Pool, the undisputed king of lounge and bar games. Or is it billiards? For long time, I genuinely didn’t know; I figured the words were mostly interchangeable, with pool, billiards, snooker, and carom being regional names for the same game.
And I wasn’t entirely wrong, in a sense (some of these games are far more popular in certain places than in others), but the number of differences between the games is frankly staggering, from the major rules on down to the fine details.
If you’re struggling to figure out the difference yourself, well, hopefully this handy guide helps.
What is Billiards?
Billiards could be considered the grandpappy of all of these “cue sports”, as they’ve come to be called. Perhaps more confusingly, when I said it wasn’t entirely wrong to consider all of those games different names for the same thing, I meant it; billiards is technically the entire category that all of these games (and others like them) fall under.
These days, billiards and pool particularly are pretty much interchangeable, with the specific game also known as billiards being more accurately referred to as carom billiards, or carambole.
Carom billiards is a very simple game, played on a 7 foot long table with no pockets. Interestingly, compared to the other two games, carom uses only three balls: a white ball, a red ball, and a yellow ball.
The white and yellow balls are used by either player as strikers, while the red ball acts sort of as a “goal”. The basic idea is to bounce (or “carom”, hence the name) off of three rails (or cushions, hence the less commonly used “3 cushion” name), your opponent’s ball, and the red ball in a single hit.
Another minor fact: billiards balls and 2 and 7/16” in diameter; quite a bit larger than snooker balls (coming in at 2 and 1/16”) and a bit bigger than pool balls (2 and ¾”). The ball standards differ.
What is Snooker?
Although Snooker share a lot of terminologies with the other 2, the difference is the game is a bit more complex, and is played on a much larger table: a massive 12 footer with 6 pockets.
This games has 22 balls with no numbers; 15 red (or pink) ones and one each of blue, pink, green, black, yellow, and brown.
The idea is to hit the colored balls in, with each being worth a different number of points (the red balls being the least valuable, and the black ball being the most valuable).
The balls need to be hit in a sort of alternating order; depending on which ball was hit last, different balls are “on” or “off”. If a red ball is hit in, one of the other colored balls needs to be hit next. And the reverse applies as well.
If you hit an “off” ball, it counts as a foul, and your turn ends. The person with the most points at the end wins a “frame”, and games can be many frames long.
What is Pool?
Even more complex is pool, mostly because pool is a much more versatile game. While there are a few variants of billiards and snooker, pool has at least three commonly played variants I know of, though one is certainly much more popular than the rest: 8 ball pool.
Pool can be played on tables of various sizes: 7, 8, or 10 foot tables are all valid depending on the setting. This would also mean that the required room space for pool table will be different. 7 footers are most common in bars, while 8 footers are the home or recreational model, and 10 footers are tournament legal tables. All of these tables have 6 pockets.
8 ball pool is played with 15 balls (16 if you count the cue ball) and makes use of all 6 pockets. All of the balls are numbers, and are further delineated into solid colors and striped balls. One player will be attempting to knock all of the colored balls in first, while the other will be aiming to knock all the stripes in. In the rules of the pool game Both players attempt to avoid the 8 ball until all of their other legal balls have been knocked into pockets; pocketing the 8 ball is an instant loss unless it is your last valid ball.
It, like most pool variants, is a “called shot” game; you need to declare both which ball you are aiming at, AND which pocket you are dropping it into before you hit the cue. If either of those things are off (eg. correct ball, wrong pocket, or wrong ball, correct pocket) you foul. Similarly, you foul if you hit the cue ball into a hole (known as “scratching”, typically), or strike one of your opponent’s balls before striking one of your own.
Fouling is particularly bad here, as it gives your opponent the right to place the cue ball anywhere they choose (within certain guidelines; typically in the lower third of the table, without passing the first diamond).
Otherwise, you may continue shooting so long as you keep pocketing balls correctly, potentially allowing for a very one-sided game; it’s quite possible for a game of 8 ball to be won without the opponent ever getting a chance to play if the first player begins pocketing off the break. That is why you’ll need to improve your pool skills to avoid fouls. Also, using the right pool cue will help your performance. We’ve done a review of the best pool cues for the money.
Other than 8 ball, 9 ball and straight pool are fairly popular. Straight pool is mostly identical to 8 ball, but uses a point scoring system and has no designated sides; each player attempt to hit the balls in numbered order, using called shots, and each correctly called shot gets a point. The first to a predetermined number (usually 100 or 150, across several rounds) wins.
9 ball is, funnily enough, actually played with only 9 balls (plus the cue). Otherwise it is largely identical to straight pool, with the balls needing to be sunk in numbered order, with the 9 ball being the “money ball” which wins a round; though not necessarily a game.
All three are popular tournament sports, as opposed to carom billiards and snooker which have only few most widely recognized games.