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Ball In Hand - Billiard Term Definition

Welcome to the billiard, pool, and snooker glossary of terms. This is the definition of Ball In Hand as it relates to cue sports. You can also view the entire billiard dictionary

Definition of Ball In Hand

Ball In Hand is a billiards term that is a part of Game Rule Terminology.

Being able to place the cue ball anywhere on the table for your next shot (or in some cases, ball in hand anywhere behind the head string a.k.a. ball in hand anywhere in the kitchen).

This is obviously a very favorable position to be in, and is usually only available when the opposing player has committed a foul under a particular game's rules. This can be compared to a penalty shot in hockey or a free throw in basketball.

Billiards Ball in Hand Rules

As Mike noted in the comments before, the rules for ball in hand has changed over time. Here is a look at the latest ball in hand rules (2017-01-20) from the WBA rules.

All games first take the general rules of pocket billiards as the "base rules" so we'll look there first. I looked at the current WPA Rules from the World Pool-Billiard Association and sure enough, it is "ball in hand anywhere on the table" in most cases except on the break shot deflection as you mentioned. I have italicized the applicable phasing, and have updated with more current rules since originally posting this.

Pool Billiards - The Rules of Play

1.5 Cue Ball in Hand - When the cue ball is in hand, the shooter may place the cue ball anywhere on the playing surface and may continue to move the cue ball until he executes a shot. Players may use any part of the cue stick to move the cue ball, including the tip, but not with a forward stroke motion. In some games and for most break shots, placement of the cue ball may be restricted to the area behind the head string depending on the rules of the game*, and then 6.10 Bad Cue Ball Placement and 6.11 Bad Play from Behind the Head String may apply.

Source: wpa-pool.com/web/the_rules_of_play#1.5 which, as per WPA, were effective and current as of 2016-03-15.

So with this "ball in hand rule" in mind as a base, we'll look to specific game rules for ball in hand in 8 ball, and ball in hand in 9 ball.

9-Ball Rules for Ball in Hand

9 ball rules continue support for "ball in hand anywhere on the table"

2.7 Standard Fouls (9-Ball) - If the shooter commits a standard foul [in 9 ball], play passes to his opponent. The cue ball is in hand, and the incoming player may place it anywhere on the playing surface.

8-Ball Rules for Ball in Hand

For certain fouls on the break shot, the incoming player has the option to accept the table in position, or to take the cue ball in hand behind the head string.

3.3 Break Shot (8-Ball) - [...] the incoming player has the option of (1) accepting the table in position, or (2) taking cue ball in hand behind the head string.

For all other fouls, 8 ball rules also continue support for "ball in hand anywhere on the table"

3.9 Standard Fouls (8-Ball) - If the shooter commits a foul, play passes to his opponent. The cue ball is in hand, and the incoming player may place it anywhere on the playing surface.

14.1 Continuous Pool Ball in Hand Rules

Ball in hand rules for 14.1 Continuous Pool specify ball in hand behind the head string in all cases where ball in hand is applicable.

4.9 Standard Fouls - The following are standard fouls at 14.1:

  • 6.1 Cue Ball Scratch or off the Table The cue ball is in hand behind the head string
  • [...]
  • 6.11 Bad Play from Behind the Head String For a foul under the second paragraph of 6.11, the cue ball is in hand behind the head string for the incoming player.

Ball in Hand rules for Ten Ball

9.10 Standard Fouls - If the shooter commits a standard foul, play passes to his opponent. The cue ball is in hand, and the incoming player may place it anywhere on the playing surface.

See: in hand, cue ball in hand for more on the meaning of "Ball In Hand".

Ball In Hand - Usage

Because of Joey's foul, Roger gets ball in hand for the next shot. Because of this, Roger can place the cue ball anywhere on the table and shoot from there in any direction.

Billiards - Ball In Hand

  • Title: Ball In Hand
  • Author: (Billiards Forum)
  • Published: 3/8/2006
  • Last Updated: 1/20/2017 11:39:10 AM
  • Last Updated By: billiardsforum

Ball In Hand Comments

  1. Efficient MachineEfficient Machine from TX, United States on 9/23/2009 2:02:36 PM

    I'm confused by this definition of "ball in hand".

    In 8-ball pool (not "billiards") the term ball in hand refers to placing the ball behind the headstring after a foul has been committed.

    When did the meaning of ball-in-hand change to mean ball in hand anywhere on the table?

    My source is Minnesota Fats on Pool, Fourth Printing, May 1971. In that book, the glossary of billiard terms definition for ball in hand states:

    Ball-In-Hand: behind the headstring after the break or a scratch.

    Has the meaning of "in hand" been relaxed over the years to make it easier or did "Fats" just give me part of the meaning in his published book?

  2. billiardsforumbilliardsforum from Halifax, NS on 10/30/2009 6:09:13 AM

    I thought you were correct in this, and I am sure the rules have changed over the years. That book was written in 1970, and rules have certainly changed since then. Also this rules differs widely across governing bodies and various rule sets. Here we'll look at WPBA (WPA) rules since those are widely followed in North America, but many local leagues make modifications so check local rules to be sure.

    I have updated the definition for ball-in-hand above, and your question should be answered there (although I didn't go into the research on exactly when things changed).

    Also see the forum post about when ball-in-hand changed to mean anywhere on the table. Lots of input there as well.

    To answer your question about when this happened, here is the excerpt from the November 1986 Pool & Billiard Magazine article titled "All New 9-Ball Rules" where Jerry Briesath explains the upcoming BCA "ball in hand" rule change for 8 ball. The change was made in the 1987 BCA official rule book, and Jerry's column in the magazine was meant to give an explanation of this and other changes before the book was published.

    Twenty-five years ago a player could just roll the cue ball a few inches when stuck without a good shot and then the incoming player could roll it a few inches in the opposite direction.

    This eventually brought about the ruling that said if a player didn't hit one of his group of balls it was determined to be a foul and the incoming player would have ball in hand behind the head string. In some instances this ruling would reward the fouling player.

    The new rule gives the incoming player 'ball in hand anywhere on the table when the opponent commits a foul (except on the break in which case ball in hand is still behind the headstring).

    This corresponds with the ball in hand rule used in 9-ball and brings to eight ball the same advantages of fairness and increased speed of play.

    Another overall advantage to our sport (which includes several popular games), is the reduction of confusion with rules that conform in all applicable areas.

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