Billiards, Snooker, Or Pool

Do you play snooker or pool? These games share a common history, one that goes back several centuries. Here's more on this...
SportsAspire Staff
Are you as bald as a cue ball? Have you ever been snookered? Do you always feel like you're behind the eight ball? Do you recognize any of these expressions? Have you used them? If so, then you've been influenced by the game of billiards, in one or more of its popular variations.
The word billiards can be used to refer to a variety of games played on a level table with bumpers at the sides. A stick called a cue is used to hit a very hard ball into other balls. Billiards has been called an indoor version of croquet. This is why green felt is traditionally used to cover the table, which today is often made of slate. The game developed in France and England, and seems to have been brought indoors in the fifteenth century. For example, there is a record of the king of France, Louis XI, having a billiards table made in 1470.
Originally, the balls were pushed around the table with wooden sticks called maces. In French, this was called a 'billart', which some feel eventually led to the name billiards. This mace had a large head on one end, which was used to push or strike the ball. When the ball was near a rail, it was difficult to use this large end. This led some players to develop the habit of turning the stick around and using the pointed end to hit the ball. This pointed end was called the tail, or 'queue' in French. This French word became the English word cue, which is now used to describe the stick itself, as well as the white ball used to strike the other balls.
When the billiards table was first created, vertical walls, or rails, were placed at the edges to keep the balls from falling off the table. These small rails were called banks, apparently because they reminded someone of the banks of a river. At some point, someone discovered that a ball would bounce or rebound from one of these banks. Soon, players were deliberately aiming for the side of the table, trying to make a 'bank' shot.
For many years, billiards balls were made of ivory. Since ivory is a natural substance, all the balls never had the same density and weren't perfectly round. Worse still, the use of ivory resulted in the deaths of thousands of elephants. This changed in 1868, when a chemist invented celluloid balls. While these benefited elephants and billiards players alike, they added an unwanted excitement to the game. The balls would often spark when struck, and would sometimes explode.
Over the centuries, various versions of billiards have developed. Carambole, or carom billiards, refers to a group of games that is played on a table without pockets. These include balkline, cushion caroms, and artistic billiards.
Pocket billiards, or pool, is the most popular version of the game in the U.S. It is played on a table with six pockets. Of the various games played on this type of table, eight ball is probably the most common.
Snooker is the game that is usually played in England. The equipment is similar to that used in American pool, but the table is usually bigger. The rules are also quite a bit different.
Another interesting variation is called pin billiards. This family of games seems to have started in Italy, and has since spread to Central Europe and South America. Its principle distinguishing feature is that small pins are set up in the middle of the table, which may or may not have pockets.
Billiards, in its various forms, has been around for centuries. The game appears in history, art, and literature. Shakespeare mentions it in Antony and Cleopatra. Mary, Queen of Scots, complained of being deprived of her billiard table during her imprisonment, and reportedly was wrapped in the cloth from the table after her execution. Mozart also loved the game; supposedly composing some of his greatest works in between shots.
Other famous players include: Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John Quincy Adams, Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Dickens, and even Queen Victoria.
While billiard balls rarely explode today, for many, billiards, pool, or snooker remains an exciting game, and an enjoyable way to spend time with friends.
Snooker table overhead colorful ball stick photo