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Cue sports

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.

History

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.

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.

Equipment

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). 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.

Tables

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).

Cloth

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.

Rack

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.

Cues

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", "bridge stick" or simply "bridge", and "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.

Chalk

Chalk is applied to the tip of the cue stick, ideally before every shot, to increase the tip's friction coefficient so that when it impacts the cue ball on a non-center hit, no (unintentional slippage between the cue tip and the struck ball) occurs. Cue tip chalk is not actually the substance typically referred to as "chalk" (generally calcium carbonate, also known as calcite or carbonate of lime), but any of several proprietary compounds, with a silicate base. "Chalk" may also refer to a cone of fine, white ; like talc (talcum powder) it can be used to reduce friction between the cue and bridge hand during shooting, for a smoother stroke. Some brands of hand chalk actually are made of compressed talc. (Tip chalk is not used for this purpose because it is abrasive, hand-staining and difficult to apply.) Many players prefer a slick pool glove over hand chalk or talc because of the messiness of these powders; buildup of particles on the cloth will affect ball behavior and necessitate more-frequent cloth cleaning.

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.

Major games (carom and pocket)

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 "".

Straight rail or straight billiards

In straight rail, a player scores a point and may continue shooting each time his cue ball makes contact with both other balls.

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.

Balkline

In light of these phenomenal skill developments in straight rail, the game of balkline soon developed to make it impossible for a player to keep the balls gathered in one part of the table for long, greatly limiting the effectiveness of nurse shots. A (not to be confused with , which pertains to the game of English billiards) is a line parallel to one end of a billiards table. In the games of balkline – 18.1 and 18.2 (pronounced "eighteen-point-two") balkline, among other more obscure variations – the players have to drive at least one object ball past a balkline set at 18 inches from each rail, after one or two points have been scored, respectively.

Three-cushion billiards

A more elegant solution was three-cushion billiards, which requires a player to make contact with the other two balls 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 per turn.

English billiards

Dating to approximately 1800, English billiards is a hybrid of carom and pocket billiards played on a by table. Like most carom games, it requires two and a red . The object of the game is to score either a fixed number of points, or score the most points within a set time frame, determined at the start of the game.

Points are awarded for:

  • Two-ball : striking both the object ball and the other (opponent's) cue ball on the same shot (2 points)
  • : the red ball (3 points); potting the other cue ball (2 points)
  • (or "in-offs"): potting one's cue ball by cannoning off another ball (3 points if the red ball was hit first; 2 points if the other cue ball was hit first, or if the red and other cue ball were "", i.e. hit simultaneously).

Snooker

A pocket billiards game originated by British officers stationed in India during the 19th century. The name of the game became generalized to also describe one of its prime strategies: to "" the opposing player by causing that player to foul or leave an opening to be exploited.

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.

Eight-ball

In the United States, the most commonly-played game is eight-ball. The goal of eight-ball, which is played with a full rack of fifteen balls and the cue ball, is to claim a suit (commonly stripes or solids in the US, and reds or yellows in the UK), pocket all of them, then legally pocket the 8 ball, while denying one's opponent opportunities to do the same with their suit, and without sinking the 8 ball early by accident. On the professional scene, eight-ball players on the International Pool Tour (IPT) were the highest paid players in the world as of 2006 (the IPT nearly folded in 2007, and as of 2008 is attempting a comeback). In the United Kingdom the game is commonly played in pubs, and it is competitively played in leagues on both sides of the Atlantic. The most prestigious tournaments including the World Open are sponsored and sanctioned by the International Pool Tour. Rules vary widely from place to place (and between continents to such an extent that British-style eight-ball pool/blackball is properly regarded as a separate game in its own right). Pool halls in North America are increasingly settling upon the World Pool-Billiard Association International Standardised Rules. But tavern eight-ball (also known as ""), typically played on smaller, coin-operated tables and in a "winner keeps the table" manner, can differ significantly even between two venues in the same city. The growth of local, regional and national amateur leagues may alleviate this confusion eventually.

Nine-ball

Nine-ball uses only the 1 through 9 balls and cue ball. It is a rotation game: The player at the table must make legal contact with the lowest numbered ball on the table or a foul is called. The game is won by legally pocketing the nine ball (which can be done by pocketing all the available balls in ascending order, typically 1 through 9, by striking the lowest numbered remaining ball first and then driving the 9 into a pocket on the same shot, or by pocketing the 9 ball on the break shot). Nine-ball is the predominant professional game, though as of 2006–2008 there have been some suggestions that this may change, in favor of ten-ball. There are many local and regional tours and tournaments that are contested with nine-ball. The World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA), and it American affiliate the Billiard Congress of America (BCA), publish the World Standardized Rules, although some independent tournaments may differ from them on certain points (especially if using pre-"" rules). The European professional circuit has instituted rules changes, especially to make it more difficult to achieve a legal break shot. The largest nine-ball tournaments are the independent US Open Nine-ball Championship and the WPA World Nine-ball Championship for men and women. Male professionals have a rather fragmented schedule of professional nine-ball tournaments. The United States Professional Pool Players Association (UPA) has been the most dominant association of the 1990s and 2000s. Female professionals have a steady professional circuit that is governed by the Women's Professional Billiard Association (WPBA). A hotly contested event is the annual Mosconi Cup, which pits invitational European and US teams against each other in one-on-one and nine-ball matches over a period of several days.The Mosconi Cup games are played under the more stringent European rules, as of 2007.

Three-ball

A variant using only three balls, generally played such that the player at turn continues shooting until all the balls are pocketed, and the player to do so in the fewest shots wins. The game can be played by two or more players. Dispenses with some fouls common to both nine- and eight-ball.

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 eight-ball, nine-ball, or straight pool. It has been said that if eight-ball is checkers, one-pocket is chess. This statement can be verified by watching a game of one pocket. Most times, accomplished players choose to position balls near their pocket instead of trying to actually pocket them. This allows them to control the game by forcing their opponent to be on defense instead of taking a low percentage shot that could result in a loss of game. These low percentage shots are known as "flyers" by one pocket aficionados.

Bank pool

Bank pool has been gaining popularity in recent years. Bank pool can be played with a full rack (can be a long game), but is more typically played with nine balls (frequently called "nine-ball bank"). The balls are racked in nine-ball formation, but in no particular order. The object of the game is simple: to be the first player to bank five balls in any order (eight balls when played with a full rack). Penalties and fouls are similar to one pocket in that the player committing the foul must spot a ball for each foul. This must be done before the incoming player shoots.

List of cue sports

Carom billiards games

Pocket billiards games

Snooker

Obstacle billiards games

Cueless and/or ball-less developments

*Crud

  • 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)

See also

References

External links

Organizations

History

Technical information

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