At the Aeon Mall Sen Sok, where the SEA Games billiards competition is held, the affable Reyes has been a hit with volunteers and even athletes from other countries, who would watch him train and request for wefies.
Singapore’s former world No. 1 pool player Aloysius Yapp said: “He definitely redefined the way everybody plays the game. He does so many shots that not many can see. I am always able to learn things I’ve never seen before when he plays. I’m sure that because of him, the whole world standard was raised.”
Reyes, however, would have you believe that age has caught up and the magic has disappeared.
In 2019, he told Inquirer.net: “I can’t hit the masse shot anymore. I can’t use my left anymore. The old magic won’t work anymore.”
Or maybe this is just the cue for him to pull out more tricks out of the bag.
With a twinkle in his eye, Reyes told ST: “I still love playing, and I still enjoy putting the Philippines on the map as much as before.”
PHNOM PENH – Wispy-haired and hunched over, Efren Reyes looks like your typical coffeeshop uncle with his jersey tucked into baggy jeans and sports shoes paired with white socks.
But give this 68-year-old Filipino a cue and he is able to turn it into a wand and make the balls do his bidding at the pool table.
Reyes is known as “The Magician” for his ability to pot balls in ways few can imagine, and it is amazing how he continues to stay relevant – and on the podium – across so many disciplines since the sport was included in the SEA Games programme in 1987.
In between, he was 9-ball and 8-ball world champion in 1999 and 2004 respectively. In January 2023, the pool wizard finished third out of over 400 participants in the one-pocket tournament of the Derby City Classic in Indiana, United States.
Flashing a toothy grin, he told the Straits Times he does not remember how many SEA Games he has competed in – the records show he has won six gold, three silver and 11 bronze medals at 10 previous editions in English billiards, snooker, carom, pool, and rotation.
But he does know which is his favourite game. Without batting an eyelid, Reyes said: “Rotation – 15 balls, strike the lowest-numbered ball first and pot the balls for points. It’s good practice for cue ball positioning and concentration.
“One pocket is also a tactical game that I like, but 9-ball is very easy because everybody can make a run out.”
In Cambodia, however, he will compete in only the men’s 3-cushions carom singles.
Reyes laughed as he added: “I started playing carom only because nobody wanted to play pool with me from 1976 to 1981, so I quit pool during that period.”
This brings to mind the legendary tale where he adopted the name of his best friend Cesar Morales to dominate players at the Red’s Open 9-Ball Tournament in Houston, Texas in 1985, when he beat every opponent for 21 days and took home US$81,000 (S$107,300).
Born in the central Luzon province of Pampanga, Reyes’ ingenuity was actually honed from the age of five after he moved to Manila to live with his uncle, who owned a pool saloon.
There, he cleaned the balls, slept on the tables, learnt from the errors patrons made and played while standing on Coca-cola crates.
Reyes was just nine when he started to play for money, and he dropped out of high school to become a full-time hustler. In a notebook, he had a hitlist of the best players in the world, and he went on to beat them all.
On top of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money which he used to put his three children through school, he won accolades and admiration, and endorsed brands like McDonald’s and San Miguel Beer. In 2006, he was awarded the Philippines Legion of Honor.