Three-cushion billiards (sometimes called three-cushion carom, three-cushion, three-cushions, three-rail, rails and the angle game, and often spelled with "3" instead of "three") is a popular form of carom billiards.
The object of the game is to carom the cue ball off both object balls and contact the rail cushions at least three times before the last object ball. A point is scored for each successful carom. In most shots the cue ball hits the object balls one time each, although hitting them any number of times is allowed as long as both are hit. The contacts between the cue ball and the cushions may happen before and/or after hitting the first object ball. The cue ball does not have to contact three different cushions as long as they have been in contact at least three times in total. Each player has his own cue ball. In modern Three Cushion Carambole are the neutral ball red, and the cue balls white and yellow. The introduction of the yellow ball (instead of two white ones) has not changed any rules, each player have always used a cue ball of his/her own. Earlier was there smaller markings on the white balls, in order to separate them from each other. The yellow ball just makes it easier for spectators to follow the game.
Three-cushion dates to the 1870s, and while the origin of the game is not entirely known, it evolved from cushion caroms, which in turn developed from straight rail billiards for the same reason that balkline also arose from straight rail. Such new developments made the game more challenging, less repetitive, and more interesting for spectators as well as players, by thwarting the ability of highly skilled players to rack up point after point at will by relying on nurse shots.
It is undisputed that the Internal Revenue Collector of the Port of St. Louis, Missouri, one Wayman Crow McCreery, born June 14, 1851 in St. Louis, popularized the game. At least one publication categorically states he invented the game as well.
The first three-cushion billiards tournament took place January 14–31, 1878 in C. E. Mussey's billiard room in St. Louis, with McCreery a participant. The tourney was won by New Yorker Leon Magnus. The high run for the tournament was just 6 points, and the high average a .75. The game was infrequently played prior to 1907, with many top carom players of the era voicing their dislike of it. However, after the introduction of the Lambert Trophy in 1907, the game became increasingly popular both in the US and internationally.
By 1924, three-cushion had become so popular that two giants in other billiard disciplines agreed to take up the game especially for a challenge match. On September 22, 1924 Willie Hoppe, the world's balkline champion (who later took up three-cushion with a passion), and Ralph Greenleaf, the world's straight pool title holder, played a well advertised, multi-day match to 600 points. Hoppe was the eventual winner with a final score of 600–527. The game's decline in the US began in 1952 when Hoppe, then 51-time billiards champion, announced his retirement. Over time, three-cushion completely supplanted balkline billiards, once the world championship carom game.
Three-cushion retains great popularity in parts of Europe, Asia, and Latin America, and is the most popular carom billiards game played in the US today, where pool is far more widespread. The game's slow re-increase in US popularity is due in part to the introduction of the Sang Lee International Open tournament in Flushing, New York in 2005, with first-place prize money up to US$25,000. The game has also seen increased coverage in US-based cue sports publications such as Billiards Digest and Pool & Billiard Magazine. Without doubt is Three Cushion Carambole the most difficult game to master, among all billiard games. For instance Torbjörn Blomdahl has defeated several nine-ball World Champions at their own game !
Three-cushion billiards is a very difficult game. Averaging one point per inning is usually national-level play, and averaging 1.500 or more is world-class play. An average of 1.000 means that for every turn at the table, means that a player point success rate is 50%. An average of 2.000 means a success rate of 66%.
The high run at three-cushion billiards for many years was 25, set over two games (fourteen and out and starting with eleven in the next game) by the American Willie Hoppe in 1918 during an exhibition in San Francisco. In 1968 Raymond Ceulemans improved the record to 26 in a match in the Simonis Cup tournament. In 1993 Junichi Komori set the record to 28 in a Dutch league match, a feat repeated by Ceulemans in 1998 in the same league. In 2012 Roland Forthomme tied the record in Zundert. In the 2013 European Championships in Brandenburg, Germany, Frederic Caudron became the fourth member of the "28" club. Ceulemans reputedly had a high run of 32 in a non-tournament, non-exhibition match. The highest run so far in a World Cup match is 24, set by Jérémy Bury on 7 September 2013 in Guri, South Korea (see result sheet on the right).
When allowing for interruptions by opponents starting new games, the current record high run is 34 by the Dutchman Dick Jaspers: in his 2008 European Championship Final match against the Swede Torbjörn Blomdahl, played in three games of 15 points each, he ended Game One by going 13 and out, ran 15 and out in the only inning of Game Two (started by Blomdahl), and ran six in his first inning of Game Three.
The best game at the standard 50 points in a league is six innings (8.333 average) by Eddy Merckx (count:4-9-26-7-0-4) in the German Bundesliga in 2011. The best such game in a tournament is nine innings (5.555 average) by Torbjörn Blomdahl in 2000, while South Korean and later U.S. national champion Sang Lee scored 50 points in four innings (count: 19-11-9-11, a 12.5 average) in a handicapped game at Sang Lee Billiards in Queens, New York.
The best tournament match average is 5.625 (45 in eight innings over three games; i.e. only five misses), scored by Dick Jaspers in the above-mentioned European Cup finals in Florange, France, in 2008. Remarkably, his opponent Blomdahl averaged 3.0 in his losing effort. The highest average at an international tournament is 2.537 (345 caramboles in 136 innings) by Dick Jaspers in 2002 at a seven-match Crystal Kelly tournament in Monaco, while Jaspers reached a record average of 2.666 (200 caramboles in 75 innings) at a four-match national tournament in Veldhoven in 2005.
Raymond Ceulemans from Belgium has won a probably unmatchable 21 three-cushion billiards world-championships.
The principal governing body of the sport is the Union Mondiale de Billard (UMB). It had been staging world three-cushion championships since the late 1920s. Decades later, the Billiards World Cup Association (BWA) competed with UMB, but faded in the late 1990s due to financial problems. The International Olympic Committee-recognized World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA) cooperates with the UMB to keep their rulesets synchronized.
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