Billiards, the green baize game, was introduced in India in the 1920s due to the efforts of M.M Begg, a billiard veteran. Begg played a pivotal role in the foundation of the Billiards and Snooker Federation of India (BSFI) and subsequently represented the country in World Championships. The BSFI took root in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in the year 1926. In a country like India where sports other than cricket take a long time to gain a foothold, billiards too has its share of struggle. The major drawback in the popularity to the sport is the fact that it is regarded as a sport for the ‘elites’ of the country. There is a popular view that billiards is not meant for common people.Therefore, to make cue sports more appealing, the BSFI has undertaken a number of promotional activities including organising National Championships at the sub-junior level. Moreover, former legends like Michael Ferreira have been brought on board by the Indian Billiards Federation to advise on the present format of the National Championships.
Apart from working hard for the popularity of billiards, the Billiards and Snooker Federation of India (BSFI) have also worked on increasing the popularity of other cue sports in India. The Federation, incidentally, is associated with various national and international sports organisations like the Indian Olympic Association, the Asian Confederation of Billiards Sport (ACBS), International Billiards and the Snooker Federation (IBSF), the World Federation of Billiards Sports, and the Asian Carom Billiards Confederation. In spite of the slow progress, billiards in India has been played at the highest levels of excellence, a fact evident in the bevy of world-class performers who have consistently been in the limelight. Back in 1958, Wilson Jones became the first Indian to win the World Amateur Billiards Championship held in Kolkata. Since then, players like Michael Ferreira and Geet Sethi have kept the tricolour flying high in the international arena. Geet Sethi rose to international prominence by winning the IBSF World Amateur Billiards Championships in 1985. In 1987, he again won the IBSF event, as well the ACBS Asian Billiards Championship. Sethi also took the Indian National Snooker Championship four times back to back from the year 1985-1988. He has also won a gold medal in the ‘teams’ category and a silver medal in the ‘singles’ category at the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games. Again in 2002 Busan Asian Games, Sethi won silver and bronze medals in the ‘teams’ and ‘singles’ category respectively. He was also awarded the ‘Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award’ in 1992 and both Padma Shri and Arjuna Awards in 1996.
But the most successful Indian billiards player so far is Pankaj Advani. He made his debut at the Asian Billiards Championships in 2002 at Bangalore. Thereafter, he went on to win the IBSF World Snooker Championship 2003 inChina at the age of 18 and also won the IBSF World Billiards Championship in 2005 at Qawra, Malta. He is the only Indian to have won the world title in both Snooker and Billiards. In 2005, he achieved a grand double by winning both the time and point formats at the IBSF World Billiards Championships, and he repeated the same feat at the IBSF World Championship in 2008 at Bangalore. Pankaj won the World Professional Billiards title (WPBSA) held at Leeds in 2009. He is also the youngest person to have won all these world titles in both Billiards and Snooker for a record 8 times. In October 2012, Advani won his eighth World Championships at United Kingdom. He has won 16 International Majors — 7 ‘Worlds’, 5 ‘Asians’, 2 Asian Games Gold Medals, 1 Australian Open and 1 Asian team.Pankaj has won everything there is to be won in the world of Billiards, a feat achieved by no other billiards player. Amongst the women, Aakansha S. Thakur, Anuja Thakur and others have shown that they are as good if not better than the men. Anuja won the World Ladies Billiards and Snooker Association(WLBSA) title in April 2005 and reached the semi-final at the2006 IBSF World Snooker Championship in Amman, Jordan.
Despite being one of the few sports to produce an impressive number of Indian World Champions, billiards is yet to catch the fancy of the Indian masses. Widely considered the sport of the ‘elite,’ an Indian victory does not lead to the same mass hysteria as does a triumph in games like cricket. The efforts of the BSFI to popularise the game in every State of the country are still to pay off.