Ultimate Pocket Billiards

THE NEXT STEP IN THE EVOLUTION OF
POCKET BILLIARD GAMES

Ultimate Pocket Billiards
 

 


History of Pocket Billiards

The reason for a look back at history is to show the development of the billiard games that are now familiar. You will see that the existing popular games evolved primarily because of one overriding factor:

THE EXISTING GAMES BECAME TOO EASY FOR TOP PLAYERS

I believe that history is repeating itself at this moment for pocket billiard games. See what you think. This is the best information I found on the internet as to the history of Billiards.   By the way, please forward additional history that is not presented in this article so that it can become a complete history of Billiards.

Early History

Billiards game The origin of billiards will probably never be exactly pinpointed. While it may have sprung from earlier games played with balls on a table in China, Italy, or Spain, the best guess is that it originated in France as an indoor version of a lawn game similar to croquet. (On the other hand, some historians have suggested that croquet originated as an outdoor version of billiards.)

The name almost certainly comes from the French billart, the stick that was used, and that word probably comes from bille, meaning "ball." When first recorded, in the 15th century, the object of the game was to push a ball through a croquet-like wicket to hit a peg, similar to the stake in croquet. Players used a club-like stick, which became known as the "mace" in England.

When the ball was up against a rail, however, the head of the mace was too unwieldy and the other, narrower end of the stick was used. This was called the "queue," meaning tail--hence the modern word, cue.

Shakespeare refers to billiards in Antony and Cleopatra--which led one early sports historian to conclude that it was an old Egyptian sport--and by 1675 it was very popular in England. The first known rule book was published that year, and its writer claimed that there were "few Towns of note therein which hath not a publick Billiard-Table."

The first steps toward making billiards a "scientific" sport were taken by a Frenchman, known only as Captain Mingaud, who was a political prisoner in Paris during the French Revolution. While in prison, he enjoyed playing billiards so much that he refused to be released when his time was up.

Mingaud discovered that, if he rounded the cue tip with a file, he could aim more accurately. He also added a leather tip to further improve control of the ball. After finally leaving prison, Mingaud traveled around France giving exhibitions and stirring a great deal of interest in the sport.

The leather tip lost its effectiveness when it became shiny with use and had to be replaced frequently. An English billiards teacher, Jack Carr, learned that putting chalk on the tip prevented miscues. He was also evidently the first player to hit the ball off-center to apply spin.

Carr was a genuine hustler. He traveled around Europe during the 1820s, giving his demonstrations and selling his magical "twisting chalk" at an exorbitant price, throwing in a free lesson on how to make it work. As a result, the term "English" entered the lexicon of billiards--although, ironically, it's called "side" in England.

By that time, there were several different versions of billiards. In France, the most popular game was carom billiards, played with three balls (occasionally four balls) on a pocketless table. As in modern billiards, the object was to hit both of the object balls with the cue ball--called a carom or a billiard. The most common game in England was also played with three balls, but on a table with six pockets. There were two ways of scoring: By pocketing a ball (other than the cue ball) or by hitting both of the other balls with the cue ball. This game is the ancestor of modern pocket billiards and English snooker.

Billiards in America

Because tables were difficult to make and expensive to import, billiards was strictly a rich man's sport in the American colonies, particularly in Virginia and New York. Carom billiards was evidently introduced during the Revolution by French officers--the Marquis de Lafayette is known to have been an enthusiastic player.

During the early 19th century, American craftsmen began to make tables. Although the average man certainly couldn't afford one, he could play on a public table, at least in New York City, where there were eight tables in coffeehouses and hotels by 1808 and about two dozen in 1824.

During the 1840s, billiards became associated with pool parlors in large cities. The word "pool" at the time meant gambling (as in today's office pool for the Super Bowl), but it was soon attached to the American form of pocket billiards--still commonly known as pool.

While gentlemen played billiards in their homes or in their exclusive clubs, the popular version of the sport developed a questionable reputation. But Michael Phelan, the owner of a New York billiard parlor, launched a one-man public relations campaign that helped to make billiards both popular and at least semi-respectable.

Phelan began in 1850 by issuing a challenge to the English champion. It went unanswered, but it got publicity. He also published a book, Billiards Without Masters, that went through ten editions between 1850 and 1875. As a manufacturer, Phelan added the diamond markers to tables to assist in aiming, particularly on bank shots.

Phelan won $1,000 and the unofficial American championship by beating Ralph Benjamin of Philadelphia in 1858. The first championship tournament was also held that year, with eight competitors each putting up a $250 entry fee. Dudley Kavanagh won the tournament and its $2,000, winner-take-all prize.

Kavanagh defended his championship against Michael Foley on April 12, 1859, when spectators were charged admission for the first time. That was greatly overshadowed, however, by the match two days later between Phelan and John Seereiter. It was held at a Detroit billiard academy that offered a $5,000 prize. Each of the competitors put up $5,000 as a side bet. The match drew extensive press coverage and attracted 500 paying spectators; many others were turned away for lack of space. Phelan won the match and "the billiard championship of the United States," according to promoters.

Phelan and Kavanagh were on a collision course, although they never met in a match. Each man used his championship to promote his own billiard equipment. After Phelan retired from competition in 1863, Kavanagh won another major tournament and was generally regarded as the champion. However, Phelan brought a large segment of the sport under his control by organizing the American Billiard Players Association in 1865. Kavanagh by forming the National American Billiards Association the following year. The feud between the two men and their organizations ended only with Phelan's death in 1871.

Carom Billiards

During this period, championship play was usually at four-ball carom billiards. Three-ball carom, a more difficult game, became more common during the 1870s because of the increasing skill of professional players. But even three-ball became much too easy, as players learned to "nurse" the balls near a cushion so they could score billiards by making essentially the same shot repeatedly.

The greatest master of the art was Jacob Schaefer Sr., who ran 3,000 points in a row to win an 1890 championship match. Balkline billiards was developed to cut down on nursing. In this version of the sport, balklines were drawn a certain distance from the rails to define balk areas. After one or two points were scored in a given balk area, at least one of the balls had to leave the area.

An 8-inch balkline was introduced in 1883. The following year, 14.2 balkline billiards was established--so named because the balklines were 14 inches from the cushions and 2 billiards were allowed within a balk area. That was followed by 18.1 balkline in 1897 and 18.2 balkline in 1902.

The first world championship at 18.2 balkline was held in Paris in February of 1903. The field of four included two Americans and two Frenchman; Schaefer didn't enter, although he was in Paris at the time. Maurice Vignaux of France won the championship.

Late in 1905, an 18-year-old American, Willie Hoppe, issued a challenge to Vignaux. The champion accepted, stipulating that the match be played in Paris for a $1,000 side bet, with the winner to collect the bet and all gate receipts. On January 15, 1906, Hoppe stunned the world by beating Vignaux. Although Hoppe did lose the title every so often, he reigned as world champion continually through 1927. Then 18.2 balkline was replaced by three-cushion billiards, in which the cue ball has to hit at least three cushions before striking the second object ball. Hoppe did pretty well at the version of billiards, too. He won his last world championship just before retiring in 1952, at the age of sixty-five.

Pocket Billiards

While carom billiards was considered a "respectable" sport, played by tuxedo-clad contestants in posh settings such as gentleman's clubs and hotel ballrooms, pocket billiards remained under a shadow through a good part of the twentieth century. Even though its top players also donned tuxes and played most of their championship matches in similar posh settings, the aura of the poolroom lingered around the sport--and the poolroom wasn't considered a good place for young men.

Pool table Pocket billiards is an American development of English billiards. While the carom version of the game got rid of the pockets and decreased the number of balls, the pockets were retained and the number of balls increased for pocket billiards.

The first pocket billiards championship, in 1878, was won by a Canadian, Cyrille Dion. The game was then called "61 pool." Object balls were numbered 1 through 15, as they still are, and for sinking a ball the player was awarded the number of points represented by the number of the ball. Since the total of all values in a rack is 120, the winning score was 61.

In 1888, it occurred to someone that a player could win at 61 pool by sinking only five of the balls while his opponent sank ten of them, and that simply counting the number of balls made might be a fairer system of scoring. That bright thought resulted in continuous pool.

That form of the sport can involve many racks. The player who sinks the last ball of a rack breaks the next rack, and scores are kept continuously, from one rack to the next, until someone wins by reaching a certain number of points, which can range from 50 to more than 1,000.

Straight pool, also known as 14.1 pocket billiards, was developed in 1910 and eventually replaced continuous pool. It's still a major championship sport. The only real difference is that, after fourteen of the balls have been pocketed, the fifteenth is left on the table as a break ball, and the other fourteen balls are then re-racked. In most championship matches, 150 is the winning score.

The most popular form of pool, eight ball, was invented about 1900. In eight ball, one player or team shoots the low balls, those numbered 1 through 7, which are represented by solid colors, and the other shoots the high balls, or "stripes." Once a player has made all seven of his balls, he or she can sink the eight ball to win the game. A player can also win by sinking the eight ball on the break, or lose by sinking the eight ball out of turn.

Nine ball originated as a gambling game about 1920. Only nine of the fifteen balls are used and the object is to sink the nine ball. The cue ball must first hit the lowest-numbered ball on the table, but the nine ball is often pocketed early either on a carom or on a combination shot off the original object ball.

Growth, Decline, and Growth

The great American champion, Willie Mosconi, worked hard to change pool's image. As an ambassador for the Brunswick Company, Mosconi played thousands of exhibition matches to popularize the sport after World War II. Brunswick helped by setting up clean, attractive pool rooms, often with professional instructors, in many of its bowling alleys. The Billiard Congress of America, organized in 1948, also launched an intensive public relations campaign for both carom and pocket billiards, with assistance from manufacturers.

But pool got its biggest boost from the 1961 movie, "The Hustler," which starred Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason, with fine support from Piper Laurie and George C. Scott. Although it portrayed a shady, often sordid world, the film romanticized the sport for many young men. The introduction at about the same time of the coin-operated (though under-sized) table resulted in a pocket billiards boom that lasted well into the 1970s.

The sport then declined somewhat, only to be revived during the late 1980s. Some have credited another movie, "The Color of Money," a 1986 sequel to "The Hustler" in which Paul Newman reprised his role as "Fast Eddie" Felson and Tom Cruse played his young protégé.

While that movie probably had some effect, the fact that pocket billiards matches are frequently televised by ESPN may be even more important in pool's latest revival. Because the games are relatively short and therefore more suited to TV, nine ball is the championship game of choice, and nine ball has probably become as popular as eight ball among young players in today's family-oriented pool parlors.

While the upsurge of popularity in the 1960s was founded largely on pool rooms associated with bowling alleys and coin-operated tables in bars and taverns, the latest trend is toward stand-alone pool parlors, many of which offer snacks and soft drinks but no alcoholic beverages. Jillian's, a very successful chain of franchised pool rooms, had a public stock offering in 1991.

Girls and young women have taken up the sport in record numbers. That, too, may be largely due to ESPN, which often features women's and "coed" championship matches.

According to a study by the Billiards and Bowling Institute of America, 42.4 million Americans played billiards at least once in 1995, an increase of 20.4% over 1986. Even more significant, the number of "frequent" players--those who played 25 or more times a year, was at 11.3 million, up 21.3%. And females represented 36.4% of the players compared to fewer than 20% in 1986.

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