Pocket billiards, or pool, is played countless ways across the globe. Here in North Carolina, there are even regional differences in rules. There are “official” rules for different elements of the game, but there are also “house rules” that vary at different bars, community centers, and pool halls. The rules regarding what happens surrounding a scratch are particularly diverse. For simplicity’s sake, we will just look at 8-ball rules, but in other pocket billiards games, this is equally true.

What is a scratch?

Before we do that, let’s better define a “scratch.” A scratch is a term to describe certain types of fouls during a game of pool. The most common foul described as a scratch is hitting the cue ball into a pocket, but others, like the failure for the cue ball to strike another ball, or knocking the cue ball off the table, are also often referred to as scratches. Those that do not involve hitting the cue in the pocket are sometimes differentiated more specifically as being “table scratches.”

American Poolplayers Association

This organization, which calls itself “the world’s largest pool league” publishes a rule book with detailed guidance for many games. For 8-ball, the rules describe a number of fouls that lead to a penalty. These include:
· The cue ball entering a pocket after a shot
· The cue ball falling out of play, for instance, off the table
· The cue ball striking a ball other than their own first (those with stripes must hit a stripe first and same for solids)
· Failure of the struck ball to hit a rail after impact between cue and object ball
· If the cue ball doesn’t touch any other ball after it is struck
· Moving a stationary ball or altering the course of a moving ball illegally
· Hitting the cue ball over another ball by “jumping.”

The penalty for any of these fouls leads to “ball in hand” for the incoming player. When a player has a ball in hand, they can place the ball anywhere in play and aim at any of their balls that they wish.

Billiard Congress of America

The other main body looked to for official rules is the Billiard Congress of America. Their rules are virtually identical and can be viewed here. On fouls, rule 3.9 says, “If the shooter commits a foul, play passes to his opponent. The cue ball is in hand, and the incoming player may place it anywhere on the playing surface.”

The BCA rules list a few other fouls as well, like not keeping a foot on the table, cue stick on the table and slow play. These would likely not be described as “scratches, ” but the penalty for all fouls (other than extreme unsportsmanlike conduct) are the same – loss of turn and ball in hand for the opponent.

Common House Rules

While the official rules are simple in this regard, many regional house rules will put a local twist on the scratch rules. Many play that instead of ball in hand. The incoming player places the ball at the head of the table, where players break, and can only strike a ball in front of this line. It is also common to require the person who scratched to “spot a ball” from their sunk balls. This means they need to remove a previously pocketed ball and place it at the foot of the table as a penalty.

Triangle Home Gamerooms

We’d love to hear from you on how you play scratches. Is there a local rule you grew up playing with here in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill or Cary? If you moved here from another area of the country or the world, did they play scratches differently somehow? Let us know. Also, always keep in mind that if you need a new pool table, pool cue, accessories, or you just want to discuss the rules, we’re right here between Raleigh and Durham. Give us a call at (919) 661-2738 with any questions and comments.