Saturday, 19 January 2008

Understanding Brazil – Playing Pool

If anybody understands the rules for playing pool in Brazil, could they let me know please?

Ok, I suppose I’d better write a little more on this. Just like my games of pool in Brazil though, I’m not sure how to start. Playing with the local kids in the Amazon town baffled me so much that I gave up and asked my partner to point at the ball he wanted me to hit. It didn’t help that the balls weren’t traditionally numbered. Three #6’s, two #3’s and a couple of an indeterminate colour that I’d never before seen on a pool table – somewhere between green, yellow, orange and brown (the colour of chip-shop curry if you understand that reference). It isn’t just in the out of the way towns of the Amazon that I feel confused, but every game I’ve played from Oiapoque to Chui.

It went wrong from the first match. I was invited to break, and a stripe went down. I potted another and was stopped from taking a third shot. I was told that I’d potted the wrong ball. I looked at two fairly obvious stripes, then at my opponent. He laughed, picked up one of his own balls and dropped it in the pocket. What kind of game was this? How was I ever going to win if he didn’t use a cue? Or the cue ball?

Ah! Then he used the cue. To pot one of my balls. Then one of his own. I was lost. To try to blend in, on my next turn, I picked up a ball, dropped it in a pocket and received a Brazilian finger wag. No-no. He picked another one up and did the same. What? Different rules for Gringoes is it? Then he used the traditional method to pot two more and offered me his hand to shake, with the black still on the table. Lost? Totalmente perdido.

Months later, I was told that the teams went for odd or even numbers, even with spotted and striped balls, even when the balls are so old that the numbers are illegible. There are still more surprises in store though. Matches of the regulation 15 balls that start with 14 on the table! The yellow #1 only makes an appearance after seven odds (including yellow 9) or seven evens (including the lonely #8) have gone down. Then the opponent chooses the cushion alongside which to place the #1. Really.

I still find new local rules in different places, one being that if my name is next on the board, it means that my turn will come immediately after the group of friends finish their fifty games. I haven’t yet seen in any Brazilian bar the sheet of Pool Rules taped to the wall. I don’t think anybody has enough tape. Or enough paper. I’ll never know, but at least I can claim to be almost famous for playing pool in Brazil, even if I didn’t know what I was doing. In Itacaré, I was featured on the town website taking a shot, with that half smile of somebody under the pressure of the camera. I probably missed but I guess they only wanted the photo so everybody could laugh at the strange gringo, still playing pool with a stick in the 21st Century.

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