I have always loved playing snooker and pool, right from being an early teen. In Korea I have seen many pool halls in every neighbourhood I have walked through, but for some reason I have never had the impetus to go in and play, probably because nobody has been with me at the time of passing by one of these establishments.
Last night I visited the Royal Anchor foreigner bar in Old Downtown and played some pool and darts there, which suddenly gave me a taste for the green baize once again.
Today, after having lunch and walking around Ulsan Grand Park with my lovely Korean friend Won Yong (English name Hailey), my good buddy Howard and I decided to walk into one of these many pool halls and spend the afternoon there.
We visited a place across the road from my house, one floor under my gym, and we were surprised to find that it wasn’t a pool hall at all.
The tables are pool tables, green baize on slate, but there are no pockets in them, and only four balls. Howard explained that this was a Korean game similar to billiards called 4 Ball.
One player chooses the white ball as his cueball and the second player takes the yellow as their cueball. The object is to hit both reds with the cueball in the same shot. This sounds easy but it really isn’t. If you accomplish it you are granted one point and get to play again until you fail to hit both reds.
If you accidentally or otherwise hit the other player’s cueball with your cueball this is a foul and the other player gains a point. If you hit both reds and then hit the other player’s cueball then your potential point is forfeited by the foul and the score doesn’t change.
Each player starts with a certain number of points (determined by red and white counters on an abacus-style scoreboard). The object is to get rid of all your points before your opponent.
It calls for a completely different strategy to pool or snooker. At first I wasn’t really taken with it and still craved a standard pool (or 8-ball) game, but the more I played 4-ball, the more interesting it became, and I really grew to enjoy it.
I had never heard of this game before, and while I still prefer snooker and pool, it made a refreshing change. One hour of play costs 7000 won (about four pounds) which two players will split between them if they are behaving democratically, so each person spends about 2 pounds an hour on the game.
The owner gave us free coffee as service (this would never happen in a snooker hall in England).
After playing for two hours the owner and his friends invited us to sit with them and eat raw fish and drink soju inside the pool hall. Howard and I accepted. Again, this kind of behaviour would never happen back home. Quite simply amazing.
We attempted to converse with them in Korean (Howard more successfully than I as he has been more diligent in studying Hangul) with a small measure of success.