Cueing two formats with success

If you play billiards, it will definitely help in snooker and vice-versa. Both games complement each other, but are very different in terms of technique. — PANKAJ ADVANI-K. MURALI KUMAR

When compared with billiards, snooker requires a different mindset and skillset. To juggle both at the highest level can be close to impossible, but Pankaj Advani seems to have found the balance, writes Ashwin Achal.

Pankaj Advani’s dazzling credentials as a billiards player are beyond debate. His seven world titles and five Asian crowns have ensured that India’s stranglehold on the game, established by former world champions Wilson Jones, Michael Ferreira and Geet Sethi, is maintained.

Snooker, however, requires a different mindset and, indeed, a different skillset. To juggle both at the highest level can be close to impossible, but Advani seems to have found the balance.

Advani, 27, ventured into new territory when he became the only current player to compete in both the pro snooker and billiards tours, and he has already overcome early hurdles. With victories against two former world champions, Steve Davis and John Higgins, on his maiden appearance on the professional snooker tour, Advani knows he has what it takes to challenge the best. “It is a good place to be in; no one else has been here before. I may be torn in terms of the scheduling because billiards and snooker tournaments often clash, but my initial successes prove that I can play both games at the highest level,” he said in an exclusive chat with Sportstar.

While all cue sports — billiards, snooker and pool — require the same basic skills, playing any of the formats at the professional level requires expertise in specific areas. Billiards is often a battle of the mind. A player who is capable of staying intensely focussed for the long hours needed to achieve consistent triple-century breaks usually emerges the winner. A snooker player must be a master potter, and must possess an equal ability to manufacture perfect safeties from impossible positions in order to stay alive. Pool is all about the angles — how to use the friendly cushions, how to cheat the wide pockets in order to get the cue ball in a good position for the next shot etc. Advani has chosen to focus on billiards and snooker, with no plans to play pool.

“If you play billiards, it will definitely help in snooker and vice-versa. Both games complement each other, but are very different in terms of technique,” he said.

A good example of different technique would be the regular long pots in snooker, where the cue ball and object ball are at two ends of the table. This is quite unlike in billiards, where the player would like to keep the white, yellow and red ball huddled close to extract maximum points with minimum effort.

“The long pot in snooker is something for which you need specific training. I work on this during my solo practice in England every day. Like long pots, there are many other aspects to be taken care of. That’s why most players specialise in one game,” Advani said.

Long pots or even safeties is a skill that can be learnt without much fuss, but the bigger challenge lies in training the mind to switch from in-offs, cannons and pots in billiards, to pots and safeties in snooker. An in-off — where the cue ball is pocketed with a ricochet off the object ball — in fact carries a penalty in snooker and is considered the most amateur of fouls in that game. A good ‘safety’ ensures that the opponent does not have a chance to pot the ball when he comes to the table.

“You need to have completely different mindsets when you switch. Billiards is a game of prolonged concentration, flow and stamina. Snooker is about accuracy and precision; boom-bang, and you finish the game,” Advani said.

“It’s not easy. If you play two weeks of billiards, you need at least a few hours of non-stop snooker to think, approach and play snooker the way it should be,” he added.

Advani gives an insight on how and why he chose to enter the pro snooker circuit. “I like playing both games. Sometimes when I’ve had too much of billiards, it becomes monotonous. Then I can switch to snooker; it’s so much more exciting. Or even the other way around, if I’ve had too much of snooker, I can come back to billiards and get a 300 break, which is something I cannot do in snooker. To be honest, I’ve enjoyed the challenge,” he said. “The more time you spend at the table in any format, the better you understand how the ball moves, how the cushions react and many other technical aspects. The understanding gets better when you experiment with something new. After my time in England, my knowledge has increased, and I can implement what I have learnt.

“I want to feel satisfied that I can play both games at the highest level and do well. That’s why I won’t give one game priority over the other. But once the World Billiards Championships ends in October, snooker becomes my priority because there are no more billiards events after that.”

Advani’s immediate challenge, however, remains outside the green baize — with an impending clash of tournament schedules. He has qualified for the prestigious International Snooker Championships in China (October 28-November 4). This pleases him no end, but the event partially coincides with the World Billiards Championships (Leeds, October 18-28). Efforts are on from Advani and the authorities to accommodate both. The luxury of choice sits well on the cueist, and the aficionados of both the games will be following the developments closely.