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Thirty Eight Pool Rules

Thirty-Eight rules eventually morphed into the rules that are now known as cowboy pool rules.

Thirty Eight Pool Rules

The game of Thirty Eight rules became popular when it was published in the New York Times on January 21, 1885. The following excerpt is transcribed from a scan of the NY Times page that listed the rules of Thirty Eight billiards.

There is a new game of billiards called Thirty-Eight. It appears to be met with special favor among the many devotees of pool, and those who have grown weary of the incessant work at the pockets turned to Thirty-Eight and find plenty of diversion.

Thirty Eight rules specify that the game is played with five balls, two cue balls, and three object balls. The object balls are placed as follows:

  • 3 ball on the spot at the head of the table
  • 2 ball on the spot at the foot of the table
  • 5 ball in the center of the table between the side pockets

Players lead from the head of the table just as in pool.

The game is composed of pockets and caroms. Caroms recount 1.1, balls pocketed count for points according to the numbers on the ball, 2, 3, or 5. Pocketing an opponents ball counts for one point. Thirty Eight rules play to 38 points or more, and the player exceeding 38 points do not injure his game, but to win, must pocket his own ball off an object ball. In addition to these scoring rules, the following rules have been adopted for the game of thirty eight.

  1. Place the 3 ball on the spot at the head of the table, place the 5 ball in the center of the table between the side pockets, and place the 2 ball on the spot at the foot of the table.
  2. Players bank for first shot. (Billiards forum note: This is the same as a lag for break. That's what they called it in 1885.) When any ball goes in to a pocket during the bank, players bank again.
  3. For scoring, each carom counts as one point, an opponent's ball pocketed counts as one point, and other balls pocketed count for points according to the number on the ball.
  4. A player pocketing his or her own ball can neither make nor lose the shot.
  5. Thirty Eight points must be made, (if more are scored, the count is only 38) then the player must pocket his own ball off of an object ball, and must call both the ball and the pocket.
  6. No push shots are allowed in the game of Thirty-Eight.
  7. Should a ball be in a pocket, and it's spot be occupied by another ball, it cannot be spotted untill it's spot is freed in due course of play.

As mentioned earlier, you will probably notice the similarities between the rules of Thirty-Eight billiards and the game of cowboy pool. Cowboy pool is thought to have been derived from the game of Thirty-Eight, though the details and time lines are not known.

Thirty Eight Pool Rules

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

...or view existing Thirty Eight Pool Rules questions in the forum.

Thirty Eight Pool Rules History

Thirty-Eight was a carom billiard game that was first published by the Rochester Democrat on January 18, 1885.

The official Thirty Eight Pool Rules are predominently observed in North America, England.

How to Play Thirty Eight Pool

  • Title: Thirty Eight Pool Rules
  • Author: (Billiards Forum)
  • Published: 5/2/2008 6:52:00 AM
  • Source: New York Times Archives

Thirty Eight Pool Rules

The Thirty Eight Pool Rules article belongs to the Carom Billiard Rules category. Carom billiards is a class of cue sport games played on a pocketless carom billiard table.

Thirty Eight Pool Rules Comments

  1. Chuck HarmanChuck Harman from New York, NY on 6/7/2009 9:45:05 PM

    This is not the game of thirty-eight as I learned it when I first heard of the game.

    The rules as I learned then are similar but:

    • Only one cue ball is used
    • Opening shot has three object balls spotted as described but it doesn't matter which three are used.
    • Points are scored thus...
      • A two object ball carom scores three points with an additional three added if all three balls are struck by the cue ball
      • Any pocketed ball scores one point whether it is made as a single shot or in tandem with a carom (3 points for carom plus 1 point for pocketed ball).
      • Any miss of an object ball or scratch shot results in loss of points accumulated in current inning.
      • If a player exceeds thirty-eight points, his points are reset to thirty and play continues as normal.

    This version of "thirty-eight billiards" originated, I think, in a rural area of Southwestern Ohio, although I cannot be certain.

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