• Padmja Sopori

Right on Cue

The History of billiards is long and very rich. The game has been played by kings and commoners, presidents, mental patients, ladies, gentlemen, and hustlers alike. It evolved from a lawn game similar to the croquet played some-time during the 15th century in Northern Europe and probably in France. Play moved indoors to a wooden table with green cloth to simulate grass, and a simple border was placed around the edges. The balls were shoved, rather than struck, with wooden sticks called "maces." The term "billiard" is derived from French, either from the word "billart", one of the wooden sticks, or "bille", a ball. One such person who enjoys the sport is Vijay Wanchoo, the Senior Executive Vice President of Imperial Hotels, and hobbyist billiards player.

When and how did you start playing billiards?

I first picked up the cue in 1977 in Simla. This was while I was undergoing training at a hotel there. I learnt from a friend who knew the game and picked up the basics in about an hour.

What is the difference between pool, billiards and snooker?

Pool is the Americanised version of Snooker. It is played on a smaller table, generally about 8 ft x 4 feet

Billiards and snooker are played on a big table 6 ft x 12 ft.

Billiards is played with three balls- one red and two whites. One of the white is spotted to show the difference as the person who starts the game.

Snooker is played with 15 Reds, one each of Black (7 points), Pink (6), Blue (5), Brown (4), Green (3) and Yellow (2).

Where would one go to play?

There are several Snooker and Billiards parlours in most cities and are generally available. Most high-end clubs have tables.

How difficult is billiards?

Billiards, snooker and pool are three games besides golf in which you hit a still ball. In all other games, you hit a moving ball. Hence, billiards is a technical game and you need immense practice. You need a good Marker to train you. The key is practice. First, get the basics then move forward from that.

How would one go about learning billiards?

Like I said, get hold of a good marker. A marker is an experienced man who also takes care of the tables by regularly cleaning and ironing them. Once you learn the basics then there should be a continuous practice.

What is your favourite thing about billiards?

The best thing about billiards is that it relaxes you. Mind you, there is a lot of walking to be done, so it is also a bit strenuous. However, this game can be played at any time of the day. the other aspect is that it is a mind game. The more relaxed you are, the better you will play. I also love the quality of this sport as it is indeed a royal game/ a gentleman's game.

Can you tell us something about billiards that people may not know?

Billiards was invented in India by army cadets in Ooty. From here it went to the UK where it was converted to snooker by cadets. Cadets were also called 'snooker', hence the name.

The first billiards table in the world is still there at The Gymkhana in Ooty. The table is made of a wooden frame, them slates are placed at the base and then the baize cloth is placed. Sounds simple to not very simple.

What's one piece of advice you'd give to someone taking up the sport?

Look for a good club. Check out the background of the marker. The older the better.

Buy a cue. These vary from Rs 3,000 to 50,000. Buy a cue as per your height and weight so there is a balance. Spend time practising the basics. Enjoy the royal game.

Happy Cueing!