John Roberts, Jr. (billiards player)

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For the Chief Justice, see John G. Roberts.
John Roberts, Jr., by R. E. Ruddock.

John Roberts, Jr. (15 August 1847 – 23 December 1919) was a welsh dominant professional player of English billiards. He was also a notable manufacturer of billiards cues and tables, and promoter of the sport.

Early years[edit]

Roberts, Jr. lived in the shadow of his father, John Roberts, Sr. for many years, but came into the public eye after his father's retirement, beating Willam Cook 1,200–722.[clarification needed] However, Cook would eventually gain superiority over John Roberts, Jr.

A billiards match between Roberts and Edward Diggle.

In 1875, Cook was defeated by Roberts, Jr. again and it sparked his dominance of the sport. In 1880, he left for Calcutta, where he set up a billiard table factory. Roberts however was able to concede starts to all opposition, but would not play in Championship matches. This damaged the sport's perception, as everybody perceived him to be champion.[clarification needed]

As two variants of the sport, "spot-barred" and "all-in" developed, Roberts came back to the fore, competing in only the "spot-barred" version. In 1884, he broke the spot-barred record break from 309 by Cook, to 360. He developed the top-of-the-table technique, that required alternating cannons and pot reds that would become the "modern" way of playing the game.[clarification needed]

In 1885, Roberts sat at the meeting that formed the Billiards Association, and helped to code a new set of rules for the game of English billiards. Roberts challenged Cook for the title, which he won by default, but then he successfully defended the rematch from Cook to win the title.[1]

Championship rift[edit]

William Peall beat Roberts in a match where he was restricted to 100 spots in a break. Peall was the leading "all-in" player in the era. Roberts maintained his spot-barred supremacy, and did not challenge either Peall or Billy Mitchell for the championship. He cited that the public would not enjoy the repetition of the game, a foreshadowing of the eventual decline of the game.

Peall and Roberts both claimed to be champions of the sport, and a match to test their claims proved unnegotiable. After a four-year hiatus, the championship returned when the Billiards Association decided to create two championships, one for all-in, and another for spot-barred. By this stage, Roberts was a successful billiards merchandise producer, and offered the association a venue, table and trophy for the new championship, but refused to play in it.

Roberts went on a tour of North America in 1894, playing the American champion, Frank Ives in Chicago. Ives had mastered the technique of jamming the balls in the pockets, [clarification needed] and ended up winning the match 6,000-3,821, after a break of 2,539. A return match held in New York saw Ives again as champion.

Caricature of John Roberts, Jr., by "Spy", Vanity Fair, 4 April 1885.

Later that year, Roberts set his highest ever break in an exhibition at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly. His 867 included many nursery cannons. He pioneered pneumatic (air-filled) rubber cushions in 1895 on his tables, in a bid to make them the best on the market, but this did not succeed. (vulcanized rubber cushioned had been in use since the 1850s, and remain among the most common today, along with cushions made of synthetic compounds.)

After a controversy regarding rules with the Billiards Association, Roberts won against Charles Dawson by 1,814 points, in a match lasting over two weeks. He again did not play in the championship in 1899.[1]

Playing for royalty[edit]

Roberts had now involved himself in royal circles. He played Lily Langtry, a music personality of the day, and the Prince of Wales called Roberts shot against her [clarification needed] in a 50-up match. Roberts was still able to win the game.

He toured India and knowing that the Maharajah of Jaipur was a fan, he travelled to meet him. He ended up with an annual salary of UK£500, and expenses paid for any future visits to India. Despite potential transportation difficulties, the Maharajah organised a tournament. The players all went to India, and in the opening match, Roberts was potting the red repeatedly when the Maharajah ended the game declaring the winner to be Roberts. His opponent, S. W. Stanley, had played only one shot, an unsuccessful safety.

Roberts's determination to play the game also endeared him to many fans. He played Mitchell in Manchester, and despite having malarial fever and ague, he still made a 600 unfinished break to win the match.[1]

End of the Roberts era[edit]

Having beaten Dawson, Roberts retired from the championship, and billiards, for good. He had not only helped create the game's rules but also provided the new apparatus with which to play it.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Everton, Clive (1986). The History of Snooker and Billiards (rev. ver. of The Story of Billiards and Snooker, 1979 ed.). Haywards Heath, UK: Partridge Pr. [clarification needed]. ISBN 1-85225-013-5.