How to Run a Pool Tournament

I often get email asking how to run tournaments. Good question! I have been playing in tournaments for over 20 years now and have seen the best and the worst out there. I have also had the privilege of running several tournaments over the years and have learned from my own mistakes. I would like to thank James Doran of Side Pockets,, for his assistance in this article.
Name the game:
First things first, what kind of tournament do you want to have? For the first few weeks or even months you might try a simple 8 or 9-ball, $5 entry tournament. Which game you choose should depend on the popularity in your area. If you get a split preference, do both, 8-ball one night and 9-ball the next. The more you get your actual clientele involved in the decision making the more likely they'll come and play and tell others about it. Will you be adding money to the payout? Some pool halls match the pot, some add a set amount, it's entirely up to you.

Keep the race small enough so it doesn't keep people in your pool hall after closing time. A race to 3 works nicely usually for both 8-ball and 9-ball. However; if you make the race too short, you may run off some players because it's too easy for a player to luck into a game or two. Try keeping it a race to 3 at the very minimum. If you find the tournament runs too late you can make adjustments. One possibility is having a chart posted showing what the race will be depending on number of players.

Race to:
Number of players:
more than 16
less than 7
This table is open for adjustment, of course.

Have the tournament start on a weeknight at 7:00 or 8:00 pm. Those times seem the most popular. If you're having a Saturday or Sunday tournament, starting times of Noon or 1:00 work very well.

You will want to get the word out that you have tournaments. You can create flyers, advertise it here on, or simply use word of mouth. It's also helpful to keep a tournament flyer, or anything with information, close to the phone for employees to reference when perspective players call in for information.

Running the tournament:
Does your tournament director know the rules of the game? Which rules will you use? You might decide to find out what leagues are most popular in your area and use their rules. For 8-ball, I highly recommend the modified BCA (Billiard Congress of America) rules ( of open after the break, ball in hand on all fouls, call your pocket (not the shot). "Modifed" meaning when a player makes the 8-ball on the break it is a win (or a loss if the player scratches).

Do you have a double elimination bracket printed off to run it with? Do you know where to place the byes if you need them? You can find that information here:

How will you divide the tournament winnings? I recommend paying back one fourth of the field. So if you have 8 players, have the top two finishers get money back.

Number of players
5% each
5% each
5% each
6% each
2.5% each
3.5% each
5% each
2% each
3% each
2% each
This table is open for adjustment, of course.

It's all in the details:
There are a few notes I'd like to make regarding often overlooked details when running a tournament. Many players find these to be as important as what rules you use for your tournament.
  • Limit Obstructions: Are the tables too close together? Are you letting your non-tournament clientele play on a table next to a tournament table? Do your servers understand the importance of not walking through where people are playing?
  • Keep the Equipment in Good Shape: Are the pool balls clean? Are the tables working correctly? Is the felt clean and free of rips? Are the rails set to the correct height?
  • Try to Keep the Noise Down: I don't mean hushing the bar during a shot, but keep the juke box at a respectable level. Players don't care if a regular just put $5 into the machine and wants to hear Layla at max volume. If you turn it up, you'll turn off the players.
  • Food: Most pool halls have some sort of food, but if nothing is available you will want to provide something for the longer running tournaments. I have played many tournaments at an old haunt "Northside Lounge" in Missouri where BBQ brisket sandwiches were provided at a very good price.
Lessons learned:
How many players did you get? How late did it run? Did the pool hall make money? Did people have fun and want to come back? Did the rules work well for most of the players? Keep in mind you will undoubtedly have someone who doesn't like the rules, the race, the game, the tables, the chalk, the money added, the payout percentages, or any combination of the above. Don't let this discourage you from having future tournaments. Take these complaints with a grain of salt and move on.

Other options:
When you get the hang of running tournaments, try your hand at a bigger tournament on a weekend. A good Saturday tournament would include a bigger entry fee, say $25 - $40, and a longer race. Take the most popular tournament you're having and make it a race to 5 for 8-ball and race to 7 for 9-ball. Try having one tournament for the women and one for the men. Usually the race is less for the women. Many tournaments are co-ed and the women get a game or two on the wire (1 game for race to 5, 2 for race to 7).

You can also try a Scotch Doubles tournament to get couples involved. Again, check to see what's popular for the rules, but keep it in mind that if you allow coaching, this will make the tournament last much longer.

You could add a calcutta at this point. A calcutta is basically an auction of the players. People bet on the player they think will win the tournament. The player then has the option of buying half of themselves back from the winning bidder. If you're not familiar with a calcutta it can be a little confusing at first, but you'll get the hang of it. The calcutta pays back to about one fourth or fifth of the field.

If you have a large room with many tables, you may want to consider sponsoring a tour stop. There are several tours across the country looking for stops. You can see a list of tours here at