Maybe you saw the table and cues in the back of the last bar you visited. Or maybe on TV? Or perhaps your rich friend or neighbor just had a set in their basement. Regardless, we’re all probably a bit familiar with the image of people holding long sticks, bent over a table, hitting colored balls at each other. You’ve probably heard the game played on this table referred to as both pool and billiards. So why do people use these two terms interchangeably? What’s the difference between pool and billiards? Curveball, what’s the deal with Snooker?
What’s the Difference Between Pool, Billiards, and Snooker?
This is going to be a bit like the old “all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares” idea. That’s because “billiards” isn’t necessarily a single game. It is more commonly used to denote a family of games that include pool and snooker. Basically, billiards can be any game that uses a cue stick to strike billiard balls. These games are also called cue sports, cuesports, or billiard sports.
General Differences – Pool vs. Billiards vs. Snooker
- Ball count
- Scoring methods
- Table sizes
- Ball sizes
- Table cloth
While yes, billiards is a family of games like we just described, there actually was the older game called Carom billiards which dates back to the 19th century. There weren’t any pockets with this one, just three balls. You’d play with one other person, and you’d each have a ball. The unclaimed ball was the striker. Your objective would be to hit your ball with your cue in such a way that it would hit the striker; and the striker was supposed to hit your opponent’s ball.
Because there are no pockets in Carom billiards, the balls are meant to bounce around and ricochet a lot. Compared to pool and snooker, the cloth here helps facilitate faster ball movement.
Pool came about as a less pretentious game–which is a little pretentious in and of itself. Billiards was billed as the “gentleman’s game,” while pool was supposed to be the “common man’s” game.
Anyway, pool is the one with pockets, and white ball with 15 other colored balls. These balls are smaller than those used in billiards. The 15 are divided between solids and stripes (one player on solids, the other, stripes). Each player’s objective is to get all their balls, plus the 8 ball, into the pockets. The tables used in pool are generally smaller than their billiard counterparts.
With some fun competitive controversies (stemming from the pretentious origins of these games), snooker has 22 balls. Of these 22, multiple balls can be used as a striker to hit scoring balls into pockets.
Because this post is all about being confusing, Americans have a different standard table size than Europeans (the latter uses bigger ones).
Snooker Controversies Are Weird
We alluded to how the sports we’ve talked about today have pretentious origins–being designed as a “gentleman’s game.” While this might not be the case that much when you’re hanging out at the bar with your friends, competitive snooker definitely maintains some of that original stuck-up spirit.
Take Ronnie O’Sullivan, largely considered the best snooker player (like ever), with the most officially recognized maximum breaks. But you’re probably here for the shenanigans and not O’Sullivan’s achievements.
O’Sullivan, being one of the best, can play the game ambidextrously (despite being right-handed). You’d think that this wouldn’t get him into any hot water, but turns out it has. In 1996 he had to face a disciplinary board for being disrespectful–since he had used his left hand in the 1996 world championship. They made him play 3 frames against a former world champion runner-up with only his left hand to prove he could actually play with that other hand (and that he wasn’t just doing it to show off). It was probably a big punch to the ego when O’Sullivan won all 3.
He’s also gotten into hot water over his shoes and his public outbursts. Snooker etiquette is a real thing, and those that reject the old-time-y traditional aspects of the sport often become extremely controversial (especially with minor offenses in the snooker community). Though we suppose you could say that about a lot of sports (golf, anyone?).
You know one snooker champion, but what about the others? Test yourself here.