Written by Katrina

Modified & Updated: 25 Jun 2024

Jessica Corbett

Reviewed by Jessica Corbett

Colorful billiard balls

If you ask people to choose between billiards vs pool, they will probably be confused. To most, billiards and pool are the same thing. This isn’t a surprise as the two are very similar, but they are two different games.

Table of Contents

What is billiards?

The word billiard comes from the combination of two French words, billart and bille. Billart translates to “wooden stick,” while bille translates to “ball.” The term billiards can refer to different things.

First, it can refer to any type of game that involves striking billiard balls with a cue on a table. The table is covered with a cloth, usually colored green, with rubber cushions framing the edges of the table.

Billiards can also refer to the specific game carom billiards or carambola billiards. This is a type of billiards game where players have developed different variations with different rules. However, the general objective in the game is to hit the billiard balls with a cue or stick to score points.

For clarity, this article is referring to carambola billiards when mentioning billiards. The comparison here focuses specifically on the similarities and differences of carambola billiards vs pool.

What is pool?

Pool has a lot of definitions. To many, it could mean a man-made structure that could be filled with water so people could go swimming. People also used refer to pool as a form of betting. Gambling in poker and horse racing used to count as pool. For instance, people would “pool” money from different gamblers, making bets on who would win a horse race.

Nowadays, when people say pool, they usually mean pocket billiards. Pocket billiards, or simply pool, is a type of billiards game.

At first glance, a game of pool and a game of billiards will look the same. However, these two types of cue sports differ greatly from each other.

From their history, equipment, and to their rules, these two games are very different. To learn how to differentiate billiards vs pool, keep on reading!

Billiards vs Pool: How are they similar?

Shared History

Billiards VS Pool
Image from AZBilliards

One thing that billiards and pool have in common is their shared history. The reason they are so similar in many aspects is that pool actually came from billiards.

Billiards started as a lawn game, much like croquet, in the 15th century. Eventually, players decided to move the game indoors. A table covered with green cloth is used to mimic the grass outside.

Like croquet, players used a large wooden mallet to hit the billiard balls. Over time, people began to use thin sticks with flattened tips. People developed the game until it had different versions, and this eventually led to the development of pocket billiards, or pool, as well.

In the 1900s, billiards gained popularity in the United States. This resulted in American versions of the game. An example is the American four-ball billiards. It is like English billiards but with an extra red ball added to the score. More versions of billiards arose in the mid-1950s until it eventually developed into the fifteen-ball pool.

What used to be a game that resembled croquet became its own game with a fresh set of rules and unique equipment. Other examples of variations at the time were cowboy pool and pyramid pool.

Billiard and Pool Cue Sticks

Billiards VS Pool: Cue Stick
Image from Home Rec World

Judging from the cue stick alone, it might be difficult to differentiate billiards vs pool. This is because they both look and feel very similar. Made from wood, the cue stick, or simply the cue, is what players use to strike the cue ball in a game.

Both billiard and pool cues are usually around 57 to 59 inches long. The stick tapers to a smaller diameter on one end, where it has a flat leather tip. Most bars and other communal areas will have a one-piece cue, which people call “house cue.” For personal use, however, most players have a two-piece cue they can dismantle and carry in a case.

While billiard cues are usually shorter, it is all up to a player’s preference. These days, players often get personalized cues. These are more expensive, much like golf clubs.

Skillset and Ability

In the billiards vs pool debacle, which one requires more skills? One thing to know is that both of them require a good aim. Since you have to strike at specific billiard balls to score, precision and consistency are expected.

Whether it’s billiards or pool, you will also need to have excellent control over your strength. Not all instances will require you to strike the billiard ball as hard as you can. Controlling how hard you hit them is also an important factor in scoring.

Some other important skills for billiards and pool include quick thinking, foresight, and understanding angles and positions. Not everyone will have these skills on the first try. That’s why it is important to spend some time practicing the different tricks and techniques in billiards or pool.

Billiards vs Pool: How are they different?

Despite their similarities, there are plenty of differences that can help you distinguish billiards vs pool. A closer look at the equipment, table, and gameplay can quickly help you determine whether you’ve chanced upon a game of billiards or a game of pool.

Billiard Balls

Carom Balls
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The fastest way to distinguish billiards vs pool is to observe the number of balls on the table. In a game of billiards, players only use three balls. There is one white ball, one yellow ball, and one red ball. The white and yellow ones can both act as the striker or cue ball. This means the player can strike the white or yellow one to hit the red billiard ball for a score.

The average billiard ball’s size is 61.5 mm in diameter. It weighs around 205 to 220 grams.

Pool Balls

Now, you’re probably wondering how many balls are necessary to play pool. The answer varies. Different pool games will require a different number of billiard balls. However, when comparing billiards vs pool, expect the pool to require more billiard balls.

In pool, players use two sets of billiard balls. There are stripes and solids. The solids are numbered 1 to 8, while the stripes are numbered from 9 to 15. There is one white ball that players use as the cue ball. Some types of pool games will use all 16 balls while some will use less.

The standard size for the balls used in pool is smaller than the size of billiard balls. A pool ball is 57 mm in diameter, but it usually weighs the same.

Other Equipment

Pool Balls and Rack
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Because pool requires more balls than carom billiards, pool players need a rack. This rack is triangular and usually made of wood or plastic. It helps players arrange the balls in the number order and shape the specific game requires. Aside from this, a rack will ensure that the balls are compact. Otherwise, a loose starting position would lead to a bad “break” or starting strike.

There is also a diamond-shaped rack for nine-ball games.

Billiards Table

Another way to distinguish billiards from pool is the table itself. For a billiard table, there are no pockets. It is also framed with cushions that players need to bounce the billiard balls off of.

Most billiard tables are also larger than pool tables. The standard billiard table is around 9.3 ft. long and 4.7 ft. wide. There are larger billiard tables than this. For instance, English billiards are usually played on a 12 ft. by 6 ft. table.

Pool Table

Billiards VS Pool table
Image from iStock

On the other hand, pool tables are smaller than billiard tables. Most bars will have 8 ft. by 4 ft. pool tables. These are also the smaller models that some people have in their own homes. The smallest pool table is around 3.5 ft. by 7 ft. This is, of course, different from the small pool tables that kids play with. This toy version is usually made from plastic.

Another glaring difference in billiards vs pool tables is the presence of pockets. A pool table has pockets while a billiard table doesn’t. A pool table will have six pockets around the rail cushions, with one on each corner. The remaining two pockets are in the middle of the longer sides of the table.

If you touch a pool table, you’ll also notice that the layer of cloth is a bit rougher than a billiard table’s. This is because a game of pool will require the balls to travel slower. Thus, a rougher surface will create friction, slowing the balls down.

Billiard Games and their Rules

There are different types of carom billiards. The gameplay varies, but there is one common goal. In all carom billiards, the players must aim to reach a score of 25, 50, or 1000 before their opponent does within a set time.

In carom billiards, the points a player scores are called “counts.”

Three-Cushion Billiards

Billiards VS Pool: Three-Cushion
Image from Billiards & Pool

The most common game of carom billiards is three-cushion billiards. It is also the type of billiards that is most likely to become an Olympic sport.

In three-cushion billiards, a player has to strike the cue ball so that it hits one of the two object balls. The object ball hit by the cue ball should bounce off at least three rail cushions first and then the other object ball.

A billiards player must successfully hit the cushions to earn counts. This type of gameplay can easily help you distinguish billiards vs pool.

Straight Rail Billiards

Straight rail billiards has the same mechanics as three-cushion billiards, except you only need to hit one cushion with the object ball before it hits the second object ball.

Four-Ball Billiards

Four-ball billiards, or four-ball carom, is another type of billiards. Some players also call this “4-ball” or “fourball.” As the name suggests, this type of carom billiards makes use of another ball. Usually, there are two red and two white billiard balls.

In a game of 4-ball, the goal is to use their cue ball to hit two other balls in the same shot. The player must successfully hit at least two balls with their cue ball. Otherwise, they do not earn points, and their turn ends.

This game is especially popular in Japan and Korea. While there are slight variations, the main gameplay is still the same.

Five-Pin Billiards

Billiards VS Pool: Five-Pin
Image from Wikimedia

Italy also has their variation of carom billiards called five-pin billiards. In this version, five small pins or “skittles” form a cross in the middle of the table. The aim is to use your cue ball to hit your opponent’s cue ball. Then, the opponent’s cue ball should knock over the pins from this strike. Knocking over pins corresponds to specific scores. For instance, knocking over a white pin will earn you two points.

This game is also popular in Spain, Argentina, and other parts of South America.

Pool Games and their Rules

Of course, pool also has several different types. When it comes to billiards vs pool games, pool doesn’t lag in variety. Pool games are diverse. Aside from the rules, they vary greatly in the scoring system and equipment.

Unlike carom billiards, pool games require the player to pocket the balls. Instead of simply making the balls hit the rail cushions, the balls must go inside the pool table’s pockets.


Billiards VS Pool: Eight-ball
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The most popular type of pool game is the eight-ball. A game of eight-ball makes use of all 15 balls plus the cue ball. Two players or two teams compete, and they each choose one suit. The goal is to pocket all of their chosen suit’s balls, with the 8-Ball as the last one. Whoever pockets the 8-Ball first wins the match.

This is often the go-to pool game in the United States. If you’re at a social gathering where people are playing a game on the pool table, chances are they’re playing eight-ball.


In Nine-Ball, the mechanics are different. A game of nine-ball only requires the first nine balls or the solids plus the white cue ball. In this game, there are no stripes, so players do not need to choose a suit. The goal for both players is to pocket the balls in numerical order from the 1-ball to the 9-ball.

A player’s turn continues for as long as they manage to pocket an object ball. However, a player’s turn ends when they fail to shoot a ball into a pocket. Whoever pockets the 9-ball first wins the game.


This type of pool game dates back to the 18th century. Just as the name suggests, a one-pocket game only requires the players to use one pocket each. Players can choose how many balls they use in the game. Usually, however, people only play with nine balls, including the cue ball.

To score, a player has to pocket an object ball. They do not have to go in numerical order. They only have to make sure that the object ball lands in their opponent’s pocket. If it shoots in a different pocket, their turn ends, and the ball is placed back on the table.

In billiards vs pool games, this type stands out for being more defensive than the rest. Most carom billiards and pool games require the player to play offensive tactics. In this game, the players have to be strategic in their defense. They also have to protect their own pocket so that their opponent cannot score.

Billiards and Pool Governing Bodies

These different rules would not be as easily understood by players worldwide if it weren’t for organizations that govern the world of billiards and pool. Cue sports are competitive by nature. To help professional and amateur players, governing bodies set standardized guides for rules and equipment.

For billiards, the highest governing body is the Union Mondiale de Billard, or UMB. This international organization was founded in Spain in 1959. Since then, they have organized countless tournaments. This includes the World Three-cushion Billiards Championship.

For pool, the World Pool-Billiard Association, or WPA, is the biggest governing body. The WPA is also affiliated with smaller organizations. This includes the Asian Pocket Billiard Union (APBU), the Billiard Congress of America (BCA), and the European Pocket Billiard Federation (EPBF).

These people can easily tell billiards vs pool apart.

What is Snooker?

Billiards VS Pool VS Snooker
Image from British Council Teens

You might look at this list, wondering where snooker belongs. If you thought billiards vs pool was confusing, billiards vs pool vs snooker might be tougher to dissect.

Snooker is another type of cue sport as people also play this with a cue and balls. It uses a lot of elements and equipment from billiards and pool. It might be less popular than billiards and pool. However, it is a cue sport that many love to enjoy and play.

What do you need to play snooker?

Unlike billiards and pool games, snooker has a specific set of rules. A game of snooker requires 22 balls and a snooker table. A snooker table is much like a pool table, only larger. It measures around 12 ft. for the English models. The American models of snooker tables, however, are only 10 ft. long.

Out of these 22 balls, there are six object balls, all numbered. They are also of different solid colors, specifically brown, yellow, pink, black, green, and blue. On the other hand, the 15 other balls are all red with no numbers. Lastly, there is one cue ball.

In snooker, each colored ball corresponds to a set number of points. For instance, pocketing a red ball earns the player one point. When a player pockets a brown ball, they earn four points.

How do you play snooker?

Image from Eurosport

For many, the rules of snooker are much more complicated than the rules of billiards and pool. However, the goal is like pool games, wherein you have to pocket the colored balls using the cue ball.

However, you have to alternate between pocketing the colored balls. If you pocket a red ball, you have to pocket another colored ball, such as a brown ball. Otherwise, you earn a foul and end your turn.

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