Playing Pool Billiards Guide

This billiards guide is an easy to read explanation of the rules, the history and the instruments used in the game of pool. Simple to understand diagram pictures included.

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Let’s find some action. Why don’t we go knock the balls around? Want to go shoot the stick? These are all ways to invite a friend to indulge in a game of pool with you. Many enjoy billiard games as a casual social activity that is played just for fun. Playing pool is, by many, considered a serious sport. Then there are all the levels in between the two. I frequently find myself enjoying my evening, leisure time playing friends for fun. The game is easy to understand but hard to master, well at least for me. Billiard games are about precision and accuracy, and even though I lack both, I know I can never blame my equipment because of all the work that goes into the production of all the equipment needed to play pool. From the cue to the pool table, everything has changed through the years of billiards for the good. Better quality for a better game.

In this paper I will discuss all of the necessary equipment used in the game of pool. The pool table, all the balls, the racking triangle and the cue stick will be described, with a brief history of how they evolved. When choosing equipment to buy, the cue stick is the most personal. From the weight, to the grip to the quality, it can be a hard decision. This paper will explain all the components of a cue stick that make it hard to decide. I will also discuss some of the advertising involved in selling billiards equipment to the public.

The first pool table was made in the year 1470 for billiard games. Back in those days, they would put the hole right in the exact middle of the table. Then the players would shoot the balls into the hole. Eventually this was changed to the tables we now know today, most with 6 holes.(see attachment No. 1) There is one hole at each of the four corners of the rectangle table. Leaving two more holes which are each placed evenly in the middle of a rail, one on each long end of the table. Most tables have nets or a bag of some kind beneath the holes to catch the balls when they are hit into them. However, in the later part of the nineteenth century, a more convenient and profitable ball return was evolving. Tunnels attached to each of the holes were invented that the balls travel through to end up all in the same spot, in an area trapped in the right long side of the table. The tables with tunnels have a separate area for the cue ball to be retrieved from if it goes in a hole on the short end of the table. Profiting from this is easy for bars and other establishments. A catch mechanism stops the balls from falling until money is put into a slot on the side of the table. When you put your money in, the balls are released, and fall to a retrieval box located on the other short end of the table. Establishments don’t have to watch when a machine takes care of it for them.

Most people prefer to play on well constructed tables. Flat beds are a must, so the balls will do what is intended by the player. However, until the middle of the Eighteenth century, pool tables were just thin boards which easily wore and warped. This made it easy for the ball to go off course. The game would have seemed highly unfair if compared to our standards of equipment today. The tables made later in the later eighteenth century were produced by talented cabinet makers. Crafted tables with sturdiness were being made with secure beds that would not warp as easily.

As things got better, improvements to the rails became more necessary. In the past, the rails were merely slabs of wood. At first people attempted lining the table rails with leather straps but they wore. They tried cushioning stuffed with cotton or compressed air, but nothing seemed to work that well. In 1835, crude rubber was being used to build the rails. The problem found with crude rubber in 1835 is it became hard as a rock as soon as it got cold, and in heat it got to soft and was hard to manage. “Vulcanization, the process of chemically treating rubber so it can retain its elasticity regardless of temperature, changed the billiard cushion for good around 1845.”(Mizerak and Panozzo, 1990, pages 26-27) Everything has, for the most part, stayed the same since it was perfected and it seems to me that the final result is a reliable table.

The white cue ball and 15 numbered balls are needed to play billiards. The cue ball is the ball you shoot at and try to hit your numbered balls in the holes before your opponent. The balls numbered 1 through 7 are a single color and are called solids. The balls numbered 9-15 are painted white with a single color striped around it and are called stripes. Each player is either stripes or solids and shoots at their own balls. The 8 ball is painted solid black. The 8 ball is the last ball you want to hit in a hole during the game of pool. Both players are attempting to hit in their own balls and then the eight ball to win the game. (see attachment No. 3)

John W. Hyatt, a chemist, discovered celluloid in 1868. Celluloid is a plastic that lasts a long time and could replace the ivory used in the past to make billiard balls. Ivory at first, though undependable, was very expensive. Because of the high cost only the elite played with ivory balls. They were a shiny and pretty luxury. Most people would play with the more affordable wooden balls. But eventually, the cost dropped and in the nineteenth century ivory was the only thing used to make balls. A lot of elephants were slaughtered, until celluloid plastic came along.

A tight rack is crucial to a good break. The rack or triangle is defined as the “…frame used to group the object balls at the beginning of pocket billiard games…”(Mizerak and Panozza, 1990, page 190) The rack is a small piece of equipment in size, but is a large piece of equipment when it comes to being important. A triangle for pool holds fifteen balls. The triangle is normally made of wood or plastic. (see Attachment No.3) “There are maple, oak, pine, cherry, walnut, white ash, bakelite, rubber, and even celluloid triangles.”(Stellinga, 2003, page 78) Celluloid is meant to represent Ivory. Along time ago racks often had sharp points at their corners. We choose a milder, rounded edge now. Mechanical gadgets have also been designed to make a more accurate rack, though are unnecessary.

In my opinion, the cue stick is the most important piece of equipment (see attachment No. 3) Without a good stick, you can not shoot at the balls accurately, no matter how good your eye is. It has changed more than any other piece of equipment used to play pool. In the early 1600’s people began using a mace with a flat faced wooden head to push balls around on the table, acting as the cue ball. A long stick protruded from the curved heel of the wooden block. In the middle of that century, a more straight stick version arrived. The new stick included a smaller head piece. Eventually, in the seventeenth century, the two were disconnected and a cue ball was a separate thing from the cue stick. The mace didn’t get thrown away though; it was used for a while as a sort-of bridge to aid in hard shots. The leather tip is the biggest invention and most important change to the cue stick. Leather helps to get the ball to spin significantly better. It was discovered by a jailed French infantry captain named Mingaud in the 1800’s. Chalk, which added to the tips power over the cue ball was in wide us by the 1820’s.(Mizerak and Panozzo, 1990, pg 30)

The pool stick (see attachment No. 9) is made up of two sections, the cue shaft and the cue but. The shaft is normally mad out of hard rock maple wood. The shaft’s tip normally has a fiber pad and a metal ring called a ferrule. The area where the shaft and but join are often aligned with decorative rings. Decorative rings can be made of plastic, wood or metal. An insert and joint collar are metal joints used where the sections meet. The insert holds the threaded metal joint screw used to connect the shaft to the but. The but is made of wood, and is normally more than one piece fastened together. Metal weight and balance pins are drilled through the but, then glued and are covered by a piece of linen cloth. The wrap is pulled tightly around the but and glued on. Typically made of any colored Irish linen, the wrap is often used for grip also. However, like decorative rings some decorations are purely for looks. Different color wood or paint is often used for flair, even “including diamonds on a few”.(Powell, 1997) At the very end of the butt is the rubber bumper. Under the piece of rubber is a hole where a weight screw goes. You can change the weight to any weight you want. A lot goes into making a cue stick.

As I look through “Inside Pool”, a popular magazine dedicated to the game, I am bombarded by advertisements. They are mostly for equipment you would expect, like a pool stick, a custom made stick bag, or a pool table. “250,000 league players can’t be wrong!” is written at the top of a full page advertisement for Valley Tiger pool tables.(see attachment 4) Like any sport, talented players get paid to sponsor and help sell equipment.(see attachments 4-7) It’s normally a pretty good deal for any popular player because they get paid and normally get free equipment.

Playing pool for money is a lot like gambling at cards or a casino. You have to invest money in order to make any money of the game. Friends sometimes play for who will buy the next round of drinks at the bar. Serious players invest a whole lot of time and money into profiting off the game. It is a gamble and like card games, “sharks” often bluff or throw a game. By loosing on purpose the shark player tricks his opponent to into believing he is the better player. Most the time this incises them to continue playing for more money. Really good players do not have to search for games in pool halls or bars. They can enter tournaments and win a lot of money quickly. (see attachment No. 8)

Pool is a fun leisure activity you can play casually or take very serious. No matter what level player you are, a game is always better with high quality equipment. Now that we both know a little more about the game…want to go shoot the stick around?


No. 1 Billiards Table No. 2 Cue Rack

taken by Jamie Curtis taken by Jamie Curtis

No. 3

diagram by Jamie Curtis


No. 4 Advertisement No. 5 Advertisement

copied from the magazine Inside Pool, Sept 2003

No. 6

copied from the magazine Inside Pool, Sept 2003


No. 7 Advertisement

copied from magazine Inside Pool, Sept 2003

No. 8 Advertisement

copied from the magazine Inside Pool, Sept 2003


No. 9 Diagram of a Cue Stick

designed by Jamie Curtis

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