Pool: Pool types extol virtues of table top shoot-out

With snooker beset by internal feuding, the timing of pool's Transatlantic challenge this weekend could not be better.

Greg Wood assesses a sport aiming to become top of the pots.

People who play snooker can be very snooty when it comes to pool. It's the flash Harry who moved in next door and lowered the tone of the neighbourhood, a pub game with ideas above its station. Ponder, then, the opinion of one snooker player at this week's Mosconi Cup, a nine-ball tournament between Europe and the United States which is billed - somewhat inevitably - as the Ryder Cup of pool.

"I love this game," he said. "The rules are brilliant, very strong, much stronger than the set of snooker rules. Nine-ball is like a shoot-out, the safety has got to be rock-solid, and when you get in, you've got to clear. If you don't, it's one against the head. I've played lots of different table ball games around the world, and this is just a great game."

The snooker player in question, as it happens, is Steve Davis, whose enthusiasm for nine-ball is unstinting. Even he, though, can see where misunderstandings might occur. Most people think pool means eight-ball, the game played in thousands of British pubs. And while a nine-ball table is much bigger, 9ft x 41/2ft, so too are the pockets, which to anyone brought up on snooker look more like bin bags.

"Eight-ball is a babies' game," Davis says, "this is the one for grown- ups. Eight-ball is quite fun, but the weakness, especially on a pub table, is that the pockets aren't that big, and the game is all strategy, cover the pockets and take control. In nine-ball, the table is effectively crowded, because the balls are big and table is small. It's easy to pot a ball and then cover yourself up, which is fatal, and so it's all about positional play."

As is so often the case with intriguing games, the rules are deceptively simple. They use standard American pool balls, numbered one to nine, and whoever pockets the nine-ball wins. The balls are racked in a diamond, with the nine in the middle, the one at the front, and the others arranged randomly. You must play the lowest-numbered ball on the table first in any shot, but so long as any ball drops, your break continues. When breaking off, therefore, you smack the one-ball as hard as you can, and hope that something - anything - drops (except, of course, the cue ball).

If it happens to be the nine - unusual, but not unheard of - you win immediately. Otherwise, you keep potting in ascending order, before rounding off with the nine - or take advantage of a situation which allows you to play the lowest ball first and pocket the nine too. After a foul, a player gets the ball "in-hand", and can place it wherever he likes. There is no two-shot rule, as in eight-ball, but then, when the professionals are playing, one is almost always enough.

A single rack can thus last anything between three seconds and perhaps 15 minutes or more, though about five minutes is average. This, of course, makes it ideal for commercial television and, in particular, more-ads- than-action Sky Sports, which is giving the Mosconi Cup exhaustive coverage, not to mention the enormous boost of Sid Waddell in the commentary booth.

In terms of the number of players, nine-ball is already the most popular cue game in the world, and anecdotal evidence at least suggests that while many British snooker centres are struggling for customers, nine-ball halls are springing up everywhere. Forget surfball - if Peter Mandelson wants a sport for the millennium to go in his Dome, nine-ball could be the one.

Davis - or rather The Nugget, since nicknames are almost obligatory in pool - is part of a six-man European team for the Mosconi Cup, along with Rocket Ronnie O'Sullivan, and four dedicated nine-ball experts (The Machine, The Kaiser and The Disher among them). In opposition are six of the 300 or so players who make a living on the pro-pool circuit in the States, including Jim "King James" Rempe, Johnny "The Scorpion" Archer and one of the finest players in nine-ball history, Earl "The Pearl" Strickland.

The Pearl once won 10 racks in a row during a tournament without missing once, an achievement which makes a 147 break at snooker look commonplace, winning a suitably cool million dollar bonus in the process. The reason such a streak is so difficult to compile is another of nine-ball's attractions - luck. "There's a lot of chance in the break, and in the whole game," Strickland says. "It's a skill game, but at the same time, a lot of funny things can happen to you. It's fickle, and it's not conservative, like snooker, because you're never safe."

Play Steve Davis at snooker, in other words, and you will lose every frame. Play 11 racks of nine-ball, though, and you could hope to win one or two, but rarely, if ever, the majority. Whatever your standard, there will be plenty of moments when you look - and feel - much better than you are.

Ronnie O'Sullivan, of course, would look good if was using his cue to swat flies. In partnership with Ralf "The Kaiser" Souquet, he won his opening match on Thursday night to wild rejoicing in a partisan crowd in Bethnal Green, and the atmosphere should be better still as the Cup reaches its climax this weekend.

Many great boxers have started out at the York Hall, and snooker too may have a fight on its hands. As The Nugget says: "Anyone who thinks that just because snooker is a great game, it will be the only game, is living in a fantasy world."

The Mosconi Cup continues today and concludes tomorrow at York Hall, Bethnal Green. Sessions start at 3.0pm and 7.0pm, admission free.

News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Newly Qualified Teachers

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently looking fo...

Year 3/4 Teacher

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Job Share Year 3/4 Teacher...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits