A modified version of that game found its way to the UK in the late 1960s.
Today blackball pool is the dominant official rule-set for the 'small-table' game of pool so popular in pubs, clubs and pool halls. It is played extensively in pool leagues and there are numerous national and international events. European and World Blackball Championships have been held since 2006.
The first pool tables began to appear in Britain's pubs and clubs a little more than half a century ago.
Within a few years the game of 8ball pool rivalled and eventually overtook darts as a pub pastime.
In those early days snooker was the most widely played cue sport in social clubs and snooker halls, but pool was to become the predominant game.
The game's rapidly increasing popularity was largely due to its easy accessibility. The smaller table was conveniently accommodated in thousands of British pubs.
When the game was first introduced it was played with seven solid-coloured balls numbered 1 to 7 and seven striped balls numbered 9 to 15. Such ball sets are often referred to as 'spots and stripes' in the United Kingdom and they continue to be used in games such as American pool.
There have been two important factors influencing the development of 8ball rules and the transition to the game we now know as blackball. The first was the necessity to play on those smaller, coin-operated tables custom made for pubs and clubs.... mechanised tables do not allow the return of potted balls to players during a frame of pool, other than the white. The second factor has been a trend to introduce rules which speed up play and so reduce the duration of the game.
The rules of pool evolved and became formalised as more and more people took up the game. Local pool leagues were created and then national organisations established to administer the sport.
Blackball pool associations and federations include...
- World Pool-Billiards Association (WPBA, WPA)
- Blackball International (BI)
- European Blackball Association (EBA)
- English Blackball Pool Federation (EBPF)
- Scottish Pool Association (SPA)
- Northern Ireland Pool Association (NIPA)
- Welsh Pool Association (WPA)
In addition governing bodies have been set up to represent the interests the blackball players of other European countries, Africa and Australia.
The International Professional Pool Association (IPA) runs numerous prestigious events in Britain and worldwide. These are played to blackball rules at both amateur and professional level.
The cues preferred by blackball players more closely resemble in dimension and weight those favoured by snooker players than those used for cue sports such as American pool. Often they are 2-piece, being most convenient to carry and store.
Enthusiastic players may own a 'break cue' for breaking the cluster of racked balls at the start of frame of pool. A light weight 'break cue' is best.
Red and yellow ball sets (alternatively known as 'casino' balls) are now favoured. The transition from 'numbered balls' came about in part because they are easier to distinguish by spectators, particularly on video and television.
Occasionally blue balls will replace the red.
These coloured 'object balls' and the black ball, are invariably 2 inches in diameter.
The 'cue ball' is slightly smaller. The white is 1/8th of an inch less in width to enable it alone to return to a player through the mechanism of coin-operated machines should it accidentally be potted during a frame of blackball pool.
The standard external table dimensions are 7ft X 4ft, giving a playing surface of 6ft X 3ft.
The table covering has undergone change. In the early days a heavily napped, woollen cloth of the kind then found on snooker tables was commonplace. This was far from ideal and over time faster surfaces with less nap have gained popularity.
Even more recently nylon coverings entirely without nap, sometimes referred to as 'speed cloth', have been introduced.
In fact the fabric may be wool, nylon or a mix of the two and this determines the characteristics of the playing surface and the life of the cloth. The traditional green remains the preferred colour, but red or blue baize may also be found.
For many years different versions of rules caused unnecessary confusion amongst players and antagonism between self-appointed 'governing bodies' which had sprung up to administer 8ball pool.
In 2004 a meeting was held in London under the auspices of the World Pool-Billiards Association (WPA) which sanctioned the introduction of blackball pool rules as the official rule-set for the 'small-table' game.
This ensured players, for the first time, were able to unite under a single world structure, with all playing to the same rules. The support of the WPA gave the sport true recognition and brought about the introduction of worldwide events.
Blackball rules were first published in 2005, followed by a minor update in 2008. Today, pool played to those rules has never been more popular.
Players previously familiar with pub pool rules and outdated versions of 8ball will appreciate how much the move to blackball has enhanced the game. It has made the game more enjoyable for players and attractive to spectators.
The success of these rules is one of the reasons why the World Blackball Championships, held in Scotland in 2014, was recorded and screened by Sky television. The live streaming of blackball rules events at all levels is now commonplace.
Throughout the world the game of blackball is now well-established and those few remaining organisations which continue to support and promote outdated versions of 8ball face the prospect of becoming increasingly marginalised.
The World Pool-Billiard Association is today recognised as the sole governing body for the sport and serves the interests of thousands of players throughout the world.
There's no shortage of opportunity for players of all abilities to compete in organised individual and team events from league level upwards.
In the United Kingdom it's very possible that a blackball pool league will be running in your own home town or county.
At local, national and international level events are regularly being held for gents, ladies, seniors, youths, juniors and players with disabilities.
In 2016 the World Championships are to be staged in Killarney, Ireland and the European Championships in Bridlington, England.
When it comes to pool.... Blackball Rules !