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The Anatomy of a Game of Billiards

Billiards is a fun, classic game that can be played to varying degrees of complexity. For casual players who want to better understand the game, those who want to learn multiple kinds of billiard games, or players who are interested in playing billiards competitively, one of the first steps to taking your pool game to the next level is to know the parts of the table and the equipment used in the game. The rules of the games can seem intimidating if you don’t know what a “foot string” is, for example. However, once you gain a better understanding of the components and reference points involved in billiards, the rules will make a lot more sense!

Rails, Pockets, and Diamonds

The rails around the perimeter of the table serve as points to ricochet balls off of, as well as important reference points for game play. The two shorter ends of the pool table are known as the head rail and foot rail, with the foot rail being whichever side the balls are racked on, and the head rail being the side a shooter breaks from. The head rail is also traditionally where the manufacturer places their name plate, often in place of one of the diamonds. These rails each have two corner pockets on either side. The longer sides are simply called side rails or long rails, and each have a side pocket directly in the middle.

The interior wall of the rails is called the cushion or bank. These terms often come up in different game rules and strategies that involve using “multiple banks” or “driving off the cushions.”

The rails also include diamonds, or sights. These are inlaid marks (usually diamond-shaped) placed at one-fourth increments on the head and foot rails, and one-eighth increments on the side rails. These are used as reference points to assist with aiming and placement, but advanced players often utilize them for a complex approach to planning shots called “the diamond system.”

The Playing Surface

Now that you know the parts of the rails, you can better understand reference points on the playing surface

The center string is an imaginary line running between the two side pockets and through the dead center of the pool table. The point at the very center of the table is the center spot.

The foot string is another imaginary line located halfway between the foot rail and the center string, with the foot spot in the center of it. You can locate the foot spot and foot string by using the diamonds as reference points. When racking the balls in most games, the ball at the tip of the rack, or “apex of the triangle,” must line up with the foot spot.

Similarly, the head string is located between the head rail and center string, with the head spot between it. These also line up with the diamonds, and the head spot is typically where the shooter places the cue ball before breaking.

The Playing Surface

You may be a bit more familiar with the equipment involved in playing pool, but the name and purpose of each item isn’t always obvious.

The cue ball is the only ball that players strike directly. It is typically white to distinguish it from the object balls, which are colorful and numbered.

The rack is the triangular frame used to arrange the balls at the start of a game.

The rod used to hit the cue ball is called a cue stick. Players are usually allowed to switch cue sticks between shots, and can also use extenders to increase their length.

A bridge is a tool or a hand the player places on the table to aim their cue stick during a shot. A mechanical bridge is a small tool mounted on a stick with notches and holes made for aiming the cue stick. Bridge heads are typically metal and arch-shaped, but can come in a variety of shapes, colors, and designs. Most players create bridges with their hands, but both methods are permitted in competitive games.

The chalk used on the end of the cue stick isn’t just for looks – it provides extra friction when making a shot so the cue doesn't slip past the ball. A brand-new cue stick typically will not need chalk, but it may lose friction as it gets worn down.

Players may also use chalk or baby powder on their hands to reduce friction on their bridge hand caused by moisture and sweat, although some others prefer to use gloves.

Now that you know all of the terminology for a successful game of pool, check out our world-renowned billiard tables. These are sure to offer hours of fun in your game room.

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