Watch out, Reno

Two dozen Chicoans head to the biggest little city for the U.S. Bar Table Championships

The author chooses her next shot.

The author chooses her next shot.

Photo by Jackie Karol

Upon entering the convention hall on the ground floor of the Grand Sierra Resort & Casino, we could hear the familiar crack of pool balls breaking, but for this group of two dozen or so Chico pool players and fans who made the trip to Reno, this was nothing like walking into one of our usual bars. Conversations were held in hushed tones, cheering was relegated to hand claps and the air was thick with tension. We were at the U.S. Bar Table Championships, and we were in a whole new league.

The event, which attracted hundreds of players from around the country including the leading pros in the sport, spanned a full week (Feb. 16-22) and was broken into three divisions: 10-ball, 9-ball and 8-ball.

Upon our arrival, a couple of us made our way through the room for the first time, eyeing the vendor booths lined with $3,000 pool cues; marveling at the beauty of the 40 identical tables—all 7-foot coin-op Diamonds, widely considered the best—and stopping for a moment to watch the action on the “TV table,” where the pros were playing. “Wow” was our fitting response.

The majority of the Chico contingency sported bright red, collared shirts emblazoned with the Oasis Bar & Grill logo and “,” which identified us as a unit, even though competition was purely individual. However, by the end of the week, other players, vendors and event officials knew our red-shirted group—the largest from a single city—and where we were from.

This was my first time at a large-scale tournament. I’ve been playing in the Chico Women’s Pool League for the past nine years (for the Towne Lounge and now the DownLo), and got serious by taking classes from former pro Jackie Karol—who accompanied us to Reno—at the Chico Billiards Academy about a year ago. That’s about the same time I joined two coed leagues at the Oasis, where many of my fellow travelers play several times a week. I suppose Reno was the next logical step.

My first taste of what was to come came Wednesday while watching Chicoan Jeff Wozena play his second match in the double-elimination 9-ball tournament. His opponent was 12-year-old Tristan Hansen, and despite some nice shots on Wozena’s part, that 12-year-old won the match 9-0. “Never underestimate your opponent” came to mind as we watched the young phenom—who is already sponsored (look him up on YouTube)—run the table.

My second wakeup call came around 11:30 the next night. The only contest I had entered at that point was the 8-ball competition that started on Friday, so in order to rid myself of some precompetition jitters I joined a mini-tournament for $25. My first match turned out to be my only match—my opponent, a friendly enough woman, beat me handily. It was a good primer for the real deal, though. This truly wasn’t like being in a bar with its constant distractions. Players sit quietly and watch their games intently, all their concentration on the table.

The actual tournament play was still nerve-wracking. For women, it was a race to win four games (men, a race to five). I won my first game, but lost the next eight to two separate opponents. I was pleased that I shot well, but a little bummed to only win one game.

Other Chicoans fared better. Kelly Cibart, a teammate of mine at the DownLo, placed the best out of the local women at 17th out of 69 (I came in 49th). And Chuck Lockhart, an Oasis teammate of mine, did the best of the men, placing 65th out of 241 (Wozena took 97th).

Like many of the others who had already been knocked out, I also joined the “second chance” tournament and got mine on Saturday night. That match, against another tough player, turned out to be my best. I ended up winning (4-1), and was the only Chico player to have a match scheduled for Sunday, when I was knocked out 4-0 in a morning match. Apparently I play much better at 10 p.m. than at 10 a.m.

All in all, Chico had a pretty great showing in Reno—enough to establish our little city on the greater billiards map—and I think it’s safe to say we all had a blast, whether we won or lost, and we learned a little bit about ourselves and the game we love. I know I did.