Pardon Me, but Your Balls are the Wrong Color!

Welcome to another post on “Tuesdays in Tshwane,” where I give you a little slice of life around the capitol city of Pretoria (nka Tshwane) South Africa.

Kurt and I, as some of you know from previous posts, are pool players. We’ve been away from the scene for a number of years, but once upon a time we ran a magazine for pool players, played in leagues 4 nights a week, and took our vacation days playing amateur tournaments in Las Vegas. As we worked more and began moving more, our playing days dwindled. We’re rusty, to say the least, but eager to play again.

playing pool in other countries travel South Africa
Kurt at Players Club in Pretoria.

So we were excited to find a nice pool hall here, called Players. It has a bar, and no smoking is allowed inside. There is a handy pizza joint nearby for ordering food, and a lovely balcony outside. It has a few large, nice tables with good felt and rails, a Snooker table, and many smaller tables. We’re using their house cues (not bad) and happily resurrecting our skills in 9-ball, 8-ball and Straight Pool.

playing pool in other countries travel South Africa

But we had to make minor adjustments, because some of the balls are different colors than back home. On the 9-ball table, it looks like a regular 8-ball rack, until you notice that the 4 & 12 are pink (instead of purple) and the 7 & 15 are brown (instead of burgundy.) I believe this an inheritance from the UK, and that Canadians likewise use pink and brown instead of purple and burgundy (any Canadian or UK pool players want to answer that?)

playing pool in other countries travel South Africa
Pool ball colors for an 8-ball set. In America, the 4 and 12 are purple, while the 7 and 15 are burgundy.

The biggest adjustment, however, comes on the smaller tables—not to the size, but to the balls. In bars and pool halls across America, the pool balls are a standard 8-ball set: solid colors numbered 1-7; matching striped colors numbered 9-15; and a black 8-ball (the object of the game). On those tables, with a standard 8-ball set of balls, players can enjoy a variety of games, including 8-ball, 9-ball, Cut-Throat, what-have-you.

Here, Blackball is the name of the game (your objective), and you have either all yellow or all red balls. No numbers. Simply reds, yellows, and one black.

playing pool in other countries travel South Africa
A Blackball pool table at Players Club in Pretoria, South Africa

It plays pretty much the same as 8-ball, but for a couple of league/tourney players who have discussions long into the night about how games were played, positions taken, shots missed, achieved, etc., it’s a strange conversation.

playing pool in other countries travel South Africa
Tokens for the blackball pool table.

As we drove back home after our evening of blackball, because we associate yellow and red pool balls with specific numbers, we kept referring to every shot as either a 1-ball or 9-ball (yellows), or a 3-ball or 11-ball (reds) and having to correct ourselves to “yellow” or “red.” But that in itself made it really confusing, because in discussing shots and positions, we couldn’t separate one game from the next, or even one shot from another. There are only so many times you can say “Yeah, when I shot that yellow ball (no the other yellow ball, no the other other yellow ball) into the corner for position on my, um, er… other… yellow… ball… to line up for the yellow ball before the black ball…” Phew! Bizarre.

playing pool in other countries travel South Africa
Traveling MarLa, thinking she can take Kurt to town in a game of 9-ball.

We were challenged on the blackball table all night on Saturday. We held the table against challengers until we were ready to leave, then gave the table over. We played by local rules, which are pretty much the same as 8-ball, except that after a foul, the cueball goes behind-the-line, and the next shooter has two shots. Naturally I’d rather just play ball-in-hand rather than tracking this two-shot nonsense, but when in Rome, er South Africa…

We’ve now been to Players three times and plan to go back whenever we have weekends that we aren’t traveling.

Do you play? What’s your game?

Love, MarLa

More “Tuesdays in Tshwane” posts:

Things Unknown but Longed for Still

Squabs and the Strange Poets Who Write About Them

6 thoughts on “Pardon Me, but Your Balls are the Wrong Color!

  1. The pink and (light) brown balls are the same colors as the ones used for snooker, but their use in numbered ball sets in place of purple and burgundy owes more to television than anything else. On older TVs, especially if lighting wasn’t great, it could be difficult to tell the purple 4 from the 8 ball, and the 7 could look either like the 8 or the 3, depending on how red the shade of burgundy was. So the pink and brown (really tan) were used to provide better contrast. Most modern ball sets use more vibrant colors, making the need for a pink ball lesser, as the purple is quite bright. The use of brown instead of burgundy seems to have caught on almost permanently, though, albeit not always so light.

    1. Dave, thank you so much. This is a wonderful and well-written reply. I had no idea about the colors for television but it really makes sense. We are just now learning snooker, and I noticed the colors. I wish I had you writing for me when I ran my pool magazine years ago! 🙂

  2. Neat. I read this to Bob and he found it quite interesting; he was quite a pool player in his day (when he could see). He says, “Congrats on holding the table all evening!”

  3. Cool! Maybe you guys open your own pool hall back here when you get home, and cater to SA expats with a couple “black ball” tables!

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