Eight Ball tattoo designs can have several different meanings and its symbolism is dependent on the context in which it is used. A standard ‘rack’ of balls on a billiard or pool table contains fifteen numbered balls and the eight ball, which is always solid black, falls squarely in the middle. The first seven balls – one to seven -that precede the eight ball are solid coloured, and the seven balls after the eight ball – nine to fifteen – are striped. A ‘cue ball’ which is solid white is used to play the other balls and make shots, using pool cues (basically long sticks).
A routine game of pool starts with one player breaking the racked pool balls with the ‘cue’ (solid white) ball – the balls are contained within a wooden triangle at one end of the pool table to create the formation – and attempting to sink a ball into one of the four corner pockets or two side pockets located on a pool table. If a player sinks a ball off the break, either solid or coloured, the player may continue to shoot and attempt to sink all the balls within that grouping.
If a player sinks both a coloured ball and a solid ball, the player may choose which grouping of balls to play. If a player sinks all of their balls off of the break, finishing by sinking the eight ball, this is called ‘running the table’ and is a sign of superior skill and luck. The game has been won without the other player ever having an opportunity to make a shot.
Depending upon the rules under which the players are engaged, if the first player can sink the eight ball off breaking the rack, that player automatically wins the game. This is an extraordinarily rare event and akin to winning the lottery. In such circumstances, sinking the eight ball is very lucky and fortuitous.
If during the game either player sinks the eight ball before sinking all of their balls, they automatically lose the game. After sinking all of their solid or striped balls, a player must sink the eight ball in order to win the game. Failure to sink the eight ball on a called shot results in the loss of the game. In this instance the eight ball represents bad luck and misfortune.
The expression “behind the eight ball” refers to being in a poor strategic position on the pool table. Pool, and the placement of the cue ball after a shot, is a very strategic game. An opponent may make a shot that deliberately puts the other player in a poor position to make a shot, or put them in danger of losing by causing them to sink the eight ball. In this instance the eight ball is symbolic of the capriciousness of fate.
Pool and billiards are often played for money in pool halls and betting on the outcome of games is not uncommon. In fact there are players who make their living by playing pool professionally, or by placing bets on the outcomes of games or a series of games. Players of differing abilities may play each other by the better player ‘spotting’ an opponent several balls or by playing ‘heads up’ as equals. Many pool halls were notorious places, filled with characters of uncertain reputation and shady pasts as depicted in fiction and films like The Hustler with Paul Newman, and the Colour of Money with Newman and Tom Cruise. Pool halls were also seen as places where it was not uncommon for other illegal or illicit activity to be taking place.
So an Eight Ball is often included in tattoos such as “Man’s Ruin” – or misfortune – alcohol, drugs, gambling, an unfaithful woman, etc, or in tattoos that featuring gambling – dice, playing cards, race horses, etc. Conversely, some individuals see the eight ball as being lucky, if controlled. It is a tattoo design that hints at danger, living on the edge and casting your fortune upon the winds of fate.
The term ‘eight ball’ is also a reference to drug use, with several different meanings, and can be an extremely dangerous combination of cocaine and heroin, crack and heroin or a 1/8 or eighth or an ounce of your drug of choice. You would ask your dealer for “an eight ball of coke”.
For Hot-Rodders, or those who build and race customized cars, it was very common to hang a pair of dice from the rear view mirror and for the shifter knob on the transmission gear shift to be an Eight Ball. Once again, the Eight Ball symbolizes risk, the willingness to take a chance and the possibility of good luck or misfortune. The symbol of the eight ball, “Life is a Gamble!”
Get inspired by some really amazing images and tattoos of Eight Ball in our Eight Ball Tattoo Gallery