Snooker is a popular sport played by millions across the globe. Despite being popular not many people are aware that snooker dates hundreds of years back. According to the first observation, King Louis XIV of France liked to play billiards in 1694. However, the sport was a lot different back then.
Today, several variations of the game are played depending on the region, and fans around the world visit to watch their favorite players compete. With that being said, let’s discuss the history of cues, which gives the game its identity and recognition.
Back in the day, it all started from Billiards. The game preceded snooker by over 200 years and was played on pocketless tables in the 17th century in a few places in Europe. At the time, there were several variations such as the bizarre French one called fortification billiards. The game involved placing little head huts hoops and bells on the table and the player had to pass the ball through them.
According to many historians, billiards was inspired by croquet due to the cloth being green, which represents grass. The cues were called maces derived from croquet mallets. These were basically pieces of wood that were curved at one end while the other tipped with ivory. The player would trail the top of the mace over his right shoulder and use a sweeping motion to push the ball along.
As the game progressed, the mace was left out and the player regularly experimented with the thin end. This end had the same diameter as today’s cues. The players observed that they could play some shots easily especially when it came to cushions, which were much higher than those we see today. Then, they tried twisting the thin end into the ceiling’s whitewashed walls, creating a chalk-like effect.
As compared to football, snooker cues developed and progress much sooner due to players experimenting with them in each match. As a result, the mace was barely used in the 19th century, except for women players.
Mixing Business with Leather
In 1807, Captain Francois Minguad was called by a French infantry officer who was in prison near Paris. Minguad himself was a keen player and while incarcerated, experimented with using a leather tip on the cue’s end with bits of leather collected from the horse’s harness. Upon his release from prison, Minguad caught everyone off-guard while he played amazing trick shots. The shots were way ahead of their time.
In 1827, Minguad wrote and published his book titled “Le Noble Jeu de Billiard”, which described in detail how he pulled off his incredible shots. Then, Minguard met John Thurston who played a huge role in the development of billiard tables. Upon the release of his second book, the leather tip became a huge success around the world.
This also meant that the manufacturers were not producing cues with leather tips. At first, they made leather tips of 14 to 15-millimeter sizes whereas the thick end would be 35 or 36 millimeters. In addition to that, the cue would also have a six or eight-inch flat part on the thick end with a leather pad underneath, which is still used today.
Growth of the Cue Trade
In the second half of the 19th century, billiards became a much-loved sport, especially in Britain. By the 1860s, the game had produced several splendid players who were making breaks of hundreds and even thousands.
However, at the time the players were more advanced than the administrators. The player in an attempt to win more and more games used to try out and introduce new techniques and shots. Then the administrators had to set new rules and regulations.
As the players got better, the manufacturers refined the shapes of cues as well. As a result, manufacturers like Thurston and Burroughes & Watts started making thinner cues. By the 1870s, the cues were down to 32 or 33 mm while the tip was around 11 or 12 mm. But at the same time, the balls were made from ivory whereas the cloth was thicker and heavier.
Snooker Takes Over
By the 1920s, Billiard players had become so good that they killed the game as public entertainment. No one was willing to sit and watch for days while the players made the breaks. As a result, the legend Joe Davis saw a huge potential for snooker to succeed and organized the first World Championship in 1927.
As snooker took over billiards, the cues underwent slight changes as well. For instance, Davis argued in his instruction books of the 40s and 50s that the cue of snooker should be shorter than that of billiards. However, it should be stronger, heavier, and stronger in the taper and stiffer.
The reason was that billiards as compared to snooker was a gentle game. Snooker on the other hand involved powerful shots. Most of the snooker cues today follow the Joe Davis principles. That is why professional players opt for cues that belong to his era.
The Modern Era
During the late 70s and early 80s, when snooker had become a fairly successful sport, specialist cue makers like John Parris and Hunt & O Byrne experimented with a variety of woods to use them as a selling point. They sourced special wood from countries like Indonesia, Africa, Cambodia, and Thailand and began making double hand-spliced cues. However, when it came to professional players, they always preferred the standard cues.
The biggest change taking place is in the cue tip area. In the 1970s, most players would use a cue tip that was either 10 mm or 10.5 mm in size. Today, players like Shaun Murphy use cue tips that are under 9mm and most players use between 9.25 mm and 9.5 mm. The reason is that the cloths today are relatively thinner and almost frictionless. If the players continued using 10 mm tips, the ball would move in a different direction than intended by the player.
Much of the development and progress of cues is mainly due to the players who kept experimenting with shots back in the day. Apart from the cues and other variations of the game, the rules and regulations have become stricter as well. Today, professional snooker games have referees and administrators overlooking the game to ensure the game is as fair and transparent as possible.