Monday, December 20, 2010

The height of coincidence

Bermuda Billiard and Darts
I've been playing quite a bit of one-pocket here in Germany.  I introduced my friend Jan to the game - he is an excellent 5-pin billiards player, and immediately took a liking to the cerebral strategy aspects of the game of one-pocket.
On one Thursday evening, we had taken a cab to go shoot some 1-hole at Bermuda Sportcenter, and I started off wining the first couple of racks.  At this point Jan murmured "I can't deal with this anymore, I hope I didn't forget it" and proceeded to dig through his bag looking for something.  Finally he pulls out his trusty clip-on chalk-holder, and it dawned on me that he usually ALWAYS has it on when he plays.
Naturally, his game improved dramatically and he caught up the score as we kept playing.
Next morning, I have an 8am meeting at work.  I call a cab at 7am to pick me up from the hotel at 7:40 and go to the work campus.
7:35 : I am outside waiting.  No cab.
7:40 : No cab.
7:45 : I call the cab company again.  "He's 2 min away"
A very lucky 1-pocket break from a couple of nights ago
7:50 : Still no cab
7:55 : I call again.  "He is just about there"
8:03 : The cab finally shows up.

At this point I am flip-out angry with the cab company.  It's about a 10 min ride to work, which I spent moaning and groaning at the poor driver, in my best Angry German emulation.  So now I'm 15 minutes late for my meeting, in an execrable mood.  As I step out of the taxi I notice something on the floor of the back seat of the cab.  Low-and-behold : it's Jan's chalk-holder!!!  Obviously my mood immediately changed as I pocketed the billiard war relic and pondered the magnitude of the coincidence.  I decided to interpret the event this way : billiard travel permeates the universe and manifests itself to hacks when they least expect it, brightening their day!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Straight pool in the heart of Tuscany

Siena, Italy - Piazza del Campo
viewed from the Arch
 I have the pleasure of sometimes working in Siena, Italy.  Siena has become one of my favorite places in the world, and if you ever go to Italy I recommend visiting this incredible town.  To this day, the city projects a medieval aura through architecture and tradition, perhaps most evident during the two horse races that are run each year in the middle of the city on the Piazza del Campo.

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All that is great, but there is ABSOLUTELY NO POOL OR BILLIARDS in Siena.  The closest pool hall is about 20 km away in a town called Poggibonsi.  A couple of weeks ago, I made my way to Poggibonsi to try to find me some pool, and was lucky enough to meet a great player there, Vittorio.  

Vittorio's game is straight pool, which.... I suck at.  He trounced me a few times that night, but we exchanged information to try to match up in the future (oh and he also trounced me at 10-ball).
The next day, he contacted me saying that he would be having a few people over for lunch that Saturday at his house.  Awesome!!!

I went over there, through buses and taxis - he lives in the Tuscan countryside, absolutely amazing views from his place- lots of Chianti wine and olive oil is produced around here, as you can see :)

Vittorio's olives
View from Vittorio's driveway
The house is about 200 meters from a small castle, the Castello della Paneretta.  Vittorio's house actually incorporates an 11th century tower which served as outpost to another castle which no longer exists.

Il Castello della Paneretta

Vittorio's 11th century tower

The house was amazing - especially the setting for his beautiful 8-footer - you can see some of Vittorio's collection, including a crossbow, various pool trophies, porcelain dishes etc...

Vittorio destroying me at straight pool

A classy chalk holder

Check out his pool lamp : the fixing is made from an old yoke from an ox cart.  Fits in great with the fireplace, the house, and the entire countryside for that matter!

Coolest lamp fixture I've ever seen

Vittorio cooked up some amazing food - part of it traditional italian, but also RIBS.  Yes, ribs - and he did have to specify "I did not make these special for you, I have been planning on trying to make ribs for the last three months"!  Indeed, ribs are hard to find in Italy...

Ribs cooking in the fireplace :)

In addition to the ribs, some fantastic turkey and chicken, beef steaks, prosciutto, artichoke paste, potatoes, peppers, and myriad other traditional Italian food was served.  It was a feast.  

The other meats

 The wine :

Non-traveling wine
See the label?  That's the castle pictured earlier in the post - talk about local products!

Turkey and chicken, cheese and prosciutto, bread, honey
After lunch, we went to the tower, where we proceeded to jam out a bit, me on piano, Vittorio on drums and a friend of his on bass.  It was OK, but I really suck at playing the standards, even with the fakebook.  Turns out Vittorio is an excellent jazz drummer as well.
After that short jam session, we shot some pool.  Scratch that, we shot a TON of pool.  Plenty of straight pool, plenty of one-pocket, a couple other silly games, but we played for hours and hours.  took a bit of time to get used to the table, but I got in stroke after a bit and enjoyed every second.

While Vittorio and I were indulging in our addiction to billiards, a couple of the other guests went out into the woods to pick mushrooms - they came back with a nice, full basket of all different kinds of mushrooms.   Vittorio went through the lot and threw out all the poisonous/untasty ones and this is the filtered result.

Mushroom harvest!
Vittorio drove me back to the bus station in Poggibonsi just on time for me to catch the last bus to Siena.
Back in Siena, I sat down at some random restaurant and wound up talking the whole time to this guy from Ecuador who was telling some crazy stories about how he was in jail in Tijuana and how he got stabbed in the back in Ecuador.  Great stuff!  All in all, that was one of the best Saturdays I've had in a while.
Cool thing is that Vittorio has a buddy in Siena that is willing to drive me over to Poggibonsi whenever so that we can all shoot some pool!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pool Sushi

Weird idea after getting out of work at 9pm yesterday...

There is a place right by the hotel here in Cary, NC that has really good sushi :

107 Edinburgh South Drive
Cary, NC 27511-6452
(919) 460-7980

This place is always reallllllly good.  But this time I had something different in mind...
I went to Hotshots Billiards, which is right next door, and asked for a rack of balls for 2 minutes.  I took a picture of a nine-ball rack and headed straight for the restaurant.  Not much was going on there (perfect!! Now they have nothing better to do than cater to my frivolous requests!).

I showed them the picture of the rack of the nine-ball rack and asked if they could make me a sushi plate of some sort that would look like it.

These were apparently not the most creative/adventurous sushi chefs.  After I insisted for a while, they finally wound up just saying they couldn't do it.
So I went through the A-la-carte sushi menu and started ticking off the most colorful sushis (sushies? Shushii?) that I could find.  Finally, one of the chefs started to participate and helped me pick them.  He even went and found a green "background" to simulate the felt.

Yes, it was delicious.

1- Sea urchin
2- No blue edible materials were found.  So I picked white tuna because I like it
3- Red Tobiko
4- No purple edible material found - picked tuna because it was fresh and tasty (could have used ginger for TV pink!!!)
5- Masago
6- Green Tobiko
7- Ikura
8- Well, it has kinda sort of black stripes.... Mackerel
9- Omelet

Here is the result...  Okay I guess.  But now, every sushi place I go to will be asked if they can do it better.
Tell me about your own poolsushi experience in the comments!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Durham, North Carolina - The Green Room

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I'm back in North Carolina, staying in the Raleigh area for work for a couple of weeks. I like staying here, in part because there is a cool little pool hall/bar right next to the hotel I usually stay at, called Hotshots.  I will be writing about this place more some other time - this time I wanted to talk about an interesting poolroom in Durham.  I was shooting over at Hotshots (getting spanked at 8-ball by an APA 7)  and asking around about the different action spots in the area.  I was told about a place called "The Green Room" in Durham.  Supposedly tons of action, storied pool hall with great people - so I drove out there last night, which was a thursday.  About 30min drive from the hotel, not too bad.
When I saw the sign on the door, I knew I was gonna dig this place:
The sign on the door of the Green Room

Not much was going on, but there were a couple people there.  I was invited to play a game of chess, and was happy to oblige, as I hadn't played in FOREVER.  I did well, 2-0 !  I wound up not shooting any pool, but I did take a few pictures of the place, which had indeed a nice atmosphere, a piano, a pinball machine, shuffleboard, and darts.
Bar area - really nice beer selection

Shuffleboard! Don't see these around much anymore..

Piano, pinball, pool.  Nothing else needed.

Ghosts of past racks - wish I would have worked harder at getting this pic right.

Interesting seating

Alex, my opponent at chess
I didn't stay too long, needed to be early at work the next day.  Nice atmosphere, very friendly people, but not much pool going on, and no action that I could tell.
Have you been to this place?  Should I go back and check it out maybe on a different day of the week?  Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Canonsburg, PA - Polish Horseshoes

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I hadn't been to this annual party since 3 years ago I think - so my bro, his girl and I drove up to Pittsburgh because, well, Ryan throws a damn fine labor day party.  Tons of food (including Reuben casserole :p   it was like chopped-up reuben sandwiches), great people, and a slew of outdoor games including horseshoes, cornhole, and a new one - Polish Horseshoes....

Cheech explains the game - and towards the end tells us the fantastic deal he is offering for his pool table lol

A great time was had by all.  

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Cambodian pool - eyewitness news from Jonas

So my friend Jonas is currently undertaking a 7-week backpacking adventure through Asia, mostly in the south east.  I gave him my smartphone because he can make better use of it than me (plus it could be healthy for me to get used to not checking the internet every 4 seconds).  This allows him to upload pics on-the-fly and also to log his GPS coordinates so that his steps can be retraced for posterity.  Jonas left Germany about 2 weeks ago and has already been through a bit of Thailand and Cambodia, and now he is in Vietnam.  I highly recommend his blog (original German version - English version).
Of course, Jonas being a fellow billiard traveler, I have entrusted him to document any billiardly experiences he might chance upon along his way.  Here is his post from Siem Reap (right by Angkor Wat) where he encountered some locals shooting an intriguing game.  Here is a pic he emailed me from there, and a transcript from the English version of the post.

"Another addendum to yesterday : I lost $2 playing pool against the locals. An interesting variant in which all players (in this case, there were four players) get a certain number of cards. Each card represents the value of a ball (jack = 10, etc.), and the objective is to sink the balls corresponding to your cards - after each ball you sink you "play" the corresponding card. If an opponent has already played that card, it's worthless. Whoever has played the most cards wins. The next game is started by the winner of the first round. The order of the following players seems to be guided by the cards. For more detailed rules, the language barrier was too great and my budget too small."
 Also, notice that they are playing with american pool balls, on a small snooker-type table (you can tell from the rounded pockets and lower rail height).
Anyone play this or anything similar to it before?  It would be cool to get the full set of rules...
If you know of any other pool or billiard games that are played with a set of cards, I would love hearing about it.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Uniards - if every other game is too easy for you, try this

I had my first encounter with Uniards by watching a youtube video of Semih Sayginer playing Daniel Sanchez.
I was in Marburg, Germany at the time, this must have been towards the middle of 2009.  I immediately brought this fabulous game to the attention of fellow billiards junkie and friend Jan, who is a regular at the private club I frequent in Marburg (Marburg Billiardfreunde 86 e.V.), and we proceeded to try it on our heated 10-foot billiard table.  Someday soon I will write a post just about this club, one of my favorite places on the planet to kick back, shoot billiards and snooker and discuss all matters of cue sports with great friends.
In the video, Semih and Danny play by the following rules:
  • Danny has the white cue ball
  • Semih has the yellow
  • The game is only played with those two balls
  • You score a point by making contact with the object ball, having your cue ball then go at least three rails before again striking the object ball.
This has GOT to be one of the most difficult games in existence.  Semih and Danny are two of the best billiards players in the world, and they average far below 0.5 points per inning.  Gives you and idea of the ridiculous skill required.
The game is profoundly frustrating.  Often you get very close - but alas, getting 3 millimeters away from that invaluable second kiss counts for nothing.  Points are very rare at my and Jan's level.
After trying the version of the rules that Semih and Danny play in the video, we modified the rules a bit to allow us to finish a race to 7 points within 1.5 hours:

  • Each player can use either cue ball on each shot
  • A point can be made not only in the way described above, but in any shot in which there was at least 3 rails with the cueball and two kisses between the balls : this means you can go 3-rails first, then double-kiss the object ball (Jan's knowledge of a wide variety of billiard systems allows him to convert this type of shot with *relative* ease).

Here are a couple videos from some of our uniard sessions:

Jan gets a solid one, followed by one of the infinite variety of "sooooo cloooooose" misses

Me and my hacktacular stroke somehow pull off this ridiculous after-contact "umdreher" :

Felix pulls off an absolutely wonderful shot : (he's chiefly a snooker player, but sometimes wanders into the billiards area intrigued by the exotic games that Jan and I come up with)

We also have two 7-foot billiard tables in the club - here is Jan running ALMOST A 3 POINT SERIES!

Check my youtube account for more selected uniard shots - but remember that it's kinda like watching poker on TV, they never show the hundreds of hands that are played where nothing happens ;)

Have you played uniards?  Tell me about it in the comments!

Update : My brother just reminded me that when I showed him this game he made a point on his FIRST try.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Helsinki - 17-20th June 2010

15 min before landing at Helsinki Airport

I’ll do my best to keep this one to billiard-related material, but it’s gonna be tough. Helsinki during the week of the summer solstice was a stupendously great idea, and I enjoyed many things which I will only mention here briefly. Luckily for the Billiard Traveler’s trillions of fanatical followers, there is definitely some billiard lore and gore to be scripted into the pool junkie historical archives.

We landed in Helsinki on Thursday, June 17th 2010 (we is me and two most excellent work buddies, Kuke and the Chad). The picture above was taken somewhere over the Baltic see, at about 10pm. The cool thing is that the sun stayed at that spot until about 12:30, after which it finally dips just below the horizon for an hour (not low enough that you can see stars, not even close – sky is still blue!) and then starts rising slowly again around 2:00 am. It’s kind of…. The opposite of tiring. Like detiring. We didn’t sleep much on this trip, but still didn’t feel tired – the constant daylight is energizing.
The Chad (left) and Kuke (right).
You can probably smell the lack of interest
 in billiards wafting from this pic,
but I did manage to get them to come out and
 shoot on Friday night.

We went out for a couple of drinks after checking in to our hotel at around 11:30pm (Kuke conveniently had Skandic points saved up so we only had to pay for 1 night!). We stayed out till about 2am, waiting for the sun to finish setting, but it didn’t and started rising again. When we got back to the room we definitely made sure we had good blinds on the windows.

Friday morning we went on a bus tour of the city, which was pretty good. They had a nice selection of languages including Latin (!) that you could choose from for your tour. I did mine in French, Saw lots of cool landmarks and got a short taste of the summer daily life in Helsinki.

Daily life in Helsinki - as I am tricking my brain into remembering it.

And... something different.

On the Bus, we were briefly taught about the Suomenlinna Island Fortress and decided to go there in the afternoon. Here is a map of Helsinki overlayed with our recorded path for June 18th.

As you can see, to get to Suomenlinna Island, you take a boat (duh). The boat goes through plenty of little islands with little red houses on them, and in 20 minutes you dock at Suomenlinna.

The bastions of Suomenlinna
We did a guided tour of Suomenlinna, during which we learned all about the history of the fortress. Very cool.

Russian 6 inch 35 caliber naval gun
During the visit, I got a txt msg from a knucklehead friend of mine Jeff who had told me a month before that he would just happen to be in Helsinki that weekend with his girl, as the first leg of a tour of the Baltic countries and Russia. The text message said he had arrived to Helsinki and was about to “head to some Island fortress and grab some food and drinks there”. Unfortunately, my outgoing text messages were not getting to him, so I couldn’t communicate back. So we are on this island in Finland and essentially Jeff and Kathy just happen to also be coming there. This remarkable coincidence was just the beginning of a string of good fortune, and very soon I will show you this as we transition to the meatiest morsels of billiard discoveries.

Russian Pyramid table at the restaurant on the island.
Totally random discovery which led to awesome things.
The only problem is that I don’t know what time Jeff and Kathy will show up. So I decided to wait at the arrival dock on the island while Kuke and the Chad went to look for a place to grab some food and drinks, as well as watch the USA vs I FORGET soccer match. They come back about 25 min later, and tell me they found a place which has beer, a table with a TV, food, and also happens to have a POOOOL TAAAAABLLLLLLLEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!

I immediately ask them a billion questions (is there anyone shooting? What does it cost? What kind of pool table is it and so on, and they say either no or don’t know to all my questions, get bored with my pool nerdiness and go back to the restaurant while I still wait for Jeff and Kathy to show up.  Basically I'm sitting on the dock with my spyglass that I always carry around, scrutinizing incoming ships...

Finally I spot Jeff and Kathy getting off the boat, meet up with them, and we head to the restaurant.

It turned that there was no “pool” table. There was a Russian Pyramid table! First time I had ever seen one in real life.

Do those pockets look tight to you? Maybe you need a couple of close-ups:

Side pocket... a bit tight

Corner pocket... Does it even fit?

Strangely, though, I didn’t see a set of Russian Pyramid balls there… Instead, this is what they had :
The pool balls, OK. But what in the world are those sets of 5 balls?? I really want to find out at this point, but the others are watching the soccer game and drinking beer in the back room so I join back up with them to eat and catch up with Jeff and Kathy whom I had not seen for a while.
From left : Kuke, Kathy, Jeff
Awesome steak with herb butter and believe me or not, the best potatoes I’ve ever had.

So we are drinking and eating for a while, and suddenly I hear that familiar clank of ivory : somebody is shooting!!! I leave the others to their stupid world cup soccer match and this is the scene:
Finnish dudes playing a game I had never even heard of

Jani explaining the game of Kaisa to me

There is a group of 4 Finnish dudes playing with the set of five balls. They are keeping score on a chalkboard. I'm just staring at them playing this game, trying to understand what is going on. All I can tell is that pocketing balls is a good thing and that they always shoot using a white ball (but there are two white balls). After they finish a match, I ask one of them about the game (everyone in Finland speaks pretty much perfect English). He proceeds to explain the game to me. Essentially, you have one of the white cue balls and your opponent has the other. You make points by pocketing any ball (except your own). White ball is 2 points (you can pocket your opponents cue), red is 3, yellow is 6. If you pocket a ball and also make a carom in the same shot it gets you extra points.

The game is called Kaisa, and is the Finnish national cue sport.  So here's the crazy thing. Jani is actually a complete pool junkie - and a knowledgeable one at that! Here he is detailing the history of the game of Kaisa:

Are you kidding me?? I happened to walk into THE place where the Finnish national cue sport was likely invented!! Not only this, but Jani is quite modest. Through later conversation he admitted that he is currently ranked 24th in Finland in 9-ball (as he says, he had a poor season lol) and that he is sponsored by Suomen Biljardmyynti (Finlands Billiard supplies) and Jasalste corporation - Actually Jasalste are sending him to the US open this year!  Hoping we can meet again in October :)

One-pocket with Jani - Baribal pool hall, Helsinki
After many beers at this historical establishment, we took the boat back to Helsinki. We made plans to meet Jani at a pool hall in Helsinki later that night.  The pool hall was recommended to me by @PoolJar on Twitter.
I managed to drag Kuke and the Chad out to the poolroom, and we did meet Jani there.  I played a bit of one-pocket and a bit of 9-ball with Jani, but mostly we were just talking.  When the place started closing shop (and I can't remember what time it was, but the sky was a bit dark so probably around 1 or 2 am) we went to a club/bar place in Helsinki which is open late.  It was great talking to Jani about cultures, language, gambling and many other things.  I'm not sure again what time we walked out and headed home, but the sun was shining bright as it usually does at equinox in Finland!

That's that as far as pool goes for that weekend.

The next day, we took a daytrip to Estonia - here is a brief summary.

We're about on the 7th floor of our hotel - when we wake up, this is the scene down below in the plaza:

Hockey is life.
Young addicts
There is just HOCKEY everywhere.  Who would figure that one of the coldest places on earth would actually MISS playing hockey during the summer, so come up with rules and layouts and tournaments for ALSO playing it in the summer?

We keep walking, trying to reach the port on time for our tickets for the "cruise" to Tallinn, Estonia.  It's about 2 hours each way, on a really nice cruiseship! I think it was 36 euros roundtrip. Not bad!
So apparently the Finns love going to Estonia, in large part because of the fact that the alcohol is soooo much cheaper on the other side of the Baltic.  On the way there we saw a ton of people, but very few had any luggage.  On the way back, just about everyone had a roller-trolley loaded up with asstons of beer and liquor.  and they are all drunk, and drinking on the boat too...

It was raining when we got to Tallinn, but lightly.  Reminded me of October or November season in Normandy, France (where I am from).  Tallinn is an interesting city - it's not at all like I had imagined it.  It's has a commercial center with high-rises and lots of industry, and also an old-city area which is an extremely well preserved walled medieval city.
Here is the trip from Helsinki and a bit in Tallinn, before my reception gave out (Verizon you suck!  On the other hand, am I being unreasonable to expect mobile data coverage in the middle of the baltic?)

The old medieval city of Tallinn
We walked around Tallinn for a bit, looking for a good place to eat. Wikitravel had recommended Olde Hansa: The ruling king among Tallinn's restaurants with some of them trying to copy its style.
"       The place is simply medieval, not just in terms of food but also in the sense of performance - no electricity, no music except live and authentic, no modern inventions. The house special is bear meat "marinated in rare spices and cooked over a fire in honour of Waldemar II, the brave King of Denmark"       " 

So we went there, and it was indeed really cool.  I had a wild boar stew, Chad had some kind of goose leg and luke had the elk, boar, and bear (!) sausage.

The Olde Hansa menu.  It was very well done and quite funny, zoom in and take a look

Kuke's assorted sausage plate

Ye Olde Tallinn Towne Halle

We also quickly visited the Tallinn orthodox cathedral at the top of the hill (during a service, which was quite different from anything I had seen before.  Unbelievable amount of incense!!!) and we toured the grounds of the main castle complex.

The Chad "touring the castle complex"

See this ledge on this picture here on the left?Obviously, it looks like a quick challenge for us idiots.  The Chad starts climbing it (pictured) but cannot make it all the way up.  So I decided to have a go at it and I got up there.  Coming down was less easy... let's just say it doesnt look as high on the pic as it does in real life when you are up top!

After this pleasant but all too short visit of Estonia, we got back on the boat, now fully loaded with fully loaded Finns and their beerstash for the week.
The next day we did not do too much - visited the awesome fish market (where there was a pan-flute band... which everytime I see pan flutes I cannot stop thinking about that South Park episode lol) and also visited this cool church built into a ginormous rock.  

And i'll let you go with a picture of your favorite billiard traveler getting in touch with his Estonian pirate sensibilities....
Estonian Pool-Hustling Pirate