Bar Billiards is a delightful game, found in many pubs and bars in England (and in particular in the St John's College Bar ). It's a 2 player game but you can have as many players as you want as long as they are split into 2 teams. It's played on a table that looks a little like this:

  +-------------------------------------------------------+
  |                                                       |
  |   /--\       /--\        /--\        /--\      /--\   |
  |   |  |       |  |        |  |        |  |      |  |   |
  |   \--/       \--/        \--/        \--/      \--/   |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |    /--\                  /--\                  /--\   |
  |    |  |                  |  |                  |  |   |
  |    \--/                  \--/                  \--/   |
  |      x                    x                      x    |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |                          /--\                         |
  |                          |  |                         |
  |                          \--/                         |
  |                           x                           |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |                           *                           |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |                                                       |
  |                         -----                         |
  |                        /     \                        |
  |                       /       \                       |
  +-------------------------------------------------------+
  |                                                       |
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  |                                                       |
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  |                                                       |
  +-------------------------------------------------------+

The table is flat, normally 6 feet by 3 feet and covered with a cloth like substance identical to what you get on billiards tables. As you can see there are 9 holes, an area known as the 'D' (turn your head sideways). The line below the D is known as the baulk line.

The basic idea of the game is to score points by hitting balls into the holes with a cue. From left to right, top to bottom the holes are worth 10, 20, 30, 20, 10, 50, 100, 50, 200. The x's in front of some of the holes represent what are known as skittles. These are basically a small wooden cylinder with a metal bar going across at the top to stop them falling in the holes. As you can see they are positioned to make access to the high-scoring holes difficult.

What makes the game skillful though is that you cannot use the cue to stick a ball straight into a hole: it must hit another ball first.

The game is played with one red ball and a number of white balls, similar to those used for games such as pool. At the start of the game the red ball is placed on the * and a white ball is placed on the D. You must then hit the white ball with the cue.

A turn is known as a break. A break ends either when you foul or when a shot results in no balls being potted. If you pot one or more balls, you take another ball from the rack, place it on the D and have another go. If there are no more spare balls and the red ball is on the table, then you take the red ball. Otherwise you take the white ball closest to the baulk line. If at any point you have cleared all the balls from the table the you place the red ball and a white ball on the table like at the start of the game.The ball you are using is the cue ball.

When your break is over, if you have not fouled then the points you have scored during that break are added to your score, and play passes to the next player. If you fouled, you do not get the points from that break and you forfeit an extra 100 points. Your score may not go below zero. The red ball has the special property that points scored with it are doubled, ie if the red ball goes into the 200 hole, you score 400 points.

Possible fouls are as follows:

To make the game a little more interesting, if the dollies covering the 100 or 200 hole are knocked over then you lose all of your points.

After a while (normally 10-15 minutes) the balls you pot will stop coming back into the rack. The game then ends when you have potted all the balls or there is a single ball left on the table.

Like many games the rules may vary from place to place, the rules presented here are those in use in St John's College bar, where it has been part of many an enjoyable evening. Despote the fact that it is a game of considerable skill it usually seems appropriate to be have a pint while playing bar billiards.

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