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Published January 24 2012

No spin zone: Foosball nights bring together strategy, skill and nightlife

FARGO – On any given Friday night, Rhombus Guys is pretty busy.

People come to the Main Avenue restaurant mostly for pizza or beer, but in the restaurant’s far back, there’s something else going on.

Four guys gather around a foosball table, all slightly bent over, with their hands grasping the handles of the game’s rotating bars. Other players stand close by, keeping tabs on the competition, watching what’s happening on the table, seemingly oblivious to the packed tables of people having dinner around them.

The buzz of the diners and music on the overhead speakers fills the air. The players don’t say much.

Then: The recognizable plunk of the ball against the back of the goal. A score. One team goes up by a point.

With just a little cheering, the players stand up a bit to relax their backs. One makes a comment about the goal as he notches the point on the scoreboard, and his teammate laughs. All four players either take a breath or take a drink from their beers placed on the ledge behind them.

On first glance, the men seem like just a group of friends playing a game of foosball for fun; laid back, casual. But, their focus on the table betrays their competition. There’s unfinished business here, they seem to say, and they’re ready to get back to the game.

Without much speaking, one of them picks the ball up to start again and looks around at everyone to make sure they’re ready. There are still a few points to go before the winner is decided.

Workmanlike and without much speaking, their eyes on the table and their hands back on the handles, they dive back into the game.

Call it a comeback?

These Friday night foosball tournaments, which start at 8 p.m., get the weekend started off right, says Arron Hendricks, who co-owns Rhombus Guys with his friend Matt Winjum.

When the two owners opened the first Rhombus Guys restaurant in Grand Forks, Hendricks – who Winjum calls a “foosball junkie” – personally paid for a table for the restaurant just to be able to offer something different for patrons to do.

After foosball nights in Grand Forks turned into a popular event, Winjum says the Fargo restaurant added a table as well.

Foosball, which was especially popular in the 1970s, is slowly starting to find its way back as a form of bar entertainment to accompany the omnipresent options of pool or darts, Winjum says.

The Bison Turf in Fargo has also been holding foosball tournaments for two or three years, says owner Pete Sabo. Those tournaments typically bring in 25 to 30 people for a Saturday afternoon, he says. The next one is scheduled for Feb. 18.

Cody Hamdan, 24, participates in the Bison Turf tournaments every month and was so excited to see foosball being offered at the Grand Forks Rhombus Guys that he and his friends would make the trek from Fargo every week. With the Rhombus Guys here, he doesn’t have to make that journey anymore.

So far, weekly foosball tournaments at the Fargo restaurant have caught on slowly, Winjum says, with usually four to six teams of two people playing every week. But, those who come enjoy the game, and like the competitive matches even more.

Participants put their names in a hat, then get drawn out randomly to determine the teams, which are a mix of new and experienced foosball players.

New players are always welcome to participate, Hendricks says, whether they’re diehard foosball fans or not.

Teams play in a best-of-three-games format with matches played to five points; except for the decisive third game, if necessary, where teams have to win by two points.

Typically, the more organized foosball tournaments come with different rules, Hamdan says, but the Rhombus Guys matches are pretty informal.

There’s really only one rule here; no spinning the handles. It helps to keep everyone on the same playing field.

High-speed chess

Joel Hensley calls foosball a “cat-and-mouse game,” which isn’t too much of a stretch.

With this past Friday’s semifinal game tied, and Hendricks’ team up by one game, players mimic each other’s motions by moving the handlebars back and forth, trying to block off any easy passing or shooting lanes.

“It’s high-speed, high-intensity chess,” Hendricks says.

The more skilled participants pass the ball horizontally between the “players” on their own bar, looking for that opportunity to either take a shot or get the ball down to the other end of the table.

At the first sign of an opening, Hendricks lets go a rocket of a shot from behind the middle of the table that gets past the goalie, all with one slick flick of his wrist. He smiles, notches the goal on the scoreboard, and gets ready for action to begin again.

“The more you play it, the better you get,” Hensley says of foosball, watching a couple of quick shots that send the ball chaotically back and forth from one end of the table to another before a team is able to get possession.

Already up by a point, Winjum gets a lucky bounce to one of his players and knocks home the winning goal for his team. Hendricks groans and shakes his head, then resets the score.

“Time for game three,” he says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535

If you go

What: Foosball tournament

When: 8 p.m. Fridays

Where: Rhombus Guys Pizza, 606 Main Ave., Fargo

Info: (701) 540-4534