Marston’s Bar and Grill will clear out its dining area tonight to make room for longer, skinnier tables, ping-pong balls and pitchers of beer. At 9:30 p.m., 36 teams will compete in a nine-week long beirut tournament hosted by the National Beirut League (NBL).

The National Beirut League (NBL) will host a nine-week long beer pong tournament at Marston's Bar and Grill in downtown San Luis Obispo at 673 Higuera St. Amber Kiwan – Mustang Daily

Thane Greenfield is a co-owner of the NBL, which began as a senior project for three Cal Poly business administration students in 2006. The NBL aims to legitimize beirut — otherwise known as beer pong; its slogan is “Up the Stakes. Play for Real.” The group hosts leagues not only in San Luis Obispo, but all over the United States.

“The overall goal (of the NBL) is to unite beer pong players,” Greenfield said.

The NBL is also developing software for beer pong enthusiasts. The software, which will be released soon, will make the logistics of setting up beer pong tournaments easier.

“We want to make it so anyone can start a league at their own house, or a bar owner at their bar or anywhere,” Greenfield said.

Travis Kleinau, an agriculture systems management senior from Illinois, said he played in local tournaments at bars in Illinois, but never in an official NBL tournament like this one.

Kleinau, who has played beer pong since 2004, was confident in his team’s abilities. Although he does not partake in any formal training in preparation for the tournament, he said he parties a lot and that is adequate practice.

“We’re going to win,” Kleinau said.

Teams that place first through fourth will be awarded prizes. First place winners, in addition to bragging rights, receive $100 in gift certificates, an official Tailgate Guys foldable table and a “shwag bag.” The bag contains beer apparel, a Marston’s shirt and a card with deals on drinks, said Josh Cantrell, a Marston’s bartender and tournament participant.

Cantrell’s training and preparation is limited to drinking and playing beer pong with friends, he said.

Each team will play two games per night for the first eight weeks, starting tonight. The last week of the tournament will be a double-elimination tournament in which the top 32 teams will play. Each game will have two female referees overseeing the players, to ensure that all rules are followed.

Because of the scattered and drunken history of the game, there are many variations of rules that different players enforce. The NBL has an official list of rules it suggests to players everywhere, but it does note that each league may have its own subtle changes.

The San Luis Obispo league altered the rules slightly in order to make the game simpler.

“We removed the elbow and shoulder rules,” Greenfield said. “There were too many arguments arising from complicated rules. Game playing in a bar is competitive, but we want everyone to have fun.”

Elbow rules require each player to be standing far enough back from the table so their elbow does not go over the table when they take their shot.

Ping-pong related drinking games allegedly began at Dartmouth College in the 1950s. The game evolved over time, but the actual history of the game is not entirely known because so many claim to be the inventors.

However, according to the NBL, students at Bucknell University and Lehigh University co-founded a game in which ping-pong balls were thrown into a single cup of beer.

The invention of this simpler beer pong game in the 1980s also evolved over time and spread across the United States to create what beer pong is today: two teams of two drinkers, who throw ping-pong balls into a triangle-shaped layout of 10 cups of beer. Each cup the shooting player makes must be drank by the other team and the first team to make all of the cups on the other side of the table wins.

The name beirut, which Greenfield says is interchangeable with the name beer pong, came from media coverage of the war in Beirut, Lebanon in the ‘80s.

“Some frat house had kids making off-color jokes, saying the splash of the ball landing in the cup looked like the bombings,” Greenfield said. “They said something like, ‘Wow, looks like you bombed Beirut.’”

Beer pong is a game that began as a casual way to drink among college students with a name created by fraternity boys, but it has come a long way since then.

The NBL’s website says the game has such tight ties to American youth culture that it is more than a mere excuse to drink beer. And although the NBL does not require participants to actually drink the beer, most players embrace this aspect of the game.

Marston’s Bar and Grill is located at 673 Higuera Street in downtown San Luis Obispo.

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