One Pocket is one of the Big Four, 8 Ball, 9 Ball, Straight Pool and One Pocket. And while Straight Pool used to be mainstream, and was at one time the game on which world championships were decided, One Pocket has always been a niche game. It’s a big niche, though, and you’ll find One Pocket players all over the map because, among aficionados, it’s often all they play. One Pocket Dot Org is a great site dedicated to the game, its history, and its champions. They have a great intro to the game to get you started, the de facto official rules, and a great forum with lots of extremely knowledgeable players who are friendly to new players.
A game of supreme subtlety and refinement, One Pocket is chess on the pool table compared to the checkers of all other games. It’s the game where defense plays the largest part, typically having a large number of innings per game.
The goal of the game is to pocket 8 balls in your pocket before your opponent pockets 8 in his. The pockets are decided by the breaker, who will select one of the two corners at the foot end of the table and his opponent will automatically get the other one. The only requirement for the break is that after a collision between the cue ball and an object ball, at least one ball (CB or OB) must hit a rail or be pocketed. The break alternates between players.
Fouls all cost a net of one ball, with balls being spotted at the end of the offending player’s turn. If he has no ball to spot, he “owes one” and has to spot the next ball made in his pocket at the end of the turn of the player making it. This “debt” is typically marked by placing a coin by your pocket as a reminder to spot the next ball. After a scratch, the incoming player gets ball in hand within the kitchen, but for all other fouls, the cue ball is played where it lies. Intentional fouls are common practice for strategic reasons and are a normal part of the game but must be made by a legal stroke.
One Pocket is chess on the pool table
Balls made in your pocket count for you irrespective of who pocketed them. One Pocket is not a call shot game: if they go in they count. This “slop counts” approach seems all wrong for a game mostly played by highly skilled players, but it fits well with the strategies of the game.
Balls made in any neutral pocket are spotted at the end of the shooter’s inning. If you make a ball in your pocket without fouling you continue to shoot, otherwise, the turn is over. Balls made in your opponent’s pocket count for him, unless accompanied by scratch or cue ball off the table, in which case the object ball is spotted, along with a penalty ball from the shooter.
If you mistakenly shoot a ball into the wrong corner it counts for your opponent and your turn is over.
Handicapping is common in matches and is most frequently accomplished by adjusting the number of balls each player must make. For example, a game might be arranged where one player gives the other 8-6, meaning the better player has to make 8 balls and the weaker player only 6. Sometimes these spots are such, say 10-8, where the total number of balls for both players is more than 16. In that case, the stronger player spots his first n balls, where n is the difference between the two players total and 16, in this case, it equals 2 (10+8-16).
Beginning Strategy Tips
Defense is more important in One Pocket than in any other game, and it’s vital to do your best not to leave your opponent a shot. You should always weigh the value of making the ball and the probability of missing against where you leave the cue ball if you miss. You can’t win without making balls, but being methodical is the name of the game here.
The break is a two way shot wherein the breaker tries to move a number of balls towards his pocket while leaving no shot for his opponent. The preferred break is to start from near the side of the table and feather the head ball, hitting the second ball on the side away from your pocket. Use high inside and hit it hard enough to bring the cue ball back up table about two spots up from the foot rail, near your opponent’s long rail.
The return of break is probably the next most important shot, because with any decent break your opponent will have an advantage, and you want to neutralize that advantage quickly, or at the very least keep him from capitalizing on it.
Cue ball control is extremely important. More than in any other game, pinpoint control can be crucial. Leaving your opponent very near his pocket is almost always a good move, but very near your pocket and very close to the foot rail are also usually good depending on where the OBs are.
Banks are very common in 1P, so be mindful of them when playing safe. This is an all too common mistake of beginners. One rail banks in the bottom half of the table are often hangers for proficient 1P players. Moving balls to your side of the table helps, and doing more than one thing in every shot is a must.
Sometimes it will be better to move a ball that’s close to your opponent’s pocket than to shoot one towards your own. If the ball is so close that it can’t be safely removed, you may want to make it for him, and leave the cue ball right next to the pocket. He’s going to make it anyway, and you deprive him of the opportunity to get shape on other balls when he does. If his out ball is in the jaws, make it and follow it in for a scratch, since it gets spotted. You lose a ball, and he gets a spot shot, but you’re still alive.
You can find a full copy of the rules at One Pocket dot Org.
Why Play One Pocket
One Pocket is a great game with a long and storied history. It rewards cleverness and creativity to a very high degree and smarter, more strategic players have an advantage over less cerebral but otherwise stronger players. The joy of winning because you outsmarted your opponent is different from the joy of winning because you’re a better ball runner. Some find it much sweeter as well.
More strategic players have an advantage over less cerebral but otherwise stronger players.
To play well you must have complete control of the cue ball, bank with accuracy, and have very good speed control. Knowledge and proficiency with billiards and caroms will help you make an extra ball here and there and give you innumerable safety opportunities.
Learning the game should be done while playing experienced players. Watch how they accomplish multiple things on most shots. See when they choose to run instead of hide. Learn how they use all the different shots to get them out of trouble and put you into it.
The game’s highly defensive nature is so different from most games that it really taxes your way of looking. It forces you to stretch your pool mind in new and interesting directions. In this game, you’re often shooting not to make a ball but to accomplish something else, be it moving a ball or balls away from an opponent’s pocket, or moving a ball to your side of the table while snookering your opponent. You learn the value of a good safe because you shoot so many of them. You’ll come to see so many more opportunities to get up on an opponent than you used to.
One Pocket’s not for everyone, it’s a game best approached after achieving a level of proficiency at other games. But it can be satisfying in a way no other game can, with its adherents wanting to play it almost exclusively. Give it a try, but not until you’re ready to do it seriously since it’s not a game that will come to you quickly, you need to work at it. Like a fine wine, it’s subtle but eminently satisfying.