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Counterpoint Billiard Rules

Counterpoint billiards is an alternative billiard game that requires strategy and forethought.

Counterpoint Billiard Rules

Here is a general overview of Counterpoint Billiard rules:

  • Players break from opposite ends of the table. Two breaks per round. Both ball sets on the table to begin each round or half.
  • Players make their own breaks, arrange their own balls in one opening shot which distributes them. Balls are also freely arranged in the box area before each break shot according to each player's style or strategy.
  • Cue ball is the scoring ball.
  • Five balls are typically used by each side, but any number from one to seven may be used by each side, according to handicap or other match specific arrangements made beforehand.
  • Home corner pockets = 1 point. Side pockets = 2 points. Opponent corner pockets = 3 points. The opposite is true for the opposing player.
  • 24 shot maximum per round. Each shot from either player deducting one count from the total.
  • Sometimes played with different round maximums, but usually 24.
  • Except in opening breaks, cue ball is never cued directly; but is played off of team balls.
  • Any team ball may be selected to take a turn play when its side is up for a turn.
  • Up to three passes may be utilized during each turn, and a final scoring attempt or position play, allowing that a single turn by one player may deduct up to four counts from 24 shot counter. Passes consist of moving the cue ball by shot contact from one same team ball to another without contacting an opponent ball before or after the completed pass. Balls passed to do not have to take the following pass, position, or scoring attempt, but any team ball may be cued when its team is up for a turn or continuation of a turn.
  • Team balls cued do not have to make contact with any other ball, and are not penalized for contacting any other ball, unless an opposing team ball is pocketed directly, or without first contacting the cue ball.
  • Shots do not have to be called in any case. Each play may consist of a position play, scoring attempt, or passing attempt, or any combination of the three, but do not have to be called.
  • Scoring returns are returned by the scorer, any place upon the table, allowing that the ball is in open space, or 2 1/4 inches ( one ball distance ) from any other ball or rail. The eight ball is often used as a measuring ball, and often kept to the side for measuring purposes. After re-spotting the cue ball, the oppenent which did not score the cue ball in the previous play is then up for his or her turn.
  • Highest point total after two 24 shot halves wins the match.

General Rules of Counterpoint Billiards

Live Counterpoint and Set Counterpoint are played exactly the same, with the exception of the cue ball return after the break stages, the rules both of which included in the following.

Counterpoint is played with five solid balls playing one way and five stripe balls playing the other. The cue ball is the scoring ball. ( Target ball to be pocketed by both players ) To begin play each player places their five balls into the breaking area; ( The breaking area is in the same position and of the same dimensions as the breaking box used in Matchbox* ) the first player to break places his or her balls into their box in any arrangement they choose; the second player to break places their balls second; the first player then breaks their own arrangement of balls, followed by the second player’s break upon their own ball arrangement.

In Counterpoint each pair of pockets has a different scoring point value. Home corner pockets are 1 point, side pockets are 2 points for each player, and opposite corner pockets ( opponent side ) are worth 3 points for pocketing the target cue ball. If, for example, Player A racks their balls on the north side of the table, Player A’s 3 point pockets are on the south side of the table and visa versa for Player B.

Each round consists of a 24 play maximum, counted as play proceeds. ( The 24 shot maximum includes both player’s turns, one shot deducted from the 24 total each time a player cues a ball - ‘takes a turn’ )

Normally two halves are played, allowing each player an opportunity to break first and second.

In Counterpoint each player, after selecting stripes or solids places their own five balls ( any five stripes or solids of their choice ) into their breaking area. The breaking area is identical to the position and dimensions used in Matchbox.

Counterpoint Billiard Rules - Break Shots

Counterpoint breaks are generally soft breaks that distribute the balls without pocketing any of them. If any are pocketed the player will be at a disadvantage, having less than five balls remaining for the rest of the round. Each player breaks from behind the baulk line ( second dot ) with the scoring cue ball. For the break to be legal one ball must be moved all the way out of the break area. If a ball or more moves out of the break area initially and reenters the same area it cannot be counted as the one ball out of the box counted to satisfy the rule. If this condition is not met, ( at least one ball out of the box ) a five point penalty is deducted and each player’s balls are re-racked. If the non-guilty player chooses he or she may take the result of the break and continue without a five point penalty. If the illegal break occurs on first break the second player to break must still take a break shot of their own and move one of their balls out before they can take the five point penalty; or if they choose they may take the result of both breaks and continue normally. If both breaks are illegal, the balls will be re-racked if either player would like to re-rack; or if both players would like to play on, it must be agreed upon by both players.

Since the scoring ball is also used to break both opposing ball-sets, it is possible to score on the break. If the cue ball is pocketed into a home corner pocket while breaking it is worth 1 point, 2 points for ending up in a side pocket, and 3 points for ending up in an opponent corner pocket. However, if at least one ball is not moved out of the home break area, break points will not count and the illegal break penalty will be assessed. It is OK for a first break ball or more to travel across the table and disrupt the alignment of the balls in the second rack area. However, if a first break ball knocks one of the opponent balls out of the second box it satisfies the second player’s one-ball-out requirement, which allows the second player a free shot at a 3 point pocket with the cue ball if the second player chooses. For there is not requirement to contact any ball on break if one of the balls is already out of the box before beginning a break shot when breaking second. Direct scoring attempts in such cases must travel halfway across the table, meaning ( 2 point pockets ) should be an easy direct score, ( may be pocketed directly into side pockets ) but to bank back for a 3 point break point attempt, it will be more tricky, considering the amount of traffic that will be present. The important thing to remember is that break scoring does not count unless the cue ball travels at least as far as the side pockets from the normal head string position.

A player ( when breaking to a box with one ball already out, may also pocket an opponent ball directly off the cue ball, ( breaking ball ) even if the target ball is on the same side of the head-string line from where the cue ball will be cued. If the cue ball follows a ball into a pocket on the same side of the head string from where a player is breaking the pocketing of the cue will not count for scoring purposes; however, if a player pockets the cue ball in this way they will still have privilege to set the ball into play to begin regular play. Whether to eliminate an opponent ball or go for points in this situation is a matter of strategy.

In a situation where one of the players is penalized for an illegal break while the other has scored points on break, the points will not be counted if the five point penalty is assessed and the balls are re-racked.

The one ball out requirement is determined after both players have completed their breaks, which means that if a ball is knocked out of its rack area on first break but reenters the same area after second break, it cannot be counted to satisfy the one ball out rule.

Whichever player scores the highest if one or both players pocket the cue ball on break, returns the cue ball to the table ( Any place on the playing surface, so long as the cue ball is in open space; 2 1/4 inches, (one ball distance) from any other ball or rail) and the low scorer takes the first shot in regular play. If both players have a tie score after both pocketing the cue ball on break, the cue is returned exactly to the center of the table ( The center measured exactly in the middle of the side pockets. ) and whoever has a ball closer to the center return begins regular play first. ( *See Set Counterpoint.) If no break points are scored the cue ball on the second break is a ‘live ball,’ meaning that the player with the closest ball to the cue ball goes first ( Usually the second to break will have a ball closer ) If opposing balls appear to be the same distance from the cue ball, a tape measure should be used to verify the matter. If they still seem too close to call, the next closest balls by proximity should be determined. In the event of a penalty occurring on one of the breaks, if the non-guilty player would like to re-rack and take the five point penalty, any points scored by the non-guilty player during his or her break will not count and the balls will be re-racked.

Special note: if player A knocks one ball out of his or her break area, but player B returns that ball into the same break area through the action of their own break, player A will be guilty of an illegal break after both breaks are completed; so long, that is, as all seven balls remain in player A’s break area and six or less remain in player B’s break area. Though tricky, such attempts to return single balls back into their home area while also moving one ball out of the opposite area will not be unheard of. For this reason player B in the above example must be legal on their own end by knocking one of their own balls out to satisfy the one out rule; if not, player B will be guilty of an illegal break if player A is legal before player B begins their own break. Therefore the only way player B can force an illegal break upon player A is if player B satisfies the one out rule on their own side while also returning all balls back into player A’s break area.

Counterpoint Billiard Rules - Passes

Passes are shots that move the cue ball between two striped balls or two solid balls without the cue ball contacting an opposing team ball, either before or after the pass. Successful passes( solid - cue ball - solid, or stripe - cue ball - stripe ) keep a turn alive. Three passes are allowed in one turn, followed by a final shot or position play. The 24 shot counter in the case of three passes and a final shot or position play would deduct 4 shots from the 24 shot counter. This concept is essential to understand. Three passes in a row are allowed, but possession cannot be maintained after the third pass, and a player must then attempt a shot or play position. After four plays in any case possession shifts back to the opposing player.

Passes align the scoring ball for a good shot at a pocket, and they help control possession if a player would like to run down the 24 shot counter, thus denying their opponent as many total shots. Passing does not mean the cue ball is passed from one action ball to a subsequent action ball, because in Counterpoint any team ball can be the action ball at any time. In Counterpoint it is essential to work passing combinations to help control the game and work through difficult defensive alignments. Keep in mind that a ball cannot pass to itself through a rebound, and must pass to another or more team balls to keep a play alive. If the cue ball completes more than one same-side pass in one play it is still considered the same: a completed pass; just as long as an opponent ball does not contact the cue ball at any point during the play, in which case it is considered a possession change.

Sacrifice passes are also allowed, in which a ball that completes a pass is pocketed. In certain situations point possibilities may look better than keeping one of the pass balls on the table if it is blocking a pocket or otherwise completes a pass before pocketing itself. Either way it is considered a completed pass and the player completing the pass continues on normally, so long as an opponent ball is not also contacted by the cue ball, which is a possession change.

Counterpoint Billiard Rules - Shot Classificationss

Shots can be classified as either a Shot, Pass, or a Position Play. Shots are those that try to pocket the cue ball ( scoring ball ) for a score. Passes move the cue ball from one like ball to another without the cue ball touching an opponent ball before or after the pass - Passes keep a turn ‘alive.’ Position plays are those that are played for position/ ball alignment, or those that attempt to move opponent balls out of the way, or sink them through cue ball combos. Many shots will have a quality of each of these; or in other words, may have an option quality, meaning: “If the cue ball doesn’t go in for a score, it may complete a pass on the way, or pocket a defending ball,” .etc, etc, etc… The key is to play the odds to your best ability; especially if your opponent is a better shot maker than you are.

Counterpoint - Shot Rules and Penalties

In Counterpoint there is no requirement for the action ball, ( ball being cued ) to make contact with any other ball; which means, many position plays simply nudge the ball being played to a better defensive or offensive position. A position play may also strike an opponent ball first, and to anywhere on the table so long as the opponent ball is not pocketed. If an opponent ball is pocketed after the action ball contacts an opponent ball before contacting the cue ball, through penalty the opponent ball which is pocketed is allowed to take the exact place of any of the guilty player’s balls on the table - ( be swapped ). This penalty, ( the guilty player now minus a ball through a penalty swap ) must be carried out before the next turn takes place. If an action ball first contacts an opponent ball, and the action ball then contacts the cue ball, which goes on in the same play to complete a pass between same-side balls, the pass is legal. If the opponent ball is pocketed in the same situation, a penalty replacement will take place and possession will change, the swap occurring before the opposing player’s turn commences. However, if the cue ball is contacted first and the cue ball goes on to pocket an opponent ball in the same play, it is a legal play and the opponent ball is not returned to the table. ( No penalty ) Likewise, if an action ball contacts the cue ball first and the action ball then goes on to pocket an opponent ball, it is also a legal pocketing of that opponent ball. Basically, so long as the action ball hits the cue ball ( scoring ball ) first, any ball that is pocketed after this initial cue ball contact stays pocketed. Also, any time a player pockets one of his or her own balls through their own cueing action, the pocketed balls cannot be returned to the table.

If a general penalty takes place during any play they are assessed the in the same way general penalties are assessed in Matchbox, the penalty ball which is removed may be any ball, and the result of the ball movement may be taken, or the balls may be put back where they were minus the penalized ball.

Counterpoint Billiard Rules - Scoring

Pocketing the cue ball ( Scoring ball ) in the home corner pockets = 1 point. Side pockets are always 2 points for both players. The opponent’s corner pockets are worth 3 points.

Whichever player initiates table action resulting in the cue ball going into any pocket, ( shoots and scores ) gets the points assigned to that pocket. Meaning, even if an opponent’s ball is contacted first by the action ball taking the turn, then rolls into the cue ball and knocks the cue ball ( scoring ball ) into a pocket, the point still goes to the initiator of the scoring shot.

The action ball may follow the scoring ball into a pocket: - the point or points still count. In the case of combo-ing the scoring ball off of an opponent ball ( the opponent ball contacted first ) when both the opponent ball and scoring ball are pocketed: - there will be a penalty swap ( pocketed ball put in place of any opponent ball on the table ) for knocking in an opponent ball. However, the point or points still count despite the penalty, and the initiator of the shot will return the ball to the table after the penalty swap is completed. Basically, it is legal to combo the scoring ball into a pocket for a score when the scoring ball is blocked in some way by an opposing ball.

If a pass is completed before the scoring ball is pocketed ( in one shot ) the pass cannot carry over. In other words, passing possession ends when the scoring ball is scored, which always results in a possession change.

Counterpoint Billiard Rules - Scoring Returns

After the scoring cue ball is pocketed, the scoring player returns the ball to the table any place they choose, so long as it is in open space; one ball-distance from any rail or other ball. ( about 2 1/4 inches ) The non-scoring player is then up to take a shot, pass, or play position. A ball not being used should serve as a measuring tool, to assure the cue ball is not any closer than one ball distance from any other ball. If using a clock, the cue ball should be in position on the table when the clock expires, and if the cue ball is a questionable distance, a measuring ball should be able to pass between the cue ball and the rail, or between balls without touching. If not, the player to return the cue ball illegally should be assessed an interference penalty, in which case the one ball penalty will be taken and the guilty player will be given another chance to return the cue ball legally before the opposing player takes his or her turn.

Counterpoint Billiard Rules - All Out Rule

If at any point a player loses all of his or her balls before the 24 shot counter is played through, the All Out Rule is imposed on the other player. Since all scoring will be one-sided from that point, the non-scorer is allowed to place the scoring returns. Each shot remaining after only one team of balls remains on the table belongs to that team, and the opposite team may no longer take turns, because they don’t have balls to take them with, and for this reason may not deduct their due turns from the 24 counter. If a player does pocket or has all of his or her balls pocketed for them, their only hope is to place the cue ball in a difficult position each time the opponent scores. For the team remaining on the table, it will become a game of scoring as many points as possible in successive shots, until the 24 counter is exhausted.

Counterpoint Billiard Rules - Set Counterpoint

Set Counterpoint is an alternative to Live Counterpoint in that the cue ball is always returned to the center dot of the table ( exactly between the side pockets ) after each break round. The team of balls with a ball closest to the center dot goes first in regular play, unlike Live Counterpoint, which plays the cue ball wherever it ends up after second break. Also, in Set Counterpoint the cue ball is returned to the center dot only if scoring break shots are equal, or if there is no scoring from either side on break; otherwise the high scorer on from the breakstage will set the cue ball just as in Live Counterpoint. If a ball is so close to the center dot, or on the center dot, not allowing the cue ball to be retuned there, the ball on the dot is allowed to be moved anywhere on the table; but if it gives up its proximity position to another ball which becomes closer after the free placement, the other team of balls takes first shot. If two balls are crowding the center dot ( not allowing the cue ball to be placed there ) they are each given a free placement, allowing the cue ball to be set on the center dot, and the team with the ball closest to the center dot initially then must take the first shot regardless of where each ball is freely placed; the initial, closest ball, however, must be placed before the next closest ball is freely placed, neither of the free placed balls touching any other ball.

Counterpoint Billiard Rules - Strategy

While breaking it is important to consider at least three styles of breaking action. A defensive break is one that spreads the balls to cover the home 3 point pockets. If the opponent has too many lines into these 3 point pockets the score may get out of hand if nothing is done to protect them. If these pockets are covered well initially it saves the trouble of worrying about them early in the game.

A scoring break is one that attempts to pocket the scoring/breaking cue ball directly off the box arrangement. Usually the corner pockets nearest the box are targeted for a 1 point score; a more advanced target might be an opposite 3 point corner pocket. Scoring break attempts will be more common when a player is breaking first. Remember, that if a player outscores another during the break stage they choose where to put the scoring ball to begin regular play, which even though this means they will not take first turn in regular play, it is often an advantage to return the scoring ball to the table, which complicates the opponent’s opening play.

Offensive breaks are those which attempt to send one or more balls down the table to disrupt an opponent’s box, which more often than not keeps the person breaking second from properly distributing their balls as they would have liked. Offensive breaks also send one or more balls down to possibly secure first play, which can often amount to an easy 3 point shot attempt. Remember, if neither player scores on break the team with a ball closest by proximity to the cue ball ( scoring ball ) after the second break goes first in regular play. Having a ball or two on the other side of the table also provides passing lanes down the table.

Pocketing your own balls on break is not a good thing. Keeping all five increases your odds of winning the round. For this reason too much speed on break is dangerous.

A somewhat more advanced break style, called a 'pocket and one,' or 'zone play,' among other things, pocket a corner ball on the same side of the headstring and spins the cue ball off the rail into their own ball arrangement on the other side of the table. So long as the one out rule is satisfied, such attempts are perfectly legal. The pocketed ball may be close to the home arrangement, near a side pocket also, or anywhere that allows the cue ball to combo itself into the home arrangement to satisfy the one out rule. If such a play opens up an entire side of the table to work, and also forces the opponent to play a ball less from the beginning, a variety of herding techniques can further hamper defensive ability as play proceeds.

As for box designs, the possibilities are near endless, but a good break should do at least one of the three or four styles some credit; but if a break design can do more than one thing well it is often worth practicing until some consistency starts to emerge.

Apart from the importance of break design and execution, being able to visualize passes which lead to scoring opportunities is key in Counterpoint. Completing passes is tricky enough, but using them to your advantage is often as much a creative exercise as it is a technical one. Keep in mind that the balls completing passes are often not the ones that will take the shot in the end, and knowing whether or not to attempt another pass or try a sub-par shot attempt is often the difference in the game. When an opponent has five balls on the table it is not easy to pass in most cases, so it is also wise to play position once the cue ball is passed out of your opponents ideal scoring lanes. A player with an ultra soft touch that loves to play position, and those with good herding and rail pinning skills are beautiful to watch, as they can often eliminate balls simply by pinning them to a rail, allowing that the ball to the inside will still be useful and the pinned ball will not. Such players make another think twice before pocketing for one point scores, will force position plays that free the railed balls, or often force a wild shot through anger, in which case the player who loses his or her temper first can only hope for the best after the balls stop rolling and new positions are re-established, usually to the advantage of the player who forces such outbursts.

Good pocket defense is key. A pocket defender too close to a pocket may get comboed in off the cue ball. ( a legal ball eliminating pocket ) Also, in many cases the cue ball will simply follow the defending ball into the pocket for a score if it is very closely blocking the pocket. Too far from the pocket and more scoring angles open up to the opponent.

When returning the cue ball to the table after a score try not to play chicken with an opponent too often. Use other balls to block angles, or use the rail to force kick shots, or kick passes. Often the best choice is to place the cue ball, when returning it to the table, as close as possible to one of your balls, ( no closer than one ball distance, according to the rule ) which makes it very difficult for an opponent to separate the balls safely.

Counterpoint Billiard Rules - Format

Each player should be allowed an opportunity to break first and last to keep the game fair. This means at least two equal halves should be played, each half consisting of twenty-four shots. If these halves are shortened, a greater emphasis is placed on breaking ability which dominates early strategy; if the halves are lengthened a greater emphasis is placed on ball conservation. ( avoiding cue ball combos that sink your balls, or carelessly sinking them through your own actions, both of which being fairly common ) Also, the longer these halves or quarters are lengthened, the more a good shot maker will tend to dominate over a lesser shot maker in the end. The goal of any match should be to combine good breaking strategy, creative passing, scoring returns, and position plays, into a workable package that is agreeable to each player.

In the event of a tie at the end of both halves or four quarters, etc,.. a forced middle-return ( placing the cue ball directly at the center of the table, as in Set Counterpoint* ) after the break round makes a single deciding round more fair for each player. As to who goes first in the overtime round a simple coin flip or lag play may be the best method so long as both players agree.

In Counterpoint the same handicapping feature is interesting. Five should always be an advantage over one. But in the hands of the right player, a single ball can potentially compete against an opponent fielding all seven. Of course a single ball will not be able to pass to itself, which will make things more difficult for such an ambitious player.

Although the standard use of five balls each in Counterpoint is the 'standard,' for non-handicapped games, it is most always better to field all seven if seven are available, than to field only five in 'non,' standard games.

Counterpoint Billiard Rules

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

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

Counterpoint Billiard Rules History

Counterpoint billiards is an alternative billiard game developed by Kevin Anglin. Counterpoint stemmed directly from Cascade billiards, and it was the passing plays that got me hooked on the possibilities. Though it developed into a rather long rule-set, I find it easily understood once viewed in action. It is certainly the most strategic billiard game, in my opinion, in the billiard world; if, that is, it should ever become popular, and I feel it also includes everything most people enjoy about pocket billiard games, even though I admit most of its ideas veer sharply away from any existing or otherwise popular billiard game.

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

How to Play Counterpoint Billiard

  • Title: Counterpoint Billiard Rules
  • Author:
  • Published: 4/13/2009 7:17:00 AM
  • Last Updated: 4/18/2009 11:02:00 AM
  • Last Updated By: billiardsforum (Billiards Forum)

Counterpoint Billiard Rules

The Counterpoint 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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