TYPE OF GAME
Three ball is a pocket billiards folk game played with three standard pool object balls and a cue ball. The goal is to pocket the three object balls in as few shots as possible. Theoretically, any number of players can participate, in rotation, but more than five can become unwieldy. The game involves a somewhat more significant amount of luck than either nine-ball or eight-ball, because of the disproportionate value of pocketing balls on the break shot.
Object balls 1, 2 and 3
THREE BALL RACKS
Three object balls (conventionally the 1, 2 and 3 balls) are racked either in a triangle — like a miniature eight-ball or snooker rack — with the apex ball on the foot spot, or in a straight line, again with the lead ball on the foot spot, and the other balls behind it, lined up toward the center of the foot rail. No particular arrangement is necessary, as there is no specific order in which the balls must be pocketed, nor do any of them have specific point values. (see pictures below)
In three ball, players’ turn order is decided at random at the beginning of the game or match, as in other several-player pool games. The cue ball is placed anywhere behind the head string (“in the kitchen”) and a typical hard break (as in nine-ball or eight-ball) is performed. The break is the first stroke of a player’s game, and thus counts toward his or her score. Any balls pocketed on the break are considered to be legally pocketed and the player now only has to sink the remaining balls.
Very good players can sink all three object balls on the break with surprising frequency, resulting in the perfect (but still tieable) score of one point, especially if the balls are triangle-racked; this feat is achieved using an adaptation of the instant-win break technique from eight-ball and nine-ball; the straight rack was introduced to make this more difficult, as it does not provide the contact point and angles that the well-known technique requires.
FOULS IN THREE BALL
Every shot costs one point, and a foul of any kind costs the player an additional one-point penalty. Fouls consist of: pocketing the cue ball; knocking the cue ball off the table; a double hit on the cue ball with the cue stick (including illegal “scoop-under” jump shots); push shots; and (possibly, depending on how serious the game is) accidentally (or otherwise) moving a ball with a hand, the butt of the cue, etc. A shot in which the player pocketed one or more object balls but also fouled incur a one point penalty – a foul always results in a penalty of 1 point. Thus, a break shot that sank all three object balls plus the cue ball is a score of two (one for the actual shot, plus one for the foul), unless the “instant loss” rule (see below) is in effect.
Shots after a cue ball scratch (into a pocket or off the table, or in strict play after accidentally moving the cue ball) must, similarly to the break shot, be taken from on or behind the head string and must go forward across/from the head string, as in typical American barroom eight-ball, rather than taken ball-in-hand anywhere on the table. (However some do play the game using ball-in-hand rules adapted from nine-ball.
If this rule variant is to be used it should be agreed upon clearly beforehand, as many three ball players feel that it makes the game too easy, and observe that ball-in-hand after fouls in nine-ball is a punishment for the fouler and a reward for the opponent, which effectively cancel each other out in three-ball because the fouler illogically receives both punishment and reward.)Object balls knocked off the table are spotted on (or behind, as near as possible) the foot spot, and do not count as fouls (since the mistake already punishes the shooter by requiring at least one more shot to get out.)
Kisses, caroms, kicks, banks, combinations and non-scoop-under jump shots are legal. No shots, including combinations, banks, etc., have to be called as to object ball, pocket, or any other details. “slop” shots are legal. It is not a foul to do a weak break that fails to drive balls to cushions or into pockets. Similarly, it is not a foul to make a weak shot that does not pocket a ball or contact a cushion, since, again, these mistakes are effectively self-punishing, by costing the player a stroke.