The History of Billiards, Pool & Other Cue Sports

The game of pool (sometimes referred to as billiards) is a cue sport played with billiard balls and cue sticks made of wood or synthetic material. Historically, sports played on pool tables have been known as billiard sports and include snooker or English billiards, typically played on a table with six pockets, carom billiards, usually played on 10-foot tables without pockets and pool, the most common billiard sport, generally offering six-pocket tables of various lengths. In addition to these pool tables there are further types, such as bumper pool tables and others that offer various playing surfaces, obstacles and table configurations, but are not as popular as the standard billiard or pool table game.

The development of indoor cue sports such as pool is linked with outdoor stick games popular in Europe during the 15th century such as golf, croquet and bocce. A version of outdoor billiards was played with cue sticks on a field; this cue sport was eventually moved inside to be played on indoor pool tables.

The first recorded indoor pool table was built by King Louis XI of France, and the new game’s popularity among French nobles helped spread it to virtually every French cafe by the middle 1700s. These early tables were built by furniture makers, while early balls were made from ivory, clay and wood.

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The earliest games were carom-style games played on tables without pockets with three or four balls. The various games in this style relied on striking the cue ball to either bounce off of rails into other billiard balls or bounce a billiard ball into other balls without hitting the rails or other obstacles; pockets were developed initially as deathtraps to balls, but eventually became targets to earn points.

By the end of the 1800s games played on billiard tables and pool tables became so popular in both Europe and America that these games were now referred to as “sports”, with tournaments, rules and regulations. The Billiard Congress of America (BCA) was formed in 1948 and currently is the governing body for professional tournaments in the United States.

Prior to 1961 all BCA approved tables had a minimum of 1″ slate and double center main beams (more on slate and beams below), and most pool tables, regardless of the level of play, offered this type of slate. This changed in 1961 when the movie The Hustler was released starring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason (pictured right), which followed a young pool hustler (Newman) being mentored by pool master Minnesota Fats (Gleason).

This film increased the popularity of pool and prompted the industry to make pool tables more affordable to the general public. To achieve this aim, the industry introduced 1/2″ and 3/4″ slate. Frames, cabinets and legs were downsized to cut costs and double center main beams were eliminated as the slate was not as heavy.

While initially these changes were good for the billiard industry, increasing the number of sales, the long term impact was bad. Due to the fact that the tables were now much lighter, the playing characteristics suffered. Tables were vulnerable to racking and warping.

Prior to 1961 all BCA approved tables

After a few years the sales of billiard tables declined. This decline would last until 1986 when The Color of Money, another billiard-themed movie but starring Tom Cruise, was released. Demand once again increased, and 1″ slate made a comeback.

This time pool table manufactures did little to beef up the now downsized frames to support the reintroduction of the heavier slate. Needless to say, the tables failed due to uneven weight distribution and lack of support for the slate. This caused issues such as bowing or sagging slate.

Today the best pool table manufacturers have addressed these issues, but low-quality versions still exist from manufacturers searching for a way to make a quick dollar. Keep reading below to learn how to identify a high-quality pool table from inferior options.

What to Look For When Buying a Pool Table

There are six aspects of a pool table you should consider:

  1. Slate
  2. Legs
  3. Frame
  4. Cloth / Felt
  5. Cushions / Rails
  6. Playing Equipment / Accessories

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