Under the dim lights of the Cyber Center, bright balls seem to glow on the green felt of the pool tables as Jesse Allred squints down at his next shot.

Under the dim lights of the Cyber Center, bright balls seem to glow on the green felt of the pool tables as Jesse Allred squints down at his next shot.

"The color, the click of the balls — it's mesmerizing," said Linda Carter, who organized a tournament, which has brought pool players from across the valley into the dark recesses of the Cyber Center this weekend while the sun beats down outside.

Since January, local players have met each Friday, garnering points to earn a spot at this Tournament of Champions. Now they are vying for cash, a new computer and other prizes.

"Even though you want to win, there's a lot of camaraderie with your fellow players," said Allred, whose wife, Peggy Allred, was also competing in the tournament while their 2-year-old son Max snacked on strawberries and greeted other players like family.

Jesse Allred, 29, started playing pool when he was 10, diving into books to learn strategies and techniques.

"By the time I was 13, all I wanted to do was play pool," the Phoenix resident and Rogue Community College student said.

He won his first local tournament at 14, and now has competed in tourneys in Washington, California and Nevada, as well as on the East Coast while serving in the Army.

"It can be a lifelong passion where you are always dedicated to improvement," said Allred, who was ranked second headed into this weekend's tournament.

The top-ranked player was Mike Zimmerman, Carter's husband and co-director of the tournament.

Carter and Zimmerman both played on the International Pool Tour, a short-lived attempt to create a series of pool tournaments with large prizes similar to the Professional Golf Association.

Carter, 44, is a Crater High School grad who started playing pool while a student at Southern Oregon University and Oregon Institute of Technology. She has played on the Women's Professional Billiards Association tour and was house pro at an upscale billiard parlor in Seattle before returning to the Rogue Valley about a year and a half ago.

"We want to educate people and elevate the sport in the valley," she said.

Carter hopes to see local players compete on the national and even international level, but, more importantly, she wants to see people having fun playing pool and playing it well.

"It's gratifying at a low level," she said, remembering the thrill of "potting the ball" for the first time.

As players improve, the game becomes more like chess — plotting a string of moves to accomplish goals and block an opponent — but with complex math and physics thrown in.

"You can never master it," she said. "It's a game of infinite possibilities.

"It's fascinating and frustrating."

And it's just plain fun, said Kattie Fluharty, a recent transplant to Medford from Fairbanks, Alaska.

The 18-year-old said there wasn't much to do in Fairbanks, so she headed to a pool hall near her home and "got hooked."

She's been in Oregon only about a month, but she's already qualified for a spot in this championship tournament and met new friends.

"There's a lot of good people. They are really welcoming," she said, before settling into a game of Uno with a competitor while they awaited their matches.

The two-day tournament continues until around 6 p.m. today, organizers said.

On Tuesday, a new round of weekly play starts, featuring blind draw scotch doubles. Players will be matched with a partner when they arrive, then team members alternate shots, in what Carter describes as a good learning experience for advanced and beginning players. Practice starts at 6 p.m. each Tuesday, with competitive play beginning at 7 p.m. The cost is $5.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.