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Billiards, any of various games played on a rectangular table with a designated number of small balls and a long stick called a cue. The table and the cushioned rail bordering the table are topped with a feltlike tight-fitting cloth. Carom, or French, billiards is played with three balls on a table that has no pockets. The other principal games are played on tables that have six pockets, one at each corner and one in each of the long sides; these games include English billiards, played with three balls; snooker, played with 21 balls and a cue ball; and pocket billiards, or pool, played with 15 balls and a cue ball. There are numerous varieties of each game—particularly of carom and pocket billiards.
Many countries—among them France, England, China, Italy, and Spain—have been credited with the invention of the game, but, in fact, nothing is really known about the origin of billiards. It may be inferred that it developed from a variety of games in which propelling a ball was a main feature. The earliest references to the game in Europe occur in the 15th century.