Snooker vs. Billiards
Snooker is often referred to as a cousin of billiards. It's a cue sport played on a table with colored balls, so the distant relations certainly have that in common. Other similarities can be found in the games that came before them. Snooker and nine ball are roughly the same age (the babies of the billiard genre) while straight pool and eight ball are a little older. And don't forget that there is a whole host of versions that came before all the games that are so popular today.
Snooker is not nearly as popular in the United States as it is in the rest of the world. As you read earlier, snooker traveled the globe with the movement of English forces during the days of the British Empire, which is why it has such huge international appeal today. Although the game of snooker has gone through its own host of changes over the decades, it has settled into its own niche in the professional billiards scene, with a popularity paralleled by other major sports like soccer (or football, as it is called in most of the world), golf, tennis, and cricket. That's huge!
Professional billiards players in the United Kingdom win millions of dollars in tournament prizes and have the same level of celebrity status as many major athletes and movie stars. They are so famous, in fact, that they are often victims of the paparazzi, rumors, and the tabloid press.
Snooker never quite reached the level of fame that eight ball and nine ball have achieved on this side of the globe. We'll never really know why that is — different strokes for different folks? But snooker is fun and can be very challenging. Just because it's not number one on the hit parade doesn't mean you shouldn't learn how to play. You've gotten all the other game rules down by now, so why not add snooker to the list?
If you really get into the game of snooker, you'll have to get yourself a larger family room to fit your new table. The tables are a lot bigger than the pool tables. In the United States, the standard size snooker table is 5 feet by 10 feet, but the standard size throughout most of the world is 6 feet by 12 feet. That may not sound like a huge difference, but it is — especially when you're leaning down, cue in hand, ready to strike the cue ball. If you're not used to this size table, you'll feel like your object balls are miles away.
Different Pocket Sizes
Aside from the difference in size, the other difference a snooker table has from a pool table has to do with the pockets. On pool tables the cushions are cut to a point at the pockets, while in snooker the pockets are rounded. This makes it much harder to pocket a ball that is positioned along a rail. Rounded pockets will often unmercifully spit a ball back out at you. Youch!
The pockets on a snooker table are smaller, which makes sense because the snooker balls are smaller, too. The pockets are positioned in the same place as on a billiard table: four corner pockets and two side pockets. Side pockets in snooker are sometimes called center pockets.
Despite its popularity in the late nineteenth century, the British Billiards Association did not officially recognize snooker until December 11, 1900, when they published the rules.
The game is played with twenty-one object balls, each measuring 2⅛ inches. Fifteen of the balls are solid red and unnumbered (although some American sets will have numbered balls). There are six other object balls of differing colors, which are also unnumbered, and, of course, a cue ball. The solid red balls are referred to as “reds” and the other six balls are called “colors.” The cue ball is sometimes referred to as “the white ball,” especially in the international version.
The rack is a triangular shape just like in billiards and the cue stick is shorter and lighter, with a smaller-sized tip than an American pool cue. The cue sticks in snooker are often made of a harder wood, such as ash. The ferrules (the part that holds the tip on the cue), usually made of a phenolic resin or plastic on American cues, are often made of brass on snooker cues. This is because the tips are so small that brass is one of the only materials that a tip can stay attached to without popping off. The back end of the cue reflects the history of billiards with its mallet-type shape. One side is flat, which is what the earliest billiards players used to strike the balls before they turned the cue stick around in later years.
So, you're playing on a larger surface, with smaller pockets and smaller balls. Since the balls are smaller, they are also lighter. You might think that this sounds advantageous given what you're used to in pool. It's just different than what you're used to. That means you are going to have to adjust your stroke speed and reconfigure some basic geometry in your head. It will take some practice before you get the right feel for the new angles, distances, and weights. For example, if the balls and the cue stick are lighter, you'll have to adapt to a whole different feel than with pool.
American rules use the term “pocketing” just like in pool, while the British will say “potting.”
If you watch professional snooker players, they make pocketing balls look really easy, but that's because they're pros! It's not easy, especially when you're learning — but, again, with enough practice, it's just a matter of time before you'll find your comfort level. What makes snooker so particularly challenging at first is that a larger table means longer shots, so it's easier to miss.