SINGAPORE- In a smoky snooker parlour nestled above a fast-food outlet, the eyes of gangsters and hustlers were trained on a scrawny, pale-faced kid.
In his school uniform, the boy methodically potted coloured balls with ease, despite learning the game just weeks earlier.
Gasps, whoops and some envious stares emanated from the enthralled crowd.
Cue the same reaction - more than two decades later - when Marvin Lim repeated his mastery of a snooker stick en route to SEA Games gold.
But, at age 14 in 1987, he was playing for a different prize.
"We bet around $20 on a game, which was my daily school allowance," said Lim, a Chinese chess enthusiast who was introduced to the world of dingy snooker halls by his Telok Kurau Secondary schoolmates.
"If I lost, I didn't have money to eat - that's a hard but effective way to learn a game."
He frequented libraries, not for school work but to pore over snooker books and videos of English legend Steve Davis.
Soon, Lim was winning so often that those same miscreants in the parlour told him not to return.
"They said I should aim higher and do something with my gift," the 40-year-old recalled with a sardonic laugh.