PoolRoom

KELLY FISHER HOF

Kelly Fisher, already the winner of two world titles and dozens of professional events, thought that overcoming heart surgery and a double mastectomy to win her third world crown in 2019 was the most significant achievement of her storied pool career.

That all changed July 13 when the 41-year-old British native learned that she had been elected into the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame.

“It’s hard to explain what I’m feeling right now,” Fisher said from her home in Dumfries, Scotland, after receiving news of her election. “It’s different. It’s not a competition. It’s a reward for all you have accomplished. You win Player of the Year and that’s great. Then you win Player of the Decade and that’s even more rewarding. But to be voted into the Hall of Fame, that is another level completely.”

Fisher was the sole inductee into the 2020 BCA Hall of Fame, garnering votes on 70 percent of the Hall of Fame Board ballots to gain election from a list of eligible players that included first-timers Dennis Orcollo of the Philippines and Thorsten Hohmann of Germany, as well as American Corey Deuel, Dutchman Niels Feijen and six other candidates.

“I remember coming to the U.S. in 2004 and seeing players get into the Hall of Fame over the next few years,” said Fisher. “They’d been playing for many years and won so many titles. I wondered whether I could get to that level. As I got older, the thought of getting into the Hall of Fame became a realistic goal, which would mean the world to me.”

Fisher arrived in the U.S. in 2004 to join the Women’s Professional Billiard Association Classic Tour after having earned six snooker Women’s World Championships over a six-year period from 1997 to 2003. She broke into the WPBA’s Top 10 in less than a year and won her first WPBA title in 2005. She went on to win eight WPBA titles from 2006 to 2010. She reached the WPBA No. 1 ranking in 2008. Fisher captured her first World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA) world title in 2011, when she won the World 10-Ball Championship. A year later, Fisher claimed the World 9-Ball Championship. She also earned four International Tournament of Champions titles, winning in 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2014.

Fisher moved back to England in 2013. In 2014, she underwent surgery to repair a hole in her heart and, a year later, underwent a double mastectomy. She recovered to win professional titles in each of the following three years, before completing her comeback with her second World 9-Ball Championship in late 2019.

“Winning the World 9-Ball Championship last year meant so much to me,” she admitted. “It came out of the blue. I knew I was still capable, but I was over 40 and the quality of play is so high. I remember being very nervous before the final and that surprised me. I had been in many finals, but at that stage you just don’t know how many more chances you’re going to have.” Fisher was named Billiards Digest Player of the Decade for the 2010s.

In her first year of eligibility for the BCA Hall of Fame in 2019, Fisher was edged out by Canadian Alex Pagulayan in a special run-off ballot after the two had tied as top vote getters in the initial election. Both Orcollo and Hohman tallied 23 votes (51 percent) in the 2020 election. Deuel and Feijen were each named on more than 20 percent of the ballots. Shannon Daulton, Jeremy Jones, Stefano Pellinga, John Schmidt, Vivian Villarreal and Charlie Williams completed the 2020 ballot.

Voting for the 2020 BCA Hall of Fame was conducted by the USBMA Hall of Fame Board, which consists of USBMA members, elected At-Large members and living members of the Hall of Fame. To be eligible for consideration in the Greatest Players category, a player a) must be 40 years old by Jan. 1 of the year of their inclusion on the ballot; b) must have a professional playing career of at least 10 years; and c) must have recorded significant achievements in U.S.-based and international events recognized by the BCA.

‘Hour by hour’

The head-spinning pace with which reaction to COVID-19 evolved made for a wild ride in Las Vegas.

By Keith Paradise
Karim Belhaj, Chief Executive Officer of Predator Group, sat on the stage that overlooks the Predator World-10 Ball Championship arena on the afternoon of Monday, March 16 — the day opening-round competition was scheduled to begin. As the event title sponsor, this was supposed to be a happy week for him and his company, with announcements of new products and tournaments worldwide. Instead, bleachers remained but the equipment was packed up and awaiting departure from Las Vegas — and so was Belhaj and many of the event’s competitors.

“Hour by hour, throughout the day of Sunday, everything changed,” he said. As the COVID-19 virus rapidly spread across the United States last month, the only thing that may have moved more swiftly than the pandemic itself was the response of emergency management authorities. What initially appeared as a slowly moving issue shifted sharply into a national crisis, with professional sports leagues, school districts and businesses shuttering. Caught in the middle of it all was CueSports International’s Expo and Chief Executive Officer Ozzy Reynolds, who spent nearly two weeks on site monitoring the situation with hotel and local officials. Although organizers initially felt the 11-day event could be completed in a safe environment, the mounting concerns and directives made it an impossibility.

CSI’s staff arrived the Rio Hotel and Casino on March 5 to begin setting up for the organization’s annual Expo, which draws 6,000-7,000 attendees and involves exhibitors and participants in the World 10-Ball, the Diamond Las Vegas Open and the BCA and USA Pool League World and National Championships. As staff members set up piping, tables, lighting and banners, Reynolds and his staff were meeting with representatives from Ceasars Entertainment and Clark County. Although COVID-19 was discussed, officials didn’t see the virus as a concern.

“At the time, it was literally just a handful of cases,” said Reynolds. “It didn’t seem like anything that would affect this event whatsoever.”

Professional and amateur players began arriving a couple of days later and BCA 8-Ball and 9-Ball singles and USAPL 9-Ball team events commenced on March 10. That night, President Donald Trump addressed the nation and announced a European travel ban that excluded the United Kingdom. Although it raised some eyebrows, Reynolds remained in contact with casino and local officials who still didn’t believe the quickly spreading virus would threaten the event.

Photo credit JP Parmentier.

The following day, however, the snowball started rolling downhill, as the National Basketball Association postponed its season. The National Hockey League and National Collegiate Athletic Association’s basketball tournaments soon followed. As rumors began to swirl about the event’s future, CSI issued a release stating there were not any plans to cancel and that the hotel and organization were taking steps to maintain a sanitary environment — including frequently wiping down tables with antibacterial cloths and installing hand sanitizing stations throughout the facility.

Meanwhile, European players, who made up roughly 20 percent of the World 10-Ball field, grew restless about their chances of returning home. After President Trump announced the first European travel ban, some competitors kicked around the idea of staying in the United States for a month in order to compete in the U.S. Open Pool Championship, slated to begin April 13. However, when the President added the U.K. to the ban while declaring a state of emergency three days later, the Open was thrown into a state of uncertainty.

Everything, all of the player consternation and increased emergency measures, reached a crescendo the Sunday before the World 10-Ball Championship was scheduled to begin. Rumors swirled of casinos closing and air travel being halted domestically and abroad, all while the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus continued to increase.

“Things keep changing every 30 minutes to the hour, and not for the good, to be honest,” said Ralf Souquet in the arena that afternoon.

Thorsten Hohmann didn’t wait for a decision, withdrawing from the event before the player’s meeting and leaving town. With the amateur league teams scheduled to arrive over the next couple of days, Hohmann had concerns about potential coronavirus carriers as well as the travel restriction speculation.

“I don’t want to get caught for five or six days here where things are just getting worse and worse,” Hohmann said. “I just want to be out and not be a part of spreading the virus.”

As rumors spread that the U.S. Open would be postponed, some European players leaned towards returning home and Souquet arranged a meeting with tournament officials to voice concerns.

“Two hours ago, I wanted to play in the event, but now it looks like I have to fly home or else I won’t be able to get back to Germany,” said Souquet.

The meeting would become irrelevant. Around 5:30 p.m., the Center for Disease Control prohibited gatherings of 50-or-more people. An hour later, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak banned gatherings in which 50-percent or more of a room’s fire marshal allowed capacity is used.

“If the CDC had put out guidelines on day one like they did yesterday, we would have stopped at that point,” Reynolds said the day after the cancelation. “We were going to continue with the event until there was a compelling reason not to.”

CSI announced around 7 p.m. local time that the tournament was canceled, then issued a release a couple of hours later that the individual competition portion of the BCA Pool League championship would continue and conclude on Tuesday, but the team event would not be played. Additionally, the USA Pool League canceled its 8-ball and 10-ball singles events as well as its 10-ball team competition. Reynolds was left with the unenviable task of going from booth to booth and speaking to vendors, letting them know the event was being closed and that they would be receiving a prorated refund. He expected negative reactions, but received the opposite.

“Instead of being angry that they were going to miss out on revenue, they were really concerned about what it is going to do to us,” Reynolds said.

About those refunds, Reynolds said entry fees for players who didn’t compete in the tournament would be processed after the event was completed. Although he didn’t wish to discuss the details of how much revenue the Expo and tournaments generate for CSI, Reynolds did say the cancellation would be “an extremely big hit” to the organization. Despite the financial consequences of the cancellation, Reynolds agreed with the measures being taken not just in Las Vegas, but worldwide.

“If these drastic measures help us get control of this before it’s a worse problem, I think this is a very good thing,” he said. “That is way more important than a pool tournament.”

Shortly after the cancellation announcement, Russia’s Fedor Gorst waited at the registration desk for a check. Like many fellow competitors, he didn’t initially believe the pandemic was serious when he arrived but continued to receive text message updates from home about increasing cases.

“I want to get home as soon as I can,” said Gorst. “Honestly, I’m a little bit scared already because nobody knows anything about this virus.”

He was struggling to contact Russian airline Aeroflot to change his itinerary. After competing in Italy’s Treviso Open last month then heading to the U.S., Grost was certain he would be quarantined upon arrival back home.

“Going to Italy in addition to the U.S., that’s the jackpot,” he said, dryly. A few hours after the cancellation was announced, a handful of the players as well as tournament staff huddled at the circular bar at the Rio. Some were having preflight drinks before early departures, while many were saying goodbyes, with professional tournaments most likely on hiatus for a few months.

The most popular drink in everyone’s hands? What else: Corona.


Matchroom Postpones Events
With a pair of professional events, including the Predator World 10-Ball Championship, running in Las Vegas, and the Matchroom-produced U.S. Open Pool Championship a month off, Matchroom Multi Sport COO Emily Frazer thought it a good time to pop over to Las Vegas from London. She had planning meetings arranged with Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, site of the U.S. Open. The trip would also give her ample opportunity to observe the World 10-Ball Championship at the Rio Hotel and Casino, and catch up with the players.

“It was going to be a simple four-day business trip,” Frazer said upon her return to London following the abrupt cancellation of the World 10-Ball Championship and travel bans that seemed to get more stringent by the hour in the wake of news that the COVID-19 virus had reached pandemic status. “It was mad.”

By the end of those four days, Frazer, who had already announced the postponement of the World Pool Masters, slated for late March in Gibraltar, announced that the U.S. Open Pool Championship would also be postponed.

“When I arrived on Friday [March 13], all systems were still go,” Frazer said. “The hotel was comfortable that the event would be fine. Extra precautions would be in place. They felt they were prepared.”

While President Trump had announced a travel ban to and from continental Europe, Frazer was convinced that the 256-player field would remain full. “Many of the top European players were already here,” she rationalized. “We realized that some players still in Europe wouldn’t be able to get to the event, but we had a huge waiting list of U.S. players that could have filled in.”

The very next day, however, President Trump widened the travel ban to include the United Kingdom.

“That was a game-changer because the bulk of our staff and TV crew are based in the U.K.,” Frazer said. “Hour by hour, things got worse. It was obvious that postponement of the U.S. Open was inevitable.

“I’ve never witnessed something escalate like that in such a short period of time,” she added.

“It was scary.”

As word spread through the Rio and across social media, Frazer said the response somewhat surprised her.

“The best part is that everyone is aware of what’s happening and is understanding of the predicament we’re all in,” she said. “It’s been a very supportive environment.”

As for new dates for both the World Pool Masters and U.S. Open Pool Championship, Frazer said no decisions would be made until the COVID-19 crisis was under control.

“We want events to happen,” she said. “But safety first. We are taking each day as it comes, and we won’t make any rash decisions.”

And the potential of numerous major tournaments crammed into the final five months of the year is not lost on Frazer.

“There will be a lot of clashes in dates,” she warned. “That’s inevitable.”

MATCHROOM’S WORLD 9-BALL TAKEOVER

How it happened. What it means.

There were several “tells” in World Pool-Billiards Association (WPA) President Ian Anderson’s early January letter to member federations that the WPA Board of Directors had voted to terminate the Qatar Billiards & Snooker Federation’s contract for the men’s World 9-Ball Championships. According to Anderson, the QBSF’s decade-long run as promoter and producer of the world championship event was terminated because the association was unresponsive when pressed to make improvements to the event, which suffered from lack of promotion and organization.

The letter also stated, “We do have another organizer who will take over our prestigious Championship as of this year and will do the event very proud.” In other words, the WPA had clearly been in discussions with another promoter while the QBSF still had a year to go on its contract and seemed determined to get them to breach that contract. To astute followers of the sport, that could mean only one thing: Matchroom Sport, pool’s knight-on-white-horse, was once again riding in to save the day, as it had with the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship.

“Obviously, it didn’t just happen last week,” Anderson said, referring to Matchroom’s Jan. 22 announcement that it had “acquired the rights in perpetuity” to the World 9-Ball Championship. “We had been discussing this for some time.”

Not surprisingly, the idea to regain control of the world championship, which the U.K.-based promoter staged from 1999 through 2008, was hatched by creative and tireless Matchroom Multi Sport COO Emily Frazer.

“It stemmed from a brainstorming meeting in our offices,” said Frazer. “We’re always talking about building the pool lineup to grow the sport and also have more to offer our sponsors and broadcast partners.

“We don’t necessarily say, ‘What’s out there? Let’s go take it,’” Frazer added. “The U.S. Open more or less came to us and [Matchroom founder] Barry [Hearn] liked the idea. The Word 9-Ball never really came to us. We did a little research on the event, where it is and where it’s been. I approached the WPA in Russia in September, then we put together a proposal for Barry. He loves the idea of building Matchroom Pool. We’ve got five major unique events under our belt and the World 9-Ball was the perfect piece to add to that.”

Not surprisingly, the news of pool’s biggest and most respected promoter taking over the World 9-Ball Championship, which had devolved to an almost secondary event that a number of top players avoided, was met with great joy.

“Wow, what a day for our sport!” gushed International 9-Ball Open champ Jayson Shaw.

“Unbelievable news for the pool world!” echoed Russia’s Fedor Gorst, who only three weeks earlier won the world title in Qatar.

And just what can players expect from the Matchroom-run event?

For starters, Hearn announced a $200,000 prize fund for 2020, which will be held Oct. 14-18 at a yet-to-be-determined site. Hearn also stated that “the 128-player event will be open to men and women.”

The latter statement makes fairly clear that Matchroom will now make the decisions that affect qualification for the world championship. Previously, it was the WPA that dictated the player allotment and parceled them out to member federations. While Frazer insisted that the system won’t be dramatically changed, some changes will be instituted to assure a field that Matchroom would deem most representative and, of course, marketable. “For one,” said Frazer, “we’re in an age where women should be competing with the men. The WPA is in agreement with that, and I think that all federations should be open this and should actually be encouraging it.

Women at the top of the WPA ranking list can qualify as such. I think that if 10 players come through the EPBF, one of them should certainly be a female. “As for allotments and qualifications,” she continued, “we’re not looking at coming in and completely changing the qualifying criteria. It should include all of the different federations and we want to keep that consistent, but there are changes that we think should be made. For instance, Matchroom champions will have a spot.”

“It’s far too early for us to comment on this from a federation standpoint,” said Rob Johnson, CEO of the Billiard Congress of America, the North American federation member to the WPA. “We are expecting follow-up with the WPA and Matchroom to learn more details. But we are thrilled Matchroom has commited to this event and look forward to seeing them work with the WPA to take it to the next level.”

While players in the U.S. unanimously applauded the change-of-hands, in universal agreement that the event will return to its glory days of the early 2000s, they’d better have their passports in order.

“We are looking at a lot of venues,” Frazer said. “But it isn’t likely that the event will be held in the U.S. For starters, events in the U.S. are so costly. Also, the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship has found its place in the U.S., and we’d like to keep the U.S. Open and the World 9-Ball Championship separate. Also, we’ve got other plans for the U.S.

“The U.K. is a consideration,” she added. “But it won’t be in Cardiff (site of Matchroom-produced World Pool Championship from ’99-’2004). I don’t like repeating history. This is a new event for us and we have no desire to turn back time. We are also interested in Asia — Macau, the Philippines, etc.” According to Frazer, the October dates were a coveted timeframe.

“Often times, our dates are driven by venue availability and/or our broadcast partners,” she said. “But with the World 9-Ball, the dates we chose were based on the pool calendar. We had always had our eyes on putting something in those dates. The World 9-Ball will fit nicely as the end of the ranking year for U.S. and Europe as it relates to the Mosconi Cup and the marketing and promotion of Matchroom events. Previously, the World 9-Ball was not in a great time of year, right before the holidays and right after Mosconi Cup. It was tough on the 10 players that had just finished playing for their lives.”

While few people in the pool world would question the WPA’s wisdom in handing off the event to Matchroom, whose record in pool promotion is spotless, a few admitted to raised eyebrows Hearn’s use of the term, “in perpetuity.” Anderson quickly dismissed any concern.

“While ‘in perpetuity’ does mean forever,” Anderson rationalize, “it’s not really forever if Matchroom, for example, cease to do the event or players stop playing it. Matchroom simply wanted assurance and security that they won’t build the event up, only to have someone else hijack the event from them because their contract expired.”

What is not open to any question, however, is Matchroom’s reputation for promoting and producing the best events in the sport.

“Our first goal,” said Frazer, “is to increase the prestige of the World 9-Ball Championship. And as long as we can see that there is a future to the event, we’ll stick with it.

“I think this says a lot about the vision we’ve shown,” she added. “We want to see pool grow.”

MOSCONI SHOCKER!

Ruysink out, Jones in as Team USA captain; Lely replaces Chamat for Europe.

In a stunning move, Dutchman Johan Ruysink, the winningest captain in Mosconi Cup history and the architect of Team USA’s resurgence, was not invited back to lead the Americans for a fourth year. Instead, event producer Matchroom Multi Sport announced that Texan Jeremy Jones, a highly respected American player and Ruysink’s vice-captain for the past two years, will take the helm when Team USA travels to London in December to defend the Mosconi Cup title it has won in both of the past two years.

Ruysink out, Jones in as Team USA captain.

Matchroom also announced that another Dutch coach, Alex Lely, will replace embattled skipper Marcus Chamat of Sweden as the Team Europe captain. Chamat had won three consecutive Cups with Team Europe from 2015-2017 but was at the helm as the Europeans’ eight-year winning streak came to an end in London in 2018 and when the U.S. successfully defended that title in Las Vegas in December.

“The Mosconi Cup is undoubtedly the biggest event in pool,” noted Multi Sport COO Emily Frazer. “It is growing by the second and we continue to push boundaries. The captaincy picks are critical to the event and take serious consideration.

“Marcus has been a fantastic captain,” Frazer added. “He is highly respected and a valued mentor for the pool industry. However, times are changing, and the sport is developing. The decision is no disrespect for Marcus. It was simply time to bring in someone different. The back-to-back losses made the decision a little easier.

“We have had an overwhelming number of applications for the European position, but Alex stood out from the rest. He’s very knowledgeable, with lots of new ideas.”

“Every year there are two possibilities,” Chamat said. “Winning or losing. Obviously, it stings to lose. The Mosconi Cup is tough pressure and not all players are made for that. We had some teams that were so strong, and no one really struggled, like in 2016. But I learned something every year, and every year had good memories. The team spirit was always great, and we had a lot of fun.”

While Chamat’s ouster was mostly expected, Ruysink’s departure comes as a surprise. After leading Team Europe to a 6-0-1 record earlier in the decade, Matchroom appointed Ruysink Team USA captain in 2017 with the charge of revitalizing the down-in-the-dumps American side and helping save the then one-sided event from becoming irrelevant. After a disappointing effort from Team USA in 2017, Ruysink petitioned to have Jones join him in preparing the team for the 2018 Mosconi Cup. Jones, a cerebral player and teacher, was integral as a conduit between Ruysink and the U.S. players.

Following Team USA’s successful defense in December, Ruysink commented that his original plan was for three years, but that, at the urging of his top player, Shane Van Boening, he wished to stay on another year. Matchroom had other plans.

“Johan has played a significant part in the rebirth of Team USA,” said Frazer. “He had a three-year plan and he executed it two of the three, and he should be congratulated. He is unarguably the greatest coach in this game. We at Matchroom will forever be grateful for his services.

“But Jeremy also played a key role in this resurrection. He communicates very well with the players. He is a great player and is in all likelihood the most respected man in pool. The show is progressing, and the captaincy involves 10 times more work and planning than what the public may perceive. The demands, expectations and organization required has been lacking in the structure of Team USA since the beginning. New plans and qualifying structures are in place for 2020, which Jeremy has been heavily involved in. He is ready to keep the fire lit and catapult the team to a new level. He will make a great captain.”

“I’m disappointed about not having a chance to have a real Mosconi Cup goodbye,” Ruysink confessed. “After a difficult start as a European captain for Team USA, I felt I was becoming much more accepted by both the players and the fans. I also felt that the players wanted me to do one more. “But the Mosconi Cup opened the door for bringing my system and methods of fueling players’ passion for pool and knowledge about the game to the United States, so I am very grateful to Matchroom and Emily for giving me that opportunity.

“In the end,” he added, “the Mosconi Cup is a settled phenomenon, and it is here to stay. No player or coach or sponsor is bigger than the Mosconi Cup. I am just very glad that I have been able to do my part in helping it become what it is today.”

For Team USA, Jones’ promotion will allow for the selection and development of the team to be purely American, which was a point of contention to many U.S. fans when Ruysink was first appointed. And having had Jones at their sides for the past two years should make for a smooth transition.

“Jeremy is a good fit for this team,” said Van Boening. “Definitely.”

“Johan did a great job,” said two-time Mosconi MVP Skyler Woodward. “He really helped our guys and knew how to get us ready for something like the Mosconi Cup. There’s so much pressure but he always knew exactly what to do in every situation.

“Personally, I think Jeremy deserves this shot,” Woodward continued. “He’s a great guy and knows the game and knows us players very well.”

“I’m excited, of course,” said Jones. “I always thought I could help the team. I got that opportunity in the last two years helping Johan. I thought it would be a one-year thing, just helping him connect with the players. But the job evolved, and I thought maybe the chance to be captain might come when it was time for the torch to be passed.”

And is taking over for Ruysink bittersweet?

“He said he had a three-year plan, and I think Matchroom just leaned toward me,” Jones said. “I’ve thought a lot about the things I learned from him relative to preparing for the Mosconi Cup and working with the players throughout the year.

“I think there’s a good bond and a lot of trust with the nucleus of the team,” Jones added. “And I think some of it was the American side would like to have an American captain.”

Of course, Jones is aware of the pressure on him to continue the team’s hot streak. Will a U.S. loss have fans or players second-guessing the decision to move on from Ruysink?

“There’s pressure there, but that’s what you want,” Jones said. “I can’t look at it as being in a no-win situation. I feel good about it. Everyone knows the Mosconi Cup is unpredictable.”

To replace himself as vice-captain, Jones said he went “with my gut” and selected journeyman pro Joey Gray of Oklahoma City.

“He’s a great player and he has started to dedicate himself to teaching in the last few years,” Jones said. “I’ve known him since he was pretty young. He’ll mix well with the type of players that will play in Mosconi Cup for America. I just think he’s a good fit.”

The change at the helm of Team Europe sees the return of Lely, a former Ruysink pupil that captained the Euros in both 2008 and 2009. His European squad hammered Team USA in 2008, scoring an 11-5 win in Malta, but lost in Las Vegas in 2009, 11-7.

According to Lely, he is a different coach and leader than he was a decade ago.

Lely replaces Chamat for Europe.

“I had very little coaching experience back then,” said Lely, widely praised for his television commentary in recent years. “I’m much more experienced now, working with elite players as well as serving as head coach for the Dutch team for four years. Communication is so important for when the ride gets rough, and I didn’t do a good job of that in 2009. You have to have a structure and core in place to be able to withstand the rough times. You need to be able to fall back on things that have been expressed and determined beforehand.

“The European players that go to Ally Pally in December know how to play,” Lely continued. “We need to have them operate with 100 percent trust and commitment in and towards each other. It’s all about trust, leadership and task.”

“This is a heartbreaker for Marcus,” said fellow Hollander and 14-time Team Europe team member Niels Feijen. “But he had a great run. Taking over from Johan was a lot of pressure and he won three in a row. After five years it might be okay to switch it up.

“Alex has developed a lot since his captain years in 2008 and 2009,” Feijen added. “He worked as a Dutch national coach and did various courses that helped him go beyond just a good trainer and become a good coach. I feel he has a great bag of tools now to bring out the great quality of all of the players. It should be exciting!”

Team Europe will also have a vice-captain in 2020, four-time Mosconi Cup champion Karl Boyes. The former world champion and now TV commentator for Matchroom events will take his opinions from the studio to tableside.

“Having a vice-captain enables you to put your points across and come to a common ground,” noted Boyes. “We both have knowledge about the game and the players, but it’s easy to miss something when you’re on your own. “Alex has a lot of experience playing and managing,” Boyes added. “So, I’m sure I’ll learn a lot.”

“There is excitement in the air following these announcements from players and fans,” said Frazer. “That is always our goal.”

For the Record

John Schmidt’s majestic 626-ball run was the culmination of years of single-minded effort and required a dedicated support team and incredible mental fortitude.

Story By Mike Panozzo

For John Schmidt, it was always personal.

At least, it became personal that day 25 years ago when fellow pro Bobby Hunter introduced him to straight pool.

“We were in a poolroom and he was showing me how to play straight pool,” recalled Schmidt. “The first thing I asked was, “What’s the all-time high run?” I’ll never forget it. About nine people in the room all chimed in at the same time, “Willie Mosconi, 526 balls, Springfield, Ohio, 1954.” I knew right then that this was THE record in pool. This was the number EVERYBODY knew.

“Then I looked at all the photos of Mosconi. He was always dressed so dapper. You could tell he was a man respected and revered. I started wondering, “Am I good enough to even get close to a number like that?””

The answer, of course, was yes. On Memorial Day 2019 in Monterey, Calif., Schmidt not only got close, he actually realized the feeling of staring down that very number.

“Once I topped 500,” Schmidt recalled, “and got to the break ball at 504, the panic, nerves, fear, etc., all set in. I don’t know how I didn’t dog it.”

And when ball number 527, the 11 ball, was all that stood between himself and pool immortality, Schmidt found himself overwhelmed by the moment. He paused, put down his cue and excused himself to the men’s room at Easy Street Billiards, the room he all but lived in for 54 days during three extended visits over a 14-month period.

“A bit of a crowd had built up and I was starting to get a little teary-eyed,” Schmidt admitted. “I wasn’t worried about gushing into tears, but I was watering up a bit. I needed to just be by myself for a minute. I splashed some water on my face and gathered myself.”

Schmidt’s obsession with Mosconi’s mark drove him to spend months challenging himself to set a new record. (Photo by Danielle Penn)

After taking a deep breath, Schmidt marched back to the table, looking anything but Mosconi-esque in a golf shirt, blue shorts (“I wore them every day because they’re so comfortable!”) and Hoka shoes. With his wife Felicity, benefactor and rack caddy Doug Desmond, and California cuemaker Jerry McWorter sitting silently off to the side, Schmidt lined up the shot he had fantasized about over the years. The 11 ball was just six inches from the corner pocket and the cue ball was eight inches behind. The shot was at a slight angle.

“When I first hit it, my heart stopped,” said Schmidt. “I had the whole pocket but I knew I hit it thick. It went in, but it was into the left side of the pocket. I didn’t want to touch a face as it went in.

“I thought to myself, “My god, if I’d missed a hanger at 527 I would have stepped into traffic.””

With the weight of 20-plus years obsessing over Mosconi’s storied mark lifted, Schmidt settled back into a natural groove. He rattled through six more racks before missing on a combination shot. His record-shattering run had reached 626 balls.

Affadavits confirming Mosconi’s historic run in 1954 are on display at the Smithsonian Institute.

“This number meant so much to me,” Schmidt understated. “I feel like I have been chasing this number my whole life. It was a strange thing.”

Not surprisingly, Schmidt wasn’t really sure how to celebrate the feat. There were no balloons over the table waiting to be released if and when he broke the record. There were no television or newspaper reporters waiting to interview him. There was, in fact, a suddenness to the ending. The long journey was over.

“We just kind of cleaned everything up at the room and went back to the apartment,” Schmidt said.

After cleaning up at their shared apartment in Del Monte Forest along the scenic 17-Mile Drive, the Schmidts, along with Desmond and his wife Cecilia, celebrated at Monterey’s famed Whaling Station Steakhouse, perched above Cannery Row and overlooking Monterey Bay. The hero washed down crab and lobster with several glasses of his favorite cabernet sauvignon.

Having had time to digest the personal magnitude of his accomplishment and reflect on the long road he’d endured, Schmidt shared his thoughts.

“A lot of people think I did this for attention or so people can tell me I’m great,” he started. “I could have been on a deserted island and never met a soul, and I still would have kept trying to top 526. I’ve always been curious about whether I could do it. The skill that’s required to run, say, 250, is so immense that it boggled my mind that [Mosconi] could run 37 racks in a row without hooking himself or missing a ball. It became a personal obsession.

“There are some things that you KNOW you can do, and you’d bet your life on it. I didn’t know if I could do this.”

Not that John Schmidt is a struggling amateur. He has been a top American professional player for more than 20 years. He has won the prestigious U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship, numerous national and regional events, one-pocket titles and, of course, straight pool titles. He has played for Team USA in the Mosconi Cup twice.

But the Holy Grail for the 46-year-old from Hesperia, Calif., has never been a tournament title. It has been, at times, an unhealthy obsession with the number 526.

“This has been a journey of curiosity and self-discovery,” Schmidt acknowledged. “Sure, I love straight pool, but it was more than that. Could I challenge myself like this and hold my nerve together? Did I have the shot-making ability and pattern recognition?

Schmidt never needed an opponent to enjoy playing pool, and straight pool offered the perfect challenge of man vs. himself. The steep odds against him ever reaching 526 never deterred him.

“Just to have a shot after that many consecutive break shots is almost impossible,” Schmidt contended. “On top of that, over all those racks you don’t have a skid or a miscue or a treetop or a roll-off. Plus, you need the skill. Finally, you are shooting knowing that 65 years have gone by since that number happened. That adds pressure because Willie wasn’t shooting at a number. He just kept shooting. I had a specific number that I was chasing.

“Believe me, if anyone understood the odds, it was me.”

Through the years, Schmidt often set days aside to take serious runs at 526. His 400-ball run in Milton, Fla., in 2004 earned him the moniker “Mr. 400” and cemented his reputation as a straight pool big shot. He topped 400 again three years later in Virginia, reaching 403. Only a handful of players had reached that rarified air, including Billiard Congress of America Hall of Famers Earl Strickland (408), Allen Hopkins (421), Ray Martin (426) and Dallas West (429). While legend claimed that New York’s Michael Eufemia had run 625 in the 1970s, the closest recognized run to Mosconi was Germany’s Thomas Engert’s 491.

In 2013, a thread about challenging Mosconi’s 526 drew attention, with Schmidt offering to play 6-8 hours a day, five days a week in an effort to top the mark if someone or some company would give him a $50,000 salary. While discussion was lively, there were no takers.

In March 2018, Schmidt decided it was time to take a concerted run at the hallowed number. He packed up his motor home and drove to Monterey, where the owners of Easy Street agreed to give him a dedicated table over a 26-day period. Schmidt arrived at Easy Street 18 mornings during that period, cleaned the table, polished the balls are embarked on his runs. Incredibly, Schmidt posted 23 runs of 200 or more balls and peeled off 300-plus-ball runs on five consecutive days.

“I was amazed,” he remembered. “Then I realized I was still 200 balls away!”

It was during what became known as “John Schmidt 14.1 Challenge I” that Desmond suggested a different arrangement for the next attempt. Desmond, a 71-year-old retired sales manager, had been making the drive from his Saratoga, Calif., home to Monterey each morning (66 miles) to assist Schmidt with polishing, cleaning, racking and charting. Desmond offered to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Monterey in November and December for Challenge II. The team shopped for food, ate together, watched tape, discussed the day’s efforts and formulated strategy for the next day.

The addition of normalcy to Schmidt’s life made a distinct difference, with Schmidt posting two runs north of 400 balls, including a personal high 434.

“Again, I was still 100 balls short,” Schmidt said, exasperated.

In late January 2019, Schmidt traveled to Southern Indiana to play in the annual Derby City Classic. Naturally, he competed in the George Fels Memorial Straight Pool Challenge, in which players post an entry fee and get a dozen chances to post the event’s high run from a break ball position. (Schmidt posted the fourth-highest run, with 216.) During the event, Phoenix poolroom owner Trent King approached Schmidt with an offer to spend four weeks in Arizona and continue his quest at Bull Shooters, with each session streamed live to pool fans around the world.

Schmidt is seeking validation of his run from Guinness Records, the Smithsonian and the BCA.

The Arizona trip proved to be a turning point for Team Schmidt. While Schmidt authored another personal best – 464 – and ran through five more 300-ball runs, it was information away from the table that helped him turn a corner.

“I learned a ton of important things in Phoenix,” Schmidt said.

For starters, Schmidt started to change habits, change playing strategies and even change his attire.

“I bought a pair of Hoka shoes,” he said. “[Fellow pro] Mike Davis told me about them. They made a huge difference. My feet and legs didn’t get nearly as tired. I also started eating differently. I started fasting and drinking these B-12 smoothies from Whole Foods. I started breaking the balls differently. I was improving every day by learning what worked and what didn’t.”

Just three weeks later, the Schmidts and Desmond were back in Monterey for Challenge IV, a previously scheduled one-month stint.

“We’d already had the fourth block scheduled, so this was happening regardless,” said Schmidt. “And, truthfully, this was going to be the last block. Doug had spent a lot of money to help us, and it was costing me a lot of money too.”

On the second of the 16 days Schmidt played in May he ran 421.

“That gave me high hopes,” Schmidt recalled. “Then I had about a 10-day lull of high 200s and low 300s.”

Perhaps the most astonishing factor in Schmidt’s four-block assault on Mosconi’s run was his perseverance and mental fortitude in the face of 200- and 300-ball “lulls.”

While every long run and new personal high were great achievements, they were, at the same time, failures.

“If I was at Derby City and ran 400 I would be the hero,” Schmidt offered. “I’d be carried off on everyone’s shoulders and I’d have eight people trying to take me out to a nice dinner. But in this environment, there is no fanfare when I mess up. I feel like an idiot and I have to start over. It’s the only time in my career where I’ve done things that I would normally think are great and I feel like the biggest loser on the planet.

“I had hundreds of days that just were not fun. People think a lot of pros can do this, but I want to see how they react after they get a skid at 390 or a miscue at 275, day after day. When you’re on a big run everyone is watching. They’re all off their phones and their jaws are hanging open. Then when you screw up everyone just walks away.

“It’s an awful thing when you miss,” he added. “The livestream in Phoenix was good because it forced me to just rack the balls and start over. There were times I just wanted to break my cue and walk out of the building. But I kept going because I thought at any moment I could reach greatness. There were times I ran a 330 and followed with 170 on the very next shot. That’s hard to do when you’re disgusted.”

The mental focus it takes to endure hours of shooting, days on end, also took a physical toll on Schmidt.

“Some days I would walk in and run 100 four times in a row,” said Schmidt. “Now it’s noon and I’m already worn out. I still have a half day left. Or I’d run 360 and it’s after 6 o’clock. I’ve run past dinner, but I keep playing. Then I get a skid. My whole body is messed up.

“In Phoenix there were a number of days where I’d walk in and run 360 on the first or second shot,” he said, laughing at the recollection. “Now my feet hurt, my neck hurts and we’ve just started. It’s streaming live and people are yelling, “Yeah! Let’s put on a show!’ Meanwhile, I’m dying.”

Still, by Challenge IV, Schmidt’s new routine was paying dividends. In the evenings, Felicity would make dinner while John and Desmond logged the days numbers and discussed strategy.

“We constantly tested things,” Schmidt said. “Sleeping more, sleeping less. Eating more, eating less. Breaking hard, breaking soft. Every day, Doug and I were throwing stuff at the wall to see what would stick. Doug is a good player and is very knowledgeable. He’d say, “Why don’t we hit the break softer tomorrow?’ Or, “Let’s use high left on the break ball.'”

Schmidt would watch the evening news and retire early. Schmidt would rise by 6 a.m. and have his morning cup of coffee with Desmond. On the way to Easy Street, they would stop at Whole Foods to grab a few egg croissants and some fruit. Once at the poolroom, they would vacuum the table, polish the balls, close the drapes and start the camera. It became a ritual.

It was late in the day a week into his final trip to Monterey when Schmidt found himself deep into what he thought might be a record run. He cleared 450. Next, he blazed past his previous record of 464. Suddenly, he was knocking on the door of 500.

At 490, Schmidt faced a break shot to the right of the rack. It was a relatively routine break shot for Schmidt.

“I dogged my brains out,” Schmidt said in disgust. “And I will admit that it was 110 percent because of the pressure. It was right in front of me and I thought, “This is it.’ And I completely fainted. I let everyone down…Doug, my dad, my wife, my family, my fans. It was more heat than I could handle.”

Not surprisingly, Schmidt took a day of rest following the 490.

“Listen, I’m 46,” Schmidt confided. “I tried to wrap my head around accepting that failure was more likely than success.”

Twelve days later, on Monday, May 27, Schmidt strolled into Easy Street for another day of attempts. Unofficially, he had eight more days with which to break the record.

He wouldn’t need them.

Schmidt limbered up with 126, then 28.

“It was a perfect start,” he recalled. “I was still fresh. I had good energy. The conditions were perfect.”

Schmidt became a fixture at Easy Street, here with owner James Forest (right).

So were his patterns. He blazed through rack after rack. When he got to his break ball, Desmond would calmly grab their trusty Sardo Rack and corral the balls for the next rack. A few hours later, Schmidt was well into the 300s. Soon after, he had topped 450 and the pressure began to build.

“470 to 530 I was a nervous wreck,” Schmidt admitted.

Ironically, at 490, Schmidt was faced with the very same break shot he’d botched two weeks earlier. Schmidt glanced over at Desmond, but Desmond refused to make eye contact. Schmidt felt nauseous.

“It was miserable,” he said. “If there was a heart monitor, I could have lit up an entire city.”

This time, however, Schmidt did not “faint.” The 5 ball sailed smoothly into the corner pocket and the cue ball dove into the rack, creating a nice spread of balls.

“Well,” said Desmond, matter-of-factly. “Engert is handled.” Having cleared two significant hurdles, Schmidt knew the record was in sight.

Schmidt broke at 504 and worked his way through the rack. At 518, Schmidt made the break ball, but the cue ball found its way into the middle of the rack. He feared the worst. Would he end up tree-topped or trapped? The balls seemed to move in slow motion. At the last second, the balls opened up and Schmidt saw a lane. He had one shot, a missable ball along the rail. It forced him to elevate his cue.

Suddenly, the panic, fear and nerves all set in. To Schmidt, virtually every shot the rest of the way looked nearly impossible.

Schmidt, with benefactor Doug Desmond, earned a special trophy from rack creator Lou Sardo. (Photo by Danielle Penn)

“My heart was going a million beats a second,” he insisted.

Having successfully dodged that bullet, Schmidt knew Mosconi’s elusive 526 was in this single rack. A few balls later, Schmidt opened up a small cluster of balls.

“You need four,” Desmond offered.

The balls were right in front of him for the taking. Strange thoughts started to creep into Schmidt’s mind. What if they’d miscounted? What if they moved the coin (used to count racks) wrong and he was really only at 512?

So after Schmidt returned from his bathroom break to pocket 526, there was no celebration. No jumping up and down. No hugging.

“I didn’t want to beat the record by two balls,” Schmidt rationalized. “I wanted to put up a number that might last as long as Willie’s did. I know how hard it is to run this many balls.”

Schmidt continued for another 100 balls, finally missing on a combination at 626. “It was a shot that I could have made, but it was very missable,” Schmidt said. “If the run had to end, that’s the way I wanted it.”

Not surprisingly, news of Schmidt’s run blew up pool’s corner of social media. The New York Times heralded the accomplishment and a local Monterey television station did a short piece with Schmidt. Fans and fellow pros offered their congratulations.

“It is my proudest moment,” acknowledged Schmidt, “and the fanfare and congratulations from my fans and peers was way more than I thought it would be.”

The news, however, also sparked debate over the merits and significance of Schmidt’s 626. Critics claimed Mosconi’s run, completed in an exhibition match, was made during “competition,” while Schmidt simply set up break shots to start his runs.

“The criticism and skepticism have bothered me, to be honest,” Schmidt said of the posts. I can’t believe some of the things people have said. To me, it’s a small-minded mentality. In the end, though, it’s been about one percent of the comments.”

It appears that the Billiard Congress of America, recognized keeper of the sport’s official rules and records, has found no fault with Schmidt’s run. In early June, Desmond flew to the BCA office in Colorado with the unedited videotape. BCA officials Rob Johnson and Shane Tyree watched the entire four-hour plus video, and while no official statement has been released, the BCA is expected to recognize Schmidt’s effort as a “record exhibition high run.” It is also expected that the run will be submitted to the Guinness Book of Records.

In the meanwhile, Schmidt has been huddling with friends and advisors to discuss the best ways to capitalize on the record. An edited (for time) version of the video has been prepared but has yet to be released.

“Honestly, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with the video,” Schmidt confessed. “I’ve got to monetize this to a degree. I don’t really make money in pool. It is an opportunity for me and I can’t let that pass by. I’m not going to simply release this video for free and end up dying broke behind a Walgreens. If the world won’t allow me to get something from this video, then I guess the world will never see it.”

Schmidt contends that he has not shot an inning of straight pool since Memorial Day. “I really want to put together a nice run the next time I step to the table,” he said. “It’s ego and pride. It’s important to me to run 250 or 300. The inning after that I won’t care.”

Celebrating with a champagne toast at Easy Street.

How Schmidt’s 626 will be remembered in pool lore remains to be seen. Will it carry the same mystique as Mosconi’s 526? Will it last as long?

Schmidt isn’t sure himself, but he is understandably proud of the effort and the result.

“I feel like this whole journey brought the pool world together a bit,” he said. “It was nice to see everyone talking pool and talking about straight pool again.”

LION ROARS INTO HALL OF FAME

Over the years, Alex Pagulayan, the comical, mischievous and lethal Canadian-by-way-of-the-Philippines pool star, has parlayed his talents into the World 9-Ball Championship, a U.S. Open 9-Ball title and a pair of Derby City Classic Master of the Table crowns. Those achievements have now earned the 41-year-old “Lion” the “ultimate accomplishment,” induction into the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame.

The United States Billiard Media Association announced that Pagulayan will enter the sport’s most exclusive club, along with table manufacturer/promoter Greg Sullivan and Johnston City Hustlers Jamboree creators George and Paul Jansco. All will be formally honored during ceremonies at the Norfolk Sheraton Waterside Hotel in Norfolk, Va., on Friday, Nov. 1.

Pagulayan, who earned election in a run-off against England’s Kelly Fisher after the two had tied on the initial ballot, will enter the Greatest Players wing of the Hall of Fame. Sullivan, 70, and the late Jansco brothers will be honored in the Meritorious Service category.

“I don’t know what to say,” said Pagulayan after being informed of his election. “For a pool player, this is the ultimate accomplishment, right? And I’m happy to become the first Canadian in the BCA Hall of Fame.” Pagulayan, who moved from the Philippines to Toronto at 16, made his presence felt in 2002, when he reached the final of the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships. After losing to Germany’s Ralf Souquet in the title match, Pagulayan, then 24, reached the final of the World Pool Championship a year later. Again, he lost in the final. Again, he lost to a German player, Thorsten Hohmann. But it was clear that Pagulayan had championship ability, and in 2004 he returned to the title match at the World Pool Championship in Taipei, Taiwan. This time he emerged victorious, topping local hopeful Pei Wei Chang for the title. A year later, Pagulayan exorcised his U.S. Open 9-Ball demon as well, winning the title. In addition to World Summit of Pool and World Pool Masters titles, Pagulayan is the only player to have won titles in all three divisions of the annual Derby City Classic — One-Pocket, Banks and 9-Ball. He also earned Master of the Table titles in 2015 and 2016.

“The Derby City All-Around titles are my biggest career highlights,” Pagulayan said. “They are such big fields and you have to play all three games well. And it’s really hard to win all three disciplines. I feel like I won pool’s triathlon.”

It was the first year of eligibility for both Pagulayan and Fisher. Each were named on 62 percent of the ballots, forcing a run-off vote. In the special election, Pagulayan received 21 votes, while Fisher received 16. Holland’s Niels Feijen (27 percent) and American Corey Deuel (24 percent) were the next highest vote-getters on the initial ballot. Shannon Daulton, Jeremy Jones, Stefano Pellinga, Vivian Villarreal and Charlie Williams were named on less than 10 percent of the ballots.

For Sullivan, admission into the BCA Hall of Fame caps a life of service trying to elevate pool from a recreation to a legitimate professional sport. An Indiana native, Sullivan became a poolroom owner and, with input from top players, began constructing pool tables to professional specifications.

Sullivan launched Diamond Billiard Products, with his tables quickly becoming the preferred playfield of the pros. Frustrated by coin-operated tables that forced players to use magnetic or oversized cue balls, Sullivan is also credited with introducing optical sensor to coin-op tables so that standard cue balls could be used. For Sullivan, it marked another victory in putting professional equipment into the hands of all players.

In the 1990s, Sullivan contracted the Pantone Company to research the optimum color for pool cloth. The testing resulted in the Tournament Blue prevalent in today’s professional tournaments.

As a lifelong fan of the Johnston City Hustler’s Jamborees of the 1960s and ’70s, Sullivan launched a similar multi-discipline event, the Derby City Classic, in 1998. The annual event has drawn thousands of professional and regional players to Southern Indiana for 21 years.

“I have to say, I’m in shock,” Sullivan said when informed. “My whole life has been about pool, just trying to turn it from a game to a sport. It’s all I’ve ever done.”

That George and Paulie Jansco should join Sullivan in the same Hall of Fame class is appropriate, since the Southern Illinois club owners founded the famed Johnston City Hustlers Jamboree and All-Around Pool Championship in the 1960s. The Janscos contributed to the pool’s romanticized image as a gunslinger’s activity. Their promotion of the gambling aspect of the sport contributed to its rise in popularity with the public, with their tournaments drawing media coverage from major television networks and national magazines like “Sports Illustrated.” So popular were the Johnston City events that the Jansco’s launched a second event, the Stardust Open in Las Vegas. The Janscos could also be credited with moving 9-ball and one-pocket into the game’s forefront during a time in which straight pool was considered the only professional game. They were also among the first promoters to welcome integrated fields, paving the way for players like African-American Cicero Murphy to compete for world titles. George Jansco passed away in 1969. Paul Jansco died in 1997.

Taking A Mulligan

Matchroom’s acquisition of the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships was met with great joy by the pool community. Bold plans and grandiose promises heralded a bright future for America’s oldest and most significant major pool tournament. A guaranteed purse of $300,000 for the 2019 event was announced when entries opened to 128 players. The response from players around the globe was so swift, despite the $1,000 entry fee, that the field was opened and quickly grew to 175, then 200 and finally to 256. More than 100 players asked that their names be placed on a waiting list.

Not unreasonably, most players assumed that since the number of entries doubled, the prize fund would also jump. Simple math shows that a $300,000 guaranteed purse with $128,000 in entry fees equals $172,000 in added money. With 256 players, that $172,000 would bring the total prize fund to $428,000. Makes sense. Even if Matchroom only added $100,000, some rationalized, the purse would still be $356,000.

So, imagine the players’ surprise when Matchroom quietly posted the prize list on its website yesterday, indicating that the total prize fund would remain at its originally announced $300,000. Just $44,000 added to the U.S. Open? Heck, Barry Behrman’s U.S. Opens routinely featured $50,000 added. Some players expressed disbelief. A few others were flat out angry. What happened to all of those big promises? This is a Matchroom production, right?

Of course, everything is not quite as simple and clear cut as it seems. “The cost of this event is staggering,” Matchroom Multi Sport COO Emily Frazer said, when asked about the prize fund surprise.

It seems money that might have been added to the prize fund was gobbled up in staging and production costs.

Honestly, I understand both sides of this. The players have every right to be disappointed in the prize fund. And Matchroom has every right to spend its money where it sees fit in the production of an event.

In an effort to get each side to understand the other’s concerns, I offer the following comments:

To Matchroom — A $300,000 event doesn’t impress players if the entry fees account for 85 percent of the purse. Players are travelling from all over the globe, at great expense, because you have a pristine reputation and you’ve gone to great lengths to tout your takeover of the U.S. Open as game-changing. They are coming because it says “Matchroom.” These players are paying a $1,000 entry fee, at least that much to get to Las Vegas, $200 a night for lodging, $6 for a bottle of water and will be prisoners in the arena at Mandalay Bay because the field needs to be trimmed from 256 to 16 in three days. And obviously, going from 128 to 256 players with no increase in prize fund has an adverse effect on the prize distribution. So, don’t blame the players if they feel somewhat disrespected. Staging and production costs are astronomical? I get it. But the players did not demand that the event be at the price-gouging Mandalay Bay, yet they have been punished.

Beyond that, the World Cup of Pool ($250,000) and World Pool Masters ($100,000) are 100 percent added money (invitationals with no entry fee). The U.S. Open’s $44,000 in added money makes it the fourth largest added-money pro tournament of 2019 — the World 10-Ball Championship ($100k), the WPA Player Championships ($50k) and the International 9-Ball Open ($50K). This U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships qualifies as the lowest tier WPA points event. That’s not Matchroom. Matchroom sets the bar, it doesn’t limbo under it.

To the Players and Fans — If anyone in this industry deserves the benefit of the doubt, and the gift of a mulligan, it’s Matchroom. If they can be faulted at all in this matter it is in focusing so hard on taking the event itself to the next level. “We’re going to take this event and make it mainstream,” was Matchroom founder Barry Hearn’s message when he announced the company’s acquisition of the U.S. Open.

That doesn’t mean simply posting a huge prize fund. That means creating a must-see event that has people buzzing. I get that too and creating that perception costs money. Look no further than the Mosconi Cup, pool’s only true must-see event. Matchroom took an event that was already successful and ramped it up another level in 2018. That gamble didn’t come cheap, but it paid off. The result? The players will benefit next year with double the prize money. From the sound of it, staging and production plans for the U.S. Open are every bit as bold.

And that is what players and fans should understand and accept this year. Give Matchroom a prize fund pass in April and let them focus on making the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships the Mosconi Cup of open tournaments. The impact will be long-lasting and the reward to the players is certain to follow.

Pool’s Olympic Bid Fails

The organizing committee for Paris 2024 released a press kit on its recommendations to the International Olympic Committee. The committee recommended break dancing, surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing. Other sports that were included as “finalists” were baseball, squash and karate.

In recent Summer Games, the IOC has allowed the host country’s organizing committee to propose new sports. Baseball and karate will be included in the Tokyo 2020 Games, along with surfing, sports climbing and skateboarding. The Paris 2024 Organizing Committee recommended the four sports to “emphasize its goal of creating spectacular, urban and sustainable Games. These will not only provide a fitting showcase for athletic performance but also engage young people and the wider public through lifestyle sports.” The World Confederation of Billiard Sports (WCBS), the world governing body for all billiard sports and a member of the IOC, launched an effort to have billiards included in 2024 by forming a Billiards 2024 Committee. The committee hosted a press conference to announce its intent at the Eiffel Tower in Paris in early December. The WCBS also launched an online petition to demonstrate the sport’s worldwide appeal. The World Snooker Federation (snooker), World Pool-Billiard Association (pool) and World Billiard Union (carom) make up the WCBS.

Billiards 2024 Committee Coordinator Jean-Pierre Guiraud was not available for comment at the time of this post. More information will be released as it comes in.

Good Things Come To Those That Wait

That old adages seems perfectly appropriate in 2018, as former champions Gerda Hofstatter-Gregerson and Kim Davenport earned election into the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame, the BCA announced today.

The Austrian-born Hofstatter-Gregerson, 47, had been on the Greatest Player ballot for seven years and finished second in voting three times. Davenport, 62, had been on the Greatest Player ballot for nearly 20 years. He was recommended this year by the Veterans Committee, which reviews the records of players who had not gained election on the general ballot prior to turning 60.

“My first reaction is, ‘What am I doing in there with all those great players,’” Hofstatter Gregerson. “Honestly, I never expected to get in. Everyone who has gotten in is so deserving, I was just honored to be on the ballot. But I am excited and humbled and honored to be in such great company.”

“It was a long wait and was a little frustrating at times,” admitted Davenport, who resides in Acworth, Ga. “I thought my record was stronger than some others, but better late than never. A hundred years from now people will see my name next to Mosconi’s, and that’s not a bad thing!”

A longtime star on the Women’s Professional Billiard Association Classic Tour, Hofstatter-Gregerson was 10-time European Champion before moving to the U.S. in 1993 to join the WPBA. She won 10 Classic Tour titles in eight years. She also won the World Pool-Billiard Association World 9-Ball Championship in 1995, the WPBA National Championship in ’97 and the BCA Open 9-Ball Championship in 2000.

Davenport hit his stride on the men’s pro tour in 1998, winning the highly regarded Japan Cup and Eastern States 9-Ball titles. After adding three more titles in 1989, Davenport won the Brunswick Challenge Cup in Sweden, the Sands Regency Open and the B.C. Open in 1990, earning Player of the Year honors from Billiards Digest.

Hofstatter-Gregerson and Davenport will be formally inducted as the 71st and 72nd members of the BCA Hall of Fame on Friday, Oct. 26, at the Norfolk Sheraton Waterside in Norfolk, Va.

Mandalay Bay To Host US Open 9-Ball

The 43rd US Open 9-Ball Championship will take place at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Las Vegas from Sunday, April 21 until Friday, April 26, 2019.

Matchroom Multi Sport acquired full ownership of the US Open 9-Ball Championship in a ground-breaking agreement last month and the tournament will move to Las Vegas for its 43rd staging as part of a long-term goal to take the event into the sporting mainstream. The prize fund will be set at a guaranteed $300,000, the biggest ever for the event.

Matchroom Sport Chairman Barry Hearn commented, “I am delighted that we will be partnering with Mandalay Bay in delivering this new era for the US Open 9-Ball Championship. This is going to be a must-see event for every pool fan in America and we also hope to bring new fans into the game.

“Mandalay Bay was an exemplary host of the Mosconi Cup last year and we are thrilled that they will again host one of pool’s biggest events, the US Open. We are busy working hard to deliver a brilliant tournament next April and will have more news about the US Open in coming weeks.”

Ticket details for fans and entry details for players will be made available shortly. The format will be double elimination on a multi-table set up down to the last eight on the winners and losers sides. The final stages will feature the last 16 players in straight knockout on a single table in a huge arena. All matches will be races to 11 with the exception of the final.

Players and fans wishing to book accommodation at Mandalay Bay for the US Open will be able to take advantage of exclusive rates once tickets are on sale.