Last Updated on May 5, 2021.

Cutthroat billiards can make a refreshing change from the traditional games played on a pool table like 8 ball and 9 ball. The name may sound severe; however, cutthroat billiards is an accessible game that almost all ages and skill levels can enjoy. 

While it helps to know the basic 8 and 9 ball game rules to understand how cutthroat billiards work, it’s not essential since they work similarly. There are various rules, but they should be easy to pick up after a little practice with friends. Before you break out the pool sticks and cue balls, learn the basics of how to play cutthroat billiards

Why is it Called Cutthroat Billiards?

You may be wondering – why the name? Sometimes referred to as elimination, the cutthroat refers to the ruthlessness of the game. For example, players sometimes have to sacrifice or pocket their own balls to remain on the table. Players can also work in teams to eliminate other players and then turn on each other to become the final winner at the end of the game.   

Getting Started

Like many popular pool games, there are many variations on cutthroat billiards. There isn’t a single clear set of rules and regulations, and gameplay can vary by region and country. However, the general idea behind the game remains constant. The aim of the game is to be the last remaining player with their balls on the table. To do so, you must pocket your opponents’ group balls before they do yours. 

Useful Numbers

Before scheduling your first game of Cutthroat Billiards, you should know how many players you need, the types of numbers of balls required, and how to rack up. 

You can play with either 5 or 3 players, depending on how many friends you can convince to try out this competitive game. You’ll each need a cue ball and 1 to 15 object balls overall. The rack is a standard triangle that varies in its placement depending on how many players you have. There are most commonly 3 sets of groups: low (1-5), middle (6-10), and high (11-15).

The Rules of Cutthroat Billiards

Players should continue playing until they do one of 3 things: miss, scratch, or commit a foul. Throughout the game, each player attempts to sink the other’s group balls. Unlike other versions of pool, you can sink your own balls to prolong your turn. 

If a player’s group balls are all pocketed, they are eliminated but can return if other players scratch. The ultimate winner has at least one of their group balls still on the table when the remainder of the opponent’s balls have been pocketed


The 3 sets of 5 balls are unclaimed at the start of the game and remain unclaimed until a ball from 2 sets has been pocketed. For a 5 player game, groups are decided differently (1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, and 13-15), so the play will differ slightly, but the rules remain unchanged. To claim a group in 3 player cutthroat, a player could pocket the 3-ball and then the 12-ball. In this instance, they would most likely claim the 6-10 group. 

Some players use a variation that allows a player to claim a group after pocketing just one ball from that group in a more casual game. You could also opt to choose and assign groups before gameplay has started.  

Shooting a Legal Shot

Not all shots to pocket a ball in cutthroat billiards are legal. You cannot hit your ball first, instead of making contact with your opponent’s ball first. After hitting your opponent’s ball, you can either make any numbered ball or the cue ball make contact with a cushion, or pocket an opponent’s ball

Finding Out the Fouls

There are several ways to foul in Cutthroat Billiards, resulting in penalties or the end of a turn. 


The most common foul in Cutthroat Billiards is a scratch, which happens when a player knocks the cue ball off the table or into a pocket. If this happens, you need to pull the ball out and have the other 2 players re-spot it. After a scratch, the next player who has the cue ball behind the head string. Assuming all other balls are also behind the string, this player can request that the nearest ball is re-spotted at the opposite foot spot. 

If someone scratches and another player was eliminated from the game, this player can reenter the game and continue to play in the same sequence as before. If a scratch occurs, but no balls are pocketed from an opponent’s set when it happens, the penalty does not carry forward. 

Other Types of Fouls

Other fouls are similar to those of pocket billiards, such as hitting the cue ball twice in one play, knocking an object ball off, or hitting an object ball with the cue stick instead of the cue ball. All these fouls end the turn of the current player. 

If a player ends up pocketing another player’s ball while committing a foul, that other player can take that ball from the pocket and place it back onto the table, placing it on the foot spot.

Handy Hints and Tips 

If you’re looking for something a bit different from your standard 8 and 9 ball games, then give cutthroat billiards a try. You should be able to pick it up with a little patience and a bit of practice, especially with these handy hints and tips to help you along the way.

Before playing your first game, study all the possible types of fouls and make sure you aren’t committing them since fouls can considerably dampen your chances of winning. Remember that sometimes you have to sacrifice your own balls to open up better opportunities to score. 

Sometimes, it pays to work with another player as a team to eliminate another player. Once you have done this, you are free to try and beat each other. Defensive strategies are just as important as attacking ones in a game of cutthroat billiards. And last of all – enjoy countless hours of fun with this competitive and fascinating variant of pool