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Kelly Pool Rules

Here you will learn how to play "Kelly Pool" and the rules for Kelly Pool.

The Game of Kelly Pool

Except when clearly contradicted by these additional rules of Kelly Pool, the General Rules of Pocket Billiards apply.

Kelly pool can be played with anywhere from 2 to 15 players, but ideally 4 to 6 players.

The game is played on a standard pool table with a standard set of 16 pool balls, a shake bottle, and a set of 15 or 16 numbered peas (or "pills").

Bottle definition in billiards
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Kelly pool is sometimes referred to as "Pea Pool", "Pill Pool", and a number of other names.

Kelly pool is a "rotation game", which means the shooting player must contact the lowest-numbered ball on the pool table first on each shot.

Shots need NOT be called in Kelly Pool.

Kelly Pool Game Setup

Numbered pills are placed in the shake bottle and and the bottle is shaken.

To determine order of play, each player draws a pill from the bottle. The order of play follows the numbers drawn in ascending order. The player drawing the lowest number breaks the rack (except for in some variations, where drawing the 16 pill automatically means that person breaks the rack).

Once the order of play is determined, the pills are returned to the shake bottle, and the balls are racked.

Object balls are racked at the foot-end of the pool table. The 1-ball is placed at the apex, the 2-ball at the rack's left corner, and the 3-ball at the rack's right corner. All other balls are randomly placed.

Once the balls are racked, but before the break shot, players again draw a pill from the bottle, this time keeping it hidden from the opponent(s). The number on the pill assigns that player to the correspondingly numbered ball. The pill number and ball assignment are kept private. A player's drawn number is known as their "private number".

Variation on Pea Selection Process

There is a common alternative method for selection of playing order and the private number at the same time.

In this method, the shake bottle is passed around and each player draws two peas, keeping both private until all players have drawn.

Then, each player selects and reveals one of their two peas. This number determines that player's playing order. The number on the other pea remains secret and becomes the player's private number.

This method introduces a level of strategy to the set up of the game.

For example, suppose you have pills 12 and 15, and there are four "average" players in the game. In this case, you may want to use the 15 pill to determine your shooting sequence, in order to let everyone else shoot first. The idea is that when your turn comes, you would only have to run three or four balls to win, instead of running twelve balls.

Use of the 16th Pill

Some Kelly Pool variations incorporate the use of pea #16. If you decide to use it, there are several options for when a player draws the 16 pill:

  • If the #16 pill is determining your playing order, you are automatically assigned to break shot
  • If the #16 pill is your private number, then you are assigned the cue ball. To win, you'll have to have contact the lowest ball first, then scratch the cue ball. If someone else hits the lowest ball first and scratches, you are "dead".

You can feel free to incorporate these into your game of Kelly Pool if they are of interest.

Object of the Game

The object of Kelly Pool is to sink the object ball corresponding to your private number before any other players. The first player to pocket the ball having their private number wins.

Players can prevent opponents from being able to win the game by pocketing object balls corresponding to the opponent's private numbers. This is known as "killing" the opponent's object ball. When a player is killed, they are "dead". Dead players continue to play in the rotation but can not win the game.

Kelly Pool Break Shot

For the break shot to be legal, at least four object balls must be driven to the rails.

If the player fails to make a legal break shot, the incoming player has the option to either:

  1. accept the table as-is with cue-ball-in-hand behind the head-string, or
  2. have the balls re-racked and shooting the opening break shot himself.

Continuing Play

A legally pocketed ball entitles shooter to continue at the table until he fails to legally pocket a ball.

On all shots after the break shot, the cue ball must first make contact with the lowest-numbered ball on the pool table, and then must either:

  1. pocket an object ball, or
  2. make contact with a cushion, or
  3. cause an object ball to make contact with a cushion.

Failure to meet the above requirements is a foul, and the player's inning inning is over. The incoming player has the option to either:

  1. accept the table as-is, or
  2. have the offending player "shoot again". If this option is selected, the offending player continues at the table until failing to legally pocket an object ball. A player may only be forced to "shoot again" once per inning.

As balls are legally pocketed during a shot, the player must continue their inning. There are no safety shots or safety play in Kelly Pool.

Illegally pocketed balls are spotted. No penalty occurs.

When a player has the cue ball in hand behind the head string (as after a scratch) and the legal object ball is also behind the head string, the object ball may be spotted on the foot spot at upon the player's request.

As opponents pocket other players balls, those other players remain in rotation. Dead players must announce that they are dead before taking each shot. If this is not followed, they must pay a penalty of one-half of the game's ante (the entry fee).

If no player legally pockets their assigned object ball, then the game "rolls over" into a 2nd game. Players draw pills again for shooting order and a new private number, and must ante-up again to stay in. When this happens the game is said to have "doubled up. If you don't wish to extend play over multiple games, then the player who pockets the 15-ball (last ball on the table) wins.

If a player pockets the object ball associated with their private number, then that player is the winner.

Why Force Dead Players to Announce their Status?

Announcing that you are "dead" is in the player's best interest. In this way, dead players can conspire with each other against the live players, thus increasing the chance that the game doubles up (see above). If another dead player who precedes you knows that you are dead, you may get a better leave from that player.

Kelly Pool Fouls

If an object ball is jumped off the table, it is spotted and results in a foul, and the incoming player has ball-in-hand behind the head-string.

Failure to contact a rail with either the cue ball or an object ball results in loss of turn. Balls are spotted on the foot spot, and the incoming player has ball-in-hand behind the head-string.

Scratching the cue ball results in a foul, and the incoming player has ball-in-hand behind the head-string.

There is no point penalty for fouls. The incoming player has the choice of either:

  1. Accepting the table in position and shooting (with ball-in-hand behind the head-string where applicable), or
  2. Requiring offending player to shoot again (if cue ball is in hand behind the string, it is so for either player)
    • If the object ball is also behind the head string, the incoming player has the option to spot the object ball on the foot-spot

Additionally, all fouls included in the General Rules of Pocket Billiards and 8-ball apply to Kelly Pool, unless otherwise contradicted here.

These fouls can be confusing because the published BCA Kelly Pool Rules aren't completely clear. One Wikipedia editor known for his contributions to the cue sports articles there attempted to clarify this in 2008 in the "talk" section:

According to the BCA rulebook, if the cue ball is scratched into a pocket or knocked off the table, incoming player has ball-in-hand behind the head string. On any other foul, the incoming player can either accept the table as it lies, or force the fouling player to shoot again. If they had ball-in-hand in the kitchen, they get it in-hand again. The rules state "if cue ball is in hand behind the string, it is so for either player"; this appears to mean that if fouling player had ball in hand, and incoming player elects to take the shot, that player ALSO gets ball in hand, with everything else remaining as it was, but this isn't entirely clear; the BCA can be very obtuse at times.

At any rate, there is no general ball-in-hand-anywhere-on-the-table rule in Kelly pool.


Playing Kelly Pool for Money

Kelly Pool is a game often played for money. In it's simplest form, players earn money as follows:

  • Set a monetary amount per ball, such as $1, $2, or $5 dollars
  • Pocket the object ball corresponding to an opponent's private number and get paid for the ball by that player.
  • Pocket the object ball corresponding to your own private number, and and get paid double by all players.

Below describes how Kelly Pool money games are run according to a popular set of poorly written Kelly Pool rules commonly found on printed posters. In this version the term "alley" refers to the "peas" or "pills". The rules are generally the same as the main set above. This is just meant to show the alternate scoring version that is found in so many internet sites and printed

There is typically a "marker" - a person running the game who keeps track of players, scores, and money.

  1. The person designated as the table marker throws a numbered token known as an "alley" to each player to determine their rotation in playing. Names and order of play are recorded.
  2. When all names are taken down, the alleys are returned and the pool money is collected. Usually a $1, $2, or $5 dollar buy-in.
  3. The marker then throws an alley to each player in the same order as marked in the record keeping book.
  4. The alleys are then placed in the alley box/tray according to playing order. For example, the 1st player's alley in no 1 spot, the 2nd player's alley in number two spot and so on.

The first player commences play by breaking the rack, following the "Opening Break" regulations of General Pocket Billiards. The cue ball must strike one cushion before coming in contact with the racked object balls.

The first player to pocket the ball on the table with the number corresponding to their alley wins the pool of cash and the game is over.

A player may pocket any ball on the table other than the cue ball, and must continue play until they either miss pocketing a ball or commit a foul shot.

If a player pockets an object ball other then their own, but one of which no player has the corresponding alley, that player gains nothing but is able to continue their inning.

If another player has the alley corresponding to the ball pocketed, than they must pay the shooting player "half pool." For example, if the ante is ten cents, the player owning the alley corresponding to the ball that has been pocketed by another player, must pay the shooting player five cents.

The paying player is now "killed" but still takes turns as normal when it comes around. Any ball pocketed by a killed player via a legal shot remains there and does not come back into play during the game.

If a ball is pocketed on foul shot, then it is spotted on the pink spot, or if that is covered, it is spotted directly behind it and as close as possible to it. Immediately after a foul shot has been played, the next player begins their inning.

If another player desires to join the game they may do so by paying double or triple the amount of the normal entrance ante. This amount is arbitrary, and is determined by current players. The new player takes the last alley thrown for position.

Fouls:

  1. If the cue ball does not strike a numbered ball, the shot is replayed but does not count for scoring purposes, and the next player begins their inning. Any player's balls pocketed on the second shot are spotted on the pink spot.
  2. Pocketing the cue ball:

    • (a) If cue ball is pocketed, the shooting player's inning is over, and the next player commences in the usual General Rules of Pocket Billiards fashion and can play at any ball on the table.
    • (b) Should the player pocket the cue ball as well as their own object ball or any other object ball in the same shot, it is considered a foul shot and does not count for scoring purposes.

    Any object balls pocketed via the above shots are respotted and the next player's inning begins.

  3. All other fouls included in the General Rules of Pocket Billiards apply to Kelly Pool.
  4. In any case where the marker is satisfied that a player has deliberately played a ball so as to let the following player win the cash pool, it will be considered a foul shot and the ball will be spotted.

If you have questions about the any of the terminology used in Kelly Pool Rules, you can look it up in the billiard terms glossary.


Kelly Pool Explained by Ewa Laurance


Below are a sample of some of the other Kelly Pool rules versions seen in the wild:

Kelly Pool Rules

If you have any questions about Kelly Pool Rules, please post them in the pool rules forum.

...or view existing Kelly Pool Rules questions in the forum.

Kelly Pool Rules History

According to an article in the June 29, 1913 edition of the Chicago Tribune, kelly pool as it is played today is actually called "pea pool" and the original kelly pool game was different, using peas numbered 16 through 30.

The present game is not Kelly at all in the true sense. Mr. Mulvaney says it is an unworthy son of an honored father. The real name of the present game is "pea pool," but the name Kelly is in such common usage that in spite of the founder the name will continue to be used

That same article claims kelly pool was invented by Calistus Kelly Mulvaney in April 1889, and originated in the heart of Chicago's business district (the loop). Another source list the date of invention of kelly pool as 1893 (Annals of Sports, Simpson M. Ritter).

C. Kelly Mulvaney, an old time billiard hall keeper of the old time school, invented the game in April 1887, and for twenty years it flourished the loop [...]

Mulvaney's obituary in the November, 10 1916 edition of the Indianapolis Star also made mention of his association with kelly pool:

[...] for 35 years [Kelly Mulvaney] was identified with kelly pool in the loop district [...] He was widely known as the father of 'Kelly pool' and better known as Kelly Mulvaney than Calistus. He was born at Fox Lake Wis[consin] sixty-five years ago.

Anecdotally, Kelly Pool was most popular in 1930's and 1940's.

There were some coin operated Kelly Pool tables manufactured by D. Gottlieb & Co. throughout the 1930s to support this indication. These machines were referenced on a "list of games made from 1931-1939" which was published in the January 1940 issue of the Coin Machine Journal.

Companies advertising equipment Kelly Pool in the early 1930s and 1940s appear to be concentrated in the United Kingdom and Australia. This would seem to indicate that the majority of Kelly Pool players are located in these regions as well.

There are numerous news stories (1911, 1938, 1944, etc.) about gambling raids on billiard parlors hosting kelly pool games. The game was outlawed in a number of states and provinces in North America. Such laws have long since been repealed.

Big Raid at Walthill

Twenty Arrests for Bootlegging and Gambling

Walthill, Nebraska, Dec 28. - A roundup of bootleggers and gamblers was made last night and today under the supervision of [...] and a number of federal and private detectives. [...] The places raided included [...], four pool halls [...]. The charge against three pool halls was gambling in connection with Kelly pool. It is alleged that pool was played for as high as $25 and $50 a cue. About $1000 in fines were assessed and further prosecution dropped with the understanding that all gaming and selling of liquor should cease.

Source: Lincoln, Nebraska State Journal 1911-12-29 edition

The official Kelly Pool Rules are predominently observed in North America, Australia.

The official governing body for Kelly Pool Rules is the Billiard Congress of America.

How to Play Kelly Pool

Questions about Kelly Pool Rules:

  • Title: Kelly Pool Rules
  • Author: (Billiards Forum)
  • Published: 1/1/2006 3:22:00 PM
  • Last Updated: 3/11/2019 2:28:25 AM
  • Last Updated By: billiardsforum
  • Source: Internet

Kelly Pool Rules

The Kelly Pool Rules article belongs to the Pocket Billiards Rules category. Pocket billiards is a class of cue sport game commonly referred to as pool.

Kelly Pool Rules Comments

  1. sassypatsassypat from Hidalgo, TX on 1/15/2009 12:25:51 PM

    Yes, this page was helpful, my husband used to play pea pool when in the navy. But what is a "diamond shape rack"? Where can I buy one?

  2. billiardsforumbilliardsforum from Halifax, NS on 1/17/2009 10:39:06 AM

    Diamond 9 Ball Rack (from amazon.com)

    That is a diamond rack that you are asking about. It's only about eight bucks too.

  3. azeezazeez from Albuquerque, NM on 3/25/2009 12:36:27 PM

    I am looking for a pea pool jug complete with peas so I can play Kelly Pool. Do you have any idea where I might find these?

  4. billiardsforumbilliardsforum from Halifax, NS on 3/29/2009 10:56:30 AM

    @azeez - You can buy pea pool sets on amazon. Most are very economical.

  5. BodyguardBodyguard from Adelaide, South Australia on 4/23/2009 9:50:28 PM

    I found this page looking for the rules of Australian Kelly pool, and I have a few questions: 1. Can you please expand on the section which states: > Any player's balls pocketed on the second shot are spotted on the pink spot. 2. What is the similar game where the players try to keep their ball alive until the end?

  6. billiardsforumbilliardsforum from Halifax, NS on 4/26/2009 5:47:42 AM

    @Bodyguard - Some answers to your Kelly Pool questions:

    1. You are correct. The wording is poor in that section, and it was written in a similar way in the source document from the BCA. The section referencing a "replayed shot" only applies to the situation where a player shoots and "the cue ball does not strike a numbered ball". If I commit such a foul (as outlined above), I "replay" that shot. If during that replayed shot ("second shot"), I pocket another player's "ball", then that ball is to be re-spotted on the pink spot, and fees are to be paid. I know it's not very clear, and that version of the rules has been shown above (under the section "Playing Kelly Pool for Money") for informational purposes only. The set of rules above that should be much more clear and doesn't include that strangely worded reference to replayed shots.
    2. The other game you may be thinking of is the game of cutthroat pool. In cutthroat pool, the goal is to ensure you are the only player left having any balls on the table. Players are eliminated when they no longer have any balls left on the pool table.
  7. Stanley ScottStanley Scott from Sacramento, CA on 9/6/2011 3:20:52 PM

    At age 86, I have always played pea pool where we use only fourteen pea numbers, with the number 15 pea removed from the bottle. The 15 ball is "wild", meaning that regardless of other players being alive or dead, if a killed person makes the 15 ball, he wins the game.

    Is this a common variation of pea pool that anyone else has played or heard of?

    I've always played this variation of pea pool with the wild 15 ball. A common scenario is five players playing, one player is killed and the 15 ball becomes "wild" (e.g. someone other than you makes the ball with your pea number), and the killed player slops in the 15 ball while the other four are still alive.

    Has anyone else played where that killed player wins the game by pocketing the wild fifteen ball?

  8. Shaun ThompsonShaun Thompson from Morayfield, Queensland on 1/8/2012 3:48:08 AM

    We have always played pea pool where if you sink your ball you win the game. Is this how the rules state it?

  9. Greg SimmisGreg Simmis from Vancouver, BC on 4/21/2012 2:23:53 PM

    In the rules above a "replay shot" means what? That you return the cue ball to approximately where it laid prior to the missed shot? How is this determined?

    Is your pea is not kept secret? Numbered balls are not sunk in order in this version obviously.

  10. billiardsforumbilliardsforum from Halifax, NS on 5/3/2012 1:43:21 PM

    @Shaun Thompson - Yes you are correct. Legally pocket the object ball corresponding to your secret number before anyone else, and you win the game.

    @Greg Simmis - Sorry for the confusion. When I re-read these rules after receiving your comments, I realized that a lot of it didn't make any sense. Initially, the "replay shot" part was taken directly from the official BCA rule book version of kelly pool. This article on how to play Kelly Pool has been fully re-written and many points have been expanded upon and clarified. The rules should now fall in line with how the game of kelly pool is played today.

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