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Beginner’s Guide to Cue Sports – Breaking Down the Variations

Jan 29, 2020

The world of cue sports can seem daunting to newcomers at first glance. Nowadays there’s a vibrant range of options to choose from, and each particular niche boasts its own history, ruleset and technical skill requirement. While “billiards” can refer to all such sports, the core game has splintered into several sub-categories that have branched off and developed into competitive cue sports of their own.

The two main varieties are carom and pocket. Carom billiards consists of the balkline, straight rail and three-cushion variations. Pocket games include snooker, pool and English billiards. Each cue sport displays a surprising amount of depth at the highest level, and their differences offer an array of diverse experiences:

Billiard Balls

The balls used in carom billiards games are larger and heavier than the pocket billiards variety. These larger balls only come in white, dotted white or yellow for the two cue balls, and red for the object ball, much like in English billiards. Pool consists of four ball colours; the white cue ball, red, yellow and the black 8 ball, though sometimes stripes and solids may be substituted for the reds and yellows. Snooker features numerous red balls and a cue ball, as well as a single ball each of green, brown, yellow, blue, pink and black.


Unlike pocket billiards, carom billiards requires a pocketless table with a heated slate bed. They are the same size as a snooker table intended for home or public use, although standardised tournament snooker tables are slightly larger. Pool tables are the smallest of the bunch, though only by a small margin.

The cloth covering each of these table varieties is a specific type of felt similar to the one used in casinos for roulette, baccarat and blackjack. However, unlike cue sports, gambling games have largely moved to an online format and are popular on sites like


Unlike the pocketless carom tables, pool and snooker tables have six pockets that include either a ball return system or drop pocket receptacles for catching balls. Commonwealth-style WEPF pool is played on a table with narrower pockets and slightly smaller balls, while WPA American-style tables often have wider pockets. Both of these types of tables feature pockets with rounded entrances and parallel sides, which facilitate rebound shots more easily. 


In comparison to the more familiar pool cue, carom cues have a few special refinements; they are shorter and lighter, but also more stiff, which helps them withstand the heavier balls used in carom billiards. The pocket cue sports use a much more standard cue, with a thinner butt and longer ferrule (the sleeve upon which the cue tip is mounted).


Score format

There is an impressive range of assorted cue games to choose from, some more prevalent than others, each with their own unique ruleset. Carom games like straight rail are centred around scoring points by having your cue ball hit the opponent’s cue ball and the object ball in a single stroke.

The balkline game type diversified itself by placing scoring restrictions on different regions of the table that made spectating more enjoyable, and the three-cushion game type requires players to strike a rail cushion at least three times and both object balls at least once in a single stroke, further increasing the complexity.

Concerning the pocket cue sports, pool is the simplest to understand; choose a suit (red or yellow), then pocket your chosen colour until you can legally pot the black while denying your opponent the same. Snooker requires a red ball to be potted before and after each colour ball is targeted, and each colour ball is worth a different amount of points.

English billiards is an inventive combination of carom rules and pocket billiards, whereby points can be scored either by striking both object balls in a single stroke, pocketing the balls instead, or both simultaneously.


No matter your level of experience, there are cue games for all kinds of tastes. Whether you’re a curious novice looking to take on a new hobby or a veteran seeking to reignite your passion for the game, everyone can enjoy a good game of billiards from time to time. Which billiards, you might ask? Well, that’s up to you!


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