When Hong Kong snooker player Ng On-yee became the world’s top ranked woman in the sport in February, snooker’s popularity also reached new heights in the city. It might be a relatively easy sport to pick up, but how does one excel at it?
‘It is about concentration,’ Ng says. ‘You have to master your emotions and skills because you are on your own. There is also a lot of etiquette that goes along with it. We’d start with a handshake, and slap the table or our thighs to cheer an opponent’s impressive moves. We even apologise for blind luck. Each tournament offers a chance to mingle with other players, so we are like a big family.’
But snooker had a rather dubious image in the city back in the 1980s and ’90s, when snooker parlours were regarded as gangster hangouts. Veteran player Alan Lin says snooker has come a long way since then, thanks to the success of prominent Hong Kong players such as Marco Fu.
‘Snooker got no funding before 1998, but things changed after we won gold at the Asian Games that year,’ says Lin, who was on the winning team alongside Fu. ‘It’s now designated an elite sport at the Hong Kong Sports Institute, with excellent media coverage and inter-school competitions that help groom young players.’
The growing participation of kids and women has had a significant effect, Ng adds. ‘In the past, international tournaments for women were few, but last year I played in 18 events.’
Seven-year-old Shaun Liu joined the young squad through the scouting activities organised by the Hong Kong Sports Institute and the Hong Kong Billiard Sports Control Council. If his poise and passion when playing against two of Hong Kong’s best are anything to go by, he could very well end up on the international stage someday. So what attracts him to the sport? ‘I just love the excitement,’ he says enthusiastically. ‘It’s so much fun, even if it means training three hours a day, seven days a week.’
Catch the Hong Kong Women Snooker Open Championship from 8 to 14 July, and the Hong Kong Snooker Open Championship (Event Three) from 5 August to 22 September