Monday, August 29, 2011

Vilnius Biliardo Klubas!

Vilnius, Lithuania - The bus that took me here from Riga was very comfortable, and even had internet. In general, the buses in the Baltic states were very nice, and tickets were purchasable online, and most had free cofee and tea.
KGB prison - new prisoner "orientation" room
After so much constant travel for the two weeks prior, I spend some time relaxing and catching up with friends and family. I did manage to visit the "KGB museum", which was in fact built in an old KGB prison in the center of Vilnius. This place was an eye-opener to the brutal methods of the Soviets used during their subjugation of the Lithuanian people. When you learn that the prison was still in use as late as 1991, it becomes significantly closer, more real.

Fresh out of the KGB museum, I walked a couple of blocks and was looking for a place to sit down and grab some coffee, when I ran into a place called Biliardo Klubas - 
It was 3pm. As good a time as any to explore the Vilnius billiard scene.
The place was on the second floor, quite large, with about 15 pool tables and one Russian pool table. If you have read my HELSINKI POST you know that Russian tables use gigantic balls and tiny pockets. However in Helsinki they did not play Russian billiards, but their own version called Kaisa. Hence, I still had, up to this point, still not tried actual Russian billiards.
Could you handle the tightness of these pockets?
The pool hall was completely empty except for the girl behind the counter, who was very friendly and offered to teach me the rules of Russian billiards.
We played two games of Russian billiards, she beat me both times. The rules are very simple : first person to sink 8 balls. Any 8 balls, including the ball you use as your cue ball. You can choose to strike any ball as your cue ball, and any ball as object ball. This means playing a carom to what would be a "scratch" in American pool is actually worth a point and therefore becomes a big part of the game. The pockets are so tight that the game still takes a while.

We talked a bit and I inquired about the pool scene in Lithuania. It turns out that Monika is a teacher of American Pool and has young students that she actually brings to tournaments in Mainland Europe where the play is stronger. In her opinion the play in Lithuania is relatively weak because of the small number of players, and it is important to bring her students to tournaments in Denmark etc. because of the experience gained by exposure to better players. She mentioned that she used to compete in Lithuania but now prefers to travel to the more serious tournaments herself.

Monika in a delicate straight-pool situation
After Russian billiards, we went to the pool table where we played some straight pool. I can't remember exactly, but I think we played two games and I won the first and she won the second race to 50. We als played some 9-ball and she obliterated me, I think I scored 3 games in a race to 9.

Through some more talking I found out that she is actually the owner and she is working to improve the image of billiards in Lithuania in order to attract younger players to the game. In the summer, there are not many players at all because like in the other baltic and scandinavian countries, people prefer to be outside when the weather is nice. In the winter though the place does fill up.

Loved this place!
Around the time we were done playing 9-ball, a couple other players showed up and she had to take care of the customers so she introduced me to a guy and we played a couple of 9-ball races. I won the first and he won the second. We then played many racks of 8-ball and I was playing excellently at that point (at least the way I remember it, but I had had a few drinks by that point). We played late into the night, and I enjoyed hanging out with a few friendly lithuanian pool players.

So yes, if you go to Lithuania and find yourself in need of a 12-hour pool fix, definitely visit this place and say hi to Monika for me!