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The P’s & Q’s of Cue Sport

October / November 2008
There’s black ball, 8-ball, 9-ball, snooker, billiards and even carom... do you know what kind of equipment to sell to a customer asking for cue sport equipment? JOHN McKEAG asked the controlling body for cue sport to explain the differences and the equipment needed.

Who of us of a certain age did not want to shed a tear recently when the news of Paul Newman’s death at 83 was announced? It must have been felt particularly among the cue community where memories of his artistic portrayals in The Hustler and The Color of Money engendered an interest in the game of pool that still lives on.

But this is not about Paul Newman and his films, but about cue — a collective term that includes billiards, snooker, and pool under many names in its influence.

According to a knowledgeable source on the internet, English billiards and its many offshoots — pool, snooker, 9-ball, 8-ball and trick pool — are best known as games played in smoky pubs across the world, sometimes for money, sometimes for fun, sometimes for both.

Billiards first made an appearance in the 1400s at the court of France’s King Louis XI and the game has a long history in Europe. But the game — or games — as we know them today only became popular in the early 20th century.

Although many variations of billiards evolved during the 19th century, most enjoyed only a brief period of popularity before fading into obscurity. Only snooker and pool have survived more or less intact.

As in most Western countries, snooker and pool in SA are wildly popular amateur sports, with various leagues, clubs and competitions dotted around the country, and pool tables to be found in most pubs.

To get more information about the local game I went to Peter Hawley, president of the SA Confederation of Cue Sport, the umbrella body of the different cue sports like billiards, snooker and the various games of pool.

Three affiliates of the confederation are the National Blackball Federation, Pool SA (8-ball pool) and Snooker and Billiards SA. English 8-ball is the game recognised by the confederation.

Hawley was quick to point out that the organized competitive game in this country is English 8-ball and there is a great similarity in the games, even to the point of using the same equipment — with some variations.

He explained that you do not need different cues and balls for 8-ball and blackball pool.

According to Hawley 10% of the rules differ but the games are technically similar, although when it comes to associations with controlling bodies, blackball belongs to the World Pool Billiard Association and 8-ball takes its lead from the World Eight Ball Pool Federation.

Same equipment

Having said that both games can be played with the same equipment, Hawley explained that the same cue can be used, but the balls are different in size and colour.

It is only the table that differs; snooker is played on a 12’ table (metric measurement does not seem to be a part of cue sports) but blackball and 8-ball are played on a 7’ table.

So, according to Hawley, no equipment is used specifically by any one group.

According to Wikipedia, the internet encyclopaedia (www.wikipedia.com) cue sports (sometimes spelled cuesports) are a wide variety of games of skill generally played with a cue stick which is used to strike billiard balls, moving them around a cloth-covered billiard table bounded by rubber cushions.

Historically, the umbrella term was billiards. While that familiar name is still employed by some as a generic label for all such games, the word’s usage has splintered into more exclusive competing meanings among certain groups and geographic regions. In the UK. Billiards refers exclusively to English billiards, while in the US it is sometimes used to refer to a particular game, or class of games, or to all cue games in general, depending upon dialect and context.

There are three major subdivisions of games within cue sports:

    » Carom billiards, referring to games played on tables without pockets, including, among others, balkline and straight rail, cushion caroms, three-cushion billiards and artistic billiards.
    » Pocket billiards (or pool) generally played on a table with six pockets, including among others eight-ball (the world’s most widely played cue sport), nine-ball, straight pool, one-pocket and bank pool.
    » Snooker, while technically a pocket billiards game, is generally classified separately based on its historic divergence from other games, as well as a separate culture and terminology that characterize its play.

So there certainly are a diverse number of games under the one collective name cue.

But, while the game enjoys the status of being a game for all, there appears to be confusion as to the various structures that control the game.

As in all sports in SA it is the official body SASCOC that has the last say and the SA Confederation of Cue Sport is the one recognised as the national sports body.

The Confederation has SABSA (snooker), CSA (Carom) and SAPU as its members and it is the umbrella body for cue sports in the country. However, when SASCOC awards national colours it does so separately for each branch of the sport.

Hawley says that each discipline has its own national organisation and runs independently. SAPU, as far as possible, makes sure that there are no clashes of events between members, thereby allowing players to compete in more than one discipline.

Four world champions

This year the World Blackball championships were held in Swaziland in August and South African players were the stars of the show. A South African Wetsi Morake won the World singles and was crowned as the World Cup Blackball Player of the tournament. South Africans Alan Broude is the World Over 40 Champion, Apsra Panchoo won the ladies division and Sandile Madlala the U23 competition.

Spain beat the SA team in the finals to win the world title in the seniors category and in the U23 division, the championship went to the Irish team after beating the hard-fighting South Africans in the finals. SA eventually got consolation after their ladies’ team beat England to take home the title.


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