People often use “billiards” and “pool” as synonyms, but both of them don’t have the same meaning.
Originally, “billiards” only referred to a game known as “carom billiards”. However, the term has since changed to be used as a general term for describing different games that are played on a table using balls and a cue stick.
Carom billiards and pool are typically played with similar tools since both are cue sports. But each game isn’t the same and so doesn’t have the same features and rules.
Let’s expound the differences between billiards and pool.
Billiards vs Pool: History
Cue sports have their roots in ancient outdoor stick-and-ball games. These are generally called “ground billiards”.
It shares different similarities modern croquet, hockey, and golf.
Since the 15th century, billiards has been quite popular.
This is evident through the several references made to it in the work of Shakespeare, such as the famous line “let us to billiards” in the tragedy, Antony & Cleopatra (1606–1607).
Other examples are the wrapping of Mary’s body, Queen of Scots, in 1586 in her billiard table cover, the dome on Thomas Jefferson’s home Monticello, concealing a billiard room he kept secret because the game was illegal in Virginia then.
And there are many other examples of billiards’ mentions in history, such as those made by Mozart, Marie Antoinette, Louis XIV of France, Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln, just to mention a few.
For long, carom billiards was the most popular billiards type and is still a key international sport.
As regards pool, 8-ball is the most common pool game.
It’s got from an earlier game that was invented about 1900 and first became popular in 1925 when it was known as B.B.C. Co. Pool by the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company.
People played the forerunner game using 7 yellow and 7 red balls, in addition to a black ball and the cue ball.
In modern times, numbered stripes and solids are the preferred form in most parts of the world.
But the British-style version, which is called 8-ball pool or blackball makes use of the conventional colors.
In one form or the other, 8ball is played all around the world by millions of people in amateur leagues.
Also, it appears in intense competition at both professional and amateur tournaments with the use of the World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA) World Standardized Rules.
The most intense competition in pool, however, is nine-ball. This has been played as a professional game since the 70s as straight pool or 14.1 continuous got less popular.
Billiards vs Pool: Differences in Gaming Equipment
Billiard balls are different based on the specific game, area, design, size, and number.
While ivory was the primary material in the manufacture of quality balls until the late 1800s (with wood and clay made use of in cheaper units), it became necessary to look for a substitute for it.
And that search was needed as a result of environmental problems and the steepness in the balls’ cost.
It was this search that brought about the development of celluloid. This is the 1st industrial plastic, and ever since, balls have been designed with the use of different plastic compounds.
These include bakelite (now obsolete) and modern materials like phenolic resin, polyester and acrylic.
Compared with pool balls, carom billiards balls are larger in size.
Also, they‘re mostly designed as a set of 2 cue balls (one colored/marked and one plain white), in addition to a red object ball (or 2 object balls if the game in question in four-ball, which is called yotsudama in Japanese).
Pool balls that follow international standards (also known as “American-style” or “Kelly”), which are used in all pool games and which are found all over the world, are available in sets of 16.
One set includes 2 suits of numbered object balls, 7 solids (1-7), 7 stripes (9-15), 1 black 8-ball as well as 1 white cue ball.
“British-style” balls are a bit smaller and feature unnumbered suits of reds and yellows. They’re actually made use of in several places outside the United Kingdom, such as Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and different countries in Europe.
The balls’ arrangement varies according to the game. They’re often placed in a triangular rack, while a diamond-shaped rack could be used 9-ball.
Carom billiards games don’t use racks and based on the particular game, the balls could be randomly released. Alternatively, they may be set in very specific positions at the start of the game.
On the other hand, in the majority of pool games, the object balls are closely racked and put inside a typically plastic or wooden ball rack and dragged into position at a precise location on the pool table.
This location varies from one game to the other.
In internationally-standardized pool games — the likes of 9-ball and 8-ball — the rack’s apex ball points toward the end of the table, which the opening shot is to be taken from.
This apex ball is positioned on the foot spot, which is a spot (marked or otherwise) at the point where the lateral middle of the table’s racking end meets its longitudinal center.
The game-winning ball is placed at the center of the rack.
In a lot of games, you could also find other racking requirements, like the 1-ball at the apex.
Further, in certain regional versions, like the British 8ball version called “eight-ball pool” (which is getting internationally standardized under “blackball” as its new name), the game-winning ball that’s again in the center of the rack (pack in British English, BrE) has to bet put on the foot spot.
In some pool games, like “Chicago”, the balls aren’t racked at all. However, just like in many carom games, they’ve specific spotting positions for the balls.
We’ve several styles and sizes of carom and pool tables.
Except in certain versions of bumper pool and a section of novelty tables, every billiard table is a rectangle 2x as long as they’re wide.
Top-notch tables offer a multi-slab slate bed that the cloth (also called baize) is stretched over.
Less rigid materials are often affected by changes resulting from humidity, permanent warping, and other problems, all of which can have effects on your game.
The international regulation for carom billiard tables stipulates a playing surface (with the measurement taken from rail cushion to rail cushion) of 2.84m x 1.42m (9.32ft x 4.66ft or 112in x 56in, +/- 5mm).
But several tables for amateur use mainly in the US measure 10ft x 5 ft.
As for the slate bed of profession-grade billiard tables, these are typically heated to prevent moisture and offer you a consistent playing surface. This has been a practice done for 100s of years.
The majority of pool tables are called 7-, 8- or 9-footers, making reference to the length of the long side of the playing surface.
The internationally standardized dimensions for professional game are 9ft x 4.5 ft. (274cm x 137 cm).
Previously, 10ft x 5ft and 12ft by 6ft tables were commonly used. However, in modern times, these are exclusively made use of in snooker, which is a highly diverged pocket billiards version.
It’s a key international sport in its own class, not regarded as a type of pool.
We also have such tables in the carom-pocket hybrid that’s called English billiards (“billiards” in BrE is almost always the name used for this game), and in some other regional versions like Finnish kaisa and Russian billiards.
These 2 are played using balls that are even larger compared with carom balls, and with incredibly tight pockets.
10-foot pool tables mostly go as far back as the early 20th century. However, they can sometimes still be found in older pool halls.
You can find pool tables, which measure as small as 6ft x 3 ft. for your home and cramped public space. But they’re not usually preferred.
Except for cueless offshoots called finger billiards and hand pool, all cue sports are played using a cue, which a stick also referred to as a “cue stick”.
A cue is often either a 1-piece tapered stick, usually known as a “house cue”, or a 2-piece personal cue, which is built to be carried in a case.
The cue’s butt end has a larger circumference and should be gripped by the player taking a shot. However, the narrower cue shaft typically tapers to a 10mm – 15mm (or 0.4in – 0.6in) rigid terminus (known as a ferrule), in which a leather tip is affixed to touch balls.
Cues are designed using a wide variety of wood, based on the cost factor.
A cheap type referred to as ramin is often used in cues of lower quality, whereas hard rock maple is among the more common woods made use of in quality cues.
As for conventionally hand-crafted cues, these are usually spliced using different decorative hardwoods. Also, they’re decked out further using inlays of attractive and/or expensive materials, including silver, ivory, and semi-precious stones.
The fundamental nature and construction of cues of every type are technically devoid of any difference.
However, because of the boom in the numbers of amateur league players since the mid-80s, a huge market has surfaced and kept on developing and specializing for comparatively cheap and commercially produced pool cues.
Recently, the range of available units has thrived. There are now cues on the market resembling hand-crafted cues for anyone except a collector, or featuring football team logos, or floral patterns, dragons and skulls, along with several other adornments.
Certain options come with a high-tech appearance and are built using modern materials & techniques like those of high-end golf clubs.
We’ve different cue aids. Chalk — offered in hard, typically dyed, paper-wrapped cubes — have to be periodically put on the cue’s tip during every game.
This is done to prevent miscuing, particularly when trying to impart spin to the pool ball.
Also called the bridge stick, the mechanical bridge is a cue-like stick that has a head on it, which the pool cue can be rested upon in a crook or a groove.
Why is it important?
It‘s done for providing support to the cue in shots that can’t be reached by or are too difficult for the bridge hand.
A scuffer or a tip tool is that abrasive or micro-puncturing hand-held piece of equipment for preventing the tip from getting too hard and smooth from constant cue ball hits to hold chalk correctly.
Hand talc, which is occasionally mislabeled “chalk”, or a pool glove, could be worn on the bridge hand to ensure the stroke stays smooth. You’ll find this especially beneficial when playing in moist environments.
Carom billiard cues often measure a few inches shorter and thicker at the tip compared with pool cues. However, the exact dimensions all boil down to your preference as the player.
Non-house (personal) carom and pool cues both are often jointed at the half-way point in the piece.
Carom cue ferrules and tips mostly measure roughly 13.5mm – 14.5 mm in diameter, unlike pool tips averaging about 12.5mm to 13.5 mm in diameter.
Most often, carom cues come with a ferrule of brass, though fiberglass is getting more popular. Also, fancy hand-made cues could feature an ivory ferrule.
Pool cues typically contain a ferrule of fiberglass (or plastic, in inexpensive options), though metal was previously very commonly used paired with ivory.
On the beds & rail cushions of every kind of billiard-type tables (whether it’s carom, pool, or snooker), you’ll find covering that’s a tightly-woven and napless cloth known as baize.
This is generally worsted wool, though wool-nylon blends are also popular and certain 100 percent synthetics as well.
“Baize” is primarily a Commonwealth word, but in North American English, “cloth” is preferable.
It’s usually erroneously called “felt”. In the bar/pub market, you’ll find that blends and synthetics are more commonly used.
This is because they last longer. However, they slow down the balls — one reason that makes several serious players avoid them.
On home tables, faster-playing 100 percent woolen cloth is often made use of. It’s the same material that you’ll see on tables in high-end billiard parlours and pool halls.
The cloth does play faster as it’s thinner, smoother, more tightly-woven, and less fuzzy. Thus, it offers lower friction, enabling the balls to roll farther across you table bed.
For hundreds of years, billiard cloth has been green conventionally, which stands for the grass of the ancestral lawn game.
Some people have developed the theory that the color could function as a helpful option because non-color-blind humans reportedly show more sensitivity to green compared with any other color.
But there are no known studies that have shown any significant effect of cloth color on amateur or professional play.
In modern times, billiard cloth is sold in many different colors, with the popular ones being red, blue, grey and burgundy.
Recently, cloth sporting dyed designs have been released, including sports, beer, university, motorcycle as well as tournament sponsor logos.
You won’t spot any core difference between carom and pool cloth.
Generally, professional players of the 2 kinds of cue sports go for fast cloth.
This is because it requires less force when taking a shot, facilitating a more accurate and “finessed” stroke and enhanced ability to adjust cue ball speed and its position.
Also, rebound angles off cushions have greater accuracy with faster cloth, and a thinner and tighter cloth does retain less moisture.
The primary difference lies here: Most pool tables available for the general public (the types in taverns and common pool halls) are significantly coarser, thicker, and slower.
This doesn’t allow average recreational players to understand the finer points of fast cloth’s effects on their game, often making them shoot too hard when using fast cloth.
Billiards vs Pool: Object of the Games
In almost all carom billiards games, the aim is to accumulate a pre-set score, such as 25, 50, 1000, and so on, before your opponent does. Or you could be tasked with amassing a higher score than your opponent within a pre-set period.
In the majority of this kind of games, a successful shot will get you 1 point, and there’s no penalty for a miss.
However, in certain games (the likes of Italian five-pins), you’re given a variety of scoring and fouling opportunities.
A number of pool games (for example, straight pool or 14.1 continuous) operate based on the principle of a point for each ball up to a predetermined score.
But in others, there are point-scoring systems working on the number on the ball, last-man-standing rules, or lowest-score wins systems. Today, “money-ball” games are the most popular pool games.
In these, a specific ball has to be pocketed under specific conditions to become the winner of the game.
The world’s most popular pool game (which sadly has the least consistent rules from area to area) is 8ball.
In the game, each player tries pocketing a specific suit of balls, after which they’ll finally go for the 8-ball.
In 9-ball and its version (7-ball), you won’t find any suits. And each player always has to first shoot the ball carrying the lowest-number on the table.
Then, they’ll either try getting rid of all of them in turn in a bid to pocket the namesake money ball on their last shot or making use of the ball with the lowest number in a certain way to be the one to pocket the money ball early.
10-ball is a pool game that’s growing increasingly popular among ace players. It’s played using the same core rules.
But there one exception: The 10-ball in the internationally-standardized variant can’t be pocketed early to get an easy win.
In certain games, aspects of both carom and pocket billiards are combined.
English billiards is played on a snooker-sized table using carom balls, and the table has larger pockets.
Also, different ways are available to secure various amounts of points.
Even Russian billiards is played using larger balls, with pockets hardly large enough to contain them. And the object is to pocket the cue ball by caroming it off numbered object balls into a pocket to score the point value on the struck numbered balls.
Billiards vs Pool: Different Rules
In conjunction with the Union Mondiale de Billard (UMB), the WPA and other different governing bodies have created international rules for carom billiards games, such as straight rail, three-cushion, and five-pins.
Though we’ve locally popular games of different types which vary from one region to the other, the primary games in the carom field are completely standardized.
In the pool world, we’ve several associations that have over the years established rules for the different games.
8-ball, especially, is a contentious issue.
The WPA, along with its regional & national affiliates such as the Billiard Congress of America (BCA), has different rulesets.
Also, the same thing applies to professional tournament series such as the International Pool Tour (IPT), and amateur leagues such as the Valley National Eight-ball Association (VNEA, which is multi-national, contrary to its name), in addition to the American Poolplayers Association/Canadian Poolplayers Association (APA/CPA).
The majority of professional pool players primarily follow the WPA/BCA rules.
And though some progress has been recorded when the league rules were moved toward the WPA standard, some bodies like the APA/CPA use starkly diverging rulesets for 8ball.
Millions of people play informally following colloquial rules that differ from one area to the other, from one venue to the other.
But 9ball has remained the dominant gambling and tournament pool game for tens of years. It’s the same rules almost internationally standardized in professional and amateur play alike.
While many people use billiards and pool interchangeably to mean the same thing, they’re not really the same games. They share many differences as regards the ball, table, cues, cloth, rack, rules of play, and object of the game.