Thursday, July 07, 2011

Fair Play: Local kid does well in world pool

EFREN Reyes was two years away from winning his world pool title—the win that sparked the interest in billiards in the country—when I and a few kababayans began spending most of our free time over at Lucky 13.

Sometimes, we’d skip our classes for what we call “practical physics” in a run-down billiard hall with tables that list and has more patches than a government building.


There were about five or six tables in that hall and at P5 (or was it P3?) per game, we could spend an hour or two without breaking our wallets since a game would sometimes stretch for 15 minutes or so due to our limited pocketing skills.

Sometimes, when the pool hall was occupied, we tried to mingle at the “reserved table,” the nicest, most-balanced table in the hall.

But always we were gently declined.

Then one day, we learned why that table was always reserved.

A skinny guy came, he was around our age. He didn’t get much attention, despite the queer fact that he was playing on his own.

But when the sound of his break resonated in the hall, all eyes were on him. And the way he pocketed all the balls one after the other? Boy, it was brilliant. For all of us, it was our first time to see the poetry that is pool.

That was in the year before pool became regular TV fare and names like Efren Reyes and Jose Amang Parica were more “urban legend” than guys to cheer on TV.

Over the months, we’d see him regularly. And when we got more classroom physics than the practical kind, we all forgot about him.

I saw him again in one pool competition a few years back, and to be honest, years of being exposed to world-class pool on TV made his skills look ordinary. But he wasn’t doing too bad either, making the quarterfinals and semifinals here and there. That was also the time I finally learned his name.

I even approached him one time, and said I used to watch him play back in ‘97. He was surprised and said that explained why my face looked familiar. We chatted a bit about the billiard hall, which has seen been replaced by a dorm after a fire.

That was about five years ago.

Just last week I heard about him again. His was just a name mentioned among the other Pinoy greats, as one of the Pinoys who made the round-of-64 of the World Pool Association 9-Ball championships.

Though he lost to Chang Yu Lun, 11-10, I couldn’t help but be happy for him. Here was a guy, practicing diligently in the years when a career in pool was unheard of, finally joining the world stage.

Next year, I hope Israel Rota makes it all the way to the finals.

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