Cue sports (sometimes written cuesports), also known as billiard sports, are a wide variety of games of skill generally played with a cue stick which is used to strike billiard balls, moving them around a cloth-covered billiards table bounded by rubber cushions. Historically, the umbrella term was billiards. While that familiar name is still employed by some as a generic label for all such games, the word's usage has splintered into more exclusive competing meanings in various parts of the world. For example, in British and Australian English, "billiards" usually refers exclusively to the game of English billiards, while in American and Canadian English it is sometimes used to refer to a particular game or class of games, or to all cue games in general, depending upon dialect and context. There are three major subdivisions of games within cue sports: Carom billiards, referring to games played on tables without pockets, typically 10 feet in length, including balkline and straight rail, cushion caroms, three-cushion billiards, artistic billiards and four-ball; Pool, covering numerous pocket billiards games generally played on six-pocket tables of 7-, 8-, or 9-foot length, including among others eight-ball (the world's most widely played cue sport), nine-ball (the dominant professional game), ten-ball, straight pool (the formerly dominant pro game), one-pocket, and bank pool; and Snooker and English billiards, games played on a billiards table with six pockets called a snooker table (which has dimensions just under 12 ft by 6 ft), that are classified entirely separately from pool based on a separate historical development, as well as a separate culture and terminology that characterize their play. There are other variants that make use of obstacles and targets, and table-top games played with disks instead of balls. Billiards has a long and rich history stretching from its inception in the 15th century, to the wrapping of the body of Mary, Queen of Scots, in her billiard table cover in 1586, through its many mentions in the works of Shakespeare, including the famous line "let's to billiards" in Antony and Cleopatra (1606–07), and through the many famous enthusiasts of the sport such as: Mozart, Louis XIV of France, Marie Antoinette, Immanuel Kant, Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, George Washington, French president Jules Grévy, Charles Dickens, George Armstrong Custer, Theodore Roosevelt, Lewis Carroll, W.C. Fields, Babe Ruth, Bob Hope, and Jackie Gleason.
All cue sports are generally regarded to have evolved into indoor games from outdoor stick-and-ball lawn games (retroactively termed ground billiards), and as such to be related to trucco, croquet and golf, and more distantly to the stickless bocce and balls. The word "billiard" may have evolved from the French word billart or billette, meaning "stick", in reference to the mace, an implement similar to a golf club, which was the forerunner to the modern cue; the term's origin may have also been from French bille, meaning "ball". The modern term "cue sports" can be used to encompass the ancestral mace games, and even the modern cueless variants, such as finger billiards, for historical reasons. "Cue" itself came from queue, the French word for a tail. This refers to the early practice of using the tail of the mace to strike the ball when it lay against a rail cushion. A recognizable form of billiards was played outdoors in the 1340s, and was reminiscent of croquet. King Louis XI of France (1461–1483) had the first known indoor billiard table. Louis XIV further refined and popularized the game, and it swiftly spread among the French nobility. While the game had long been played on the ground, this version appears to have died out in the 17th century, in favor of croquet, golf and bowling games, while table billiards had grown in popularity as an indoor activity. Mary, Queen of Scots, claimed that her "table de billiard" had been taken away by those who eventually became her executioners (and who covered her body with the table's cloth). In 1588, the Duke of Norfolk, owned a "billyard bord coered with a greene cloth... three billyard sticks and 11 balls of yvery". Billiards grew to the extent that by 1727, it was being played in almost every Paris cafe. In England, the game was developing into a very popular activity for members of the gentry. By 1670, the thin butt end of the mace began to be used not only for shots under the cushion (which itself was originally only there as a preventative method to stop balls from rolling off), but players increasingly preferred it for other shots as well. The cue as it is known today was finally developed by about 1800. Initially, the mace was used to push the balls, rather than strike them. The newly developed striking cue provided a new challenge. Cushions began to be stuffed with substances to allow the balls to rebound, in order to enhance the appeal of the game. After a transitional period where only the better players would use cues, the cue came to be the first choice of equipment. The demand for tables and other equipment was initially met in Europe by John Thurston and other furniture makers of the era. The early balls were made from wood and clay, but the rich preferred to use ivory. Early billiard games involved various pieces of additional equipment, including the "arch" (related to the croquet hoop), "port" (a different hoop) and "king" (a pin or skittle near the arch) in the 1770s, but other game variants, relying on the cushions (and eventually on pockets cut into them), were being formed that would go on to play fundamental roles in the development of modern billiards. Illustration of a three-ball pocket billiards game in early 19th century Tübingen, Germany, using a table much longer than the modern type. The early croquet-like games eventually led to the development of the carom or carambole billiards category – what most non-Commonwealth and non-US speakers mean by the word "billiards". These games, which once completely dominated the cue sports world but have declined markedly in many areas over the last few generations, are games played with three or sometimes four balls, on a table without holes (and without obstructions or targets in most cases), in which the goal is generally to strike one object ball with a cue ball, then have the cue ball rebound off of one or more of the cushions and strike a second object ball. Variations include three-cushion, straight rail and the balkline variants, cushion caroms, five-pins, and four-ball, among others. Over time, a type of obstacle returned, originally as a hazard and later as a target, in the form of pockets, or holes partly cut into the table bed and partly into the cushions, leading to the rise of pocket billiards, including "pool" games such as eight-ball, nine-ball, straight pool and one-pocket; Russian pyramid; snooker; English billiards and others. In the United States pool and billiards had died out for a bit, but between 1878 and 1956 pool and billiards became very popular. Players in annual championships began to receive their own cigarette cards. This was mainly due to the fact that it was a popular pastime for troops to take their minds off from battle. However, by the end of World War II pool and billiards began to die down once again. It wasn’t until 1961 when the film "The Hustler" came out that sparked a new interest in the game. Now the game is generally a well-known game and has many players of all different skill levels. There are few more cheerful sights, when the evenings are long, and the weather dull, than a handsome, well-lighted billiard room, with the smooth, green surface of the billiard table; the ivory balls flying noiselessly here and there, or clicking musically together.