Billiards vs Pool vs Snooker: What’s the Difference?


Most people know that snooker is very different from pool, even if they don’t know what snooker is exactly. The terms billiards and pool, on the other hand, are often used to refer to popular 8 ball or 9 ball games. But billiards is as different from pool as snooker is. All three games vary in table size, ball size, rules, cue size and width, and even the number of pockets used.

In this article we’re going to discuss billiards vs pool vs snooker. Hopefully by the end of this article you’ll have all the info you need on all three cue sports!

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A Little History On Billiards, Pool, and Snooker

The 14th century is said to have given birth to indoor cue sports, which is a blanket term for the different sports played with a cue. Cue sports are said to have evolved as a result of European nobility’s need to entertain themselves year-round. Games such as croquet were popular, but couldn’t be played in bad weather. Thus, the first indoor cue sports were born as a tabletop version of outdoor games.

The games have evolved since then. In some parts of the world today, the term ‘billiards’ is used to describe all the different games such as snooker and pool. In other parts, ‘pool’ is used in the same manner. There are many different versions that fall under the different headings of pool, billiards, and snooker.

Chances are you’ve encountered someone who has an entirely different idea as to the rules of ‘pool’ than you do. Even if the rules are slightly different around the world, there are widely-accepted versions of the games. We’ll discuss those versions in this article.


Billiards

Also known as carom billiards, this game is most noticeably played with only three balls and on a table with no pockets. Carom billiards is said to have been the basis from which pool and snooker derived. Carom billiards is not very popular in the United States but enjoys regular play in Europe. Particularly France, where the game is thought to have originated.

Billiard Tables

Carom billiards is generally played on a 4.7’x9.3’ or 5’x10’ table. 100% worsted wool is usually used as the fabric of choice for carom billiard tables, whereas the ‘felt’ on other tables is usually a mix of wool and nylon.

Worsted wool offers less resistance and so makes it easy for the balls to travel fast on the surface. This is important because of the rules and point-scoring methods used in the game, as discussed below. As mentioned above, there are no pockets in a carom billiards table, which is another big difference in the snooker and pool comparison.

Many carom billiard tables have heated slate. If you’re not familiar, slate is the sheet of rock that almost all high-end tables are made with. The slate is just under the fabric of the table, giving the game a smooth, consistent field of play. Heated slate is important to ensure that the table plays fast and consistently throughout. Heated slate is required in international carom billiard tournaments. 

Billiard Balls

Only three balls are used in carom billiards. One white, one yellow, and one red, although sometimes a white ball with red or black dots will be used in place of a yellow ball. The balls also differ in size and weight from snooker and pool balls. On average, billiard balls weigh 7.5 ounces and measure 2.42 inches in diameter. Different materials have been used to manufacture these balls over the years, such as ivory, clay, and wood. Modern billiard balls, however, are made from phenolic resin.

Billiard Cues

Cues used in carom billiards are generally lighter and shorter than their common counterparts used in pool halls around the world. The preferred carom billiard cue has a thicker butt, shorter ferrule, a conical taper, and a smaller tip than those cues typically used in snooker and pool.

Although the preferred weight varies depending on the type of game, carom cues generally weigh between 16.5 and 18.5 ounces. They’re also constructed with a wood-to-wood joint and, in high-end cues, a wooden joint pin. Carom billiard cues are usually between 54” and 56” in length. 

Billiard Rules

There are many different games played on pocketless billiards tables around the world. The most popular today is called three-cushion billiards. To score a point in three-cushion billiards, you must use a cue ball to hit the other two balls on the table.

Sounds easy enough, right?

But here’s the thing: your cue ball must hit three cushions after hitting the first ball and before hitting the second. If a player fails to hit three cushions, he forfeits his turn. If the player hits the second object ball without hitting three cushions, he loses a point. The game is won when one player reaches a previously agreed-upon score.


Pool

Pool is usually used to refer to 8 or 9-ball, which are the most popular types of games played on standard pool tables. But even within these games are a variety of rules, usually dependent on local customs and preferences. We’ll discuss the most popular kinds of pool played today. 

Pool Tables

Pool tables come in various sizes. For commercial use, as found in bars and pool halls, the tables are usually 3.5’x7’. For home use, the most common tables are 4’x8’. Bigger tables are used for professional tournaments, measuring 4.5’x9’. No matter the size, all tables have 6 pockets; 1 in each corner and 1 midway down each long side of the table.

The ‘felt’ commonly used on modern pool tables is actually a combination of wool and nylon. When compared to carom billiard tables, the fabric used on pool tables makes for slightly more resistance which can facilitate a slower ball speed.

The surface under the felt on high-end and professional pool tables is slate, while some bar and home tables are made with pressed wood. Slate is the much-preferred playing surface for most players. 

Pool Balls

The most common pool games, 8-ball and 9-ball, are played with 15 balls and 9 balls, respectively, not including the cue ball. The standard pool table ball set has 15 object balls and a cue ball. The object balls numbered 1 through 7 are different solid colors, while the object balls numbered 9 through 15 are different striped colors. And of course, the black 8 ball, after which the game is named. 

Pool balls are usually 2.25” in diameter and 5.5 to 6 ounces in weight. Cue balls for coin-operated tables may be slightly larger than the rest of the balls, but this is not the case for tournament play or standard pool ball sets.

Related Article: Are Aramith Pool Balls Worth the Money?

Pool Cues

Common pool cues are generally lighter and longer than those used in billiards. The average size of a modern cue is 58” long. Pool cues range in weight from 18 to 21 ounces in half-ounce intervals. Usually heavier cues are used for breaking at the start of the game, and lighter cues for more accurate shots. However, this varies depending on player preference.

Pool Rules

8-Ball is very common in the United States and is played in pool halls, homes, and bars perhaps more often than 9-ball. 

8-Ball requires all 15 balls and the cue ball to play. Using a wooden or plastic triangle stored with the table, the balls are racked into formation, with the black 8-ball in the middle.

The ways to determine who shoots first vary, but the first shot is called the ‘break shot’. The two players or teams take turns shooting the cue ball at the object balls until one of them sinks (potts) the first ball into a pocket. The first ball potted usually determines which player or team will shoot solids and which will shoot stripes. The player to sink the ball gets the choice. 

From then on, players are only allowed to aim for their own balls. If a player successfully sinks a target ball, he gets to shoot again until he misses a shot or wins the game. If a solid player sinks a striped ball, it is considered a foul and his/her turn is lost. Sometimes this is reversed, with each player trying to sink the other’s balls first. Either way, the concept is the same. The first player to get all of their target balls potted can then try to pot the 8-ball. The first player to legally pot the 8-ball wins the game.


Snooker

Snooker is very different from pool and billiards in a number of ways. The rules, balls, tables, and cues are all slightly different. The only similarity to pool is the number of pockets in the table.

Snooker Tables

Snooker tables are usually lower-set and bigger than pool tables. Common snooker tables in America are 5’x10’ and 6’x12’ in Europe. The six pockets of a snooker table are smaller than those of a pool table because snooker balls are smaller than pool balls. Snooker tables also use a similar cloth type and slate bed to that of pool tables, for the best playing surface.

Snooker Balls

21 colored balls and a white cue ball are used in snooker. These balls are 2 ⅙” in diameter, as opposed to the 2 ¼” balls used in pool. There are 15 red balls in snooker, along with one each of the following colors; yellow, green, brown, blue, pink, and black.

Snooker Cues

Cues commonly used for snooker have a smaller tip and a lighter weight than their pool counterparts. Most snooker cues weigh 16 to 18 ounces, with the most common being 17oz. However, snooker cue length is about the same as pool cues, at around 59-inches. 

Snooker Rules

Similar to pool, one player must break at the beginning of the game. After that, the players take turns trying to sink balls in order to score points. The players must pocket a red ball before attempting to pocket a colored ball. Red balls are worth one point each, whereas the other colors are worth different amounts. 

  • Yellow – 2 Points
  • Green – 3 Points
  • Brown – 4 Points
  • Blue – 5 Points
  • Pink – 6 Points
  • Black – 7 Points

During play, the red balls remain in the pockets but the other colored balls are replaced after they are sunk. Each ‘frame’ is over when all the red balls are pocketed, at which point the players tally up their points as recorded during the game. For this purpose, a scoring abacus is usually used to keep track. Snooker is played to a predetermined number of points, with the frames continuing until one of the players reaches that number first.

In Conclusion

It would take an article ten times the length of this one to describe all the different variations and rules of games played on billiard, pool, and snooker tables. But, now you know the main differences and the most popular games played in the different parts of the world.

The kind of game you play may be different than what’s played at the pool hall down the road. You may play on a big table with a small cue, or a small table with a big cue. Either way, as long as you’re having fun and practicing your skills, keep on doing it. Maybe the rules you play by will be used in tournaments in years to come! I hope this article has been helpful and as always, thanks for reading!

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