In Tucson I’ve got a friend who is a fan of billiards. Regular billiards, sure, but he really likes unusual billiards, like Bumper Pool and Filipino Pool. The bar he manages has both. But there’s one billiard game that he has only been able to admire from afar: Novuss.
A national sport in Latvia, Novuss was apparently invented as a billiards game for ships (in Russian, Novuss is sometimes known as “sea billiards”). Because it uses puck-like pieces instead of spheres, the pieces won’t roll around when there is rough water.
My friend asked me to check out the Novuss situation in Russia, and the wonders of the Internet brought me to Nadezhda, president of the Moscow Novuss Federation. She kindly agreed to meet me, sell me some game pieces, and take me to the Novuss club. On the way there she told me about her history with the game.
She’s played for years and has been a champion several times over. She even met her husband playing Novuss! They both now live in Riga, Latvia, but she comes back to visit quite frequently. Her daughter and son play as well.
The club meets three times a week at the Recreation and Sport Center of the Khamovniki neighborhood, tucked into an obscure corner of a residential area. Sergei Ivanovich, the Center’s administrator, learned how to play Novuss when he worked at the rocket-parts factory. Someone brought the game home from a holiday trip to Latvia and the workers played on their breaks. Now he holds court at the Center, which also offers darts and table-tennis, giving tips to newbies.
But this wholesome recreation is not without its drama. The Moscow Novuss Federation has an uneasy relationship with the Russian Federation of Table-Games. When the Moscow Federation first got started, one of the early enthusiasts turned out to be a bit of a swindler and wanted to find a way to make money off the game. So he began to market the game to associations for the disabled through his newly-formed Table-Games Federation. You see, one of the great things about Novuss is that it is easy to play from a wheelchair because, unlike standard billiards, you don’t physically change places during play. Well, the guy sold a ton of cheap knock-off Novuss boards to organizations for the disabled, with a hefty mark-up, of course. Nadezhda, who is like a religious zealot when it comes to promoting Novuss, is happy that this has caused Novuss to become more popular, but is still angry that this man has chosen to exploit the disabled in such an unprincipled way.
I was welcomed into the club and Nadezhda began teaching me to play. Let me say at the outset that I have poor coordination all around so my first few tries were not good at all, but I improved relatively quickly! It’s a pretty easy game to play, but there are some special rules for when unexpected things happen. Nadezhda said that several Soviet-era Novuss champions moved to the United States and started participating in international tournaments. They soon found that they were behind. It turns out that Novuss play has advanced significantly due to some techniques learned playing video games! It took the old-timers a while to catch up, but they are again at the top of their game.
The game is usually two-player, as Nadezhda demonstrates above. But the game can also be played with four players, which is when you get “the REAL Novuss,” according to Nadezhda. Strategy becomes that much more difficult when you’re trying to work things out with a partner.
Now my job is to try to remember all the rules Nadezhda taught me. If I forget, they’re available online, but have you ever tried to read game rules, in ANY language?
You can see Nadezhda do some cool shooting here and talk smack about how the Moscow players won all the prizes at a recent competition.