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Matchbox Billiard Rules

Matchbox pocket billiard game rules call for the use the breaking box concept, which requires each player to break from opposite ends of the table, and allows each player to freely arrange their ball-sets within each box area according to their own particular strategy.

Matchbox Billiard Rules

  1. Two players break per round, from opposite ends of the table.
  2. Ball arrangements are by design, or to suit each player's style or strategy. Both ball arrangements placed upon the table before opening break shots.
  3. Cue ball is used only for breaking purposes. Eight ball is not used.
  4. Shots proceed in rotational order, little ball to larger numbered balls; each player to play either stripes or solids. The rotation moving back to the yellow balls again after the brown balls have taken their own turn. With each new turn, the next ball up ( the ball which was previously the 'on deck' ball, or simply the next ball in numerical order ) is used, regardless of any gaps that may be present in the order caused by the opponent's pocketing of the balls that would otherwise have been up in the order.
  5. Opponent balls do not need to be pocketed in numerical order.
  6. Called shots allow the ball that is up to shoot again.
  7. Safely pocketed balls stay pocketed, but turns end if a ball and pocket are not called and properly completed.
  8. Missed called shots = one ball penalty, any ball may be taken.
  9. Last ball must be called to win. If pocketed without being called, or if called ball travels into wrong pocket = outright loss of round. If last ball is missed and called = one ball penalty.

Matchbox is played with seven solid balls 1-7 and seven striped balls 9-15. Opponents break from opposite sides of the table. Stripes or solids are determined before start of play. The object of the game is to sink all of your opponent’s balls in any order while keeping at least one of your own balls on the table to win.

The Breaking Box

Before the start of play each player arranges their seven balls into their own break area, ( the area inside each player’s nine dots on each side of the table; each area extending to the back rail within each box ) The player to break first arranges their balls last, both placements in place on the table when the first player breaks. Each player is free to arrange their balls in any configuration they choose, as long as all seven balls are within the break area.

In Matchbox each player breaks into their opponent's ball arrangement, in most cases trying to sink as many of their opponent's balls as possible.

The breaking area is 23 inches wide and 34.5 inches long, ( eight-foot tables - larger on nine-foot tables 25/37.5, and smaller on seven-foot tables 19/28.5) which allows for a very wide ball arrangement. The Matchbox break area is considered to be within the center of the outside dots all the way to the back rail and no farther out than the center of the third dots on the side rails inside the side center pockets. If the box were drawn with chalk, no ball may be overhanging the line, but must be completely inside the box lines. If any part of the ball is overhanging the line it is considered out of the break area or ‘box’ when beginning break action. To be out of a box area after break action any ball in question must be completely outside the box area and no part of it overhanging the line to the inside of the box.

Matchbox Billiard Rules - Game Play

Matchbox uses the cue ball only during the break stage, and after each player has taken a break shot, the cue ball is removed from the table. Breaks occur from opposite sides of the table, from behind the head-string. ( second dot) One ball must be moved out of each break area to be a legal break. If one or more of the balls moves out of the box initially and then reenters the box it does not count, but the one qualifying ball must remain outside the box to be counted. If one ball is already out of the box before second break, ( through the action of the first break ) that is fine, from which point the cue ball may be used to position same-side balls, or sink any of the balls directly, so long as the cue ball begins from behind the normal head-string/foot-string. If at least one ball does not end up all the way out of a rack area after a break it is not a legal break.

In the case of an illegal break a three ball penalty is awarded to the opposing player, any three of their choice, taken without disturbing any of the other balls; or the opponent may simply choose to rack again, depending on the result of their own set-up. In the breaking stage this penalty must be assessed after both opponents have completed their break shots, as the penalty may not be taken before the second player’s break. The player that sinks the most of their opponent’s balls on break may choose to go first or second in regular play, or in the case of a tie, the first player to break is also defaulted to begin regular play first. Any balls that are knocked in by their owner’s breaking action are counted no different than those knocked in by their opponent when considering who begins regular play first after break play is completed. Also, balls taken in penalty are counted no different than those knocked in through each player’s breaking action, which means that a player awarded a penalty usually will have 'officially' pocketed more balls and therefore will have the option to go first or second to begin regular play. If both players end up with illegal breaks, the balls will be re-racked for a do-over if either player would like to re-rack instead of taking penalty balls. If both players would like to take penalty balls, the player to break first takes the first of three balls, followed by the second player-to-break’s first of three balls, and continuing in this order until both players have removed three balls. If the cue ball ends up in a pocket after a break, it does not matter, since the cue ball is used only for breaking purposes.

In the case of only one ball ending up out of your opponent’s break area after first break, but reentering the area again after second break, the first break will still be considered an illegal break. In other words, if you happen to knock only one ball out of the other player’s rack area, but they manage to knock it back into their own break area through the action of their own break, your break will still be considered an illegal break after both breaks have been completed. The opposing player is then free to take penalty removals.

After the breaks are completed all shots must go in rotational order, ( 9-10-11-12-13-14-15 or 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 ) which means the first ball to shoot, usually the one or nine, ( yellow ball ) but often simply the lowest ball in order belonging to the first side to begin regular play, is the action ball, the action ball that will try to sink the opponent’s balls in any order. Once the first ball misses and the opposite player takes a turn, he or she must begin with the next ball in order. If a player is solids, for example, and the opponent has already pocketed the 6, 3, and 1, then their next ball to shoot is their 2 ball. On the next available turn it will be the 4 ball or the next ball in order if the 4 ball is also pocketed. After the rotation is complete, and the 7 ball or last ball in rotational order has completed its turn, the order returns to the lowest remaining ball in rotational order.

An opponent’s ball ( target ball ) must be contacted first on each shot. If contact with an opponent ball is not made before hitting a ball of your own or missing contact with any ball at all, the opponent is allowed to take a penalty ball: any ball of their choice off the table. This penalty removal must take place before the non-guilty player’s next turn. This penalty removal can be any ball, not only the ball which is involved in the penalty. It can also be a same-side ball if the ball is in the way of a possible run attempt. A same-side ball, however, may not be removed before a turn except in penalty situations.

Called Shots, Scratches, and Safe Shots

The action ball is always the next ball in order. But to continue a run in Counter Break, a player must call the pocket and the ball to be pocketed in order to continue for another turn. ( for the same action ball to shoot again ) However, if a player calls the shot, ( ball and pocket need only be mentioned ) and misses, the opponent may take a penalty ball, any ball of his or her choice off the table before they begin their own turn. In other words, the penalty for missing a called shot is a one ball penalty - any ball may be taken.

A safe shot may be taken without calling a shot, or saying anything, as it will be assumed to be a safe shot if the player does not call a ball and pocket, from which point it is legal to sink an opponent’s ball without having the opponent take a penalty against you. However, in safe mode there is not an option to shoot again, and unless the ball and pocket are called a player may not go twice. At no point may a player pass after making a called shot. If the called shot is made the player must go again - i.e. at least make contact with an opponent ball to avoid a penalty removal.

If a player calls the pocket and ball but also pockets their action ball ( scratches ) they may not go again. But since they fulfilled their obligation to pocket the ball, there is no penalty for scratching the action ball.

However, a third option is available in Matchbox, which is called ‘calling a scratch.’ To call a scratch three things must be included: ball, pocket, and ‘off of’ ball. For example, if the 4 ball is up, without a good shot, but the 13 ball is positioned in a way to allow the 4 to be pocketed off of the 13, a ‘Scratch’ can be called, allowing the 4 to be pocketed off the 13, which allows for the 5, or 6, or whichever ball is next in order to take a shot from its more advantageous position. In this way the ‘Scratch ’ option allows continuation of a turn from a different action ball. In most cases the scratch option is useful for sacrificing the action ball when following a target ball into its pocket, which, though it is a sacrifice, allows the next ball in rotation a turn from its own position on the table.

Matchbox Pool Rules - Final Ball

The final ball to be pocketed ( the last remaining ball on the table for either player ) in Matchbox must be called to be pocketed.

As an example, if the stripes player has the solid player down to one remaining ball, the 3 ball, and the stripes player has a 15, 12, and 9, remaining on the table, the stripes player cannot safe the 3 ball into any pocket. ( slop the 3 into any pocket ) Not calling the ball and the pocket on the last ball and sinking the ball will result in an outright loss. However, since the stripes player has three balls remaining on the table, he or she may have a few chances to call the last shot and miss without losing the game by penalty, ( although each called miss on the 3 will cost a ball in penalty to be removed ) - which is better than losing the game outright for not calling the final ball and still pocketing it.

If there are only two balls remaining on the table, each must call the pocket to win, but must not sink the other without calling the pocket, which results in a loss, keeping in mind that the opponent ball must be contacted each time to avoid the one ball penalty for not hitting a target ball. ( the game losing ball in case of the last ball )

The only time a final ball may be pocketed without calling the pocket is when more than one ball is pocketed at once. So if there are two balls remaining, and the first ball is not called but goes in, and the second ball is also pocketed in the same shot, it will be considered a game winning safe shot.

In the case of calling a scratch on the final shot, a player, however rare the situation may appear, may call a scratch on the final ball, hoping for both balls to go in. With more than one remaining ball, assuming the opponent has only one remaining ball, a called scratch may allow the second ball a better shot after such a sacrifice; but with only two balls remaining, a called scratch is only useful for forcing a draw, assuming the ball that is scratched ‘off of’ also goes in. Basically a called scratch with only two remaining balls is not necessary, because once a ball is pocketed, so long as the ball and pocket are called when not calling a scratch, the rule has been satisfied, and if the action ball happens to follow into or find another pocket, it is simply a draw. In other words, scratches are only useful to call if there is a remaining ball to inherit the shot after the scratch occurs.

Matchbox Pool Rules - Penalties

  • During penalty removals the non-guilty player may remove either one opponent ball or one of their own balls depending on their setup; a player may not remove one of their own balls by hand unless the removal is in response to a penalty. If a player has a better setup without removing a penalty ball they may choose not to take the penalty removal.
  • Missing an opponent ball or hitting a non-opponent ball first during regular play: = One ball penalty, any ball may be chosen, assessed before the beginning of the next turn. If a ball begins already touching an opponent ball, the touching ball may be either played or the turn may be passed back to the other player without penalty.
  • Missing a called shot, or missing a called scratch: = One ball penalty, any ball may be chosen, assessed before the beginning of next turn.
  • Double penalties are not called for missing contact with an opponent ball first while also missing a called shot. In the case of both happening in one play, the normal one ball penalty is assessed and not a two ball penalty.
  • Break Penalties: Not knocking one opponent ball out of their break area ( determined by final position of the ball, which must be outside the break area ) is a three ball penalty, any three of the opposing player’s choice, assessed after each break ( both breaks ) have been completed. If the non-guilty player wishes he or she may choose to re-rack and start the game over again - based on his or her set-up. A ball is considered outside the break area if all of it is outside the box area, and no part of it is overhanging the line. Legal or illegal breaks are always determined after both players have finished their break shots, and balls that are out of an area initially but return to the same break area after second break cannot be counted to satisfy the one ball out rule.
  • Combination shots: As long as one ball to be pocketed is called along with the pocket ( point to exact pocket ) and as long as an opponent target ball is struck first, combos do not need to be called. In the case of hitting a non-opponent ball first, and combo-ing an opponent ball into a pocket, a one ball penalty is assessed before the opposing player takes his or her turn, but the pocketed ball is not returned to the table. Such a play is considered a sacrifice, and the ball that is illegally pocketed cannot be put back on the table. If the ball pocketed by an illegal combination is the last ball, the game is over, so long as the ball and pocket are called first; and the guilty player, having more than one ball on the table still wins.
  • Final ball penalties resulting in the final ball being pocketed will amount to a loss for the guilty player.
  • Under-cut jumps and rebound jumps are legal so long as one fluid stroke is apparent and a double cue is also not apparent in the action of the jump play.

General Penalties

  • Double-cues: or cuing the action ball twice in one play: One ball penalty. Throw shots are Ok, but as with close quarter shots, the ball being struck with the cue must not appear pushed, double struck, or to have an unnatural follow to it; if any of these warning signs are evident, a double-cue should be called, resulting in a one ball penalty.
  • Interference: Moving, nudging, or displacing balls by any means is not acceptable. One ball penalty for guilty player. If the interference occurs before the shot, the guilty player is assessed the penalty first, and then allowed to take the shot. If their action ball at the time is removed out from under them by the opposing player ( if he or she wants another ball to take a shot from its likely less advantageous position ) when assessing the interference penalty, they must move to their next ball in normal rotation. If balls are severely disturbed by a hand, elbow, cue, extension, etc, the non-guilty player may take the result of the movement before assessing the one ball penalty, or put the balls back as closely as possible to where they were originally and then assess the one ball penalty.
  • If a ball that is up in rotation is already touching an opponent ball, the player that is up may choose to give the other player their next turn and do nothing; in the case of the final balls, the opponent ball must be visibly moved to be considered a legal contact.
  • Off the table balls: The player that strikes the shot leading to an off -the-table ball or more, is assessed a one ball penalty. ( any ball may be taken ) If one of his or her own balls leaves the table they will not be returned, but there will still be an additional one ball penalty ( involving the balls remaining on the table ) assessed after the balls stop rolling. If only the opposing player’s ball or balls leave the table, each one that leaves the table may be placed back anywhere they want them on the table, so long as they are not touching another ball, and after they are returned, a one ball penalty is assessed normally to the guilty player. When off the table balls occur during the breaking stages, their resultant penalties are taken after both players have completed their breaks.
  • Miss-cues: If a player casually nudges their action ball while just “warming-up,” that is their shot, and the result is final.
  • Three illegal breaks in a row. Such a rare case will lose the game for the guilty player.

Matchbox Billiard Game Format

The advantage of going first or second on the break is minimal either way, although a slight advantage goes to the player to begin regular play first which is usually the first player to break, assuming an equal amount of balls is knocked down by each side. Ideally a series such as two out of three games should be played, allowing both players first break and each player opposite ends of the table at least once. In a series match, the number of balls remaining on the table at the end of each game should be counted, with the most remaining after two games and the tie having the choice of table ends and breaking first or second for the tie breaking game.

Matchbox Billiard Game - Strategy

When designing a break arrangement spreading the balls as far apart as possible throughout the box is often a useful design. Arranging balls tightly grouped is also useful in many situations. The second approach, however, can lead to unwanted trapping of balls that will need to make contact with opposing balls to avoid penalties. Keeping each of the balls out of a direct scoring line is also useful, since an opponent will often try to sink a ball directly without trying to severely disturb your arrangement.

A good break may be one that blasts the arrangement as hard as possible from a good angle behind the baulk line, to enable as much rebounding and ball pocketing potential as possible; or a good break may be one that softly knocks one out, while stranding the lead ball, or otherwise diminishing offensive ability, since another hard safe-shot sent into a tight group later on may knock one of the group down or open them up for a run farther on in the round. Often it is a good idea to pocket a ball directly and secure a one ball advantage, especially so if your opponent does not knock any of your own down in his or her own break. In any case a good break is one that allows for a good multiple ball run at some point before too very far along in the game. Since there is no requirement as to which side of balls must be struck first with the cue ball during break stages, often a seeding play is good to consider, especially when breaking second. A seed play sends a same-side ball directly off the cue ball and into the opposite ball arrangement, positioning it to a close proximity to its opponent balls, which make running the ball through the arrangement easier from its more advantageous position, so long, that is, as it does not trap itself into difficult combination attempts. If attempted from first break, the cue ball should also combo another of the set out of the home box to avoid the seed ball simply being returned by the opponent, thus forcing the seeding player into an illegal break.

As play proceeds Matchbox is not too much different than most pocket billiard games. The important thing is to play within one’s limits, and avoid calling shots which are too difficult to make consistently, which lead to penalty balls being removed. Good safe-shots should knock a ball down if possible, and get the action ball back out of the way of an easy pocket for the other player, keeping in mind, the next ball to take a turn is already in place and known beforehand by both players.

Patience is the best bet when each player has only one ball remaining. Calling the shot and missing will lose the game for you, as will leaving the opponent a good shot. It is best to keep lightly tapping the opposing ball safely until calling a shot feels right, even if the game seems to take a very long time. The loser will often be the one to lose patience first.

Matchbox Billiard Game - Box Match

The game of Box Match is played exactly the same way as Matchbox, with the exception of break play. In Box Match each player breaks their own balls to set up their own game play alignment. All other break and game play rules are the same as Matchbox rules. If a player happens to knock down one or more of their own balls while breaking, balls are not returned, and the opposite player will have choice to begin regular play first or second if they have more balls remaining on the table after break play.

When playing Box Match, keep in mind that pocketing on break will be somewhat rare when compared to Matchbox. Each opponent will have easy access to a pocket if balls are spread and not grouped, since each will break from the side which houses their opponent's box arrangement.

If an opponent can manage to sink a ball that strays close to a pocket or good scoring line, they can follow or spin the cue off the ball in question, pocketing the opponent ball and still moving one of their own out of their arrangement with the cue ball, which is followed or spun off a rail, or drawn off a rail, or otherwise follows naturally into their arrangement, in the hope that the cue ball will carry enough speed or precision to satisfy their own one ball out requirement. First play in Box Match is often worth attempting through such pocket combos, however risky.

Handicapping is possible in this billiard game. In Matchbox it is possible for a player playing with only one ball to win against a player utilizing all seven balls. Of course it is to a player's advantage to field seven balls against one, but by no means impossible for the player fielding the single ball to win outright. Any number of combinations ( fielded ball differences ) are applicable. The question will remain, "What is the ideal number to to field against an opponent playing seven, six, five, four, three, two, or one?" A difficult question to answer; although for most, they will want to enter a match with a full ball set.

A note about break play: In Matchbox matches where opponents field a different amount of balls, the same break rules apply. The player to receive the option to go first or second is the player to pocket the most opponent balls, and not the player with the most remaining. However, a player fielding three or less balls should be carefull not to be penalized during the break stage, as it will result in an outright loss of the round. ( Because of the three-ball penalty )

Matchbox Billiard Rules

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

...or view existing Matchbox Billiard Rules questions in the forum.

Matchbox Billiard Rules History

The rules for Matchbox billiards were developed by Kevin Anglin. Matchbox was based on a form of play I used to experiment with up to ten or twelve years ago. Me and a friend of mine used to play a game I called Knockout. In that game the stripes and solids were simply placed in any configuration we desired to rack them in a standard pool rack, but each on opposite ends of the table. Opponents naturally broke into the other’s rack, and shots were strictly alternating, any team ball could be cued to pocket an opposite team ball, which meant it was basically a one shot deal for each turn, and the person to sink all opponent balls first won the game. With Matchbox I simply allowed for a very large break area, which made things much more interesting when I discovered that a single ball out of each area was the best way to add strategy to the game. Substituting the alternating style with the option to run the table, so long as each shot is called, and when a penalty ball can be taken with a missed called shot, seemed to add greatly, or I should say, more interestingly, to the further requirement that each action ball should be cued in numerical order. Overall I became addicted to the game format, and consider it a fun game to both play and watch. My only concern about the game is, that it can be fairly well described in a few minutes when demonstrating the game to another when at a table, although it can take a few rereads to grasp without the use of physical demonstrations. But then, a guess the same can be said about any billiard game.

The official Matchbox Billiard Rules are predominently observed in North America.

How to Play Matchbox Billiard

  • Title: Matchbox Billiard Rules
  • Author:
  • Published: 4/13/2009 7:00:00 AM
  • Last Updated: 4/18/2009 11:01:00 AM
  • Last Updated By: billiardsforum (Billiards Forum)

Matchbox Billiard Rules

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

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