Fans cueing up to play
Being a good snooker player used to be seen as a sign of a misspent youth. However, in recent years, the sport has become highly respected and popular.
Its profile in Hong Kong, particularly, has increased through the international achievements of local players Marco Fu Ka-chun and Zoe Ng On-yee. The game also reached elite status at the Hong Kong Sports Institute in 2009.
'The popularity of billiard sports got a boost through the successes of our local stars Fu, who won the 2007 Grand Prix, was runner-up in the 2008 UK Championships and reached the semi-finals of the 2006 World Championship, and Ng who won the IBSF World Snooker Championship in 2009 and 2010,' explains Katy Cheng, administrative officer at the Hong Kong Billiards and Snooker Control Council.
For people interested in learning how to play, Cheng suggests enrolling in one of the courses jointly run by the council (www.hkbilliardsports.org.hk) and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (www.lcsd.gov.hk). Classes are usually conducted at Shun Lee Chuen Sports Centre in Kwun Tong. Elementary courses for players aged 10 to 17, and 18 and above, cost HK$160 and HK$240 respectively.
These include the history of the sport, an introduction to equipment and how it is used, rules and regulations and basic shot-making techniques, such as making a bridge, gripping the cue, the correct stance and eye-sighting routines.
'Apart from needing some natural talent, good players need to be very hard-working as many hours of practice is needed to reach a satisfactory level. Good players also need to be willing to learn from their mistakes,' Cheng says.
Players wanting to improve their skills through regular practice should join a club.
Table hire costs range from HK$45 to HK$70 per hour, depending on time of day. At the Shun Lee Chuen Sports Centre the cost is HK$42 all day.
For additional training, the council also runs refinement and advanced level courses at HK$300 and HK$500, respectively, for 12 hours of tuition.
Alternatively, there are professional coaches based in some of the local clubs who offer group classes and private coaching.
'As well as the basics of forming a bridge, correct stance and grip, I teach beginners how to control the power of a shot, straight-line practice, cueing skills - such as top spin, screw back and stun - and how to pot a ball with an angle,' says professional coach Andy Lam.
'For advanced players, I usually focus on positional play, improving shot accuracy and more advanced cuing skills in private lessons.'
Lam is an accredited coach at the Youth Billiard Club in Tsim Sha Tsui.
He offers group sessions involving four, two-hour classes and costs HK$680 per person at elementary level and HK$780 at advanced level. Individual lessons cost HK$200 per hour.