When eighth grader Henry Anderson makes an appearance at Pongas in downtown Durango, it’s for two things: games of pool and cokes with his dad, Mark.
Anderson, 12, not only has been running the table at Pongas, he will soon be taking his billiard skills to Las Vegas for the Billiard Education Foundation’s 2019 Junior National 9-Ball Championships from July 23-27.
“I used to play pool when I was a baby, but I’d just like to crawl on the table at our home and put the balls into the pocket,” Anderson said. “I started only taking it seriously about a year ago, and the reason why I love playing is because it always plays out differently, and it always challenges me.”
Anderson will be competing in the boys under-14 division and qualified for the national championships when he won the Albuquerque regional last month. He has since been preparing for nationals by continuing to play at bars across Durango, including El Rancho Tavern and JBo’s Pizza and Rib Co., in addition to the family table at his father’s house.
When he’s not playing pool, Anderson stays busy, working a summer job at CJ’s Pizza in Ignacio, and also plays linebacker on his Miller Middle School football team.
While he’s as busy as ever, he has always made sure he’s prepared when he takes the table. He has made a number of personal purchases to up his game: he owns his own pool bag, which includes gloves, cue tips, cue ball, sticks, bridge and even a carbon-fiber cue, which is designed to hit the pool ball smoother but with more force than a normal cue.
I spend, not most of my money but spend a good amount on pool stuff,” Anderson said. “Good thing I’ve got a job.”
Anderson’s skill levels have increased from his first full year of playing pool. He said that playing in places such as JBo’s or Pongas has helped him understand the game more and learn new tricks of the trade. While he began his craft at home, his true education came from playing in public.
“Most of the guys there help me because I am still learning and mess up on some of the rules,” Anderson said. “They’re always giving me tips and advice. ... At Pongas, my dad and I usually have signals for each other about what types of shots I should try to hit, if I want top-spin, bottom-spin, should I curve it? It’s fun to play at those places because you see all types of players and it’s really fun to win there. I took third in a tournament during Snowdown and it’s given me confidence to keep playing against really good players.”
Anderson’s skills have rapidly progressed, as he’s consistently hitting tough, multi-bank shots from across the table and is able to curve the cue ball around other balls to hit a shot, a masse. He successfully attempted two masses last month in Albuquerque and is hoping to use the same shot again in a few weeks.
His next task is mastering the diamond system. Using the diamonds on the rails of the table to perform three-tiered bank shots or more, all with precision and just the right amount of force.
“If I count the diamonds to try and hit shots, it becomes much more difficult, and from there, it’s all about math,” Anderson said. “Once we start studying these subjects, I can apply them to pool and then it’ll be easy. I’ve got to think about how to play the angles and how much pressure on a shot to use.”
Anderson will put his math skills to the test while trying to beat more than 200 competitors at the tournament, over 50 in his age division. It’s a double-elimination tournament.
While play does not begin until Wednesday, he will arrive two days early in order to get a feel for how the tables will play. Each will be re-covered with new felt for the tournament, and dad Mark, who doubles as Henry’s coach, said the new surface will impact how the games will play out.
“With having him there for two extra days, it’s going to be completely different than walking in blind, not knowing the feel of that table,” said Mark. “He’s got to know what that spin is going to do, how much pressure to put on a given ball or any other table quirks. It’s like spinning a quarter across a desk: whether it’s wood, plastic or glass, it’ll all play differently.”
While he knows the pressure will be tough, Henry said he has made a few friends along the way and hopes to see some of them in Las Vegas.
“I’ve made a few friends at a tournament in Charleston, South Carolina, and am hoping to see them,” Henry said. “I’ve been able to make friends through pool. It’s not like football where you don’t want to make friends and it’s really rough. Pool is like you want to make friends, and if you’re playing with your friend, it’s usually a little bit of talking in between, but if it’s a tournament and you’re playing someone you don’t know, you just don’t talk.”
Even with additional days in Vegas, Anderson said competition will be as tough as he’s ever faced because it’s his first national tournament.
“Wednesday will be crazy because the tournament goes from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m., so it’ll be nonstop pool,” Henry said. “I feel pressure because I don’t know what to expect. I might be put up against the two best guys there in my first few rounds. I’d like to make it past the first day or two and make a run. I’d be even happy if I were to get into the top 100 because it’s my first tournament.”
He’ll also be honored for having a grade point average above a 3.0 as a BEF Academic All-American.
From Pongas to Vegas, billiards has been a bonding experience for Henry and Mark, and their love of the sport will continue long past Henry’s first national tournament.
“As long as he tries his best and has fun, then it’s worth the effort and the time to make this trip,” Mark said. “The great thing about it is, this is something that him and I do together as father and son. I’m not only able to teach him, but at this point, he’s even teaching me a little bit. He’s passed me and I’ve been playing my whole life. The father-son bond we have over this sport is just amazing. Sitting on a bench in Pongas, drinking a Coke and watching how other people approach a given shot and learn from them. It’s given him a chance to interact with all kinds of people in society, and it’s really been priceless for us.”