Billiards vs. Pool vs. Snooker
The Quick Trick: Look at the table: If it’s bigger than the standard American pool table, you’re playing billiards or snooker. If there are more than three balls on this big table, it’s definitely snooker.
The Explanation: When it comes to distinguishing pool from other billiards games, size—and we’re talking about tables here—definitely matters.
Pool, for instance, is the game you’ll probably find in most American bars, using tables that are generally 41⁄2′×9′ (although tables can be as short as 7′).
Billiards and snooker, on the other hand, are played on a huge table 6′×12′.
Of course, there are other differences as well. The most common pool games are 8-ball and 9-ball. In 8-ball, a player must pocket all the balls of his type (stripes or solids) before sinking the eight ball. Nine-ball, however, only uses the balls numbered 1 through 9. And while the balls can be sunk in any order, the first ball struck every time must be the lowest-numbered one on the table. The first player to sink the 9-ball, even if other balls are still on the table, wins. As for billiards and snooker, the first (semantic) rule of thumb is that balls are “potted,” not “pocketed.” English billiards uses only three balls: two cue balls and a red object ball. Billiards players can accumulate points in three ways: winners (potting the red ball), losers (potting your cue ball off the red ball), and canons (hitting the red ball and the opponent’s cue ball in one stroke). If you’re looking to rack up points, try combining these shots. Just like everything British, there are lots of rules—not to mention variations (including some that don’t involve potting balls!). Generally, however, players alternate turns when one fails to pot a ball or fouls, and play continues until one of the players reaches a predetermined score.
Snooker, on the other hand, is a British obsession invented by Neville Chamberlain (he of appeasing Hitler fame). It uses 22 balls: 15 red; one each of yellow, green, brown, blue, pink, and black; and a cue ball. It too has lots of rules, but the basic object is to alternately sink red balls and colored balls. Each red is worth one point, and the others range from two points for the yellow up to seven for the black. Oh, and red balls stay in the pockets and colored balls keep coming back out until all the reds are gone. Then the game finishes with everyone trying to sink the colors in the correct order. Whatever individual or team has the most points wins. Whew! And you thought calculus was hard.
According to the Billiard Congress of America, during the Civil War billiard results often received wider coverage than war news.