If you're an avid pool player consider a few of our favourite game variations to keep up your sleeve for when you want a fresh challenge, when you've a group wanting to play, or when you want a single game to last over the course of an evening. 

But first, know what you are already playing...

The game you play at the pub is probably Black Ball Pool. Ideal for all levels of player, Black Ball allows you to break with force and then see what fate hands you as the balls career around the table. It's a fast, fun game perfectly suited to a noisy, busy bar where there might be a queue for the table. It's derived from Eight Ball Pool, which uses the same combination of 15 balls, cue ball and 8 ball but requires you to "call" your shot before you make it. In other words, you must stipulate which ball you are going to hit into which pocket; chance doesn't get a look in. It requires great skill so if you haven't attemped it before then find yourself a quiet venue (home pool tables are ideal for this!) and see how you fare when you have to plan outloud every shot...

Pool might sometimes be called "Pocket Billiards" by the more eccentric player but you aren't playing Billiards proper by any stretch of the imagination; billiards doesn't involve pocketing any balls and is focused on bouncing the balls off the rails and each other to your advantage. 

Straight Pool

This is a great option to (optionally) keep a match running all evening. In its most simple form, Straight Pool uses a cue ball and 15 coloured balls, any of which you can pocket to score a single point with the highest scoring player winning. Note that you must call your shot before playing it so while simple in format this is far from a smash and grab game. To stretch the match out you can reset the table when all balls are potted and continue on a "first to 100" basis (although this won't make you popular in the pub.) To add complexity, implement a penalty of -1 point for missed shots ("fouls") with -15 points for three consecutive fouls. Ouch.  

One Pocket Pool

If the strategy element of calling your shots in Straight Pool and Eight Ball appeals then you ought to like One Pocket Pool too. You don't need to call your shot but you do need to pot your balls into the same pocket each time. With the balls racked randomly in the triangle, one player breaks and then nominates his or her pocket of choice. The next player chooses an alternative pocket and your receive one point for each ball of any colour potted in the correct pocket; get it wrong and you get a penalty point. The first player to eight points wins the match! If you're playing pool at home with the kids, add a few points on the board for your weaker player to even things up. 

Cut Throat

This vicious-sounding variation on pool is great for 3 players, should the occasion arise. The 15 numbered balls are divided into three groups: low balls (numbered 1-5), mid balls (6-10) and high balls (11-15). We'd best say now that the ability to retain five numbers in your head is going to be key to this so it's not one to undertake after a few pints...

The person to break gets to claim their preferred group of balls first, bearing in mind that rather than potting your five the aim is to keep them on the table and pocket those of your opponents instead. So, picking the group that are going to be hardest to pot is a good start... Next player picks his group next and so on. The winner is the person with the most balls left on the table in this game. Your turn continues for as long as you are pocketing balls, which may even include pocketing one of your own (cutting your own throat in effect) just to stay on the table or get in a better position to pocket more balls. Take care though: pot the cue ball and your opponents can each return one of their balls to the table (so don't do that.) 

Bumper Pool

This variation on our beloved pool seems to make life unnecessarily hard! However, just in case you stumble into one of the very few US bars that plays Bumper Pool we thought we'd give you the lowdown on this most unique variation.

Start by placing eight obstacles in the centre of the table, the "bumpers", and then attempt to hit your five balls from your end of the table into a pocket at the other end of the table. Your opponent will do the same so you need to avoid their five balls and negotiate the bumpers, ideally using the sides (without pockets by the way) to boomerang the ball round them and into the pocket. We can only assume that someone was drunk when they came up with this but by all accounts it is fantastic as a spectator sport! If this version of pool tickles your fancy then you can find out more about the game here