The following interview is with athlete of Elite and Metro Pool clubs B.Narantuya. She eased into the quarterfinals of the 2022 World Amateur Snooker Championship, which was held in Doha, Qatar between March 1 and 15. However, she was one win short of getting into the semifinals.
B.Narantuya managed to redeem herself by claiming a bronze medal and a trophy at the Asian Billiards Championship, turning a new page in the history of Mongolian billiards.
You successfully took part in the World Amateur Snooker Championship in Doha, Qatar — even got marked as a “dark horse” and surprised some of the world’s best players with your skills. What were your biggest highlights and achievements during the tournament?
I have just participated in the World and Asian Championships for the first time. I have won the National Snooker Championships 10 times and the Pool and Cup Championships nine times each. In the past, our athletes didn’t participate in the World Championships in Europe due to financial issues. I spent 8 million MNT to take part in the competitions in Doha. This is equivalent to the cost of participating in four competitions in China. This time, I gathered my courage to compete against the best players in the world and test my skills. I arrived there on the day of the competition, so I didn’t have a chance to get acquainted with the game environment or study my opponents. I competed with the best players in Group A. In the first match of the tournament, I played against a German athlete and whoever won twice would have continued the tournament. I thought, “I have to win now,” after taking my first loss and I did my best to beat her. Following the match, I heard people whispering, “Which country is this athlete from? Who taught her to play billiards so well?” Then, I found out that I had outclassed a World silver medalist after the match. At the end of the game, TV reporters gathered to interview me. They asked, “I’ve never seen you compete in the World Cup before. Why doesn’t such a good Mongolian athlete participate in the Asian and World Championships?” In the next game, I competed against a World champion from Thailand. I beat her in the first round but then, I made a mistake and flunked out.
At the Asian Championships, you were also matched with experienced players, right?
Yes, when I studied the athletes in my group, I realized that my opponents were very experienced and highly skilled. It was arduous to reach the finals without losing in my group, but I was qualified for the quarterfinals at both the World and Asian Championships. Due to the time difference, I lost to a Thai athlete at the World Cup. I noticed from her performance that the Thais have developed billiards as a national sport.
Did you think you’d win a medal?
India is the birthplace of billiards. Since the sport was first developed there, Indian athletes compete fiercely. I played against an Indian athlete for a bronze medal at the Asian Championships. At the time, I had no choice but to play confidently. The people there probably didn’t expect me to take the victory. Even though my opponent was younger than me, she had a lot of experience.
You competed without knowing what kind of players your rivals were. Do you think that helped your matches?
Every match of these two big tournaments was difficult for me. After playing against the German player at the World Championships, I thought a lot about why I chose to play billiards. When I went there and participated in these big competitions, I got discouraged but I encouraged myself and focused on the game, thinking, “I can’t give up so easily and lose. I just have to do my best.” Therefore, I “attacked” with confidence to beat my opponents. If I hadn’t exercised mental control at that time, I wouldn’t have won a medal at the Asian Championships. I don’t always compete in snooker tournaments. I’ve played a lot of pool games in China before, so I relied on that experience. I realized that I would have been even more successful if I hadn’t missed out on foreign competitions. I think I successfully participated in my first Asian and World Championships. I think that the bronze medal I won at the Asian Championships paved the way for Mongolian athletes to compete in the future.
Young players are becoming more successful in the sport of billiards. In particular, Pakistan’s 16-year-old player Ahsan Ramzan has won the World Snooker Championship, right?
In this competition, young athletes played strongly. Ahsan Ramzan’s skills have shocked audiences around the world. The Belgian player, who won the women’s World title for the eighth time, is now 38 years old. I didn’t play with her because I was in another group. The second place winner is a 24-year-old Thai athlete. If I had beaten her, I would have played for a gold medal.
I was in the spotlight until the end of the competition. I defeated a Hong Kong athlete in the quarterfinals of the Asian Championships. She is well-known in the country and is ranked high. During the medal ceremony, a Thai coach told me, “You have the potential to become a world champion by fixing your small errors. I am impressed by your mentality and courage. No matter how well you play, if you don’t have the courage, you can’t succeed. Next year, there will be an indoor sports festival in our country. You should come and participate.” After beating three Indian athletes, the country’s coach said, “Billiards was developed in India, but a Mongolian player has defeated my athletes.” The president of the Iranian Billiards Association also made some offers to me.
What was your strategy for beating your opponents?
Billiards is a mental game. In the last major tournaments, I tried to attack them as best as I could. I played to score more points. It seemed to me that my opponents began to fear me and probably thought I was a “good” player. I took them down fairly. But I made mistakes. I saw my flaws when I competed against experienced athletes. In the finals, the Thai athlete had a winning tactic that didn’t give me a chance. I realized that I would lose if I made a mistake. Players from other countries didn’t know me or how I played because they had never seen me before. Some of the athletes I competed with didn’t study me at all, so I gained a victory. If I take part in bigger competitions again, they will probably have monitored my games. I saw my chance to succeed in the next competition in Doha, which gave me confidence and hope to become a World champion.
You used to play chess and checkers. What attracted you to billiards? Why did you choose this career path?
I first started playing billiards in 2006 when I was 12 years old. After winning a bronze medal in my first competition, I thought it was the biggest award I had ever received in sports. I used to play a lot with my dad and friends at a billiard club near my home. As I watched them play, I wanted to play more. When I was a child, mostly men played billiards, so the billiards environment was reminiscent of a gambling place with a lot of cigarette smoke. My family understood and supported my desire to learn billiards. As a child, I learned to play chess and checkers by watching my grandfather and father play. I’m more interested in checkers as it helps me calculate correctly in billiards. My maternal grandfather was a state hunter and used to shoot. My uncle D.Galbadrakh is an archer. I think I inherited my talent from my mother’s side. My father’s siblings tell me, “B.Narantuya was born to be a billiards player.” It is said that it takes 1 percent talent and 99 percent hard work to be considered a genius. I worked hard to develop my little bit of talent and succeed.
Some people say that billiards players play without emotion. Ahsan Ramzan’s actions at the World Championships made me think differently. What’s your position on this?
People think that billiards players don’t show their emotions or express their joy of a victory because of the specifics of the sport or the game rules. Some players who win stand on the billiard table and shout. Winner of the 2022 Doha World Championships Ramzan, for instance, gave a bow, cried and laid on the floor. He seemed to be expressing his gratitude for the game environment and the stage. I am a player of Elite club. Director of the club B.Enkhtuvshin and member T.Purevdorj led us at the competitions in Doha. Our compatriots cheered and encouraged me to win. Our team was wonderful as well.
You have dispelled the misconception that Mongolian female snooker players will never succeed.
People used to think that it would be difficult to succeed in billiards for both Mongolian men and women. But those who love this sport continued to believe that we would one day succeed. Compared to before, many young people in Mongolia have competed with foreigners. Some male players told me, “You can’t win me. If we play, I’ll triumph.” When I play with people with that attitude, I show them how good I am. People think that billiards is easy to learn at a glance. To play at the level of a professional athlete, you need strong techniques, skills, intuition, intelligence, mentality and calculations. That’s why billiards is called “chess on table”. Foreigners think that Mongolians are lagging behind compared to the world development. But when we participated in a competition in China, we were asked, “Did you develop billiards? Mongolians live and work in the countryside by herding livestock, right?” They were shocked when we invited them to Mongolia to take part in a billiards tournament and demonstrated our skills to them.
You work as a sales manager. How do you balance your work and training?
I work as a sales manager at Bayasakh Construction LLC. In addition to my colleagues, there are many people who have supported and helped me participate in competitions abroad. After graduating from university, I decided to focus on training for a while and use the prize money for myself. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to get by with just the prize money so I had to work. At the time, I thought, “If I continue working, I will stray away from billiards and spend the rest of my life working. I need money in my life but I want to succeed,” and quit my job. During the quarantine, I had no opportunity to train, so I accepted Bayasakh Construction LLC’s job offer and started working as a sales manager.
You won the Shine Pool Open tournament last week. How many gold medals have you won in billiards?
Last week, I won my 51st gold medal from the Shine Pool Open tournament. I have many medals, but I don’t count them all. There are a few bronze medals among them. I was very happy to win my first gold medal at the 2012 National Championships. It is difficult to practice different types of billiard games at the same time. In other words, it is not easy to succeed without learning the techniques of both. I am trying to contribute to the development of billiards as a sport in Mongolia and achieve my goals. There is no age limit for this sport. The young and old can form a good friendship through this sport.