When he was 12, Jason Twist's parents bought a seaside hotel which had a pool table. To earn a little cash, the boy started challenging holidaymakers to a game.
It never occurred to him that what started as a way of raising extra pocket money in the northern English resort would turn him into the "Tornado," one of the world's most successful professional pool players.
Twenty-three years later, Twist has collected some of the sport's most prestigious trophies and is confident about his chances of defending his title at this week's world pool championship in his hometown.
"I'm playing well, I'm feeling well, I'm on good form," Twist said. "But there are some really good players in the tournament."
Twist is one of only two players to have won the world title twice, in 2000 and last year. But in 2001 he lost in the early rounds and watched his England team mate Mick "Machinegun" Hill snap up the trophy.
Twist, who is also European champion, has no plans to go home without the prize this time. He is ready to face the nearly 130 title hopefuls at the 11th world championship, which was to begin yesterday.
British players dominate the top ranks of professional English pool, a sport once seen as a boozy British pub pastime, Twist says. But international competitors are catching up.
George Harwood, chairman of the English Pool Association and the tournament's organizer, said: "Players from outside the UK are now catching up very quickly. English pool is even played in Malaysia and China."
English pool differs from the better-known games of snooker and American pool in that players pot red and yellow balls on a 2.1m table. American pool players hit numbered balls into the holes of bigger tables while snooker tables are larger still, at some 3.6m long.
Top players such as Twist can earn a living playing pool though wages are far below those in sports such as soccer. The winner in Blackpool when the tournament ends on May 31 will take home a cheque for ?12,000 (US$19,450).
"You never know from one competition to the next," said Twist. "If you get beaten in the first round, you've got beans on toast. If you win the tournament you can have a steak."
Organizer Harwood said pool was not just for experts.
"If you are good you can compete with the best in the world. But if you are not good at it, you can still have a lot of fun."
Some 1.4 million people played pool in Britain, mainly in pubs and pool clubs, Harwood said.
He is committed to turning more pub players into serious sportsmen. Harwood helped to simplify the game's rules in 1993 to attract more players. Now he is working hard to encourage more teenagers to follow in Twist's footsteps and take their pool talent seriously.
If Twist wins this month's title he has a good chance of taking one of five places on a tour to Australia in November. But that could be hard.
"Just about everybody who's anybody in the world will be there," Harwood said.