After WWII, American servicemen brought back tales of a minaturized tabletop soccer game in Germany . Foosball, or “Babyfoot,” as it was once called, has since developed into a sport with highly developed leagues, tournaments, and techniques. Every year around 600 foosers roll into Las Vegas for the VIFA International Championship to compete for over $100,000 in prize money.

Amateurs play alongside pros at the competition, but don't enter until you've got a handle on foos technique and rules. Semi-professional Shanghai-based player Fred Gower said skilled players each have their own style, and it's crucial to assess your opponent's style before playing him. Gower explained, “There's all these various styles of shot, and depending on the kind of defense that someone is giving you, certain shots will be better than others. You can say, ‘This guy is a brush pass snake shot favoring the poll side,' and that would allow you to have an edge on knowing how to play this person.” Players in the know get “the book” on their opponents before each match begins.

Fred "Mr. Shanghai Foos" Gower

When Gower discovered foosball in college, it was love at first snake shot (which involves rocking the ball back and forth under a “man's” feet before slamming it into the goal). “I could play at a bar all night long,” he recalls. “I thought I was pretty hot stuff.” After a few months of nearly continuous playing, though, his grades weren't so hot. “I was so addicted to the game, I had to stop cold turkey.” His grades shot up, and he graduated from college, but he was “like a drug addict or a former smoker” – foosball was always in the back of his mind. When he hit middle age, he finally gave in bought himself a foosball table. After messing around with the table by himself a few times, he discovered a huge foos community on the web and found tournaments going on in Vancouver , where he was living at the time. Once he knew what to look for, he realized that foosers were everywhere. “We're kind of like vampires,” he said. “We can usually spot another one.”

In 2004, Gower, then 44, moved to Shanghai , where his wife had gotten a job with General Motors. He works in the IT sector but devotes his free time to popularizing foosball in China . “Once the Chinese really see that this is something that takes discipline and knowledge and skill, I think they'll be all over it.” He has reason to be hopeful. Foosball is gaining ground in other parts of Asia , particularly Malaysia , which holds several major foosball competitions every year. And Gower is a glowing evangelist for the sport, willing to talk about it with anyone who will listen, wheter they speak english or not.

“There's the strategy of chess, there's the activity of ping-pong,” he says. “Foosball has a dynamic aspect to it in that it's not like golf, where you're both taking turns. Someone is actively defending your pass or your shot….It's almost like a martial art.”