A summer bar game series beings with an in-depth look at the merits of pool.
I think it’s time that we, the consumers and producers of sports discourse, admit something to ourselves.
We love a good debate.
We say we don’t. ESPN faces daily criticism from social media users for foregoing highlights and promoting different groups of men (usually) yelling at each other. There’s a reason the four-letter network continues to trend in that direction, though, and there’s a reason competitors like Fox Sports 1 follow in its footsteps: It attracts audiences. Even through major cuts at ESPN, the so-called talking heads have stayed put. It’s the beat and feature reporters that are taking the hit.
So, to have some fun in the summer months, I’m going to steer into the skid, and open up a debate to you all, a debate that I’ve had many times with friends, and I’m sure many of you have, too.
What’s the best bar game?
For the next three weeks, I’ll examine a staple bar game that is played locally. I’ll talk to some Sarasotans to get outside opinions, and I might even inject some opinion of my own. To be clear, the debate is not which game is the most fun, necessarily. It’s which game works best in a bar setting. Do you have to put down your drink in order to play? Is it easy for first-timers to learn? Does it promote or obstruct socializing? All examples of things to be considered.
After the three weeks are done, an online poll will give readers a chance to vote for their favorite, and we’ll see which game reigns supreme in our area.
I’m sure no one will be upset that their favorite didn’t win, or wasn’t included at all. That would be ridiculous.
To start the series, I’m going to examine the game that divides the skilled from the lucky, the perfectly buzzed from the sloppy drunk, and the solids from the stripes.
Pool, or pocket billiards, or whatever you call banging the cue ball into other multi-colored balls so they fall into holes, is a classic bar game.
There are too many variations of pool to count, so for brevity’s sake, I’m counting them all under one umbrella. It doesn’t matter anyway, because for our purposes, all variations present the same basic pros and cons (hey, that’s the name of the … never mind).
In Gulf Gate on June 15, specifically at Mr. Beery’s, the game was alive and well with the locals. I ran into Richie Lucibello and Tyler Lesley before they “broke.” Lucibello was somewhat experienced at the game. Lesley was not, but that turned out not to matter.
Sipping on a Cream and Sugar, Please from Cycle Brewing, Lucibello explained why pool is, to him, the perfect bar game.
“It’s friendly but competitive,” Lucibello said. “It allows you to make fun of yourself and other people. You can do it while drinking, it’s very social.”
He emphasized that last sentence, and I’m glad he did, because it shines a light on what I think will be a dividing line in the debate. Not everyone plays bar games for the same reason.
Pool encourages, but does not require, drinking. It’s not like, for example, beer pong, where the sport’s rules force losers to drink. If you’re looking to drive home later, beer pong might not be the game for you. Pool, though, lets you set your own pace.
It also requires some semblance of self-control — if you’re trying to win, of course.
“It can be the centerpiece when hanging out,” Lesley said, nursing a bourbon. “You don’t have to focus. It’s OK if you don’t try. You can bull----, drink, do whatever.”
Pool also keeps players relatively close to each other. If in a group, you can chat off to the side when it’s not your turn to shoot. In a game like corn hole, everyone is spread out, and it makes conversing more difficult. If you happen to know a trick shot, pulling it off can be an impressive conversation starter with a stranger, or at least make you feel good.
Both players said they do not rely on a strategy beyond “hit your balls toward the holes.” Even sober players can have a hard time getting the cue ball to do what you want it do, they said. Lucibello called pool easy to learn and hard to master, and I think that’s fair. It gives beginners like Lesley a chance to win, and in this specific case, he did. Everyone is competitive when at the mercy of physics and geometry.
Of course, there’s another reason people play that has nothing to do with any of that.
“It’s chill, it looks cool,” Lucibello said. “That’s why the Rat Pack did it.”