But though the desire to triumph was palpable as the 20-strong team of the finest farang lined up against the best of Jakarta’s 450 competitive expatriate pool players, winning the $10,000 tournament was never the true objective.
“The event is about pool, but it’s more than that,” says Jakarta expat Brian Piggott, who conceived the idea for the tournament just six months prior to the first cue ball being struck in anger at the Arion Swiss-Belhotel on Oct. 29.
“It’s about friendship, it’s about promoting your adopted city, cultural things like food and, at the end of the day, the [Bangkok team] will leave here and say, ‘well we had a good time here, I’d love to come back to Jakarta.’”
Piggott, a self-described “passionate” pool player who was also representing the event sponsor, safety footwear company Steel Blue, says many of the 48-strong group of Bangkok-based expat players and supporters at first had poor perceptions of the Indonesian capital.
“Their initial impression of Jakarta was that it’s a very dangerous place, the perception had been a little bit negative,” shouts Piggott above the cries of encouragement as the two well-supported teams did battle on four pool tables under chandeliers in the hotel ballroom.
“We’ve tried to turn that around to a positive and already, I’ll be honest, these Bangkok guys are saying ‘this is a great place, we love it here, we’re coming back.’”
Piggott also saluted the Bangkok expats, saying that had shown remarkable support for the event given the crippling flooding in Thailand and its capital.
“Many of these people have got families and businesses and for them to be here in the circumstances is really quite remarkable.”
New Yorker Mark Dulgov, a retired executive who grew the Bangkok Pool League from eight to 80 teams over the course of seven years and led Team Bangkok to Indonesia, says five players had been forced to withdraw due to the circumstances. But those that did make the journey, Dulgov says, “are having a blast.”
“For my players it’s an opportunity to go to another country to be met by expats of that country, who are not only expecting you but are also welcoming you,” he says. “They know they will come toBangkokto compete next year so they want us comfortable; they are making every effort to be friendly, to be civil, to be great hosts.”
Describing Kemang as “camp” and “trendy,” Dulgov said the area was the perfect area to hold the event given the abundance of restaurants, bars and other entertainment hotspots.
“To me, Kemang is lovely, the food is fabulous, every restaurant we’ve been to has been great and the people have been very gracious.”
As another round of cheering reverberated around the ballroom walls, Dulgov concurred with Piggott, saying that though he wanted to win bragging rights and the $7,000 first place prize, they were “definitely secondary.”
“Don’t tell my team this but to me the single most important aspect is that everyone in my group goes back to Bangkok saying, ‘We had a great time, you guys that didn’t go missed a real treat.’”
He says this would ensure the competition continued and expanded. “I want Jakarta to come to Bangkok next year, I want to have the opportunity to be as gracious a host and I would like to see another team come in and join, be it Manila, Singapore or Ho Chi Minh. It’s a fun event.”
In the words of one supporter of the Jakarta All Stars – a team comprising a 50/50 mix of Western and Asian players – losing out to the Bangkok team was of little consequence.
“Monday we’ll be back at work,” he said clasping a cold Heineken, “that’s a little more serious.”
How it Went Down to the Wire
The Asia Expat Pool Challenge consisted of three sets of 40 frames, the first 80 of which were contested by 20 players from each of the two teams, and the last by the top 10 players from each team.
The teams were tied on 20 frames after the first set, with Team Bangkok opening up a small lead of 41 frames to the Jakarta All Star’s 39 after the completion of the second. Though Jakarta remained in contention for much of the third set, Bangkok pulled away to finish winners, 61 to 53.
(c) Cameron Bates – Kemang Buzz