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 form of carom billiards, and one of the most popular and challenging cue sports in the world.
The object of the game is to carom the cue ball off both object balls and contact the rail cushions at least 3 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 doesn't have to contact 3 different cushions as long as they're contacted at least 3 times in total.
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.[page needed] 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[who?] 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.[page needed]
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.[page needed] Over time, three-cushion completely supplanted balkline billiards, once the world championship carom game.
The game today
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.[page needed] 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.
Three-cushion billiards is a very difficult game. Averaging one point per inning is professional-level play, and averaging 1.5 or more is world-class play. An average of one means that for every turn at the table, a player makes 1 point and misses once, thus making a point on 50% of his or her shots.
The high run at three-cushion billiards for many years was 25, set over 2 games (14 and out and starting with 11 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.
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 3 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 6 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 9 innings (5.555 average) by Torbjörn Blomdahl in 2000, while Korean and U.S. national champion Sang Lee scored 50 points in 4 innings (count: 19-11-9-11) in a handicapped game at Sang Lee Billiards in Queens, New York.
The best tournament match average is 5.625 (45 in 8 innings over 3 games; i.e. only 5 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 7-match Crystal Kelly tournament in Monaco, while Jaspers reached a record average of 2.666 (200 caramboles in 75 innings) at a 4-match national tournament in Veldhoven in 2005.
On 7. September 2013 Jérémy Bury from France made a new official high run of 24 at the 3-cushion World Cup in southkorean Guri in his quarter-final match against Filipos Kasidokostas from Greece (see result sheet on the left).
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.
- "Chicago Billiards Tourney". New York Times: 4. January 15, 1898. Retrieved August 15, 2008.
- US Passport Application for Wayman Crow McCreery dated May 30, 1895. Accessed through Ancestry.com on May 29, 2009
- Shamos, Mike (1999). The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Billiards. New York City, NY, US: Lyons Press. ISBN 1-55821-797-5
- New York Times Company (September 21, 1902). Billiards Players Busy. Retrieved January 2, 2007.
- Thomas, Augustus (1922). The Print of My Remembrance. New York, London: C. Scribner's Sons. p. 117.
- Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company (1909). Modern Billiards. New York: Trow Directory. p. 333. Retrieved May 27, 2009.
- New York Times Company (January 6, 1911). Magnus Plays Poor Billiards. Retrieved January 2, 2007.
- New York Times Company (September 15, 1924). Hoppe–Greenleaf Match Is Clinched: To Meet in 600-Point Contest at 3-Cushions. Retrieved February 21, 2007.
- New York Times Company (September 26, 1924). Greenleaf Beaten by Hoppe, 600-527: Balkline Star Takes Final Block in 3-Cushion Match at the Strand, 50 to 44. Retrieved February 21, 2007.
- New York Times Company (October 17, 1952). Hoppe, 65, Leave Cue Competition; Three-Cushion Ace Will Play Exhibitions -- Won 51 Titles During 46-Year Span. Retrieved January 2, 2007.
- Billiards Congress of America, R. A. Dyer, Billiards: the official rules & records book, p.189, Lyons Press, 2005
- Kozoom.com Personal page Dick Jaspers
- Torbjörn Blomdahl, European Championships 2008
- Billiard Pulse, Dick Jaspers wins European Three Cushion Championship with record-breaking play, June 11, 2008
- Tournament results at kozoom.com and Results at Jaspers' hom page
- Results at Jaspers' hom page (in Dutch)
- Sports123.com (2000–2007). Men: World 3 Cushion Championship Retrieved February 5, 2007
- "List of UMB World 3-cushion Champions".
- "List of BWA World 3-cushion Champions".