of Pool Table Operators (BAPTO)
Billiard Congress of America (BCA)
Poolplayers Association [CPA]
Billiards Association (EABA)
East Anglian Invitation Pool League (EAI)
Women's Professional Billiard Association (WPBA)
Poolplayers Association (JPA)
States Billiard Association (USBA)
Pool Players Association (USPPA)
National 8-Ball League Association (VNEA)
Cup Association (BWCA)
Pool-Billiard Association (WPBA)
Poolplayers Association (APA)
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE NOBLE GAME OF BILLIARDS:
by Mike Shamos
- The history of billiards is long and very rich. The game has been
played by kings and commoners, presidents, mental patients, ladies,
gentlemen, and hustlers alike. It evolved from a lawn game similar
to the croquet played sometime during the 15th century in Northern
Europe and probably in France. Play was moved indoors to a wooden
table with green cloth to simulate grass, and a simple border was
placed around the edges. The balls were shoved, rather than struck,
with wooden sticks called maces. The term billiard
is derived from French, either from the word billart,
one of the wooden sticks, or bille, a ball.
The game was originally played with two balls on a six-pocket table
with a hoop similar to a croquet wicket and an upright stick used
as a target. During the 18th century, the hoop and target gradually
disappeared, leaving only the balls and pockets. Most of our information
about early billiards comes from accounts of playing by royalty
and other nobles. It has been known as the Noble Game of Billiards
since the early 1800s, but there is evidence that people from
all walks of life have played the game since its inception. In 1600,
the game was familiar enough to the public that Shakespeare mentioned
it in Antony and Cleopatra. Seventy-five years later, the first
book of billiard rules remarked of England that there were few
Towns of note therein which hath not a public Billiard-Table.
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The cue stick was developed in the late 1600s. When the ball
lay near a rail, the mace was very inconvenient to use because of
its large head. In such a case, the players would turn the mace
around and use its handle to strike the ball. The handle was called
a queue- meaning tail- from which we get
the word cue. For a long time, only men were allowed
to use the cue; women were forced to use the mace because it was
felt they were more likely to rip the cloth with the sharper cue.
Tables originally had flat vertical walls for rails and their only
function was to keep the balls from falling off. They resembled
riverbanks and even used to be called banks. Players
discovered that balls could bounce off the rails and began deliberately
aiming at them. Thus a bank shot is one in which a ball
is made to rebound from a cushion as part of the shot.
equipment improved rapidly in England after 1800, largely because
of the Industrial Revolution. Chalk was used to increase friction
between the ball and the cue stick even before cues had tips.
The leather cue tip, with which a player can apply side-spin to
the ball, was perfected by 1823. Visitors from England showed
Americans how to use spin, which explains why it is called English
in the United States but nowhere else. (The British themselves
refer to it as side). The two-piece cue arrived in
1829. Slate became popular as a material for table beds around
1835. Goodyear discovered vulcanization of rubber in 1839 and
by 1845 it was used to make billiard cushions. By 1850, the billiard
table had essentially evolved into its current form.
dominant billiard game in Britain from about 1770 until the 1920s
was English Billiards, played with three balls and six pockets
on a large rectangular table. A two-to-one ratio of length to
width became standard in the 18th century. Before then, there
were no fixed table dimensions. The British billiard tradition
is carried on today primarily through the game of Snooker, a complex
and colorful game combining offensive and defensive aspects and
played on the same equipment as English Billiards but with 22
balls instead of three. The British appetite for Snooker is approached
only by the American passion for baseball; it is possible to see
a Snooker competition every day in Britain.
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THE UNITED STATES: How billiards came to America
has not been positively established. There are tales that it was
brought to St. Augustine by the Spaniards in the 1580s but
research has failed to reveal any trace of the game there. More
likely it was brought over by Dutch and English settlers. A number
of American cabinetmakers in the 1700s turned out exquisite
billiard tables, although in small quantities. Nevertheless, the
game did spread throughout the Colonies. Even George Washington
was reported to have won a match in 1748. By 1830, despite primitive
equipment, public rooms devoted entirely to billiards appeared.
The most famous of them was Bassfords, a New York room that
catered to stockbrokers. Here a number of American versions of billiards
were developed, including Pin Pool, played with small wooden targets
like miniature bowling pins, and Fifteen-Ball Pool, described later.
The American billiard industry and the incredible rise in popularity
of the game are due to Michael Phelan, the father of American billiards.
Phelan emigrated from Ireland and in 1850 wrote the first American
book on the game. He was influential in devising rules and setting
standards of behavior. An inventor, he added diamonds to the table
to assist in aiming, and developed new table and cushion designs.
He was also the first American billiard columnist. On January 1,
1859, the first of his weekly articles appeared in Leslies
Illustrated Weekly. A few months later, Phelan won $15,000 in Detroit
at the first important stake match held in the United States. He
was a tireless promoter of the game and created the manufacturing
company of Phelan and Collender. In 1884 the company merged with
its chief competitor, J.M. Brunswick & Balke, to form the Brunswick-Balke-Collender
Company, which tightly controlled all aspects of the game until
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TYPES OF PLAY:
The dominant American billiard game until the 1870s
was American Four-Ball Billiards, usually played on a large (11
or 12-foot), four-pocket table with four balls - two white and two
red. It was a direct extension of English Billiards. Points were
scored by pocketing balls, scratching the cue ball, or by making
caroms on two or three balls. A carom is the act of
hitting two object balls with the cue ball in one stroke. With so
many balls, there were many different ways of scoring and it was
possible to make up to 13 points on a single shot. American Four-Ball
produced two offspring, both of which surpassed it in popularity
by the late 1870s. One, simple caroms played with three balls
on a pocketless table, is sometimes known as Straight Rail,
the forerunner of all carom games. The other popular game was American
Fifteen-Ball Pool, the predecessor of modern pocket billiards.
The word pool means a collective bet, or ante. Many
non-billiard games, such as poker, involve a pool but it was to
pocket billiards that the name became attached. The term poolroom
now means a place where pool is played, but in the 19th century
a poolroom was a betting parlor for horse racing. Pool tables were
installed so patrons could pass the time between races. The two
became connected in the public mind, but the unsavory connotation
of poolroom came from the betting that took place there,
not from billiards.
Pool was played with 15 object balls, numbered 1 through 15. For
sinking a ball, the player received a number of points equal to
the value of the ball. The sum of the ball values in a rack is
120, so the first player who received more than half the total,
or 61, was the winner. This game, also called 61-Pool,
was used in the first American championship pool tournament held
in 1878 and won by Cyrille Dion, a Canadian. In 1888, it was thought
more fair to count the number of balls pocketed by a player and
not their numerical value. Thus, 14.1 Continuous Pool replaced
Fifteen-Ball Pool as the championship game. The player who sank
the last ball of a rack would break the next rack and his point
total would be kept continuously from one rack to
was invented shortly after 1900; Straight Pool followed in 1910.
Nine-Ball seems to have developed around 1920. One-Pocket has
ancestors that are older than any of these; the idea of the game
was described in 1775 and complete rules for a British form appeared
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1878 until 1956, pool and billiard championship tournaments were
held almost annually, with one-on-one challenge matches filling
the remaining months. At times, including during the Civil War,
billiard results received wider coverage than war news. Players
were so renowned that cigarette cards were issued featuring them.
The BCA Hall of Fame honors many players from this era, including
Jacob Schaefer, Sr. and his son, Jake Jr., Frank Taberski, Alfredo
DeOro, and Johnny Layton. The first half of this century was the
era of the billiard personality. In 1906, Willie Hoppe, at the age
of 18, established the supremacy of American players by beating
Maurice Vignaux of France at balkline. Balkline is a version of
carom billiards with lines drawn on the table to form rectangles.
When both object balls lie in the same rectangle, the number of
shots that can be made is restricted. This makes the game much harder
because the player must cause one of the balls to leave the rectangle,
and hopefully return. When balkline lost its popularity during the
1930s, Hoppe began a new career in three-cushion billiards
which he dominated until he retired in 1952. Hoppe was a true American
legend - a boy of humble roots whose talent was discovered early,
a world champion as a teenager, and a gentleman who held professional
titles for almost 50 years. One newspaper reported that under his
manipulation, the balls moved as if under a magic spell,
to many fans, billiards meant Hoppe.
While the term billiards refers to all the games played
on a billiard table, with or without pockets, some people take billiards
to mean carom games only and use pool for pocket games. Carom games,
particularly balkline, dominated public attention until 1919, when
Ralph Greenleafs pool playing captured the nations attention.
For the next 20 years he gave up the title on only a few occasions.
Through the 1930s, both pool and billiards, particularly three-cushion
billiards, shared the spotlight. In 1941 the Mosconi era began and
carom games declined in importance. Pool went to war several times
as a popular recreation for the troops. Professional players toured
military posts giving exhibitions; some even worked in the defense
industry. But the game had more trouble emerging from World War
II than it had getting into it. Returning soldiers were in a mood
to buy houses and build careers, and the charm of an afternoon spent
at the pool table was a thing of the past. Room after room closed
quietly and by the end of the 1950s it looked as though the
game might pass into oblivion. Willie Mosconi, who won or successfully
defended the pocket billiard title 19 times, retired as champion
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Billiards was revived by two events, one in 1961, the other in 1986.
The first was the release of the movie, The Hustler,
based on the novel by Walter Tevis. The film depicted the dark life
of a pool hustler with Paul Newman in the title role. New rooms
opened all over the country and for the remainder of the 60s
pool flourished, until social concerns, the Vietnam War, and an
increase in outdoor activities led to a decline in the game. In
1986, The Color of Money, the sequel to The Hustler
with Paul Newman in the same role and Tom Cruise as an up-and-coming
professional, brought the excitement of pool to a new generation.
The opening of upscale rooms catered to a new type of player, whose
senses may have been offended by the old cliché of poolrooms.
While the game has had its heroes since the early 1800s, it
has waged a constant battle for respectability. In the 1920s,
the poolroom was an environment in which men gathered to loiter,
fight, bet and play, so they were often the target of politicians
eager to show their ability to purge immorality from the communities.
Most rooms now bear no resemblance to those of earlier times. The
atmosphere of many new rooms approaches that of chic restaurants
and night clubs. They offer quality equipment, expert instruction,
and the chance for people to meet socially for a friendly evening.
These rooms have helped contribute to the greatest interest in billiards
in over a century.
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WOMEN IN BILLIARDS:
Women have played billiards since its beginning
in the 15th century. Since the late 1800s, there have been women
who took the game and their talents to new levels. May Kaarlus turned
heads with her trick shot artistry at the turn of the century. Ruth
McGinnis could give most men a run for their money and toured with
the legendary Willie Mosconi in the 30s. And in the early 70s, it
was grandmother Dorothy Wise, winning five U.S. Open tournaments,
who kept the womens dream of professional pool alive and well.
It wasnt until 1976 and the formation of the Womens
Professional Billiard Association (WPBA) that women players officially
organized. The WPBA works with the BCA to further the careers of
great players from Jean Balukas, winner of seven US Opens, to Allison
Fisher, winner of over 50 major titles since 1995. Today, womens
billiards boasts unprecedented television coverage and sponsor support
in major events, including the ESPN-televised BCA Open 9-Ball Championships.
In a sport once considered the last bastion of male dominance, women
are now at the forefront of exposing pool to a wider audience.