Slant Pattern on Pool

Over the years, I have championed many sports that are downright obscure (candlepin bowling) or are obscure in the U.S. (like netball).

Lately, I've been groovin' on a sport that is not quite so obscure, but has a low enough profile that even world championships probably won't get a mention on "SportsCenter": pool.

I played a lot of pool in my 20s, but only socially and never in a league. I want to start playing again, but in the meantime, I have been watching a lot of pool and getting to know the heavy hitters of the sport.

So what do I mean by "pool," since there are so many disciplines of it? I have dabbled in a number of these different variations of billiards, and snooker, as well, but for the most part, I have been focused on the ones most popular in the U.S. (shocking for me, I know), which are eight-ball, nine-ball, and 10-bell.

Eight-ball is the game I mostly played growing up. It's the solids vs. stripes game. Interestingly, in England, the game "blackball" is their version of eight-ball, except all the balls are either red or yellow with no numbers instead of solids vs. stripes, which makes a ton of sense if you think about it.

Nine-ball I played a little bit, as well. That's the game where there are only nine balls and they need to pocketed sequentially.

Ten-ball I only recently understood to be a thing. The rules are the same as nine-ball, but with 10 balls instead of nine. This game came to be as a more challenging alternative to nine-ball, since sinking balls off the break (including the nine-ball or the 10-ball as the case may be, which is an instant win under most rules) is harder in 10-ball.

Additionally, break-and-runs in nine-ball (that's when you break, sink a ball without scratching (pool-ese for pocketing the cue ball, always bad) and thereby keeping your turn, and finishing off the table) are much more common in nine-ball than in 10-ball.

Nonetheless, nine-ball remains the higher profile variation in terms of most (not all) big money or prestigious events.

The biggest event in nine-ball is the Mosconi Cup. It's a team event, U.S. vs Europe, so the obvious equivalent to mainstream sports is the Ryder Cup, if the Ryder Cup was even more important than it already is. Europe usually wins.

The highest profile American pool player is Shane Van Boening. Largely deaf since birth, he wears hearing aids, which he told "60 Minutes" he sometimes turns off to focus during big games. He has won over $2 million in tournament earnings since 2005 and is probably the most famous South Dakotan teetotaler in the world. I'm guessing.

Then there's Skyler Woodward, from Paducah, Kentucky. The last two times the U.S. won the Mosconi Cup, in 2018 and 2019, he was the MVP and I became a big fan. Alas, Europe has won the last 11 times besides those two.

I like how other top pros are really spread out all over the world. The top eight players in terms of their "Fargo Rate" ranking, which is a ranking algorithm widely used in the sport, are from eight different countries, as well as 12 of the top 15. Taiwan and the Philippines are the only countries with two players in the top 15. Pool is quite popular in Southeast Asia.

I'm starting to know the top players a little bit, besides the ones I've described. Perhaps the most polarizing player (or even simply disliked) is Eklent Kaci of Albania, ranked No. 8 in the world. He has a neck tattoo of the word "perfection," in English. Twice in his career, he seemingly touched a ball on the table with his finger or shirt (a foul that a good sportsman might call on himself) without acknowledging it.

Even if you give him the benefit of the doubt on those (and I kind of do), just today, at the UK open, he was leading his opponent 7 games to 1 (first one to win 9 wins), when his opponent fouled, giving Kaci "ball in hand." This means he can put the cue ball anywhere on the table.

He placed the cue ball and went for a ridiculously difficult shot off six rails (he missed). He did not have to do that. I'm trying to think of the closest mainstream sport equivalent, and I would say that would be the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes doing a quadruple-reverse flea flicker bomb up 45-10 midway through the fourth quarter.

If this sounds interesting to you, your option for watching in the U.S. is DAZN for most high-profile events, including the aforementioned UK Open and Mosconi Cup. Otherwise, I can't even begin to say how much pool there is, with commentary and decent score bugs, on YouTube. It is simply staggering.

Happy breaking!

Leave a Comment

Featured Site