While I enjoy the sport of basketball and the exploits of superstars such as Michael Jordan, a disadvantage of the Filipino race is the tendency to be on the shorter side with regards to height. True, the melting pot that is the Philippines has been greatly influenced by the different people who have inhabited the islands throughout history. However, it seems that being among the taller nationalities was one of the attributes that somehow got lost in the gene pool.

Fortunately, there are sports that Filipinos have excelled in that do not have height as a major advantage. One of these sports is pocket billiards (or pool, as it is more popularly known), which has many variants such as eight-ball, nine-ball, ten-ball, rotation (where balls are pocketed in numerical order with a race usually to 61 points), and straight pool (where players call the ball and pocket of choice and a predetermined number of points declares the winner). And in the various disciplines of pool, Filipino players have come out and proven to be among the finest in the world.

Before the rise of Efren Reyes, the "Philippine Invasion" of the lucrative pocket billiards tour in the US was led by Jose "Amang" Parica. He would inspire many of his countrymen to successfully compete in professional pool leagues around the world.

Despite this, pool equipment remains expensive for all but the higher-income bracket and I was fortunate enough to have a pool table at our ancestral home. My earliest memories of the pool table involve my Pop challenging his friends to matches on occasion, and with bottles of beer in tow matches would easily extend to the early morning hours. Back then, I would wake up in the middle of the night and find him in the midst of a surprisingly competitive match. And being a young kid who tended to associate the sport with keeping Pop away from the kids, I was not naturally drawn to pocket billiards.

But years later, after studying in the big city and then being brought back to the province, I would end up giving the pool table a try. At around the same time, pocket billiards was gaining increased coverage on national television and a wave of Filipino cue artists would soon make their mark internationally as part of the famed “Philippine Invasion” of the US billiards scene. And while this was led by Jose “Amang” Parica with his early successes in the 80s and early 90s, a new star would soon emerge in Efren “The Magician” Reyes.

Efren "The Magician" Reyes, widely hailed as the best living pool player in the world, was inducted into the Billiard Congress of America's Hall of Fame in 2004 in recognition of his achievements in the various disciplines of pocket billiards and unparalleled shot-making and defensive abilities.

Coming from modest roots in Angeles City, he grew up in the pool halls of Manila where he served as an attendant racking balls for patrons and would even sleep on top of the tables at night. Earning the moniker Bata (The Kid) to identify him from an older peer with the same name, he honed his skill to the point that he would soon become arguably the greatest pool player on the planet. He would break through by capturing the 1994 US Open 9-Ball championship, and he would go on to compete in many big money events against the finest players in the world. He would reach truly global fame in 1999, when he would capture the World 9-Ball Championship besting a field comprised of the world’s top 128 players. He has remained competitive since, and has also won titles in other disciplines such as eight-ball and straight pool to boot. His recent induction into the Billiard Congress of America’s Hall of Fame is further testament to the level of respect he has gained among the sport’s fellow players and analysts.

So with the rising star of The Magician showcasing the competitive nature of the Filipino, I decided to try playing pocket billiards as well. And soon, I was hooked on pool.

I would learn many neat techniques and tricks from Pop, as I took every opportunity to challenge him at the table. And during the rare times I was able to play with him while he was downing a few beers, his skill was such that I affectionately called him the “Drunken Master”.

When I reached college, I would find myself quite often at the pool hall owned by an uncle of mine (Pop’s cousin, actually) and I had fun with the kangaroo tables wherein the balls would be dropped off at the foot of table making recovery of the balls simpler. But on days this was closed, I would end up playing at rundown pool halls where the tables were uneven and the cloth was in terrible shape, balls were damaged or missing and worst of all, the cue sticks were often warped or damaged otherwise. This spurred me to get a personal cue stick and just a few years later, I would own my first cue stick. However, as this was soon badly damaged, I was soon forced to get my second cue stick and make sure it would get better care this time around.

Aside from christening my new cue stick “Tara”, I also got a few extra items for extra preparation:

  •  A pool glove, which is like a typical synthetic cloth glove except the ring and pinkie fingers are exposed. This is to make sure a smooth action when using a cue stick, as the stick itself has a tendency to get “sticky” due to humidity and other factors. While many players resort to using talcum powder as a workaround, it can be messy and hard to apply. This was popularized by players such as Earl “The Pearl” Strickland and Jeanette “The Black Widow” Lee.
  • Cue tip chalk, to guarantee good solid contact with the cue ball on any shot. I initially had three when I started out, and I should get some new chalk soon.
  • A cue tip chalk holder, to avoid misplacing the chalk. It consists of a receptacle to place the chalk, which then has a magnet that allows it to be attached to a special clip when not in use.
  • A good cue stick case, to protect my valued equipment. Initially it was a soft leather case but Pop replaced it with a stiffer case covered with a velvet-like purple fabric to afford better protection.

With that, I would soon take Tara everywhere with me and she would do well as a cue stick (even though I was not always the better player on any given day).

With the move from Discovery Center (Pasig City) to Market! Market! (Taguig City), more space became available for the unique amenities in the office. And just my luck, once of these happened to be a quality Brunswick pocket billiards table along with tournament quality Aramith Belgian billiard balls (with the trademark spotted cue ball to show the spin applied on it by a player). This is where I have spent many hours at the office, as it addressed my earlier concerns of a lack of an accessible venue as well as the pricey rates for use of such facilities. And I have gained respect from a number of people at work for my surprising skills on the pool table as well as my knowledge of the sport and its various disciplines.

Pocket billiards has even played a crucial role in restoring the relationship with Pop after years of acrimony, as it has become one of the few activities we actually do together. So much so in fact, that he has invited me to play pool each time I have visited my hometown of Angeles City on special occasions.

And with the recent influx of major pool tournaments in the country with international players in attendance, the Philippines has become the new “Mecca” of p0cket billiards. I was fortunate enough to be able to watch the finals of last year’s Predator 10-Ball Championship at a nearby mall, where countryman Dennis Orcollo knocked off Finnish star Mika Immonen to capture the title. Seeing the level of play the professionals engage in has made me even more interested in the sport, and I am hoping to have Pop watch one of these tournaments with me in the future.

And with more and more Filipinos picking up a cue and trotting off to the nearest pool hall for a few racks, it looks like we will keep our foothold in the sport for years to come.

And to Amang and Bata, thanks for proving that the Philippines is definitely not behind the eight-ball.

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