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Q4 2018

What’s the difference between pool & snooker?

There’s eight ball, black ball, pool, snooker and billiards ... and although all of them are played on a cloth-covered table with cues and hard coloured balls, there are several differences between the equipment you’ll sell for the different cue sports. Words: Trudi du Toit.

From a game of kings, to a pub game enjoyed by all. That is a very short summary of the transition from billiards to pool. Today, billiards remains as exclusive as when it was enjoyed by the nobility, but pool has grown its appeal amongst the masses.

Early days of billiards

The game of billiards, played by two players, dates from the 1600s when noblemen and -ladies played the game. They used a wooden table covered with green cloth to simulate grass, fitted with a simple border around the edge. The three ivory balls were shoved with wooden sticks called maces or billart in French.

Although known as the Noble Game, some historians believe that it could have been played in all walks of life … and that most people knew what it meant, since Shakespeare included the phrase “let’s to billiards” in Anthony and Cleopatra.

Towards the late 1600s a pool cue replaced the mace, which was difficult to use close to the rail. Initially only men were allowed to use the cue, because the belief was that women would damage the cloth with the sharper tip and they were forced to use the mace at all times.

Equipment improved after the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. It was found, for example, that friction between the ball and stick improved when chalk was applied — even before cues had proper tips. A leather cue tip was developed by 1823 and a few years later a two-piece cue became an option. From around 1835 the more durable slate bed started replacing the wooden table tops and ten years later the first rubber billiard cushions were made, so that the billiard table had adopted the current shape and dimensions of today by the mid-19th century.

Although some people use the term billiards as a generic for any cue sport game, true billiards is seldom played nowadays.


Snooker, a more complex game using 22 instead of 3 coloured balls, was invented by a British army colonel based in India in 1875.

Sir Neville Francis Fitzgerald Chamberlain encouraged the troops to play games like life pool and pyramid pool (see below), which included most of the other coloured balls, so that more players could be involved. The two games were eventually combined to form snooker and the blue and brown balls were added later.

The name snooker was coined when Chamberlain referred to a player who had missed a shot as a real snooker — a slang term for an inexperienced first year cadet.

The first official set of rules for snooker were drafted in 1882. In snooker a player attempts to pocket each of the 15 balls in a given sequence.

British billiards champion John Roberts travelled to India in 1885, where Chamberlain introduced him to snooker, played with basically the same equipment as billiards. He, in turn,introduced the game in England, where it soon gained popularity.

Thirty years later, in 1916, the English Amateur Championships was introduced as the first official snooker tournament. In 1927,the legendary Joe Davis helped to establish the first Professional World Championship of snooker, which he continued to dominate. Interestingly, the game was jointly governed by the Control Council, and the Billiards Association. By the 1930s snooker had overtaken billiards as the most popular cue sport.

After a few hiccups and a decline in the 1950s-1960s, the BBC again shone the spotlight on snooker with the introduction of the Pot Black tournament In 1969. The BBC wanted colourful footage that would display its new technology to best advantage and the broadcast of the series revived the popularity of the game. Over the next few decades, Pot Black turned snooker into one of the most popular sports in the UK ... and beyond.

The World Championship was first televised in 1973 and World Rankings were introduced in 1976. Introduced in December 1988, the invitational Matchplay (featuring the worlds top 12 players) was the first professional tournament to have a £100 000 winner’s prize. Currently, the professionals on the snooker circuit compete for a prize fund of £5-m per season and the World Championship winner collects £300 000.

Many versions of pool

Pool usually refers to a collective bet, but it became attached to the game of pocket billiards. And the term pool room, which now means a place where pool is played, was a name for a horse racing betting parlour in the 19th century, where pool tables were installed so that the patrons could pass the time between races. By the 1920s, a pool room was a gathering place for men to smoke, bet, fight — and play.

It was only later that pool rooms became quite acceptable gathering places for men and women. Over time, numerous forms of the game developed.

Life pool and pyramid pool were cue sport games played by the British troops in India, which were eventually combined to become snooker. In life pool several coloured balls are used as cue balls and object balls. In pyramid pool there are 15 red balls and a white cue ball, and one point is received per red ball potted.

Blackball pool is often used as a generic term for pool. It is played with sixteen balls (a cue ball and fifteen object balls, usually numbered) on a small 6’×3’ (183cm x 91cm) or 7’x 3’ 6” (213cm x 107cm) pool table with six pockets. It is an internationally played standardised version of eight-ball pool, usually played by professionals.

Eight-Ball, now the most widely played form of pool, dates from about 1900. Today, it is played on a 7′, 8′, 8.5′ or 9′ table with 15 numbered balls, plus a cue ball. The balls are divided into 2 groups: 1–7 (solids) and 9–15 (stripes) and a player has to pocket all seven balls from his group, plus the 8th ball to win.

Powerglide, locally distributed by Opal Sport, has been sponsoring the largest event, namely the Golden 8 Ball Tournament in Blackpool. This year, 256 teams competed over the two weekends of events.

Continuous Pool developed into a 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 the next.

How the equipment differ

Cues and tips

As the billiards became replaced with snooker as the main cue sport game, references to billiard cues was gradually replaced by references to snooker equipment. Both are played on the same size table with the same size balls.

Snooker and pool cues are usually the same length, namely 57-58 inches (145-147cm, whether it has a joint along the shaft, or had been created as a one piece.

A lighter cue is better for soft hits while a heavy cue does best with strong ball hits.

Most snooker players prefer a tip size between 9mm to 10mm with 9.5mm being the most popular.

Pool players tend to prefer a smaller tip between 7mm to 9.5mm, usually 8.5mm, because the cue ball is smaller and lighter and the table smaller. American pool players, however, prefer a cue tip of 13mm.

A soft cue tip grips the cue ball for longer, enabling a player to generate more spin on the white, but it tends to lose its shape faster. A hard tip will not stay in contact with the cue ball for as long and could therefore miscue on spin, but it will last longer. A medium cue tip is therefore the most popular.

Snooker and pool balls

The diameter of the 21 balls used in snooker is 52.4mm, which is smaller than American pool balls. Apart from 15 red, 1 yellow, 1 brown, 1 blue, 1 pink, 1 black and 1 green, a white striker ball is used.

In English pool the fifteen object balls are smaller than snooker balls. The 48mm balls are slightly smaller than the 51mm striker ball and the balls are therefore lighter than snooker balls.

Differences in tables

A standard snooker table is sized 11’8½” (357cm) by 5’11” (180cm). English pool is played on a much smaller 6’-7’ (183-213cm) long bar-sized table.

These tables also differ from the traditional pocket-less billiards tables in that snooker or pool tables will have six pockets (four in each corner and two halfway along the long sides).

Tables sold for residential use are usually smaller, namely 6’ (183cm) by 3’ (91cm).

The tables are covered by a woollen cloth, usually green, with a nap running from the baulk end of the table (where the green, brown and yellow balls are placed) towards the end with the black ball spot. The nap will affect the direction the cue ball travels and it is therefore carefully maintained by brushing it in straight lines from the baulk end, rather than vacuuming.

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