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The noble game of Billiards

(from a kings game to everybody’s game)

 

Billiard has a long and rich history and is finding its origin in the early played lawn games, ball and stick played games with catching names like Paille-Maille, Jeu de Mail, Trucco, and Croquet.

A very recognizable form of billiards was played outdoors in the 1340s and was reminiscent of croquet.

 

Sometime during the 15th century, most probably in France, these outdoor games evolved to the indoors where King Louis XI of France (1461-1483) had the first known indoor Billiard table.

The wooden (cloth-covered) table colored was green to simulate grass and in the beginning with a simple border around the edges to prevent balls from falling off the table.

Other than striking the balls as we do today balls were shoved around the table with the forerunner of today’s cue, a mace.

 

A mace is best compared with the shape of a golf club and the wide part of the mace was used to move the balls around the table. Players started to use the thin butt end of the mace around 1670, at first for shots under the cushion, and later on players increasingly preferred it for other shots as well.

For a long time, only men were allowed to use the cue; women were forced to use the mace because it was felt they were more likely to rip the cloth with the shaper cue.

 

In time borders on the table also evolved, this time into “cushions’’, these cushions during time varied strongly regarding used material.

Wood, hair, linen, cotton, hot water, springs are just some of the forerunner materials which ended up with today’s used vulcanized rubber.

 

Early balls were made of various materials, including wood and clay (the latter remaining in use well into the 20th century). Although affordable ox-bone balls were in common use in Europe, elephant ivory was favored from at least 1627 until the early 20th century

Fortunately the Billiard industry recognized, however too late, that using ivory could not be maintained much longer and they had to look for other materials.

The billiard industry challenged inventors to come up with an alternative material that could be manufactured.

This ended up in balls of Sorel cement in 1867, Nitrocellulose in 1869, Bakelite, Crystallite, Polyester, Acrylic, and finally Phenol Resin as we know today.

 

The biggest discovery in the field of Billiard cues was the leather tip, this changed a lot.  The idea of the cue initially was to try to strike the cue-ball as centrally as possible to avoid a miscue. The concept of spin on the cue ball was discovered before cue-tips had been invented; e.g. striking the bottom of the cue ball to make it go backward upon contact with an object ball.

In pre-tip days, it was common for players to twist the ends of their cue into a plaster wall or ceiling so that a chalk-like deposit would form on the end trying to reduce the chance of having a miscue.

Captain François Mingaudis credited as the inventor of the leather tip for a billiards cue, and that he perfected while imprisoned in Bicêtre.

In prison, Mingaud had access to a billiard-table and so studied the game of billiards. In this age of simple wooden cues, others had experimented with leather tips, but it was Mingaud who perfected both the design and the appropriate playing technique. In or about 1790 a new practice of rounding off the entire tip further decreased slippage.

In 1807, Mingaud was released from Bicêtre. Mingaud then began to demonstrate his invention and technique in the cafés of Paris. He reportedly developed a repertoire of 40 shots, including glancing blows, side-spin, backspin, topspin, and the raised cue massé shots.

He published his shots later on in his rare book: Noble jeu de Billard. Coups Extraordinaires et surprenants, qui ont fait l'admiration de la majeure partie des Souverains de l'Europe

 

In 1823 cue tips from Europe were introduced into the United States, but as their fame had long since preceded them, some of the domestic make were already in use.

Developed strictly as a matter of convenience, the two-piece tapered cue stick came into use before 1900. Although the cue stick has not undergone any significant changes since then, some of the cues manufactured at the turn of the century featured wide grips that tapered off slightly to the butt end.

Other cue specifications that developed over time are materials being used, different cue-making companies, different designs, and so on.

 

From here on I would like to limit myself to my favorite Billiards discipline, Carom Billiards.

Not only this is the game I play but more as it is the focal point of my collection and my field of expertise. Carom Billiards can be broken down into the following categories: Straight Rail, One Cushion, Three Cushion, Balkline, and Artistic Billiards. Per discipline, I would like to provide a short description. 

Straight Rail:

Straight rail or sometimes called carom billiards, straight billiards, the three-ball game, the carambole game, and the free game (or libre) in Europe, is thought to date to the 18th  century, although the exact time of origin cannot be pinpointed. 

Target is to get the three balls near to a rail as soon as possible and from there on score as many points as possible. In Straigt Rail it is allowed that the cue ball hits the object balls directly.

To prevent endless scoring the corners are marked and within this region a maximum of two points in a row is allowed, also called balk space restrictions. After the second point one of the object balls must leave the regions. 

One Cushion:

 The name of the game is taken from the pre-existing shot. In a cushion carom shot, the cue ball caroms (strikes and rebounds) off of both object balls with at least one rail being struck before hitting the second object ball. The object of the game is to score up to an agreed-upon number of cushion caroms, with one point being awarded for each successfully made.

  

Three Cushion:

In a Three Cushion carom game the cue ball needs to hit at least three cushions before hitting (one of) the object balls. So ball – cushions – ball of cushions first and then hitting both object balls.

Three-cushion dates to the 1870s, and while the origin of the game is not entirely known, it evolved from cushion caroms, which in turn developed from straight rail billiards for the same reason that balkline also arose from straight rail. Such new developments made the game more challenging, less repetitive, and more interesting for spectators as well as players. Three-cushion is very popular in parts of Continental Europe, Asia, and Latin America, and is the most popular carom billiards game played in the US. At the moment Three Cushion is evolving rapidly and high averages are almost considered normal.  Averaging 1.00 doesn’t get you anywhere nowadays.

 

 

 

Balkline:

The balkline games developed to make straight rail, more difficult to play in light of extraordinary skill developments which allowed top players to score endless series of points with the balls barely moving in a confined area of the table.

In the balkline games, rather than drawing balklines a few inches from the corners, the entire table is divided into rectangular balk spaces, by drawing balklines a certain distance lengthwise and widthwise across the length of the table a set distance parallel out from each rail. This divides the table into six to nine rectangular balk spaces depending on the type of balkline game.

 

The following Balkline games can be played: 38/2, 57/2 (or 57/1) on a small table, and 47/2 (or 47/1) and 71/2 on a match table. And sometimes in combination with anchors, additionally added to make the game more difficult. Within the anchors, the same rules apply as for the other balkline spaces.

The number behind the / gives you the number of points that are allowed to make in one balkline space before at least one of the object balls needs to leave the space (in which it may return).  

 

 

 

Artistic Billiards

Artistic billiards sometimes called fantasy billiards or fantasie classique, is a Carom Billiards discipline in which players compete at performing 100 preset shots of varying difficulty. All shots are marked on the table using a Gabarit, a special tool for making marking easy and more accurate.

Each set shot has a maximum point value assigned for perfect execution, ranging from a five point maximum for lowest level difficulty shots, and climbing to a ten point maximum for shots marked highest in difficulty level. Each player has three attempts at each shot.

Currently, the match format is a set system, where each set has 10 preset shots, and normally is based on a best of five.

 

It is possible to fill lots of pages about the beautiful and very rich history of Billiards but that would take such a long time that I gladly invite you to have a search on the internet yourself.