One Pool Player’s reflections and advice on entering a pool tournament.
Playing in a pool tournament for the first time is always extremely intimidating; intimidation and the feeling that a player is not good enough are why most people never bother to try. My first tournament was a disaster. I walked into the largest pool hall in my area and signed up for a nine ball tournament (a game I had only played a couple of times. I had no idea what the house rules were, who the competition was, and had never played on a nine foot table before). Shortly after I paid my entry is when I came to learn that some of the people playing were not to be taken lightly; there was the in house pro, a couple masters level players, and to top it off- the 1989 9-ball World Champion. It is safe to say I lost, but it was one of the best pool playing experiences I had ever had.
There is a lot of fun to be had sitting around at home or in your local bar shooting pool with friends and throwing beers back. However, for someone that wants to learn more about the game and further themselves as a pool player, tournaments are a key experience. What I learned most that first tournament is that the more skilled players want a challenge every time they step up to the table. They want you to challenge them. Often they will give you tips between matches, or pull you over to a practice table and give you a quick lesson. Making you better simply makes them better.
Truly the only draw back to tournament play is all the down time. Depending on the size of the tournament you may play in the first round, then have to sit around for twenty minutes to an hour before you play again. For the beginner this is a good thing. The down time allows you to learn the game from watching better players; a seasoned player will head to the practice table to stay warm. If this is your first tournament it may be wise to choose one that is held in a local bar.
Tournaments in local bars are generally 8-ball, they only have around 8-16 competitors and all follow the same basic rules. Of course depending on the bar the rules may be changed slightly. It is pretty standard that in any 8-ball tournament you are going to be playing by modified BCA rules. This means that you have to call your pocket (not your shot; if your object ball accidentally hits another ball but goes into the right pocket, it is still your turn). For any foul, such as scratching or hitting the opponents ball first, your turn is over and the opponent gets ball in hand. Ball in hand means your opponent can put the cue ball anywhere on the table.
The rest of the rules are the ones that are often tweaked. Do you win if you get an 8-ball break? What happens if you scratch on the 8? For these rules it is best to show up to the event early and talk to the tournament director. They will explain all the house rules as well as give advice on other players. Like I said, pool players want a challenge.
The biggest difference between bar play and tournament play is by far in the game 9-ball. First it is most frequently only played on nine foot tables (a regular bar table is only seven or eight feet long), second is the level of competition. The rules for 9-ball are always the same no matter who or where you play. It is a rotation game; hit the lowest ball first, if any ball falls it is still your turn, if the 9-ball goes in at any time you win. 9-ball is also always a ball in hand game on every foul. The joy of 9-ball is that those are the rules no matter what bar, pool hall, city, or country you play it in.
The big question here is not if bar room play is more fun than tournament play. Really the question is do you want to take your pool playing to the next level. Any day spent playing pool, no matter if it is a game at home or in an international tournament, is a good day. Playing in tournaments is essential for a pool player that wants to grow as a player; for someone that wants the competition and to see how far this game can take them.