Pool Billiards Snooker

Pool, Billiards and Snooker

What’s the difference between these three games? Which is the more popular? Which is the most skillful?

In the US, pool and billiards are basically the same thing. Some people prefer to call it billiards, while others call it pool. Either way it’s the same game with some small variations in rules. In the UK,  billiards is a completely different game and has largely fallen out of use because, although it does require a lot of skill,  it is slow, tedious and boring.

However, there are two different versions of pool with massive differences in rules; even table sizes, pocket size, ball size and cue sizes vary considerably . The two games are US or American pool and UK or English pool.  Most bars and arcades in the US play American Pool but English pool is played quite widely in the US and Canada. It’s difficult to say which is better; it comes down to personal choice.  There are some interesting variations on American Pool which can make it a more exciting game  to play.

American Pool:  uses larger tables between 8 feet and 9 feet. Official tournaments are played on a 9 foot table. The balls are larger and heavier; 2 1/4  inch (weight 196 gms) as opposed to the 2 inch balls used in England which only  weighs 118 gms.  All balls are the same size and weight. The pockets are larger on an American Pool table, they are double ball width; corner pockets have angled sides to help the ball fall into the pocket but side pockets have a sharp angled edge which makes it much more difficult to pot a ball from an angle.  The playing surface on American Pool tables is smoother and faster which makes games quicker but players have less control over the balls, especially on slower shots, which are more difficult to control. If you are buying an American Pool table and have enough space we recommend going for the large 9 foot table as it produces a better game.

English Pool: usually played on tables between 6 feet and 7 feet. Official tournaments must be played on a 7 foot table. Balls are smaller at 2 inches and lighter 118 gms. The cue ball is slightly smaller (17/8 inches) and lighter at 96 gms. Why? Because English Pool is mainly played in pubs on coin operated tables which allow the cue ball to return to the baulk end ball return area separately from the main balls.  Pockets are noticeably smaller but are curved to make pots slightly easier.  The playing surface on an English Pool table is made from woollen cloth which has a nap (like the pile on a house carpet) which makes the ball roll much slower but more accurate. If you want to learn more about the nap and how it affects the way the ball rolls then click here  to read an article about it.

As with the American Pool table always go for the larger table if you have the space.

Rules: The rules of the two games are similar but not the same. There are many variations that make the two games very different.

English Pool is fairly straightforward and simple game which involves potting either 7 red or yellow balls followed by the black ball to win the frame.

American Pool has many types and variations. There is 8 ball pool which is similar to the English game except that it has spotted or striped balls. A completely different game is 9 ball pool where the balls are numbered and both players are trying to pot the same balls before trying to pocket the final black ball. It’s a completely dissimilar game with different tactics.

Variations: some areas of the US have interesting variations on the basic game which make the game more interesting.

Other things to be aware of:  American Pool is faster. The balls move more quickly across the surface. This generates heat in the ball. When the ball stops this heat is transferred to the cloth, so a well-used cloth on an American Pool table will possibly have hundreds of small ‘ball burn’ marks on the table. The cloth is also thinner and wears more quickly due to the heavier balls. These two factors mean it is often necessary to replace the cloth more often.


Snooker is a very popular game that originated in England. Snooker is a professional sport played by hundreds of players from many different countries with top level earnings to be won. It now has worldwide appeal and is played extensively in UK, China, Canada and Europe. There are many international tournaments held across the globe most of which are heavily sponsored and televised. The game is very skilful and makes good TV viewing.

Snooker is played on a large table with a slate base and woollen cloth playing surface. The table is heavy and a full sized table has a playing surface which measures about 12 feet by 6 feet. Although slower and more complex than pool it is an incredibly skilful game that requires years of practice to reach a consistent professional standard. The only similarity with pool is that players try to win by pocketing balls to score points.

Game play and rules of snooker are very different from pool. There are 15 red balls worth one point each and six coloured balls worth 2-7. Players score points by potting a red followed by a colour of their choice; when all the reds have gone the colours have to be pocketed in a specific order.  The maximum break for a player is 147 and there are huge tournament prizes for players achieving this in one visit to the table. The “147 Club” has relatively few members. The large playing area plus smaller pockets and balls, mean the potential for a missed shot is much greater than in pool. Additional points can be gained through fouls (pocketing the white cue ball or the wrong colour and also by ‘snookering’ an opponent to make it more difficult for them to play their next shot.

Everything considered it is without doubt the most skilful of all the ball and cue table games. Nothing else comes close. The major drawback is the space needed to house a snooker table which requires a space 22 feet by 16 feet to allow for cueing room.

snooker table


Traditional billiards is also an English game that is played on a full sized snooker table. Only 3 balls are used (white, red and spotted white or yellow) and players try to score points by pocketing the red or other white ball, by going into a pocket off another ball (going ‘in-off’) or hitting both other balls, which is called a ‘cannon’.  Breaks of several hundred are common. The world record break is 3,262 set in 1929.

The game is skillful but incredibly slow and boring and wouldn’t be considered for TV broadcast. It is still played in Australia and New Zealand but has largely died out elsewhere due to the popularity of snooker which is more interesting to play and makes great TV viewing and attracts huge sponsorship.

For Billiards read Pool

The word billiards has become synonymous with pool in most American states and there are several local variations in rules within billiards that make the game slightly different from standard American Pool.

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