A History of Pool and Carom Billiards in the USA

The oldest Billiards games played in the USA were One-Pocket and Four-Ball Billiards. One-Pocket, is the earliest game, a description of the game was recorded in 1775 and complete rules for a British form appeared in 1869.

Until the 1870's, though, most Americans would have played American Four-Ball Billiards, which was played on an English Billiards sized table (12' x 6') with only 4 pockets and four balls - two white and two red. It was played like English Billiards by aiming to pocket balls, or by making canons which were called 'caroms'.

American Four-Ball evolved two new forms by the late 1870's, Straight Rail and Fifteen-Ball Pool. Straight Rail was effectively Billiards without pockets and is the forerunner of all 'Carom Billiards' games. Conversely, American Fifteen-Ball Pool or "Sixty-one Pool" is the predecessor of all modern 'Pocket Billiards' games.

The terms 'Carom Billiards' or just 'Carom' or even 'Billiards' have for many Americans, become generic terms for any game played on a pocket-less table. In Europe it is also known as 'Carambolage' The term 'Carom' should, of course, not be confused with the much more ancient and equally popular Indian table game, Carrom or Karum. The terms "Pocket Billiards" and "Pool" have come to mean generic terms for the other type of games played with pockets. To the majority of the world, however, 'Billiards' still means either the original game of Billiards or else a generic term for the whole Billiards family - all games played on tables with balls and cues.

Carom Billiard games, particularly Balkline, dominated the American public eye until 1919, when Ralph Greenleaf's pool playing captured the nation's attention. Through the 1930's, both pool and Carom Billiards, particularly three-cushion billiards, shared the spotlight.

Development of Pocket Billiards in the USA Development of Carom Billiards in the USA
American Fifteen-Ball Pool or "Sixty-one Pool" is the predecessor of all modern 'Pocket Billiards' games. It was played with 15 object balls, numbered 1 through 15. For sinking a ball, the player received a number of points equal to the value of the ball. The sum of the ball values in a rack is 120, so the first player who received more than half the total, or 61 , was the winner. The word "pool" means a collective bet and became a term for the game when it began to be played in 19th century "pool rooms" which were then places for betting on horse.races.

Continuous Pool replaced Fifteen-Ball Pool as the championship game when, in 1888, it was thought more fair to count the number of balls pocketed by a player and not their numerical value . Thus The player who sank the last ball of a rack would break the next rack and his point total would be kept "continuously" from one rack to the next.

Eight-Ball Pool was invented shortly after 1900.

Straight Pool followed in 1910. Also known as 14.1 Continuous. The object is to pot 14 of the 15 balls one after the other and in any order leaving just one ball whereupon all the others are racked up and the break continues. One point is scored for each ball potted.

Nine-Ball Pool seems to have developed around 1920. This game is now more popular in Europe particularly in Sweden and Germany. Balls one to nine are racked up in a diamond with the nine ball in the middle and the one ball nearest the baulk line. Each shot must always hit the lowest numbered ball on the table first and then pocket a ball or make two balls reach a cushion. If this isn't achieved, it is a foul and the balls are re-racked for the opponent to play.

Straight Rail was effectively Billiards without pockets played with three balls on a pocket-less table and is the forerunner of all 'Carom Billiards' games.

Balkline is a version of Carom Billiards with lines drawn on the table to form rectangles . When both object balls lie in the same rectangle, the number of shots that can be made is restricted. This makes the game much harder because the player must cause one of the balls to leave the rectangle, and hopefully return. In 1906 Willie Hoppe, 18, established the world supremacy of American players by beating Maurice Vignaux of France at Balkline.

When Balkline lost its popularity during the 1930's, Hoppe began a new career in Three-cushion billiards which he dominated until his retirement in 1952.

The Union Mondiale de Billard (UMB) is the controlling body for all worldwide carom games and consists of the Confdration Europenne de Billard (CEB), the Confederacion Panamericana de Billar (CPB(S. America) and the Asian Carrom Billiard Federation and a few other national bodies (Algeria, Egypt, USA).

The The Billiards World Cup Association based in the Netherlands also organises global tournaments.

This is a prcis of an extract from 'A History of the Noble Game of Billiards' by Mike Shamos which can be found on the Billiard Congress of America site.

The World Pool-Billiards Association, which controls the various Pool (American Pocket Billiards) games, is one of the primary members of the The World Confederation of Billiard Sports along with The World Snooker Federation and Union Mondiale de Billard. There is some information about it on the the BCA site.


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Pool (Pocket Billiards)

Billiard Congress of America. The governing body for the sport of pocket billiards (meaning pool) in North America.
The European Pocket Billiard Federation
United States Pool Players Association (USPPA) (700 member league, based in Florida)
The Women's Professional Billiard Association

Carambolage (Carom Billiards)

Union Mondiale de Billard
The Billiards World Cup Association organises professional tournaments worldwide
The Carambolage Billiard Association (A Canadian page on 3 cushion Billiards)
Deutsche Billiard Union (Carom Billiards is big in Germany)
United States Billiards Association (Carom Billiards)

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