The history of billiards
It’s difficult to really nail down the exact origins of billiards because so many different versions of the game exist. What’s certain is that it evolved through many early forms to become the game we know today.
BILLIARDS WAS ORIGINALLY PLAYED WITHOUT A TABLE
The general consensus is that in the beginning, billiards was played on the ground. The method of play varied by country in Europe, but the basic idea was always the same: drive your ball through a port (hoop) using a cue that was much like today's croquet mallet.
BILLIARDS COMES TO THE TABLE IN THE MIDDLE AGES
The creation of the first billiards table is attributed to Louis XI of France in 1469. He asked to have a waist-high table made so that he could play without aggravating his bad back. A stone covered with a cloth was placed on these first rudimentary tables. The game evolved little by little, but only nobles were allowed to play.
Even as time wore on, billiards remained a game for reserved for the upper classes. Engravings depicting the game from the 17th century attest to this fact, in particular one which shows France’s famous Louis XIV playing. The rules had not yet evolved to those of today.
BILLIARDS BECOMES A GAME FOR THE MASSES
By the 18th century, many variations of billiards could be found, and the game gained popularity as academies where it could be played began popping up. And around Paris, they popped up like mushrooms. By the end of the 18th century, there were more than 800 of them around the French capital. The table evolved as well. Colored engravings show the introduction of the green playing surface, and the appearance of cushions and of cues to replace mallets.
The 19th century would see the balls take their current form. It was also during this time that the sport spread outside of Europe. Arriving in the US around 1800, billiards began to develop much quicker than it had in the Old World. Full-scale international competitions were created there and billiards became a popular leisure activity. Two versions of the game could be found at the time: pool, and carom billiards, also known as French billiards. Billiards continued to evolve, mainly due to the improving equipment. French billiards as it’s played today is thought to have been created in 1850.
These days, billiards is played by millions of people around the world in its French, British, and American versions (pool). Another form of billiards is also played today: artistic billiards. Trick shots are difficult shots that require serious precision.