The American, or 'Four-Ball' Game

Snooker Cue

Some years ago, Mr. Stark, a fine player from the United States, arrived in this country; and to him we are mainly indebted for the introduction among us of the Four-ball or American game. His fame as a billiard player had preceded him, and great was the curiosity felt in clubs and public rooms to witness his wonderful skill. No cavalier or knight of ancient or modern days ever wielded lance or sword with such dexterity as that exhibited by Mr. Stark with the billiard cue. No player of the present degenerate times had acquired such mastery over the simple instrument. The number he could score from a single break was something fabulous, and he had come over to the 'old country' not so much to 'beat the Britishers' - of course, there could be no doubt about that little achievement - as to show us thick-blooded islanders to what perfection the game of Billiards had been brought by its scientific devotees in the 'free and independent' land of Stars and Stripes. Mr. Stark was prepared to play any man in England at his own peculiar game, and give him odds! and, like the wealthy thimble-rigger on a country racecourse, was ready to stake to any amount - had 'got more money nor the parson of the parish, and could break the Bank of England!' Stand aside, John Roberts, and make room for the great Mr. Stark! Such was the sort of rhodomontade that preceded the American; and, with our usual gullibility, we believed all we heard, and never for a moment suspected the presence of bunkum!

Well, Mr. Stark arrived; and, to do him justice, he was really a fine player and a modest man. It was his backers, and not he, that boasted. I saw him play several times with tolerably good players at Green's rooms, in Leicester Square, and he invariably beat them at long odds. Now, the American is a very different game from the English. It is played with four balls, and consists entirely of winning hazards and canons. Our great players had never seen it before. Their practise of winning hazards had been principally obtained in the games of pool and pyramids; so that Mr. Stark's game took them a little by surprise. It is true that he really did make some great scores, occasionally getting a hundred or a hundred and fifty, and even more, off one break. But as soon as English players had seen the game they began to practise it; and, speedily conquering its alphabet, became adepts in every tone and inflexion of its language. The American game was for a time quite fashionable in the clubs and principle public rooms; but Mr. Stark had not been three months in England before he was challenged and beaten! He made no great noise after; and, though he was doubtless a very excellent player, he never found courage or opportunity to accept a challenge for an even game from any celebrated English player.

In observing his game, I soon discovered that its great strength lay, not so much in his canons as in his admirable straight and doublet winning hazards. Till his appearance in England, the perfection and certainty since attained in making winning hazards was certainly unknown; so that, in spite of his comparative failure as 'the finest player in the world,' he proved of immense assistance to us in directing our attention to a new and interesting game. In those days the Spot Stroke was comparatively unpractised.

Though in many respects inferior to the English game, the American four-ball game is useful in accustoming the young player to the making of winning hazards and canons in apparently unlikely situations. In the games of pool and pyramids, the certainty of direction assumed by the object-ball is a matter of great importance; and I know of no better introduction to those excellent games than an occasional match at the American game, with a good player for antagonist.

THURSTON'S RULES FOR THE AMERICAN GAME

This game is played with four balls: two white, one red, and one pink.

At the commencement of the game, the red is placed on the spot, in the centre of the upper half of the table, and the pink in a similar position at the lower baulk end, and is considered in the baulk; consequently, cannot be played at when the striker's ball is in hand.

The baulk extends as far as the line of the pink, and can be played from any part within that line.

1. String for the lead, the winner having choice of the lead and the balls.

2. The party leading must play a miss (which does not count) anywhere behind the red, or     failing to leave it behind, must play it again; but if it be in the least past the line of the     red, it must remain there. The miss does not count to either player.

3. The opponent must then either play at the white ball or give a miss, which counts one     point against him. For should he strike either the red or pink it must be replaced, and his     adversary scores a miss and goes on playing.

4. The game consists of canons and winning hazards, is generally played one hundred up,     and is scored in the following manner :-

    Cannons.- Two, if made with the white and either the red or pink; three off both red and     pink; and five off all.

    Winning Hazards.- Two, for holing the white; three, for either the red or pink; six, for     both red and pink; and eight for holing all. Thirteen can be made by one stroke.

5. Losing hazards count against the party making them, either two or three, besides the loss     of whatever may have been scored by the stroke.

6. A losing hazard scores two to the opponent if the white ball be struck by the striker's ball,     and three if the red or pink only.

7. If the striker force his own ball off the table, the penalty is the same as for a losing     hazard; but no point is gained or lost by forcing either of the other balls off.

8. When the striker forces his opponent's ball off the table, it remains in hand; but if either     the red or pink, it must be placed on the spot as at the commencement.

9. If, when a red or pink ball is holed or forced off the table, its proper spot be occupied by     another ball, it must remain in hand until there be room, and then spotted when the balls     have done rolling.

10. No score can be made if the stroke be foul.

11. The stroke is foul if the striker move his own or another ball in the act of striking, or       while the balls are rolling. But if, in taking aim, he accidently touch or move a ball, it       may be replaced, and the stroke will then be fair.

12. No score can be made when the striker's ball touches another.

13. The balls are never broken after a foul stroke, as in the English three-ball game, but       must remain as they have run; the adversary having the advantage of whatever may be       left.

14. Should the striker play with the wrong ball, he cannot score, and his opponent has the       option of playing with either ball.

15. Should the striker force his ball off the table or run it off into a pocket without touching       another, his adversary scores three points.


Snooker Cue