English Amateur Billiards Association

Hoyle on Billiards

Articles and Other Documents : Hoyle on Billiards











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BILLIARDS is the most elegant game in the world; it exhibits wonderful variety, and requires most exquisite feeling and skill to form a good player. This is principally to be acquired by practice: but the following rules will not only materially assist the learner, but also enable him to play the good game, and not a speculative one; for caution in this, as well as in most other games, insures success. Billiards is highly entertaining, and gives to the body a gentle exercise: it has therefore become so much the fashion amongst gentlemen, as to be considered boorish to be a novice in it. Unfortunately, the natural result of this is, that the sport itself has become a principal means of subsistence amongst sharpers: for there is scarcely any billiard Room that is not daily attended by professed gamesters.

It is their office by insidious and deep play to strip the young player of his cash. It becomes his duty, therefore, being a mere proficient, to know his antagonist, or to play for a stake of no moment. For the object of sharpers is to conceal their play, which they very successfully do by constant practice, and thereby acquire a dexterity that is the more difficult to detect. The scoring with them is not made by the full, fair, and easy strokes, but upon those that require a cant from the opposite angles of the table, and other deep minutiae, in order to delude the young hand and strip him of his bets. It is highly proper, therefore, to warn the admirers of this game of these snares, that they may, at any rate, play on equal terms, as well as to enjoy the pleasures of this first of all delightful recreations-the game of Billiards.

The game of Billiards is played by two or four persons upon a table of an oblong shape in this country; but in some parts of the continent on an oval or round one. The common table is from eight feet to twelve feet long, and from four and a half to six feet in width. It is furnished with six pockets, four at the four angles, and one in each side of the middle of the table; it is covered with a cloth, and the ridge or cushion which is raised around is stuffed. The baulk means that part of the upper end across which is drawn a line, and in the centre of which is a ring or semicircle, from which the ball is struck in beginning the game.

The cue and the mace are both used in striking the balls, but the former is mostly so, and is greatly superior to the mace, and all good players adopt it.

The mace is a rod long and slender, with a blunt and large piece of mahogany or other wood fixed to the extremity. The cue is a stick round and long, tapering like a cane, being thick at one end and narrow at the striking point, which is round and smooth.

Three balls are usually played, (but in some games more are used). Two are white (one of which has a spot, and is termed the spotted ball); the other is red.

Mr. Hoyle says that practice and observation will teach the learner how to hold his mace or cue; but I shall here briefly state what is my opinion relative to this most important of all the points to be attended to. In order to form a bridge to rest the cue upon, in the act of aiming or striking, let the fingers and wrist only rest upon the table. The fingers must be so turned outwards as to form a hollow in the palm; and yet the thumb to be raised above the surface of the knuckles; thus there will be a level made which is to receive the cue between the thumb and fore-finger. There should be a distance of half a foot kept between the hand and the ball. The thick extremity of the cue should then be so held between the fingers and thumb of the right hand as to be able to strike with sufficient force, and yet to combine a free and easy motion, and of tolerable extent also. The cue should be at the point chalked to prevent its slipping, and must be placed towards the centre of the ball in taking aim; and some withdraw the cue a little, and depress it towards the cloth before they finally complete their stroke.

As to the mace, the broad part should be very critically placed to the centre of the ball. The upper part of the mace or stick is to be directed toward the shoulder when the ball and the mace are pushed onwards with the same impulse. For otherwise, a foul stroke is made when the ball is struck, instead of pushed onwards by the mace, besides there is some danger of breaking the instrument.

General Observations on the Game. Of Terms used.

The player’s object is either to propel one or other of the balls into a pocket, or to strike the red and the adversary’s ball at one stroke, and thus obtain a carom.

The term of a hazard means when one or both balls lie in that manner as render one or both of them liable to be pocketed. A red hazard means when this ball only is liable to be pocketed. A white hazard is when the two white balls are in that situation. A winning game hazard is when the red or white ball being struck at enters a hole. A losing game hazard is when the striking ball is pocketed off either of the balls struck at. The two balls being both struck by the striker’s ball, is called a carom, or carambole.

Principles of the Game.

A variety of objects present themselves in adapting the game to practice. The principal minutiae may be considered thus: The delicacy of strength required in each particular stroke; the precise regulation of the striker’s eye; and the mode of striking. All practice must essentially depend upon the due observation of these points. The eye must not be suffered to wander too much from the striking ball to the object ball, or vice versa, for it will distract the attention if the stroke is not completed after a careful observation of the position of the ball to be struck at, and having at once adapted the cue to the playing ball. The motion and action of the body is of considerable consequence. A graceful elegance is not difficult to be acquired, and does much more than that bustling impatient mode very often witnessed in a billiard-room. The left foot should, with the right hand player, be extended foremost, and vice versa with the left hand player, whilst the body should be just sufficiently bent as to allow the direction of the eye with ease along the cue. It is quite unnecessary to give a definition of the terms, a full ball, a half ball, a quarter ball, &c. The practice of a few games will convey better ideas of these terms, and how such balls should be played, than any directions here laid down. There are more ways of striking with the cue than the full and central stroke, which is most commonly used. It may be made below the centre, above the centre, and obliquely. The first mode of striking, viz. the central, is usually adapted to common hazards, or caroms; and in playing at the cushion for an even recoil of the ball. The end mode below the centre causes the struck ball to recoil from the object ball with a dull whirling motion. This play is useful in obtaining caroms from balls at right angles. The striker in this mode must well chalk or roughen the point of his cue, as it will otherwise slip. The third mode of striking, viz. above the centre of the ball, becomes easy when the balls laying parallel with each other, this will drive both of them into the same pocket, one following the other, and also a carom may be obtained when a third ball is covered by the second. A ball struck in this way only gives a portion of its strength to the object ball, and continues going onwards according to the strength with which it was propelled. The fourth and last mode of striking is, that oblique stroke which is still done, also above the centre. A ball thus struck acquires a leaping motion, for the cue forces the ball against the table, rather than along it. The object is to make a carom when three balls are parallel, and when the striker’s object is at the furthest ball, which is already covered: lastly, a player must, of all things, become acquainted with the angles of the table before he can know the course of the balls, or how to make a carom. This is easily ascertained by the young player’s employing himself with one ball only, and striking against the cushion, and marking its course, he may then proceed with two. The reverberation from the cushion is, of all things, the most requisite to be aware of: and frequent attention to this point will fix the memory, and, by degrees, enable the player to become a proficient in the nice points of the game.

To lay a ground work of playing well, the winning game hazards should be commenced with, the losing hazards being so much more easy, that if a knowledge of the first is obtained, the rest will follow: there are, indeed, such a variety of rules and ideas on the minutiae of the game of Billiards, that it is a question whether they could, with perspicuity, be reduced to writing, without a variety of diagrams. Besides, one hour’s practice is superior to volumes on the subject. The rules hitherto laid down are indispensably necessary.


1. The red and white winning and losing carambole.

2. The white winning game.

3. The white losing game.

4. The winning and losing white game.

5. The tricole game.

6. The choice of balls game.

7. The doublet game.

8. The hazards game.

9. The ball commanding game.

10. The red or winning carambole game.

11. The red losing ditto.

12. The cushion game.

13. Fortification billiards.

There are some other minor games introduced from abroad, not much practised however.

The Carambole ; or, Winning and Losing, or Common Game.

This game is but of modern date, and is so much in fashion as to be more frequently played than any other. The game is either twenty-one or twenty-four points, (the twenty-one is the most common; but at Brighton, Margate, St. James’s, &c. reckon twenty-four;) which are gained either in winning or losing hazards, white and red, and from caramboles: the red hazard scores three, the white hazard and the carambole, each two points.

It is by far the most popular and full of variety, of all the games played at Billiards. The consequence is, that the chances therein are so numerous, that the odds are not customarily reckoned, but are usually laid at random or fancy.

Instructions and Observations on the Winning and Losing Game.

1. The game commences as usual with stringing for the lead, as well as the choice of balls. The ball in stringing to be placed within the circle, and the striker must stand within the corners of the table. The ball which rebounds from the bottom cushion, and comes nearest to the cushion within the baulk, takes the lead, and has the choice of balls.

2. If the adversary to the first person who has strung for the lead should cause his ball to touch the other, he loses the lead thereby.

3. When a player holds the ball in stringing or leading, his lead is forfeited.

4. If a ball is followed by either mace or cue beyond the middle hole, it is no lead; the adversary of course may force him to renew his lead.

5. After every losing hazard the ball is to be replaced within the nails or spots, and within the ring.

6. The place for the red ball is on the lowest of the two spots at the bottom of the table.

7. The red ball being holed or forced over the table, is placed immediately on the lowest of the two spots; the present player is besides compelled to see it thus replaced, else he cannot score any points while it is off the spot ; the stroke of course is foul.

8. When the player misses his adversary’s ball he loses one; but should he at the same time pocket his own ball, he then loses three besides the lead.

9. The adversary’s ball, and the red ball also, being struck by a player.

10. When the striker, after making a hazard or carambole, accidentally forces his own, or either of the other balls over the table, he loses all the advantages he has gained besides the lead.

11. When a ball is accidentally forced over the table, the striker loses the lead.

12. To strike your adversary’s ball and the red one too, you score two; this is called a carom, or carambole.

13. To hole the adversary’s, or the white ball, you score two. To hole the red ball you score three.

14. When the striker holes his own ball off his adversary’s, he scores two points; but if he holes his ball off the red, he scores three. But if he holes both the red and his adversary’s balls, he scores five. If the player holes the red and his own ball, he scores six.

15. If the striker holes his own and his antagonist’s ball, he scores four.

16. When the striker plays at the white ball, and should hole the red after that, and his own ball beside, he scores five; viz. two for holing the white, and three for the red.

17. When the striker playing on the red ball first, should pocket his own as well as his adversary’s ball, he scores five points; three for holing off the red, and two for holing his own.

18. If the player holes his adversary’s ball, his own, and the red, he scores seven points; viz. two for holing off the white, two for the adversary’s holing, and three for holing the red ball.

19. Should the striker hole his own ball off the red, and hole the red and his adversary’s too at the same stroke, he scores eight points thus; three for holing himself off the red, three for the red itself, and two for holing his adversary.

All the above games, commencing with the thirteenth, are scored without the caramboles: the following are those in which the caramboles occur.

20. When a carambole is made, and the adversary’s ball is pocketed, four are scored; viz. two for the carambole, and two for the white.

21. If the striker pockets the red ball after making a carambole, he scores five; two for the carambole, and three for the red.

22. If the striker should hole both his adversary’s and the red ball, after having caramboled, he scores seven; two for the carambole, two for the white, and three for the red ball.

23. When a carambole is made by striking the white ball first, and the striker’s ball should be holed by the same stroke, four points are gained.

24. When the striker makes a carambole by striking the red ball first, and should hole his own ball at the same time, he gains five points; three for the red losing hazard, and two for the carambole.

25. If in playing at the white ball first you should make a carambole, and hole your own and adversary’s ball at the same time, you score six points; viz. two for each white hazard, and two for the carambole.

26. The striker wins seven points when he caramboles off the red ball, and holes his own and his adversary’s ball; viz. two for the carom, two for the white, three for the red hazards, and two for the carom.

27. When the player caramboles by playing first at the white, and should also hole his own and the red, he scores seven points; viz. two for the carom, two for the white losing hazard, and three for the red winning hazard.

28. When the player caramboles by hitting the red ball first, and also holes his own and the red, he scores eight; viz. two for the carom, three for the red winning hazard, and three for the red losing hazard.

29. Should a player carambole on the white ball first, and then hole his own ball and his opponent’s, and the red ball besides, he then scores nine; thus, two for the carom, two for each white, and three for the red hazards.

30. If a carambole is done by striking the red ball first, and at the same stroke the player holes his own ball, the red ball, and his adversary’s too, he gains ten points upon the principle of the preceding rule.

31. When your adversary’s ball is off the table, and the other two balls are upon the line or inside of the stringing nails at the leading end of the table, it is named being within the baulk. The player, therefore, striking from the ring must make his ball rebound from the opposite cushion, so as to hit one of the balls within the baulk; if he misses he loses a point.

32. Now and then it occurs after the red ball has been forced over the table, or holed, one of the white balls has so taken up the place of the red ball, that it cannot be replaced in its proper situation without touching it. In such, the marker holds the red ball in his hand, while the player strikes at his opponent’s ball.

33. And directly after the stroke, replaces it on the proper spot, in order that it may not prevent a carambole from being made.

34. When the striker plays a wrong ball, it is reckoned a foul stroke.

35. When the player is about to strike at, or play with, the wrong ball, none in the room can, with propriety, discover it to him, his partner excepted, if they are playing a double match.

36. When the player, after making a carom or a hazard, should either with his hand, cue, or mace, move either of the balls remaining on the table, the stroke is foul.

37. If the striker should play with the wrong ball, and this erroneous play should not be discovered by his opponent, the marker is obliged to score, and he is a winner of all the points he has gained by the stroke.

38. None can move or touch a ball without permission of the adversary.

39. Sometimes a ball happens to be changed in the course of the game, and it cannot be ascertained by which player; in that case, the balls must be used as they then are, and the game so played out.

40. It is a foul stroke when the striker, in the act of playing, should happen to touch his ball twice.

41. Sometimes the player accidentally touches or moves his ball, without intending to strike: in that case, he loses no point, but his ball may be replaced as originally it stood.

42. When a striker’s adversary or spectator impedes the player’s stroke by accident or design, he has a right to renew his stroke.

43. Should a player, in the act of striking, hit his ball, and cause his cue or his mace to go over it, or past it, he forfeits a point.

44. No striker can play upon a running ball, such stroke is foul.

45. An accidental stroke is to be considered good if attended with the proper effect, though, by missing the cue, &c. it is not intended as such.

46. A striker in attempting to play, and not hitting his ball at all, it is no stroke, and he is to try again.

47. Should the striker, or his adversary, in the act of playing, move by accident, or design, the opponent’s white or red ball from the place it occupied on the table, the stroke is foul.

48. When the striker’s ball and either of the other balls are so close as to touch each other, and in striking at the former, either of the latter is moved from its place, the stroke is foul.

49. Whoever stops a running hall in any way loses the lead, if the opponent does not like the situation of the ball he has to play at next time.

50. It may happen that a striker, after having made a carambole or a hazard, interrupts, by accident, the course of his own ball; in this case he scores nothing, as the stroke is foul.

51. Should a player impede the course of his own ball, after having made a miss, and it is running towards the hole, and it is so thought also by the marker, he loses three points.

52. To stop, retain, or impede the adversary in the act of striking, is deemed foul.

53. Should a player in any way interrupt, stop, or drive his adversary’s ball out of its course when running towards a pocket, he forfeits three points.

54. Even blowing upon a ball whilst running, makes a stroke foul; and should the striker’s ball be making its way towards a hole, and he blow upon it, he loses two points by such act.

55. If a mace or cue is thrown upon the table during a stroke, it is baulking the striker, and the stroke is considered foul.

56. No play is deemed correct when, both feet are off the ground.

57. If the table is struck when a ball is running, the stroke is deemed foul.

58. A player leaving a game unfinished, loses that game.

59. Some tables are so uneven that they give way toward the pockets. In case a ball should go to the brink of a hole, and after there, resting for a few seconds, should drop into it, such tells for nothing; and the ball must be again placed on the brink before the adversary strikes again, and should it fall into the hole again the moment the striker has played his ball, so as to frustrate the intended success of his stroke, the striker’s and his opponent’s balls must be placed as they were originally, and the strokes played over again.

60. When a player’s mace or cue should touch both balls in the act of striking, the stroke is foul; and if noticed by his opponent, nothing is gained on the points made by the stroke; and the opponent may, if he pleases, part the balls also.

61. Those who agree to play with the cue must do so during the whole of the match; but if no conditions of this sort have been made, the player may change as he pleases. No player can, without permission of the adversary, break his agreement.

62. If a foul stroke is made, the adversary may either part the balls and play from the ring, or, if the balls should be favourably placed for himself, permit the striker to score the points he had gained, which the marker is bound to do in all cases where the balls are not broken.

63. All agreements are specially binding. For instance, those who agree to play with the cue point and point, cannot use the butt without permission; but they may use the long cue:-and the same with those who agree to play with the butt only.

61. A striker wins, and the marker is obliged to score all the points he gains by unfair strokes, if the adversary neglects to detect them.

62. He who offers to part the balls, and the adversary agreeing to the same, the offerer loses the lead by such proposal.

66. None (unless they belong to a four match) have a right to comment on a stroke, whether fair or foul, until asked; and in the above case, none but the player and his partner can ask it.

67. When disputes arise between the players, the marker alone decides, and there is no appeal from his decision. But, it may occur, he might have been inattentive to the stroke; in that case, he is to collect the sense of the disinterested part of the company; viz. those who have no bets on the stroke-and their decision is to be final.

68. Betting.-The laws are these: the proposer should be careful to name the precise sum; never to disturb the striker when he is about to take his aim, with any bet to the company; and no bet should be made on any stroke that may tend to influence or lessen the judgment of the player. None in the room can have a right to lay more than the odds on a hazard, or on a game.

69. If he errs in this particular, he may appeal to the marker, or to the table of odds. Bets must be confirmed. If P. proposes a bet with L. and it is accepted, it must be confirmed by P. otherwise it is not a bet. Should bets be laid on the hazard, and the striker should lose the game by a miss at the stroke in question, it is not a hazard, the game being finished by a miss. Bettors, in most instances, are to abide by the determination of the players; and in order to prevent confusion and disputes, have also a right to demand the money when the game is over.

70. Go on regular with your own game, and discover whether the ball be close to the cushion or not, for your adversary has no right to answer such questions.

71. It is irregular for any lookers-on to dictate to the player how to play his next stroke. Sometimes confederates will do this by significant gestures or signs, but there is no scoring for a successful stroke if the adversary discovers this. Neither has any one a right to comment on a stroke after it is played, by exposing the error, as the identical stroke may again occur in the course of the very same game.

72. And finally, no person entering a billiard-room ought to open the door without first listening for the stroke. No one has a right to stand near or opposite the balls, because such is an impediment to the striker. It is the marker’s business to keep the table clear and free from intruders around it.

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