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The Games People Play

With a fertile mind and time on his hands, Thorsten Hohmann creates new challenges.

By Mike Panozzo

Thorsten Hohmann isn’t sure where the crazy ideas come from.

Does he dream about outlandish pool challenges in his sleep? Do ideas come to him in the shower?

“I don’t know where they come from,” the three-time world champion admitted. “Sometimes people suggest games and sometimes I look at a game and think, ‘How can I make it more interesting?’”

One thing is for certain, though. Hohmann enjoys jumping into the deep end of the pool. From scuba diving, to parachuting, to being that daring young man on the flying trapeze, the 40-year-old German native loves a challenge. And the crazier, the better.

While many pros are traveling for one-on-one challenge matches, playing in virtual competitions or videotaping matches against the ghost, Hohmann seems to be gunning for his own section in the Guinness Book of World Records. Can he run 150 in straight pool in under 10 minutes? Can he run 100 using a mechanical bridge? What’s the highest run in Scotch doubles? The largest successfully run rack of 8-ball? The longest rotation run?

Give Hohmann a drill or an idea and watch him grab his cue, iPhone and GoPro, and hop the F train from his Brooklyn apartment to Jennifer Barretta’s Skyline Billiards.

Take, for instance, Hohmann’s recent assault on maximum 8-ball, where he set up a 45-ball rack, which consisted of nine rows of balls – 22 stripes, 22 solids and a single 8 ball. He made three balls on the break, with an astonishing 37 balls sharing real estate below the side pockets.

Upon surveying the resultant table layout, Hohmann nodded his head and said, “Yup, I’m out.”

Photo By Jonathan Smith

Miraculously, Hohmann made good on his prediction, successfully negotiating the colorful maze of balls to pocket 20 solids and the 8 ball, spreading his arms and grinning into the camera upon completion. Even more amazing was the fact that the run-out required two jump shots late in the rack, including on the final solid.

“That was a real challenge,” Hohmann recalled. “You have no idea how often I tried that and how long it took. Just racking 45 balls takes a long time. I used multiple Magic Racks to get the balls all touching.

“Then you break and scratch on the break,” he added, laughing incredulously. “You want to scream because it takes another six minutes to rack them again. Then you break again and make a ball, but the table is all impossible clusters. I did that over and over.”

Not surprisingly, Hohmann now has his sights set on a tenth row of balls for a 55-ball rack.

“The thing about 8-ball,” he rationalized, “is that no matter how it looks, you can maneuver through it. You look at the table after the break and you think, ‘This is crazy!’ But from the experience of trying so often, I know that it is possible. There is always a way out somehow.

“Rotation is a little different.”

Ah, yes. Rotation.

Rotation is how Hohmann started his quirky journey through the tedium of quarantine and pandemic restrictions. Staying at the Houston home of his friend Chris Hogan, the naturally curious Hohmann began tinkering with recorded practice sessions that he shared on his Facebook page.

“This was in March,” he said. “I went to Chris’ house directly from Vegas before the World 10-Ball got canceled.”

With a Diamond table and a wall-mounted flat screen TV at his disposal, Hohmann began promoting a new billiard app, Cue Lab, that he had developed with a business partner. The down time allowed Hohmann to immerse himself in the project, creating Facebook and YouTube pages and studying the subtleties of video editing.

“I’m out!” was Hohmann’s immediate reaction after breaking open a rack of 45 balls in a jumbo game of 8-ball. True to his words, he completed the run.

“I’ve always find it annoying that you want to do something but you don’t know how,” Hohmann confessed. “You have to rely on other people. I remember taking PhotoShop classes online years ago. And, so, learning about video editing interests me.

“Now, if I want to put a sponsor logo in the video, I can. If I want to slow down the video or speed it up, I can. I try to be somewhat creative and I’m learning more and more.”

Tinkering with Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, Hohmann fertile mind began to percolate.

“I thought, I can actually give something to the community so everyone can participate,” he said.

To promote the app and launch his social media pages, Hohmann reached out to players, coaches and fans, asking them to challenge him with drills. And to engage followers, he began to show table layouts after the break, encouraging others to discuss the best way to play the rack. He would join the conversation, sharing his thoughts.

“This is what got me to start recording stuff,” Hohmann said.

Among other tests, Hohmann developed what he called the “Corona Series,” a set of drills in which balls served as barriers, making the drills more difficult. That kicker? You had to wear a mask while attempting to complete the drill.

After recording a quick 100-ball straight-pool run, Hohmann found a new challenge in the mail.

“Chris is a billiards freak,” Hohmann said. “He buys everything. All of a sudden, a package arrives, and it is a pool-ball-sized snooker set. I thought, ‘I wonder if I can do a maximum break on a pool table?’”

Ironically, the posted video of that feat garnered more than a quarter-million views, enabling Hohmann to become an official “Facebook Creator” and to be able to monetize his page.

Hohmann followed that by taping a rotation run-out.

Hogan, watching, commented, “Why don’t you add a few balls to it?”

And that is when the lightbulb went off in Hohmann’s head.

“Suddenly, the whole world opened up for me,” he gushed.

“I can do this with every discipline there is.”

Hohmann started with a full rack of one-pocket, depositing all 15 balls in on pocket. Then he added some balls to an 8-ball rack.

“Then I got to two magic numbers,” he added. “I wanted to use 45 balls in 8-ball and 25 balls in rotation.”

For rotation, Hohmann simply uses different sets of balls from Hogan’s seemingly endless supply – a full set of, say, Dynasphere, with the 1-10 of perhaps Aramith to continue the run.

Hohmann admitted that some drills took him days to complete, and he has yet to successfully finish the 25-ball rotation run, stalling at 21.

“You hit your head against the table trying to complete a drill or challenge before you give up for the day,” he admitted. “I was in Houston for three months, and sometimes I would spend the entire day trying a drill.”

At the beginning of June, Hohmann moved to New York, where he rented an apartment in Brooklyn. Despite the continued shutdown of poolrooms in the city, Barretta allowed Hohmann access to her nearby poolroom, Skyline Billiards.

Again, Hohmann began looking for unique challenges. For one straight-pool run he strapped on a GoPro to show the point of view of the shooter. While the video (which included an inset screen showing a traditional view of the table) may have caused some viewers to scurry for the Dramamine, the run was widely watched.

Hohmann offered a unique, albeit dizzying, perspective, running 100 wearing a GoPro.

“I started thinking, ‘What else can I do with straight pool,’” said Hohmann, a former world 14.1 champion and four-time World Tournament of 14.1 winner.

First, he noticed a bar table in a corner of Skyline and, of course, became curious. Would a 100-ball run be easier or harder on a bar table?

“It took me two days to get 100 on video,” he recalled.

“It’s easy and it’s not easy. The shots are easy, so you tend to speed up and then you make silly errors.”

Continually thinking of new ways to run 100 balls, Hohmann came up with yet another brilliant challenge.

“Someday I would really like to try to tackle a really large number, like John’s [Schmidt] 626,” he admitted. “But you need perfect conditions and it takes too long. I usually stop at 100. If I get to 100, I’m happy and I quit.

“So, I think about unusual ways to run 100, and I thought, ‘How about Scotch doubles in straight pool?’”

With the country’s top woman player doubling as the room’s owner, Hohmann had the perfect partner.

“I asked Jennifer and she said she would,” he said.

Despite never having spent much time with the discipline, Barretta followed Hohmann’s lead and the duo punched out a run of 50 on the very first day.

“I knew right away we could get to 100,” Hohmann recalled.

More importantly, Hohmann, who aspires to coaching, saw an opportunity to help Barretta improve her own game.

“At first it felt like I was babysitting,” Hohmann laughed, “because Jennifer would just stand there and wait for me to tell her what shot to play. I wanted her to think for herself. I’m very intuitive because of experience. I know not to play a certain ball because it will be useful later on, and so on. So, it actually helped me a lot as a teacher.”

The two met at the room each morning. Barretta would get the lights on and make coffee, while Hohmann set up his camera and prepared the table.

“It was fun,” Hohmann remembers. “I remember secretly hoping we wouldn’t get to 100 because then we would have accomplished our goal and it would be over.”

Hohmann played partner/coach in working with Barretta to run 141 in Scotch Doubles. Photo By Jonathan Smith

Hohmann and Barretta fired away for nearly two weeks before rolling through nine-plus racks for a run of 141.

“The best part is that Jennifer said she never really cared for straight pool,” Hohmann said. “But now that she understands it more, I see her playing by herself. And recently I saw her playing straight pool Scotch doubles with Jonathan Smith. I think her game will benefit.”

“[Thorsten] was very patient,” Barretta acknowledged.

“The first few days I asked him to tell me which shots to shoot. Every day we were running 70 or 80 and, even though he was probably frustrated, I wanted to keep learning. I was actually sad when we ran the 141. But watching Thorsten do all these different challenges is inspiring to me.”

But as much as Hohmann enjoys his challenges, he longs for the day when he can once again face off against longtime foes in a traditional professional tournament.

“I don’t know when next tournament’s going to be,” he said. “This is good because it keeps me busy. You have to have goals. If you want to try to accomplish a drill or want to get something on video, at least it makes you want to work. I’ve learned about video editing, I’ve learned about me as a teacher, player, coach.”

Even though pool will eventually return to normal competition, however, the past seven months have given Hohmann an idea of what the future could hold.

“My ultimate dream would be to create a studio somewhere where everything is set up,” he said. “Cameras, etc. A space where I can teach and create cool content. I want to take these ideas to the next level. Right now, it’s fun. But I want to develop it and hopefully monetize it over time.”

But, to date, tournaments have not returned, so the never-short-of-ideas Hohmann needs a new challenge.

Straight pool nut Hohmann wants to run 100 with a bridge.Photo By Jonathan Smith

“I want to see if I can run 100 using the bridge,” he said. “It won’t be easy because I’m terrible with the bridge and shots on the rail would be impossible. I’ve only gotten to 26.

“We’ll see.”