Pool Hall – Eight Ball Pool & Snooker, Colombo Sri Lanka

This place is difficult to find, at least by Western sensibilities. There’s no sign outside (that I could see) and it’s located in a narrow building in a crowded neighborhood just east of the chaotic Pettah market area in Colombo. If (like me) you’re using Google Maps as a guide to find places like this, beware there are two listings with the words Eight Ball in the title, shown on the same street just a block apart. The one further south appears to be the real one. Can’t vouch for the other one. Were it not for a very committed tuk-tuk driver, I wouldn’t have found it.

I climbed to the third floor of the building with nothing but a printed paper pointing upwards that had been torn in half but still taped to a wall for my guide. My tuk-tuk driver followed right behind me, clearly uncertain as to the wisdom of this venture. There was one table available and I was directed to take it. To say this place is rustic would be very accurate and perhaps an overselling of the place. Three somewhat threadbare eight-foot tables in an unairconditioned room. No snacks or drinks or anything. Definitely a very local crowd, and probably skewing towards early high school age for the majority of them.

I started racking the balls and was immediately approached by a great hulk of a man. With sign language and a bare minimum of words that are somewhat universal in the world of pool it was apparent he wanted to play me. I have no illusions that Caucasians were rare in this establishment, and certainly not ones with a laptop bag dropped in the corner. It would be difficult to accurately convey how very different I was from everything and everyone in this room even if I claimed that I was the only one with green skin, six arms and giant, shrimp-like antennae sprouting from my head. I might as well have had those attributes, but they were hardly necessary.

I agreed to shoot, wary a bit of what I was getting into. He didn’t make any indication he wanted to play for money which I was grateful for. Money complicates everything and in some situations such complications aren’t simply unnecessary they’re unwise. So I racked the balls, indicated he could break, and we were off.

I assumed from the immediacy of his challenge that he was probably the house pro, and his shooting confirmed this pretty quickly. A smooth, fluid stroke, good confidence in the use of power, and a good eye for leaving himself with his next shot. He ran out five of his seven balls before missing. Not having shot for a week or more and being nervous about being in a new place, I missed my shot and he sank one more ball before missing. I dropped a couple of balls but missed and left him another shot. He was down to the eight ball but didn’t have a good shot on it. On my turn I ran the rest of my balls, had a long shot on the eight and missed, leaving him with the easy winning shot.

We racked again and this time the situation was reversed. I made some good plays early on and beat him while he still had two balls on the table. We agreed to play one more. By this time the mental aspect of the game had kicked in. I had overcome my jitters while my victory in the second game clearly had rattled his. In the third game I was shooting on the eight ball while he still had three balls on the table. I wasn’t making those three balls easy on him and they were still standing when I dropped the eight ball.

I thanked him and he asked where I was from. He agreed to a photo which in part due to my remaining nervousness is a bit blurry. But a good reminder nonetheless about how a shared love of something as simple as the game of pool can build bridges where language and culture and economics fail.

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