Billiards, a game played with ivory balls, propelled by a cue or tapering wooden wand in the hands of the player, upon an oblong level table. The billiard tables in common use in America are of three sizes: 6 ft. in width by 12 in length, 5 by 10, and 4 by 8. They consist of a heavy frame of wood (generally rosewood or walnut), which supports a bed of marble or slate. This bed is covered with a heavy and very fine green cloth, stretched tightly, so that the surface of the table presents not even the most trifling inequality. This surface should be about 32 inches above the floor; and its horizontal position must be established with mathematical exactness. Around the bed the frame of the table rises in a rim about an inch and a half high; the inside of this, toward the bed, is lined with elastic cushions composed of vulcanized rubber combined with other substances, horizontal on the top, and slanting upward and inward from the bottom in such a way as to present a thin edge to be struck by the ball when propelled against it. These cushions must be made with the greatest care, as a very great part of the skill attainable in the game consists in the proper calculation of the angles of incidence and reflection of the balls, in striking and leaving the elastic sides.
The cushions, as formerly constructed, were of heavy, hard cloth, or of simple india rubber in what is called the "raw" state. Both kinds were found exceedingly defective; the cloth was deficient in elasticity, making the angle of reflection more obtuse than it should have been; while atmospheric changes so affected the rubber as to make it on a cold day as hard and dead as wood, and on a warm day so soft that the ball sank into it, rebounding at a more acute angle than was expected. The combination cushions now in use were patented in 1857 by Michael Phelan, a celebrated American player. They are manufactured by combining with the raw rubber strips of other materials, and then vulcanizing the whole. Billiard tables are divided into three classes: they may have four "pockets," six, or none at all. A four-pocket table has at each corner an opening between the cushions, allowing a ball to pass through and fall into a bag or pocket of network hanging below. A six-pocket table, besides pockets at the corners, has one pocket in the middle of each side. In a table with no pockets, called a carom table, the cushions continue uninterruptedly around the whole perimeter.
Upon the cloth of every table there are two black spots, situated as represented in the engravings given herewith, and used to mark the positions of the balls under certain circumstances to be hereafter explained. The balls should be of the finest ivory (the East Indian is the best), turned with the greatest care, and of uniform size. The cue is a staff or wand of hard wood, generally ash, varying in length from 5 ft. to 5 ft. 5 or 6 inches, and in weight from 7 to 24 oz.; it tapers from the butt, which is about an inch thick, to the point, which is about half an inch in diameter. The tip is formed of two layers of leather: a hard piece of sole leather is glued to the wood; and glued to this is a piece of fine French leather, slightly convex, and somewhat rough on its exposed surface to prevent its slipping from the balls; chalk is applied to it at short intervals while playing, for the same purpose. The mace, a staff of light wood with a boxwood head, square-fronted, and bevelled so as to slide along the cloth, is still used to some extent by ladies and children in playing billiards, and it was the first instrument employed in the game.
A rough form of cue was first used about the beginning of this century, and the improved bather-tipped cue invented by M. Mingaud, a Parisian billiard player, some years later. Only after the introduction of this instrument did any really great skill in playing become possible. - In playing, the cue should be loosely held near the butt by the right hand, the portion near the tip resting on a "bridge" formed, as represented in the cut, by the left hand, which should in turn rest firmly and steadily upon the table, about six inches from the ball which is to be struck with the cue. The stroke of the cue should be given by the force of the wrist and forearm only, and should be quick and firm, not heavy even in the strongest shots. Skill and quickness are required rather than muscular strength. To strike with his own ball, in a single play, and either directly or by rebounding from the cushions, more than one of the other balls on the table - that is, in technical phrase, "to make a carom" - may be said, in brief, to be the main object of each player in the game of billiards; for those forms of the game in which a principal aim is to drive the balls into the pockets are rapidly passing out of use.
In the game of billiards most common in America, four balls are used - one red, one pink, one entirely white, and the fourth white with a black point, from which it is commonly called the spot ball, or simply "the spot." At the beginning of the game the red balls are placed upon the spots marked A and B in the engravings. One player takes the white, the other the spot ball, and the question of the first play or "lead" is decided as follows: The players, placing their balls as they choose at the end of the table known as the head - it being only necessary that both shall be inside an imaginary line (the String) drawn across the table at the point A - proceed to play against the cushion at the other end; he who succeeds in making his ball, on rebounding from it, approach the nearer to the head cushion from the vicinity of which he played, leads in the game. The loser in "si ringing for the lead," as this is called, now places his ball near the foot of the table, and inside an imaginary line drawn through the point B; and the play begins by the leader's playing from within the string on the ball of his antagonist.
After the first shot no regard is paid to the string, to its corresponding limit at the foot of the table, or to the spots, unless one of the balls is accidentally played off the table, when if it be a player's ball its owner must play next time from within the string, and if it be a red ball it must be placed on its appropriate spot. A carom on a red and white ball counts two, in the regular rules of the game; one on the two reds counts three, and on all the balls six. But these methods of counting are very frequently varied; it being common to count every carom three, or as often to count each carom one. The game is won by the player who first makes a certain number of points; 100, 50, 34, and 21 are common numbers, according to the different games played. Where a pocket table is used and a pocket game played, to pocket a red ball counts three; an adversary's ball (though this is seldom done by good players), two; to pocket one's own ball loses three if off a red, two if off an adversary's, three if direct.
In beginning play again with or upon pocketed balls the same rules apply for replacing them that have just been given for replacing balls played off the table. - In England, two white balls and one red are generally used on a six-pocket table, and the pocketing of a ball is called a "hazard;" a "red winning hazard " (counting three) if the red be pocketed; a "white winning hazard" (counting two) if the white. Should the player pocket his own ball off the red, it is a "red losing hazard "(losing three); if off the white, a "white losing hazard" (losing two). Each carom, called in England "cannon," counts two. The common limits for the game are 21 and 50. - The game played in France is that best calculated to call out skill in the player. Three balls are used, two white and one red, on a carom table. Each carom counts one. This method, though universally called the French, is becoming very common among the better players in America, and is undoubtedly the highest form of billiards. - In speaking of the game thus far, we have assumed that only two players are engaged; but billiards can also be played by four, in two sets of partners; and a " three-handed game," though somewhat irregular, is also frequently made up, each player using that white ball which his predecessor had not used - playing with "the still ball," as is technically said. - It is of course impossible in this article to describe or give directions for any of those peculiar methods of play which only practice can teach, and by which the balls can be made to perform such apparently impossible feats.
For these and their technical names reference must be made to special works on billiards. The best of these published in America is " The Game of Billiards," by Michael Phelan. In this manual will also be found descriptions of other games played on the billiard table, such as pyramid pool, pin pool, etc. - The origin of billiards is unknown, but it appears to have been introduced into Europe from the East at the time of the crusades, when it became a popular game among the templars, and one of the favorite amusements of monks in their monasteries. Little is known of its history until the time of Louis XI. of France, who introduced it into his court. Henry III. of France was also a prominent patron of billiards, and after his time it became common among the higher classes on the continent, and was gradually introduced into England.
Cushion and Ball.
Cue and Mace.
Position of the Left Hand.