Billiards for Everyone

A Guide to Fun Handicapping

The last two months focused on some fun games to play when you are bored with the old “standards.” This month, we’re going to focus on playing the games you’re most familiar with.  With a bit of a twist.

So, you’re hitting balls around at your local watering hole.  You’re bored.  You’re even contemplating playing some Reverse Pool or Honolulu, when a friend comes in and wants to play.  Awesome!

The only problem is, he is MUCH better than you, and whenever you play him, you end up watching him shoot from the comfort of your chair.

Wouldn’t it be nice to come up with a way of making things a little more even?  Fear not, dear reader, the Billiards Professor is here to help!

Ideally, you want to make the game harder for the better player, and easier for the lesser player.  In a perfect world, once you’ve come up with a handicap that works, you should win about half of the games.  So, no, making him shoot with one hand using a broomstick is probably not fair.  Let’s come up with some fun ways of evening the score.


Make the better player shoot the balls in order.  Standard rules apply, but in order for him to keep shooting, he must shoot his balls into the pocket in order.  There are a couple of ways to play this.  The hardest is that if he does not hit the lowest ball first, it’s a foul (like 9-ball).  This makes it VERY difficult for him to play safeties, and gives the lesser player a huge advantage.  If you’re a rank amateur playing Earl Strickland, this might be fair.  But probably not. An easier way is to allow him to strike any of his balls first (like standard 8-ball WPA rules), but he still must pocket the balls in order.

Here a couple of other rules to make things more difficult:

  • The better player must bank a certain number of his shots (for example, he must bank at least 3 balls during his run). It’s up to the other player to make him comply by reminding him.
  • The lesser player, at any time during the better player’s turn, may call “my turn” to end the other player’s turn no matter what. The player at that point may still shoot the current shot, but must then give up the table, whether he makes it or not. The lesser player can do this only a set number of times – start with one time.
  • After the break, the lesser player can move/remove balls. For example, he may move the 8-ball to any spot on the table.  Or, he may remove any 3 balls and pocket them.
  • The lesser player gets ball in hand whenever he returns to the table. This one is a good one to give a player if you still want a good chance to beat them.  Most players think this gives them a huge advantage, but it’s not as good as they think.  Same with allowing him to remove balls after the break; all that does is give you more room to run balls without interference!

There are other ways to handicap other games as well.  You could restrict the better player in 14.1 to only running 14 balls at a time.  You can always allow the lesser player to break.  In One-Pocket, it’s common for people betting on the game to give “weight.”  If I play Scott Frost, for example, I might want to make it a 10-6 race instead of the standard 8-8.

Some handicaps give you a very distinct advantage, and some only a little.  Mix things up a bit, and see what works best for you.  Try playing a game where one of you plays reverse pool, and the other plays “normal.” You’d be surprised at that strategies you come up with when trying to play safe!


I would really like to hear from you about some of the games and special rules and handicaps you have come up with. Feel free to email me and tell me your stories!

If you have any questions you’d like me to ask, use #AskTheBilliardsProfessor on Twitter (@billiardsprof) or drop me a line at I can also be found hanging out with fellow billiards enthusiasts at Come on by and join the discussion!

Posted in Article, Handicapping, Table Talk, The Break / Rackem / Stroke Magazines
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