BENGALURU: India’s most loved cueist Pankaj Advani got his hand on his first cue at the age of 10 and so far has gone on to win 25 World Titles and 13 Asian Titles across both snooker and billiards. Hopes are high to see more of these titles add up as he is currently in Iran to participate in the Asian Team Snooker Championship and the Asian 6 Reds Snooker Championship happening from June 16 to 22, with competitors from 20 countries taking part.
“I am excited to represent India in both events. Since it’s a short format, anything is possible. However, India has done well in the past. A medal-winning performance is what I’ll be striving to achieve,” says the 37-year-old.
Considered the poster boy for snooker in India, Advani feels the snooker scene has improved a lot in the country. “We have got so many tournaments now. Earlier it was just the clubs with a snooker table, and it was considered very niche. But now, we can see many hangouts in the city having snooker tables where people can try it out. Also, when you have so many players in the game it just adds to the inspiration,” says Advani, adding that he grew up watching the likes of Geet Sethi and Micheal Ferreira.
However, it was Advani’s elder brother and sports psychologist, Shree Advani who passed on to him the metaphorical ‘snooker baton’. “Shree used to play this game initially. He used to play at Bowring Institute but I wasn’t allowed to play due to being underage! I only watched and learned at that time. It was during the summer holidays in 1996, when I used to watch him play at a snooker parlour called Top Gun in Fraser Town, a few minutes walk from my house on Wheeler Road...After three years of watching him play, I thought why not give it a shot? And in my first shot, I got the ball in. I would like to think it was natural talent,” says Advani with a laugh, further adding, “After that shot, I was hooked to the game.”
With so many laurels like the Padma Bhushan and various championship titles to his name, Advani mentions it was his first World Championship in 2003 that continues to hold a special place. “I went to China to play in the World Championship and was representing India for the first time. I went there as a nobody. I was supposed to be knocked out of the tournament, but a fluke changed the whole course. I went on to win the world championship at the age of 18,” recalls Advani. That year Advani defeated a player from Pakistan to win the coveted trophy. “I remember it was Deepavali, and many people mentioned it as ‘Pankaj’s Diwali gift to India’. It was a special moment for me,” he says.
A quintessential Bengaluru boy, Advani’s family moved to Bengaluru from Kuwait after the Gulf War broke and mostly ‘because of the city’s lovely weather’. He did his schooling at Frank Anthony Public School. “I was a very shy boy in school. My school was really supportive of my sporting career. When they saw me succeeding, they encouraged me and I even got to miss a few exams,” adds Advani with a smile.
When you have a charming personality, with a promising sports career at such a young age, it’s not hard to lose focus. “Since I have to practice, which is both mentally and physically challenging, I have to have a disciplined life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” says Advani, adding that he loves watching superhero movies when he is not preparing for his tournaments. Apart from his professional career, he is also working towards introducing billiards to different schools in India, where children can get access to proper professional training.
Pankaj Advani, presently in Iran to participate in the Asian Team Snooker and Asian 6 Reds Snooker Championships, speaks about representing India for all these years and how Bengaluru shaped him into the snooker star that he is today.