Jai-Alai - An Easy Game to Understand

Many times I've talked to people that have never been inside of a fronton. This is amazing to me. Here you have this huge building, it has these strange words on the side of it (Jai-Alai), and it houses a sport billed as the "World's Fastest Game." You would think, at least out of curiosity, one would wander in just to check it out. Most of the time I get a response, "I won't understand what's happening, anyway."

Jai-Alai is really one of the easiest games to understand. Yet, maybe because the name sounds strange or because it's played by mostly foreign players, or simply that most people have never played the sport themselves, they shy away from walking in. These unfortunate people are missing one of the most exciting sports on earth played by some of the greatest athletes on the planet.

I usually tell first-timers that it's exactly like handball or raquetball, just on a larger scale. Then, I even compare it to tennis, because the object of the game is almost the same. I tell them to imagine a tennis court, put up large wall where the net is, bring the opposing team over to the same side as the other, and throw the ball against the wall instead of hitting it with the racquet. You can catch it in the air or one bounce, same in both sports. You hit it or throw it out of bounds, you lose the point. You drop the ball you lose the point. What could be more simple?

Then, people tend to have trouble with the "round-robin" format of the Jai-Alai game here in the United States. Again, it's very simple. There are 8 teams in every game, Post 1 to Post 8. Every game starts with Post 1 serving to Post 2... the winner of the point stays on the court, the loser goes to the end of the line. Most games are played to 7 or 9 points. The first team to reach those points is the winner. Any ties require short playoff points. Finally, I inform them that to speed up the game, we double the points after all teams have played on the court one time (after Post 8 plays). That's it.

So, the next step is to let a new fan place a simple bet, like a Win ticket. I can't tell you how quickly they pick up the sport by just having a $2 bet placed. That teaches them more than me going through every point with them. They quickly understand that the serve has to land in the box between the 4 and 7 lines on the court. Once your team throws an under or overserve, you will not forget that rule.

Winning a bet adds to the fun and excitement of the sport. But, the true aficianado can marvel at the skills exhibited each game without a wager being placed. So, the next time you have a chance, bring someone to the fronton that's never seen Jai-Alai. Don't let them tell you it's too difficult to understand. We need to keep this great game alive. It's not only the World's Fastest Game, but it's the world's greatest game.