St. Petersburg Times: Weekend
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The principles of poolology

[Times photos: Carrie Pratt]
Taarak “Taz” Naravane, 10, lines up a shot at Strokers in Palm Harbor. The young player, whose league record is 10-1, has been playing pool for about four years. He goes to Strokers with his family about once a week.

Florida's west coast has a surprising number of excellent pool players and respected billiard halls.

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By ELIJAH GOSIER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 6, 2002

If you've been here a couple of years, two or three weeks of fun in the Florida sun pretty much sates the appetite.

In that time, you've been to the beach, taken in a couple of fests, been to the beach, gone to a theme park, been to the beach, gone to an outdoor performance or two, and been to the beach.

The obvious answer is to shift gears and go for fun in the Florida AC.

In the Tampa Bay area, many have found that the perfect escape starts with P, which rhymes with T and that spells thousands. Area residents, from Pass-a-Grille to Crystal River, are flocking to pool tables.

National organizations that sponsor amateur pool leagues and competition love Florida, whose residents fill their rolls. And recent records from the nation's largest amateur sanctioning body, the Billiard Congress of America, showed a quarter of its Florida members live in Pinellas County.

Some of the state's top amateur players compete in leagues made up of teams from local taverns and billiard halls, such as C.M.'s Place in Seminole and Stix Billiards on St. Pete Beach.

Some of the world's top professional players also live and play in the bay area. It's not a rarity to see Hall of Famer Buddy "the Rifleman" Hall at Stroker's in Palm Harbor or Capone's in Spring Hill. Multiple winner of the world 9-ball championship Ray Martin and his precision play can be seen frequently at C.M.'s Place.

But the game of pool is not just for serious, competitive players, nor is it solely the province of unsavory characters in smoky back rooms. Pool today is a game that can be played by families in comfortable, tastefully decorated environments, where good food and drink are served.

The bay area boasts plenty of establishments you can take a date or the family and bask in the air-conditioned comfort.

What's the draw?

Joe Krutzik aims a shot at Strokers.

Pool is a fascinating game: science, art and a little bit of mathematics for players who appreciate its finer points.

Bruce Nicholas, a St. Pete Beach player ranked as a master by the Billiard Congress of America, compares pool to golf.

"It's one of those games, the better you get at it, the more complicated it becomes. I could never be a dart player or a bowler," he said.

Dart players and bowlers, of course may disagree with Nicholas, but something about pool has made it the second largest participatory sport in the country, steadily gaining on bowling. It's being considered for inclusion in the Olympics.

One of the beauties of the game is that any level of player can participate and even compete in leagues geared to their ability without feeling intimidated.

It is also inexpensive entertainment. Pool halls provide "house cues" so casual players don't need to invest hundreds of dollars in custom cues and cases until they advance enough to want their own gear.

Rules of the table

Okay, so now you're ready to get on the table and try your hand.

But if you're new to the game, there are a few rules of etiquette, written and unwritten, you need to know. You wouldn't want to be the one guilty of giving pool a bad name again.

Rule No. 1: Play nice.


Courtesy is the word of the day in modern poolrooms, where talented amateurs, accomplished professionals, barroom ball bashers and neophytes who can barely strike the cue ball play side by side. In most halls, the sheer number of tables means that once in awhile, the butts, temperaments and tempers of players on adjacent tables will bump into one another.

Your fault or not, apologize and yield to the other player. He likely will do the same, making the go-ahead to play like the last dinner roll: No one wants to take it, but someone eventually does at the other's insistence, with no hard feelings at the end.

Defer to the player who is at the table shooting or lining up his shot. Pool is a game of concentration and focus. If you must walk past a table with a game in progress, wait for an idle moment when neither player is preparing his next shot.

If you must walk past a table while someone is shooting (the building is on fire, for instance), walk behind the shooter's line of sight.

Most establishments have set a tone well before you arrived. Adhere to it. Some places are louder than others. Some places encourage interaction between tables; others don't. Observe and get a feel for the behavior that is appropriate for the establishment and the people around you.

Rule No. 2: Respect the equipment

Nothing is more disconcerting than a well-played shot that gets mugged by a warped table or mushy cushion. Most pool hall operators are fastidious about maintaining equipment, having tables professionally recovered and calibrated periodically and having cues reworked and replaced. Spilled drinks and cigarette ashes and burns negate that care. Leave your drink and cigarette behind when you go to the pool table.

The pockets of the table are not drink holders; the rails are not ash trays. Nor is the table a seat. It is permissible to place parts of your body on it to reach the rare, awkwardly positioned ball, but parking on it to carry on a conversation is disrespect in the first degree. Your weight could be enough to throw the leveled surface into a tilt, which costs the establishment money and its customers enjoyment of the game.

Don't try to imitate Tom Cruise and his stick-twirling routine from the movie The Color of Money. Leave the balls on the table. They are not for juggling or playing the billiard table version of air hockey. Misusing the equipment can damage it or another patron.

Rule No. 3: Be a good sport

When you lose, congratulate your opponent. If you win, don't gloat (not visibly anyway). Don't promote yourself to professor of poolology, offering unsolicited lessons to players on adjacent tables. If advice is asked, give it, but don't turn a fun night out into a painful session of pool-shooting drills.

Rule No. 4: Have fun


Where to play

Wherever you are in the Tampa Bay area, you're always close to a pool palace. Here are a few of our favorites:


30901 U.S. 19 N
Palm Harbor
17 tables (4 1/2 by 9 feet)
Full liquor bar; extensive menu
Tournaments and in-house league
Cost: $5 per person to play 11 a.m. until 7 p.m.; after that, rate varies depending on the day, from $3-$4 per hour per person.
Reporter's note: Walk into Strokers and Angela Dial's friendly greeting makes a pool player feel at home as much as the 17 meticulously maintained tables.

"First impressions are important," said Larry Coles of St. Petersburg, one of the area's top amateur players, who describes Strokers in a word: "class."

Owner Jose Del Rio said he wants to attract a broad range of customers, and so he offers a full menu and brings in bands and DJs, a decided negative with pool purists.

"We're not catering 100 percent to the pool players," Del Rio said unhesitatingly. "Real, real pool players don't really bring in the money."

West Coast Billiards

6801 Fourth St. N
St. Petersburg
20 tables (14 are 4 1/2 by9 feet; two are 5 by 10; four are 4 by 8)
Beer and wine; snack foods
Tournaments and in-house leagues
Cost: $2.90 per hour per person until 6 p.m.; $3.30 per hour per person after.
Reporter's note: Say "family billiards" in the Tampa Bay area and 15-year-old West Coast Billiards pops to mind. Owner Wally Miracle and his staff, including his assistant from the beginning, Bob McClure, maintain a low-key presence that seems to rub off on customers.

CM's Place

10754D 70th Ave. N
16 tables (11 are 4 1/2 by 9 feet; two are 4 by 8 feet; one snooker and two billiards)
Beer and wine; snacks
Tournaments, in-house, and APA and BCA leagues
Cost: $2.50 per hour per person until 7 p.m.; $3 per hour per person after.
Reporter's note: CM's Place, owned by pro C.M. Lee, draws a mixture of professional players, talented amateurs (this reporter included) and beginners.

Baker's Billiards

1811 N Tampa St.
14 9-foot tables; two snooker tables
Full-liquor bar; kitchen
Tournaments and in-house leagues
Cost: $3 per hour per person; $2.40 for senior citizens and league players; free with lunch purchase.
Reporter's note: Baker's is a legendary stop that any serious player arriving in the bay area must make. Open since 1942, it claims to be Florida's oldest pool hall. It also claims to have the city's best Cuban sandwiches.

Stix Billiards

5501 Gulf Blvd.
St. Pete Beach
12 tables (11 are 4 1/2 by 9 feet; one is 3 1/2 by 7 feet)
Full-liquor bar; snack foods
Tournaments, and BCA and APA leagues
$3.50 per hour per person
Reporter's note: Stix Billiards, run by owner Ron McKinney and his self-described right-hand man, BCA master Bruce Nicholas, reflects the laid-back approach its St. Pete Beach location dictates.

Side Pockets

7570 Starkey Road (Park-Starkey Plaza)
11 9-foot tables
Beer and wine; snacks
Cost: $2.50 per hour per person before 7 p.m.; $3.25 per hour per person after.
Tournaments, and APA and BCA leagues
Reporter's note: A nice place to play, looking to make its mark among better-known establishments.

Breakers Billiards

1458 Belcher Road S
10 4 1/2-by-9-foot tables
Beer and wine; snacks
Cost: $5 to play from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m.; $3.75 per person per hour after Tournaments, and APA and BCA leagues
Reporter's note: What it lacks in ambience, owner Sharon Pritchard fills with enthusiasm.


10463 County Line Road
Spring Hill
20 tables (10 are 4 1/2-by-9-foot Gold Crowns).
Full-liquor bar; kitchen
Tournament and leagues
$2 per hour per person until 8 p.m.; $4 per hour per person for one or two players after, with discounted rates for more players.
Reporter's note: Capone's is a surprising oasis you come across just when you think you've gone too far on County Line Road.

Planet 9-Ball

11236 W Hillsborough Ave.
27 (20 are 4 1/2 by 9 feet; seven are 4 by 8 feet)
Full-liquor bar; kitchen
Tournaments, and APA and BCA leagues
Cost: $6 per person 8 p.m. until closing on Sunday and Tuesday; other rates vary by night and table.
Reporter's note: Planet 9-Ball is a name that's rolling more frequently off the tongues of bay area players despite its dark space-simulation ceiling.

Park Place Billiards

420 Park Place Blvd.
15 tables (13 are 4 1/2 by 9 feet; two are coin-operated)
Full-liquor bar; snacks
In-house APA leagues
Cost: $5 per person until 7 p.m.; $4 per hour per person after for two people, with discounts for more players.
Reporter's note: Surrounded by restaurants, pool is the main course here.

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