British aces are eyeing their big break
A dozen of the UK's best pool and snooker players will fly to China next month to compete in a cash-prize tournament that will net the winner $89,555. The tournament is aimed at raising the global profile China's most popular cue sport－Chinese eight-ball pool.
Chinese eight-ball pool player Zhang Kunpeng plays at the 5th World Chinese 8-Ball Masters last month. [Photo/Xinhua]
The Brits taking part will duke it out with 52 other players from around the world－including China's top 15 ranked shooters－in the "YAQI Group Cup" Chinese Pool World Championships 2017, which will be held from March 13 to 16 in Shangrao in Eastern China's Jiangxi province.
Cue sports are increasingly popular in China. The China Billiards Association estimates there are around 200,000 registered pool clubs in the country, with 64 million fans playing or watching the game. Last year's tournament drew a television audience of 13 million.
Ryan Fleming and his brother Marc, winners of the British doubles pool championship in 2014, have been invited to the tournament, where $442,350 in prize money is on offer.
"This past 12 months, Chinese eight-ball is all you seem to hear pool players talking about," Ryan said. "The opportunities this game provides for pool players in China is life-changing. All the top UK pool players want to be in these events in China as it's the first real chance of playing pool as a full-time professional any of us have ever had."
The Flemings' pool hall in Dundee, Scotland, is one of the few establishments in the UK that has a Chinese eight-ball table. The style of pool is a hybrid of other varieties－the game uses US 8-ball rules and balls, is played on a nine-ball sized table, and has small, snooker-sized pockets.
"Chinese eight-ball is a relatively non-existent game in the UK right now. Considering this game is more widely played than snooker in China, it's quite hard to believe it's so small here," Ryan said. "I have been told pool is as big in China as football is in the UK. If this is true, I suspect we will have a huge level of competition from the Chinese players."
The game has been popular in China for many years, and various Chinese eight-ball associations are now trying to grow the game globally, partly by inviting elite players from other cue sports to competitions in China.
The 5th annual Joy World Chinese 8-Ball Masters was held in January in Qinhuangdao in North China's Hebei province, where three-time eight-ball world champion Gareth "Golden Boy" Potts took home the $140,000 winner's check.
A number of snooker's notable names will compete in March's tournament, including four-time snooker world champion John "The Wizard of Wishaw" Higgins, two-time world champion Mark "The Welsh Potting Machine" Williams, and 2012 masters champion Neil "The Thunder From Down Under" Robertson.
The Chinese game has been promoted by one of snooker's living legends since 2012, when China's Joy Billiards Group appointed Stephen Hendry as Chinese pool's global ambassador. Hendry won the world championship a record seven times, and was snooker's world number one for eight consecutive seasons between 1990 and 1998.