The cold stare emanating from Fan Zhengyi, and the poise that it represents, is beyond his years. It is a product of Li Jianbin’s Snooker school and it’s part of the process that has allowed young Fan to blend the intimidating green depths of the Snooker table into a blurred, unnoticed peripheral background while his vision scopes down the lacquered maple of his cue stick.
Snooker, the game popularized by British Army officers in the 19th century, has found a popular home in China, for many reasons. Not the least of which are the Chinese stars like winner of three consecutive ranking titles Ding Junhui, making him one of only two to do so as a teenager, and up-and-comers Xiao Guodong and Tian Pengfei. Together they have installed celebrity status for champions of the sport in this country that exalts success of the individual so that all within its population can share in the glory.
“Right now is the peak of Chinese pool sport in history,” said Li Jianbin, an early adapter to the sport and the winner of the 1995 National Pool Elite Championship. “The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association has focused basically on Asia and mainly China, holding five of their eight competitions in China.”
International competitions in China include the Shanghai Masters, the China Open in Beijing, World Open in Hainan, the International Championship in Sichuan and the Wuxi Classic in Jiangsu Province, which is the hometown of Ding Junhui.
“The top eight players from some regional competitions qualify to play in these international competitions. So Chinese players do not need to go abroad to attend competitions and save a lot of money compared to before. Now foreigners come to China to play,” said Li.
The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association has focused basically on Asia and mainly China, holding five of their eight competitions in China.
Working from the same plan of action as so many fathers, becoming known as “Tiger Dads” as a reference to an aggressively active parenting style, but with sports, extracurricular skill lessons are seen as a path to ultra-success for the newest generations of Chinese students. Fan says he practices eight hours a day.
To play at the top levels of Snooker, players start young all over the world. And considering the thought that parents may be overloading their children’s schedules in what some believe should be the years used for idle play and self-discovery, it is nothing less than poignant when young Fan says his hero is British star Ronnie O’Sullivan.
“I practiced with him once when I was eight. He came to Beijing to attend the China Open. I played two games with him, I lost both,” said Fan “He is very good, always the best.”
Ronnie O’Sullivan is widely thought of as the world’s best, some saying he is the best snooker player ever. But those that have followed his career well enough to speak with authority on that last statement will also say that O’Sullivan in years past has been no one’s idea of a good role model.
In his younger years he led a life of drugs, alcohol and even a little time in Sex Addicts Anonymous. He says he was never addicted to carnal pleasures, but the meetings along with AA and NA became the anecdote to his troubles and kept him balanced.
He believes his social inequities, now under control, spawned from his childhood training in snooker halls. Because, as he said in an interview with The Guardian, “snooker makes people dysfunctional—those thousands of hours in dingy clubs, sitting in silence waiting for the opponent to finish a break, no natural light.”
Inspired when he was even younger by watching Ding Junhui matches, Fan, the 12-year-old dubbed “Wonder Prodigy” by China’s media, and his family, made the decision to forego a traditional education in exchange for a chance at athletic greatness.
“I have become more mature. I don’t play with other peers often, I think what they play is boring. My friends are players from Beijing and other cities,” said Fan.
That attitude and focus on the sport is an unspoken requirement to keep up with the training regiments.
“Now we have nine students, all kids and teenagers. They get up at 6:30 a.m., and begin the training session at 7:30. We will arrange individual training sessions to specifically train certain positions and structures,” said Li. “In the afternoon we will have two-on-two matches and from 4 to 8 p.m. we will analyze match videos and locate their weakness for the next day’s training.”
I practiced with him once when I was eight. He came to Beijing to attend the China Open. I played two games with him, I lost both,” said Fan “He is very good, always the best.
But it doesn’t end there. “They also need to do physical training like jogging and swimming. It will increase their lung capacity, which ensures there is enough blood supply when they think or get nervous. We hope they can keep the same heartbeat as usual when they are in competitions, because unstable emotion will influence their decisions, leading to bad shots or bad position with the cue ball.”
To keep up and round out the young athletes’ education they must receive private lessons at home. “They are mostly rich enough to afford the travel to all the competitions nationwide,” said Li Jianbin.
In today’s pro snooker world, British athletes, and their long reign over snooker tables are reeling from accusations and convictions of match fixing. China is the center of the pocket dropping world, propped up by the country’s willingness to look the other way.
Deviating from the modern war on nicotine, China still allows cigarette companies to sponsor competitions opening even the smaller tournaments to sponsorship in China and assuring that the sport keeps its smoky demeanor with opportunity for promising young talent.
“The popularity of the sport is very high, even higher than ping pong. There are about 70 million snooker and billiard fans in China,” said Li. “This is one of the three gentleman’s sports: golf, tennis, and snooker.”
Snooker Clubs: The Popular Spots
DING JUNHUI SNOOKER
How: This is a favorable spot for the beginners. The tables are hawked by referee/butlers who, though they do not speak more than introductory English, can communicate the rules of the game and share shot advice. Also there is free wi-fi if you forget the rules and you can bring a cooler of beer from the convenience store.
When: Open from 9am to 3am throughout the week, this pool hall doesn’t have a happy hour, but it does have some pretty good membership deals for playing billiards and snooker.
Where: 4/F, Park n Shop building, Dongcheng Ave., Dongcheng
Phone: 2233 2147
IN ME BILLIARDS
How: Located on multiple layers of the Center Point shopping center, here you can find the game of your choice. Branded as a music club, it just opened its door on December 24. It is styled after an American pool hall with a bar and darts. If all goes as promised, the music and atmosphere will represent what foreigners want.
When: Being new, this spot is going to have an open table when you need it. So if you are feeling like knocking around on the felt, pop over anytime between noon and 2am on Monday through Sunday.
Where: 1/F, Center Point, Dongzong Rd., Guancheng (across from Donghu Garden, the old Walt-Mart)
Phone: 2662 1308
MIRO SNOOKER CLUB
How: Nestled in the forever-busy Yinfeng Road in Nancheng, the club is quite noticeable from the street level with its neon sign squeezed among the endless Chinese food establishments. The club houses a dozen tables scattered around the blue carpeted hall with red velvet couches. A simple bar offers all kinds of drinks, beer and cocktails, while no outside drinks allowed.
When: Open from 1:30pm to midnight every day, the club offers relatively cheap prices at RMB 30-33 per hour even if you are not a member.
Where: 2/F, No.14, Yinfeng Rd., Nancheng Nancheng
Phone: 2240 0051
Other Snooker Clubs Around Town
LIJIANBING POOL CLUB
Phone: 2339 0338
Address: No.207, 2F, Diwang Plaza, Dongzong Avenue, Guancheng
中文: 李建兵台球俱乐部, 莞城区东纵大道地王广场二楼207号（7-11 楼上）
Pool: RMB 36 per hour
Snooker: RMB 46 per hour
Bar games unavailable, no alcohol, and membership awards 20% off.
NIGHT FASHION POOL CLUB
Phone: 2303 8147
Address: NO.73, Dongcheng West Road, Dongcheng
中文: 夜时尚台球俱乐部, 东城区东城西路73号
Pool: RMB 38 per hour
Snooker: RMB 48 per hour
Bar games unavailable, serves alcohol and allows outside beverages, members gain RMB 100 after charging RMB 300 and RMB 200 for a card charged with RMB 500.
XINJUE POOL CLUB
Phone: 3332 9911
Address: 3F, 3A, Chuangyigu, Guangtai Road, (Tiyu Road’s bus stop) Nancheng
中文: 星爵台球俱乐部, 南城区莞太路创意谷3A 3楼（体育路站公交站）
Pool: RMB 30 per hour, (Members 27RMB)
Snooker: RMB 38 per hour (members RMB 34)
Bar games unavailable, no alcohol.
JINSHENG POOL CLUB
Phone: 2225 9147
Address: 2F, Building B, Lefang City, No.157, Dongbao Road, Dongcheng
中文: 金盛台球俱乐部, 东城区东宝路157号 乐方城B座2楼
Pool: RMB 28 per hour
Snooker: RMB 36 per hour
Bar games unavailable, serves beer, no outside beverages allowed, 20% off with membership.
MINGJIE POOL CLUB
Phone: 2226 7735
Address: No.15, Huayuan Road, Huanyuan Xincun, Dongcheng
中文: 名杰台球俱乐部, 东城区花园新村花园路15号
Pool: RMB 28 per hour
Snooker: RMB 38 per hour
Bar games unavailable, serves beer, no outside beverages allowed.
HUANGMA POOL CLUB
Phone: 8231 8128
Address: The opposite side of Xinan plaza, Hongli Road, Guancheng
中文: 皇马台球俱乐部, 莞城红荔路新安广场对面
Pool: RMB 20 per hour
Snooker: RMB 28 per hour
Ping Pong and Mahjong, serves beer, no outside beverages allowed, 20% off with membership.
JIAOHAO POOL CLUB
Phone: 8539 9911
Address: No.2, Zhen’An Middle Road, Chang’An, Dongguan
中文: 焦豪台球俱乐部, 东莞市长安镇振安中路2号
Pool: RMB 29 per hour
Snooker: Different tables at RMB 40, 37 or 33 per hour
Mahjong available, serves beer, no outside beverages allowed, 12% off with membership.
Zunlong Pool Club
Phone: 8188 4998
Address: No.10 of the Yanzhong Street, Fumin Road, Humen, Dongguan
中文: 尊龙台球俱乐部, 东莞市虎门镇富民路沿中街10号
Pool: RMB 25 per hour
Snooker: RMB 30 per hour
Bar games unavailable, serves Qingdao beer, allows outside beverages