MERRILLVILLE | Shooting for money or shooting for a title. Which racks up more pressure while playing billiards?
"For me, tournament pressure is much greater than playing for money," said eight-time professional champion Nick Varner. "As long as you have money in your pocket, you have a chance to win back what you've lost. Guys have said, 'He didn't beat me, I just ran out of money.'
"In a tournament, money can't save you from being eliminated."
Varner was on hand during the opening day of the Indiana State Pocket Billiards Championships Wednesday night at the Radisson Star Plaza. He was selling accessories from his Owensboro, Ky.-based company "Nick Varner Cues and Cases," and was due to give trick-shot and skill-shot exhibitions as well taking challenge matches during rest of the five-day tournament.
"I got my first taste of competition while I was going to Purdue University," said Varner, a southern Indiana native, who won two ACU-I Intercollegiate Championships before going pro. "The key was learning to put 'English' on the cue. It was frustrating at first because while trying to make cue go right or left, I was missing shots that I normally would make. But the trade-off was for the better. You've got to know how a pattern and position your shots to be successful."
Connie Lackey, 67, of Portage, was there to defend her Women's Senior 8-Ball title, but suffered an early-round setback when she lost today to longtime teammate Mary Bridges after both players were "on the hill," meaning they were one game from claiming the best-of-seven match.
"I've been playing for about 34 years," said Lackey, who was also entered in Scotch Doubles and Team Play. "My husband got me interested in it. Now, I'm the better player."
Though Lackey is part of group of serious women players who have been playing locally and nationally for a long time, she said that billiards needs more women players. But the women who do play tend to hold their own against the men.
One is Amy Latzkos, of Chicago Ridge. She was entered in the Open 9-Ball division.
"I'm doing fairly well," said Latzkos, who was 1-1 after two matches. "Eight-Ball is more of my game. There is more strategy in it. In 9-Ball, you've basically got to play what the table gives you."
While playing in past national tournaments in Las Vegas, Latzkos has placed second in the Masters Division and fourth in the Grand Masters Division.
"My family had a pool table and I worked in a pool hall," Latzkos said. "I often played on nine-foot tables."
Seven-foot tavern-size tables are used for the state championships.
"When you go from nine foot to seven foot, yeah, some of the shots seem easier because you don't have much distance to contend with," Latzkos said. "But on a smaller table, especially in 8-Ball, it can be more difficult when the balls cluster together."
The American CueSports Indiana Association-sponsored tournament runs through Sunday. Team play starts today. On Sunday starting at 10 a.m., Special Youth/Adult and Young Adult/Adult Scotch Doubles will take place.
In addition to Varner's exhibitions, National Artistic Champion Tom "Dr. Cue" Rossman will be displaying his trick-shot talents during the tournament.
This is the third-straight year that Radisson Star Plaza has hosted the state championships.
"We're up 10 percent from last year," tournament director Cecil Messer said of tourney and league participation. "That's pretty good when you consider the economy."