When you think of pool what comes to mind? From small smoked up pool bars to magnificent pool halls of international competitions billiards has filtered through to every place in the world. Starting out as a game, and then growing into an international sport of many disciplines billiards has transcended time, class, age, gender and even physical disability to a certain extent to bring centuries of fun and competition to humanity.
Billiards has been around for over 500 years. It started out as an outdoor game (similar to croquet) in Western Europe before it moved to the indoor billiard tables of the royals. From there Billiards went through years of soaring popularity to years of almost complete obscurity several times over across the world. Throughout these waves new variations of the game started arising, often specific to particular areas and countries. There are 3 categories in billiards:
- Carom billiards which is played on a table with no pockets on a large 10 foot (just over 3m) table
- Pool which is the most common type of billiards played in South Africa, and played on the familiar six pocket table ranging from 7 feet to 9 feet (Just over 2m to almost 3m). This includes 8Ball, 9Ball, Blackball, 10-Ball.
- Snooker which is played on a six pocket table almost 12 feet in size (just over 3.5m)
Different table sizes, different game rules, different sizes and dimensions of equipment (like balls, cues and cloth) mean that different strategies need to be employed to excel at each one. This makes pool easy to play but hard to master, with each table giving you endless years of gameplay that is interesting, unique and challenging no matter your skill level.
With varying equipment the diversity of a table can be taken a step further; varying types of pool table cloth for example provide different types of speeds during gameplay, meaning that your one and the same table can transform into something different just with a cloth change.
The modular nature of a pool table is further enhanced by the fact that although certain varieties of pool are played on certain table sizes in truth any game within the pool category can be played on any sized six pocket pool table. As an example one can play 8Ball and 9Ball on a 7, 8 or 9 foot table, thus adding more diversity both to the table and to the game.
The difference in size can sometimes dramatically change the pace of a game. A smaller table results in more congestion, a larger table in more space. A smaller table could result in more fast paced and aggressive play, a larger table could result in more careful planning for long shots (where there’s now a larger room for error). The combinations of strategy tweaks are endless, and with this in mind so is the amount of fun and creativity you can enjoy on a pool table.
We’ve touched on the diversity of standardized pool variations that have rules, but what about games for groups or completely made up games? After all every game created for a pool table and the pool table itself were “completely made up” at some stage. With group games and custom games the amount of fun you can have on a pool table becomes almost infinite, like a 1000 games in one arcade game;
- More than 2 people playing? No problem, allocate ball numbers/colours equally per person and try to sink only the opponent’s balls
- Trying to challenge yourself further? No problem, nominate a single pocket per player and only sink balls into the allocated pocket
- Don’t feel like being constrained by the number of balls on the table? No problem, allocate points to the balls and play until you reach the predetermined number of points
- Want to have a quick, intense rush of a fun game? No problem, sink all the balls in any order and any pocket as fast as you can (speed pool must be the noisiest type of game played on a pool table from our experience) 🙂
- This list could be endless…
Say you’re convinced, pool sounds like the kind of game you want to get your hands on and you want to find a table. What is available in South Africa? The most popular type of table in SA is the 7 foot table. It is found across the country in venues, schools, universities, hospitality, home and corporate use. This pool table size is also the one used for South Africa’s two largest national pool championships. It is so popular that our own brand United 7 foot tables have the best resale value out of all our table sizes. This popularity also means that it is the only coin operated size available in the country. The 7 foot tables you’d find in SA can be broken down into 3 categories:
Coin Operated Table
- Coin operated table – with a coin mechanism, and ball tray system. These tables have a typical bar body that houses the coin and ball mechanism, can be easily custom branded and have 3 outlets; one for the white ball, one for the object balls and a third to house the ball rack.
- Domestic table – these come without a coin mech. Because there’s no need to house a coin mech these tables can also have different body designs, ranging from the same shape as the coin operated “bar box” table to thinner, lighter looking Prestige range tables.
- Dining table – these are pool tables that when covered with the wooden cover can function as full fledged dining tables, down to the designs ranging from traditional, to rustic to minimalist modern.
Another relatively popular table size in the last few years is the 9 foot table, popular due to the increased popularity of Chinese 8Ball in SA and globally. In the country these tables are available in wide range of designs that truly show how far the design of the pool table has come. In addition to the increasing popularity and design variety 9 foot tables they are also the best of both worlds when it comes to playing multiple games on a particular table size. Not so big that pocketing a long shot seems impossible, and not so small that overly creative shots are needed to counter the congestion.
Snooker tables are the largest ones available in SA. In comparison to 7 foot tables there’s only a handful of snooker tables in the country (in the hundreds possibly). Their small numbers are due to Snooker tables being massive (just over 3.5m), they simply don’t fit into many places without taking up the whole room and then some. This hulking size also means snooker tables require 5 slates per table, and is more difficult to level than a one slate table.
This means that snooker rooms are few and far between, not to mention the fact that venues would rather stock their floor with several pool tables instead of one snooker table. Playing on a table this size requires a high amount of skill, and is not a short game if played properly. That being said snooker is still a very popular game globally.
Finally closing off the list of tables available in SA are the custom and novelty tables. Pretty much anything goes here, from tiny replicas to child sized tables to get the little ones started early on a table they can reach. Over the years round, square, modular, recycled and fold up pool tables have been created completely bespoke.
Billiards has come a long way from shoving a ball on the grass with a wooden stick, into something with so much variety that anyone can find a table and game that they will enjoy. The next time you see a pool table, buy a pool table or play on a pool table remember; with 500+ years of gameplay billiards must be doing something right 🙂