The game of pool is both a passion and a pastime for members of the Juneau Billiards Association.
Though league attendance has lagged recently, down to around 50 members, there’s a core group which has found community in the weekly practices at the Viking Bar in downtown Juneau. That group will test their skills this week at the Billiards Congress of America National Pool League National Championships in Las Vegas.
League Vice President Mark Rackley said the Vegas competition is a good chance to introduce less experienced players to a bigger stage. The 250-table pool hall at the Rio in Las Vegas is an eye-opener for those used to the six-table setup at the Viking.
“We have a lot of talented players here that have never seen that before,” Rackley said in between games. “It opens eyes for the younger or less experienced players who haven’t been in a competition like that.”
JBA will send two teams of five, several individual players and a couples team to compete with 5,500 players on more than 300 tables over the course of 10 days from July 19-29. It’s the biggest tournament in the country.
Nieko Isturis, an Empire employee who will compete in Vegas as a singles player, has practiced diligently since he picked the game up while working at a bar in the Lower 48 five years ago. He would play for hours before his shift and hours after.
When he moved back to Juneau and started playing with JBA, he found a group eager to coach him into the skilled player he is today.
“There’s a handful of people in the league who really took an interest in showing me how to improve my game, I mean they really took an interest,” Isturis said. Rackley was one of those, along with Tom Bay, who played with Isturis on Thursday.
You can tell a beginner by their ability to control the cue ball, the white, slightly larger ball players are allowed to strike, Isturis said. (There are many variations of pool but in all of them players cannot hit the colored balls with their pool cue.)
Advanced players can control the cue ball as if it was “on a string.” Controlling the cue ball allows players to play more strategically, setting up shots in advance or playing defensively by not giving their opponents a good shot.
Mentoring and improvement are things Rackley wants to cultivate with the league, which he hopes will attract more novice players eager to improve their game.
For the first time this year, the league setup an “A” and “B” bracket at their Capital City Classic tournament to give less-experienced players a more competitive experience.
Kristy Ely, who just started playing with the league last year, has been sucked in. She said she has a hard time coming to the bars with non-players anymore, as she often finds herself itching to take off and play a few games.
“I haven’t had a bad night playing with these guys,” Ely said.
JBA is open to anyone who wants to join. League play is at the Viking from 7-11 p.m. on Thursdays and costs $10. Proceeds go to prizes at JBA competitions and to support players traveling to the yearly BCAPL tournament.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.