If you've become accustomed to playing in leagues and tournaments with well-documented, standardized rules, it can be a real trip into the wild, wild west to flex your pool muscles at the local bar. Breaking into the scene has two main obstacles: familiarizing yourself with the locals and also with their local rules. Chances are there's at least one rooster who'll crow if you beat him and at least one obscure, illogical rule that'll leave you scratching your head. Don't be discouraged, view it as a challenge. There's nothing more satisfying than walking into someone else's territory and beating them at their own game.
1. Investigate your surroundings.
Your first order of business is to ascertain how the order of play is determined. There might be a chalkboard that lists the people ahead of you or it might be a more informal system of putting your quarter up on the rail and finding out who's the last in line.
2. Do you need a date for the dance?
In crowded bars, the format might be doubles as opposed to one-on-one. Ask around if anyone needs a partner and keep in mind the game will be alternating turn as opposed to alternating shot.
3. The Wall-a-Bushka.
Depending on the bar, your abilities and your sense of pride or shame, you might want to leave your expensive cues, glove and any other high-level equipment at home. “Playing off the wall,” AKA using a house cue, can offer you a level of anonymity that might ease you in socially.
4. Avoid correcting or cringing at etiquette violations.
Expect people to talk while you're shooting, tell you what to shoot, walk up to the table and chalk during your turn and hey, you might even get elbowed or run into by a drunk person! Keep your standards low and you won't be disappointed.
5. Confirm the rules.
Every bar will have a slightly different interpretation of the rules of pool – find these out BEFORE playing. You can have a conversation with a local or the rules might be posted on the wall. Don't pass judgment on anything the locals have cooked up. As long as everyone's playing by the same rules, it'll be a fair game.
6. No ball-in-hand. Ever.
You'll have a greater chance of meeting your future spouse in a dive bar than encountering house rules that utilize ball-in-hand. All scratches are placed behind the head string. There's no penalty for contacting your opponent's ball or the 8-Ball while you're shooting your suit other than that you lose your turn. Same goes for failing to contact a rail.
7. It's all in the details.
Learn to negotiate how intense the “call shot” rule is (as opposed to call pocket or slop.) You'll generally be required to call bank shots, combos and whether you're ball is going to carom off another ball before going in. If you find yourself with a complicated shot that you'd like to attempt, get super-specific about every little thing that's going to happen. Chances are your opponent will glaze over after the second sentence and as long as the ball goes in, it'll be considered a good shot.
8. No safeties allowed.
Defense most certainly gets its bad rap from players abusing the no ball-in-hand rule by rolling the cue-ball to extremely disadvantageous positions. Even if you're used to playing some high-level, legal defense in your day-to-day pool life, chances are these techniques won't fly at the bar.
9. Covert defense and other strategies that won't get your thumbs broken
The number one rule for 8-Ball strategy still holds true in the bar: bide your time and don't start running out until you see a way to finish the rack. While everyone else is picking off ducks, go for tougher shots that open up the rack for you to run out in a turn or two. Choose two-way shots, such as bank shots, that leave your opponent badly if you miss. Since you won't be penalized for not contacting your object ball, opt for low-percentage kicks instead of tough shots that will sell out the rack.
10. The 8-Ball has to go clean and don't scratch!
Generally, the 8-Ball will need to be played clean (not off another ball) and if you scratch while playing the 8, you'll lose the game. Be very cautious when planning the rack down to the 8. If the 8 is in a precarious position and unlikely to go clean, move it or the impeding balls and wait it out until you have a shot that you're certain will succeed. Patience, cunning and an unassuming attitude will grant you legendary status as the guy or gal who held the table all night.