Exhibition by 5-time world champ to put Lawrence club on national map for a game you’ve maybe never heard of
photo by: Courtesy: World Confederation of Billiard Sports/The World Games 2022
It may be the most excellence Lawrence ever sees involving a ball that isn’t orange.
Next month, a small downtown Lawrence club is hosting the No. 1 ranked three-cushion billiards player in the world — and some say the sport’s greatest player ever — for a rare U.S. exhibition.
The Billiards Studio — a private club located in a portion of the former Peoples Bank/Sandbar Sub building at Eighth and New Hampshire streets — will be hosting Dick Jaspers for one of just three U.S. exhibitions by the professional billiards player from the Netherlands.
I can already hear the question most Lawrence residents are asking: So, you’re telling me he is a world-class three-point shooter?
No. Wrong ball. And, not enough of them.
photo by: Courtesy: The World Games 2022
Three-cushion billiards is a type of pool game, although in America, it is not very well known even to people who like to play pool. It is a rarity in the sport because it is played on a special table that is larger than most and certainly more unusual because of what it lacks: pockets.
The game is played on a pocketless pool table and involves only three balls. Before you ask, Lawrence, none of them is orange. (Red, white and yellow, if you are scoring along at home.)
The object of the game is to strike one of the three balls with your cue stick, then make that ball do three special things: 1. Make contact with three rails on the pool table; 2. Make contact with the two other balls on the pool table; 3. Do all of this in the proper order, which dictates that the cue ball has to hit the three rails on the table before it hits the second of the two balls on the table.
If this sounds difficult, it is. But longtime Lawrence resident Stanley Lombardo will tell you it also can be mesmerizing.
“A shot will unfold gradually, and it will come together gradually,” Lombardo, a retired KU professor in the Department of Classics, said of the zig-zagging course of the cue ball that sometimes takes several seconds to complete its roll and determine whether it has completed its task of touching three rails and two balls. “There is a wonderful range of emotions that can occur during that time.”
If so, Jaspers is a master of emotions.
“He is the No. 1-ranked player in the world and has been for quite a while,” Lombardo said.
Jaspers (pronounced Yaspers) is a five-time world champion in three-cushion billiards, has five European championships and is the reigning three-cushion billiards champion in The World Games, which is an Olympic-style event for sports that aren’t contested in the Olympics. With that resumé, you can find several lists that have Jaspers as the game’s all-time greatest player.
Lombardo certainly makes that argument, but of course, he’s a friend of Jaspers’ — and has been ever since Jaspers took Lombardo to the hospital on their first meeting.
That was about five years ago when Lombardo was in Amsterdam — Jaspers’ home base — and was looking to improve his skill in three-cushion billiards. Lombardo had fallen in love with the game more than 50 years ago in a recreation room at Tulane University in New Orleans.
“They had two tables there and one very good player,” Lombardo recalled.
Lombardo was not that player, but he occupies that “very good player” title in any billiards room he enters now. He’s competed in tournaments far and wide and has gotten to know top professionals.
It was through those connections that he had arranged private lessons with Jaspers, while Lombardo and his wife were traveling in Europe. One problem emerged, though. As Lombardo was leaving for his lesson, he slammed his finger in a door, which doesn’t help anyone’s pool game. He went to the lesson anyway, but ultimately Jaspers decided it would be best to take Lombardo to the hospital.
“He really took care of me,” Lombardo said. “We have been in touch ever since then. I congratulate him after his many, many victories.”
photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World
With all that, it shouldn’t be a complete surprise that Lawrence is just one of three locations — Madison, Wis., and Boston are the others — where Jaspers will put on public exhibitions while touring America with fellow professional player Mazin Shooni. As as side note, Lombardo is friends with Shooni too. So much so that I and a few other Lawrence residents can attest to being in Lombardo’s Lawrence home years ago watching Shooni, a former National Champion, put on a clinic there.
Lombardo is temporarily having that world-class table from his home — the 4,000-pound table has its own heating system to control the humidity of the felt playing surface — put into what was the lobby of the former bank/sandwich shop space at 745 New Hampshire St.
Jaspers will play on that table from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Oct. 9. The event is free and open to the public. Jaspers will be giving some demonstrations, and is expected to play against some top players from the region. Players from as far away as Atlanta are traveling to Lawrence for the weekend to participate in some small-group clinics with Jaspers on Oct. 8.
The founders of The Billiards Studio are hoping that his appearance does more than provide a few lessons. They are hopeful it will put Lawrence on the map as a unique place in the small world of American three-cushion billiards.
“Oh, it is just that the world’s greatest billiards player has chosen to come to this little billiards studio in Lawrence, Kansas,” said Lawrence attorney John Hampton, who founded the studio with Lombardo and Lawrence real estate agent Jim Regan in 2019. “We think that will be a big deal for us.”
You may remember that I wrote about the opening of The Billiards Studio back in 2019. At that time, it had two tables — the massive three-cushion billiards table and a traditional pool table. It later would add a snooker table. The club sold memberships to people who liked pool or billiards and wanted to have a place to play, practice and fraternize with other like-minded people.
The pandemic hurt that business model, so much so that the club, while staying in the same building, downsized to a smaller room. It now has only the three-cushion billiards table, but still operates as a private club for people who pay a monthly fee to have unlimited access to the facility.
The downsizing, though, has not discouraged the founders. They still have the opportunity to promote the game of three-cushion billiards, which was one of the key reasons they started the club.
For decades the game has not been as popular in America as other pool games such as 8-ball or 9-ball, and the length of the game makes it difficult to televise live. But fans of the game often go back to the quiet beauty of it. Lombardo calls the game one of the few examples of a “steady-state universe,” always three balls, always on the table and always in a dynamic relationship to one another.
And always — at least for this longtime pool player — difficult. But the founders of The Billiards Studio are betting there are still people who enjoy the pursuit of difficult tasks.
“It is a great feeling of accomplishment when a shot works,” Hampton said.
And when a shot doesn’t work, well, know you will never be alone in the experience. Lombardo, who has a world-renowned reputation as a translator of classical literature, seeks to remind players of that with an inscription near the entryway to The Billiards Studio: “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.”
For those of you who don’t know your classics — or aren’t familiar with Hades — that is the inscription at the gates of Hell, according to Dante’s “Inferno.” It translates to: Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.