The goal is to be the last player remaining in a similar fashion to playing H-O-R-S-E in basketball. Players are eliminated when they have accumulated the letters spelling "HORSE." However, gameplay is very different. For an explanation of how letters are received, see RECEIVING LETTERS section.
The first letter received is "H," followed by "O," "R," "S," "E." After receiving an "E," the player is eliminated from the game.
Gameplay is always to be good-natured, as should players be toward one another.
Start position of table is shown on diagram:
Determine an order for the players.
All throws throughout the game must be made from the short sides of the table (see diagram).
With non-cue (NC) ball in start position, first player has three attempts to hit it with the cue ball. To count, the NC must cross to the opposite half of the table (for explanation of the halfway mark on the table, see THE HALFWAY LINE below).
Misses on starting position include the following: the NC is not touched, the NC does not make it to the other half of the table, or the NC goes into one of the corner pockets on that half of the table.
After three misses, the player is given a letter, the balls are returned to starting position, and the next player may throw. The three misses are considered a "trifecta."
After successful contact with the NC, the next player must then pick up the cue ball and make contact with the NC before it stops moving or before it goes into a pocket. In doing so, the player must release the cue ball from the opposite side of the table than the side that the NC is on. The player has an infinite number of attempts to make in an effort to make contact with the NC before it stops moving (NOTE: The cue ball must simply be released from the opposite side. Thus, the contact may happen after many ricochets and/or on the same side of the table as where the cue ball was released. Also note that contact must happen before the NC stops).
After acquiring an "E," that player is then eliminated from the game. The order of players then proceeds as though that player were not playing (ie, if there are five players, numbered 1 to 5, and #3 is eliminated, the new order is 1, 2, 4, 5, 1, 2, 4, 5, ....).
After a winner has been determined, the new order is as follows: first place goes first, second place goes second, third place goes third, etc.
RECEIVING LETTERS AND/OR WARNINGS:
After someone receives a letter, the following player then begins from start position. Letters are given in several ways:
When a player puts the non-cue (NC) ball in a pocket, the following player is given a letter.
If a players fails to make contact with the NC ball before it stops moving, then that player is assigned a letter.
If a player makes a throw from one of the long sides of the table, he or she receives a letter.
If a player takes the cue ball out of turn, preventing the proper player from making contact with the NC, then the out-of-turn player receives a letter. Furthermore, the proper player may then begin from starting position. However, the out-of-turn player does not lose a turn.
If a player purposefully prevents another player from making his or her way around the table, the offending player may be assigned a letter. However, it is recommended that the other players decide whether or not the offending player was purposeful or neglectful. To a certain degree, players will be in one another's way simply because it can be the way things go.
If a player, through purposeful or accidental throws, endangers the safety of other players, he or she is assigned a letter. Warnings may be given but it is recommended that accidental close calls are given one (1) warning, accidental table infractions (ie, a ball leaves the table but poses no threat) are given several warnings, and any purposeful (ie, table infractions or close calls as a result of anger) throws are given no warnings and are penalized immediately.
If a player succeeds, purposefully or accidentally, in harming a fellow player, he or she is assigned the number of letters deemed appropriate and fair by the other players of that game, regardless of whether or not a player has already been eliminated that game.
If an player harms another player or players, accidentally or purposefully, to a degree that the player or players can no longer continue the game, then the dangerous player is ejected from the game and is subject to scrutiny and less leniency in future games.
THE HALFWAY LINE:
The halfway mark is actually an imaginary line stretched between the two middle pockets of the table. As soon as the majority of the NC crosses over this line it is considered to have crossed the halfway point on the table.
This line is very distinct in the minds of many players. As such, one recommends against the attempts to line up a "side shot" trying to put a slow moving ball into a middle pocket. Many arguments stem from whether or not the NC was across the halfway line. To avoid such scrutiny, please see the clarifying rule below.
The side shot rule (flexible, depending on "house rules": the only way that the side pockets are eligible is if the NC ball OR the cue ball bounces off one of the bumpers before the NC ball lands in the side pocket. That way, all "side shot" arguments are negated.
If the NC goes in and out of a pocket, then the pocket does not count. If the NC remains in play after hopping out of a pocket (stays on the table), then the next player must continue play as though the NC never entered the pocket. If the NC, after hopping out of a pocket, goes off the table, the player causing it to do so will receive a letter, the balls are set at start position, and the player following the one who caused the ball to leave the table may then throw.
If the cue ball is thrown off the table in an effort to strike the NC ball, and the NC ball lands in a pocket without being struck by the cue ball, then the offending player will receive two (2) letters; one for the NC ball landing in a pocket and the other for harmful and careless play due to the cue ball leaving the table.
All players must keep at least one (1) foot on the floor when touching the game table. This is to prevent damage to the billiard felt and to prevent injury; players may not leap over the table at any time to retrieve the cue ball or to make a play.