Last autumn I was playing a bit of American Snooker at the fantastically retro Bowl Haven in Davis Square. American Snooker is basically snooker, but with a couple of rule changes that bring it more in line with standard practice for American cue games in general. First, you have to call ball and pocket (or, in the case of a red, just pocket), so flukes rarely count. Second, and more important, the one-rail rule applies: after the cue ball and object ball contact, at least one ball must hit a rail or it’s a foul. (And fouls are seven points, so a foul is bad news). This one-rail rule, I think, improves the game considerably. It makes it much harder to lay one of those annoying trickle-up-behind snookers that, in these days of the miss rule, can give results out of all proportion to the skill involved in laying them (though, to really get down in the weeds, it should be suspended if you start the turn snookered).
Snooker, essentially a long game, is very a different experience from most variants of pool, which tend to be fast games. Purely logistically, in eight-ball or nine-ball, no matter how close the other guy gets to the winning line they can’t put you further away. In fact, in general the more the other guy pots, the easier your job gets. If it’s eight-ball, they’re clearing blocking balls. If it’s nine-ball, they’re actually reducing the number of balls left for you to pot. In snooker, every eight points the other guy gets is eight points more that they're ahead of you. And it's eight points that you can't get now. So it's like SIXTEEN. From here a series of neat syllogisms lead you to the PIT OF DESPAIR.
That pit of despair is the real place where snooker is different from pool. A game of pool simply doesn't have the psychological weight that a game of snooker does. It messes with your head, but it doesn't fuck with your head. In pool, when the other guy’s going well, the sadness does come on you and you do find yourself getting fewer chances and squandering them more; that’s to be expected and comes with any sport where you have too much time to think. But in eight-ball or nine-ball, the game’s over soon enough and you get to start with a blank slate, and one fluke can get you a game on the scoreboard and your eyes can begin to shine again. There’s no equivalent in pool to the game where you knock in a few, and the other guy knocks in a few more, and then he slowly and deliberately makes a 64, and you come back to the table technically able to win but with no shot on and knowing that the next miss means you probably need to watch him potting for another three minutes; no real equivalent to coming to the table snookered with your opponent only needing one more red, and a crushing weight descending on your shoulders.
At the moment I’m finding pool suits my temperament better, but the pendulum will swing back some time.