I've made a great new friend in Ryan, another son on the bum, English boys on the run from failed relationships. I say boys, but I'm 46, and he's 29, and we share some common loves. Girls. Sweet MJ. House music. Pool. Trippy drugs.
We've been playing pool almost every day, for at least an hour. We play in a variety of places around the area, and switch between American style and English 8 ball tables.
A couple of weeks ago we traveled an hour to the resort of Xabia in search of pastures new. It's quite upscale compared to the other places we hang out, reminds me of the Ibizan resort Portinax. For me this feels a bit like the world I'm used to, rather than the sleepy backwater two-horse town of Villalonga which is the nearest place to the mountain retreat where I currently reside. It feels more like my kind of stomping ground, there is a lot of English spoken here, settlers from Scandinavia, Germany, Holland and the UK. I had a lousy date in Xabia a few weeks ago, but noticed there was a few pool tables.
We walk into Gemi Bar, having been recommended it by a barman on the promenade, and there it is - a beautifully kept Sam Leisure table, in the centre of the bar. There is something about the placement of the pool table - center stage - that makes me think that we have stumbled into the right place. A bar that appreciates pool. It's an afterthought in most of the places we play at.
During our first game the owner walks over to us and asks us if we are playing Spanish rules. No, I reply, but happy to if you explain?
I'd played Spanish rules a few years ago in a bar in Mercia, while getting smashed on tequila with my sister. Once I’d figured out the rules, I started to rule. I’d won about 8 games in succession until these rough looking guys just took over the table and played each other. I’d protested, and had been hastily taken aside by one of the regulars of the bar saying ‘Leave it. They are gypsies. They will stab you in the street without a thought.’ But since then I hadn’t played and I couldn’t remember the quirky rules.
The owner lays it out. It turns out his first wife had been English, so he had a great command of the language.
‘You pot the black in the opposite pocket to where you pot your last ball. Two shots never carry. If you are on the black, you don’t get two shots, and neither does your opponent. If your opponent pots the white, you can’t use the middle pockets, or hit any balls above the line of the middle pocket, and you can’t shoot back. No free balls.’
- What, even after a foul, and I'm snookered?
- Yup. No free balls.
The rules of 8 ball had been tweaked to make the game last as long as possible. This was Spain after all, where everything took a little longer, and everything was cheap.
The pot-the-black-in-the-opposite-pocket-to-your-last-ball, which is the main tweak, provides a fascinating end game. As you get down to your last couple of balls, you have to think about where you are gonna play the black, and there’s little point potting your last ball in the routine pocket if you don’t have a shot on the black. What you can do, if your opponent has several balls left, is if you can’t make a clear shot happen then send the black towards the intended pocket, and hope the other guy doesn’t clear up before you have a chance to pot it.
Here’s another key point - once you have been assigned your black pocket, your opponent can’t have the same one. So even if he pots in the pocket that would make your black pocket his, it can’t be, so he takes the last pocket he pocketed in. Got it?
The tweaked rules are open to abuse. I found myself at a disadvantage following my opponents fouls, and I’ve grown to love this, begrudgingly. Why? Because it makes you practise shots you just don't usually play.
The idea is that you play in good spirit. In one game my opponent had covered my black pocket, the middle bag, with one of his balls, so I just planted the black onto his ball, his ball went in, and left the black over the bag. It was a risk, but because I was on the black he didn’t get two shots from the foul, and I knew he wasn’t gonna clear up. Sure enough he left me with a dolly shot on the black, but he didn’t look happy.
Look, I’m thinking, if you are gonna add these hair-brained rules then I will take advantage! This was a fair shot!
The owner is paying attention and sees I’m running some games. These players are competent, but they hit the balls so hard! It’s so idiotic. I’ll leave my turn with my balls nicely placed, with a fairly routine check out set up, but by the time I come back to the table, everything has changed. They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace - Christopher Robin went down with Alice. All the balls have moved. What is it? They like the sound of the balls going in hard? Well so do I, but not to the detriment of my position. As I (comparatively) gracefully clear up using slow controlled shots I feel like Willo in comparison. Move the white as little as possible! It’s not rocket science!
He challenges me to a best of three, for beers. Gulp. I’m about to take the owner of the bar on, on his own table, that he must know inside out. He disappears into the back and brings out a very expensive cue. ‘This was 400 Euros,’ he boasts.
But he has the same game as the others. He pots some outrageous balls. But there’s no finesse, no subtlety, and he pots the black accidentally in the wrong pocket after I’d purposefully left him a tricky lie. I easily win two nil, he brings the beers over, and others are queue
ing up to play me. Bring it on. For a few hours there, in that back street bar, I feel a little bit like a star.
The only player who comes close to my game is a young English guy who has lived in the area since he was eleven. There are quite a few like him around - parents who moved from the UK when they were young and they grew up here. He’s a great player and we have an epic battle on the black for 15 minutes.
Since we started playing three months ago Ryan is getting better, and is starting to take the odd game off me. I'm coaching him, and it's a pleasure. When you teach you learn. It's making me re-examine every aspect from my game, from my stance, bridging, to finer subtleties of spin and side, and advanced tactical play.
There is a problem though for him, and that is: I'm getting better. Way, way better. We play everyday. When you do something everyday your skills leap. Long pots seem a cinch, and when I'm down on the shot the feathering and action has become second nature. Muscle memory. I've imparted some hideous defeats on him.
...and as I write this, he's just beaten me 4 nil. Ok, two games he won because I fouled the black (Spanish rules remember) and yes - I play loose sometimes with him. I have to strike the right balance between motivating - playing ace, and not demoralising - not playing like a demon.
I'm proud as buck.