What Is A Scratch In Pool? (Everything You Need To Know)

Do you know what rocks? Pool does. And what sucks? Pool scratches. You probably missed a shot in your gameplay and pulled your hair in frustration as you haplessly watched the cue ball roll into a pocket.

This may cost you the game, and the opposing player can turn the tide on you with a sweeping victory. The opponent may put the ball anywhere on the table, or perhaps behind the line? Or would it be the side where the foul occurred?

This article will explain all of this, and we will explore pool scratches in full detail. Hang tight as we explore this territory, and you will surely emerge further enlightened and prepared.

What is a Pool Scratch?

Pool scratch may sound like a mark on the pool table’s surface, but that’s not the case. Scratch in pool covers a vast array of foul rules that can cause you the game or at least give a decisive edge to the opposing player. In most cases, your opponent can take the ball in their hand and then place their shot accordingly.

This may happen either because you missed a shot and struck the cue ball directly into a hole, or drove it off the table. Alternatively, you may lose the whole game if you play the legal 8 ball instead of placing the said ball.

This fowl may also occur if you place an object ball, followed, preceded, or paralleled by the cue ball. This also holds true if you place several object balls before accidentally driving your cue ball to one of the holes.

The holed object balls that were placed before the scratch will remain so. However, now your opponent will take the cue ball in their hand.

There is another condition where you may scratch the pool, without driving the ball of the table or placing it in a hole. This may happen if one of the holes is filled with object balls, and the cue ball hits that corner. This will be considered a scratch because the ball would’ve otherwise fallen into the hole.

In any of the cases mentioned above, the opposing players get a clear edge in the game and may use it effectively to win the game in just one turn. That is to say, if your opponent places the ball strategically and strikes all the object balls into the nearby holes in succession (and this happens more often than you can imagine).

Exploring the Pool Scratch Umbrella

Replacing the Pool Balls

This section, and the successive ones, will explore the pool scratches in more detail. The pool scratch umbrella encompasses a broad group of fouls, both at the start and amidst the game. In either case, these fowls can be costly, and it pays to understand them in detail.

Missing to Hit a Ball

This sort of pool scratch occurs when a player strikes the cue ball forward but fails to hit any legal object ball. This may happen either at break (where some people do so intentionally) or during gameplay (totally disastrous).

Even if the cue contacts an object ball, but those legal for the opposing side (i.e. if you are stripes and you hit solids), this will be considered a fowl. The opposing player will take the ball in their hand and place them anywhere on the table, and then take the shot.

Failure of the Player in Pocketing or Contracting Cushion

Consider this, you play a shot, and it hits a legal object ball. There are three possibilities from this point onwards. The ball may be pocketed directly, strike the cushion, or just move a few inches without hitting the cushion.

If your shot fails to pocket or cushion any legal object ball (even a ball that you were not originally aiming at will count), this will be considered a pool scratch too.

Rules Dictating Response to Pool Scratches

Pool is a diverse game. There are so many rules that it becomes hard at times to ensure which rules are in action and which are not. This means that players playing on adjacent tables may be sticking to different rules.

This necessitates the further explanation of this issue, and the players should ascertain these rules with their opponent beforehand. Pool scratches can happen either at break, where some people may want to forfeit their right to break, and hence commit a foul on purpose, or during the game, by mistake.

At Break

If the player fails to pocket the object balls neatly, without committing a foul, this may result in a scratch. This may happen if the player intentionally misses the shot, perhaps, not wanting to break the game and passing it to the opposing player.

However, if it happens by accident, in that case, the player may have pocketed some object balls beforehand. If that is the case, the balls pocketed will remain that way, and the cue ball will fall into the opponent’s hand.

Some player groups may use an alternate version of this rule and declare the opponent the winner if the player commits a scratch at the break, but this is not an official rule and not widely recognized.

During Gameplay

If a player scratches their opponent during the gameplay, to sabotage their game, the rules for the scratched player, handing them a decisive edge. This is meant to deter foul play from players to gain unfair advantages amidst the session.

One such situation is that the player may pocket the cue ball, either before, parallel to, or after some legal object balls.

If that happens, the opposing player can take the cue in their hand and then place it anywhere on the pool. This eliminates (at least partially), the effects of any preceding foul play from the side of the player. However, in another variant of this rule, the opponent can place the cue ball only behind the head string.

When a player shoots from behind the head string, this is called ‘in the kitchen’ or ‘from the kitchen’. The next time when the term ‘kitchen’ is used from the reference of a pool game, you’ll know what it means.

This may feel unfair to some, and in a way, it is, as it does not afford the scratched player the same liberty as in the case of the first rule. This also means that the scratched player can only play a shot along or ahead of the head string, not behind.

It creates a pickle (and may help you out if you scratched by mistake). If the opponent does not have any legal object balls in front or atop the head string, then they will have to bounce the ball against the opposite cushion to hit the balls behind the head string.

There is yet another variant of this rule. This rule allows the scratched player to take their shot from the side of the table, where the pool was scratched.

This means that a scratch on the head will be responded with a shot from the kitchen and that on the foot will be responded likewise. A scratch in the side pocket will allow the opposing player to take their shot from that side.

The last rule is not an official one and is the least popular of the three. The most common version is the first one.

Ball-in-Hand: Anywhere or Behind the Head String?

As mentioned in the previous section, a scratch can either allow the opposing player to take the ball in their hand freely or behind the head string. The former is a more effective deterrent for players, and hence, can keep the game fair and square.

However, before starting the game, you must ascertain the rules to keep the gaming session consistent.

Rules for 8-Ball Pool Scratches

Scratch fouls apply to every 8 ball pool game as well. If you pocket the cue ball or any object ball of your opponent, things can get worse. The opponent will take the ball in hand and then take the shot from whichever point and angle they wish.

However, another situation can cost you the whole game. When you accidentally pocket the cue ball alongside the 8 ball in the final shot. This will force the player to forfeit their game, and the opposing player would be declared the winner.

Such a disaster can reverse all that you played for. Hence be careful in the last shot and don’t take unnecessary risks.

The same will happen if the player accidentally knocks the 8 ball off the table. However, if the player fails to pocket the 8 ball, but the cue ball gets holed, the game will continue. The opposing player will take the cue in hand, either freely or in the kitchen, as ascertained beforehand.

If the player knocks off the cue ball from the table, the game will continue with the cue in the hand of the opponent. Some hardcore player circles consider scratching a foul to be responded with forfeiture of the game.

However, such extreme rules are uncommon and not enforced professionally; in any case, be sure to ascertain the rules before playing.

Pool Scratches – A Professional Angle

Pool is not all about casual gaming sessions with friends but also a professional sport. Professional pool games are often organized as part of tournaments, and in such cases, the stakes are even higher.

One advantage here is that professional rules are mostly moderate, and the organizers announce them beforehand – be sure to get them in your head. Here are a few things to consider:

At Break

If a player scratches the pool at break, they will lose their turn. However, any balls that they had plotted before the scratch, will remain as such. The opposing player will then take the cue in hand and play their shot in the kitchen.

As explained earlier, this means that the ball will lie behind the head string, and the player can only shoot at balls in front or on top of the head string.

During Play

If the player accidentally knocks the cue off the table, or pockets it, or strikes it against a ball pocketed in a full pocket (filled with balls), they will have to forfeit their turn.

The opposing player can then take the ball in hand, but this time, they can place it freely on any spot of the table. Once the ball is in place, they can take the shot in any direction.

Another scenario that can play out if the player takes a shot but fails to hit any legal object ball, it will be considered a scratch and be penalized. If the cue ball does hit a legal object ball but does not push it ahead enough for it to be cushioned or pocketed, this will also be considered a scratch.

In both cases, the opposing player will take the ball in hand and place it anywhere before taking a shot. However, if the player pockets both the cue and the 8 ball, the opponent wins.

Bottom Line

Scratching is terrible; at least this much should be clear by the end of this article. The penalty can be cost moderately or heavily, depending on the rules you agreed upon before the game started. You can accidentally hand over the game and whatever you struggled for during the gaming session, which can become all the more disastrous in competitive sessions.

The best policy is to play on your own terms. Don’t agree to a game if the rules don’t align with your playing style or if accidental foul can be penalized heavily. However, it is best to avoid committing such fouls in the first place, and this can be done by avoiding unnecessary risks.

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Daniel Bouie - SportsDean
Daniel Bouie
Daniel Bouie has been playing and helping others learn the ins and outs of pool for eight years. His profound love for the game inspired him to become a qualified billiard instructor in 2015. He frequently practices in his spare time and teaches private lessons to novice and intermediate players.

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