Billiards Etiquette

For many years, pool has had a tarnished image. Ask the average person, and they’ll tell you that it’s mostly hoodlums, bikers, and gangsters who play pool in seedy bars while Hank Williams, Johnny Cash or Lynyrd Skynyrd plays in the background (please no more Ring of Fire or Freebird!).  In bar fights, cue sticks and balls are the weapons of choice, and most pool players spill their beers on the tables.  Right?  Well, Hollywood would have you believe this, anyway!

Seriously, though.  Pick a new song.

The fact is, the vast multitude of leagues are doing their part to give pool a better, polished and wholesome family image.  Unfortunately, only most players follow standard rules of etiquette. Not all do. This article is for those who need a refresher course on what makes for good manners around the pool table. Not you, of course. I know most of this will seem like common sense, but if you know anyone who could use it, please feel free to share this article with them.

First and foremost, treat the table with respect.  Don’t dance on it to some Miley Cyrus song, and don’t sit on the edge while you’re jawing with your buds.  We all know the pain of shooting on a table that doesn’t roll straight, right?  Let’s keep the tables as level as we can. So, yeah, take the bar fight outside too.

Don’t eat or drink anything near the table, please.  There are few things more annoying than playing on a table with beer and nacho stains all over it.  And if you’re drinking a beer, please don’t put it in a pocket while you’re shooting!  Yes, I have seen this many times. Keep the beer out of the pockets, and off of the rails.

Are you a smoker? Please quit. Barring that, don’t smoke over the table. Your nasty ashes get on the cloth and on the balls. If you have ever shot the perfect cut shot only to have it skid on you because the balls are dirty, you know what I’m talking about.  You do not look cool with that cigarette dangling out of the corner of your mouth while you shoot. Honestly, you look like an idiot.

And speaking of getting debris on the cloth…  Use some common sense when you’re powdering up your hand, OK?  Look, I get it.  You need the powder because you sweat like a call girl at church.  But you only need a little bit on the shaft of your cue for it to slide smoothly through your bridge.  You are not trying to soak up an oil spill. If you leave powder hand-prints all over the table, it will get on the balls, and they will skid on every other shot. Johnson & Johnson will not go out of business if you use your powder sparingly.

Now, let’s talk about personal etiquette. Or, in other words, sportsmanship. Don’t shark your opponent by shouting at your friend at the bar just as your opponent is about to shoot the 8-ball. Give her a chance to shoot the ball free from distraction. Coughing, yelling, asking her which ball she is shooting just as she’s taking her stroke, are all forms of sharking that are just not cool. Stay out of her line of aim, as well.  If you are sitting in your chair and she happens to line up a shot toward you, don’t twitch, and don’t move away. Just keep still and quiet.

Most pool halls and bars have people milling about, and many bar patrons will walk right near the tables while people are shooting.  Most of the time, it’s simply a hazard you have to deal with.  But if you are playing in a league or a tournament, be aware of what’s going on around you.  Don’t walk in front of someone’s field of view if they are down on a shot.  Don’t bump into a shooter, either.  Watch where you are going, and be courteous — I am sure you’d want them to give you the same courtesy when you’re shooting, right?

When it is your opponent’s turn to shoot, go sit in your chair, be still, and be quiet.  The Golden Rule here really does apply — do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 

When the game is over, shake your opponent’s hand, look them in the eye, and congratulate them on a good game, whether you win or lose.  Yes, it sucks to lose, especially when you miss some easy shots. Unfortunately, I am guilty of this myself: I miss an easy shot, and I get angry, muttering to myself. I may even pound my stick on the ground. I am not mad at my opponent, but when I display my anger, it still affects him, and it’s bad etiquette. This is a factor of my game that really needs work. If I have done this during one of our games, I apologize.

However, no matter how angry I get, when the game is over, I make sure to shake my opponent’s hand, and congratulate them with “good game.”  Whatever you do, don’t make some snarky comment about how lucky they were, or how unlucky you were.  If you had a rule dispute during the game, forget about it when the game is over.  There is no reason to continue discussing the issue afterward, and no reason to make your opponent feel guilty for his win.  Don’t be a sore loser.  And definitely don’t be a sore winner.

The game of pool is supposed to be fun.  It’s a chance to get away from your everyday life of work, sleep, eat, work. You play the game for your own reasons, but I’m going to guess that you play it because you enjoy it.  So, enjoy it, and let others enjoy it, too.  We all have a love of billiards in common, and if you play with good manners, we can all have fun together.

And for the love of all that’s holy, stop playing Ring of Fire twelve times in one night!

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