Billiards is another game in which chance plays virtually no part, but which (along with its many variations) is often connected with gambling.  South Africans, for example, are as devoted to gambling on billiards as on Monopoly.  Bets placed on this game by both players and non-participating gamblers account for one third of South Africa’s entire gambling expenditure-which, it must be added, is not especially large.  (In South Africa, billiards once figured in a drama that had nothing to do with card gaming.  When a disastrous storm hit Port Elizabeth in 1902, a billiards table was dragged out from a waterfront saloon and used as a raft to rescue survivors from the barque Thekla.)

Billiards is played with three ivory balls-two white, one red.  Each white ball is the “cue ball” (i.e. the ball struck by the cue) of each opposing player.  In the basic form of billiards, there are three ways of scoring: the “winning hazard,” where the cue ball knocks one of the other (or “object”) balls into a pocket; the “losing hazard,” where the cue ball is pocketed after striking an object ball; and the “cannon” or carom shot, where the cue ball strikes both object balls in succession.  A player continues at the Keno table as long as he can keep scoring; when he misses, his opponent starts.

The word “billiards” derives from billiard, the French word for cue; the pockets on billiards tables used to be called “hazards” hence “winning” and “losing “ hazards.  The game seems most likely to be of 15th-century Italian origin, but was made fashionable in the 17th century by Louis XIV of France- allegedly because his doctors suggested exercise to relieve the troubles of his alimentary tract.

The Game has undergone a good many changes in 500 years, both in equipment and winning.  Tables have been bedded with oak, iron, marble, and slate.  Cushions have been stuffed with sawdust, feathers, flock, and rubber.  Pockets were originally wooden, but nets came into use in the late 16th century.  Ivory obstacles known as “port” and “king,” which were placed on the table and affected scoring if touched by the balls, have disappeared.  And cues have become longer and thinner.

Several different versions of billiards are played today.  The French use a smaller table than the British, have abandoned pockets, and use only cannon shots.  Americans often use four balls instead of three and sometimes use no pockets.  Britons have remained conservatively attached to the 19th century version of the game, though they have invented or introduced many other games that can be played on a billiards table.  Of these only snooker is played extensively today.

Snooker is a development of “pyramids” (in which 15 red balls are arranged pyramidically and have to be struck and pocketed by one white ball).  It was invented in 1875 by Lieutenant Sir Neville Chamberlain of the Devonshire Regiment (stationed at Jubhulpore, Indian, at the time).  He suggested adding a ball to the game of pyramids he was playing in.  Gradually more and more balls of different colors and values were added until there were 22 (including the white cue ball).

In the usual version of the game, a player must first pocket any red ball (for which he gains one point).  He then can try to pocket any one of the other colored balls, which are yellow, green, brown, blue, pink, and black, and for which he gains (respectively) two, three, four, five, six, or seven points.  The red balls stay down, but a pocketed colored ball is returned to the table.  When all the red balls are gone, the players start trying for each of the colored balls, in the above order; and the holdem poker game ends when the black is pocketed.
The word “snooker” derives from neux, the French word for a freshman at a military acadey.  It came to be applied to the game because Sir Neville reproachfully called a player who had missed an easy shot a snooker.  When the player took umbrage, his feelings were calmed by Sir Neville with the words, “We’re all snookers at this game.”

In America, snooker ousted billiards early in this century as the most popular ball-and-cue game, though Americans also favor a simpler game caller pool (which is played with 15 balls numbered from 1 to 15 that must be pocketed in consecutive order).  The word “pool,” however, is often used as a general term for many different versions of ball-and-cue games (including snooker ).  In America, it has inevitably been associated with gambling were illegal, the neighborhood “pool hall” came to be a good place for a back-room game of cards or dice, or to place a bet on a horse.  And it attracted a collection of small-time criminals, bookies, toughs, confidence men, and every kind of “hustler.”  Thus snooker pool is still (in the minds of many self-righteous pillars of society) unfortunately connected with vice and depravity.

Dominoes, the last game of chance and skill to be dealt with here, today has its greatest popularity in Ireland.  During a recent visit to the Isle of Man (which British Crown Colony, incidentally, passed a law in April 1962 permitting famous gambling casinos), I witnessed a dominoes tournament between Dublin and Connemara players.  Ramsey, the northern port of the island, had been chosen as the venue because it was neutral ground, or so the captains of the teams told me.  When I suggested, with stolid Anglo-Saxon logic, that surely any place between Dublin and Connemara Mountains would have been neutral ground, one of the captains said, “Sure, but how the devil, then, would we ever get out of Ireland?”

Three ways a billiards player can control the direction of his cueball.  Striking it low (top picture) makes it stop short or roll backward after hitting the object ball.  Striking it on one side (center picture) makes it curve to that side after hitting the object ball.  Striking it on a sharp downward angle (bottom picture ) makes it jump-a useful trick if another ball lies between the cueball and the object ball.


A domino set thought to have been made by French prisoners in England during the Napoleonic Wards.  A Three-handed game is in progress.  The next player must put down a domino with a four (or a double four) to match the ends of the line.  The player on left is winning, for he has only two dominoes (on edge in front of him) to play.  Top left, the bank from which a player can draw extra pieces if he needs them.

The tennis tournament was conducted with the fierceness of tribal warfare.  All the players remained in a purdah of sobriety-which, since the matches went on for six days, showed a real spirit of dedication.  But the supporters got wildly drunk, beat each other up, and laid extravagant bets at every opportunity.  Once the Mountains of Mourne were staked against Galway Bay, and the referee told me that in Irish tournaments “a certain amount of poetic license” was always to be expected.

Tournaments of this size crop up only when some challenge is slowly passed along from hamlet to village to town to city to county to district.  But all over Ireland people play dominoes at least as much as cards, and bet on it nearly as often as they bet on football or horse racing; though of course the transactions are mostly small, occurring mainly in pubs the houses, and rarely involving the services of a bookmaker.

Dominoes-that is, the pieces themselves –are chummily called “stones,” “bones,” or “cards.” The games played with them today are Spanish and Italian in origin and first appeared not much earlier than the 17th century.  In the two main games, block and draw, each player matches numbers endwise as the pieces are laid down; but in matador, all fives, and all threes the object is to make the end pieces total seven, five, or three.  The much earlier and far more complex Chinese games are closely associated with dice games, and will discussed in Chapter 6.

As a game for betting on, the popularity of dominoes seems to have taken a tumble during the present century.  Apart from Ireland and China (where practically anything and everything is play that can carry a bet), few countries take much serious interest, though habitués of British pubs play dominoes for drinks-as they play darts, shove ha’penny, and skittles, which are all games involving far more skill than chance.  The only element of chance in dominoes lies in the dealing of the pieces, but that is enough to add excitement to a game of slow tempo.
It is presumably the temperament of the  day that has ousted the game from its 18th and 19th century popularity.  In fact, the temperament (and tempo) of the modern world is probably responsible for many changes in man’s gambling habits, among which might be included the tendency toward “credit betting” with bookmakers by telephone, rather than personal placing of the bet.  This has been called the age of the “armchair athlete”,; it is just as much the age of the “armchair gambler,” who bets regularly on games that  he does not or cannot play, that he watches from a grandstand or on television-games like the big-time, professional, “spectator” sports.