GARY | Art Woods said it was like shooting fish in a barrel.
Well, it used to be that simple.
"We used to go to Lan-Oak Lanes (in Lansing) when it first opened up in 1953, and they had these 9-foot tables and a 10-foot snooker table," said Woods, a 74-year-old Lansing resident. "When we moved to the 8- and 7-footers after playing on them for a while, we thought we were really something.
"The shots seemed so much easier."
Now a pool league regular at Sticks and Suds in Lynwood, Woods plays exclusively on 7-foot tables. And he's a little more modest about his game.
"I'm a seven handicap out of 10 ... not bad, but far from the best on my team," Woods said.
Woods ran into a buzzsaw in the form of Ike Runnels during Wednesday's 9-Ball competition at the South Shore Midwest Billiards Championships, which are being held through Sunday at the Majestic Star Casino.
"He's a heck of a player," Woods said of Runnels, who went on to defeat Jim Jeffers in the 9-Ball finals. "He whipped me five games to zero."
Woods also took part in 8-Ball "B" Singles play, and he won three consecutive matches in the losers' bracket.
"When I retired 10 years ago, I took up pool again and I love the game more than ever," he said. "I don't know if I could ever get much better at it, but I'm learning something new all the time. I never thought you could do that at my age."
The tournament was the inaugural run for the South Shore Midwest Championships.
"It was 18 months in the making, and I always wanted to bring something like this here," said tourney director Cecil Messer, who organized the event with the Greater Midwest Poolplayers Association.
"It was the South Shore Visitors and Convention Bureau who really helped us get in the door here."
Messer also is the tourney director for the Indiana State Billiards Championships, which have been held at the Radisson Hotel in Merrillville for the past three winters.
Unlike the Indiana Championships, the format for South Shore Midwest Championships doesn't use a handicapped system.
"Around here there are four different leagues, and they're all trying to attract the most pool players from the area," Messer said. "For this, we wanted to bring players from all the leagues together, but we also are allowing non-league players to participate as long as they're not pro or semipro players.
"Now I know a lot of players here, and I have a good idea what division they belong in. As for the guys coming off the street ... that's a little tricky."
One player Messer knows is a ringer is Nick Varner from Owensboro, Ky. Varner is an eight-time world champion and a Billiards Congress of America Hall of Famer. Varner returned to the area after appearing at the past state championships to put on another trick-shot exhibition and give free clinics.
"The thing a beginner needs to master first is the stroke," Varner said. "You can't improve much if you don't get your stroke down.
"When you draw back, your elbow needs to be aligned with your shoulder as well with the stick. A lot of players get in the habit of letting their grip hand drift off to the side.
"And you need to follow through the cue ball. It's just like any other sport, you need a good follow-through."