AskDefine | Define billiards

Dictionary Definition

billiards n : any of several games played on rectangular cloth-covered table (with cushioned edges) in which long tapering cue sticks are used to propel ivory (or composition) balls

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A game which has similarities to pool and snooker.


See also

Extensive Definition

Cue sports are a wide variety of games of skill generally played with a cue stick which is used to strike colored billiard balls, moving them around a cloth-covered billiards table bounded by rubber .
Historically, the umbrella term was billiards. While that familiar name is still employed by some as a generic label for all such games, the word's usage has splintered into more exclusive competing meanings among certain groups and geographic regions. In the United Kingdom, "billiards" refers exclusively to English billiards, while in the United States it is sometimes used to refer to a particular game or class of games, or to all cue games in general, depending upon dialect and context.
There are three major subdivisions of games within cue sports:
More obscurely, there are games that make use of obstacles and targets, and table-top games played with disks instead of colored balls.
Billiards has a long and rich history stretching from its inception in the 15th century; to the wrapping of the body of Mary, Queen of Scots in her billiard table cover in 1586; it is mentioned once in the works of Shakespeare, including the famous line "let us to billiards" in Antony and Cleopatra (1606–07); to the dome on Thomas Jefferson's home Monticello, which conceals a billiard room he hid, as billiards was illegal in Virginia at that time; and through the many famous enthusiasts of the sport including, Mozart, Louis XIV of France, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, George Washington, Charles Dickens, George Armstrong Custer, Theodore Roosevelt, Lewis Carroll, W.C. Fields, Babe Ruth, Bob Hope, Jackie Gleason, and many others.


All cue sports are generally regarded to have evolved into indoor games from outdoor stick-and-ball lawn games , and as such to be related to troco, 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" can be used to encompass the ancestral mace games, and even the modern cueless variants, such as finger pool, for historical reasons.
Accordingly, in addition to the three general subdivisions listed earlier, a now rare obstacle category was prevalent in early times. The obstacle games (see illustration to the right, featuring a croquet-like variant), appear to have been the earliest, and include 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 obstacle games varies from avoiding obstructions and traps, to hitting or passing through or into 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' colored balls.
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 goal is generally to strike one with a , then have the cue ball rebound off of one or more of the cushions and strike a second ball. Variations include three-cushion, straight rail, balkline variants, cushion caroms, 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 18th to early 19th century carom games.

As a sport

At least the games with regulated international professional competition have been referred to as "sports" or "sporting" events, not simply "games", since 1893 at the latest. Quite a variety of particular games (i.e. sets of rules and equipment) are the subject of present-day competition, including many of those already mentioned, with competition being especially broad in nine-ball, snooker, three-cushion and eight-ball.
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, and the 2006 Asian Games also saw the introduction of a "Cue sports" category. Efforts have also been underway for many years to have cue sports become Olympic competitions.


Billiard balls

Billiard balls vary from game to game, in size, design and number. Carom billiards balls are larger than pool balls, and come as a set of two cue balls (one colored or marked) and an object ball (or two object balls in the case of the game four-ball also known as yotsudama). American-style pool balls, used in any pool game and found throughout the world, come in sets of two of object balls, seven and seven , an and a ; the balls are racked differently for different games (some of which do not use the entire ball set). Blackball (English-style eight-ball) sets are similar, but have unmarked of (or ) and balls instead of solids and stripes, and are smaller than the American-style; they are used principally in Britain, Ireland, and some Commonwealth countries, though not exclusively, since they are unsuited for playing nine-ball. Snooker balls are also smaller than American-style pool balls, and come in sets of 22 (fifteen reds, 6 "", and a cue ball). Other games also have custom ball sets, such as Russian pyramid and bumper pool.
Billiard balls have been made from many different materials since the start of the game, including clay, bakelite, celluloid, crystalite, ivory, plastic, steel and wood. The dominant material from 1627 until the early 20th century was ivory. The search for a substitute for ivory use was not for environmental concerns but based on economic motivation and fear of danger for elephant hunters. It was in part spurred on by a New York billiard table manufacturer who announced a prize of $10,000 for a substitute material. The first viable substitute was celluloid, invented by John Wesley Hyatt in 1868, but the material was volatile, sometimes exploding during manufacture and was highly flammable.


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 long on the longest side. Pool halls tend to have tables and cater to the serious pool player. Pubs will typically use tables which are often coin-operated. Formerly, tables were common, but such tables are now considered antique collectors items; a few, usually from the late 1800s, can be found in pool halls from time to time. Ten-foot tables remain 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 table as a compromise. High quality tables are mostly 4.5 by . (interior dimensions), 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). Cloth has been used to cover billiards tables since the 15th century. In fact, the predecessor company of the most famous maker of billiard cloth, Iwan Simonis, was formed in 1453.
Bar or tavern tables, which get a lot of play, use "slower", more durable cloth. The cloth used in upscale pool (and snooker) halls and home billiard rooms is "faster" (i.e. provides less friction, allowing the balls to roll farther across the table ), and competition-quality pool cloth is made from 100 % worsted wool. Snooker cloth traditionally has a nap (consistent fiber directionality) and balls behave differently when rolling against versus along with the nap.
The cloth of the billiard table has traditionally been green, reflecting its origin (originally the grass of ancestral lawn games), and has been so colored since the 16th century.


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. There are two main types of racks; the more common triangular shape which is used for eight-ball and straight pool and the diamond shaped rack used for nine-ball.


main Cue stick
Billiards games are mostly 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 end of the cue is of larger circumference and is intended to be gripped by a player's hand. The of the cue is of smaller circumference, usually tapering to an 0.4 to 0.55 inch (11–14 mm) terminus called a (usually made of fiberglass or brass in better cues), where a rounded leather is affixed, flush with the ferrule, to make final contact with balls. The tip, in conjunction with chalk, can be used to impart spin to the cue ball when it is not hit in its center.
Cheap cues are generally made of pine, low-grade maple (and formerly often of ramin, which is now endangered), or other low-quality wood, with inferior plastic ferrules. A quality cue can be expensive and may be made of exotic woods and other expensive materials which are artfully inlaid in decorative patterns. Many modern cues are also made, like golf clubs, with high-tech materials such as woven graphite. Skilled players may use more than one cue during a game, including a separate generally lighter cue for the opening break shot (because of cue speed gained from a lighter stick) and another, shorter cue with a special tip for .

Mechanical bridge

The mechanical bridge, sometimes called a "rake" (among other nicknames), "bridge stick" or simply "bridge", "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. In Italy a longer, thicker cue is typically available for this kind of tricky shot. Commonly in snooker they are available in three forms depending on how the player is hampered; the standard rest has a simple cross, the 'spider' has a raised arch around 12cm with three grooves to rest the cue in and for the most awkward of shots, the 'giraffe' which has a raised arch much like the 'spider' but with a slender arm reaching out around 15cm with the groove.


Pocket billiards games


Obstacle billiards games

Cueless and/or ball-less developments

  • Carrom (uses small disks instead of balls; some versions use miniature cues, others no cues at all)
  • Novuss (a variant that uses full-size cues)
  • Crokinole (some variants of this combination of carrom and shuffleboard use miniature cues)


  • The Illustrated Principles of Pool and Billiards
  • Byrne's New Standard Book of Pool and Billiards

External links



Technical information

News sources

billiards in Arabic: بلياردو
billiards in Bulgarian: Билярд
billiards in Catalan: Billar
billiards in Danish: Billard
billiards in German: Billard
billiards in Esperanto: Bilardo
billiards in Spanish: Billar
billiards in Finnish: Biljardi
billiards in French: Billard
billiards in Galician: Billar
billiards in Hebrew: ביליארד
billiards in Croatian: Biljar
billiards in Haitian: Biya
billiards in Italian: Biliardo
billiards in Japanese: ビリヤード
billiards in Georgian: ბილიარდი
billiards in Korean: 당구
billiards in Lithuanian: Biliardas
billiards in Latvian: Biljards
billiards in Hungarian: Biliárd
billiards in Dutch: Biljart
billiards in Norwegian: Biljard
billiards in Polish: Bilard
billiards in Portuguese: Bilhar
billiards in Romanian: Biliard
billiards in Russian: Бильярд
billiards in Sanskrit: गुलिशङ्कु
billiards in Simple English: Cue sports
billiards in Swedish: Biljard
billiards in Tagalog: Cue sports
billiards in Turkish: Bilardo
billiards in Ukrainian: Більярд
billiards in Chinese: 撞球
billiards in Min Nan: Chhn̂g-kiû
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