The Game of Billiards

by Edwin Kentfield

The Proprietor’s Address

THE GAME OF BILLIARDS has some general claims upon the attention and patronage of the public, which it becomes the proprietor of this Treatise humbly to advocate and explain. It affords a recreation, which, with the exception of Chess, it the only one usually (would that it were invariably so), played FOR ITS OWN SAKE, and not for the pecuniary gains it may afford. It is the triumph of skill; and the player should never seek any other reward for his victory. It thus becomes a recreation of the mind, in its purest sense; relieving those whom the fatigue and anxieties of a life of business may have harassed or exhausted, by the introduction of a new train of ideas, of a gently exciting, but highly pleasurable nature. The over strained bow will break, and the over tasked powers of the most gigantic mind, to whatever branch of science or literature those powers may be applied, must sooner or later, sink under the unmitigated pressure of continued application. Hence, in all countries, and in all times, statesmen, scholars and divines, no less than men of fashion or of business, have indulged themselves by some mode of relaxation most congenial to their taste, or readiest to their reach; and, when practicable, made it an integral part of their every-day economy.

It is scarcely necessary to enumerate the almost endless catalogue of diversions to which mankind have thus Retaken – some in their nature harmless; – others, of doubtful character: – but many, it is to be feared, positively injurious, or at least, frivolous and unmanly. Suffice it to say’ that Billiards’ both as a mental and physical exercise stands foremost in the class of unexceptionable amusements, and that many of the best and wisest men have selected that noble game, as affording at once the most innocent, rational, and exhilarating relief from the severity of studies which otherwise would prove exhausting to the spirits, and destructive of the vital system. By thus rendering bodily exercise, or temperate and rational recreation subservient to the higher purposes of life, by giving, as it were, a proper direction to means that are to accomplish great ends, not only is the animal body maintained in vigour, but the mind is so. refreshed and revived, as to be enabled more readily and successfully to grapple with the loftier objects of its pursuit.

Again. The pleasure which results from Billiard-playing cannot, as in the case of chess, be said to partake of a selfish character. chess is a solitary and a silent game. It is, indeed, the mathematics of the mind-the encounter of two master spirits- but it calls forth neither the muscular energy of the one, nor the physical prowess of the other; -and a mere looker-on, unless a very skillful player, can take but little interest in a game of an indefinite and often of a protracted duration; or in the progress of moves which he can seldom foresee or understand; and which if foreseen, can be easily counteracted: whereas, in Billiards, the spectator will soon become as much engaged as the player, and a general interest will thus spring from a source unpolluted by any of those degrading passions which games of chance too often engender.

Nor is the health of the body, which the exercise of Billiards is so well calculated to promote, to be slightly regarded. Upon an average, a player while thus engaged will walk between two and three miles an hour, to say nothing of the numerous muscles which will, in turn, be called into action, but never be allowed to remain long on the stretch, since the attitude is constantly changing, and every member is successively and alternately put in motion. For such reason it is, that Physicians consider Billiards, in point of salubrity, as preferable to every other species of in-door exercise; for, while it affords healthful action, not partially, but generally, to the animal frame, it imparts to the mind a gentle exhilaration, which sustains, without exhausting, the vital powers. Where it necessary to support the views thus offered, the testimonies of some of the most eminent of the medical faculty might be adduced. The Billiard Table has indeed of late become one of the instruments of cure in establishments for the recovery of patients mentally affected; amongst which may be enumerated those of Doctors Sutherland and Warburton, of London; and Fox of Bristol; and the game has been as strongly recommended by Doctor Paris, of London; and by other Physicians equally eminent for the cure of diseases affecting the health of the body.

Haying thus briefly, but he trusts with all plainness and honesty, recorded his conviction of an amusement, censured he is aware by some, and unappreciated or misunderstood by others -a conviction not hastily arrived at, but one which is the result of many years reflection and experience-the proprietor of the following Treatise must be allowed, in conclusion, to congratulate the lovers of Billiards, upon the appearance of a work, in the production of which he has spared neither labour nor expense; and which, as compared with publications of a similar kind, he has no hesitation in pronouncing unrivalled for its utility and completeness; and in point of originality and research, without a parallel.


14, Catherine Street, London, September, 1839.

BILLIARDS is a game of amusement which may lay claim to some antiquity, if any inference can be drawn from Shakespeare, [Anthony and Cleopatra; Act ii. Scene 5.] who makes Cleopatra exclaim, “Let us to Billiards!” [This was probably a kind of Fortification Billiards.] Now, unless we accuse our great dramatic poet of a gross anachronism, the game must at least be as old as the battle of Actium, which was fought 31 years B.C. At all events, we may conclude that Billiards was in his time regarded as of ancient origin. The first table we hear of in Europe was introduced into France, about the year 1580, which was only 28 years before the play of Anthony and Cleopatra was written, but it is most probable that the game was introduced into Europe long before that period.

It may, perhaps, appear extraordinary that this game should, for such a number of years, having been played without receiving the least improvement, it being only within the last fifty years, that any suggestion for rendering it more perfect has been advanced. This, however, will cease to be a matter of wonder, when it is known, that the game was usually played with the mace, or with cues that were perfectly flat at the point, and sometimes tipped with ivory, so that a central stroke alone could be accomplished; so long, therefore, as the ball could be struck only in the centre, improvement could not be expected. About fifty years ago it was discovered, that if a cue were cut obliquely at the point, or rounded a little on one side, so as to present a broader surface to the ball, it might be struck below the centre, and this strange instrument was then adopted for occasional strokes, and obtained the name of JEFFERY. About the close of the last century, it was ascertained, that if the point of the cue were rounded, much advantage would be gained by increasing its striking surface. A few years after this, (somewhere about the year 1807), the leather point was introduced, since which period the game may be said to have gradually become more accomplished.

The introduction of the RED Ball is of recent date. Formerly, the game was played with two WHITE balls only, and the sole object of the player was to pocket the ball of his adversary, and keep his own OUT of the pocket. The first who scored twelve was then the winner. As soon as the Red Ball was introduced, the players, thinking probably that the game might too rapidly run its course, played alternately, each without any regard to the success or failure of the previous stroke of his antagonist. This was entitled the “WINNING”, in contradistinction to the “Following’ Game, to be hereafter described. The “WINNING AND FOLLOWING” Game was subsequently introduced, in which the player FOLLOWED his stroke after winning; but in all these games the player lost by pocketing HIS OWN ball, whence the term “Losing” hazard, which at once distinguished it from what is called “WINNING” hazard and which consists in pocketing either the red ball, or that of your adversary. Next came the “WINNING AND LOSING” Game, which may be said to be a combination of the other two, for the player now scores EVERY THING he pockets.

Although a thorough knowledge of this game, like all other human attainments, can be acquired only by practical experience, yet the beginner may greatly facilitate his progress, by a scientific acquaintance with his tools, and the manner in which he is to direct them. The following preliminary remarks will therefore be acceptable:-


The Game of Billiards is played upon a table of oblong shape, the dimensions of which are generally twelve feet, by six; although they are not unfrequently constructed in sizes of six, seven, eight, nine, and even ten and eleven feet in length, the width being always one-half of the length. It is surrounded by an elastic band or “CUSHION,” and at each of the corners, and in the middle of each side, are placed netted pockets, for the reception of the balls, the opening of which is about three inches and a quarter. The balls are made of ivory, and vary in diameter from one inch and seven-eighths, to two inches, and weigh from four ounces, to four and a quarter: they should be made of ivory (that from the Cape of Good Hope is the best), be very white and close “grained’ and well seasoned. At the lower end of the table two feet six inches from the inside of the cushion, is a line technically termed the “BAULK LINE, (see FIG. 1, PLATE V.), in the centre of which is a semi-circle of ten inches radius, from any part of which the player is at liberty to commence his game, but he is not allowed to place his ball beyond the area of the semi-circle. At the upper end of the table, and in its centre, at a distance of two feet six from the end of the cushion (see FIG. 2, PLATE V.), is a point called the “SPOT,” on which is placed the red ball for the WINNING Game. In the same line, seventeen inches farther on (see FIG. 3, PLATE V.), is a second spot, for the red ball in the WINNING AND LOSING Game.

There have lately been introduced by Mr. Thurston, of Catherine Street, some important improvements in the manufacture of these tables, both with regard to the BED, and the CUSHIONS. The bed, instead of being constructed of wood, is now generally made of slate, by which not only is the velocity of the ball increased, bet the direction of its path more correctly ensured. The cushion is also now fabricated of Indian Rubber, from which the ball rebounds with greater rapidity and precision. It is, however, necessary to notice an objection which has been urged against this latter invention-viz., that in frosty weather, the caoutchouc will lose much of its elasticity; but this difficulty may be obviated by preserving the temperature of the room [Since the above was written, Mr. Thurston has obtained Her Majesty’s Letters Patent for the application of the Vulcanized Indian Rubber to the Cushions, which material retains its elasticity in the coldest temperature.] or the cushion may be taken off and placed before the fire. In warm climates, no such inconvenience can exist. In speaking of the improved table, we should not omit to notice the revolving light contrived by Mr. Thurston. Its position and effect are strikingly indicated in the frontispiece which accompanies this volume.

We next proceed to give some general directions on the following most important subjects:-

  1. On the position of the Player.
  2. On the position in which the Cue should be held.
  3. On the method of forming the Bridge.
  4. On the method of striking the Ball.
  5. On the direction of the eye in striking.
  6. On the selection of a Cue.
  7. On the leather Point.
  8. On the method of affixing the Leather Point.



This is a matter of the very first importance, for should the beginner take a wrong position, he will not readily be able to correct it. He should stand firmly on the right leg, (if a right handed player), with the left a little bent, and the trunk nearly erect, or not more inclined forward than may be necessary for the left hand to rest with ease upon the table. This position should be steadily preserved until the stroke has been completed the body remaining unmoved, the arm being the only part that should be brought into action, during the act of striking. (See PLATE I.)


The cue should be held in the right hand, nearly horizontal, about four or five inches from the butt end, although this must in some measure be regulated by the length of the cue. It must not be grasped tight, but held moderately loose in the palm of the hand, with the wrist turned a little outward.


In order to form with the hand a rest for the Cue, technically termed the “BRIDGE,” the wrist and fingers only should rest upon the table, so as to form a hollow in the palm while the thumb, being raised above the knuckles, will form a groove between them for the reception of the cue, which must be allowed to pass to and fro freely through it. In this position (see FIG.7, PLATE II.), the hand should be slightly pressed upon the table, so as to secure its steadiness during the act of adjusting and completing the stroke. The space between the bridge and the ball should be about six inches.


It is scarcely necessary to observe how much importance attaches to this circumstance. A Player may take the right position, hold the cue correctly, and thus far perform all that is required, and yet he may be unable to strike a ball with firmness and with truth: and for this simple reason, that, in the act of striking, he draws his cue back, say one inch, instead of six, so as rather to make a sort of PUSH at the ball, instead of a firm and distinct stroke. His first endeavour should be to place the point of his cue to that part of the ball he intends to strike, then to draw it back about six inches, keeping it at the same time as horizontal as possible, and with a rectilinear motion to force it forward with a kind of jerk, taking care also to strike the ball where he takes aim, or he will fail in his object. This is perhaps, one of the most difficult things for the learner to overcome, and even old players, who have acquired considerable knowledge of the game, have fallen into an error of this kind, and felt surprised that the ball did not return from the cushion in the direction they had expected, and probably condemned the cushion for a fault which was entirely their own. The necessity of keeping the cue in a horizontal position cannot be urged too forcibly, for if the right hand is too much elevated, the ball will jump, and the stroke fail. In PLATE VI., the proper, as well as the improper position of the cue in striking is represented. In the former case the ball will run smoothly along the table; while in the latter it will rise from it, although almost imperceptibly: this will more readily occur when the ball is struck in the centre, or a little above it.


Let the player first stand to his ball, and before he takes his position for striking, cast his eye to the object ball, that will enable him to accomplish it correctly; then he must place his cue to that part of his own ball which it is his intention to strike, in doing which, his eye will necessarily rest upon it; after which the sight must be steadily directed to the object ball, and there must it rest until the stroke has been effected; for when the eye is suffered to wander from one ball to the other, the vision becomes distracted, and the power of correctly directing the hand is lost.


In the choice of a cue, much will depend on the fancy of the operator: some prefer light, others heavy ones; some small, others those which are large at the point, and so on; but the cue to be recommended should be four feet eight inches long; of moderate weight, say from fourteen to sixteen ounces; half an inch in diameter at the small end, and about one inch and a half at the butt. It should be formed of fine, straight, cross-grained, well-seasoned ash, rather stiff, or with very little spring in it.


Different opinions have been held upon this subject. Some have preferred double leathers on the cues, and others single ones, but the best players have generally decided in favour of the latter. Should however, the former be selected, the under one should be very hard, and the top one soft; such an arrangement is perhaps, the best for preserving the cue, and is very well adapted for certain strokes, but it cannot be depended upon when the ball is to be struck at a distance. Soft sole leather, or saddle flap, is an excellent material for points; but the author has found, for single points, nothing better than old harness or strap, provided the leather be not too old, which would render it hard and useless.


There are several methods by which the leather point may be affixed to the cue, as by common glue, Indian glue, and other kinds of cement: but the following is the most expeditious :-

Let the point of the cue be filed perfectly flat, and the leather be equally smooth, the latter somewhat exceeding in size, the surface to which it is to be applied. Then take a piece of shell-lac, and fuse it in a flame, taking care that no grease from a candle or lamp reach it, by which its adhesive quality would be destroyed; while in a state of fusion, apply a portion of it to the point of the cue, and hold it again in the flame (not so long as to ignite it, but merely to ensure its perfect liquefaction), then place the leather on it as quick as possible, and press it down close to obtain perfect contact. In about a minute, the cue, thus armed’ is to be placed on a board with the point downwards, and the leather cut round with a sharp knife, or chisel, and finally trimmed with a file; after which, it will be ready for immediate use. By such a method, the leather point will frequently be found to stand a considerable time. Other cements may answer the purpose equally well, (for instance, Indian glue, in consequence of its elastic property, will last as long, and perhaps longer than the brittle shell-lac); but their application is less expeditious. The following is the method to be pursued when the latter is preferred. Let the Indian glue be dissolved in the steam from the spout of a tea-kettle, although in this case several hours are required before it becomes dry. In other respects the process already described is to be followed, care being always taken to insure a perfect contact between the leather and the wood.

A few miscellaneous remarks shall conclude our preliminary directions and instructions. The mode of acquiring a knowledge of the angles of the tables, like the true position of the person, is of the first importance to the young disciple. He is ever to bear in mind, that THE ANGLE OF INCIDENCE IS EQUAL TO THE ANGLE OF REFLECTION. The remembrance of this law will be found essential to him in all DOUBLES, and in making such CANONS from the cushion, as do not require the side stroke; and indeed, in those even that do require it, this knowledge will very materially assist him, (see PLATE III), and it may be here observed, that different strengths (MOMENTA) will be productive of different angles, for a ball may run in the same direction to a given point in the cushion, but return from it at an angle varying with the force of the stroke. (See PLATE IV.) [This may appear somewhat contradictory; but it is to be remembered that, in consequence of the elasticity of the cushion, the ball when struck with great force, alters, for the instant, its CONTOUR, and thus give rise to new forces, the effect of which will be a more acute reflection.]

When a ball, or other spherical body, is propelled upon a level surface, it has two motions imparted to it, one progressive, the other rotary; now the marvellous diversity to be observed in the course of billiard balls, may principally be referred to the power which we possess, by means of a round leather-pointed cue, to influence at pleasure the latter of these motions. If the ball be struck a little below the centre, its revolving motion will be for a time, as it were, suspended-and during this interval, should it come in full contact with another ball of equal weight, it will communicate its strength (MOMENTUM) to that ball, and become itself stationary: but should the ball be struck, considerably below its centre, its revolving motion will be in a contrary direction; or in other words, in its progress forward, its rotary motion will be the same as if it were running backwards, the

whole of the rectilinear strength having been thus imparted, the contra-motion will prevail, and the ball return in a direct line. It must be observed, that in playing this stroke, as also in striking the ball ABOVE the centre, the revolving axis will be horizontal: but if the ball be struck on the side, then it will be perpendicular to the plane of the table; and hence it is, that the side stroke can carry the ball to a greater extent than that made either above or below its centre. [The latter clause of this sentence, namely, ” that the side stroke can carry the ball to a greater extent than that made either above or below its centre,” is not clearly expressed; the meaning intended to be conveyed is this:-that the effect of the side stroke, will continue longer in the ball; and that the rotary motion (not the ball itself) can be carried to a greater distance, in consequence of the ball running on its vertical axis.] There is less resistance to the ball when running on its vertical axis, than when the axis is horizontal, and hence, also, arises the difficulty of conveying the TWIST, or low stroke, to the object ball at a distance, for unless a considerable force be imparted to it, it will lose its power before it can reach the object ball.

It will be seen in PLATE II. FIG. 1, that there are seventeen different points, or sides, [It may, perhaps, appear strange to speak of the SIDE of a spherical body; but, as the ball presents itself to the player, it may be considered as a disc. rather than a sphere. Some of the colloquial expressions used at Billiards, may sound oddly to the ears of the philosopher, but, being in constant uses they could not, with propriety, be exchanged] at which a ball may be struck by the cue; and each point, when struck, will give rise to a different motion. By reference to the diagrams, FIGS; 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, the student will learn the meaning of the terms, “FULL BALL;” “THREE-QUARTER BALL;” “HALF BALL;” “QUARTER BALL, and “FINE BALL.”

The proper position for the ball on the spot is illustrated by PLATE VII. It is either 1, 2, or 3. If the ball be at 4, the hazard MAY be made, but the position will be lost, or can only be recovered by a double in the middle pocket, or going round the table. The best position is when the ball is situated at 1 or 3. If it be at 1, after striking the ball; cushion at 5, and return to the same place again; or otherwise at 6, and go on to the same position on the other side. If the ball lie perfectly straight, it should be struck at point 9 (see FIG. 1, PLATE II), and made to recoil in a direct line to the same position. If it lie only a little to the left of the line, the ball should be struck at point 8 (see FIG. 1, PLATE II.), and played very slow, so that it may take up the same position on the other side, which is marked 7. in the diagram. But the learner will profit but little by any printed instructions with regard to

this particular ball, in which every sixteenth of an inch affords a different position, and to play which well requires considerable practice. At the same time, to a good player it is most material, and by far the best position on the table, since a great many hazards may be made from it in succession.

PLATE VIII. exhibits the effect of the side stroke in playing at the cushion. If the ball be played to the centre of the top cushion, and struck at point 1 (see FIG. 1, PLATE II.), it will, by a rebound, return in the same line; so, again, if it be struck at point 2 (see FIG. 1, PLATE II.), it will return at point 2; if at point 3 (see FIG. 1, PLATE II.), it will return at 3; and if the ball be struck on the corresponding points of its opposite side, its path will consequently be in a contrary direction.

We have now put the learner in possession of every species of information which can be considered of an introductory and preliminary kind; but before we pass on to unfold the various games of Billiards, and to elucidate some of the many difficult and almost endless strokes of which each game is susceptible, we would urge upon him to re-peruse the preceding pages, and to familiarise himself with every position and direction therein set forth.