Cue sports (sometimes spelled cuesports) are a wide variety of games of skill generally played with a cue stick which is used to strike 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 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; through its many mentions 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, Immanuel Kant, Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, George Washington, French president Jules Grévy, 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 (retroactively termed ground billiards) , 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 billiards 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' 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.
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 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). 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 (15 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.
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 .
Cue tip chalk (invented in its modern form by straight rail billiard pro William A. Spinks and chemist William Hoskins in 1897) is made by crushing silica and the abrasive substance corundum or aloxite (aluminum oxide), into a powder and using forced air to achieve the desired consistency. It is combined with dye (originally and most commonly green or blue-green, like traditional billiard cloth, but available today, like the cloth, in many colors) and a binder (glue). Finally, a 15 ton-per-square-inch hydraulic press is used to compress the "chalk" into large cakes which are dried on a rack, and then cut into small cubes, dimpled on the top to receive the cue tip, and wrapped in paper sleeves. Each manufacturer's brand has different qualities, which can significantly affect play. High humidity can also impair the effectiveness of chalk. Harder, drier compounds are generally considered superior by most players.
There are two main varieties of billiard games: carom and pocket. The main carom billiards games are straight billiards, balkline and three cushion billiards. All are 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.
The most popular of the large variety of pocket games are eight-ball, nine-ball, one-pocket, bank pool, snooker and, among the old guard, straight pool. In eight-ball and nine-ball the object is to sink object balls until one can legally pocket the winning eponymous "". Well-known but waning in popularity is straight pool, in which players seek to continue sinking balls, rack after rack if they can, to reach a pre-determined winning score (typically 150). Related to nine-ball, another well-known game is rotation, where the lowest-numbered object ball on the table must be struck first, although any object ball may be pocketed (i.e., combination shot). Each pocketed ball is worth its number, and the player with the highest score at the end of the rack is the winner. Since there are only 120 points available (1 + 2 + 3 ⋯ + 15 = 120), scoring 61 points leaves no opportunity for the opponent to catch up. In both one-pocket and bank pool, the players must sink a set number of balls; respectively, all in a particular , or all by . In snooker, players score points by alternately potting and various special "".
Although a difficult and subtle game, some of the best players of straight billiards developed the skill to the balls in a corner or along the same rail for the purpose of playing a series of to score a seemingly limitless number of points.
The first straight rail professional tournament was held in 1879 where Jacob Schaefer, Sr. scored 690 points in a single turn (that is, 690 separate strokes without a miss). With the balls repetitively hit and barely moving in endless "nursing", there was little for the fans to watch.
Points are awarded for:
In the United Kingdom, snooker is by far the most popular cue sport at the competitive level. It is played in many other countries as well. Snooker is far rarer in the U.S., where pool games such as eight-ball and nine-ball dominate.