Mike “The Fireball’ Dechaine
Mike "The Fireball" Dechaine, the second-ranked pool player in the nation, sits in a large, rounded booth at Snookers sports and billiards bar on Ashburton Street.
"This is the best pool hall I've ever been in," he says, "in the whole United States."
He is, it must be said, something less than a neutral observer.
Steve Goulding, the Snookers owner, sponsors Dechaine in the relatively low-wage world of professional billiards.
But the bar, which moved from a loft space in the Jewelry District into its sprawling new home in 2009, has developed something of a national reputation over the course of its 22-year history.
In the players room — an ornate, eight-table proving ground for the region's best — framed photographs and news clippings form the New England Pool & Billiards Hall of Fame.
Above them: a series of small, green banners printed with the names of each winner of the bar's annual Ocean State Championship Tournament, which has attracted all manner of national and international talent over the years.
Goulding recalls with a particular reverence the 2003 appearance of Efren Reyes, a Filipino who is considered the greatest pool player of his time. "They call him 'The Magician,'" Goulding says. "He does things that no one else can do."
But if Reyes's appearance — he lost, by the way, to his protégé Francisco Bustamante — is a highlight for Snookers, the bar's marquee moment may come this weekend when it hosts the first major pro tournament in Providence in 15 years.
The tourney, which runs August 5-7 and is free and open to the public, is one of five stops on the Seminole Pro Tour. And it will help determine which players go to the Mosconi Cup, an annual showdown of Americans and Europeans that has evolved into one of the most prestigious events in pool.
Among those expected to show: Earl "the Pearl" Strickland, who grew up hustling in the pool halls along the Carolina Beach boardwalk in North Carolina.
"I played this seven-foot guy named Moose," Strickland once told the Wilmington Star News. "His face was disfigured. We played for 24 straight hours and I was winning and I told him I was tired and wanted to go home. He looked down on the top of my head and said he would eat me. We kept playing."
After going pro, Strickland quickly emerged as the bad boy of pool. He yells at fans. He once told a referee to "shut up." "Strickland," a rival said, after a show of particularly bad behavior, "is the scum of the earth, everyone knows that."
Shane Van Boening, 28, should be there, too. He is best known for the hearing aid he wears — and turns off, when it suits him. But he also has a billiards lineage of note: his grandfather was a trick-shot artist; his grandmother, mother, and aunt were all national champions.
The local rooting interest, though, will be in Dechaine, 24, who grew up in Waterville, Maine, and serves as house pro at Snookers now. "He's the man," says Goulding, "and the thing is, he knows it, too. You have to be cocky."
Dechaine, a rising star, smiles and feigns a bit of modesty. But, he allows, you've got to have some alpha if you want to win. Some swagger.
"I haven't felt nervous," he says, "in a long time."