Suheil Vahedi - Iran's rising snooker star

The highlight of Vahedi's career came recently, when he was crowned world champion at Doha (Qatar). The victory has earned him a spot in the ultra-competitive world of professional snooker.

Suheil Vahedi in action in a match against Akhilesh Mohan of France at the IBSF World Billiards Championship in Bengaluru.   -  K. Bhagya Prakash

When the 1979 Islamic Revolution hit the streets of Iran, it sounded the death knell for cue sports in the country. In accordance to the new hardline stance adopted by the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, snooker, pool and other games — often associated with gambling — were banned.

As a concession to social reformists, the ban was lifted in 2001. Young and old flocked to the green baize once again. Suheil Vahedi was one among them, and he remembers the occasion well. “In 2002, when I was 14, I entered a snooker club for the first time. As soon as I saw the table, I couldn't get myself to leave. I watched others play for hours and hours,” he says.

Vahedi wanted to learn the basics of snooker, so he sought the help of his father. “My father used to be a very good Russian pyramid (a cue sport similar to pool) player. I told him that there was a snooker club in the neighbourhood, and he came along with me and taught me how to play,” he says.

The Tehran youngster made rapid progress. In 2008, at the IBSF World snooker championship (Austria), Vahedi finished fourth. A few months later, he claimed the silver medal at the World under-21 snooker championship held in his home country. “At first, I did not have a coach. Later, Manoj Kothari (from India) and (Englishman) David Roe came to Iran as coaches. They have helped me become the player I am now," he says.

The highlight of his career came recently, when he was crowned world champion at Doha (Qatar). The victory has earned him a spot in the ultra-competitive world of professional snooker. For Vahedi, this is a dream come true. “All my life, I've dreamt of playing on the professional circuit. It feels lovely, but I know that I will have to work very hard to be successful," the 28-year-old says.

Competing on the professional tour is an expensive affair, but Vahedi is prepared to go for broke. “Some of my friends are trying to find sponsors for me. If this fails, I am prepared to spend all my savings. I don’t care about money because life is about fulfilling your dreams,” he states.

It comes as a surprise that Vahedi decided to compete in the World billiards championship, which is underway here. “I have just started learning billiards. I have got no chance of winning here. I came here because billiards teaches you how to play good safeties, which will help by snooker game,” he says.

Much like in India, snooker is associated with certain vices back in Iran. Vahedi argues that these stereotypes must be removed. "A lot of people say that snooker players gamble a lot, but you can gamble on so many other things too. People should value the game more, as we have won so many international medals for Iran," he says.