Whether you’re playing billiards, pool, or snooker, the first thing you need to do is rack the balls in the right formation and in the right order to make for a good game.
Without this, you’ll likely find that the break will suffer and so will the game.
Don’t give your opponent the upper hand just by being lazy with your rack. We don’t often give much thought to the racking process before the game.
We think of it as the bit we can rush through to get to the actual game, but racking your balls correctly is so important for your technique and for a good clean break.
If the balls aren’t tight then however much force you apply in the first shot, a lot of that energy will be completely wasted as the balls bump into each other again and again, as they get incrementally further away from each other.
Looking at the rack after, it won’t even look that different than it did before you took the shot.
Worse than that is that you can wind up potting the cue ball before the game even really starts and that’s not a great way to start a game.
So, we’ve established that it is worth paying attention to racking the balls correctly before you break, now let’s talk about how you do that.
We’ll go through some basic formations for the perfect rack for different types of pool including 10-ball, straight pool, and cutthroat pool.
If you’re not playing in a tournament at a national level then the tools you’ll probably have are the pool balls and a standard triangle or diamond-shaped rack in plastic or wood.
That’s all you’ll need except for, of course, an actual pool table.
Eight Ball Pool: How To Rack Correctly
In this game, you have fifteen object balls in a triangular shape containing five rows.
The first row has a single ball and the fifth row has five balls. Each row has one more or one fewer balls in than the one before. You get the idea of a triangle.
The single ball at the top of the triangle should be on the foot spot shown on the pool table skin, but you can move it once you’ve racked the balls and before you take away the template rack if you want to.
The apex ball can be any one of the balls except the black 8 ball. The 8 ball goes in the third row down from the point in the middle, so it is directly below the apex ball at the point.
The two corners nearest the foot of the table should be made from one strip and one block color, but it does not matter which way round this is or which specific balls they are.
The next step is to fill in the gaps with the remaining balls.
Do this in no particular order, but do check when you are done that the black 8 ball is still in the middle of the third row and that the two bottom corners still have one block and one strip ball making them.
The next step is to move the infill balls to try and eliminate clusters of either spots or stripes. Ideally in a row, you would have alternating block color balls and striped balls so your bottom row might go spot, stripe, spot, stripe, stripe to make the corners as they need to be.
There’s no need to spend too long on making sure that balls of a feather aren’t sticking together, but just spend a few seconds trying to separate any clusters out.
The main thing to remember is that the 8 ball needs to be central, the top ball needs to be on the foot spot so the triangle points towards the top of the table, and that the bottom corners should be made from one stripe and one block color.
Once you’re happy with the formation, then touch the triangular rack template with your fingertips and gently slide it to position the top ball over the foot spot.
Then gently remove the rack template without nudging the balls. Now you’re ready to play 8-ball pool.
Nine Ball Pool: How To Rack Correctly
In 8-ball pool the numbers on the balls don’t matter much unless it’s a number 8 of course, but in a nine-ball pool game, the numbers do matter.
You only need balls numbered one to nine, so put aside the rest.
With your diamond-shaped rack template, you first need to put the number one at the top of the diamond. This is your apex ball and will go on the foot spot.
The other balls go in ascending order left to right behind the one, except for the nine-ball which goes in the center of the diamond.
The diamond has five rows which should go as follows:
- Row one: number 1 ball (this sits on the foot spot)
- Row two: balls 2 and 3
- Row three: balls 4, 9, then 5
- Row four: 6 and 7 numbered balls
- Row five: the 8 ball goes at the tip of the diamond nearest to the foot of the table
Make sure that the one and eight balls are the tips of the diamond and that the number nine is in the center, then make sure the one ball is on the foot spot and pointing towards the top of the table.
Carefully remove the template and you’re done.
Ten Ball Pool: How To Rack Correctly
Ten Ball Pool is a little easier to explain. You use ten object balls in a triangle shape. Use numbers one through ten to make your triangle.
Make sure the one ball is at the top of the triangle as the apex ball and that the ten ball is in the middle.
So that would be the middle ball in the 2nd row up from the bottom, or the middle of the 3rd row down from the apex ball. All other balls are placed in the triangle shape randomly.
Position the one ball over the foot spot, make sure the balls are tight together, and lift the triangle rack.
Straight Pool: How To Rack Correctly
For the opening break of straight pool, you’ll need to rack all fifteen object balls with the apex ball on the foot spot.
The balls will then be re-racked during the game and if by then you are only using 14 balls, then leave out the apex ball in the triangle.
Traditionally the one and the five balls make up the bottom corners and any spotted ball becomes the apex, but many players do not fuss with the arrangement of the rack for straight pool.
Cutthroat Pool: How To Rack Correctly
Cutthroat Pool uses a traditional triangular rack with the one ball as the apex on the foot spot and the 6 and 11 balls used as bottom corners.
All other balls are placed randomly inside the rack.
Tips For Creating A Better Rack
No pun intended of course, but as we said at the start, a tight, professional-looking rack is the first step to your victory in pool or any cue-based game.
So let’s have a look at some practical ways you can achieve a nice tight rack without the need for surgery. Ok, pun intended that time.
Start With The Apex
The apex is what we call the first ball or the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.
Whether it is actually the number one ball or you’re using any other ball as the apex of your triangle or diamond, it must go in first.
Then let it settle in position before adding the other balls behind it.
Apply The Pressure
When you’re using a diamond rack template, it’s a good idea to push the wood or plastic template forward just a touch before you lift it up.
Once all the balls are in the correct position, just move the rack template towards the top of the table just a bit.
This should tighten all the balls together without moving the apex ball off the foot spot. Applying gentle pressure with your fingers and palm as you do this will help the balls settle.
Use The Force
No, not literally, but if you find that balls aren’t wanting to stay in their tight formation, without the constraints of the rack template then some people find that placing the triangle or diamond back for a moment while spinning the stubborn balls towards the center of the formation will create a little friction in the fibers of the felt which help to keep them in place.
Of course, it’s just science, but to the naked eye, it will look like absolute Jedi magic.
Allow The Balls To Settle
Letting the balls settle for a moment just before you lift the rack template should help to ensure that the balls stay put where they need to be.
Every pool table skin is different, and unless you’re playing on a professional table which, let’s face it, most of us aren’t, then the balls will move around a tiny bit to where they are best supported by the felt.
You want this to be in a tight formation, but better one ball is a millimeter away from the others and it stays put than when you lift the rack, it runs away clean across the table.
Lift From The Back First
Lifting the rack template straight up in the air is the mark of the amateur pool player. Lifting from the back first is the key to a great rack that stays put.
By the ‘back’ we mean the base of the triangle or the tip of the diamond closest to the foot of the pool table.
If you’ve started with the apex at the top as you should have then this will help the bottom balls keep together.
Once the back has been lifted, slide the diamond or triangle forward towards the top of the table to release the top balls.
All this should be done without touching the template to any of the balls, but it’s how the professionals do it.
In summary, there are just a couple of things that really matter when it comes to making your pool racks, the first thing to remember is to get the right ball placement depending on the type of game you are playing.
Next, make sure you get the balls as tight as possible inside the template, and finally, try not to jostle the balls as you remove the rack.
According to official rules, you cannot touch the balls once the rack has been lifted, so do what you can to get it right the first time.
Pay attention, because in our experience, if you’re playing the game at a bar pool table, it becomes more and more difficult to correctly rack the balls on the first attempt as the night progresses, but we have no idea why that may be. Absolutely no idea.
That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.
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