As a billiard games enthusiast, you understand what the game represents: the structure, rules and even its various types.
Even if you don’t play the game, depending on your location, you properly have heard people refer to the games played on a green felt surfaced table as a pool.
You might have also seen people strike white cue balls with a cue stick to sink the colored object balls into any of six pockets.
At such points, you could be wondering why is billiards called pool?
Even in pub bars, when requesting to take part in the sport, some people will ask about the game of pool, while others will refer to it as the game of billiards.
Now, that may confuse you especially if new to the sport.
Well, the terms pool and billiards is seemingly used to refer to the same activity for over 40 years now.
Both terms have been used interchangeably to describe one of the most famous table games.
The question has often come to my mind too at some point, but after some research, I have come up with something to share.
This piece is to assist you in understanding the reason behind billiards being called pool, and how the nomenclature originated.
Brief History of the Billiards
Billiards is a term used to refer to any tabletop game played with cue balls, and a cue stick, including carom and non-pocket games.
In my quest to discover why is billiards called pool, I did a background check on the game of billiards.
Information gathered from the Billiard Congress of America reveals that the game of billiards has its history dated as far back as the 15th century. The congress says the game was formed in Northern Europe from the then-popular croquet game – a lawn game.
Billiards was initially played as an outdoor field game where its balls were moved not with a stick but with a mace having a large tip. Just like in the croquet, the balls were to be moved through something similar to a wick.
However, as play shifted indoors, the game was now played on a table with the natural grasses stimulated by the green-colored surface of the table.
From history, it was gathered that the earliest players of the game were more of the nobles, and royalty. It was even called the “Noble Game of Billiards.”
In the 1920s, billiard increased its popularity in America, and at these times it evolved (though not overnight) into a more competitive game for the public.
It also expanded to having pocketed tables and shot-calling. It is believed that the name Billiards was derived from two French words; billart, meaning wooden stick and bille meaning ball.
The word Pool would mean a collective ante.
Firstly, it is used to classify all cue sports that are played on a table having pockets along the rails to shoot balls into these pockets.
These games under the Pool tag do have their names.
The popular ones among them are the straight pool, seven-ball, eight-ball, nine-ball, ten-ball, one-pocket and others.
The origin of the word Pool and the reason it became the collective name for these games isn’t too certain.
However, as speculated from the Oxford English Dictionary, “the pool,” as well as other collectives’ stake games, is derived from the French, ‘poule’. The literal translation of the poule is, “hen”, and in this context, the poule happens to be the collected prize.
There are also alternative suggestions that the term could have been derived from the verb to the pool, which in the sense means combining objects or stakes.
Why billiards is called pool
Right from its evolution as an indoor game in the 15th century, the popularity of billiards continued on a steady progressive path.
It moved from just an indoor game to a fan’s favorite table game.
With continuous growth and demand of people for the game, public bars around Europe began to have billiards tables placed in them.
Also, in gambling parlors where betting on horse racing and other bets were placed, billiards tables gained significant recognition and attention.
It was from these gambling parlors that the alternative name for the billiards began.
Generally, all games placed in the gambling parlor (also called pool rooms) involved the collection of wagers.
The collection of wagers in these parlors are popularly known as a pool.
With the introduction of the billiards into the gambling parlor games, and the pooling of money together to bet on the game, hence the pocket billiards began to be called pool.
The association of the billiard with the term pool is however more common among non-professional players of the game. Most professional billiard players do prefer to still use the term billiards in describing their favorite table game.
The word pool was first publicly used to describe a billiards-like game in the editors’ column of the Virginia newspaper in 1797.
As the popularity of the billiards continued to rise in the United States, the term pool was gradually used to recognize all games of pocket billiards, even the latest ones.
Even outside the cue sports industry where the pocket billiards have been long favored as the more formal term, pool currently has become the common name for the game.
In the UK though, billiards is a little deviation from the popular billiards. It is referred to in the UK as English Billiards. In this version of the game, the cue balls used are only three, and the players strike their cue ball with a red striker ball, aimed at moving their opponent’s cue ball. No pockets are used in this version of the game.
It is unsurprising that till now, some people refer only to carom games as the billiards, and then call all pocket games pool.
However, your doubts on why is billiards called pool should be cleared by now.
So when next you hear the game of pool mentioned, either in a social setting, or a personal game challenge, just know you are up for a game of billiards.
Rob is an avid player and fan of all cue sports, particularly 8-ball, and snooker. He has competed in a few local 8-ball tournaments and although he is not a professional, he can compete with the best of them.