From "Fancy Billiards" to "Artistic Billiards"

The game of "Fancy billiards" was made up of more spectacular shots than those of traditional billiards. It was practised by professionals, and was not played in competition. These shows, which were very popular with amateurs, who watched them in large numbers, concluded a billiard demonstration (usually a Free game) in a café or a Club. People flocked to the "Wizards". The important thing was to draw the path of the balls with or without a carom, with or without accessories (hats, bottles, etc...). The session ended with a lottery to pay the teacher.

This mode of playing billiards, quite free and spectacular, began at the beginning of the 1800's thanks to Frenchman François MINGAUD. He revolutionised the game of billiards by inventing the "tip", a small leather disc glued to the end of the cue making it possible to accomplish follow, backspin, massé shots, until then unknown because they were impossible. Below is one of the spectacular figures that F.M. describes in his book "Le Noble Jeu de Billard" published in 1827, using an accessory (a hat) and done by a "massé".


The success of Mingaud's exhibitions led to the invention by other players of new fancy shots such as those below, extracted from Mangin's 1880 book.

.. ..
Hat shot.

where the cue ball hits another ball and jumps into a hat held above the table.

Backspin shot above cue.

Eugène Mangin reports in his 1881 book that Louis Barthélemy, whom he sometimes accompanied on his exhibitions throughout France, executed massés described as magic. He also writes that the precision of Belgian Léon Goffart (1842-1917) in some fancy shots was amazing, especially in "chemin de fer".


this billiard teacher with his abundant hair, during one of his exhibitions in different European countries,

Original drawing by P. Nestel dating from 1881.

ready to make "boule volante" (= flying ball) pictured below,

another creation of his (**).

Gottfried Kerkau's 1908 book contains several Fancy shots, including "24 glasses and 3 balls", a carom on 5 cushions without touching a glass, by Georg Mößlacher (Austria),

"ball jumping over a hat" by Paul Kerkau (Germany)

and "Coup massé" (= "massé Shot"), a carom shot on seven billiard balls, by Robert Zielka.

Here is

- the last page of the "Nouveau Traité de Billard" (2nd edition - 1891) where Albert Garnier presents the Fancy figures which he played during his exhibitions

- another proof of the interest of billiard amateurs in Fancy Billiards and its gain in popularity: the publication in 1904 of the "Recueil de coups de Fantaisie relevés par Mr. X, Ed. Herbau" (=Compendium of Fancy shots recorded by Mr X, published by Herbau ) comprising no less than 150 pages and figures (see "Rare books" ).

Below, a figure from this book.

It illustrates a "meeting" point: the player first plays on the cue ball located in the middle of the billiard table so that it reaches the top right corner after touching 5 cushions. During this trajectory, the same player plays on the 2nd cue ball located near the cushion, makes a "massé" on the red ball so that it goes along the big cushion to "meet" the 1st cue ball which ends up in the corner of the billiard table.

"Fancy Billiards" has never stopped being practised and still goes on making the joy of the spectators nowadays, the demonstrations generally taking place after an international competition.

In 1930, the Billiards governing authority proposed to give a competitive character to these demonstrations, and so a programme of imposed figures was created, played for the first time in 1931 (12 figures worth one point each), with all the players having to perform the same figures. The term "Fantaisie Classique" (literally, "Classical Fancy") was then adopted to define this new official game.

Below, the winner of the First International Classical Fancy Competition, A. Ferraz, together with 2nd E. Soussa and 7th T. Moons, featured in an extract from the 1931 UIFAB Yearbook.


In the 1931-1932 season the number of figures increased to 48 and their respective coefficients were adapted to their difficulty of execution.
Here is the cover of the programme of the Cadre 71.2 ( = 71.2 Balkline) World Championship played in Lille in 1932 during which the 2nd "Tournoi International de Fantaisie Classique" took place

and some figures of this programme, with their coefficients.

From left to right in the picture, Spanish Armando Martinez Sagi and Egyptian Edmond Soussa


who were ranked first and second in this tournament.

The number of figures increased to 64 in 1935, year of introduction of the template for more accurate ball placement.

The first World "Fantaisie Classique" Championship was held in Paris in 1937. It was won by German August Tiedtke, followed by French Richard Kron.

.[iii]. [iv]

Tiedtke.................... Kron

Below, the cover of the official brochure of the "Union Internationale des Fédérations d'Amateurs de Billard" (UIFAB) dedicated to the "Fantaisie Classique" (Rules and Programme) dated 1950

and two of its pages.

The name "Fantaisie Classique" was abandoned and replaced by "Billard Artistique" (= Artistic Billiards) in 1958, The programme then increased from 64 to 76 figures until 1985. In 1986, the programme was reduced to 68 figures by changing the coefficients, still for 500 points maximum. In 2000, a new change, the programme will include from then on, yand until today, 100 figures which will be played by 10-figure sets opposing 2 players. The same year, for reasons of animal protection, the ivory (elephant) balls used in Artistic Billiards were definitely abandoned in favour of composite balls (a change already effective for several decades in the other modes of play).

We cannot speak about Fancy and Artistic Billiards without mentioning the extraordinary Spanish virtuoso Isidro Ribas, professional player, whose legendary Fancy programme marked the world of Billiards. In 1932, Ribas challenged Chas C. Peterson (Chicago) for world supremacy in "Fancy Billiards": he won the match organised for this purpose in Saint Louis, USA.


- an extract of the match announcement showing Peterson playing billiards.

- a poster featuring Ribas playing at the iconic billiard café "Los 36 Billares" founded in Buenos-Aires in 1894, signed and dedicated by him in 1951 to the "future billiard prodigy Clément Van Hassel".
- a photo of Belgian Clément Van Hassel.


For more details, see Pedro Gomis Lluch's book (1960).

A few words about another legendary champion: Argentine Juan Navarra "king of fancy" and his brother Ezequiel, undisputed master of the particularly spectacular hand game.


Juan Navarra

and Ezequiel

.... [vi]

during exhibitions in 1947. The latter is also in the company of Willie Hoppe, on the cover of the magazine El Grafico of 29 July, 1949.

In Fancy Billiards played with hands, spectacular shots were made by French Luc Ranson around 1930, then by Spanish Pedro Nadal and Czech Antoine Boris in the the years 1860-80. The international reputation of the latter came mainly from this amazing practice. Here is one of his shots: a "rétro" 3-cushion hand-played with 7 balls (for more details: ).

Other great champions have also had a profound impact on Artistic Billiards, including

[i] [vii] [viii] [ix]

from left to right:

- Spanish Joaquin DOMINGO.

- Belgian René VINGERHOEDT (who started his international career at the age of 15!)

- and more recently, Léo CORIN and Raymond STEYLAERTS, both of Belgian nationality, who won European and world titles.

Below, the participants in the 1992 World Artistic Billiards Championship in Epernay (France),

Here are Jean Reverchon, the winner of this Championschip

Reverchon 3 .

and Jean-Luc Chiche, its organiser and player.


20 of the 68 figures imposed on the players

illustrated in the programme, the cover of which is below.






(*) Partial figure taken from the book. The caption is: 'Strike your ball nearly on the top on the right, holding the cue almost perpendicular'. This stroke and the 'pin' stroke are similar.

(**) See"Leon Goffart. Grösster akademisch excentrisch gebildeter Billardkünstler" - Wien: Jos Eberle (printer) ca. 1880, 12 p. Very rare booklet with 69 diagrams of 'artistic' billiard shots of which Goffart is probably the author [1].

[1] HAASE Dieter, Das Billardspiel. Eine Bibliographie. Ed. Kassel University press, Kassel, Germany, 2016.


[i] Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

[ii] Deutsche Billard-Zeitung, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Exerpt from 'File: 1930 3- Cushion World Championship Amsterdam-1. png'.

[iii] Excerpt from 'File: uifab, annuaire 1936 world champions 1935-36.jpg', Wikimedia Commons.

[iv] Excerpt from 'File: uifab, annuaire 1937 world champions 1936-37.jpg', Wikimedia Commons.

[v] Joop van Bilsen / Anefo, CCO, via Wikimedia Commons.

[vI] El Grafico, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

[vii] Dieter Haase, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

[viii] Ron Kroon for Anefo, CC BY-SA 3.0, NL, via Wikimedia Commons.

[ix] Eric Koch for Anefo, CC BY-SA 3.0, NL, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jean-Luc Chiche and Filip Steurs.

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