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Learn About Pool Games
What Are Billiards?
Billiard games, or cue sports, are games that are played on a cloth-covered table. The object of these games usually involves knocking a variety of items around, such as balls and disks, using specially-made cue sticks. The size and dimensions of the table, the equipment used, and the rules employed all vary depending on what gaming subset they are designed for. There are three major types of cue sports: carom billiards, snooker and pool.
Caramboloe - Carom billiards, otherwise known as carambole, is played on a ten-foot long table that lacks pockets. Only three balls are used: two cue balls, one for each player, and one object ball. Carom billiards was fairly popular from way back to the 17th century, but as pocketed games grew in prominence, they have since fallen by the wayside. Today, they are nowhere nearly as commonplace as the other two subsets.
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Snooker - Snooker is played on a pocketed table that can reach up to 12 feet in length. The game is played using 22 balls in total, including one white cue ball, 15 red balls, and six other balls of assorted colors. Of the three subsets, it has the most diverse set of equipment to be used alongside the cue stick. These tools include the rest, hook-rest, spider, swan, extended rest and extended spider. These are used to assist the player’s angling and eyeballing of the cue, which is very important when considering how snooker is played on a much larger surface than the other games. Snooker may not be well-known in the United States, but it is very popular in Europe and especially Great Britain, where it originated.
Pool - Finally, pool is typically played on a smaller, six-pocket table that can measure between seven to ten feet long. There are 16 balls involved, including one blank white cue ball and 15 objects, all of which are labeled by number and marked with different colorations. The only tool employed by all players is a single cue stick.
Cue Sports Variations
Straight Pool – As the name implies, this is the simplest version of pool out there. Unlike many rule sets, there is no set order of balls the players are required to hit and/or pocket; any ball can be sunk at any time. The object of the game is to score points, with one point awarded for every successfully pocketed ball. How many points are required to win varies, but it typically goes up to 150 in professional matches. For that reason, the balls are racked multiple times over the course of the game, usually whenever only one object ball remains on the table
Eight-ball – Although this is not the simplest variation of pool out there, it is by far the most popular. The game begins with both players selecting one of two groups of balls. How these groups are designated varies depending on how the balls are designed, but the most common are “solids and stripes.” The former are balls that are fully one color, while the latter are primarily white with a colored stripe running across the circumference. After that, both players take turns knocking balls of their designated group into the pockets. Penalties are inflicted should a player ever hit his opponent’s balls with the cue. Whichever player pockets all of his balls first must then sink the 8-ball to win. However, if a player pockets the 8-ball before getting rid of his other balls, he automatically loses.
Nine-ball - The object of this game is to sink the titular 9-ball. However, all players involved are required to hit the lowest numerical object on the table with the cue ball every turn, starting from the 1-ball, then the 2-ball, and so on. To that end, neither can target the 9-ball until the first eight have been pocketed. Should the 9-ball sink by chance before then, then the player who accomplished that wins the game. Since only nine balls are utilized in this game, a diamond-shaped rack designed to hold that many is used in place of the usual 15-ball triangular one.
Ten-ball – The rules of this game are largely similar to nine-ball, barring a few exceptions. The most obvious is that it uses ten balls, but more than that, the player is required to call both the ball he intends the sink and the pocket he intends to use every turn. Whoever sinks the 10-ball first wins.
One Pocket – This game is similar to straight pool in that scoring a set number of points by pocketing balls is the key to winning. The difference lies in the name; players only earn points by sending balls into specific pockets on the table. Usually, one player chooses which foot-corner pocket he’ll use, while the other player claims the one directly opposite of it.
Bank Pool – Just like in straight pool, the object of this game is to score points by sinking balls. Where it diverges is that points can only be scored by “banking” shots. This is done by hitting a designated object ball with the cue ball, and bouncing it off of least one of the table’s cushioned rails before putting it into a pocket. Getting the hang of bank shots requires lots of practice, so this game is recommended for experienced pool players.
Snooker – The object of snooker is to score more points than the opposition while potting balls in a specific order. Every ball is worth a different amount of points, with reds worth one apiece, while the yellow is worth two, green is worth three, brown earns four, blue gets five, and black scores seven. A player cannot attempt to pocket any of the colored balls until he successfully pockets a red one. If a player succeeds in potting a colored ball, he receives the appropriate amount of points, the ball gets returned to its original position on the table, and the player get to take another shot. His turn ends once he fails to pot a ball. When no more red balls remain on the table, both players can start to directly target the colored ones, which no longer get replaced. The game ends when no objects remain on the table.
The History of Billiards
Cue sports are believed to have evolved from outdoor games that involved hitting balls with stick-like instruments, such as golf and croquet. The equipment of early billiard games reflected this, with wicket-like hoops placed on the table of which balls had to be hit through using club-like cues called maces. These maces were not used to strike the balls, but to gently push them along on the table. Rails, or “banks” as they were called, were originally built along the edge of the tables to keep anything from rolling off, but they developed a few unintended side effects. For one thing, whenever a ball found itself situated too close to a bank, many players found it advantageous to hit it using the butt end of their mace. Another was how players would sometimes intentionally bounce balls off of the bank in order to make more tricky shots. These would lay the groundwork for future developments in billiards.
The earliest known billiard table in recorded history belonged to King Louis XI, who reigned in France from 1461 to 1483. The Duke of Norfolk was said to own such a table himself in 1588, and legend has it that the head of Mary, Queen of Scots, was wrapped in the cloth of her own billiard table when she was executed in 1587. Louis XIV in particular was known to enjoy the games, with billiards spreading in popularity among the French aristocracy while he ruled from 1643 to 1715. Eventually, the games were known throughout all of Europe and became a popular pastime among people in the middle class.
As the 19th century rolled around, so did advances in technology and industrialization, and billiard games benefited from both. The mace had all but disappeared in favor of the cue stick, which by 1823, now had the leather tip we are all familiar with today. Chalk was more frequently applied to the cue in order to aid in its striking capabilities. After rubber vulcanization came about in 1839, more tables had rubberized cushions built into them to improve their bounciness. Wickets either disappeared from the tables completely, or were replaced by pockets that were cut into the newly-designed banks.
At this point in time, the most popular cue sport in Britain was English Billiards. It was played on a six-pocket table with two cue balls and one object ball. The object of the game was that both players would take turns attempting to pot both the object ball and their opponent’s cue ball. This game formed the basis for what would eventually become snooker.
Meanwhile, the United States’ game of choice was American Four-Ball Billiards. It was similar to English Billiards in that both people played the game trying to pocket each others’ cue balls alongside the object balls. Where it differed was that it was played on a four-pocket table with four balls. By the 1870s, Four-Ball began to fall out of favor as popularity began to pick up for a new game known as American Fifteen-Ball Pool. This game marked the starting point for what would eventually become modern-day pool.
From the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, billiards grew in popularity. Pool halls were a common sight in cities for friends to get together. Tournaments were held as early as the American Civil War, and soldiers going on tour in the European theater of WWII would even play the games when they had the chance.
However, after the Second World War ended, popularity in pool began to dry up in the States, rapidly going the way of the dodo as the ‘50s plodded along. Fortunately, 1961 brought with it renewed public interest to billiards in the form of the critically acclaimed film, The Hustler, which starred Paul Newman as a small-time pool hustler and his rivalry against a champion. Pool halls briefly reopened and thrived throughout the ‘60s before falling out of favor again as the Vietnam War took off. They didn’t pick up until 1986, when The Color of Money came out as a sequel to The Hustler.
Since then, billiard games have remained popular all over the world. Pool tables can frequently be found in bars, and pool halls are open for business. World championships held for pool and snooker are televised live to fans everywhere. Finally, though there are a wide variety of tables available for private use, many people find it easier and much more economical to play simulated electronic versions on their television and computer screens. Developments in technology over the years have allowed these games to become more and more true to life.
Pool Games on the Computer
Pool may be a simple game that doesn’t require fancy graphics, but that doesn’t mean it translates easily to an electronic format. Two things are important in a pool video game: physics and perspective.
Proper physics are important in electronics billiards because they’re important in real life billiards. Learning how to properly bounce balls off of the banks and each other is vital to mastering the game. In order to pull off trickier shots, a player has to learn how to do all sorts of things, including gauging the weight of a ball, exerting the correct amount of force on it at the right angle, and estimating its trajectory after colliding with something. Programming a detailed and accurate physics engine that emulates real-life movements allows a gamer to perform these very feats, preserving the inherent strategy of billiards.
As for perspective, that serves two functions. One, it simply makes things more immersive for the player, and two, it provides the other half of strategy in pool: aiming and angling. Things like speed, direction, distance, momentum, and spin of a struck cue ball are all heavily determined both by the location and angle at which it was struck. .
Early electronic billiard games that came out in the ‘80s and early ‘90s always had mixed results in terms of physics. Titles such as Trick Shot and Alex Higgins’ World Snooker, which were released in 1982 and 1985 respectively, had pretty rudimentary physics engines, but they did show a slow but steady improvement over time. This culminated in 1994 with games like Arcade Pool, which boasted more realistic physics than ever before.
Sadly, in terms of perspective, all billiard computer games invariably failed. Technology was too limited to be able to give the player a more realistic view of the table, so all of them stuck to a bird’s-eye view. They were perfectly playable, but things like locational aiming and vertical angling of the cue stick were just not possible during these years. As fun and critically-acclaimed as these early editions of electronic pool were, they were considered a separate beast entirely. Few people truly considered them to be worthy substitutes for the real thing.
Fortunately, with the advent of three-dimensional graphics in the mid-1990s, the state of billiard games began to improve by leaps and bounds. As early as 1995, billiard games that boasted polygonal visuals began to appear. One of the most notable was Virtual Pool, developed by Celeris and published by Interplay for Windows, Macs, and the Playstation. It featured four different games to play, multiple computer opponents, and multiplayer capabilities via hot seat and modem. What was most impressive about it was that it also had a fully rotatable camera that allowed the player to “walk” all around the table as if it were a physical object. Numerous aiming options for the cue stick were implemented as well, including the ability to raise and lower both the tip and butt. The game was deemed to be so lifelike, that Interplay promised a full refund to customers that failed to improve their real-life pool skills within 45 days of purchase.
Virtual Pool would go on to be one of the most successful billiard simulators out there, and the model that most other games in the genre would attempt to follow. It spawned a couple of sequels in 1997 and 2000, each one adding more games to play and progressively better graphics. The series was notable in that the developers took extensive consultation from physicists and professional pool players alike to ensure that every title in the Virtual Pool franchise would be as true-to-life to pool as one could get on a computer. As an added bonus, the third game even allowed the player to face off against an AI version of the Black Widow herself, Jeanette Lee.
Virtual Pool may have been the most influential billiard computer game on the market, but it was not the only one. The year 2000 saw the birth of what would become another long-runner in the form of Blade Interactive Studios’ World Championship Snooker. True to its name, this game allowed the player to partake in the championship, competing against real-life professional snooker players like Mark Williams and Stephen Hedry. It made use of cinematic angles and detailed backgrounds to imitate the televised broadcasts of the actual championship, complete with commentators and full character models for the players, hosts and audience. Since its inception, sequels and iterations to World Championship Snooker would be released for the PC, each reflecting the current year in the world of snooker, adding new opponents to face and stadiums to play.
There haven’t been many notable billiard computer games in recent years. In 2009, Blade Interactive Studios’ franchise was renamed to WSC Real 09: World Snooker Championship. In addition to playing in the big time snooker league, it also let the player take part in the Golden Cue Tournament. Its latest iteration came out two years later in 2011 as WSC Real 11. As it is, the series shows no sign of slowing down. The other big franchise, Virtual Pool, is stated to be far from dead despite a long absence, with the fourth iteration still in development as of 2012.