History and Rules of Billiards

Pool and billiards have come a long way since their humble beginnings centuries and centuries ago. Today, pool is one of the most popular table games on the planet. Though it is deceptively simple to play, the level of mastery and strategy possible makes it akin to chess.

The Beginnings of Pool and Billiards 

No one knows for sure when pool was invented, but most agree it happened during the 1400s. However, it was most likely an evolution of a lawn game much like croquet. Just like how table tennis brought lawn tennis indoors, the same thing happened in Northern Europe, resulting in pool. Amongst other things, this is why the tablecloth on a pool table is traditionally green.

Originally, though, the ball was shoved with a wooden stick, known as a “mace.” The French word for it is “billart” which most likely explains why you often hear pool referred to as billiards. A competing theory involves the French word for ball, “bille.”

During the late 1600s, the current version of the pool cue was developed. It came to be because, when the ball was too close to the rail, the mace was very inconvenient to use. At such a time, the player would often turn the mace around to use the acutest end.

It wasn’t long before pool was known to be the preferred game of the aristocracy. Sometime around the 1800s, pool earned the title of the “Noble Game of Billiards.” That being said, it has been played by more common people since its very origins. In fact, Shakespeare even makes mention of it for this reason in Anthony and Cleopatra.

The actual rules of the game have changed greatly from century to century throughout the world. Even the structure of the table was modified. Originally, the banks were flat and even named after river banks because of their main purpose: to keep the balls on the table.

Eventually, though, players realized they could be used deliberately. It wasn’t long before the banks were altered to make this easier.

The famous eight ball wasn’t even introduced until the early 20th century. Nine-ball was most likely invented right around 1920.

The Rules of Pool and Billiards

The rules of pool are fairly straightforward, which helps explain why it has endured all these years. While it takes years of practice to truly master the game, anyone can begin playing it after the following explanation.

The 15 balls are first racked within the triangle before the tool is removed. The apex ball must sit over the foot spot on the table. Just below it in the pattern must be the eight ball. One stripe ball and one solid ball must sit in the triangle’s two low corners. The remaining balls can be organized however you like.

A coin toss can be used to decide who breaks.

Often, players will decide by each taking a turn hitting just the cue ball off the opposite side and awarding the right to whoever’s ball gets closest to the closest wall after the bounce without touching.

In any case, the person who breaks must hit one of the balls in the triangle, or their opponent gets to take over breaking from the same position. If the player pockets a ball after their break, they continue shooting.

Whichever type of ball – striped or solid – the player pockets is their type for the rest of the game. For example, if they knocked in a striped ball, they would need to pocket the rest of them. If they knock in both, they get to choose which they will continue with.

If a break does not result in either a ball being pocketed or at least four balls aren’t driven to each rail, the break doesn’t count.

At that point, the opposite player can decide between the following actions:

  • Accepting the result and going next
  • Re-racking and breaking
  • Re-racking and having their opponent break again

If the breaker pockets the eight ball on the break, it is not a foul. Instead, that player can decide to re-break or re-spot the eight ball while accepting the rest of the balls’ positions.

After the break, each opponent is trying to pocket each of the balls they are assigned before doing the same with the eight ball. The eight ball cannot be pocketed until this happens. A player who does this immediately loses the game.

As long as a player pockets one of their balls, they continue playing. Players must always call their shots, though. That is, they must tell their opponent which ball will end up in which pocket. If the eight ball is sunk after the shooter has cleared all their other balls, but the shot wasn’t called, they lose.

All other fouls result in the opponent getting the ball and having the right to place it where they like for their ensuing shot.

If you have a pool table, you have the potential for hours of entertainment and some friendly competition. Over the centuries, this game has evolved to become a straightforward path to fun.

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