What is the difference between British and American pool?

If you’re buying a pool table, one of the big decisions you’ll need to make is whether to get an American or a British table. But what does this mean? What are the differences?

Overview

American billiard tables are physically larger. Fast, nylon cloths and high-rebound cushions make for a high-speed game with plenty of excitement. British tables, smaller and with woollen cloths, provide more of a calm, strategic game. The compact British tables are preferred for home and venue installations, but if you have the space, an American table makes a striking centrepiece for the games room.

Read on for a more thorough outline of the differences between British and American pool.

An LA Pro American pool table

An LA Pro American pool table (From £2995) [ view in store ]

Gameplay

American pool tables are designed to give a fast, exciting game, with plenty of rebounds and ricochets. As a result, they tend to be bigger, with larger pockets, faster nylon cloths, and more springy cushions.

British pool tables are designed for the more strategic game of British pool, or eight-ball. The woollen cloth, narrow pockets and flat-sided cushions promote the use of tactics over raw shot power. The smaller table size means that you might try handicapping or ‘snookering’ your opponent by blocking their shots. Almost all pub tables in the UK are British tables, although you might find an American table in an urban sports bar or US-style pool hall.

Although based on similar rules, the games are different. We’d definitely suggest that you try both games before making a decision.

An Winner British pool table

A Supreme Winner British pool table (From £975) [ view in store ]

Size

How do the tables differ in size? The short answer is that American tables are larger than British tables.

The long answer is that British tables are almost exclusively made in 6ft or 7ft lengths. This makes them the best choice for home games rooms, where space and cueing room can be limited. Remember that you don’t just want to fit the table into your space, you need room to walk around it and use a pool cue – ideally a full-size 57-inch cue – from any angle. Read our full room size FAQ for more details on cueing room.

American tables are much larger, usually ranging from 7ft to 9ft (with a few 6ft oddities available). American 7ft tables tend to be larger than British 7ft tables – you should check the individual listing for precise table dimensions. This makes them a good choice only when the games room is big enough to host such a large table. Again, check your cueing room before buying.

Cloth

The billiard cloth is key in making American and British pool play so differently.

British cloth is made from wool, sometimes with other fibres woven in. It has a soft, damping texture that is designed to add drag to the ball roll, slowing it down. It promotes accuracy over roll speed, and rewards players who play precisely and thoughtfully.

American cloth is made primarily from nylon, which offers very low roll resistance. This means that powerful shots can roll much further, usually off a couple of cushions, and make this a game that favours fast, exciting gameplay – and needs a larger playfield.

Cushions & Pockets

Even the cushions and pockets are designed differently. On British tables, the pockets are narrow with pronounced, rounded shoulders. This makes it harder to pot a ball, and promotes skill. The cushions are flat-sided, which gives only a moderate rebound and also has a slight damping effect on ball travel.

American and British pool table pockets

British (left) and American (right) pool table pockets

On American tables, the pockets are wide with straight-cut corners and a sharp point at either side of the entrance. This makes it easier to pot a ball from a distance, encouraging players to use the fast cloth and go for the long shots. The cushions are pointed and springy, with almost no rebound damping, again with the idea of keeping a shot travelling as fast as possible for as long as possible.

American and British pool table cushions

British (left) and American (right) pool table cushions

British tables often have internal ball return systems, so after a ball is potted, it returns to a collection area at one end of the table. On a coin-op table, the white ball is separated and sent to a second collection area at the other end. American tables sometimes have ball return systems, but more commonly have simple drop pockets that store the balls inside the pocket until the end of the game.

Balls and Cues

Bigger tables need bigger balls. So American pool is generally played with 2¼-inch balls – large and heavy, which gives them plenty of forward momentum when rolling. British pool is generally played with 2-inch balls which are lighter and smaller, again favouring the tactical game over speed.

American and British pool balls

British (left) and American (right) pool balls

British cues tend to have smaller tips – usually no larger than 9mm. This small tip encourages precise cue ball control and discourages power shots. American cues can have tips of up to 12mm or more, which is ideal for those long, accurate power shots to the far end of the table.

Most pool cues are 57-inch, with 48-inch cues being popular where cue space is limited. Smaller sizes are available for particularly tight corners or young players.

American and British pool cue tips

British (left) and American (right) pool cue tips

Now you know how British and American pool tables differ, you can choose the correct one for you. There’s no substitute for experience, though, which is why we’d recommend trying a few games on both types of table before deciding. When you’re ready, you can browse our American pool tables and British pool tables to find the perfect one for you.

 
This article was written by Liberty Games staff member
Joe O'Mara
Sales Manager at Liberty Games. Pool table specialist & pinball wiz. Film & cinema nerd.
Liberty Games

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