The Game of Three Ball

by: Bob Jewett

Bob Jewett

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Three ball is a great game for group play. It is
fast action, pure offense, and suitable for small
stakes among players who are not perfectly
matched. Everyone has a chance to win even
if the better player will edge ahead in the long
run. The basic idea is for each player to break
and run three balls off the table in as few shots
as possible in any order and in any pocket. The
player who takes the fewest shots wins the pot.
If there is a tie for lowest score between any two
players, everyone antes again and gets another
turn until there is an untied best score in a
round. Any number may play, but four or more
is best. I’ve heard of 15 in a game.
There are many regional variations in the
detailed rules; I’ll try to cover the ones that
seem the most common. The standard rack
for the break is in a triangle as shown. Among
experienced players this rack is sometimes
considered too easy as the two back balls often
go along the route shown for the four ball —
four cushions around the table and back to its
home corner. I think this break is fine as long
as the players in the game rarely score a “two”
which would be like an eagle at golf, with four
strokes being par. Placing the three balls in line
for the “pro” break removes any really standard
Order is decided by any standard method, such
a pulling peas from a shake bottle. Since the
order is important towards the end of a round,
I favor having whoever shoots last in a round
shoot first in the next round. If you foul, it
is a one-stroke penalty, and any ball made on
the foul shot spots back up. That pretty much
guarantees you won’t win that round.
The recommended break is hard, nearly straight
at the head ball and from the center of the table.
Try to control the cue ball to bring it back to
the middle. This break gives the best chance to
make the two four-railers on the corner balls.
An alternative suggested in an on-line forum
looks a lot like a one-pocket break: shoot softly
from the side and just clip the head ball. That
repositions the farthest ball a little which is then
struck by the third ball and it is redirected to the
pocket. Even if the ball doesn’t go in, you should
have at least one good shot after the break.
If a player has no chance to tie — he has already
taken 4 strokes with 2 balls still up and a 4 has
already been scored — he should concede and
the next player will start. This helps a lot on
coin-op tables where balls in play are precious.
If you shoot last in the round, modify your
strategy accordingly. For example, if the best
score so far is a tie at four strokes, you have to
go all-out for a three, even if that means playing
a fourcushion carom or a 5-foot combination. If
you don’t get all the balls moving on your third
shot, there is no way to score a 3. On the other
hand, if there is a single score of four leading
and you shoot last, the other players are likely
to expect you to take a “conservative” four to tie
and get everyone into the next round.
For other variations, check out the article in
Wikipedia, which includes a 3-ball tourney

Pitching Curve Balls

Bob Jewett

by Bob Jewett

Can you make the object ball curve? There are some easy ways and some other ways that may be


Usually you want the object ball to take as straight a line as possible. This makes planning shots

much easier. Sometimes you would like the ball to curve some, and then you need to be creative.

The table can help in some situations. I first learned to play on a table that was tilted enough that

if you shot a ball off the spot from the kitchen, you could aim full at the ball and by the time the

cue ball got there, it would have moved a half a ball off-line which is just what you want for that

cut shot. When playing a straight-in shot, like the one ball in the diagram shooting with the cue

ball at A, all you had to do was shoot straight at the one ball with the right speed. The cue ball

would curve a little to the left in the short distance to the one ball, the one ball would go to the

right around the two and then take a big curve to the left to get to the pocket. For your next shot,

you could play the two ball slowly along the rail with just enough speed to get to the side pocket,

where it would take a hard left turn and score.

While such conditions can be amusing and even help you trim the suckers, they are not exactly

pool. A more legitimate way to make an object ball curve is to have it hit a cushion while rolling

smoothly on the cloth. Just bank a ball three cushions around the table and watch carefully as it

comes off the third rail — it will hook five or ten degrees right after the rail contact. On new, slippery

cloth, the hook might last for a foot of travel depending on the speed.

Similarly, if you shoot an object ball to travel a fair distance and it hits another object ball, it will

curve after the collision due to the follow it has picked up from the cloth.

On strongly napped snooker cloth, the ball is said to curve depending on whether it is running

with or against the nap, but I’ve never seen a noticeable effect.

But the most interesting kind of object ball curve is the sort shown in the diagram. Is it possible to

get some kind of spin on the object ball, presumably by putting the opposite kind on the cue ball,

to make it curve over enough to go into the pocket? There are some very good players who claim

to be able to do such shots, but I’ve never seen it demonstrated. I played with the shot for hours

after first hearing the claim and the best I could ever do was maybe a quarter-inch of curve in six

feet. Considering how many times I ran the one ball partly into the two in the attempts, one very

slight success is not promising. Maybe I just didn’t have the right idea about cue ball placement

and spin — I put the cue ball as shown and usually used right english. To see your progress, freeze

a third ball to the cushion at B and see how much of it you can hit.

So, here’s deal: if you can teach me how to make the one ball legally and consistently on good

equipment with curve — jumping the one over the two is easy but that’s not what I’m after — I’ll

buy dinner the next time we’re in the same place. You get to pick the restaurant, but your share

has to be less than two Ben Franklins.