9 Ball – A Funeral Whose Time Has Come

As a tournament game, 9-Ball is dead. It died an unnatural death caused by the tapping of the balls to form a ‘perfect' rack, with all balls frozen. It will no doubt continue to kick and scream a bit, protesting its own demise. But by all rights it needs to just assume its place in history as the game that once was.

Everyone thought they wanted a perfect rack until they got one. The pros had long complained of ‘slug' racks and players that they called rack mechanics who could form a rack in such a way as to guarantee a failure on the break shot. They all cried for a 9-Ball rack that would eliminate these problems. Referees had often solved problems with individual balls in the rack that would not freeze by tapping them into place. But tapping one or two balls does not create a diamond of frozen balls.

That perfect rack emerged when Lou and Carmine Sardo introduced the Sardo rack. Lou and Carmine are two of the nicest guys the game has ever hosted, and they worked long and hard to come up with a racking system that would deliver consistently frozen racks. They succeeded in part by ‘training' the table to form a frozen rack by tapping all nine balls into place.

It did not take the pros long to learn that a soft break shot into a frozen rack would send the wing ball on the side they break from straight into the corner pocket, time after time. And the one ball would wind up near the side pocket. So they could just break softly, play position on the one ball in the side pocket, and run racks. Ron Wiseman summed it up best when he told me: “The soft break is like going to a golf tournament where the players begin each hole with a putt.” Tapping the balls became so established that at many tournaments no racks are even presented at the table at all. The players just roll the balls into the dents in the table by hand.

The soft break became such a bore to watch that tournament promoters came up with all sorts of gimmicks to stop it. They made rules that four balls had to pass the side pockets to constitute a legal break,. The pros soon showed them that a soft break could still send four balls up-table. So they began racking the 9-ball on the spot instead of the one ball, moving the entire rack up by the width of two balls. The pros immediately discovered that they could use that formation to send the one ball into the side pocket and play position on the two ball instead of the one.

Nothing that has been tried to overcome the basic geometric weakness of a diamond-shaped group of frozen balls has worked. And yet we keep making ridiculous attempts to save the game. The latest idea is to have a radar speed gun employed on every break shot and deem that any break of less than (for instance) 18 mph a foul shot.

Enough! Please! It is time to admit that the diamond can no longer work at the pro level. Money games around the world have already gravitated to Ten Ball. Ten Ball is played the same way as 9-Ball, with just one more ball added to the rack. But it makes all the difference in the world. The triangle shape of a Ten-Ball rack eliminates the problems of wing balls in the corner pocket and boring, half-table run-outs. You can tap them, freeze them, do whatever you want and this is a rack that still must be hit hard to be fruitful.

And that, dear reader, is the answer. Move the pro tournament game to Ten Ball and bring excitement back to the pro events. Relegate 9-Ball back to the amateurs in the pool rooms. Pool rooms don't allow you to tap the balls.