Feb 07

The Difference between Billiards, Pool and Snooker

To the untrained eye, the concepts of pool, snooker and billiards blend together to signify a singular cue sport that presents more similarities than differences. This is not entirely wrong from a broad perspective, considering that all three games entail utilizing the cue to strike a cue ball (or 2 of them in certain variations of billiards) on a trajectory that intersects with the object balls. In addition, the tables on which these games are played exhibit quite a few analogous characteristics, in spite of the absence of pockets proprietary to carom or carambole tables.

However, it is necessary to point out that the core game model is the only thing that billiards, pool and snooker share. The rules and the equipment employed, from the cues to the balls and table, bestow these games their unique character. The following guide aims to breakdown billiards, snooker and pool in order for the readers to understand the diversity of the cue-sports categories. Let’s start with the one that stands at their origin, carom billiards.

Billiards: Rules, Equipment and Brief History

Billiards GameThe reason I’m stating that the game of carom billiards constitutes the foundation from which pool and snooker variations emerged later on resides in the first historical mentions of the cue sport in the 15th century. However, you should keep in mind that not even billiards was based on a completely original concept, but was rather the next evolutionary step of croquet variations. Billiards had many enthusiasts among popular historical characters, from Mary of Scotland to Louis XIV of France, from Mozart to Napoleon and from Mark Twain to Abraham Lincoln.

As I mentioned previously, however strange it may sound, the billiard table does not have any pockets, but this is simply because the goal of this cue sport does not constitute pocketing the object balls. Instead, the typical billiards table that measures 9.3 feet by 4.7 feet (American tables are often 10 feet by 5 feet) is utilized in a different fashion. To put it simply, the player has to reach a predefined number of points by striking one of the three object balls present on the table with the cue ball, afterwards a minimum of thee railings and lastly, the other object ball. This variation of billiards is known as three cushion and is by far the most well known. Nonetheless, there are numerous similar cue games that can be played on a billiards table and are not far behind in terms of popularity include:

  • Straight Rail, a simplified version of three cushion that only entails striking a single rail in between the two object balls
  • Four Ball, a variation that increases the number of object balls on the table by 1

The cues utilized in billiards are shorter (no more than a few inches) compared to both pool and snooker and a feature proprietary to professional-grade ones consists of the leather tip as well as the inlaid markings. The diameter of the billiards cue ferrule (the slim upper section of the cue) measures approximately 13.5-14.5 millimeters, slightly less than standard pool/billiard cues. However, while the butt-end to ferrule ratio for pool and billiard cues is the same (each represents half of the total cue length 1/2), the same cannot be said about the snooker cues (2/3 ferrule, 1/3 butt-end). Due to the nature of the cue game, the rack is obsolete. In regards to the dimensions of the billiards balls, their diameter is 2-7/6 inches and they weigh between 7.23 and 7.75 ounces. Let’s move on.

What’s Snooker All about Then?

Snooker GameSnooker is the primary variation of billiards to emerge in the world of cue sports and the first historical mentions of it can be traced back to the 16th century. While historians are still debating whether or not it originated from billiards or if the source was also the outdoors game of croquet, the similarities between the two games are indisputable.

The obvious differences consist of the rules, the design and the dimensions of the tables, the pockets and the size of the balls. In the US, the accepted table dimensions are 5 by 10 feet, while in Europe players mainly prefer the 6 by 10 feet tables.

Furthermore, the game of snooker utilizes 21 balls (all of them measure 2 and 1/8 inches), out of which 15 of them are colored red and lack numbers, while the other 6 which are referred to as object balls have different colors. The primary objective in the game of snooker consists of scoring more points than the adversary by alternatively pocketing red balls and object balls.

Once the red balls on the table have been exhausted, the snooker player can proceed to pocketing the object balls in a predefined order. In the eventuality that the player is unable to contact a legal ball or first strikes anything else than the ball-on, a fault shot is called. Of course, the complexity of the snooker games entails that there are numerous other rules to take into account, depending on the snooker variation and the settings.

And How about Pool?

Pool GameEarliest pool references can be found, meaning the cue game in the form that we play nowadays, can be traced to the 1800s. As in the previous case, nobody can say for certain whether it was inspired from the original billiards or snooker, but the fact that it constitutes a simplification of the latter and the presence of pockets on the pool table does offer some hints.

The preferred variety of pool is the 8-ball, which entails that the suites consist of 7 striped balls, 7 solid colored balls, an 8-ball and finally, the white cue ball. The standard dimension of the balls utilized in pool is 2.25 inches and the game is played on tables that measure 9 feet by 4.5 feet. The object in the standard version of 8-ball pool consists of pocketing the entire suite from which the ball you originally pocketed belongs to, afterwards legally pocketing the black 8-ball.

At the start of the game, the balls are arranged using the triangle and the player – using the cue to strike at the cue ball – attempts to break and pocket as many balls in a single suit as possible. If he fails to pocket any balls on the break, he loses his turn and the next player takes the shot. In 8-ball pool, pocketing the black 8-ball prior to the other ones in your suit translates into an immediate loss. There is another popular variation of pool (9-ball) in which the balls have no particular suit and they are only marked with incremental numbers. In 9-ball, pocketing the black 8-ball via striking it with the lowest value ball on the table wins you the game.

A Final Word

So now, if you have read carefully and understood the variations between these 3 types of cue sports: pool, snooker and billiards, go and brag to your friend and I bet they will be impressed!

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1 comment

  1. Pool Table

    A very thorough and well-thought out post. This clear distinction between the 3 games is very much necessary. I have seen loads of people getting confused as to which one they might want to reference.

    One has to keep in mind that while billiard table has no pockets, pool table & snooker table has pockets in them. Also, billiard genrally uses 3 object balls while snooker uses 21 balls with in a slightly larger table and tighter pockets. Pool is far more common game and utilises a six-pocketed table with anywhere between 8 to 16 balls.

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