Of all the things that the internet is not big enough to encompass, it is the variance of local bar-pool 8-ball rules.
I have searched in vain for a complete listing of all the variants and their locals/rationale, and have never found anything close. I'm impressed someone tried here, but of course the first things mentioned were 'strip pool' and off-hand shooting... neither of which i think are particularly common in my experience. Among friends, anything is possible I suppose.
But, in my humble experience playing in bars in the north and south of the US, I will try and give my best summary of 'traditional american bar pool rules' I've come across.
Firstly, the rules for bar pool both get rid of a lot of 'fouls' typical in American and English APA/BCA rules in favor of 1) focusing on shooting rather than snookering/defending, and 2) speeding the game up so that everyone gets a chance to play. I've heard opposing arguments that the limiting of fouls was to in fact 'slow the game down', but that depends on whether you're playing American "behind the line" scratches, or 2 shots on a foul (British), or ball in hand, which is far, far less common in the states. (p.s. I use scratch and foul as the same term, even though scratching is more traditionally thought of sinking as the cue ball accidentally; but given that the consequences are treated the same in most official pool rules, I use them interchangeably)
Basic rules that are common most places I've played (however, all vary depending on where you are!):
1 - Call Your Shots
This is the most important and also sometimes the most argued rule (especially with Brits! They allow garbage, generally); American bar pool in my experience always requires the shooter to call the ball, the pocket, and any balls/rails your target is going to hit on the way ("calling off a ball"). If its a combo sequence you have to list the order, and if the sequence is wrong, its no good. If its going off rails on the way, say so, and which. This means NO GARBAGE (accidental shots). Any balls that go in aside from the ball you are shooting are meaningless. You don't carry on your turn, and there is no foul or significance for incidental balls going in (except the 8, obviously) There is a lot of latitude in how people behave with this and how they accept calls - often just calling the ball in the pocket ("4 in the side") is good enough. In fact, among experienced players in a room used to playing each other, just pointing at the pocket or naming the ball/pocket ("nine far corner") and shooting is almost always OK. Many times you don't even have to say anything all game long - just point at/tap the pocket with your cue and shoot; however, this is done under the assumption that YOU ARE POLICING YOURSELF. An honorable pool player should be expected to step off if they didn't hit the shot they really intended to call. (By the way, if you ever meet a 100% honorable pool player, catch it and have it stuffed so they can put it in a museum.) This is particularly common when the ball you're shooting nicks the opponent's ball on the way in, or hits a rail you never meant to go off of. You should step off in those cases. However, if no one really saw it, or knew what you were intending, and you're a bastard, a lot of the time people ignore it. Sometimes opponents don't care because they want a little slop themselves when its their turn. But in the purist fashion (or in bars attended by APA league players), the right way to play is to self-police and walk away from any shot that was not exactly what you had in mind. Usually its pretty obvious when someone got lucky, but it is often a matter of drunken dispute: "I totally meant to go off those 2 balls of mine!", "Then why didn't you say so?" "Dude, I pointed!"...fast forward 30 seconds, someone is on the floor, covered in beer. Or just sulking in the corner.
Which leads to number 2
2 - Calling Off Other Balls:
The general rule is, it is OK to call shots off of your own balls AND opponents balls: But you have to call it or you lose your turn. Some people play it is only OK to call off your own balls - or if it is their own balls, it doesn't need to be called unless its the opponent's ball. Some people play its OK to play off both without calling it; some people say its forbidden either way (rare). It varies depending on the place. BUT, in theory, the shot should only be good if it is called (see #1), and if additional things were hit on the way, they should have been named. Sometimes people will call "off the 11", and after the 11 it also bumps some others. "Hey, I said off the 11!" Sometimes there is a sense of entitlement that if they get at least 1 correct that subsequent nicks are moot. There is latitude here: often, if you're shooting into a scrum (cluster of balls) and you just say what you're going to hit, and what pocket you're intending to go in, then the whole combo/calling off issue is meaningless. Its just what you hit and what goes in. There is some relativity in bar pool as with most things. If its a clearer shot with balls better spaced out, the rules are far more stringent. Knowing expectations is important. Sometimes being too anal about things will get your ass kicked.
2A - A weird subset rule: Calling "Off The 8 Ball":
The BCA says you can't ever use the 8 ball as the first ball; however, there is little clarity about using the 8 ball in a combo, or especially using the 8 ball to call off of. If there is, it hasn't quite trickled down into all the seedy bars in America yet.
The places I've played (cities in the US), most bars say no combo off the 8 ball ever (unlike competition rules). But again, there is some vagueness as to whether you can call off the 8. Which leads to a halfway rule: calling off the 8 depends on the place; some allow it, some dont. Best rule is to start the game establishing whether the 8 is fair game. I personally think that in bar pool, the 8 ball is untouchable until its your time to shoot on it. No combo, no calling off of it. It makes the 8 ball far more important in the game, and makes sure that wherever it lies, you are acutely conscious of leaving it alone. It makes it a far more potent block as well. No one should ever be directly shooting at the 8 ball unless all their other balls are in. However, I'm sure one day you'll meet someone perfectly happy to use it as a combo starter and give up their turn. That also falls under the 'dirty pool' umbrella. There's no penalty really for doing so - they just lose their turn. But if you've blocked a guys ball with the 8, and they shoot it in a combo, you are not entirely unjustified in emasculating them with your cue stick. However, the only way this happens is when people ignore rule #1: they dont call the shot. You can stop them before it happens if you see someone lining up on the 8 and calling something entirely different.
3 - Fouls:
There are very few. The main one is scratching (sinking the cue). It is the main circumstance that gives the other player a 'behind the line' shot. (except for the second item listed below)
The common fouls omitted are:
- No scratch (foul) if you sink an opponents ball, either in the course of sinking a shot or missing one. The opposing player simply plays the ball where it lies.
- No foul for completely missing your target ball AS LONG AS YOU HIT THREE RAILS: this is disputed in places as well. The main reason for this rule is to prevent BS defensive shots. When the target ball is blocked, people (often!) call a shot, then "park the ball", never really aiming for their target ball, just putting the cue somewhere inconvenient for the opponent's next shot. This is the #1 asshole move in bar pool. Often people pretend it was an accident. It is called "dirty pool". The reason for the 3 rail requirement is to prevent these cheap defensive shots. If you CAN hit three rails and park the ball, then KUDOS! You're a bad ass. Sometimes people will openly call this: "I have no shot, I'm parking it". It is very hard to do, and rarely works, but sometimes people are clever AND lucky. A good three rail defensive shot is the mark of a bar-pool veteran. More common is a person just trying to 'tap' their ball to ensure no scratch. Meaning, there is no target pocket, just an attempt to hit ones' own ball without sinking it. If they try this and miss: THEN YOU HAVE A SCRATCH. (as long as no 3 rails were hit on the way). This varies though. Many places will treat an honest attempt to hit your own ball (if its blocked and you have no other shot) as a fair attempt, and will ignore the scratch - often because the next shooter has a better lay where the ball currently is than whether they had to take it behind the line* (which brings up the controversial topic of Intentional Scratching). Again, relativity at work. If you plan to play strictly and force everyone to take scratches on missed balls, say so. Additionally, this rule often also applies to the 8; meaning, if you miss the 8, you don't lose the game, AS LONG AS YOU HIT THREE RAILS. Some people are anal about this, and will pretend you lost the game if your 8 is blocked and you can't hit it, and instead take a 3 rail shot. Its totally gay. The basic rule with bar pool is that there is NO TABLE SCRATCH (no scratch unless you sink the cue, go off the table, or fail to hit 3 rails), under the traditional sense. If the cue is still on the table, you play it where it is.
- Obviously, going off the table is a scratch; knocking a ball other than the cue off the table is also a scratch usually, whether you sunk a shot or not. Normally the ball is replaced on the break dot (if there is one - or if not, the middle of the table).
- Mis-cues: If someone shanks the ball and it drifts (hitting no balls, no rails), it isn't a scratch. Most times friendly players will allow the shooter to reset and try again. Jerks will demand that its a scratch; most players will simply play the cue where the doofus (or his girlfriend, more likely) left it. My personal preference is to get them to retry to shoot properly. Its almost always a better option, as if they are really that bad, they're likely to set you up better (or screw themselves up worse) with a proper shot.
4 - Sinking the 8 ball:
The 8 should not be any different than most other shots. You simply call the pocket. But if its going to hit anyone else's ball on the way, YOU HAVE TO SAY SO. Sometimes you might be shooting the 8 at a pocket semi-blocked by another person's ball. In cases like this, you either call it 'clean' (no touch) or 'off' their ball. People treat this issue differently, and generally, I'd say its almost better to not take a disputable shot than try something that may end up subjective. The 8 ball should almost always be a straight, clean shot at a nominated pocket, with any rails designated if you're going off a rail. (like long banks to corners, or cross cuts)
The absolute dumbest variant on 8 ball I've ever come across (and see often) is "last-ball pocket" = where you are supposed to only be able to sink the 8 ball in the same pocket your final ball went in. This means that no matter how bad you whooped the other person, you normally have to wait until they get many of their balls out of the way before you get the chance to shoot the 8 in that 1 pocket that is left to you. It is a silly time wasting exercise and gives a ridiculous disadvantage to anyone who runs the table on their opponent. You just sunk all your balls in 1 turn, and have a clear shot on the 8! Uh oh! You can only sink that 8 in the pocket on the other side of the table, though a cluster of the other guy's balls. Basically, you run the risk of scratching constantly while the other player catches up. You have to keep hitting your 8 around meaninglessly, letting the other player catch up, while you wait for the opportunity to (maybe) get a shot on that one pocket left to you. Usually your only chance is if the other moron scratches. It is popular amongst urban minorities for some reason; my theory being that it makes the game last unbelievably long, and injects a certain amount of randomness into the game that limits relative advantages of having some skill. It is an equalizer, of sorts. And makes a $1 game of pool last an hour. It should be noted that the same people who play this version of 8 ball also tend to not consider scratching on the 8 ball a game-loser. If you find yourself playing this game, I suggest pretending to go to the bathroom, and finding somewhere else to play. Even if you win, you're probably going to get your ass kicked at some point.
I think that's pretty much it. It seemed to take a lot of time to say, but on any given evening, all I usually have to say is:
"Call your shots. You can call off any ball. No combo off the 8. No last ball pocket."
That pretty much summarizes all the bar pool rules I need to play happily all night with any stranger who walks in. Occasionally there's a brit or other European who needs to have things explained in more detail, but aside from that, it's worked for me quite well. My idea of a good night out is walking into a bar with some quarters, and drinking and playing for free all night. :) Playing for drinks is perfectly acceptable practice.
Worst thing in the world however, is when your happy night is interrupted by 2 couples wanting to play doubles. Against each other. When they are told they have to win the table first, they start crowing to all hell and don't stop bitching even when you DO let them play. They are the anti-pool. I hate them.
Hope this helps! Cheers.
(p.s. to the guy who started this thread: My granddad taught me how to play pool too. He survived the great depression shooting for money in YMCA's all over the country. I do it for beer and laughs and good company. Until the doubles people show up that is. I hate them!)