AYER — The arrival of a snooker table at the Ayer Billiards Café has literally put the cafe into a league of its own — at least in New England.
And just how the Brunswick snooker table came to take its honored place in the front right corner of the establishment is another testament to what can happen when a few guys get together to knock some balls around a table.
“We have the only 6-by-12-foot snooker table in all of New England,” said proprietor Calvin Moore, in a tone that is usually reserved for proud fathers handing out cigars. And a search of findsnooker.com confirms Calvin’s claim.
There are two other snooker tables in New England — one in Portsmouth, N.H., and another in Springfield — but they are 10-foot tables.
To give you an idea of how unique having a snooker table is, findsnooker.com reports that there are only 278 snooker tables installed in 233 clubs in the entire country. Of those tables, only 101 are the larger, 12-foot tables, and California leads the way with 53 snooker tables.
In England, snooker is the number-one televised sport, and its players number among the country’s highest paid athletes.
To tell this story with any accuracy necessitates the introduction of two more people — Andy Hebb, who is by day an engineer and at all other times an enthusiastic devotee of all cue sports, and Roy Pastor, an attorney and an incredible cue wizard, instructor, and general all-star purveyor of the sport.
If you become an habitué of the Billiards Café, you will soon meet Andy and Roy.
Andy was introduced to the game of snooker while visiting at a friend’s house in New Hampshire last year. Andy was so blown away by the game that he invited Roy to try it out. Next thing you know, Roy was talking to Calvin about the possibility of installing a snooker table at the Café.
Now it’s time to introduce Alex Alpert, for without Alex, chances are the guys would still be sitting around talking about how cool it would be to have a snooker table.
Alex is a grab-the-bull-by-the-horns kind of action figure. For example, he made his own snooker cue.
He owns his own roofing and sheet metal business and has a 9-foot Gold Crown Brunswick table in his home. Alex’s son, Jake, who just turned 11, and his 8-year-old daughter, Zoe, have both been playing since they were each about 4. “We try to get a few games in every day,” he said.
Alex was vacationing with his family in the Bahamas last December when he and Jake were introduced to snooker. The father and son sought out the local pool hall and became friendly with the owner and patrons. “They couldn’t believe how well a 10-year-old could play,” Alex said.
“I think what I like most about snooker is that I’m terrible at it,” he explained. “I’ve become somewhat proficient at American pocket billiards and to find another billiards game that is such a challenge is very thrilling,” he said.
So when the rising crescendo of all of this snooker talk reached Alex’s ears, he took action. He Googled around and within two hours he actually found a snooker table that sounded quite promising. Then, as soon as he could, he and Jake drove down to Connecticut to confirm that the table was worthy of a hallowed place at the Billiards Café. It was.
Earnest snooker talk around the tables began in February. Alex and Jake went to see the snooker table in early March. By mid-March the table had arrived and was being installed and refurbished.
The speed with which all of this transpired makes it sound like the introduction of the snooker table was seamless and easy.
In truth, the arrival of the new table introduced a level of crisis and upheaval at the Ayer Billiards Café that may be unprecedented in the eight-year history of the hall.
The disassembled table arrived by truck, and getting table from the truck and into the café on the second floor was a huge challenge. Calvin rounded up a team of his strongest men. Even then he worried that lugging the five massive slabs of slate and the heavy wooden bones of the new table up the stairs and into the hall would prove to be too much — for his men and for the stairs. It was a cold day in March, but still the work inspired a lot of sweat. In the end, the building proved to be equal to the challenge, and so, happily, were his men.
Such an advent forced a major rethinking of priorities. Out went the arcade games that had once coaxed quarters from the younger crowd. In came comfortable couches and chairs that would hold mature spectators who would soon be gathering to watch a frame or two, as a snooker game is called.
It then took a team of professionals several days to assemble, to fit it with a new cloth and bumpers — also the very best — and to level the table.
“Truing the table was a tremendous challenge,” Calvin said. “These are old floors and they are not level. Plus, the table is humongous. Just look at how much larger it is than the other tables.” And indeed, it is.
It didn’t take long for the word to spread that the snooker table was available for play. “It not unusual for parties to call up and book the table for the day, Calvin said. Also, because of its proximity to Devens and the private schools in Groton, the Café often plays host to an international clientele familiar with the game.
As far as the game of snooker goes, it is a recent addition to the various cue sports that also include the more ancient billiards and pool.
Legend credits a United Kingdom colonel by the name of Sir Neville Chamberlain with inventing the game around 1875 while he was serving in Jubbulpore, India. By combining two games, life pool and pyramid, he created a game that could involve as many or as few players as were available. By the 1880s the game of snooker had begun to infiltrate England’s billiard halls.
By the way, the name, “snooker” was a slang term used in the mid-1800s to refer to first-year cadets. What follows is and account, in the colonel’s own words, how the game came to be called “snooker.” The quote comes from a 1938 interview appearing on page 31 of “Billiards and Snooker Bygones” by Norman Claire, published by Shire Library Press in 1985:
“The term (snooker) was a new one to me but I soon had the opportunity of exploiting it when one of our party failed to hole a colored ball, which was close to a corner pocket. I called out to him, ‘why you’re a regular snooker.’ I had to explain to the company the definition of the word and to soothe the feelings of the culprit. I added that we were all, so to speak, snookers at the game so it would be very appropriate to call the game snooker.”
The snooker table is not only larger than a pool table, but the pockets are smaller and the banks are angled in such a way as to make the balls more difficult to “pot.”
The game involves 15 red balls (object balls), six colored balls and one cue ball. The game begins, as does pool, with racking and breaking the 15-ball “pyramid.” Snooker cue sticks are longer, and many come with special extensions that can be utilized to help the player hit balls at a greater distance than is required in the game of pool. Traditional pool cues are most often made from maple, snooker cues, from ash.
Snooker is a very challenging game on many levels, but can be enjoyed by people who have only a modest level of experience. It involves strategy, skill and can easily accommodate competitive team play or be played by individual contestants. The average “frame” takes about 45 minutes to play. Videos on YouTube show games that are decided in as few as six minutes and there are people out there who can “run the table” and amass the maximum 147 points in one turn.
The story of how the Ayer Billiards Café has been encouraging men, women, and children of all ages to come out and take up the cue is so rich that we will need to leave it for another day. For the telling of that story I will need to introduce Calvin’s mother, Zelda Moore, and talk about her mission: To make sure the history of Ayer is passed on to people who care. I will also want to talk more in depth about Roy Pastor and all the things he is doing to promote cue sports in the region.
In the meantime, if you are looking for an interesting place to spend an afternoon or evening; if you like sports, or history, or rock ‘n’ roll; or if you like to bend an elbow at a bar with friends, or make new friends, the Ayer Billiards Café is a sure bet.