If you’re a pool player who finds himself in Australia, you might end up being happier than a pig in shit. Then again, you might find yourself frustrated as can be. First off, there are pool tournaments aplenty. Wherever you are, all you gotta do is ask around. In some places, you can find a tournament every night of the week if you do the leg-work and figure out which pub has a tournament on which night. Usually, they’re called “pool comps”, though. Often times, the top prize is cash and the second place prize is beer. Sometimes a twelve pack. Sometimes a case. Also, it’s not uncommon for one finalist to go to the other and ask them if the want to split the prize, which means that each finalist takes half the cash and half the beer, then the two play the final for bragging rights only. Naturally, the person who wins will wish that they’d told the other to get fucked when propositioned to split, as they could’ve had the other half of the money, which would more than cover the other half of the beer. So, it’s up to you to decide if you willing to split or whether you want to go for all the marbles.
There are quite a few differences between the game in Australia and the game that I’m used to playing in the States. And, you start noticing the differences right away. First off, it’s expensive. I’ve yet to come across a single pool table in Australia that’s cheaper than $3AU. Apparently, the prices jumped substantially sometime in the recent past and this upward trend in pool prices is relatively recent. Someone told me that it used to be forty cents a game. Not sure when that was, though. Back when I first went over and the exchange rage was around 2-to-1, it wasn’t so bad paying a buck and a half. But, as the dollar’s weakened, pool has gotten more and more pricey. So find a good partner and run the table all night.
I’ve usually found that the tables in the pubs are the same size as those in the States, 8 ft., however that’s just about where the similarities in the US and Australian pool game end. I mean, you still pocket all of your colored number balls, then go for the 8-ball (referred to in Australia as “the black”, since it’s usually a solid black ball with no number 8 on it). But, there are quite a few deviations - both in the rules and the dimensions - that take some time to get used to. First off, the balls are a lot smaller than those on American tables. The balls they use in Australia are only 1 7/8", compared to the 2 1/4” ones we use on American tables. I know that 3/8 of an inch doesn’t sound like much, but believe me you’ll notice the difference. When you’re used to the sizes we use, shooting pool in Wollongong is like playing with marbles.
The rules in Australia can be kind of odd, too. But, I’ve noticed that it depends on where you play. Back home, I can play pool against a guy in New York City, another in Memphis, and another in Los Angeles and generally speaking play the same rules. Those rules following pretty closely to the International 8-Ball Rules set down by the World Pool-Billiard Association. Over in Wollongong, however, you can play against three different guys in three different pubs and play by three completely different sets of rules. It’s kind of frustrating.
I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the rules (or lack thereof) of shooting pool in Australia. In my opinion, the rules that we follow in the States are way better… and way more standardized. It seems to me that in Australia they penalize inadvertent mistakes, but reward dumb luck. I got used to it, but that didn’t mean that I liked it. First off, slop almost always counts, but over there it's referred to as "jagging". If you make a lot of slop shots in, they'll call you "Mick Jagger". I thought that was pretty funny. If you shoot and make one you didn't intend to, provided it's your own, you get to keep going. However, if you pocket one of your opponent’s balls, you lose your shot whether you pocket your object ball or not. I don’t get that. It seems to me that if it benefits the opponent, you should get to continue your shot if you did what you intended and shouldn’t be penalized on it. In some places, if you're on the black and you slop it in any pocket, you win. That's a little silly to me. If you scratch when you’re shooting at the black, you don't always lose. The only way scratching on the black will cost you the game is if both you and your opponent have pocketed all of your colored balls. One more oddity of the pool table is a variation of the game that you might find yourself playing that’s called "two-shot". This means that any time a person fouls (scratches, doesn't hit their intended ball, shoots the cue ball off the table, etc…), the next player gets two turns. They shoot until they miss, then it still isn’t your turn. Well, unless they end their first turn with a foul of their own. It’s all pretty trippy, if you ask me. I don’t like two-shot. If I scratch and my opponent needs to follow with two shots, he needs to find a new game to play.
It seems to me that the idea of pool in Australia (or at least in Wollongong) is that the game is harder, but the rules make it easier. I think the best thing to do is to ask your opponent at the onset which rules you’re playing. You’ll save yourself a headache if you do.
Before signing off, allow me to give you a few more pointers in Australian pool etiquette. First, to start the game, the challenger always pays and always racks. However, a coin flip is usually used to determine who breaks. That’s different than in the States where the winner always breaks and also different from what I found in New Zealand, where the challenger always breaks. Also, if you scratch, it’s considered rude if you don’t fetch the cue ball and hand it to your opponent. Often times, people will fetch the cue ball and set it on the table. I find it best to hand the cue ball to your opponent so that there’s no doubt that you’d committed the foul. Oh, and if you make a good shot and someone slaps the table, it means that they’re impressed. I guess it’s kinda like clapping.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one last oddity of the Australian game. And, for the record, this rule also applies in New Zealand and from what I’ve heard is catching on in the UK as well. This is something that everyone who picks up a cue in Australia, New Zealand, or the UK should know. Though it goes by different names, it might scare some of the timid pool players among us. In Australian pub play, an informal rule stipulates that if one player loses the game and doesn’t pocket a single one of their object balls, they’ve been “pantsed”. If you get skunked, you’ve got to drop your trousers around your ankles. It can also be referred to as the “down-trou” as in New Zealand or “seven-balled” as in the UK. Now, depending on where you are, the rules can be different. Sometimes, dropping your pants is enough. Other times, you might be required to hobble around the table once, twice, or even three times with either your pants around your ankles or, in some extreme cases, completely naked. So, you’d better come to shoot or the rest of the bar might get a little more than they bargained for. Let’s just hope it’s not cold on the night something like this happens to you!
One final thing to note: if you’re a person who enjoys shooting pool, then you MUST see the movie “Stickmen”. It’s a New Zealand flick that’s hard to find in the States, but is pretty common in Australia. It’s wickedly entertaining and you’ll see many of the oddities of the Australian pool game in the way they play in the movie. And, yes… it includes the down-trou.