Plenty of Canberrans have spent countless gold coins playing the game, but how many realise the nation’s number one eight-ball player lives among them?
Steve Woods, 31, reached the top of the Australian Eight Ball Federation’s annual rankings at the end of 2012, and he’s on track to hold it for a third year running when the numbers are added up again at the end of 2014.
“I started playing when I was about six,” says Steve.
“A friend had a pool table and I played there, and loved it, so I played as much as I could. Anywhere I could find a table that I was allowed to play on, I wanted to play on it.”
He entered his first competition at age 14 and was representing the ACT less than a year later.
A young Steve soon tried his hand at the much more difficult game of snooker and became the ACT champion at 18, holding the title for 10 years in a row.
Steve first made the national eight-ball team in 2004, winning an automatic place as the national under-21 champion. Around the same time, reality called: it was time to get a job.
“I played all the time, pretty much every day until I was about 20, then I stopped; that was when I started working,” he says.
Nobody in Australia makes a living from winning pool tournaments, explains the national number-one, who works as a carpenter and is on the way to getting a building licence this year.
The prizemoney on offer for the English style of eight-ball that we play in Australia – around $2000-3000 for the winner – cannot hope to cover the cost of travel, accommodation, and time off work.
Steve’s top rank does not mean that he wins all the time, either. It reflects his incredible consistency over lots and lots of games but when it gets to the final 16 in a tournament, the matches could go either way.
“When you’re playing the top guys, if you’re not sinking balls off the break, you won’t win,” Steve says. “And if you miss a shot, you’ll lose. You have to think ahead through every shot and if you leave one at the end, that’s the worst thing you can do in a game, because it makes it really easy for your opponent.”
Going to the World Championships is even more expensive, since it’s always held in Blackpool, England, so even though Steve’s been eligible to represent Australia nine times, he’s only attended three World Championship tournaments, in 2004, 2008 and 2011.
“The best I’ve done at the World Titles was in 2008,” says Steve. “I made the World Team, which means I shot well. I came fourth out of everyone in the teams event, percentage wise, and they pick the top seven for the World Team.”
He says most of the top Australian eight-ball players decide whether to go to Blackpool in a particular year based on who else is going and Steve is there competing with the Australian contingent this week.
“We see each other at nationals and some years we sort of all agree we’re going to send the top team and everyone tries to go. It’s like a snowball effect. We’re all mates, and then we get a holiday together as well.”