Pool table with cue ball, object balls, cue stick, and rack
Pool table with cue ball, object balls, cue stick, and rack
Missing image
Billards balls

Billiards is a game played on a table with low rubber boundary around the edges, small balls, and a "cue", a stick that is used to push the white ball into other balls. Billiards is also used to refer to the entire family of billiard-like games including pool games, once called pocket billiards, and snooker. Caroms and carom billiards are, today, synonyms for billiards that help distinguish them from the other billiard-like games. Although the game billiards has been eclipsed by its more popular brethren (few modern pool halls have billiard tables) the name has escaped the seedier associations of pool halls and still finds employment where more "sophisticated" terms are needed.

All billiards games are generally regarded to have evolved into indoor games from outdoor stick and ball games (1). The word billiard may have evolved from the French word 'billart' which means mace, the forerunner to the modern cue.

The word pool generally refers to pocket billiard games such as 8-ball, 9-ball, or Straight pool. The word pool comes from poolrooms, where people gambled off track on horse races. They were called poolrooms as money was "pooled" to determine the odds. These rooms commonly provided billiard tables, and by association pool became synonymous with billiards. The terms pool and pocket billiards are synonymous.



Billiard balls

The number, type, diameter, color, and pattern of Billiard balls differ depending upon the specific billiards game being played. In eight ball, straight pool, and related games, 16 balls are employed: fifteen colored "object balls" and one white "cue ball". Object balls 1-7 are solid-colored, and are colored yellow, blue, red, purple, orange, green, and dark red or brown, respectively. Balls 9-15 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. The 8-ball is solid black. In the game of 9-ball, only object balls 1-9 are used. Regulation balls are 2-1/4 inches in diameter and weight between 5 1/2 and 6 ounces. Other specific properties such as hardness, friction coefficient and resilience are very important. Such properties are met with phenolic resin.

In snooker, there are fifteen red balls, six colored balls (yellow, green, brown, blue, pink, and black), and one white cue ball. The balls are typically not numbered. These balls are normally 2-1/16 inches in diameter.

In games such as carom, straight billiards, balkline, and three cushion, 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 2-3/4 inches in diameter.


There are many sizes and styles of pool or billiard tables. Generally, tables are twice as long as they are wide. Most pool tables are known as 7, 8, or 9 footers referring to the length of the largest 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. The length of the pool table will typically be a function of space, with many homeowners going for an 8 foot table as a compromise. High quality tables are mostly 9 footers with a bed made of a single slab of granite or thick slate to prevent warping and changes due to humidity. Pocket billiard tables typically have 6 pockets, three on each side. Tables are covered with billiard cloth (typically a form of felt). Bar tables, which get lots of play, use slower more durable cloth. Good quality pool cloth is faster. Snooker table cloth traditionally has a nap and balls behave differently when rolling against the direction of the nap. The cloth of the billiard table is typically green reflecting its origin (Shamos).


Billiards is played with a stick known as a cue. A cue is either a one piece tapered stick or a two piece stick divided in the middle by a joint of metal or phenolic resin. The butt of the cue is the piece of larger circumference. The thinner piece of the cue is the shaft. High quality cues are generally two pieces and are made of a hardwood, typically maple for billiards and ash for snooker. All cues are tapered from the butt to the tip. The tip of the cue is cuffed by a ferrule which holds the leather cue tip. The leather tip, in conjunction with chalk, is used to impart spin to the cue ball. Cheap cues are generally one piece cues made of aluminum or wood with inferior tips of various materials. A quality cue can be expensive and may be made of exotic woods and other expensive materials which are artfully inlaid with decorative patterns. Skilled players may use more than one cue during a game, including a stick for the opening break shot and another shorter cue with a special tip for jumping. (See Cue stick.)


Chalk is often applied to the tip of the cue stick to increase friction when the stick impacts the cue ball. The increased friction will impart greater spin to the cue ball and also reduce the risk of miscue (unintentional slip between the cue tip and the ball).

Shooting techniques

If the cue ball is not struck directly in the center, spin will be imparted onto the cue ball. Spin can be used to control the path of the cue ball. This spin can also influence the path that an object ball will take when it is hit by the cue ball. Unintentional spin can cause missed shots.

If the cue ball is struck above the center of the ball, follow is said to be imparted to the ball. If the cue ball is struck below the center of the ball draw is imparted. Follow is over spin, where the cue ball is spinning faster than it would from its natural roll. The main use for this is to control what happens when the cue ball hits an object ball. If the cue ball has overspin on it, the cue ball, after making contact dead-on with the object ball, rather than stopping abruptly, will resume rolling forward and follow the struck ball. If the cue ball was hit with draw, it will reverse direction after hitting an object ball dead-on and draw back. If the cue ball does not hit the object ball dead-on, the cue ball will travel in a line tangential to the point of impact between both balls if the cueball carries no vertical spin. Top spin will cause the cueball to parabolically arch away from the tangent line in the direction of cueball travel, whereas bottom spin will cause the cueball to arch backwards from the line of travel. Spin dissipates as the cue ball travels, thus the effect will be less pronounced when it finally contacts an object ball.

If the cue ball is struck to the left or right of center, english or side spin is imparted. Interchangeable terms for the type of english include left or right english and running english or reverse english. The latter two terms are useful to describe what happens when a ball hits a rail. If a ball has running english, it will speed up when it hits a rail, and angle of the rail will be shallower than if the ball had no english on it. If the ball has hold up or reverse english, then the speed of the ball will slow down when it hits a rail and will come off the rail at greater angle than if it did not have side spin on it. Hitting a rail in itself will impart some spin onto the ball.

Another effect of spin is called throw. When a cue ball hits a ball, the friction between the balls can affect the path the object ball will travel. If a cue ball was hit on the left side and hits a ball fairly fully with moderate speed, it will tend to throw the ball to the right.

If the cue ball is struck so that spin is imparted along both axes, then the effects of both can be combined. Hitting a ball with draw and sidespin can actually cause the ball to curve. A shot called the mass, when the ball is hit from above, can cause the ball to go forward, curve, and then reverse direction. This shot is quite difficult. The mass is not allowed in some places as the table's cloth can be damaged.

Another technique known as the jump shot is allowed in some games such as nine ball. A legal jump shot requires that the ball be hit above center driving it down into the table, such that the ball will leave the table surface. This is a difficult shot, and can also damage the table cloth. As such, this shot is also forbidden in some establishments.

Applying a significant amount of force with a hit below center at a low angle can also create a jump. This technique is very difficult to control and more often than not it is the result of an accidental poorly-made shot rather than a practiced technique. This is considered an illegal shot in most games, but is accepted by some in casual settings.

Types of games

There are two main styles of billiard games: carom and pocket. The most popular pocket games are 8-ball, 9-ball, and snooker. In 8-ball and 9-ball the object is to sink a designated ball to win. In 8-ball, players must pocket a group of balls, either the solids or the stripes, before they can pocket the eight for the win. In 9-ball, players must shoot the balls in order, from one through nine. In snooker, players score points by alternating shooting red balls and balls of a different colour.

Straight billiards and three cushion

The most popular billiard games are probably straight billiards and three cushion. In both, players shoot the cue ball so that it makes contact with their opponent's cue ball as well as the red ball. Some of the best players of this game developed the skill to drive both balls into a corner and were able to score large numbers of consecutive points once the balls were in the corner.

The first professional tournament was held in 1879 (Shamos), where Jacob Schaefer Sr scored 690 points in a single turn. Because the balls barely moved, there was nothing for the fans to watch. Changes were subsequently made to the rules to add balklines, and the player had to drive a ball past these lines after so many shots. Initially, the championship game was 18.1 balkline. After a shot, one of the balls had to be driven past the balkline which were 18 inches from the rail. A more elegant solution was three cushion billiards, which requires a player to make contact with the other two ball 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 a turn.

8 Ball

In the United States, the most commonly played game is 8-ball. This game is most often played on coin operated tables that are 7 feet long. In the United Kingdom the game is commonly played in pubs and it is competitively played in leagues. It is also played as a world championship tournament run by the International Pool Asociation

9 Ball

9-ball is the championship game in the US, and is played on 9 foot tables. The governing organization of the United States Championship and the US Open is the Billiard Congress of America (BCA). Besides the US Open there are many other professional pool tournaments are played annually.

The World Pool Association (WPA), holds an annual 9-ball tournament to determine the world 9-ball champion.

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.


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