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Fun Facts About the Game of Pool

Pool History

  • Billiards (or pool) evolved from a lawn game similar to croquet played sometime during the 15th century in Northern Europe (probably in France).

  • The word "cue" is derived from the French queue, meaning tail. Before the cue stick was designed, billiards was played with a mace. The mace consisted of a curved wooden (or metal) head used to push the ball forward, attached to a narrow handle. Since the bulkiness of the mace head made shots along the rail difficult, it was often turned around and the tail end was used. Players eventually realized this method was far more effective, and the cue as a separate instrument grew out of the maces tail.

  • Throughout history, billiards has bridged the gap between the aristocracy and the masses. Both gentlemen and street toughs played.

  • In 1586, the castle of Mary, Queen of Scots, was invaded and captured. The Invaders made a note of forbidding her the use of her billiard table. They then killed her, and used the covering of the table to cover her body.

  • In 1765 A.D., the first billiard room was built in England. Played there was One-Pocket, which was a table with one pocket and four balls.

  • The term "pool room" now means a place where billiards is played, but in the 19th century a pool room was a betting parlor for horse racing. Billiards / pool tables were installed so patrons could pass the time between races. The game of billiards and the pool room became connected in the public's mind. Today, the two terms are used interchangeably.

  • Pool is one of the safest sports in the world (unless you get smacked in the face with the cue ball, that's never fun!).

  • What is billiard cloth made of? Amazingly, the main component of billiard cloth has remained unchanged for over 400 years. Wool was used in the 1500's, and remains the fabric of choice today. It has, of course, undergone some perfecting (and some wool/nylon blends are also produced).

  • The dome on Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home, conceals a billiard room. In Jefferson's day, billiards was illegal in Virginia (what a scandal!)

  • Billiards was the first sport to have a world championship (1873).
  • The first coin-operated billiard table was patented in 1903. The cost of a game on the first pay-for-play table: one penny.
  • Before the invention of celluloid and other new-age plastics, billiard balls were made out of ivory. The elephants can thank their present existence on the invention of plastics. Because billiard balls had to be cut from the dead center of a tusk, the average tusk yielded only 3 to 4 balls.
  • Captain Mingaud, the inventor of the leather cue tip, was imprisoned for political reasons during the French Revolution. With the help of a fellow prisoner, he was able to have a billiard table installed in his cell. It was during his incarceration that be became obsessed with the game, that he devised and perfected his invention. His obsession became so intense, that at the end of his prison term, he actually asked for a longer sentence so that he could complete his study of the game. (Talk about dedication!)
  • The world's largest billiard hall was built during billiards Golden Age. The Recreation, a mammoth seven-story health spa, was a bustling Detroit business in the 1920's. It featured 103 tables, 88 bowling lanes, 20 barber chairs, three manicuring stands, 14 cigar stands, a lunch counter on each floor, a restaurant that could seat 300, and an exhibition room with theater seating, that could accommodate 250 spectators. (Now that sounds like a great place to go for Family Night!)
  • Charles Goodyear the inventor of vulcanized rubber, which revolutionized billiard cushions and countless other industries died a virtual pauper. His company failed, he was imprisoned for debt, and he profited little from his breakthrough invention.
  • The Hustler was based on a novel by Walter Tevis. The novel, however, was based on a short story he had earlier submitted to Playboy. Before "The Hustler" was released, the Philco TV Theater aired an episode called "Goodbye, Johnny", which bore an uncanny resemblance to the Playboy short story. In it, Cliff Robertson portrayed the cocky young hustler, making Robertson not Newman the original "Fast Eddie" Felson.
  • Marquetry the art of making pictures or designs with thin slices of wood, shell or other materials has long enhanced the beauty of tables and cues. The art form is hardly a recent development. It has been practiced in Egypt and the Orient for more than 3,000 years.
  • Throughout most of the 1800's, the chalk used on the new leather cue tips was carbonate of lime, better known as blackboard chalk.
  • The Church has long been a part of billiard history. From its earliest days, the game was often denounced as a sinful, dangerous, morally corrupt activity. In 15th century France, billiards play was forbidden, by the Church, as well as the King. In early American history, actual laws were passed (thanks to religious influences), outlawing the game in many parts of the land.
  • Until almost 1920, American billiards was dominated by the carom games. Pool was a dead, or dying sport. When the first championship pool tournament was held in 1878, the winner, and the event itself, all but went unnoticed.
  • The first 18.2 Balkline Championship was held in Paris, in 1913. It will probably be the only world championship in history ever decided by the courts. After six days of play, three contestants were tied for the first place. When a tie-breaking playoff was suggested, Maurice Vignaux, the French champion and notorious whiner when things weren't going his way, scoffed at the suggestion. He insisted the title should be awarded based on the highest overall average (which he, of course, had at the time). Vignaux refused to continue, and the matter wound up in the French courts. (Which of course awarded Vignaux, their countryman, the title after a delay of more than two months? I guess the squeaky wheel does get greased!).
  • No one knows exactly who, when or where the first billiard table was built. The earliest documented record of a billiard table was made in 1470. In an inventory of the possessions of King Louis XI of France, his table was said to have contained the following: a bed of stone, a cloth covering, and a hole in the middle of the playing field, into which balls could be driven.
  • What billiards game shares its name with British military slang for a lowly first-year cadet? Snooker. The military slang usage is confirmed by a quotation in the Oxford English Dictionary dated 1872, shortly before the game appeared in the mid- 1870's. Another quotation suggests that the original name was "Snooker's Pool."
  • Which US president installed the first pool table in the White House and had an alligator as a pet? John Quincy Adams owned a pet alligator which he kept in the East Room of the White House and also had the first pool table installed in the White House.
  • At times, including during the Civil War, billiard results received wider coverage than war news. Players were so renowned that cigarette cards were issued featuring them.

Pool Terminology

  • Scratch:The term scratch, as applied to a pocketing the cue ball, was derived from the penalty assessed for such a foul. In pool's early days, the score was often kept on a chalkboard. When a player pocketed the cue ball, his opponent scratched a point off the shooter's score.
  • Pool Cue: There's another common name for a Billiard Cue. It can also be called a what? Pool Cue. Billiard Cues are generally thinner than a standard Pool Cue, but either is accepted as a generic term for what you use to strike the balls with.
  • Stroke:The act of swinging your arm like a pendulum and forcing the tip forward to hit the cue ball is required to make a shot. What is this act called? A Stroke. Strokes are different between each player, but it is important to maintain a smooth and consistent one to excel in the game.

  • Break:The first shot beginning a game of pool. A legal shot that once announced can be done only immediately following the break where the player intentionally avoids the object ball has a specific name. What is it called? Push Out. Push Outs are generally done when the shooter that is up immediately after the break does not have a clear shot on the object ball. After the Push Out is completed, it is the following players option to shoot at the object ball himself or let the original shooter continue.

  • Ferrule: The small sleeve at the end of a pool cue that the tip is adhered to. The Ferrule is used to prevent the end of your cue from splitting and also provides a solid, stable point to which the tip can be fastened.

  • Shaft and Butt: Most quality cues are made into two pieces (a Top and Bottom) that are screwed together before using for gameplay. Shafts can vary in thickness and taper to accommodate each user's tastes. The butt can also utilize different coverings and finishes to ensure a comfortable grip.

  • Masse Shot: When you hit down on the cue ball at an extremely steep angle in an attempt to curve it around an obstruction. There is a much easier variation, used by many good players from time to time, called (less obtusely) a "curve" shot. This shot is accomplished by hitting down at just a slight angle on one side or the other of the cue ball, to get it to gently curve in that direction as it rolls. The curving is caused by the spin imparted to the ball as it travels, and grips the cloth and the spin alters its path. A "masse" shot is a much more extreme version of a curve, whereby the player attempts to make the ball bend its path wildly. In most cases, it's much more practical to either just hit the ball off a rail first, or to jump it, rather than try a masse. Even the best players possess too little control over what happens to the ball during a masse shot to use it very often.

  • Side: In the game Pool, the British use the term "side" for putting spin on the ball. The Americans call this shot "English". Where did this terminology originate and why the word "English"? Apparently English visitors to the USA showed us how to use the spin technique which is why Americans are the only ones to use that term.

  • Nursery Cannon (in relation to Billiards): It is an easy cannon where the other two balls are very close together, but means you can hit them softly and leave them in a similar position and keep on getting numerous more cannons. It usually means they're on the cushion, and there's a limit of 75 in a row.

The Game of Pool

  • An illegal shot attempt where the Cue is used to shove the Cue ball after it has made contact with the object ball is called what kind of shot? A Push Shot. Push shots usually occur when the cue ball and the object ball are kissing (touching) each other even before the shot is attempted.

  • According to research conducted a few years back, billiard champions have the highest average age of any sport, 35.6 years. So you still have a shot at the pro's.

  • Some Pool games require the use of a bottle containing numbered balls to be drawn at random. These little balls have a couple different common references. What are they? Peas or Pills. Pills or Peas are drawn at random from the bottle for use in certain games or just to draw for the order in which you would shoot. These are also sometimes referred to as jug and dice.

  • Chalk is applied to the tip to aid in good contact with the Cue ball. After considerable use the tip may get compressed and smooth at the end. This causes the tip to lose its ability to hold the chalk. What is a common term for a utensil used to restore this ability? A Pic. Pics can soften then tip by creating tiny holes and contours in the tip which allow the chalk to adhere to.

  • Quality two piece pool cues may allow the user to adjust how light or heavy it is by replacing something in the butt of the cue. What are these things called? Weight Rods. Weight Rods can vary from a quarter of an ounce to several ounces to create the desirable weight for the user.

  • Behind the eight-ball A dangerous position from which it is unlikely one can escape. From a version of the game of pool. The balls are numbered and must be potted in order. The game is forfeited if a player's cue ball hits the (black) eight-ball first. A behind the eight-ball position leaves a player in imminent danger of losing.

  • In the course of play, one day a visiting military cadet remarked that first-year cadets at this particular academy were known as "snookers". When the cadet missed a particularly east pot, a remark was made "Why, you're a regular snooker!"

  • Tables originally had flat vertical walls for rails and their only function was to keep the balls from falling off. They resembled riverbanks and even used to be called "banks". Players discovered that balls could bounce off the rails and began deliberately aiming at them. Thus a "bank shot" is one in which a ball is made to rebound from a cushion as part of the shot.

  • Why do many bars and pool halls make it off-limits for patrons to try the ever-popular "masse" shot? The casual player can actually rip the cloth of the table by trying this shot. If the cloth is properly stretched, it's unlikely but it can happen, especially when inebriation is involved as it frequently is. Breaking the cue ball with the cue is essentially impossible. The tip of the cue is generally a type of leather (or in cheap bars, plastic), and the ball is much too hard to be damaged by it (pool balls used to be made of ivory, now most are made synthetically). Jumping a ball off the table can happen, and often does, but jumping it high enough and hard enough to injure anyone while trying a masse shot is extremely unlikely. The slate does have some give to it, but denting it permanently with the cue tip isn't possible in the course of normal play.

  • Is the proper way to "jump" the cue-ball to hit under it with your cue, causing it to pop into the air? NO! Popping the ball up in the air by hitting underneath it with your cue is actually considered a foul by most common rule sets. The proper way to "jump" the cue ball is to hit down on it with the butt-end of your cue "jacked up" (raised) in the air. Although counter intuitive to a certain extent, this will cause the ball to jump in the air, due to the slightly compressible nature of slate (the material that forms the surface of most pool tables, under the cloth covering). The ball will squish down into the surface of the table ever so slightly, and if you hit hard enough at the proper angle, the pressure of the cue pushing down and the slate pushing up, will launch the cue ball into the air, hopefully far enough to clear whatever obstruction was in its path.

  • Some top-level players still consider jump shots to be the "lesser player's" way of escaping? This is true. Pool is closely related to a game called, variously, "billiards" or "carom." These games are played on a similar table but without pockets, and the object is to bounce around the table, contacting the other balls in order to get points. Especially in the Philippines, but in many countries to some extent, these games are a popular way of learning the angles around the table; hence Philippinos are known for their deadly angle-play. Some players consider jump-shots to detract from the "pure" spirit of the game. Earl "The Pearl" Strickland is an American, but is the most famous of the anti-jump-shot brigade; in one famous match against Kunihiko Takahashi of Japan, Strickland verbally taunted Takahashi so much for using his jump cue repeatedly to get out of difficult positions that several complaints were lodged against Strickland for being unsportsmanlike.
  • Do many good players have a special cue just for jump shots? Yes! Especially at the highest level, in world championship play and in the national championships of most countries, a majority of the players will either have a specific jump cue, or a multi-purpose cue that can be shortened by taking off a segment and made into a jump cue that way. Since you have to raise the butt of the cue severely for a jump shot, having a shorter cue makes it easier. In many bars where space is limited, they will have a shortened cue similar to a jump cue that can be used on shots where a longer cue (standard length is 57 or 58 inches) would be impeded by a wall or chair.

  • If you hit a ball hard and at an angle into the rail, it will come off at an identical angle, if measured from the other side? False, actually, it will come off at a slightly steeper angle. This is what makes the so-called "bank shot" and the "rail-first" shot so difficult. It's often said that you can judge such a shot by imagining another table right next to your table, and aiming for the spot on the other table that you want your ball to bank to, as if you were playing into a giant mirror. This is incorrect to some extent, because of the steepening of the angle off the rail, although it is a good place to start visualizing. The steepening occurs due to the rubber rail actually indenting somewhat when a ball contacts it, and "slinging" the ball back out into the table at a bit less of an angle. The harder you hit it, the greater this effect is. By hitting it very slowly, you can almost negate the effect altogether.

  • Will a heavier cue make you be able to break harder? NO. A vast majority of players, even good players, harbor the false belief that a heavy cue (some upwards of 25 ounces, where the standard cue is between 18 and 21 ounces) will help you break, or scatter the balls from the rack, with greater power. It seems intuitive that a heavier cue will result in a higher speed and therefore a better break. In reality, the physics of it pretty much negates this idea. In order to get the heavier cue up to the same speed as you could swing a lighter cue, you'd have to put in more effort. With the same amount of extra effort applied to a break with a lighter cue, you could achieve a higher speed. Force is equal to mass times acceleration; the higher the mass, the lower the acceleration you will be able to put into the swing. The total force imparted to the cue ball will remain about the same, whether you swing with an 18 ounce cue or a 26 ounce. The key to a good break is to impact the rack as squarely as possible, not to swing wildly. This is especially true if you are a smaller person; wielding a cue that's too heavy for you can actually make it more difficult to break.

  • What's the difference between Billiards, Pool, and Snooker? My understanding is that billiards originally involved a pocketless table with 3 balls, the object of which was to carom (bank) and strike the object ball for a score. Billiards and pool became synonymous somewhere in America, and involves a table with 6 pockets, a cue ball and 15 object balls that may or may not be pocketed in order, depending on whether you're playing 8 or 9 ball pool. Snooker is similar to pool in that the object is to pocket scoring balls, but the balls are smaller, the table larger, the pockets smaller than in pool. In all 3 games, an essential part is the 'leave', or snookering, which involves creating as difficult a shot for your opponent as possible when it's his turn. Billiards is the oldest of them with very few balls and to me incomprehensible rules. Snooker came from it, devised by people that fancied something a bit easier to understand. You have a quantity of red balls, a number of colored ones, and a white cue ball. Essentially, you break the reds up and try to put them down the holes. When you pot one, it stays down. When you pot one, you can also then try to pot a colored one each having and assigned number of points to them. If you do, it comes back up and is replaced as near to where it started as is possible. If you miss, the other player has a go. When all the reds are gone, the colors are sunk in a set order. Highest score wins! Pool has two sets of balls - Solids and stripes. You decide which you are potting by the first player to sink one in a pocket that is their ball style for the rest of the game. When a ball is sunk, it stays down. The 8 ball (black) is the last to be sunk. There are other sets of rules for pool, but 8 Ball is the most common. 9 ball is probably second then so on.

Pool Trivia

  • There are 15 colored balls in billiards, 7 solid, 7 striped and the black 8-ball.

  • What number is the solid purple ball in pool? The four ball.

  • Who and from what country is the world billiard/pool champion who rarely plays with his dentures on? Efren "Bata" Reyes of the Philippines.

  • How many pockets are there on a standard billiards table? 6: one for each corner and two side pockets.

  • Which shape do you rack the balls in for 8 ball? A Triangle

  • Which shape do you rack the balls in for 9 ball? A diamond

  • Which number is the solid yellow ball? The one ball.

  • What is the shot where the cue ball first caroms off a rail and then strikes the object ball sending it into the pocket? Banking or Kicking.

  • What color is the ball you hit with the pool stick? White

  • What were cue balls originally made out of? Ivory

  • The texture on a cue's butt can range from bare wood to a variety of resins and shellacs. You may also choose a covering around the butt such as animal hides or linens. What are these coverings referred to as? A Wrap. Wraps can be used to aid in the comfort and traction of your grip or simply to add to the appearance of the cue.

  • Most chalk used today is comprised of fine abrasives and does not contain a speck of chalk.


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