Life pool

The 19th century had many different cue sports, like everlasting pool and scratch pool. Life pool, one of the ancestors of snooker, gave each player three ‘lives’ which other players could eliminate until only one was left standing.

Pool hall
Leslie’s magazine [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Life pool begins with all the players pooling their bets. Each player gets one ball, which means you could technically play this game with fourteen players. In turns, each player hits their own ball with the cue and tries to knock another player’s ball into a pocket. If they do, the pocketed player loses a life and the ball stays off the table until their next turn. Lose three lives and you’re out of the game; be the last player standing and you win the game and the pot.

In 1862, life pool evolved into black pool, also known as everlasting pool. Like life pool, each player had a ball of their own. Rather than pooling their bets at the start, they have to pay a set stake each time their ball is potted. So, technically, players can drop in and out at any time – a game of black pool could last for days. It has one extra wrinkle, though: an extra ball is on the table. Once you’ve hit one ball in you’re allowed to try for the black ball. Pot it, and everyone has to pay you the stake; miss, and you have to pay everyone else.

Beginning to look familiar? Black pool merged with another game – pyramids – to create the modern game of snooker. Which, alas, has no lives at all.

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