HARVARD -- Every day, 14-year-old Michelle Jiang plays pool against her father, Lin, in a competition not to do the dishes.

When she first started playing pool against him nearly two years ago, he could beat her.

But now the game is "heavily handicapped," Lin said, so he switched up the routine.

If he won any one of five games, then he won the whole game. Now, he wins if he takes two of seven games, but he automatically wins if he shoots in the nine ball.

It's the only way Michelle's father can keep up with her -- the rising Bromfield ninth-grader is the state's Junior nine-ball champion in the 14 and Under Division of the New England USA Pool League.

She also took second for nine-ball in the 14 and under girls division in this year's Junior National Championships, hosted by the Billiard Education Foundation.

That win gave her entry to a juniors world championship in Shanghai, where the stakes will be higher than doing the dishes.

In nine-ball, two players shoot in the balls in numerical order, but the player who takes the nine ball at any given time without fouling wins the game.

Michelle practices every day, squeezing in two hours during the school year and getting a lot of practice during the summer. After she found her coach, Roy Pastor, she joined his youth and masters leagues, practicing at Billiard's Café in Ayer every week.


Advertisement

Pastor said Michelle has had a phenomenal amount of progression, placing seventh for her age group in her first national tournament last year after playing only six months.

"She has very good focus and concentration, which is not all that common with the younger players," he said.

Michelle has both natural ability and a good work ethic, he said.

"A lot of kids have talent but don't work, or they work and they need to work harder than some of the others," he said.

"But Michelle has a good combination of talent and work ethic."

For Michelle, whose favorite subject is math, the easiest part of the game is the geometry of it all. She enjoys the sport because of its mathematical aspect.

"You have to calculate the angle, where the ball is going to go. It's kind of math-y, and it doesn't require a lot of physical potential -- I have none of that," she said with a laugh.

Before moving to Harvard nearly four years ago, the Liang family coincidentally lived in Shanghai. In November, Michelle will be returning to her home city to compete against the world's top young pool players.

"I'm excited but I'm kind of nervous," she said. "All the people there are the best from around the world."

Michelle does remain focused throughout her game -- after setting a game of nine-ball at the Billiard's Café on a Monday afternoon, she knocks out everything in a matter of minutes.

"I try to ignore everyone else, block that out, and try to calm myself down," she said, "and basically read the table, see what I should do, and then I shoot."

Michelle said she doesn't like playing against people she knows she can beat, especially in a game of nine-ball.

"What if I miss the nine, and then leave super-easy shots? That's just really scary," she said. "Playing against people who are better than me by a lot isn't that bad, because you know you're going to lose so you might as well try and see what you can learn."

Michelle said she would continue the sport through high school into college, maybe even going pro if she becomes good enough.

With her rate of progression, Pastor said, Michelle has the talent to do so.

"The number of those people that she doesn't have a chance against are getting fewer and fewer, all the time," he said.

Follow Amelia on Twitter and Tout @AmeliaPakHarvey.