Contrary to popular assumption, getting involved with a sport in Dubai doesn’t always involve sprinting up and down Astroturf dripping with sweat, or hurtling around the Autodrome at break-neck speed. For those not blessed with speed or lightning-fast reactions (or who like to take their time weighing up the options and contemplating the next move – preferably in an air-conditioned venue with speedy food and beverage service), Dubai offers many appealing options, including the ever-popular sport of pool.
According to the World Pool-Billiard Association’s first 2012 report, interest in the sport is increasing in the Middle East, and it is hoping to hold more major events in the region in the future. But judging by the consistently busy billiards halls dotted around old Dubai, many of them long-established institutions, the city has had a love affair with the sport for far longer than the WPA might have realised.
New Dubai doesn’t yet have quite as many options, although many residents will have been pleased to see Shooters Billiards Café recently open its doors in Dubai Marina’s The Torch building. Housing nine pool tables and one snooker table, as well as 20 TV screens of varying sizes on which to watch sporting fixtures, the café and sports den is already luring up to 150 guests each night, and hosts weekly tournaments. Though it doesn’t offer a formal teaching programme, when I phone and explain I’d like to learn the basics, 35-year-old American owner Fawaz Wazwaz is more than happy to accommodate my amateur request.
When I poke my head around the door the following Sunday afternoon, I’m greeted like an old friend and introduced to Fawaz’s younger brother, 18-year-old Rod, who Fawaz explains is a far more accomplished pool player, hence will make a better teacher for my short tutorial. To start, he explains that ‘billiards’ is another word for cue sports, and isn’t confined to one particular kind. A billiards hall will usually house both pool and snooker tables, as Shooters does.
As a white-vest-clad Rod leads me to one of the pool tables, Fawaz reappears with a smile to hand me a pink cue, before disappearing again as we get started. Once Rod has finished racking up the balls in a triangle, he leans down, and with a short, sharp tap of the white ball, performs a clean break. Two balls roll into the pockets, and Rod tells me that regardless of whether he has potted solid or striped balls, he can still choose which balls he would like to continue playing. Upon discovering he has potted solids, however, he opts for stripes to give me an easy first run.
Taking my first shot, he instructs me to rest my cue on my left hand on the table, and hold the back end of the cue lower down in my right hand. My first shot is abysmal. ‘Did you notice how you jumped up at the end?’ he notes. ‘You did this…’ Rod straightens his back sharply from bending over the table. ‘Try staying low.’ His advice, though it sounds simple, turns out to be surprisingly good. On my next shot, I hit the cue ball exactly where I intended to – and, to my relief, it smashes one of the coloured balls straight into the pocket.
While I manage to hit a few more good shots during my short lesson, I won’t be signing up for one of the venue’s weekly tournaments just yet – even if there is the chance to win Dhs5,000. But if I’m looking for a night of social, air-conditioned fun that I can get away with calling ‘sport’ without breaking a sweat, Shooters is likely to be at the top of my list.
Dhs70 per hour of play. Open daily 10am-3am. Shooters Billiards Café, The Torch, Dubai Marina (04 368 5645).