Pool as a game of survival in the Philippines – by Konstantinos Booza
– Konstantinos Booza in response to A memory of true love for ‘billiards’ in the Philippines.
Once, as an intrigued tourist of the Philippines, I found myself all over the countryside wanting to know what lays beneath the thoroughbred Pinoy (Filipino) talent the Philippines produces. The country has a colorful past. It’s culturally diverse and its war and political divide has boasted high levels of poverty.
I wanted to know how a country that lacks in resources, could produce such talent. I thought I was going to see a coach in every pool room. Soon I found out that information was not traded openly. At the outset players learn that knowledge is power and power is money. So, by effectively teaching other pool players you sacrifice your own livelihood. It’s a ‘monkey see, monkey do’ trade. I even struggled to find pool rooms and often ended up in bamboo sheds instead.
Originally I come from snooker. Pool in the Philippines goes against almost every rule I’ve learned. I went from nice shiny Aramith balls, ironed tables with the luxury of air conditioning, and snooker etiquette (a perfect environment to perform), to outdoor bamboo sheds littered with obstacles, noise, motor pollution, and high humidity. Big crowds warped the tables and, when you go to more remote places, chickens were kept under the table.
Top players around the provinces would use a taco (cue stick) worth about $20, not even the cost of the tip on my cue. 9-Ball is rarely played. 10-Ball is the game now, even though rotation (61) is the actual national game. A game that contributes to the prowess and creativity of shot making.
Efren Reyes seems to be everyone’s uncle or nephew. In the 90’s, prior to Manny Paquiao’s fame, Efren got the ‘national hero’ title. He inspired the country and gave people hope in this destitute society. He showed that anything is possible by making a legendary carrier, coming from nothing.
Each ‘A grade’ player I’ve met had their own story to tell. Most were caught in a trap of gambling, booze, drugs, and violence and often risked their lives when they were playing money games. These sort of stories among pool rooms have lingered and tarnished the game’s reputation and stigma, but money games still draw the attention of the masses, at any time of the day. For many players the money games are a way of surviving. Pool rooms, or sheds, are also a hang out place for trike, jeepney, and taxi drivers who want in on the action and make the regularly promoted side bets on pool games.
The life of a pool player in the Philippines is certainly a path for the brave with many cruel and wonderful life lessons. I’m very grateful for receiving all the valuable education during my journey, as Pinoys rarely teach, and I treasure the stories the locals shared with me over a few red horse beers. I could’ve easily been taken advantage of, as exploitation is survival, but they gave me respect. I always had a feeling of warm hospitality and people love to see a white guy put up a fight on the pool table.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Pinoy billiards (pool) and what I would like to pass on, is that billiards is not about ego in the Philippines (1st world problems) or who’s the best. It’s all about ‘the color of money’. It’s a game of survival that entails hustling. It’s just business.