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Although you can’t play pool without the white ball, the white ball is not always your friend; it can get you into a lot of trouble depending on the circumstances. You’re supposed to be shooting the white ball so that it can in turn hit the object balls and pocket them, but if you accidentally sank the white ball itself, it’s a bad signal.
What happens when you sink the white ball in pool? This is called a “scratch” and is a foul in most cases, earning your opponent a ball-in-hand. On one hand, under special circumstances nothing will happen, on the other hand, you may completely forfeit the game.
Basically it can mean anything from no harm done to losing the game itself!
What is the white ball in pool?
The white ball is known as the “cue” ball. It is the white, unnumbered ball that players must always strike with the cue during the game. It is a foul to directly hit any other ball other than the white ball with the cue.
The objective is to hit the cue ball so that it strikes one or more object balls, either driving them to a pocket, or at least making them hit a cushion. But the cue ball itself must be kept clear of any pockets, or it’s a scratch!
What’s a scratch in pool?
A scratch is a term used to denote a foul, and broadly refers to hitting the cue ball into a pocket or driving it off the table.
But in fact, there are many other kinds of scratches.
There are some called “table” scratches which occur when the cue ball either completely misses the target ball or, even if it doesn’t miss, it fails to drive the object ball to a pocket or a cushion.
Then there are other serious scratches including driving the 8-ball off the table, hitting it into a pocket when it’s not the legal ball, or sinking it into a different pocket than the one you called. You shall find out why we called them “serious” in the next heading.
What happens when you scratch?
In order of increasing severity: sometimes you just lose your turn and nothing else, most times it’s a standard foul which gives your opponent the ball in hand, and other times you completely lose the game! Ouch.
What does ball-in-hand mean? The standard foul penalty is that the next player gets the ball in hand, and quite literally too. It means for the next shot, you can just pick up the cue ball with your hand and place it wherever you like on the table.
How much freedom he is allowed in choosing where to put the ball depends on the type of league and its rules. In “bar” games or “informal” games, usually they only allow you to place the ball within the kitchen i.e. the area behind the head string. But in professional leagues, it is usually the whole table.
Whichever the case, naturally, you wouldn’t want to give your opponent that chance, and especially not many times in a game!
Committing a standard foul and giving your opponent a ball in hand is bad as it is. But not even near as bad as committing a “serious” mistake like knocking the 8-ball off the table. If you do that, you lose the game! Yeah, you heard right. Game over!
What if you sink the white ball?
Well we’ve talked enough about scratches in general to give you an idea, but now let’s go into the details of our main topic.
What if you scratch on the cue ball by hitting it into a pocket? Well again, depending on the exact situation it can mean different things.
Let’s discuss the three possible scenarios separately.
1. On the break
The first possibility is that you sink the white ball on the break (the beginning of the game). Please don’t do this though, it will set a bad first impression.
However, in some rare situations, if a player does manage to scratch on the break, it’s not a big problem. At least not in professional style leagues. You will just lose your turn and the table will remain “open”. This means that the other player is still free to decide if he wants to shoot solids or stripes (regardless of any object balls you may have pocketed because you scratched).
But in some bar leagues, they have a rule stating that scratching on the break means automatically losing the game. Now that can be really embarrassing!
2. During the game
This is after the break shot, meaning once the game has started.
If you scratch on the cue ball anytime in the middle of the game you lose your turn and you will get a penalty. The penalty is that the opponent gets the ball in hand. Usually, by professional league rules, he can place the ball anywhere on the table. But in some informal games this can be restricted to the kitchen.
Also, as long as he doesn’t touch the ball with the cue, he can pick the ball up and place it as many times as he wants before he actually plays the shot. Once he strikes it with the cue, then it will count as a played shot.
3. On the 8-ball
The last possible scenario is that you scratch on the 8-ball shot. The 8-ball is the last ball you have to pocket to win the game after you have successfully pocketed all your object balls. So the 8-ball shot is like the winning shot. If you get the 8-ball before your opponent does, you win.
However, you can really mess up if you sink the white ball at this point in the game. It can turn the game around completely even if you were far ahead of your opponent previously.
Basically, if you sink the white ball along with the 8-ball, you lose! Believe it or not, your victory flips into a loss. You forfeit the game and your opponent wins. So scratching on the 8-ball is probably the worst thing you could do in a pool game.
But, in professional leagues, if you sink the white ball while the 8-ball is still in play then you still have a chance and all hope is not lost. This would count as a regular foul and your opponent will get a ball in hand. Still, even this is not a chance you’d like to take on your winning shot!
In short, sinking the white ball spells trouble, and sometimes complete death. So be wary of it, especially on the 8-ball shot!
What happens when you sink the white ball on the black?
In most leagues, if you sink the white ball on the black (i.e. the 8-ball), you immediately lose the game. This is considering that the 8-ball is no longer in play. If the 8-ball is in play, however, then you have a chance as this is usually considered a normal foul. The next player then gets to place the ball wherever he wants.
What happens when you hit the white ball off the table in pool?
This is also a “scratch”. And the same rules apply to it as the ones we discussed above about sinking the white ball. So if you hit the white ball off the table on the break, you lose your turn (in some informal games you can also lose the game). If you do this during the game, it’s a standard foul. Thirdly and lastly, if you drive the white ball off the table on the 8-ball and the 8-ball is no longer in play, you lose the game.
What happens if you don’t hit any ball in pool?
This is called a table scratch. It’s a foul and the next player will have the ball in hand, i.e. he can place the ball wherever he likes.
What happens if you hit your opponent’s ball in pool?
There are two cases here. If you hit your ball first and then hit an opponent’s ball, you are not to worry. It’s not a foul and the game will simply continue with your opponent’s turn.
But, if the cue ball strikes your opponent’s ball first, then it is a foul.
Can you put the cue ball anywhere after a scratch?
In professional leagues, after a foul by your opponent, you can put the ball anywhere on the table for your next shot. The only exception is the break shot. In that case, you have to shoot from behind the head string.
In some informal leagues, no matter when you scratch during the game, the resulting ball in hand can only be shot from the kitchen, just like in the break shot. However, this rule is not common and never followed in professional games.