John Back's eyes dart left to right, following the bright red ball on the green foosball field. He leans forward, pulling and turning handles aligning his "men" -- soccer figures standing rigid on long metal rods.
The backroom of The Pool House in Bellmore, where competitive foosballers play every Sunday, is silent -- save for the whack of the ball and '90s pop tunes drifting in from a nearby jukebox. This isn't your average bar game.
"It's a lot like chess in a lot of ways," says Back, of Hicksville, who started such gatherings about eight years ago. "It's constantly a cat-and-mouse thinking game."
The five or so regulars are a motley crew. By day, they are a computer software developer, a business owner, custodians. But on Sunday nights, they're united by a common purpose: getting figures to "kick" the ball into the opponent's goal.
"It's really high intensity, fast paced, and you've got to be obviously watching what your opponent is doing," says Mike Wood, 36, of Bayside. "If you're on a run, then you get really psyched up."
There are rules -- and rituals -- of play. Contrary to popular practice in casual games, serious foosball players cannot vigorously spin the table's handles to nail a cheap, quick shot. In order to pass the ball, it must be moving.
"It's a little addicting," says Robert Teorey, 50, who confesses to recently renting a more expensive home in Hicksville to make sure there was room for his foosball table.
Players develop signature moves to bolster their strategy. For Sean Lotterhos, 28, of Oakdale, it's the "snake shot," which he practices 1,000 times before every tournament (he's got calluses on his hands to prove it).
"You're playing good people and people that are better than you," says Lotterhos, who recently won $250 and the expert doubles division at the Maryland State Foosball Championship. "It's fun to try to beat them."
SPIRIT OF CAMARADERIE
Regular players say they form bonds beyond the foosball table, practicing and traveling together to tournaments across the country. Competition days can be long, lasting more than 16 hours. "You're arms start turning to Jell-O," says Back, who declined to give his age. That's when having "a brotherhood" like the Sunday group counts, he says, adding, "As much as we want to beat the next guy, or whatever, we're all still friends."
Still, there's a healthy dose of trash talk.
"Eat it!" yells Ellen Moon, in the froth of a tight doubles match. The lone female regular, Moon, who declined to give her age, is no slouch, having won $700 and first place in a 2009 amateur doubles foosball championship in Dallas. Moon, who lives in Elmhurst, has been playing competitively for four years because "it's always exciting, always new."
And the price is right, too. For less than $5, Moon says, "you've got a good night with your best friends."
WHEN|WHERE 6:30-10:30 p.m. most Sundays, 2732 Grand Ave., Bellmore
INFO 516-409-9728, thepoolhousebsp.com
COST $1 per game
OTHER SPOTS TO PLAY
Get your quarters ready -- here are other spots that have foosball tables for open play.
Play foosball ($1 per game) in this bar that serves more than 100 craft beers.
4060 Austin Blvd., Island Park
One foosball table ($1 per game), as well as 21 pool tables, Ping-Pong, air hockey and arcade games.
Free play on a foosball table, a pair of dart boards and a Ping-Pong table.
145 W. Main St., Smithtown
The basement-level room has foosball ($1 per game), plus pool, darts and arcade games.