Bumper pool 'madness' takes off at Duke
Every Friday afternoon, the continuous clanking of billiard balls can be heard echoing down an empty hallway in the Kilgo quadrangle.
The sound, combined with amplified EDM, cheering and laughter, comes from the room of Tyler Glass, a junior and a resident assistant in Kilgo. Glass furnished his single room this year with a 1979 Brunswick bumper pool table that has been in his family for multiple generations. The octagonal version of pool pits two competitors on opposite sides of the table to navigate each of their five balls around several wooden pegs and into a single hole, usually bumping off the walls or pegs to reach the destination.
At first, the cue ball game tucked away in the RA’s room garnered attention and gameplay only within Glass’ friend groups from Project WILD or former Pegram residents. Early this academic year, the group started the tradition of holding Bump Fridays and organized several small tournaments among themselves, including the 2014 World Championships of Bumper Pool, Pizza Bump Rodeo and the Larry Moneta Invitational.
But interest soon spread through various networks throughout the year to reach more people. This came to a head when Glass and his friends organized a 128-person tournament—Bump Madness, their largest tournament to date—this semester, which is currently being played out over the course of several weeks.
“That’s been a really nice mesh of having new people learn about the game through this big tournament that we wanted to hold,” Glass said.
Glass and his friends recently chartered an official student club dedicated to playing and spreading knowledge of and interest in bumper pool. The group, Duke University Bumper Pool or “Le Bump,” is in the process of securing funding to set up a bumper pool table in a public space at Duke where they would be able to hold larger tournaments.
But for the time being, the culture of the group centers on fostering camaraderie and unwinding in a small setting through a love of the game.
“A big part of the bumper pool scene is just hanging out in Tyler’s room and eating pizza and playing bumper pool and sharing in friendships,” said junior Will Victor, the club secretary and “unofficial mathematician.”
Bumper pool bracketology
Since the beginning of the year, incorporating a mathematical component to the game of bumper pool has been a major part of the group's development.
Junior Kaighn Kevlin, vice president of Le Bump, said they started recording every game played in a spreadsheet to keep records, but soon began to think about creating rankings. Kevlin said he attempted to create his own systems, which were “pretty bad,” but after speaking with his online game-playing brother he decided to try the Elo system, which is also used for chess ratings.
“It’s pretty simple math, but the idea is if you beat someone that’s really good, you’ll go up a lot," he said. "If you lose to someone really bad, you won’t go up a lot. So the idea is that everyone reaches a true rating and things separate out."
Junior Mehul Mehta, who has worked with NFL and NBA rankings in the past, acts as the group's statistician. He has used his experience to apply a similar rankings system and update standings after every game played. Mehta ran a simulation of the March tournament to give expected outcomes for all 128 players and provides updated simulations to the event’s Facebook page following each round.
“[We have] lots of people interested in analytics stuff,” Mehta said. “We liked [Elo] because we felt like it was dynamic.”
The 128-person March bracket was organized into 16 pods of eight people to streamline gameplay in the single-elimination tournament. As of Thursday, 82 games had been played in the tournament, and the previous Friday alone saw 140 general games that began at 10 a.m. and lasted until 1 a.m. Saturday.
Legends and lore
After several months of continual play, the bumper pool community has seen the outgrowth of various traditions and side projects.
“The goal was to be as over the top as possible and to make it as ridiculous and as fun and as outrageous as we could,” Victor said. “Part of the fun of bumper pool is getting super excited about something that maybe isn’t super important.”
The hype surrounding gameplay started with the adoption of the Elo rankings, Victor said, adding that players continued to try to one-up each other's additions to the game by creating a Wikia page, writing player profiles and eventually making a video to spread interest in the tournament.
But in addition to the jocular offshoots of the bumper pool craze, the players take the sport seriously and have developed a slew of strategies, moves and terminology to describe the gameplay among themselves and for the benefit of newcomers.
“One major part of strategy is identifying particular strategic moves,” Victor said. “Once [moves] have a name associated with them, more players start using them.”
Glass said that strategy has evolved throughout the year, with players becoming more aggressive in making difficult moves instead of focusing on playing defensively and limiting their adversaries' opportunities. He calls this “New Age” bumper pool, one of many terminologies that have come out of the constant game play.
“It’s pretty young, so people figured out a lot of the strategy recently,” said sophomore George Smith.
Other terms listed on the group’s Wikia include strategies such as the "wide angle bump"—a shot taken off the center peg from a side angle—and “pulling a Katsis,” which originates from an instance that junior Alex Katsis failed to advance in a tournament after shooting multiple balls that were bounced back out of the pocket.
Hoisted on Glass’ wall is also a small broom intended to be used tauntingly in the event that one player “sweeps”—or shuts out—his or her opponent.
The winner of the tournament has yet to be named, and he or she will win a miniature replica NCAA tournament trophy painted with bumper pool imagery. But after the tournament concludes, fans of the game have little doubt that the excitement will carry on.“It’s such an easy place to congregate… [with] a constant chill atmosphere,” said senior Emma Arata. “It’s a real community.”