Snooker: Laidback but still popular

Ali Khamis Jeneby
Ali Khamis Jeneby plays snooker at the Mombasa Sport Club. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Tired of games that leave you drenched in sweat and covered with dirt? Snooker is a sport that you can play in a suit in an air-conditioned room.

At the Mombasa Sports Club, there are two professional snooker tables with lighting and a cool ambience.

A red baize slate table sits at the centre with overhead lighting and comfortable spectator arm chairs ideal for a game night.

On the wall are photos of English snooker players in fancy waistcoats and bow tie. When country clubs started adding the snooker tables, it was standard that all players wear a waistcoat, long trouser, white shirt and bow -tie, and hence the name ‘gentleman’s game.’

While the dress code has been relaxed, there is still a strict code of conduct.

Alpesh Khimji, the captain of the snooker section at the club says, for instance, during tournaments, players and spectators have to be silent and observe decorum while one is making a shot.

“You sit and watch quietly When it is a good shot you clap,’’ he says.

Food is not allowed in the billiard room. It has to be spotless.

“You cannot even play around with a snooker table and cue. The strict rules help to protect the expensive equipment,“ Mr Khimji said, adding that a new snooker table costs about Sh1.8 million.

“That is its price in the UK, if you add the transport costs, it is nothing less than Sh2.7 million. If you get a slightly cheaper one, you will maybe pay Sh2 million.’’

While snooker rooms are in private clubs and in some luxury homes, the high cost of the equipment makes the game inaccessible to many.

“The equipment cost is the deterrent. The country should also encourage snooker playing in the counties,” says Mr Khimji who has been playing snooker since 1988.

As the captain, he wants to woo young players.

“We have 40 players. Some are under 21 years but we also have a 14-year-old,” he says.

To encourage them, the veterans coach the young players.

“It is a sport that everyone loves and besides training, we also give incentives such as awards to the youngest player in a tournament. And sometimes we don’t charge entrance fee,’’ he says.

Playing snooker is not just an addictive pastime, he says, it relaxes your mind and improves the physiological well-being.

“It gives you focus and concentration. Once you are on the table, you forget all your problems,’’ he says.

Also, snooker is a networking game and can be played for financial gains.

Renowned snooker players in the world earn millions from tournaments.

“Professionally, it is played all over the world but in Kenya there are tournaments which you can win prize money. Earnings for the highest paid player in UK is about Sh267 million a year,’’ he says.

New player

To start off, you just need to watch good games. ‘‘A good game is one where someone plays a table clearance of 100, the maximum being 147. In snooker, you pot a red and a colour then followed by a red and another colour until you miss or have a foul. After the reds, you clear the other colours in a sequence and each has its own points,’’ says Mr Khimji.

When I watch Ali Khamis Jeneby, a player line up a shot I think it is an easy game. But he has to pot a particular ball into the pockets across the twice the size of the usual pool table field.

Each ball among the 15 has it won value with the highest being seven points of the black ball. The white is the cue ball. A foul gives the opponent penalty points equal to the value of the ball

Mr Jeneby moved from playing pool to snooker two years ago and was the first runner-up in a recent tournament.

“Playing snooker was like elevating myself to a bigger pool table. The table is twice the size of a pool table but getting the cue balls into the pockets is not easy,” said the player.

He admits he is already addicted to the game.

“Every day I have to come and play at least two to three games. All my life I have been playing the rough games. I thought at least I should get into a game where there are no kicks. Something very comfortable,” said Mr Jeneby.