ENCINITAS — Smoke-filled, dingy and dangerous — that may be the perception many hold on pool halls, dark rooms filled with hustlers lining up to con marks out of their money over a game of 9-ball. That’s something that Chris Allshouse, league operator of San Diego TAP (The Association for Pool), is hoping to change as he prepares for the opening of the league’s September session.
Allshouse is a pioneer of sorts; coming from Pennsylvania, he’s the first to bring TAP, a nationally organized amateur pool league, out to San Diego in 2007. It was the first TAP league on the West Coast.
Allshouse estimates that the league, which was developed in 1989, has approximately 150,000 members across the country.
He’s aware of the shady perception that pool halls may have and of pool players that may have a reputation for being hustlers, but he does think that the perceptions on the sport are changing for the positive, especially with the formation of legitimate leagues.
There are a lot of little independent leagues that will collect money and then disappear, he said, but added that he hasn’t seen that as the case here in San Diego.
San Diego is home to a number of pool halls, including The Hungry Stick and Jolt’n Joe’s, and Pacific Q Billiards in Encinitas where the TAP league meets.
Allshouse has been playing pool since he was 13 or 14 years old, he said.
When he turned 21 he started joining leagues where he could advanced his skills. “The main reason I like to play,” he said, “Is competition. I can go pretty much anywhere and find a person to play pool. Anybody can do it; it doesn’t matter how old you are, how young you are.”
Allshouse said he was playing against a 76-year-old opponent recently, who ran the table on him twice. “That’s the thing — I figure I can play pool for the rest of my life. It’s not like football or wrestling…where, eventually you’re just too old for it. …
“And the games always change,” he said. “You might get the same shot, but every game is different.”
It can be intimidating to walk up to a pool table, he said. Most people will play, though, he added. “If you get an open person, I think people (are) willing to try anything at least once.”
The TAP league is handicapped, just like in golf or bowling, and so you don’t have to come in thinking that you have to be a great pool shooter, he said.
Encinitas resident Jerri Nachman grew up in the ‘60s where pool was the sport of her era, she explained. “I didn’t really learn how to play pool, but I learned how to shoot pool balls and that it was fun and I met a lot of people,” she said.
Nachman came to the league after not having played for years. She started as a two handicap, is now a three but has the intention of advancing to a four-handicap ranking this session.
Nachman said she was intimidated at first, but the people in the league were so “generous,” she said, “in showing me and teaching me and not intimidating me at all.”
“You actually get better just by being in a league,” Allshouse said. “We have competitive players, but all of our players are willing to help you.”
Nachman said she thinks the billiards scene in Encinitas is growing. “What I see is the middle-aged people like me from the ‘60s, who had that skill set when they were young, because it was the sport du jour when you were a kid, so those people are still here and they’re coming back.
“And there’s a whole new revival of the game, which I see with the 21-to-23-to-25-year olds,” she said.
Allshouse is expecting 20 new and returning players (both men and women) this session in North County, which begins Sept. 26. The age range of those players is from the early-20s to the late-70s; there is no age limit to join the league.
Allshouse thinks pool could become a big industry.
According to a 2012 report on billiards participation by SGMA (Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association) there are 12,132,000 billiards/pool participants in the U.S.
Of those participants 65 percent are male; 42 percent have a college degree or higher. But, according to the report, there has been a 5.6 percent decline from 2007 to 2011 in participants aged 6 or older who played once or more per year.
Where: Pacific Q Billiards, 1454 Encinitas Blvd.
When: Wednesdays at 7 p.m. starting Sept. 26
Contact: sandiegotap.com; Chris Allshouse (619) 415-5639