Lukas Fracasso-Verner

Lukas Fracasso-Verner, 12, racks up the ball during league play at Yale Billiards. Lukas placed 3rd in the National Championships in Las Vegas recently. (Michael McAndrews, mmcandrews@courant.com / July 28, 2014)

The USAPL awarded Lukas $470 for placing third in the singles tournament. Second place went to David Gavrish, who won $700 and Philip Davis won the first place prize of $1,300. Both Davis and Gavrish are 25-years-old.

"I started playing when I was about 17 with my dad," said Davis. "I was taking a martial arts class and right across the street was a pool hall that my dad would bring me to after. He stopped taking me once I started winning more than him."

Davis, who competes in pool tournaments full-time during the summer, said that although there is some money to be made playing pool, it's hard to make it big.

"You have to finish high every time or you don't get anything," said Davis. "The game is so hard and it's beautiful to watch good players but it's difficult because you can be playing beautifully and still walk out of a tournament with nothing."

According to Davis, he has won around $10,000 playing pool since January. He didn't lose a single match during the National Championship in Vegas. When he isn't competing, Davis manages a grocery store.

Davis said that the popularity of playing pool is constantly shifting up and down. He said the sport usually needs a catalyst to boost its mainstream popularity.

"Usually it's a movie that does it," said Davis. "For example, when The Hustler came out people saw the hustling side of pool and everyone got interested again."

"The Hustler," released in 1961, starred big stars — Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason.

The fluctuating popularity of pool is one reason it's so hard to make a living from it, according to David Gavrish, who won second place in singles.

"Pool is great because you don't necessarily have to be an athlete to play or be good, but it will never get to the level of other sports," said Gavrish. "You literally have to be one of the top five players in the world to make any money."

But members of Yale Billiards believe the popularity of pool is now on the upswing, locally and nationally.

"Overall, nationally, league play is going up and tournament play is going up," said Estes.

"We're definitely getting there. We were there in the '90s but it died down around 2007 and 2008," said Hilton. "I think it's coming back now because people are looking for something different to do instead of looking at their phones."

Hilton said a big reason people are hesitant to visit a pool hall and play pool is because of the negative images people associate with pool halls and pool play in general.

"People have this misconception when it comes to pool and pool halls," said Hilton. "They think it's this dark musty room where you can get stabbed or beat up if you don't know anyone but that's the farthest thing from the truth. There's a real family community feel in this place, it's just a bunch of nice people playing pool."