Local Players Bring Pool Culture to Life at Gillette | Local
Wally Hloucha claims that there is no one in the country who spends more money than him on billiards.
Looking at his inventory, it would be hard to refute the claim. Hloucha has more than 400 billiard cues. His home features seven pool tables and walls covered in displays of cue sticks.
“The cheapest cue I shoot is $1,800,” Hloucha said.
Pool cues vary in many ways. The price depends on the quality of the wood, the balance of the weight and the flexibility of the handle, among others.
Hloucha bought his first pool cue in 1990. Now he has 192 cues stuffed into a 5-gallon bucket in his garage.
“The first one I started with was a piece of s-—,” Hloucha. “Over the years, I’ve just tried to set the bar higher and higher. If these people want to keep up with the Joneses, I tell them, “I’m above the Joneses.”
Hloucha was one of 32 participants in this weekend’s pool tournament at the Good Times Liquor & Lounge.
Jerry Martinez, who has been playing pool at Gillette since 1989, said the eight-team tournament was a good turnout. League play culminated in last weekend’s state tournament in Casper, where 21 Gillette players finished in the top 4 in their respective divisions.
Most pool players don’t play pool to win awards or recognition. They play pool to talk bullshit – some more than others – make new friends and maybe win a few games in the process.
Ed Lambert has been playing pool for over 30 years. The 49-year-old finished second in last weekend’s state tournament in the AA/AAA singles division and the Team A division. The two runners-up earned him around $2,500.
Like Hloucha and Martinez, Lambert plays pool every day. He owns two pool tables and tries to improve his game every time he accumulates.
For Lambert, there’s nowhere he’d rather be on a Saturday afternoon than a local pool tournament. It’s not about making money for Lambert. It’s about playing a game he fell in love with.
Become a pool player
Lambert grew up playing pool. The Michigan native’s mother was a hairdresser and her shop had a pool table in the other room.
“She was cutting her hair and we were just going to play,” Lambert said. “I was just a little kid learning to play. Then when I was old enough to go to a bar, someone came in and asked me if I wanted to be in a league and it kind of took off from there.
Over the years, Lambert has learned all the different strategies that go into winning a game of pool. The most important strategy is to turn the table and win in the first round before the opponent even fires.
“You have to go into it knowing that you’re not playing against your opponent,” Lambert said. “You always play at the pool table. It’s always just you and the pool table.
Pool players have three different signal types to choose from. Cues are specifically designed for break shot and for jump shots where a bullet is shot over another bullet. Regular cues are the sticks most commonly found on public pool tables, Hloucha said.
Saturday’s tournament was not a back and forth. The eight teams signed up knowing that the tournament would likely last 12 hours. No one seemed to care.
Billiards is a sport often linked to the consumption of alcohol. But seasoned veterans like Lambert know that real gamers aren’t likely to mix business with pleasure.
“The better you are at the pool, the less you drink,” Lambert said.
Martinez enjoyed a handful of Dr. Peppers during Saturday’s tournament. The tournament had a double-elimination format where teams of four played four matches in each round.
Hloucha sees the pool as a way to relieve stress after a long day of mechanical work. His favorite part is meeting players – new and old – and getting to know them across the table.
“I love helping kids,” Hloucha said. “I like to help newcomers learn about the sport. I give a lot of hints to newcomers.
A big impediment to the growth of the pool community at Gillette is the lack of an official pool hall. Good Times is one of the most popular places to play as it has five tables, but players are limited to those 21 and over.
Some of the most popular places to play pool at Gillette are the bars, leaving kids and young adults with limited access to quality pool tables.
Despite some limitations, the pool culture is still going strong. Gillette had its best result at the state tournament since 1989 this year, Martinez said.
Local leagues are always looking for new players. Leagues include the Valley National 8-Ball Association and the Billiards Congress of America, both of which are played at Gillette.
Gillette will host the 10th Annual 9-Ball Classic Tournament later this month at Tower West Lodge. Players will compete from Wyoming, South Dakota, Colorado, Utah, Montana and possibly Nebraska, Lambert said.
For more information, contact Chuck at 660-3482.