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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Billiard redirects here. For the long scale number, see billiard (number). For the mathematical theory of billiard trajectories, see dynamical billiards.
This article is about the various cue sports. In English, '"billiards"' often denotes the gamut of cue sports (especially in North American usage). Sometimes, however, "billiards" standing alone will refer in particular to carom games played on a pocketless table, as opposed to "pocket billiards" (or "pool") and "snooker". However, in some dialects, "billiards" always refers unambiguously to a specific game; for instance, in Britain and Ireland, "billiards" denotes "English billiards" exclusively. This article addresses the broadest of these usages, and may use "billiards" or "billiard" generically, as in "billiard balls", to refer to cue sports in general.

A cue sport (sometimes "cuesport") is any game or class of games of the family of cue sports (often generically called "billiards" in American English) games played indoors with a cue stick which is used to strike balls, moving them around a cloth-covered table bounded by rubber banks (or "cushions").

Billiards in early 19th century Germany, using a table much longer than the modern type.
Billiards in early 19th century Germany, using a table much longer than the modern type.


All cue sports are generally regarded to have evolved into indoor games from outdoor stick-and-ball lawn games[1], and as such to be related to croquet and golf, and more distantly to the stickless bocce and bowling. The word "billiard" may have evolved from the French word billart, meaning "mace", an implement similar to a golf club, which was the forerunner to the modern cue. The term "cue sports" generally encompasses the ancestral, pre-cue mace games, and even the modern cueless variant, finger pool, for historical reasons.

Cue sports can be roughly divided into the now rare obstacle category, which appears to have been the earliest[citation needed], and which includes the obsolete bagatelle and pin pool among many other variations, some with elaborate structures (likely inspirational of miniature golf), and yet others on a sloped table (the ancestors of pinball), up to the relatively recent bumper pool (popular in the 1970s in home game rooms). The object of such games varies from avoiding obstructions and traps, to hitting them on purpose to score, to using them strategically to score in some other way, such as by rebounding off them to reach a hole in the table or trapping opponents' balls.[citation needed]

The early croquet-like games eventually led to the development of the carom or carambole billiards category what most non-US and non-UK speakers mean by the word "billiards" These games, which once completely dominated the cue sports world but have declined markedly in most areas over the last few generations, are games played with three or sometimes four balls, on a table without holes (or obstructions in most cases, five-pins being an exception), in which the object is generally to strike one object (target) ball with cue ball, then have the cue ball rebound off of one or more of the cushions and strike a second object ball. Variations include straight-rail, three-cushion, balkline variants, Italian five-pins, and four-ball among others.

Over time, a type of obstacle returned, originally as a hazard and later as a target, in the form of pockets, or holes partly cut into the table bed and partly into the cushions, leading to the rise of pocket billiards, especially "pool" games, popular around the world in forms such as eight-ball, nine-ball, straight pool and one-pocket amongst numerous others. The terms "pool" and "pocket billiards" are now virtually interchangeable, especially in the US. English billiards (what UK speakers almost invariably mean by the word "billiards") is a hybrid carom/pocket game, and as such is likely fairly close to the ancestral original pocket billiards outgrowth from eighteenth to early nineteenth-century carom games. Snooker, though technically a pocket billiards variant and closely related in its equipment and origin to the game of English billiards, is a professional sport organized at the international level, and its rules bear little resemblance to those of pool games.

A "Billiards" category encompassing pool, snooker and carom was featured in the 2005 World Games, held in Duisburg, Germany. Efforts have also been under way for many years to have cue sports become Olympic competitions.


Billiard balls

pool balls
pool balls

The number, type, diameter, color, and pattern of billiard balls differ depending upon the specific cue sports game being played. In eight-ball, straight pool, and related games, sixteen balls are employed: fifteen colored "object balls" and one white "cue ball." In most parts of the world, object balls 1 through 7 are solid-colored, and are respectively colored yellow, blue, red, purple, orange, green, and dark red or brown. The 8 ball is solid black. Balls 9 through 15 are white, each with a single wide colored stripe that matches the corresponding solid ball; the 9 ball has a yellow stripe, the 10 ball a blue stripe, and so on. In the game of nine-ball, only object balls 1 through 9 are used. Regulation balls are 2.25 inches (57.15 mm) in diameter and weigh between 5.5 and 6 ounces (156 to 170 g). British pool (not to be confused with the game of English billiards) also uses sixteen balls, but they are not numbered, with the "suits" being divided into reds and yellows instead of stripes and solids (and shots are not "called" since there is no reliable way to identify particular balls to be pocketed); the balls and the pockets on the table are usually slightly smaller, though larger than those of snooker (see below).

Some balls used in televised pool games are colored differently to make them distinguishable on television monitors. The 4 ball used in such games is colored pink instead of purple, while the 7 ball is tan rather than brown. The stripes on the 12 and 15 balls are colored to match, respectively. Cue balls used for televised matches may also depart from the norm, by having multiple spots or stripes on their surface so that spin placed on them is evident to viewers. The spotted variant is colloquially referred to as a "measle ball". Various brands of practice cue ball also have spots, stripes, differently-colored halves or even target-like rings. There is a growing market for specialty cue balls (and even entire ball sets), featuring sports team logos, cartoon characters, etc.

In snooker, there are fifteen red balls, six "colour" balls (yellow, green, brown, blue, pink, and black), and one white cue ball. The red balls are typically not numbered, though the six colored balls often are, especially in the US, and can easily be mistaken at first glance for pool balls. Snooker balls are normally 2-116 inches (52.4 mm) in diameter.

In the carom games such as straight-rail (a.k.a. straight rail or one-cushion), three-cushion, and the challenging balkline variations, as well as English billiards, there are two cue balls and a red ball. One of the cue balls is typically white and the other one is either yellow or white with a red dot. These balls are normally 2-716 inches (61.5 mm) in diameter.

Various specific ball properties such as hardness, friction coefficient and resilience are very important. Coin-operated pool tables historically have often used either a larger ("grapefruit") or denser ("rock", typically ceramic) cue ball, such that its extra weight makes it easy to separate it from object balls (which are captured until the game ends and the table is paid again for another game) so that the cue ball can be returned for further play, should it be accidentally pocketed. Modern tables usually employ a magnetic ball of regulation or near-regulation size and weight, since players have rightly complained for many decades that the heavy and often over-sized cue balls do not "play" correctly.

The exacting requirements of billiards are met today with balls cast from phenolic resin. Historically, balls were often made of clay, and even ivory for a period. In the mid-ninteenth century, in an uncommon show of accidental environmentalism, the billiard industry realized that the supply of elephants (their primary source of ivory) was limited. They challenged inventors to come up with an alternative material that could be manufactured. John Wesley Hyatt answered the call by inventing cellulose nitrate in 1870, branded under the name celluloid, the earliest industrial plastic. Subsequently, to fix the problem of cellulose nitrate instability, the industry experimented with various other synthetic materials for billiards balls such as bakelite and other plastic compounds. Eventually phenolic resin became the industry standard and is virtually the only billiard ball material used today in tournaments and by the pros. A poorer material called polyester (under various brand names) may also be used, with lower performance and less resistance resulting in shorter ball and cloth lifetime.[citation needed]

Pool table with equipment
Pool table with equipment


There are many sizes and styles of pool and billiard tables. Generally, tables are rectangles twice as long as they are wide. Most pool tables are known as 7-, 8-, or 9-footers, referring to the length of the table's long side. Snooker and English billiard tables are 12 feet long on the longest side. Pool halls tend to have 9-foot tables and cater to the serious pool player. Bars will typically use 7-foot tables which are often coin-operated. Formerly, 10-foot tables were common, but such tables are now considered antique collectors items; a few, usually from the late 1800s, can be found in up-scale pool halls from time to time. 10-foot tables are the standard size for carom billiard games. The slates on modern carom tables are usually heated to stave off moisture and provide a consistent playing surface.

The length of the pool table will typically be a function of space, with many homeowners purchasing an 8-foot table as a compromise. High quality tables are mostly 9-footers, with a bed made of three pieces of thick slate to prevent warping and changes due to humidity. Smaller bar tables are most commonly made with a single piece of slate. Pocket billiards tables normally have six pockets, three on each side (four corner pockets, and two side pockets).

All types of tables are covered with billiard cloth (often called "felt", but actually a woven wool or wool/nylon blend called baize). Bar or tavern tables, which get a lot of play, use "slower", more durable cloth. Good quality pool cloth is "faster" (i.e. provides less friction, allowing the balls to roll farther), and the best quality pool cloth is made from worsted wool. Snooker table cloth traditionally has a nap (consistent fiber directionality) and balls behave differently when rolling against the direction of the nap. The cloth of the billiard table is typically green reflecting its origin (originally the grass of ancestral lawn games)[2] (and thus the name of the pool novel and movie The Color of Money, echoing the color of American currency notes).

Women playing on an elaborately-decorated green-covered table in an early 1880s advertising poster
Women playing on an elaborately-decorated green-covered table in an early 1880s advertising poster


Main article: Rack (billiards)

A rack is the name given to a frame (usually wood or plastic) used to organize billiard balls at the beginning of a game. This is traditionally triangular in shape, but varies with the type of billiards played.


Main article: Cue stick

Billiards games are played with a stick known as a cue. A cue is usually either a one piece tapered stick or a two piece stick divided in the middle by a joint of metal or phenolic resin. High quality cues are generally two pieces and are made of a hardwood, generally maple for billiards and ash for snooker.

The "butt" end of the cue is of larger circumference and is intended to be gripped by a player's hand. The "shaft" of the cue is of smaller circumference, usually tapering to an 11-14 millimeter terminus called a ferrule, where a leather tip is affixed to make final contact with balls. The leather tip, in conjunction with chalk, can be used to impart spin to the cue ball when not being hit in its center.

Cheap cues are generally one piece cues made of ramin or other low quality wood with inferior tips of various materials (usually plastic). A quality cue can be expensive and may be made of exotic woods and other expensive materials which are artfully inlaid in decorative patterns. Skilled players may use more than one cue during a game, including a separate cue for the opening break shot and another, shorter cue with a special tip for jump shots.

The mechanical bridge

The mechanical bridge, sometimes called "the ladies aid", "rake", "bridge stick" or simply "bridge", and known as a "rest" in the UK, is used to extend a player's reach on a shot where the cue ball is too far away for normal hand bridging. It consists of a stick with a grooved metal or plastic head which the cue slides on. Many amateurs refuse to use the mechanical bridge based on the perception that to do so is unmanly. However, many aficionados and most professionals employ the bridge whenever the intended shot so requires. Some players, especially current or former snooker players, use a screw-on cue butt extension instead of or in addition to the mechanical bridge. Bridge head design is varied, and not all designs (especially those with cue shaft-enclosing rings, or wheels on the bottom of the head), are broadly tournament-approved.

Billiard chalk
Billiard chalk


Chalk is applied to the tip of the cue stick, ideally between every shot, to increase the tip's friction coefficient so that when it impacts the cue ball on a non-center hit, no miscue (unintentional slippage between the cue tip and the struck ball) occurs. The quality of chalk varies greatly from brand to brand, which can significantly affect play. High humidity can also impair the effectiveness of chalk. Cuetip chalk is often not actually the substance typically referred to as "chalk," but some proprietary compound, frequently with a silicate base. "Chalk" may also refer to hand chalk, used to lubricate the cue and bridge hand during shooting (many players prefer talcum powder or a slick pool glove because of the long-term abrasive effect of actual carbonate chalk on the shaft of the cue).

Types of games (carom and pocket)

There are two main varieties of billiard games: carom and pocket. The main carom billiards games are straight billiards, balkline and three cushion billiards. All are played on a pocketless table with three balls; two cue balls and one object ball. In all, players shoot a cue ball so that it makes contact with the opponent's cue ball as well as the object ball.

The most popular of the large variety of pocket games are 8-ball, 9-ball, one-pocket, bank pool, snooker and, among the old guard, straight pool. In 8-ball and 9-ball the object is to sink object balls until one can legally pocket the winning eponymous ball. Well-known but waning in popularity is straight pool, in which players seek to continue sinking balls, rack after rack if they can, to reach a pre-determined winning score (typically 150). Another game is rotation, where the lowest number object ball on the table must be struck first, although any object ball may be sunk (i.e., combination shot). Each pocketed ball is worth its number, and the player with the highest score at the end of the rack is the winner. Since there are only 120 points available (1+2+3+4...+15 = 120), scoring 61 pts will make opponent unable to catch up with the score and therefore wins the game. In both one-pocket and bank pool, the players must sink a set number of balls; respectively, all in a particular pocket, or all by banking. In snooker, players score points by alternately pocketing red balls and special balls of different colours.

Straight billiards or straight rail

In straight billiards, a player scores a point and may continue shooting each time his cue ball makes contact with both other balls.

Although a difficult and subtle game, some of the best players of straight billiards developed the skill to drive both balls into a corner and from that position were able to score a seemingly limitless number of points.

The first straight billiards professional tournament was held in 1879 where Jacob Schaefer, Sr. scored 690 points in a single turn[3] (that is, 690 separate strokes without a miss). With the balls barely moving and repetitively hit, there was little for the fans to watch.


In light of these phenomenal skill developments in straight rail, the game of balkline soon developed to make it impossible for a player to keep balls in a corner for an interminable period. A balkline (not to be confused with baulk line, which pertains the game of English billiards) is a line parallel to one end of a billiard table. In the games of balkline 18.1 and 18.2 (pronounced "eighteen-point-two") balkline, among other more obscure variations the players have to drive either one ball or two balls (respectively) past a balkline set at 18 inches from the rail after a fixed number of shots.

Three-cushion billiards

Main article: three-cushion billiards

A more elegant solution was three-cushion billiards, which requires a player to make contact with the other two balls on the table and contact three rail cushions in the process. This is difficult enough that even the best players can only manage to average one to two points per turn.


Main article: Eight-ball
Eight-ball players
Eight-ball players

In the United States, the most commonly-played game is eight-ball. On the professional scene, eight-ball players who are on the International Pool Tour (IPT) are the highest paid players in the world[citation needed]. In the United Kingdom the game is commonly played in pubs, and it is competitively played in leagues on both sides of the Atlantic. The most prestigious tournaments including the World Open are sponsored and sanctioned by the International Pool Tour. Rules vary widely from place to place. Pool halls in North America are increasingly settling upon the International Standardized Rules. But tavern eight-ball, typically played on smaller, coin-operated tables and in a "winner controls the table" manner, can differ significantly even between two venues in the same city. The growth of local, regional and national amateur leagues may alleviate this confusion eventually. The goal of eight-ball, which is played with a full rack of fifteen balls and the cue ball, is to claim a suit (commonly stripes or solids in the US, and reds or yellows in the UK), pocket all of them, then legally pocket the 8 ball, while denying one's opponent opportunities to do the same with their suit, and without sinking the 8 ball early by accident.


Main article: Nine-ball

Nine-Ball is a rotation game where only the 1 through 9 balls and cue ball are used. The player at the table must make a legal shot on the lowest numbered ball on the table or a foul is called. The game is won by legally pocketing the nine ball (which can be done by striking the lowest numbered ball first and then driving the 9 into a pocket). Nine-ball is the predominant professional game. There are many local and regional tours and tournaments that are contested with nine-ball. There is no particular governing body of Nine-ball. Most places play with a version of "Texas Express", BCA (Billiard Congress of America) or WPA (World Pool-Billiard Association) rules. The largest Nine-ball tournaments are the independent US Open and the World 9-Ball Championships for men and women. Male professionals have a rather fragmented schedule of professional Nine-ball tournaments. The UPA (United States Pool Players Association) has been the most dominant association for the last few years but the IPT (International Pool Tour) is taking over the top spot in men's billiards. Female professionals have a steady professional circuit that is governed by the WPBA (Women's Professional Billiard Association).


Main article: Three-ball

A variant using only three balls, generally played such that the player at turn continues shooting until all the balls are pocketed, and the player to do so in the fewest shots wins. The game can be played by two or more players. Dispenses with some fouls common to both nine- and eight-ball.


Main article: One-pocket

One-pocket is a strategic game for two players. Each player is assigned one of the corner pockets on the table. This is the only pocket into which he can legally pocket balls. The first player to pocket the majority of the balls (8) in his pocket wins the game. The game requires far more defensive strategy than offensive strategy, much unlike 8-ball, 9-ball, or straight pool. It has been said that if 8-ball is checkers, one-pocket is chess. This statement can be verified by watching a game of one pocket. Most times, accomplished players choose to position balls near their pocket instead of trying to actually pocket them. This allows them to control the game by forcing their opponent to be on defense instead of taking a low percentage shot that could result in a loss of game. These low percentage shots are known as "flyers" by one pocket aficionados.

Bank pool

Main article: Bank pool

Bank pool has been gaining popularity in recent years. Bank pool can be played with a full rack (can be a LONG game), but is more typically played with nine balls (frequently called "9-ball bank"). The balls are racked in 9-ball formation, but in no particular order. The object of the game is simple: to be the first player to bank 5 balls in any order (8 balls when played with a full rack). Penalties and fouls are similar to one pocket in that the player committing the foul must spot a ball for each foul. This must be done before the incoming player shoots.


Main article: Snooker

A pocket billiards game originated by British Officers stationed in India during the 19th century. The name of the game became generalized to also describe one of its prime strategies: to "snooker" the opposing player by causing that player to foul or leave an opening to be exploited (see Glossary of pool, billiards and snooker terms - "Snooker") .

In the United Kingdom, Snooker is by far the most popular form of billiards at the competitive level. It is played in many other countries as well. Snooker is far rarer in the U.S., where pocket billiards games such as eight ball and nine ball dominate.

List of Carom and pocket billiards games

Carom billiards games

  • 18.1 balkline
  • 18.2 balkline
  • Artistic billiards
  • Cowboy pool (a hybrid carom/pocket game)
  • English billiards (a hybrid carom/pocket game)
  • Four-ball
  • Pin billiards variants
  • Straight-rail
  • Three-cushion billiards
  • Yotsudama

Pocket billiards games

  • 14.1 Continuous (also called Straight pool)
  • Bank pool (banks, nine-ball banks)
  • Bowliards
  • Chicago
  • Chinese eight-ball
  • Cowboy (a hybrid carom/pocket game)
  • Cribbage pool
  • Cutthroat
  • Eight-ball (stripes-and-solids, highs-and-lows, blackball)
  • English billiards (a hybrid carom/pocket game)
  • Equal offense
  • Flanges
  • Golf pool
  • Indian
  • Irish standard pool
  • Nine-ball
  • One-pocket
  • Pin billiards variants
  • Rotation
  • Russian pyramid
  • Seven-ball
  • Six-pocket
  • Snooker (generally regarded as its own sport, not a pool variant)
  • Speed Pool
  • Straight pool
  • Ten-ball
  • Three-ball
  • Zone ball (a commercial patented/trademarked product)

Obstacle billiards games

  • Bagatelle
  • Bar billiards
  • Bumper pool

Cueless developments

  • Finger pool
  • Crud

Notable pool and billiards enthusiasts

This section may contain original research or unverified claims.
Please help Wikipedia by adding references. See the talk page for details.
  • David Hume
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Mary, Queen of Scots
  • King Louis XIV of France
  • Marie Antoinette
  • Prince Albert
  • Mark Twain
  • George Custer
  • George Washington
  • Napoleon Bonaparte
  • Charles Dickens
  • Lewis Carroll
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • W.C. Fields
  • Jackie Gleason
  • Paul Newman
  • Perry Como
  • Bob Hope
  • Babe Ruth
  • Fred Astaire
  • Humphrey Bogart
  • Paul Sorvino
  • Jerry Orbach
  • Sir Donald Bradman
  • Spencer Gollan
  • Immanuel Kant
  • Oscar Wilde

See also

  • Glossary of pool, billiards and snooker terms
  • BCA Hall of Fame
  • Pool hustling
  • Billiard techniques


  1. ^ Stein, Victor and Rubino, Paul (1996). The Billiard Encyclopedia - An Illustrated History of the Sport (2nd ed.). Blue Book Publications, June 1996. ISBN 1-886768-06-4., Specific page reference needs to be filled in!
  2. ^ Shamos, Mike (1991). Pool. Hotho & Co., June, 1991. ISBN 99938-704-3-9., Specific page reference needs to be filled in! (also the reference should be added to indicate what the origin of green originally was)
  3. ^ Shamos, Mike (1991). Pool. Hotho & Co., June, 1991. ISBN 99938-704-3-9., Specific page reference needs to be filled in!
  1. Alciatore, David ("Dr. Dave"), The Illustrated Principles of Pool and Billiards, Sterling Publishing, ISBN: 1-4027-1428-9, 2004.
  2. Byrne, Robert. 1998. Byrne's New Standard Book of Pool and Billiards. ISBN 0-15-600554-9.


  • U.S. Patent 0050359  -- Billiard ball c.1865
  • U.S. Patent 0076765  -- Billiard ball c.1868
  • U.S. Patent 0088634  -- Billiard ball c.1869
  • U.S. Patent 0114945  -- Billiard ball c.1871

External links

  • Billiards and Pool Principles, Techniques, Resources - Instructional resources for learning the principles and techniques of pool and billiards.
  • Billiards and Pool Physics Resources - Resources (books, articles, and websites) that deal with the physics of pool and billiards.
  • Billiard Congress of America - The official website of The Billiard Congress of America--The governing body of pool in the United States.
  • - A web site online for billiards news.
  • A Brief History of the Noble Game of Billiards
  • - Offering billiards lessons and helpful tips.
  • The Billiards Family
  • Physics of Pool - How-to-play tutorial with Flash animations
  • CueTable- A free layout diagramming tool for online communication, practice training and studies of strategy
  • Billiards Forum - Billiard tips, help, and a 500 term billiard glossary.
  • Billiards Tips - Winning billiards hints and tips.
  • Billiards Resource - Billiards news, history and information.
  • Instructional Video Demonstrations - Narrated instructional video demonstrations illustrating various pool and billiards techniques and principles.

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