In many ways, Luca Tomassetti is your typical 9-year-old boy.
He’s shy. He likes sports. He plays football, basketball and enjoys wrestling. He plays sports for fun.
Tomassetti, however, is highly competitive and passionate about his favorite game.
Yes, pool. Pocket billiards. The game that was made popular decades ago by legends like Willie Mosconi and played in smoke-filled pool halls and dimly lit bars.
Tomassetti loves to play pool. He spends 10 to 20 hours a week playing various games and honing his developing skills. “Nine-ball is my favorite,” he says.
And he’s very good at it. Really.
Give the fourth-grade student at Allison Park Elementary a pool cue and a rack of billiard balls, then watch Tomassetti work his magic. Those who play regularly at places like South Hills Golden Cue in Bridgeville, Breakers in Dormont or Steel City Billiards in Brentwood have seen Tomassetti in action and have been impressed, especially after they’ve been beaten by the Houston youth.
Tomassetti has developed quite a reputation for being an advanced player for his age. That reputation sparked Allen Hopkins, the organizer of last month’s Super Billiards Expo in Edison, N.J., to grant Tomassetti an exemption to play in the tournament, which is for the Junior Nationals title. The only problem for Tomassetti was that he had to play against older competition, in the 12-and-under division.
All Tomassetti did was place third out of 49 players, who came from Indiana, Florida, Georgia and other states. He won four 9-ball matches before losing to the eventual champion in the semifinals.
“I was nervous,” Tomassetti said. “I felt like I was going to lose the first match, but I kept on winning.”
Tomassetti, who already knows a lot about winning, had some things stacked against him in the age-group format. Most of his competitors were older, stronger and bigger. He has to use a bridge – a stick with a frame at the end that is used to support a cue for a shot that is difficult to reach – more often than most of his competitors.
“He uses it quite often for shots that are far away,” says Mary Tomassetti, Luca’s mother. “That’s one of his problems right now. And older kids are stronger, which usually means they break a rack harder. But Luca makes up for those things by looking at every shot. He’s so serious when he plays. You can see that he’s thinking where every ball is going to be on the table three shots after his next one.”
What makes Tomassetti’s performance in New Jersey especially remarkable is that he’s been playing pool for only about a year. His father, Jim Tomassetti, who has played for many years, decided to let Luca tag along one day while he shot pool, just to see how the youngster would take to the game.
“He came back and said Luca liked it right away, and that he naturally has it,” Mary Tomassetti recalled.
The “it” is the ability to see shots before they happen. Any good pool player not only has to know all the angles, he also has to see what future shots will be set up by the next shot.
“I like this better than other sports because there is more to it,” Luca Tomassetti said. “You have to learn all the positions, angles and caroms. I think about three shots ahead.”
That kind of thinking has helped Tomassetti win tournaments in the Pittsburgh area that have included adults. “I won one with about 30 adults about five months ago,” he said.
Tomassetti plays regularly at South Hills Golden Cue under the tutelage of his coach, Leo Fascetti. At the Super Billiards Expo, several of the professional players in attendance took time to teach Tomassetti how to play three-cushion billiards, which is considered the most difficult of the pool games.
“My favorite game is 9-ball. But I like billiards, too. There are no pockets in that game, which means you can’t scratch,” Tomassetti said with a youthful laugh.