Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Coffee with the Duchess: A conversation with Allison Fisher at the Derby City Classic

As the winner of 50 major titles, Allison Fisher stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the greatest women athletes of all time. She was the number one player on the women’s tour last year, the number one player in 2006, number one in 2005, number one in 2004 – and, well, you get the idea.

But besides the victories and accolades, Fisher also has gained a reputation for impeccable sportsmanship. She’ll trounce a out-classed player in an open tournament, and then offer a few words of encouragement or advice. And if she gets beat, she’s just as likely to offer a hug as a handshake.

So what does the role model’s role model think about the all the action at Derby City? What does the woman who best exemplifies all that’s classy about pool think about the carousing, the late-night gambling, and all these men behaving ever so badly? I caught up with The Duchess midway through the 2008 Derby City Classic (that American tournament that most embodies pool’s reckless side) and asked her about all manner of things very un-Allison.

RD: So, what do you think about the tournament so far?

Fisher: Having been here my first year, I’ve been very impressed with it. It’s not what I thought it was going to be. It much better than I thought it was going to be and I’ve enjoyed it.

RD: Why do you say it’s better than you thought it would be?

Fisher: Because of the reputation it has had — the gambling and drinking. What people have said about it. It has had a bad rap, I think.

RD: Pool has had this gambling association for it’s entire history. Do you see this as a good thing, or a bad thing or are you indifferent to it?

Fisher: I don’t think it helps it at a time when we’re trying to get corporate sponsorships. We’re trying to bring in companies and bring pool more money. But every movie that has been made about pool has been about hustling and gambling. There hasn’t been a (movie about a) success story where someone comes up through tournaments to become a winner.

And the thing I don’t like about gambling is that a lot of the time it’s about who can stay awake the longest. You might not always be playing the player. He might be taking something to stay awake. I think it can bring along a lot of the wrong clientele.

RD: Pool has been very male dominated. Now all that has changing. You’re obviously evidence of that. But when I was in the action room, I noticed that there was a lot of testosterone in there. It seems like a male kind of thing. Do you have any sense for that?

Fisher: Definitely. Definitely. I don’t have any interest in it. But there are a few women who do like to gamble a little bit. I’m not going to say it’s perfect on our tour. We’re not allowed it our arenas or anywhere near our tournaments.

Maybe in a tournament environment like this, it might be safe. But if you go into a poolroom and there is a lot of action going on you might not be in a safe environment, right? If you win, you might have to be very careful when you leave. You heard these stories from old players. You hear these stories from gamblers. It’s not really an environment for a women to be in, if you have to watch your back.

RD: In any other sport, if you’re caught gambling you can get banned for life, but it’s very different here. It’s very accepted in pool.…

Allison: In England. We have bookies all over the place. You can gamble on sports. …

RD: But soccer players are not supposed to be gambling on soccer games?

Allison: How would anyone know if they are if somebody put some money on for them? How would anybody know? If somebody walks into a bookie and says I want to put such and such on team — you don’t know, do you, where the money comes from.

But there were some players on snooker who … were gambling on matches and they went to jail for it. So, in the sport I came from (the potential implication) was severe. You could be fixing matches. The gambling shops — they set the odds for the matches — and I guess the players had to decide if they were going to make more money if they dump. They were working that, and so they went to jail for it.

RD: You’ve got this action that’s very exciting here at Derby City, but you’ve also got the finest players in the world playing in the tournament. Is the tournament at Derby City something you have enjoyed?

Allison: I really have. You know, I don’t play one-pocket and I don’t play banks. But I did the straight pool. I did a bit there. And I really enjoyed it. It fired me up to do another thing.

RD: Did you try the one one-pocket?

Allison: No, but I’m enthused about practicing some more straight pool and banking and stuff like that – things I’m not great at. It made me enthusiastic to play more. We did a little straight pool challenge and I was real excited about doing it. I’ve played it maybe five times in my life, something like that. But what I’m saying is that from doing that, it makes me enthusiastic. If I put my mind to it, I’d be great for me. I’d learn a lot.

RD: I assume you have not gotten this far in the sport without feeling confident I your abilities. When you came to Derby City this year, did you expect you had a chance of winning it?

Allison: I never look at any (tournament) like that — whether it’s women’s or an open. But I would say that my confidence probably wasn’t where it should be, because it is the beginning of the year and I haven’t played since our nationals, which was a month and half ago. That was another reason I haven’t been interested in coming here before. It’s right after Christmas. It’s a bit early for me. I just got back from England and I wasn’t feeling great. I wouldn’t say I came with the best confidence in the world or the best preparation. That was what has put me off before, because it was right after the New Year.

RD: You say you don’t gamble?

Allison: No.

RD: You haven’t set foot in the action room?

Allison: I think the first day when we were navigating around, I stuck my head in for five minutes.

RD: You don’t plan on sticking your head in again?

Allison: Not really. I’ve been playing a lot and when I haven’t been playing, I have been resting. I think all that stuff goes all through the night and so I haven’t been up through the night. I like a routine. I like to go to bed at a certain time and get up at a certain time. … I like normal hours.

RD: Where to from here?

Allison: We’ll look for some little tournaments, won’t we? Our first ladies tournament is in March. So I bet we’re going play in some other little events in advance. Part of the reason for coming here is to have some match preparation. I know that Karen (Corr) plays a lot of events during the year besides the WPBA tour, and I (also) think I want to start improving my game by playing some more matches. You’ll see me around.