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Rotation (a.k.a. Chicago) Rules, Odds & Strategy

A Classic Pool Game

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Rotation (a.k.a. Chicago) Rules, Odds & Strategy

A winning Rotation play

Photo (c) Matt Sherman
Number of Object Balls in Play:A complete set of 15 Regulation Pool Balls is used, numbered 1 through 15.

Simple Game Rules: Rotation, a.k.a. "Chicago" to old school gamblers, has a set of rules that are simple, play proceeds as in Nine Ball but with all 15 object balls in use. Hide the 13-, 14- and 15-balls by placing them in the middle of the rack.

History as America's Most Popular Game: With its potentially lengthy contest, Rotation was the darling of most pool shooters up through the Depression era and WWII, when the majority of pool was shot on coin-operated and coin rental tables, forcing pay-per-game rather than pay-for-time.

Game Objective: Score 61 or more points to win (if playing with two players or teams competing for the 120 points possible). Or you may divide 120 and add a point by more teams as needed (40 + 1 = 41 points needed among 3 players, 30 + 1 = 31 points to win among 4 teams, etc.)

Game Scoring: Each ball's number represents its point value, with the 14-ball worth 14 points and so on. With 120 possible points in the rack (numbers 1 through 15 summed), a win is reaching 61 points or more (over one-half the possible points), though as a courtesy, when a player is in the middle of a run bringing their total over 61, they are allowed to continue.

Why Rotation is an Authentic Pool Challenge: With so many balls spread across the table, the game play can become complex, like Chess, with a distinct opening, middle and end game for each round of play. The opening involves jostling for position on the early shots, with the game tempo picking up to full speed if players still must strive for the last few balls. The game often ends dramatically, with both teams needing the 15-ball for the win.

Four Games Are a Limit?: It can be more thrilling than 9-ball to run 10, 11, even 15 balls in a single game! Top Nine Ball shooters occasionally run a five pack and more rarely for money or TV glory, ten or more games in a row, but no living player has claimed to run more than four games of Rotation from the break (requiring at least one ball sunk on the break then the table cleared without a miss!).

Fun Variation on Rotation: A terrific variation is known as "Mr. & Mrs. Billiards" and referred to the old custom of a male player handicapping his game against the (presumably less skilled) spouse (who typically played less often than her bar-hopping hubby). "Mister" would shoot in Rotation and "the Missus" could score any ball she liked, even going for the shortest possible win of five balls, such as 15-14-13-12 added to a ball with a value of 7 or higher.

Basic Strategy: The best strategy for most players in the opening of the game is to seek to luck (or purpose) in high numbered balls fast, such as in Figure 1 above, where the result could be 19 points scored with one stroke, plus an easy shot on the 1-ball in the corner to follow.

In Case of Tie: Hope your opponent enjoys playing yet another game of Rotation! What of the unlikely event of a 60-60 tie in points? There are 32,767 possible combinations of between 1 and 15 balls a player can score, and you'll need between 5 and 10 balls sunk to make exactly 60 points for your side, some 28,886 possible opportunities.

Ties Occur Rarely: 722 of those five-to-ten ball combinations equal exactly 60 points, so assuming you get on the board and score at least one time, your odds of a tie game are just over 2%, explaining why there is a dearth of pool literature on Rotation ties and also why I needed to spend an hour using Microsoft Excel to perform Rotation calculations.

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