GRABBING HIS CHANCE Sumit Talwar, a self-taught player, provided the surpriseelement with his title success in the National Championships. DH PHOTO/ S K DINESH
When the unheralded Ashutosh Padhy sent the irrepressible Pankaj Advani packing in the round of 32 stage of the Senior National Snooker Championships, the likes of Manan Chandra, Sourav Kothari, Kamal Chawla and Alok Kumar - all former champions - would have sported a big smile. They knew at that instance a major thorn in their path to reclaiming national supremacy had been removed. However, in the end, at the mecca of cue sports in the country, it was pool player Sumit Talwar who sported the biggest smile after claiming the crown with an exhilarating performance in the final.
Talwar's win sent the fraternity into a tizzy as no one had tipped the self-taught Chandigarh cueist to strike gold. The thought was not lost on the champion himself too, even days after the conclusion of the meet.
"I still can't believe I am the National snooker champion," he told DH on phone from his hometown. "It's been a week since I won a title that I least expected to and I'm still to come to terms with my achievement. I came to the Karnataka State Billiards Association with the sole intention of competing. I knew I would make it past the group stage because I had done it in most of my previous appearances but I didn't expect myself a chance to go so deep. In fact, this was the first time I made it to the quarterfinal stage. After that, every match was a new experience for me.
"I knew whatever I did, I had exceeded my target. I just played my game without hoping for anything. I didn't care if I lost because I was the underdog. It was more a question of the opponent beating me rather than me beating him. So, in a sense, I wasn't under much pressure. I played like I would normally play but a bit more aggressive. That was the only way I could win. Thankfully it all came out well," said Talwar who hammered another surprise finalist Malkeet Singh 6-1 in an extremely lop-sided final.
Although the draw opened up kindly to Talwar after Advani's shock exit - he could have met the eight-time snooker champion in the semifinals had things gone to script - his performance is nevertheless noteworthy. He beat title contender Kothari 4-2 in the pre-quarterfinals with a daring display and then faced some anxious moments in the quarterfinals before prevailing 5-4 against S Dilip Kumar. He didn't face much trouble in the semis and final, managing to wear the crown with the highest break of just 61 points in the knock-out phase.
Easier on the pocket
Talwar, who will turn 35 on February 6, started his tryst with the game like any youngster growing up in the 90s - at a pool parlour. He first hung out there with his friends to kill time in the evenings. He picked up the game quite quickly and then started to compete against guys who visited the parlour. Initially, he played only pool as it was exciting and easier on the pocket before trying his hand at snooker. With no coach to tutor him, Talwar has stunningly become a three-time national champion now following the 8-ball pool title in 2010 and 9-ball crown three years later.
"I started to play the game to pass time. After some time I realised I'm a decent pool player. So I started to play a lot of pool. My friends then encouraged me to take part in the nationals. Initially, I thought they were just joking and pulling a fast one on me. But after I won the 8-ball title, I started to feel confident about myself. The 9-ball instilled more belief. Now this snooker crown. It's almost like my life is starting now," said Talwar.
Talwar, who keeps himself afloat by running a small real estate business back home, has learnt everything on his own. At competitions, he watches Advani play to learn a few tricks and at home tries to spend some time with veteran Alok. In between, he pours over videos on YouTube and then tries to replicate them while practising.
With the world around him having changed completely now, Talwar has allowed himself the luxury of changing his once modest ambitions. "I normally enter tournaments with just one month's practice. I feel If I can dedicate some more time I can achieve consistent results. Of course, I need to be disciplined and focussed, which I will try.
"Being the national champion, I would get tickets for the world and Asian events. This a very important year for me and I want to make the most of it."
Most successful cueists are employed with either PSPB or Railways but Talwar is not expecting things to change drastically overnight on that front. "If it comes, well and good. If it doesn't, I'm okay with it. I never expected to reach this far. Let's see how far I can go."