This week, Melburnians can see a woman compete against men in the world championships of one of very few sports where the genders play on a level playing field - literally. It's billiards.
Written by Tom Crowie, The Age
Image credit: Jason South
The event, beginning on Sunday at the RACV club on Bourke Street in the CBD, has some of the world's best billiards players chalking up their cues to take part.
Joining them in the invite-only contest is Anna Lynch, a jazz piano player and teacher from Kensington who will be the sole woman wielding a cue.
Before taking up billiards 18 years ago, Lynch's experience with pool was the same as most wannabe hustlers: putting $2 into the table at the pub and picking "bigs" or "smalls" for a game of eight ball.
"When I was playing lots of gigs as a teenager and in my early 20s there was always a pool table," she says.
"But I couldn't really see past one ball back then, I would just pot one ball and not think about position or anything like that.
"It was very different than when I got onto the full-size table. I just looked at it completely differently and got a lot more serious."
Unlike pool or snooker, there are just three balls in billards, which traces its roots back to pre-1800s England. There is a separate cue ball for each player — one of them white and the other yellow — and a red ball.
The aim is to score points through different shots, like potting the red ball or the player's own cue ball after it strikes another. Cannoning the red ball into the opposition cue ball is another way to score.
Strategy is key, as players use their ball control skills to set up offensive or defensive opportunities.
After discovering she had a knack for billiards, perhaps helped by having the steady hands of a pianist, Lynch devoted countless hours to getting better. Summoning the required discipline was a cinch.
"Piano really helped, knowing that you have to be dedicated and put in a lot of solo practice," she says.
"If put my mind to it, I'm very, very disciplined."
Practice yielded results: she won the state women's title 15 times and the national event in its first year in 2019.
"I've always been attracted to skillful things, or something that I really have to practice to get better at," she says.
"I find it really enjoyable, just the sound of the balls and the feeling you get when you pot a nice ball, and the way you construct all your points together. It's really an exciting game."
Lynch is currently practicing for three hours a day ahead of the big tournament, which will also include a women's only division and an open event.
Spectators are welcome to take in the atmosphere of quiet concentration at the RACV Club as players in vests and collared shirts lean over green felted tables to play their shots.
This will be the first time Melbourne has hosted the championship since 1934, when Walter Lindrum defended his crown on home title against English champion Joe Davis.
Lynch doesn't think too much about the gender divide in her sport, which is still dominated by men.
"I never look if I'm playing a man or woman or anything different, I'm just playing my opponent," she says.
As for using her well-honed skills to take on all comers at the pub, Lynch says she keeps things friendly.
"If I'm ever going to play people who I don't know, I never say 'hey, yeah, I play a little bit'," she says.
"I just go easy, you know?"