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Old 01-16-2020, 04:40 AM
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Can anyone give a brief explanation of how to play English billiards?


When I was a teenager I got hold of a book that listed the 100 greatest sports heroes of all time. I remember reading about Willie Hoppe who was apparently the greatest Billieards player of all time.

But as I read about him, I got the idea that the English game was played on a table that had no pockets and only used three balls. One red ball, one white ball and one yellow ball.

As someone raised on North American sports, I have always wondered about many English things - especially sports like Rugby, Cricket and this kind of billiards. I know it would be wrong to call them "silly" if one has never played them and never even understood how they are played.

Can anyone give a brief explanation of how the game of English billeards works? I did Google it and it explained there were several ways to score points with names that I had never heard of before. Like a "cannon", a "hazzard" and "potting". But it didn't explain just what those things were.

I've always wondered just how it could be fun to play on a table with no pockets and only three balls. Can anyone explain how it works?
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Old 01-16-2020, 05:04 AM
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Wikipedia has some detailed articles that explain the rules.

One correction, Willie Hoppe played carom billiards, as you say three balls, and no pockets. This is not the same as English billiards, that does use pockets.

Explanation of cannon and hazard here.

As for how it can be fun... I've no idea.
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Old 01-16-2020, 07:25 AM
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I used to play a bit of english billiards in my youth. It's fun and easy. It's played on a regular snooker table — which is a lot bigger than a pool table. Never played on a table without pockets.

Quick summary:

There are three balls. Two white cue balls and one red ball. One of the cue balls has a black dot.
Each player has their own cue ball. On your turn, you have to hit your cue ball against one of the other balls.

There are several ways of scoring (from a 30 year old memory. I might have some details wrong).

3 points for sinking the red.
2 points for sinking the other cue ball.
2 points for hitting both of the other balls. This is called a cannon.
You can sink your own cue ball as long as it his one of the other balls first. 2 points if you hit the other cue ball first or 3 points if it hits the red ball first.

You can combine points in a single shot. For example, you can hit the red ball and sink it (3 points) then bounce off and hit other cue ball (cannon: 2 points) then both the cue balls go in for a total of 10 points.

You keep shooting until you fail to score. Then the other player gets a turn.

Snooker is REALLY hard for beginners. It's much harder than pool because the table is so big and the pockets are so small. Billiards is much easier, so it's a bit more fun for beginners.

It's the most boring sport to watch experts play because they essentially never miss. They had to change the rules recently because the best players could play forever in a single break.
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Old 01-16-2020, 07:41 AM
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Thanks very much to both of you.

When I googled Willie Hoppe I found another article that explained Carom billiards. I'm still trying to understand how it can be fun or how much strategy there can be.

It says you get points if you can hit your cue ball and make it then hit both of the other two balls. I'm still trying to understand how much strategy there can be in making points that way and how much fun there can be.

Here is the link I found:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carom_billiards

Not to be confused with the board game carrom.

Carom billiards, sometimes called carambole billiards or simply carambole (and in some cases used as a synonym for the game of straight rail from which many carom games derive), is the overarching title of a family of cue sports generally played on cloth-covered, 1.5-by-3.0-metre (5 by 10 ft) pocketless tables, which often feature heated slate beds. In its simplest form, the object of the game is to score points or "counts" by caroming one's own cue ball off both the opponent's cue ball and the object ball(s) on a single shot. The invention as well as the exact date of origin of carom billiards is somewhat obscure but is thought to be traceable to 18th-century France.[1]

There is a large array of carom billiards disciplines. Some of the more prevalent today and historically are (chronologically by apparent date of development): straight rail, cushion caroms, balkline, three-cushion billiards and artistic billiards. There are many other carom billiards games, predominantly intermediary or offshoot games combining elements of those already listed, such as the champion's game, an intermediary game between straight rail and balkline, as well as games which are hybrids of carom billiards and pocket billiards, such as English billiards played on a snooker table and its descendant games, American four-ball billiards, and cowboy pool.[1]

Carom billiards is considered obscure in the United States (being historically supplanted by pocket billiards), but are more popular in Europe, particularly France, where it originated. It is also popular in Asian countries, including Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Vietnam.

Last edited by Charlie Wayne; 01-16-2020 at 07:43 AM.
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Old 01-16-2020, 08:00 AM
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I used to play a bit of english billiards in my youth. It's fun and easy. It's played on a regular snooker table — which is a lot bigger than a pool table. Never played on a table without pockets.

Quick summary:

There are three balls. Two white cue balls and one red ball. One of the cue balls has a black dot.
Each player has their own cue ball. On your turn, you have to hit your cue ball against one of the other balls.

There are several ways of scoring (from a 30 year old memory. I might have some details wrong).

3 points for sinking the red.
2 points for sinking the other cue ball.
2 points for hitting both of the other balls. This is called a cannon.
You can sink your own cue ball as long as it his one of the other balls first. 2 points if you hit the other cue ball first or 3 points if it hits the red ball first.

You can combine points in a single shot. For example, you can hit the red ball and sink it (3 points) then bounce off and hit other cue ball (cannon: 2 points) then both the cue balls go in for a total of 10 points.

You keep shooting until you fail to score. Then the other player gets a turn.

Snooker is REALLY hard for beginners. It's much harder than pool because the table is so big and the pockets are so small. Billiards is much easier, so it's a bit more fun for beginners.

It's the most boring sport to watch experts play because they essentially never miss. They had to change the rules recently because the best players could play forever in a single break.
We used to play a lot of snooker, and man was it hard. One thing about the pockets, not only are they smaller, but they’re rounded, so you don’t get the benefit of being able to bank off a sharp edge.
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Old 01-16-2020, 08:32 AM
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I must not understand something about the game of Carom. If I'm reading correctly, the way one scores points is by hitting one ball with your cue ball and then making the shot in such a way that your cue ball caroms off of that ball and then strikes the third ball.

Well, my experience is that when the cue ball strikes a ball, the cue ball then travels in a 90 degree angle away from the ball it struck. So, if it doesn't matter in which direction the ball that is struck with the cue ball travels, it should be fairly easy to make the cue ball then strike the third ball.

I say that I must not be understanding something because in reading about the history of Willie Hoppe, people treated him with great reverence. So he must have been seen as being highly skilled to win so many world championships. For that reason, it must take a whole lot of skill - much more than I described - to win at the game of Carom.
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Old 01-16-2020, 08:58 AM
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In England, what they call Billiards is this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bar_billiards

Holes in the middle of the table. Pegs, as far as I remember too.
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Old 01-16-2020, 09:34 AM
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I've played a lot of quirky... well, less-well-known-in-the-states sports. Probably started with curling in high school, cricket and rugby in college...

Ever since getting hooked on The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, I've wanted to play snooker. Here's David Cross getting beaten by Steve Davis for not pronouncing "Snoookah" correctly.

And here's the same Steve Davis with his "world famous trickshot show" at, get this, the Hungarian Snooker Gala! And he's funny. Even if you start at 2:17 to skip his opening joke, he's still hilarious.
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Old 01-16-2020, 11:36 AM
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Well, my experience is that when the cue ball strikes a ball, the cue ball then travels in a 90 degree angle away from the ball it struck. So, if it doesn't matter in which direction the ball that is struck with the cue ball travels, it should be fairly easy to make the cue ball then strike the third ball.
Always 90 degrees? What if you strike it head on? Goes straight ahead, right? What if it's a tiny bit off center? Still going straight, or has it switched to 90 degrees, or ...

Or did you mean 90 degrees off the tangent at the point of contact and what you are ignoring is planning your next shot, and the next one, and the next one.

Just from reading the history of Carom and the page for Willie Hoppe you appear to have a point though. Carom kept getting more restrictions to prevent people for using boring techniques, and Hoppe's records seem like he could make the game quite dull.

Quote:
He was also known for various long-standing high runs, including scoring 2,000 contiguous points in straight rail, 622 points in 18.2 balkline, and a run of 25 points in three-cushion.
But unless the next line is a typo, it seems that wasn't the norm:

Quote:
He once made a tournament average of 1.333, a world record at that time.
And of course there is skill involved, even if it is a different, and possibly smaller, set of skills than for snooker or 9 ball. And back in the day for any skill the average Joe would be exposed to a lot fewer experts.

Could you do Willie Hoppe did? Consistently? Consistently better than someone of similar skill?
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Old 01-16-2020, 11:47 AM
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Balkline

And now "You Got Trouble" makes a bit more sense.
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Old 01-16-2020, 12:03 PM
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Always 90 degrees? What if you strike it head on? Goes straight ahead, right? What if it's a tiny bit off center? Still going straight, or has it switched to 90 degrees, or ...

Or did you mean 90 degrees off the tangent at the point of contact and what you are ignoring is planning your next shot, and the next one, and the next one.

Just from reading the history of Carom and the page for Willie Hoppe you appear to have a point though. Carom kept getting more restrictions to prevent people for using boring techniques, and Hoppe's records seem like he could make the game quite dull.

But unless the next line is a typo, it seems that wasn't the norm:

And of course there is skill involved, even if it is a different, and possibly smaller, set of skills than for snooker or 9 ball. And back in the day for any skill the average Joe would be exposed to a lot fewer experts.

Could you do Willie Hoppe did? Consistently? Consistently better than someone of similar skill?
You make some good points. I'm not entirely sure about the angles and I could easily be wrong.

I really would just like to understand where the strategy and the beauty of the game lies. It seems obvious to me that I just don't understand why so many people enjoy this game. It must have some higher strategic components and that eludes me.
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Old 01-16-2020, 12:10 PM
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In England, what they call Billiards is this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bar_billiards

Holes in the middle of the table. Pegs, as far as I remember too.
Bar billiards is something else entirely. I used to play it a lot as a kid because they had it in the pub that my dad used to take me to :-)

It's a fun little game. The table is on a slope so that the balls come back down if they don't go down a hole. Pubs used to have it because it doesn't take up as much space as a proper billiards table. I haven't seen it for years though.

English Billiards is the game with three balls that I described upthread. We don't call it English Billiards though. We call it Billiards (see also: Muffins).
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Old 01-16-2020, 12:54 PM
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You make some good points. I'm not entirely sure about the angles and I could easily be wrong.

I really would just like to understand where the strategy and the beauty of the game lies. It seems obvious to me that I just don't understand why so many people enjoy this game. It must have some higher strategic components and that eludes me.
The best way to learn that would probably to watch some tournament play, but I'm not finding any games on youtube with commentary. There might be some of the balkline and three cushion variety, at least there seem to be more videos of those.

But here's one where a guy demonstrates a bunch of shots out of Willie Hoppe's book. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OU5tsldgQX8
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Old 01-16-2020, 01:35 PM
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Bar billiards is something else entirely. I used to play it a lot as a kid because they had it in the pub that my dad used to take me to :-)

It's a fun little game. The table is on a slope so that the balls come back down if they don't go down a hole. Pubs used to have it because it doesn't take up as much space as a proper billiards table. I haven't seen it for years though.

English Billiards is the game with three balls that I described upthread. We don't call it English Billiards though. We call it Billiards (see also: Muffins).
Oh wow. I had never heard of bar billiards before. Looks great. I found this you tub video featuring some Numberphile regulars on it (Tom Scott, James Grime, Matt Parker) that some Dopers may recognize.
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Old 01-16-2020, 03:39 PM
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I've only played snooker, but only one component of it is racking up more points than your competitor. You can also attempt to snooker them (putting the cue ball in a position where they cannot hit their next shot or be fouled). If you perfect good strategic game-play then the points will follow.

Good novice players in snooker (and I assume billiards and pool) are good because they can pot a ball accurately from anywhere on the table and seldom miss a shot, while good experienced players can do that AND place the cue ball so that it both lines up well for their next shot AND if something goes wrong doesn't leave themselves entirely open. A great player does all that but is planning it four shots ahead.
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Old 01-16-2020, 03:48 PM
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Good novice players in snooker (and I assume billiards and pool) are good because they can pot a ball accurately from anywhere on the table and seldom miss a shot, while good experienced players can do that AND place the cue ball so that it both lines up well for their next shot AND if something goes wrong doesn't leave themselves entirely open. A great player does all that but is planning it four shots ahead.
It's usually about this point in a thread which mentions snooker that someone posts Ronnie O'Sullivan's fast 147, so it might as well be me

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3C7I5lRZII

The control and confidence here is really quite staggering.

Last edited by Baron Greenback; 01-16-2020 at 03:52 PM.
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Old 01-16-2020, 04:17 PM
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It's usually about this point in a thread which mentions snooker that someone posts Ronnie O'Sullivan's fast 147, so it might as well be me

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3C7I5lRZII

The control and confidence here is really quite staggering.
Jesus Christ. I played snooker a couple of times with some friends. I think it took us well over an hour to clear the table. This is just insane. Just the amount of green on those tables and the unforgiving pockets.
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Old 01-17-2020, 12:16 AM
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The best way to learn that would probably to watch some tournament play, but I'm not finding any games on youtube with commentary. There might be some of the balkline and three cushion variety, at least there seem to be more videos of those.

But here's one where a guy demonstrates a bunch of shots out of Willie Hoppe's book. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OU5tsldgQX8
That youtube video certainly explains quite a lot about the game. But I still have a couple of questions.

1) Is it possible to make more than one point on a shot? That is if the 3 balls strike each other multiple times, do you get multiple points for that?

2) Why is it so important to try to get all 3 balls into a corner of the table? Is it because if a player makes any points during a shot, do they get another shot? Or does each player only get to take one shot in turn?
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Old 01-17-2020, 07:13 AM
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Old 01-17-2020, 07:35 AM
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Jesus Christ. I played snooker a couple of times with some friends. I think it took us well over an hour to clear the table. This is just insane. Just the amount of green on those tables and the unforgiving pockets.
I can't believe it was 23 years ago! Ronnie was insanely good at his peak, he never remotely looked like missing any of those balls, they seemed to rifle straight in and I think he ran slightly out of position twice and hardly stopped to ponder.
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Old 01-17-2020, 07:55 AM
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That youtube video certainly explains quite a lot about the game. But I still have a couple of questions.

1) Is it possible to make more than one point on a shot? That is if the 3 balls strike each other multiple times, do you get multiple points for that?

2) Why is it so important to try to get all 3 balls into a corner of the table? Is it because if a player makes any points during a shot, do they get another shot? Or does each player only get to take one shot in turn?
1) You don't get extra points for hitting the other balls multiple times in the same shot, but you can score points for multiple events in the same shot. For example, if you achieve a cannon and a hazard (pot) in the same shot, both will score. The theoretical maximum score on a single shot is therefore 10, as explained in the "Scoring" section here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_billiards

In practice it's pretty rare for this to happen, not least because the player is usually trying to set things up to make it easy for their next shot. For example, see here in this video - they could easily have potted by hitting the shot a bit harder, thus scoring for the cannon and the hazard in the same shot, but that would have left them out of position for the next shot, making it hard for them to continue to score.

2) The former - if you make a scoring shot, you get another go. A sequence of scoring shots is called a "break". Expert players can routinely construct breaks amounting to hundreds of points. So as I mentioned above, it's not just about what you can score on the current shot, it's getting into position for the next shot.

Here is another video that shows how a game begins. The first player to play doesn't have much prospect of scoring heavily with only 2 balls on the table, so plays a shot designed to make it hard for the other player to score, by leaving both the balls away from the pockets and from each other. The second player makes a very good long pot for 2 points, but as it was the opponent's ball that was potted and not the red ball, it is not replaced on the table yet, so he has to settle for gently hitting the remaining ball (missing it would be a foul and give 2 points to the opponent). This leaves both balls in 'baulk' (the bottom quarter of the table), which means the first player has to hit a cushion not in baulk before hitting a ball. This he does, but fails to score (I think he narrowly missed the cannon), leaving the table to the second player again. And so on.

Basically, the start of the game is a battle for the first player to get control of the balls around the top end (nearest the camera) of the table, as from there is where the best opportunities for big scoring breaks tend to come from. In particular, if you can manouevre both other balls near to a cushion and each other, it is fairly easy to keep repeating little cannons time after time. For this reason, there are arbitrary limits in place for how many such shots you can play in a row in competitions, otherwise a player could literally continue for days at a time!
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Old 01-17-2020, 08:52 AM
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I can't believe it was 23 years ago! Ronnie was insanely good at his peak, he never remotely looked like missing any of those balls, they seemed to rifle straight in and I think he ran slightly out of position twice and hardly stopped to ponder.
Yeah, that's about the time when I would occasionally catch a game. I first* was introduced to it in 1996 while spending a few months working in the UK, so that was my introduction to O'Sullivan, but a few years later when I moved to the continent, the English sports channel would carry snooker, and I'd find it oddly mesmerizing and relaxing to watch, so I did catch him on his way up (though not quite his peak), as well as familiarizing myself with players like Steve Davis, John Higgins, Stephen Hendry, Mark Williams, etc. What they do is borderline magic to me.

*Well, technically, I already knew of the rules and the flow of the game before seeing an actual match on TV, as it was part of three billiards games you can select in Accolade's Rack 'Em (1988), which I played many times on the C64.
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Old 01-17-2020, 10:38 AM
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1) You don't get extra points for hitting the other balls multiple times in the same shot, but you can score points for multiple events in the same shot. For example, if you achieve a cannon and a hazard (pot) in the same shot, both will score. The theoretical maximum score on a single shot is therefore 10, as explained in the "Scoring" section here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_billiards

In practice it's pretty rare for this to happen, not least because the player is usually trying to set things up to make it easy for their next shot. For example, see here in this video - they could easily have potted by hitting the shot a bit harder, thus scoring for the cannon and the hazard in the same shot, but that would have left them out of position for the next shot, making it hard for them to continue to score.

2) The former - if you make a scoring shot, you get another go. A sequence of scoring shots is called a "break". Expert players can routinely construct breaks amounting to hundreds of points. So as I mentioned above, it's not just about what you can score on the current shot, it's getting into position for the next shot.

Here is another video that shows how a game begins. The first player to play doesn't have much prospect of scoring heavily with only 2 balls on the table, so plays a shot designed to make it hard for the other player to score, by leaving both the balls away from the pockets and from each other. The second player makes a very good long pot for 2 points, but as it was the opponent's ball that was potted and not the red ball, it is not replaced on the table yet, so he has to settle for gently hitting the remaining ball (missing it would be a foul and give 2 points to the opponent). This leaves both balls in 'baulk' (the bottom quarter of the table), which means the first player has to hit a cushion not in baulk before hitting a ball. This he does, but fails to score (I think he narrowly missed the cannon), leaving the table to the second player again. And so on.

Basically, the start of the game is a battle for the first player to get control of the balls around the top end (nearest the camera) of the table, as from there is where the best opportunities for big scoring breaks tend to come from. In particular, if you can manouevre both other balls near to a cushion and each other, it is fairly easy to keep repeating little cannons time after time. For this reason, there are arbitrary limits in place for how many such shots you can play in a row in competitions, otherwise a player could literally continue for days at a time!
Thank you. Very much appreciated.
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Old 01-17-2020, 03:40 PM
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Bar billiards is something else entirely. I used to play it a lot as a kid because they had it in the pub that my dad used to take me to :-)

It's a fun little game. The table is on a slope so that the balls come back down if they don't go down a hole.
No it's the other way around. The playing surface is flat. If a ball is potted it falls on a slope so comes back down.

It's a great game and used to be reasonably common in the pubs but sadly it's rare to see these days. There are pockets of enthusiasts though still e.g. in York http://yorkbarbilliards.altervista.org/home/
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