By John Goralski
Sal Conti has been very busy since he last hosted an international championship at Shooter’s Billiards in Southington. He was inducted into the Billiards Hall of Fame. He built a billiards league in Massachusetts that swelled to hundreds of players before he sold it two months ago.
He was ranked in the world as a player. He rubbed elbows with some of the world’s greatest players on games broadcast on ESPN. Conti has been one of the busiest people in the sport over the last few years, but as soon as he stepped back into his family billiard room, local players began peppering him with the same question over and over.
“When are you going to bring back those trick shot players?” they asked.
Conti was only too happy to oblige.
This weekend Conti will welcome some of the top trick shot artists in the world. Top ranked Andy “The Magic Man” Segal will try to protect his world rankings against Connecticut native Jamey “Sharpshooter” Gray and a host of professionals in a two-day tournament filled with shots that defy gravity and the imagination.
“The reality is that you don’t really get a lot of opportunities to see top touring professionals. To have those sorts of players coming in is a real treat,” said Conti. “When you watch one of these events on TV it’s a very different experience than when you come out to the arena and feel the electricity. These guys are performers. They happen to be trick shot artists. They happen to be pool players, but they are hams. They love to play to an audience in this atmosphere.”
Shooter’s Billiards was the site of the 2005 world championships,and players returned in 2007 for the US Open, but Conti said that this master’s competition should prove to be even more exciting and unpredictable.
Unlike previous competitions, players will not have to reconstruct shots from a playbook. Instead, they’ll be able to challenge each other with signature shots and spontaneous challenges. The field will be pared down to a final bracket where players will compete head-to-head for the championship.
“It’s very similar to playing H-O-R-S-E in your driveway with a basketball,” said Conti. “Shots can be developed right on the spot. Most players have shots in their arsenal, but anything goes. It’s wide open. The only thing that limits them at this event is that they can only use one cue at a time, but you’ll see some shots here that have never been seen before.”
The event is free to spectators, and it will be taped for rebroadcast by CPTV Sports. Spectators are encouraged to bring cameras and autograph pens. Conti said that the event will provide unlimited access to some of the top players in the world.
“With these younger players, the sky is the limit. They move around the table a lot quicker and with more agility than those old school guys did,” said Conti. “The types of shots that they make are really event-friendly. They’re splashy. They’re smooth, and you don’t have to be a pool player to notice that what you just saw is pretty special.”
Play will begin on Friday, March 7 from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. It will continue through Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@ southingtonobserver.com.