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Pool in Ireland

Pool in Ireland is different.

First, the dimensions are smaller than the standard in America and the Continent. The table is about 3/4-size, in linear dimensions, and the balls are proportional. They are of only two colors — yellow and red, besides the black.*

The challenger breaks, in every game I've seen. I'm told this varies by region.

It's not necessary to call the pocket for a normal shot — only on the black. If one's ball sinks on a normal shot, that's fair play. When shooting at the black, a pocket is claimed once called, so the opponent may not sink the black there unless the first player proceeds to foul in attempting it — usually. It's called "stickpockets," and it's one variation....

To "foul" is the same as to "scratch," but the consequences are different.

A foul, on any shot, allows the opponent two shots (unless he is shooting for the black; then it's just one. Usually.) This "two shots on a foul," which Ireland has in common with the UK, is really the most important difference in play. The strategies that this difference allows (many of them dirty) really create a different game.

A foul on the black does not end the game, but is an ordinary foul.

Upon a foul that involves the white ball going into a pocket (or onto the floor,) the white ball is placed within a small semicircle behind the break line. Backtable shots are allowable *or not* for a normal shot and allowable *or not* for a shot at the black. And that's the craziest peculiarity of Irish pool — that specific regulations vary from pub to pub.*

Each pub has its "house rules," and the distinctions are essential. Can you shoot "backtable" to pot the black? Does "two shots" carry (in other words, if you don't miss your first shot after the opponent fouls, do you still have two shots at your disposal?)

If it's a matter of doubt, one must ask. I've seen good pool players who live nearby ask about a rule. It's common, outside of one's "local," or habitual pub. Each pub with a table has its own variation of the rule set — and playing by the house rules is part of shooting a proper game.

Sometimes, if a matter is obscure enough, nobody around the table will know the rule. Someone will have to ask the barkeep.

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* The black ball, incidentally, features the digit "8" within a white round — it is the only numbered ball on the Irish table.

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* There are regional variations, also, on some rules. I'm told that in County Clare, for example, the holder of the table breaks the next game.

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