« Around the Web on a Friday | Main | Open Mike II: The Weirdest Book Review I'll Ever Write »

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Comments

So apparently did George Washington, who according to various sources wrote about his winnings and losses in his diary.

http://www.auctioncentralnews.com/index.php/columns-and-international/live-auction-talk/9317-liveauctiontalk-

Jefferson also seems to have had a billiards table at Monticello.

"The game of one hundred points" from Russell would seem to imply a version of billiards that ends at a given score rather than snooker or pool where one must sink all the balls.

[No, in straight pool you keep score to a certain predetermined value, 100 or 250 or whatever. And straight pool was the predominant "serious" game until about the time Willie Mosconi retired. It's since given way to 9-ball because 9-ball is much more TV-friendly. --Mike]

Nothing to do with Lincoln, but as it happens, I'm in the midst of reading Twain's 'The Innocents Abroad', and he writes about playing in Europe on atrocious tables. This, by the way, was in 1867, shortly after the Civil War. Here's an excerpt describing billiards in Paris.

"At eleven o'clock we alighted upon a sign which manifestly referred to billiards. Joy! We had played billiards in the Azores with balls that were not round and on an ancient table that was very little smoother than a brick pavement—one of those wretched old things with dead cushions, and with patches in the faded cloth and invisible obstructions that made the balls describe the most astonishing and unsuspected angles and perform feats in the way of unlooked-for and almost impossible "scratches" that were perfectly bewildering. We had played at Gibraltar with balls the size of a walnut, on a table like a public square—and in both instances we achieved far more aggravation than amusement. We expected to fare better here, but we were mistaken. The cushions were a good deal higher than the balls, and as the balls had a fashion of always stopping under the cushions, we accomplished very little in the way of caroms. The cushions were hard and unelastic, and the cues were so crooked that in making a shot you had to allow for the curve or you would infallibly put the "English" on the wrong side of the hall. Dan was to mark while the doctor and I played. At the end of an hour neither of us had made a count, and so Dan was tired of keeping tally with nothing to tally, and we were heated and angry and disgusted. We paid the heavy bill—about six cents—and said we would call around sometime when we had a week to spend, and finish the game."

Mike:

The go-to guy for this kind of billiards history is Mike Shamos-- attorney, billiards historian, author, Billiards Digest columnist, and principal of the Billiards Archive. The Billiards Archive began as Shamos' personal collection of billiards ephemera, and has grown into probably the largest such collection in the world.

His Illustrated Encyclopedia of Billiards and several other works are available on Amazon.

Probably the easiest way to contact him is through Billiards Digest:

Billiards Digest
122 S. Michigan Ave.
Suite 1806
Chicago, IL 60603

Phone: 312-341-1110
Fax: 312-341-1469

Carom. Funny word. There is a game played in India and many othernasian countries ( I have played it in Singapore and Malaysia and seen it in Australia) called carrom, on a hard wooden board you set up on top of a small table. The idea is to hit draughts (checkers) pieces into the holes opposite you, with a much larger draughts piece. Hence carrom as you have to hit one of he other.

Until the above article, I had never heard this word used outside of "Indian-English".

"Carom billiards" is a modern term, but the game was definitely common in the United States. Not necessarily as three-cushion, because there are numerous other billiards games with varying numbers of balls and varying objectives. Most are much easier than three-cushion, which is a sadistic game.

Even fifty years ago most pool halls had both pool and billiards tables, and in parts of the country they still do (places with lots of people of French descent, mainly.) And there were upscale billiard parlors that strictly catered to billiards players. Pool became a popular, respectable game because Brunswick, then a massive company with its own forests, promoted it as such, both with home tables and by providing everything needed to run your own pool hall in some town that didn't have much to do. Like River City.

It wasn't rare for 19th century tables to have pockets and an insert so you could also play billiards, and some even had various weird obstacles like bumper pool. The games didn't get standardized until the 20th century (Brunswick printed rules for various games) , but well before that pool was already stigmatized as a very low game played by houligans down by the docks. The very name likely came from the 'pool' of money the players were competing for.

Old Abe may well have played some kind of pool (in his younger days), but 'billiards' (which covered a lot of ground in those days) is what respectable folks played. Which variant he preferred would be interesting to know. Many old billiards tables have been modified with the addition of pockets to make them more useful to modern players. Kind of a shame, but there aren't a great many collectors of pool tables. Most people want something they can play on.

If I didn't live half a continent away I'd love to play you. I don't play as much as I used to (I was playing 20 hours a week), but still love the game and am involved in running a league. If you ever get a chance to watch a pro tournament, you'll find it very interesting. On TV they just show the shots on which the matches hinge, often misses. It sounds like you've been seeking out videos online. Those give a better idea of the level of play. The women are improving, but still a big step down. We have one woman pro in our league. I was roughly equal to her when I was at my best, but the best local men (not pros) kill me.

The comments to this entry are closed.