Cutthroat Pool - It's Not Just For Pirates Anymore

Killer Pool
This pool game is worth your time and money both. Photo courtesy of Liquidream Studios

I want to explain to you a little known but very exciting game called Cutthroat Billiards, as well as my personal variations on the rules that make this great three-player game also fun for just two players as well.

Fast And Furious

Cutthroat pool is super for small groups wanting to make the most of one table with a high action and (hopefully) fast game. If you need a game that’s a blast for many players on one table, try Three Ball instead.

1. Put the cue ball in the kitchen (see the Three Ball article for a look at the Kitchen) and break the full rack of 15 randomly placed balls. Question: Can we call it the Cutthroat Kitchen now?

2. You could go with an open table then shoot to declare sides as in Eight Ball, but it’s easier to maintain a ball set. For three players, Player A “owns” the number one through five balls, Player B the 6- through 10-balls and of course, Player C has the 11- through 15-balls.

3. Alternate breaks but keep the same order. Player A break the first game/rack then Player B breaks the next game followed by innings for C, then A then B again in rotation. Player C breaks every third game, followed by innings for A and B (unless C breaks and runs out).

4. Break ‘em up then try to win by clearing all your opponent’s balls off the table.

Rule Variations I Love

With a couple more rule changes, this game becomes even more fun, even one of my very favorite games.

Scratch and Ride: This last, wild rule makes the game extra fun. Any scratch returns one ball from each opposing player (if at least one has already sunk) to line up on the foot spot, e.g. Player B scratches so the 1-ball from Player A and the 15-ball from Player C returns into play. This rule allows a “dead” player to return to the table with one ball and keep shooting!

This rule is a quick way to force newer players to learn how to avoid scratches!

Roll for Your Life: A player may shoot at any balls, even sinking balls of his own set, to continue his inning.

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Cut Your Own Throat: A player can run completely out of his set but keep his inning going. If he fails to run the rest in this win or lose scenario, he’s done, unless an incoming player sometime before the game ends scratches and revives him. Call this variation “Cut Your Own Throat”.

Cut Matt's Throat: Back in school a long time ago, my friends felt I was too good at running tables of Cutthroat, so I invented “Cut Matt’s Throat”, a multi-rack version of Cutthroat that is exciting and at times, downright hilarious to play. A player who wins a game breaks the subsequent rack of balls but with a ball removed from their set.

If I’m Player A and eliminate the 6- through 15-balls to win the rack, we next rack 14 balls in the set, but keep my 1-ball off to begin. Now I have a handicap of four balls to my opponent’s five balls respectively. If I win another rack, we keep off the 1- and 2-balls, rack 13 balls, and as the lead player, my opponents need only clear my three balls to knock me out, then remove one of their set for the next rack and so on.

This game will thus take five to thirteen racks to play. If the above sounds like too many racks to enjoy, start with 12 or even 9 balls in the set. Also, Cut Matt's Throat works beautifully for just two players to enjoy if you make the 8-ball neutral, the last ball of both sets, or simply remove it from the first rack.

Rack Like a Freak: You guessed right if you realized there is no set way to can make perfect racks of 12 and 13 balls and so on with a typical triangle. Have fun and rack creatively--almost anything goes, including abstract shapes made from the balls. Players of all levels get a kick out of this unusual setup style, doing lines of balls and symmetrical and asymmetrical shapes and patterns.

Yak it Up: Allow for unlimited table talk, coaching and camaraderie throughout. If I’m three balls/three racks ahead of the others, they should gang up on me and try to take me out.

But with fewer targets to shoot at and other balls in the way, it’s harder than you might think to target a player far ahead of the other two.

The Winning Hand

I ask for the middle balls as often as possible. Player B often holds a winning position simply by his set fooling the other players. They tend to forget that “mids” holds not only solids but two stripes and also the black 8-ball in their set. Player C tends to miss pocketing the 9- and 10-ball if they are rushing through their inning and the 8-ball is often neglected from both A and C per the old habit of avoiding pocketing it too early in the game of Eight Ball.