A smoky haze drifted near the ceiling of the Viking Lounge's upstairs pool room as the sound of pool balls colliding resonated throughout the bar.
Even with the lights dimmed, all eyes were focused on the action at the bar's seven tables as dozens of Southeast Alaska's top pool players competed this weekend at the Capital City Classic, Juneau's premiere pool tournament.
There were 43 entrants in the 9-Ball competition on Thursday, 64 in the 8-Ball event on Friday and 24 two-person teams in Saturday's Scotch doubles event. The top players in the three double-elimination brackets will meet today for the championships, with a few losers' bracket matches starting at noon and the finals starting at 4 p.m.
"It's fun and stressful," said Ketchikan commercial fisherman Jim Scudero, who was the only undefeated player left in the 8-Ball event and was one of two once-beaten players remaining in the 9-Ball bracket.
"It's a chance to see friends, and I just love the game," Scudero said.
In 9-Ball, which is commonly used for televised pool tournaments, nine balls are racked in a diamond shape and players try to knock the balls into the pockets in sequence with the winner being the player who pots the 9-Ball. In 8-Ball, which is the common stripes and solids game played on bar room tables, 15 balls are racked in a triangle shape. There are seven stripes, seven solids and the black 8-Ball, with players shooting either stripes or solids until they're potted and they can shoot at the 8-Ball.
The only undefeated 9-Ball player is University of Alaska Anchorage drafting student Tom Kitka, who grew up in Sitka and is a former Juneau resident. Scudero will play defending 9-Ball champion Rick Paulo of Juneau for the right to face Kitka in today's 9-Ball final. They are the only three players still alive in the 9-Ball bracket, and the winner of the Paulo-Scudero match will have to beat Kitka twice to win the title.
There are five once-beaten players hoping to earn a chance to play Scudero for the 8-Ball championship. Today's 8-Ball losers' bracket action starts with Randy Short of Juneau playing Larry Hotch of Klukwan in one match, while Paulo, who is also the defending 8-Ball champion, plays Reuben Quintana of Sitka in the other. The winner of those two matches then will play each other for the right to play Juneau's Craig Tiedemann in the losers' bracket final. The winner of the match against Tiedemann has to beat Scudero twice to claim the title.
The Scotch doubles event was still in progress at deadline on Saturday night, so results weren't available. Scotch doubles teams play 8-Ball, but the two players alternate shots during runs.
The game of pool cuts across all of Juneau's class lines, as blue collar construction workers and fishermen play against white collar lawyers, state workers and corporate personnel directors. It brings together whites, Alaska Natives, blacks and Filipinos who might not normally come into contact with each other.
"It's like Gold Medal, everybody knows everybody," Paulo said, referring to the basketball tournament held every year in Juneau that brings together fans and players from most of Southeast Alaska's villages.
"There's a lot of Southeast exposure," said Short, who has been Scudero's doubles partner for several years even though they live in different communities. "Him and I have had more fun doing this (stuff). We've played with these guys a lot, and here we are again."
Most of the players were men, but there were a few women entered in the tournament. There were four women in the 9-Ball bracket, eight women in the 8-Ball event and four women in the Scotch doubles. Juneau has its own women's league in the Juneau Billiards Association, but Linda Newton of Ketchikan said her town doesn't have a separate women's league.
"I love the game," said Newton, who added that she didn't start playing the game seriously until she was in her mid-20s "It's about 90-10 (the male-female ratio) in Ketchikan, so I'm used to this. I like the strategy."
Pool is a relatively easy game to learn, but playing the game well takes long hours of practice - or a Misspent Youth, the name of one of the local teams in the Juneau Billiards Association.
"I just like the different shots," Kitka said. "It's constantly changing. It's one game you can't really master."
"Me, I'm just curious to see how I match up," Paulo said. "You never know until you do it. If you see someone good, you don't know how you'll do until you play them."
The serious players have invested hundreds of dollars in special cue sticks - with a heavier stick to use on the break and a lighter cue for regular shots, and maybe a shortened jump cue for trick shots. But there are others, such as Quintana, who use whatever bar stick happens to be available.
In fact, one of the 64 players in Friday's 8-Ball bracket was drafted into the tournament when he stopped by the Viking to have Paulo repair the tip of his cue stick. Some of the other players spent 30 minutes convincing Kyle Morris, a pizza deliveryman from Juneau, to join the tournament and Morris ended up tied for seventh place with his damaged cue.
Morris plays on the same league team as Tiedemann and Hotch, and he and Tiedemann play in a heavy metal band; both the pool team and rock band are called the Drunken Masters. Morris said he'd thought about playing in Friday's Battle of the Bands show at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall, but Tiedemann had his heart set on competing in the pool tournament.
"We were going to play in the Battle of the Bands, but Craig wanted to do this (play pool) so bad," Morris said. "It's a good thing we did (play pool)."
"I'm guaranteed at least third (in the 8-Ball tourney)," Tiedemann said. "This is my first year playing in the Classic. I got to meet some good shooters and to play a lot of pool."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.