Last week I was at the World 8 Ball Pool Championships in Blackpool, UK. It is the pinnacle of the 8 Ball game with teams traveling from all over the planet to take part.
The event runs for a total of 10 days and consists of many different events. As well as the main events of Team Championships, Mens & Ladies Singles; there are also Junior, Senior & Wheelchair events.
These days, I no longer compete. My work is as an entertainer and pool coach and that’s what I was in Blackpool to do. I arrived just as the crew were setting up for the televised stages, ready to perform three different jobs over the next few days.
My first task was to run a coaching seminar for a group of local children, who were visiting the event. The organisers set me up in the practice room, where players who are in the later stages get the chance to hit the balls around on a table similar to the one in the arena.
Coaching youngsters can be quite difficult. The thing that will do their game the most good in the future is getting the basics right, but most kids just want to learn how to do the big shots! So I decided to do a session that covered both… We would work on stance and then look at some trickshots.
When I first started hitting balls around a table I was around 8 years old, and it was another 10 years or so before I got close to getting the right stance. So it’s important for young players to know what a good stance is as soon as possible – even if they can’t see over the table yet! Getting the cue to go through straight is a challenge that every player has throughout their playing career, therefore you can never be too young to learn about how important that is. So that’s the first thing I did with this group. We looked at what the cue should be doing, and worked out ways that short people could achieve that!
Then came the trickshots. This was a lot of fun! We went through a few of my favourite tricks that could be played on any old pub table, and the kids got to have a go at them too! It was odd, some of the easier tricks proved difficult, but the more tricky shots seemed to work. The result was a good time was had by all – and I think the parents learned a lot too!
The following day saw the start of the television stages. The final stages were filmed for Sky Sports by the cameras of SGTV, for broadcast later in the year. This is recorded in an arena built specially for the event inside the Imperial Hotel. There are seven programmes in total featuring semi-finals of the team event and the men’s singles, and followed by the finals of those competitions and the final of the ladies individual event too.
My role during these matches is that of host/MC. Before each match I go out into the arena and introduce the referees and the players to the live audience. While I am only in the arena for a few minutes, it is a job that involves lots of waiting around, I have to be on hand for the interval after half the frames have been played – that can be quick, or it can take a long time – either way I can’t wander too far away. With four matches on the Tuesday, and three on the Wednesday it adds up to a lot of hours lurking in the darkness at the back of the set.
My final job at the World Championships is to record my ‘Masterclass’ segments. These are a series of short videos that go out in the middle of each programme. Some segments focus on trickshots that viewers can try, some concentrate on explaining elements of the game like the rules & tactics. We only have a couple of hours in the arena to get them all filmed, and it’s quite intense work talking to the camera while playing the shots. However, it is made easier by the guys at SGTV who are a real pleasure to work with.
The finals of the all the events were played on Wednesday, and this year saw a couple of the matches go to the last frame. It will make great television, so I don’t want to post the results here in case you want to watch it without knowing the results, but if you need to know now, go to http://www.wepf.org/.
At the end of each final, my last duty is to go into the arena and introduce the presentation party with the cups & cash. I always feel sorry for the runner(s)-up who have come so far and not quite got over the line, it’s important to remember that in some of the events the qualifiers started long before the 10 days in Blackpool. This year it must have been particularly hard on those who so nearly got their hands on the top prize, the result just coming down to a few balls. Of course, the winner should be celebrated, but so should all the players who this year made the televised stages so good to watch.
Last year, the pre-recorded World 8 Ball Championships programmes were on Sky Sports in October, It may well be the same this year – I will keep you posted.