Straight Shooting with "The Hit Man": Thorsten Hohmann on Changing The Face of His Game

Once in a generation, there emerges a sportsman who seems to change the face of his sport. Soccer: Péle; Boxing: Muhammad Ali; Tennis: Boris Becker; Golf: Tiger Woods; Pool......

Thorsten Hohmann.

The young German and Florida-resident has blazed a trail through the world of professional pool for years, clinching just about every title there is to be had along the way - including the 2003 World Nine-ball Championship - and rising to dominance as the biggest purse winner in billiards history. Thorsten's precise style of play and "steely demeanor" at tournaments has earned him the unofficial title of "The Hitman", while front-page magazine features and honors such as the 2005 "Best Dressed Player" award have afforded him the sort of celebrity and glamour usually reserved for top soccer players or stars of the silver screen!

One could easily be forgiven for feeling somewhat intimidated facing a star possessed of such accolades - but "The Hitman" is an incredibly down-to-earth guy, and when he sat down with Notes On The Road to discuss varying facets of his game and life as a top-flight professional sportsman, he did so with refreshing honesty, polished insight and intelligence.....and also a healthy dose of humor!

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Notes: One aspect of your career Notes has been particularly struck by is the level of success you have achieved in so many different forms of the game: Nine-ball, Eight-ball, Straight Pool. Are there obvious differences between them, and what kind of focus and discipline is needed in order to take them all to such a high level?

Well, all games require a wooden stick and some plastic balls that you want to put in six pockets........but the rules of each game require different techniques and different tactics. In straight pool you need mental endurance, rhythm, experience, thinking ahead and a certain way of playing position. Nine-ball is about the break, about decisions and mastering tough shots and good safety play. Eight-ball is more about strategy......something in between Eight-ball and Nine-ball. Fortunately, they are all played in Germany in leagues and tournaments, and so I grew up learning all of them. I especially fell in love with straight pool, my favorite game.

Notes: You have a reputation for changing the face of pool as a sport, in that you devote a lot of time to keeping yourself physically fit. Do you feel that being in shape is equally as important to your work as it is to professionals in other sports?

Pool in general doesn't require an extraordinary level of strength or speed. But if you are in shape your body delivers more oxygen to your brain, which helps with concentration. Sometimes you might have to play five or six games a day, the most important matches often towards the end, and if you are in shape you don't get tired. Most pool players have a muscular imbalance due to constantly repeating the same position on each shot over and over. Prevention by stretching, cardiovascular work and muscle building avoids problems later on.

And also, pool is a game of the mind: If you look good, you feel good. And if you feel good, you play good!

Notes: Most tennis players and soccer players, for example, retire in their early 30s, for obvious physical reasons. Are there aspects to pool that become more demanding as time goes on, and what is a typical career span for a professional on the highest level?

Look at Efren Reyes, one of the greatest players of all time. He won the biggest tournament in the history of the sport when he was 50! But recent results have shown that champions are getting younger and younger. The best example of this is Wu Chia Ching who was 16 when he won the World Professional Championship. There is more knowledge about the game and better equipment than twenty years ago, and kids learn the game faster. In general, the 'old masters' say that pool players reach their peak when they are 35......that experience gained through competing over the years also plays a major role in competitive pool.

Notes: Take us back to your victory in the World Nine-Ball Championships in 2003. Can you relive some of the critical moments in the tournament for us? What goes through the mind of "The Hitman" in those situations?

I was an 1000/1 outsider before the event! In the group stages I felt like nobody could beat me....I never missed a shot....and my confidence kept building right through to the final stage.

The critical moment came when I played Francisco Bustamante from the Philippines in the quarterfinal. He used to live in Germany and I knew he respected me a lot, but he was soon beating me 10:5 in a race to 11. My girlfriend and best friend arrived from Germany just at that moment, and somehow that helped me and I was able to focus on each shot individually. He still had chances, but the pressure kept building up on him. At 10:10 he missed an easy 5-Ball, and I put away the game and went through to the semi-final!

I was super-focused in both the semi-final and the final. I had nothing to lose and was just enjoying every moment of it!

Notes: Do you have any techniques/routines that you use to deal with the pressures of a tournament spread out over several days? What helps you to stay in-the-moment and focused at the table at all times?

I am still figuring that out! Good preparation definitely helps. Your fundamentals have to be solid and you need to be in 'competition mode'. It helps before major events to participate in smaller warm-up tournaments to get in the groove. Pool is about experience.....every time you face a new situation (new country, new fans, new equipment, new format, new opponent), it can be a challenge. As you get older you have been in most situations and have learned how to deal with them. When you are young, you tend to rush into shots, especially in critical moments. With age and experience, you learn when to take your time and re-focus.

Notes: How do you manage to maintain that 'killer instinct' essential for tournament play when you are playing against a close friend or someone you know well? Have you ever had to play a best mate on the other side of the table and how do you move past that?

That is a good question.....that very issue probably cost me the World Junior Championship title in 1996. I was the best player in the field, but when I had to play one of my best friends in Pool, my roommate Christian Götemann, something blocked me inside. I made silly mistakes and was defeated. I won bronze, he won gold.

Over the following years I learned how to concentrate purely on my game and shut out any of those external distractions, but I can't say I've ever really had a special routine or used visualization techniques, for example. Some you win, some you lose.....

Notes: What was your introduction to the game? At what age did you start to play, and how soon were you playing competitively?

I started going to the local pool room with my father when I was around nine years old at first. When I was twelve, a classmate found out that there was a private pool club in town where you simply paid a monthly fee and could play as much as you wanted to.......exactly the same system as is used with every organized sport in Germany. From that first day in April 1992 I never looked back. I was in love with pool, and the club became my new home. Soon I started to play in small, fun tournaments at the club, and also as part of a regional level team in junior leagues and events all over the state.

Notes: Who were your early role models in the sport?

At first there were the local top players of course. But when I learned more about the game, from reading pool newspapers and watching pool on TV, I discovered four players who were already superstars in Europe and dominating the scene - Ralf Souquet, Oliver Ortmann, Thomas Engert and Francisco Bustamante. Over the years I developed a friendship with most of them.

Ralf Souquet is still my idol. He takes the game very seriously, continually puts himself on the line by playing every major event around the globe, and still wins world titles very consistently.

Notes: What advice would you give to any talented young players hoping to get onto the professional circuit?

Finish school first.....if you have a job, even better.

Pool requires an enormous amount of practice. It usually takes four hours a day of practice for ten years to reach world championship level, and your environment plays a major part in the process. Find good supportive people, good teachers and play pool a lot - alone and also with others. The more systematically you work on your game, the faster you will advance. Look for competition and learn from the masters, imitating their styles and then eventually creating your own.

Also, clips on YouTube, videos and checking out live events will all help!

Notes: How do you like to spend your time when you're not traveling the world competing?

I wish I could be in three different countries at the same time! I always want to spend time with friends everywhere and also family. I enjoy just being at home, watching movies and playing around with my apple gadgets!

I also like going to the gym, running, diving, music....and trying new stuff!

Notes: Do you have any favorite places to eat or hang out in NYC from the years you lived there?

I love the good food in New York. I have dined in high-end restaurants such as "One if by Land - Two if by Sea" or "Daniel" and also in places like "Joe Shanghai" in China town for $2 dumplings. I like the variety of different food the city has to offer......I had my best German "Schweinehaxe" in NYC!!