Billiards, otherwise known as cue sports are a group of skill based games. They are played using cue sticks which are used to strike the billiard balls. The term that’s used to refer to these games depends on where you use it. The most common name is cue sports; however, in some places the word billiards is used to refer to all the games that are played on a pool table.

Billiards Intro
Welcome to Billiards

There are several ways to divide cue sports but some are not very popular. These are the most popular games:

  • Pool, covering numerous pocket billiards games generally played on six-pocket tables of 7-, 8-, or 9-foot length, including among others eight-ball (the world’s most widely played cue sport), nine-ball (the dominant professional game), ten-ball, straight pool (the formerly dominant pro game), one-pocket, and bank pool.
  • Snooker, English billiards and Russian pyramid, games played on a billiards table with six pockets called a snooker table (which has dimensions just under 12 ft by 6 ft), all of which are classified entirely separately from pool based on a separate historical development, as well as a separate culture and terminology that characterize their play.

Billiards History

It is believed that billiards became indoor sports based on the outdoor stick-and-ball lawn games. Such games were jeu de mail, and palle-malle. Additionally, they were derived from modern trucco, croquet, and golf. However, the first recognizable form of billiards was played outdoors in the 1340s, and was reminiscent of croquet. King Louis XI of France was the first person in history to have an indoor pool table.

Louis XIV continued the tradition of playing pool. Shortly after that the game spread through French nobility. By 1727 it was so popular that it was played in every cafe in Paris. At the same time, billiards was a popular activity in England among the members of the gentry. Originally, they used a mace instead of a cue stick. The balls were not stricken but rather pushed in the holes. The modern cue as we know it today was developed around the 1800’s.

History
History

All cue sports weren’t considered a sport until 1893. Quite a variety of particular games are the subject of present-day competition. The most popular ones include, nine-ball, snooker, three-cushion and eight-ball. Additionally, when it comes to billiards, snooker is a very popular sport as well. However, more about the different versions of this sport, right below.

Different Types of Billiards

We separate all billiards into carom and pocket games. The carom games are the less popular versions and are not really played by common people.
They are all 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. We will explain more about carom games right here.

On the other hand, the pocket games are the popular billiards we all know. It includes various versions of games like pool and snooker. They are all played on a pool table where the idea is to cue the balls in the holes (pockets). We can divide these games in two categories. Ones that are played on pool tables and ones that are played on snooker tables.

Games Played on a Pool Table

There are many variations of games played on a standard pool table. Popular pool games include eight-ball, nine-ball, straight pool and one-pocket. Most games on a pool table include getting the balls in the holes. In some of them, each ball gives a certain amount of points. In other billiards you need to put the balls in the holes in a specific order. However, the most important games are the ones where two or more people can compete against each other. Here are the two versions that you will encounter in professional play.

  • Eight-ball: The goal is to pocket (pot) all of one’s designated group of balls (either stripes vs. solids, or reds vs. yellows, depending upon the equipment), and then pocket the 8 ball in a called pocket.
  • Nine-ball: The goal is to pocket the 9 ball; the initial contact of the cue ball each turn must be with the lowest-numbered object ball remaining on the table; there are numerous variants such as seven-ball, six-ball, and the older forms of three-ball and ten-ball, that simply use a different number of balls and have a different money ball.

Check these reviews for more information about Eight-ball and Nine-ball.

Games Played on Snooker Table

There are two games that have to be mentioned in this category. They are the ones that have huge tournaments and world championships. We are talking about English Billiards and Snooker.

English Billiards

The game features both cannons (caroms) and the pocketing of balls as objects of play. English billiards requires two cue balls and a red object ball. The object of the game is to score either a fixed number of points, or score the most points within a set time frame, determined at the start of the game.

English Billiards
English Billiards

Points are awarded for:

  • Two-ball cannons: striking both the object ball and the other (opponent’s) cue ball on the same shot (2 points).
  • Winning hazards: potting the red ball (3 points); potting the other cue ball (2 points).
  • Losing hazards (or “in-offs”): potting one’s cue ball by cannoning off another ball (3 points if the red ball was hit first; 2 points if the other cue ball was hit first, or if the red and other cue ball were “split”, i.e., hit simultaneously).

Snooker

Snooker is probably the most popular billiards game in the world. It was invented by British officers who were stationed in India in the 19th century. The main objective of the game is how the name was invented. The idea is to “snooker” the opponent. That means, to force your opponent into making a mistake that you will exploit. In the United Kingdom, snooker is by far the most popular cue sport at the competitive level. Additionally, it’s a national pastime along with association football and cricket.

Snooker
Snooker

It is played in many Commonwealth countries as well, especially in Asia. Snooker is uncommon in North America, where pool games such as eight-ball and nine-ball dominate, and Latin America and Continental Europe, where carom games dominate. The first World Snooker Championship was held in 1927, and it has been held annually since then with few exceptions. Check out our snooker review for more information about this sport.

Equipment

Regardless of the billiards game, all of them use pretty much the same equipment. Here are the basic elements that every pool table game needs to have.

Tables

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. Full-size snooker and English billiard tables are 12 feet (3.7 m) long on the longest side. Pool halls tend to have 9-foot (2.7 m) tables and cater to the serious pool player. Pubs will typically use 7-foot (2.1 m) tables which are often coin-operated. 

Cloth

The cloth is what covers each billiards table. Cloth has been used to cover these tables since the 15th century. In bars and taverns, thicker cloth is used which is known as a slower cloth. That’s because those places require a more durable material to cover the table. However, this material makes the balls roll slower. Faster cloth is used for professional play and for snooker tables.

Billiards Balls

Billiard balls vary from game to game, in size, design and quantity.

Russian pyramid and kaisa have a size of 68 mm (​2 1116 in). In Russian pyramid there are sixteen balls, as in pool, but fifteen are white and numbered, and the cue ball is usually red. In kaisa, five balls are used: the yellow object ball(called the kaisa in Finnish), two red object balls, and the two white cue balls (usually differentiated by one cue ball having a dot or other marking on it and each of which serves as an object ball for the opponent).

Carom billiards balls are larger than pool balls, having a diameter of 61.5 mm (​2 716 in). They come with two cue balls and an object ball. Snooker balls are smaller than American-style pool balls with a diameter of 52.5 mm (​2 115 in), and come in sets of 22 (15 reds, 6 “colors”, and a cue ball). The balls in English billiard are the same size as the ones in snooker.

Cues

The sticks that are used to hit the balls are known as cues All billiards games have them; however, there are different sizes. 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.

You will notice that the back side of the cue is stronger and much thicker. That’s because the player holds the back side of the cue with his hands. As the wood goes forward, it becomes leaner and it’s skinnier at the top. The tip, in conjunction with chalk, can be used to impart spin to the cue ball when it is not hit in its center.

Additional Equipment

Besides the things we already mentioned, billiards have several extra pieces that are required. They are:

  • Rack – It’s a frame which you use to sort out and set the balls before gameplay starts. Usually, it’s triangular in shape.
  • Mechanical Bridge – This is just like the cue. However, you don’t hit the balls with it but rather you use it as an extension for the cue. With the bridge you can hit a ball that seems outside of your reach.
  • Chalk – This is added to the top of the cue stick in billiards. It’s supposed to give you a better hit, and allows you to be able to curve the ball.

Billiards Organisations and Tournaments

Billiards are played all over the world. However, on professional level, just some of the games are played. In the United Kingdom, snooker is the most popular billiard game. Snooker is popular in Asia as well. Nevertheless, in North America, that’s not the case. There, 8-ball and 9-ball games dominate. On the other hand, carom games are mostly played in Latin America and Continental Europe.

WPBSA Logo
WPBSA Logo

All these tournaments are controlled by two major governing bodies.
The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) was established in 1968 to regulate the professional game, while the International Billiards and Snooker Federation (IBSF) regulates the amateur games. To learn more about the rules of WPBSA, check their official website.