For years, cue sports were associated with smoky pool halls and gambling.
Times change. Cue sports today are fun for the whole family. Once heard, the
sharp sound of a cue ball scattering a rack of balls is always remembered.
Cue sports include billiards, pool and snooker.
Billiards is an indoor table game played in many different forms. The most
popular is played on a standard billiard table measuring 12 feet by six feet.
Common billiards is played with three balls: one red and two white. Scoring
is achieved by pocketing balls, going in off another ball, and cannons (hitting
the white ball so it successively strikes the other two).
Another version of the game is carom, played on a pocketless table with
the object of making cannons.
Snooker is played on a standard billiards table using 22 balls in specific
positions on the table: one white, 15 reds, and six colored. Two to four players
try to sink a red ball and then a colored ball alternatively, until the black
ball is pocketed, or potted.
The word pool means a collective bet. Many non-billiard games, like poker,
involve a pool, but it was to pocket billiards that the game became attached.
Pool is by far the most popular American version of billiards. It uses
15 balls and a cue stick. Eight-ball is a popular variation that involves
sinking all the balls of a particular color (either solid or stripped), then
the 8-ball (hence the name!). Other games include straight pool, 9-ball and
In pool halls, billiard parlors, pubs and basements across North America,
pool and billiards are becoming increasingly popular.
The Billiards Congress of America says there has been a 33 percent increase
in the popularity of table games since it started keeping track of the number
of cue sport players in 1987.
Interestingly enough, this surge followed the release of the movie The
Color of Money, starring Tom Cruise and Paul Newman in 1986.
Mike Shamos, the curator of The Billiard Archive, saw a similar increase
after the release of the 1961 movie The Hustler, starring Paul Newman. "The
sound of clicking balls sent America into a billiard frenzy," he writes.
Since the proportion of new players joining an activity is the most powerful
future predictor of growth, the BCA says the future of the game looks good.
Billiards was originally an outdoor game. It's believed to have evolved
from a lawn game similar to croquet during the 15th century in Northern Europe.
France's Louis XI is said to have owned a billiard table in 1429.
Snooker was developed by British army officers serving in India in 1875.
In the 19th century, a poolroom was a betting parlor for horse racing.
Pool tables were installed so patrons could pass the time between races. Much
of pool's unsavory reputation comes from its association with gambling.
Times change. The Billiards Congress of America says there are about 46
million people playing pool in about 9,000 facilities throughout North America.
Ninety-five percent of those people play pool. Only three percent and two
percent play carom and snooker respectively.
About one-third of all players are women. The BCA says about 11 million
Americans are frequent billiards players who play more than 25 times a year.
The numbers indicate about 15 percent of players are women.
Pool is also open to wheelchair players. Pete Vanko started the National
Wheelchair Billiards Association two years ago. The NWBA now has 2,700 members.
"The average table is about 30 inches high," Vanko explains. "It's almost
perfect for anyone in a wheelchair."
Pool might be one of the cheapest sports around. You don't need a ball
or special shoes. You can rent a table, balls, cue sticks, chalk and rack
in a billiards hall or poolroom for about $5 to $10 an hour. You can play
in many pubs for a dollar -- just the cost of renting the balls.
Lessons are also fairly inexpensive. Stuart Scheer of New York City says
you can get group lessons for about $6. Private lessons can go for between
$25 and $40.
Jerry Briesath is a master instructor and owner of The Pool School. He
says that fees vary based on the experience, reputation and location of the
instructor. He suggests the range is between $30 and $125 an hour.
If you want to buy your own equipment, a pool cue starts at around $55
and can go up to $1,000. "Every top manufacturer uses maple. If it's made
from ramin wood, don't buy it. Quality shafts are aged to prevent them from
warping," says Briesath.
Your own pool table will cost you $2,000 and up. More expensive tables
Some players become professionals, playing in tournaments across North
America. Be warned: the competition for sponsors is tough, and only top players
take home cash prizes. There are far more opportunities for pool players to
become instructors. With 6.5 million new billiard players taking up the hobby
in 1994 alone, there's a big potential market for instructors.
There's also a market for places to play pool. Some successful entrepreneurs
are opening halls that resemble popular restaurants and nightclubs.
Big or small, young or old, man or woman, anyone can play pool. Pete Vanko
says an able-bodied player has no advantage over a wheelchair player. The
only secret is an eye for angles, a deft touch and plenty of practice!
So, you've decided you'd like to take up cue sports like pool and billiards.
The first thing you'll need is a place to play. You can check your local phone
book for halls in your area. Many offer special rates to students.
If you're looking to play often and meet other players, you may want to
join a team or pool players' association. Your local hall will likely have
Billiard Congress of America
910 23rd Ave.
The National Wheelchair Pool Players Association
American Pool Players Association
The official Web site of a world billiards champion
Billiard Info Line
Listing of tournaments, places to play, and more
Billiards, Snooker and Pool Rules
Links to instruction on each game