Why women’s pool matters

The Black Widow Jeanette Lee lines up a shot. (Photo by Bob Guerrero)

The sport of pocket billiards has been in the doldrums in the Philippines for a long time. The decline has been slow but unmistakable.

I remember when I first started playing pool in 2000. You'd go to a pool room on a Friday night and there would be a long wait list. Perhaps you'd need to twiddle your thumbs for an hour before you knocked around your first cue ball.

These days you'll hardly ever need to wait. No wonder pool rooms have closed down all over Metro Manila. Sponsors have shied away from supporting tournaments. Even betting on pool has waned.

The reasons for the decline are many. About ten years ago badminton became all the rage in the country. Maybe four years ago, running took off. These sports are vastly different from pool, yet they compete for the time and pesos of the yuppies with disposable income. Naturally, pool is the loser.

Poker is also to blame. Pool and poker go hand in hand. Pool players are hardwired to love Texas No Limit Hold'em. Almost every pool player I know, from the weekend bangers to the elite Pinoy pros, loves having chips in hand. Dennis Orcollo and Alex Pagulayan once even got into a hand in a televised tournament and one busted out the other.

Social media and online gaming is also a culprit. People would rather tweet or get to the next level of Angry Birds rather than master the inside-English three-rail positional shot.

Another issue is the slow departure of Efren Reyes from the public eye. Let's face it. Dennis Orcollo may be the number one player in the world. Alex Pagulayan is incredibly accomplished. Django Bustamante is a Hall of Famer. But the face of Pinoy Pool is Bata Reyes.

Efren is a once-in-a-generation kind of athlete.  Not only is his mastery of the table so awesome, but he combines it with a humble, homespun, aw-shucks demeanor that fans lap up. In one word, Reyes has charisma. No other pool player from the Philippines comes close. Alex Pagulayan has a quirky, effervescent personality too but he hasn't been able to translate it to big-time celebrity status.

Reyes can't play in many of the events run by Yen Makabenta for political reasons and because of a lack of trust due to delayed payouts in the past. He doesn't play in one of Asia's best events, the World Series of Pool, presumably because it's sponsored by Guinness, and Reyes is still apparently contracted to San Miguel.

So Reyes slowly fades into obscurity. And where he goes, so does Pinoy pool.

But there is hope to reverse this trend. Perhaps women's pool can provide a boost.

Women's pool used to be a poor relation of the men's game. But things have changed.  The standard has gone up dramatically over the years. Ga Young Kim, Allison Fisher, Karen Corr, and Kelly Fisher all have A-games that can trouble all but the very best male pros.

But it's China that currently dominates the female game with players like Fu Xiao Fang, Chen Siming, and Pan Xiao Ting. According to the World-Pool Billiard Association's press officer, Ted Lerner, 33 of the 64  ladies who contested the recently concluded Women's World 9 Ball championship in Shenyang, China were Chinese. Ironically, it was Kelly Fisher who came out on top, beating Fu in the final, 9-6.

China's Chen Siming is leading the Chinese invasion. (Photo by Bob Guerrero)

There are plenty of reasons for Pinoy fans to get into Women's pool too. Mandaue's Rubilen Amit is a former world champ, while Iris Ranola from Zamboanga picked up a gold medal in the 2011 SEA Games. Mary Ann Basas is not far behind them, and teenager Gillian Go is a breathtaking talent who just needs seasoning to be a world-class player.

Women's Pool is telegenic too, for obvious reasons. Some of these ladies are absolutely stunning. Korea's Ga Young Kim is exotically fetching, as is her compatriot Yu Ram Cha.  Austria's Jasmine Ouschan's flaxen hair and Nordic features are straight out of a fashion magazine. Fu is achingly lovely. A true China doll. And let's not forget Jeanette Lee. The Black Widow can still turn heads.

The intersection of sex appeal and sport has been trod by many sports. Now it's pool's turn.

Korea's Ga Young Kim and Austria's Jasmine Ouschan are great players as well as fan favorites. (Photo by Bob G …

Last year's Women's World 10 Ball Championship here in Metro Manila was a barrel of fun, with Kelly Fisher coming out on top over Ga Young Kim in the final. Kudos to Charlie Williams of Dragon Promotions for bringing this great event to the Philippines.

We also need more mixed-doubles events. Dragon Promotions held the first televised mixed-doubles event in the Philippines two years ago and it was a hoot. Efren Reyes and Rubilen Amit took the first prize on that one. Mixed-doubles brings us the best of both worlds. The quality and star power of the top men players, plus the sizzle of the female stars.

I don't imagine that women's pool will by itself extricate pool from its current funk. But it will help.

In the Philippines, women's volleyball has gone from a niche sport to a mainstream one that packs stadiums. Might women's pool make the same transition?

Follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.

Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.