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Rick Paulo, the top-rated player in the 250-member Juneau Billiards Association, frowned as he surveyed the table during the eight-ball finals against Juneau's Dan Adams Sunday night at the Viking Bar.
Paulo pulled out a shortened cue, lined up his shot, then brought the butt of the cue up to the side of his chin to hit the ball at a steep angle. He cracked the shot, the cue ball leaped over one ball, then nudged his desired target into the corner pocket.
The pool players competing in the Fourth Annual Capital City Classic Billiards Tournament are not your average bar-room hot shots.
Some 100 hot shots from around Southeast Alaska played nearly 1,400 games of pool the past four days during the tournament held at the Viking and Imperial bars. The tourney consisted of eight-ball, nine-ball and Scotch doubles.
In the eight-ball finals, Paulo outshot Adams nine games to three.
Juneau's Tom Kitka used a length-of-the-table combination shot to seal the nine-ball championship nine games to five over Dix Mazon of Juneau. In the Scotch doubles tourney Adams and Kitka teamed up to defeat Petersburg's Paul Kankic and Jerry Bradford 9-7 as the tourney finished early this morning at the Viking.
Not only are the players different in ability, they play different games.
Normal eight-ball rules, where every shot must be called, do not apply.
Instead the league uses tournament rules where the pocket is called and it doesn't matter how it goes in.
``It simplifies the game,'' Kitka said. ``There's less arguments. You don't have people saying `You called three rails and you only hit two,' and stuff like that.''
The other difference is if a player scratches, he calls ball in hand and can place the cue ball anywhere on the table.
That forces players to think twice about a careless shot. A player may call safety and try to leave his opponent with no shot.
``You have to be able to play chess,'' said Juneau's Margo Cole, who placed third in both the eightball tourney and Scotch doubles along with partner Kevin Foster. ``It changes the whole strategy of the game.''
Kitka, 29, said he didn't begin to take pool seriously until he turned 21.
Since then, he's twice won nineball tournaments in Petersburg and once in Sitka. Kitka said he preferred nine-ball - where the balls must be sunk in numerical order from one to nine - because of the strategy involved.
``Some people don't like it because they say it's lucky,'' Kitka said. ``But you have to have pretty good control of the cue ball in nine. In eight-ball there are six other balls to shoot at. In nine, there's only that one.''
Like all the players at the Capital City Classic, Kitka brought his own cue.
Some players spend thousands of dollars on their cues, said Kitka, but he preferred a model without the ivory inlays or specialty woods. In fact, Kitka's cue looks like he pulled it from the bar rack.
``It's called a `Sneaky Pete,' '' Kitka said. ``Or a hustler cue. It's made to look like a bar cue.''
Cole began playing pool at age 10 while growing up in Washington. She arrived in Ketchikan in 1979 to commercial fish, and was president of a local pool league there. Her grandfather used to take her to pool halls to teach her the game.
``He wouldn't let me shoot in a game,'' Cole said. ``He said `You gotta learn how to shoot before you can play a game.' '
Cole, also one of the top-rated players in the JBA, of course routinely beats men at the table. She said it's not that big a deal playing men, that pool players are pool players.
``I'd actually rather play men because women are more competitive,'' Cole said. ``But it doesn't matter if they're male or female, if they're competitive, you feed off that competitiveness and raise your game.''
Several players in the JBA are vying for a trip to Las Vegas to compete in the Billiards Congress of America's nationals at the end of May. The top 15 players get to go, and currently Cole is among them.
``If I do get to go I'll mess up the room arrangements,'' she joked.