I was recently reading Turgenev’s charming one-act comedy Где тонко, там и рвется (It breaks where it is weakest, translated in 1909 as One May Spin a Thread Too Finely), and hit a crux before a line was spoken: the stage directions, in describing the furniture of the stage (the hall of a landowner’s house), include китайский бильярд ‘Chinese billiards.’ What did that refer to in 1847 Russia? (The translation just says “a small billiard table.”) I found this piquant anecdote from Gilyarovsky’s memoir Москва и москвичи (Moscow and the Muscovites):
The billiard room kept its old character, described by L. N. Tolstoy. Even on my last visit to the club in 1912 I saw there a Chinese billiard table in memory of L. N. Tolstoy. On this billiard table in 1862 Lev Nikolaevich lost a thousand rubles to an officer passing through and experienced an unpleasant minute: he had no money to pay his debt, and the club rules were strict — he could have been blackboarded [banned from attending until the debt was paid]. There’s no knowing how it might have ended if Mikhail Katkov, the editor of the Russian Messenger and the Moscow News, hadn’t been in the club; when he learned what was going on, he rescued Tolstoy, giving him a loan of a thousand rubles to cover his loss. And in the next issue of the Russian Messenger appeared Tolstoy’s The Cossacks.
(You can read the original Russian here; scroll down to “Бильярдная хранила старый характер.”) But that doesn’t help. If anyone knows what kind of game this was, I will be glad to learn.