Monday, August 8, 2011

The only Snooker hall in Sweden, and a good one-pocket battle

As I sit here in Vilnius, Lithuania waiting for the overnight bus that will bring me to Poland, I'd like to share with you my brief stay in Stockholm last week.
First, a brief look at the the Swedish language, which is hilarious to me.

After having been to Edinburgh and Oslo playing absolutely zero pool and billiards, I had some time in Stockholm to explore the scene a bit. Looked online and found a pool hall about 35 min walk away from my local secret headquarters.When I walked up I was happily surprised to find a snooker hall, of a different name. At the time I just figured it had changed owners and turned into a snooker hall, but after talking to the owner found out I was just on the wrong side of the building and the pool hall did actually exist as well. Two for one!
The place was nice and very well maintained. Scandinavia is not the best place for cue sports tourism in the summer, as people spend the few truly nice days of the year outside. Consequently, there were only a couple of people playing (quite well I must say) so I ordered a beer and chatted with the owner who turned out to be a nice gentleman with great command of English, as has come to be almost expected in Scandinavia in general and Sweden in particular.

Snooker sized pool balls! So Cuuuuute!
We discussed many current cue sports topic, including the precarious situation in America, the rise of snooker on the European continent and the risks involved in the billiards industry in general.
He showed me these cute little snooker-sized pool balls that he gives to the clueless customers that come in and play "pool" even though there are no pool tables in his establishment. Would have loved to watch some bangers trying to play 8-ball on twelve foot tables for a bit, but then again, it would probably be detrimental to the perceived approachability or our beloved game.

According to the owner, the first snooker table came to Sweden in the fall of 1982. He was actually there to see it installed, at a place called BilliardPalast in Stockholm where he was working at the time.
There are very few snooker players in Sweden, and again according to him, only 10 or so are capable of a century break (100+ point run in snooker), and perhaps more tellingly, only 30 or so capable of a 50+....

As the conversation meandered through discussion of various cue sport personalities, Earl Strickland came up and he mentioned that he had breakfast with the Pearl in the early 90s in Helsinki as they were staying in adjacent rooms in the same hotel for a tounament - said he was a nice enough guy and nothing of Earl's nefarious table antics transpired through their discussion.

By then, the two players had left (turns out one of them was a previous swedish snooker champion) and the owner agreed to play a quick frame with me. I am by no means a snooker genius but did manage to hold my own for a while before he trounced me when we got to the colors.

As he was closing up for the evening, I left and rounded the corner to check out the "regular" pool hall. This turned out to be a rather large drinking establishment, with many tables and also a restaurant. They also had a small pinball parlor, and I was in heaven : they had my favorite machine,, Medieval Madness. It was setup in tournament mode, so my arcane knowledge of this game's hidden cheap extra-balls turned out to be useless and I was not able to beat it (left ramp was very difficult to reach because of a weak right flipper). They also had a Family Guy pinball, one of the rare machines made after 2005. If you think the pool world is in a sorry state, you should be merciful not to be a pinball fan.

What more could you ask for?
After investing a few Swedish crowns into the troubled future of pinball, I waltzed over to the pool room itself, and it was full of bangers drinking with their friends. Except for one guy who was practicing some 9-ball patterns by himself. I introduced myself and he turned out to be a cool guy, and we played a few racks. It was getting late so we decided to meet up the next day for a more serious session.
I returned the next day and I taught him the rules of one-pocket and he took an immediate liking to the game. As some of you know, one-pocket is fundamentally different than any rotation game and it is virtually impossible even for someone with great mechanics and position play to beat an experienced player within the first couple of racks. I won 3 or 4 racks and asked if he'd like to change games as I was sensing some frustration on his part, but he declined. In the next few racks his focus was palpable and we went to one-pocket war. He took a few and I took a few and in the end a great time was had by all. My favorite part of traveling is meeting people like David, who I can relate to and make friends with very naturally. David, if you are reading this, keep in touch!

David running a rack of 9-ball

Expect more regular postings as I travel on - very soon, a post about Vilnius, Lithuania and a great place I found there!