Billiards vs. Pool vs. Snooker - What’s the Difference?
By Phill Williams
09th Mar, 2021, 6 min read
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Most would say that they are rather familiar with the rules of Pool, that common table game that is often found in pubs, and pool halls across the world. However, the knowledge tends to end there.
The word ‘Pool’ has become almost ubiquitous across the world to mean any game that uses a table with pockets, a cue stick, and balls.
However, that is simply not the case.
Much like a deck of cards, there are many different games that can be played with these setups that are wildly different from each other.
In many cases, although it may not be apparent, cue sticks and table sizes are vastly different as well. Billiards, Pool, and Snooker are all three cue games that are totally unique from each other, though they often get referred to under the same name.
Dating back to the 14th century, nobles were quite famous for inventing new and exciting ways to entertain themselves. The prevailing theory is that while lawn games such as croquet had become popular, nobles became frustrated that they could not play them year-round. Thus, they invented indoor, table-top versions of these popular lawn games. From these early versions of table top cue games, evolved the wide range of cue games we see today.
Following the natural evolution of sports, different families would then begin to establish their own rules, and the ones that were popular stuck around. This is likely why we see so many varieties of cue games that appear to be similar, but are wildly different.
Let’s take a few moments to break down what makes each one of these three games unique, and how they differ from each other.
I will start by covering Billiards - or rather, Carom Billiards, because it is often the most misunderstood of the three, and it is in fact the game from which Pool and Snooker both derived. While it may look very similar to its cue game counterparts, Billiards is perhaps the most different of the three.
First, let’s start with the table.
Different Cloth Material:
The table for Billiards typically measures 9.3ft x 4.7ft, although in the USA you may find Billiard tables that measure 10ft x 5ft. The table also utilizes a different material, rather than the felt that is always used for Pool tables. Instead, a Billiard table will use a fabric called ‘baize’ which is made from 100% worsted wool.
The other primary difference you will immediately notice is the lack of pockets. This is due to the fact that the rules for Billiards do not require the use of pockets at all, thus they are absent in the construction of a true Billiards table.
Only Three Balls:
In Carom Billiards, or often referred to as Three Cushion Billiards, the game is played with three balls; Red, Yellow, and White. The Yellow and White balls are each cue balls, and belong to each player or team depending on your preference.
The red ball is known as the ‘object ball’.
The balls in Billiards are also unique, in that they are slightly bigger than a Pool ball, and considerably larger than a Snooker ball. The standard Billiard ball will measure at 2 7/16 inches and weigh between 7.23 - 7.75 ounces.
The way to score is by hitting your cue ball into the other two balls to get a point. However, in order for a point to be granted, your cue ball must hit three different sides, or cushions, of the table before striking the second ball.
If a player fails to strike three sides, they forfeit their turn. If a player strikes the second ball without hitting three sides, they are penalized a point. Typically the game ends once a player has reached an agreed upon amount of points, for example 50.
Carom Billiards is a rather simple game in concept, but complex in skill.
Pool is a game that is widely considered as the closest derivative of Billiards, and in fact is often considered a version of Billiards in and of itself. However, there are some key differences that set it apart.
Pockets & Size:
The most obvious difference, of course, is the presence of 6 pockets. One in each corner, and two at the midway points. The size of a Pool table can vary slightly, and is commonly found in 7ft, 8ft, and 9ft options, however in some rare cases you may see a 10ft Pool table as well.
No matter the length, the Pool table will always be a rectangle with a 2:1 ratio in length and width. Much like Snooker, the table will be coated in felt, typically green in color.
There are several variations of Pool that are commonly played, and each comes with their own sets of rules and playing styles.
The balls will be slightly smaller than a Billiard ball, measuring at 2 - 2 3/16 inches, however the weight is rather similar to a Billiard ball.
8-ball Pool is by far the most popular, and practiced version of Pool.
It is played with 15 balls plus one cue ball. The balls will consist of 7 striped balls, and 7 solid balls, as well as 1 black ball (the 8-ball).
The game begins with a break, in which the starting player or team will strike the cue ball into the ‘racked’ balls, with the 8-ball at the center. After the break, each player will take turns striking the cue ball into the object balls until one is potted (hit into a pocket). Based on which type of object ball is potted first, stripes or solids, determines the designated target object balls for each team or player.
The players will then take turns attempting to pot their object balls with the cue ball until all 7 are cleared, finishing with the 8-ball. A player will continue to play until they fail to hit their own object ball, or commit a foul.
A foul can be:
- Hitting the cue ball off of the table.
- Potting an opponent's object ball.
- Hitting the cue ball twice.
- Pushing the cue ball rather than striking.
There are several ways that you can win 8-ball pool, as well. The primary way to win is by pocketing the 8-ball after you have potted all 7 of your own object balls before your opponent.
Other ways to win include:
- Your opponent illegally potting the 8-ball, and thus forfeiting the game.
- Your opponent knocking the 8-ball off of the table, and thus forfeiting the game.
8-ball may appear to be vastly more complicated than Carom Billiards on the surface, however, it is widely considered to be a far more accessible game for cue game newcomers.
Snooker is perhaps the most exotic of the three games mentioned in this article.
To start, the tables in Snooker are considerably larger, measuring at a standard 12ft x 6ft in Europe, and 10ft x 5ft in the USA. In addition, they are usually lower sitting than a Billiards or Pool table.
Snooker tables utilize smaller pockets as well, this is due to the fact that the balls for Snooker are considerably smaller at just 2 1/8 inches, as well as there being far more balls in play during Snooker than its counterparts.
The Standard Snooker table will have a slate top, that is covered in baize much like a Billiards table, and is typically green in color.
Cue tip Size:
One thing to note, is that the size of the tips on Snooker cue sticks is also smaller than a standard Pool or Billiards cue stick. This is due to the balls in Snooker being much smaller and lighter than their Pool or Billiards counterparts.
Number of Balls:
Snooker is played with 22 balls; 1 white cue ball,15 red balls, and 7 colored balls. The 15 red balls are not numbered, and are each assigned a point value of 1. The 7 colored balls are each assigned a point value according to color in ascending order:
- Yellow = 2
- Green = 3
- Brown = 4
- Blue = 5
- Pink = 6
- Black = 7
A player will begin by striking the cue ball into a red ball, it must be a red ball first, if the red ball is potted the player is awarded 1 point and is then allowed to strike the cue ball into a color ball. If then the color ball is potted, the player is awarded the point value of the color that is potted. Once they have potted the color ball, the player will then pot another red ball, and the color colored ball is returned to its spot. The player will continue this pattern of red, color, red, color.
The turn is ended if a player commits a foul, or fails to pot a ball. Once all of the red balls are potted, the player must then pot the remaining color balls in ascending order until all the balls have been potted ending with black.
When a foul is committed during a turn, the player forfeits their turn to the other player. Fouls are:
- If a player strikes a ball that is not ‘on’ first.
- If a player does not strike any ball on their turn.
- If you pot a ball that is not ‘on’, the other player will receive the point value of the ball.
- If a player touches with their hands any ball on the table at any time, the opposing player will be awarded the value of the ball or 4 points, whichever is the greater value.
The game will end when:
- A player resigns, this is usually due to there not being enough remaining balls to make up for the score differential.
- All red and color balls are potted.
The winner is the player with the most points when the game ends.
So as you can see, while the three major cue games may be quite similar on the surface, they are indeed very different. Each one is played with their own set of rules, tables, and variances despite their common roots.
Because of their vast differences, each game attracts different types of players. In the end, each game offers players a lot of fun, skill, and strategy to develop and practice to hone their skills. '
The finer points of each game are what make cue games so wildly popular among connoisseurs and newcomers alike.
Now all you have to do is go out and play!