Q: As an instructor, what are some of your favorite games outside of traditional pool — 8-Ball and 9-Ball specifically — that you enjoy teaching and why?

A: The vast majority of the public thinks 8-Ball is pool. Most everybody gets introduced to 8-Ball in their friend's basement as a teenager, and they assume whatever rules they learned then are the true rules of 8-Ball. Of course this has led to an unending array of issues & arguments.

If they continue in pool, eventually they run across 9-Ball (and more recently, 10-Ball). That’s about it for most beginner through intermediate players. But there are lots more games, and I’ll take this opportunity to promote a few of my favorites.

I'll recommend three alternative games. For beginners, Any 8. For intermediates, Kiss Pool. For advanced players, One Pocket.

Any 8: Teaching beginners, I respect the importance of pocketing balls and having fun. As more experienced players, we tend to forget how difficult 8-Ball really is. There is so much strategy required, so much defense, so much complicated stuff going on. Beginners need to pocket balls and have fun! 8-Ball is way too hard a game. I start beginners with a simple game I made up many years ago – Any 8.

Rack up all 15 balls and break. If something goes in, keep shooting. No stripes or solids or numbers – they’re all just balls. This is an offense-only game. Shoot any ball, any way, any pocket. If a ball goes down, shoot again. Whoever makes a total of eight balls first wins the game. If you get beginners hooked on the rewarding feeling of ball-pocketing, strategy and defense should come later.

Kiss Pool: Sometimes called Irish Pool or Philadelphia, Kiss Pool is fun and different. Intermediate players need to develop their ability to predict and control where the cue ball goes after it hits an object ball. Kiss Pool does that, and is very rewarding to play.

Rack up all 15 balls. Put the cue ball at the front of the rack and the 1-ball at the head spot for the break. To score, call an object ball in a pocket. Shoot that object ball into the cueball in such a way that it bounces off the cueball and goes to the pocket. Yes, you are hitting the object balls in this game, not the cueball. Essentially, you are practicing “billiarding” balls into pockets. Whichever player scores eight balls first wins the game. I play that if the cueball goes in a pocket, no penalty – spot the cueball on the center spot of the table and continue shooting.

Players sometimes ask, “Why do I want to learn how to scratch?” My answer is “If you know where the scratches are, you know where they are!” This is a fun game, and it builds very useful skills.

One Pocket: For advanced players, many instructors recommend 14.1 Continuous, aka straight pool. Straight pool was the most popular billiards game from 1912 up to when we lost our attention spans somewhere in the 1970s. Shooting 14.1 will teach you a great deal, and is often described as “the mother game of pool.”

I love straight pool, however I find one pocket to be a more rich source of fun and learning. You can look up the details of the rules online, but essentially, it’s this: Rack up all 15 balls. The only pockets that matter are the two corner pockets near the rack. Balls that fall in the other pockets are spotted. Each player owns one of those two corner pockets. Fouls cost you a ball. Whoever scores eight balls in their pocket first wins the game. Sounds simple. It’s not.

There is so much knowledge and cleverness involved in this game that aspiring players would be smart to watch lots of one pocket matches online. This may be the most complex, sophisticated game we have. You have to play offense and defense simultaneously. You have to control everything on the table because small errors can often lead to large punishments from your opponent. You learn fine control of the cueball and shots that are seriously difficult: banks, kicks, combos, billiards, clusters, clearance shots, and combinations of these. Your skills at reading the stack will improve, and maybe most importantly, your speed control will improve. You learn that you’re most likely shooting too hard. You learn to never give up. One pocket improves your pocketing, speed, defense, and strategy. Gains these skills carry over to all other games.

Pool is way more than “Stripes & Solids.” Try something new. Put some game in your game!