the cue ball to accidentally hit an object ball, and the cue ball doesn't cross the head string, the following applies: the incoming player can either call a foul and having cue ball in hand, or having the balls returned to their original position, and having the offender replay the shot.
If a player under the same conditions purposely causes the cue ball to touch an object ball behind the head string, it is deemed unsportsmanlike conduct.
39. Cue ball in hand foul. During cue ball in hand placement, the player may use their hand, or any part of the cue, to place the ball. When placing the ball, any forward stroke motion striking the cue ball is a foul, if not a legal shot.
40. Interference. If you distract or interfere with a player who is shooting it is a foul. If a player shoots out of turn or moves a ball when it isn't their turn it is considered interference.
41. Devices. Players aren't allowed to use a ball or any other measuring device to see if a ball would travel through a gap, etc. You may use the cue stick only to judge gaps, etc., as long as the cue is held by the hand. If you use anything else it is a foul and deemed unsportsmanlike conduct.
42. Illegal marking. If a player purposely marks the table in any way to assist them in executing a shot it is a foul. If the player removes the mark before shooting it is allowed.