by Keith Loria
Just about everyone has had their share of memorable first dates in their life. Gather with any group of friends and bring the subject up, and you’re sure to create a conversation full of laughs and tears as the memories and “horror stories” are conjured up.
When Rachael Abbink was 18, she went on a first date that changed her life forever. Rather than taking her to a nice dinner or spring for a show, her date decided to take her to play pool. Looking back a decade later, the date himself isn’t very memorable, but what happened that night is. Rachael fell in love. Too bad for the guy in question that it wasn’t with him.
“I fell in love with the game, not the boy,” Abbink laughs today. “That was the first time that I ever picked up a cue stick, and it was just something that I knew that I wanted to continue to do.”
While most women on the tour today began playing much younger, Abbink never played as a child growing up in Kingston, Ontario, and didn’t even start playing competitively until she was 21, although she did play for fun whenever she had the chance. Although even fun games meant being ultra-competitive for the then-18-year-old.
“My dad was any Olympic swim coach and he made me swim for 10 years, so he kind of disciplined me towards sports and being conditioned and competitive in everything that I do,” she said. “I was graduating high school, and I broke my leg in a car accident and broke both bones in my leg, and I wasn’t allowed to play any sports. At the time I was playing basketball, volleyball, rugby—every sport in high school. That’s when I started playing more pool.”
Since she could play on her crutches and didn’t have any other sports interfering with her learning process, Abbink’s love affair with pool intensified over the next few years. She could play in a wheel chair, while she was going through therapy and even when she had her cast on.
The car accident also provided Abbink with some insurance money, and the cash, combined with her competitive drive, led her to learn about the gambling scene around town.
The guy who taught her the most about competitive pool in Kingston, where she was from, was a gambler all his life and opened her eyes up to a world she knew virtually nothing about.
“He inspired me and I used to drive him and he won $3,300 one night and threw me $500 just for driving him, and I got to stay up and watch pool all night long, so yeah, this was something I was interested in,” she said. “There is this mysterious world behind the scenes of pool, and I loved it. I was working full time at McDonald’s making pathetic money—maybe $200 a week—and I fell in love with the easy money and the world he showed me.”
As far as doing the hustler thing, Abbink admits that she had her share of “pretend” moments where she didn’t play as well as she could, but it wasn’t in an effort to hurt someone and swindle their money away. It was more of a way of inflating the ego of some jerk hanging around the bar that night.
“I went though those years when I pretended, but it was all for fun for me. I wasn’t trying to hurt someone by taking their money. It was just fun for me back then and it was a way of keeping score, with cash,” she said. “It was fun to go in the bar and find the biggest egotistical male and bring his ego back down to my world.”
The most money she ever played for in one night—“$50,000, but I only had $3,000 on the line.” Incidentally, she won that match yet only saw $100 tips from two other betters.
The man who taught her to gamble also taught her about the game and introduced her to some billiard magazines. It was by reading these publications that she learned of the existence of the Ontario Woman’s Pool Tour.
“I saw all the girls in the pictures, and I wanted to be like them,” Abbink said. “I joined up and played mostly the handicapped tour around Toronto. I played a few and saw my handicap go from a four to a nine plus one in a year, and I was winning all these events. I won that tour my first year and was like, ‘Wow, I’ve only been playing a couple of years, I must have a knack or some type of talent for this.’ I went for it and got it.”
Her competitive drive kicked in again, and she soon became addicted to learning all she could about pool and challenging herself more and more at the money matches. She said so long to the world of gambling and hello to the top women’s tournaments.
“It was really fun and the women were great competition and so nice,” she said about her early days of competition. “I knew I had a lot to learn.”
She quickly made a name for herself in Canada and became one of the top players in the country. She still remembers her first big win at an OPT tournament.
“I’ll never forget. The feeling of winning my first OPT tournament was amazing because I wasn’t expecting to win. It was a little luck and a little guts.”
With her combination of good luck, great skill, and fearlessness, Abbink was racking up win after win. Of course, Abbink eventually started playing for the bigger money in tournaments around America, and people took notice of her skills rather quickly.
“The reason for her success is that she travels to different tournament and challenges everyone. This experience makes her game stronger and fear no one. That is why we call her ‘The Road Warrior,’” said Carolina Fernandez of the Canadian Women’s Pool Tour. “She brings in confidence and class in the women’s pool sport. There are many Canadian pool players, but Rachael Abbink is a very respectable player, and we are very proud of her.”
When Abbink enters a pool hall, people usually take notice, and this is before she ever takes out a pool cue. She turns lots of heads with a look that is more suited for a Maxim Magazine than a pool publication. She’s blonde, spunky, and is one of the most beautiful women on the Pool Tour.
“Pool needs some sex appeal to it, and Rachael adds a lot of sex appeal to the game,” said Blair Thein, president of Team Belief Promotions. “Away from the pool table she has a lot of energy and is sweet and fun. She’s going to be one of the biggest superstars that pool has seen in a long time.”
Abbink admits that her look in a tournament matters to her, and she thinks hard about the clothes she’s going to wear. She likes to play with her hair down and for luck, she changes socks before each match. “You want to look professional, and I like to have some sexiness to it,” she said. “It has to be classy, elegant, and professional, though. Sometimes sporty as well. I’m sponsored by Double the Bet clothing line, and marketing is half the battle when it comes to financing your career.”
She’s even designing some of her own clothes for the line. As you can see, she has more than pool as a talent.
It’s her pool talent that Thein is staking a lot on, however. He is planning two reality shows that will feature the pretty pool player from Kingston in the center of both shows.
“Pool is starving for a reality show, and Rachael is involved in both of my shows. ‘Pool, Poker, and Pain’ is a reality show for sixteen fighting pool players, and she is the spokesperson. Then I will put six girls on a ‘Hustle Bus’ and they will be playing high-stakes nine-ball, and since Rachael is the biggest woman gambler in the world, she will be the team captain.”
The idea of living on a bus for awhile to film the reality show is one that appeals to Abbink. So much in fact, that she is planning on buying an RV soon so she has a place to call her own.
With her dad living in London, Ontario, and her mom in Kingston, Abbink has a room in both houses, but because of all her traveling form pool tournament to pool tournament, the Hotel 6 is more of a home to her.
“I plan on buying an RV to move in because it’s the only way I could have a home and still be able to cook,” she said. “I’m getting very mad that I can’t cook. I have never driven one and I’m sure it will be an adventure trying to figure out all the generators and how to dump sewage and all the fun stuff. But it’s something I want to do.”
Of course, most RVs don’t really have room for a pool table, so practicing at home may be a little tough.
“I’ve thought of that, and with the way they are made today, you can put them on hydraulics and get a convertible top and maybe it’s possible,” she joked. “As far as practicing, I would just go from pool hall to pool hall.”
Watching her in tournaments, you wouldn’t think she needs much practice, but Abbink admits that she still has a lot to learn about competitive pool, especially because of all the differences to her days as a gambler.
“I’m having some trouble transitioning as tournaments are a much different style of play,” she said. “On the pro tour you play on new cloth with brand new balls. I’m used to burgers and beers all over the tables. Plus, if you don’t win, you don’t get to play any more pool that day and that adds pressure. When you gamble, if you lose, you can just double the bet or find another opponent. There’s always a way to change the match so you can keep playing. With the pool tournament, you travel so far and spend that money and you have two chances and that’s it. If you don’t cut it, you don’t get to play any more pool.”
Currently ranked in the top 40 in the Woman’s Professional Billiard Association (WPBA), Abbink looks up to many of the woman who head the list in front of her.
“I’m inspired by Jeanette Lee and Vivian [Villarreal] because they try to make the game more exciting. It should be entertaining as well as a sport. That’s how you generate fans,” she said. “Vivian does a great job interacting with the crowd. Jeanette is a marketing genius and is always good with fans. I look up to them. Also Allison Fisher, her mechanics and fundamentals are perfect. They inspire everyone and make it fun.”
Abbink thinks that her gambling days have helped her take more chances than some of the other women on the tour, and that is one of the keys to her success.
“You need courage and having no fear,” she said. “That’s what makes for a really good gambler. Someone who is not thinking of the money, or the hard hours of work. You have to not care about the result and just go for it. Don’t care if you lose money or are embarrassed.”
Speaking of embarrassments, like any pool player, Abbink has had her share on the table. The most…