PoolRoom

Destiny’s Child

Fulfilling the promise of his vast potential, Taiwan’s Pin Yi Ko wins the World 9-Ball Championship, dashing Shane Van Boening’s hopes of bringing the title back to the U.S.

By Mike Panozzo

Photos by Richard Walker

There is little argument that the World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA) World 9-Ball Championship is the toughest tournament in the world to win. Unlike the sporadically staged WPA World 10-Ball and World 8-Ball championships, the World 9-Ball Championship has been staged every year since 1990, with the exception of 2008 and 2009, when the event failed to secure sponsorship. Among the game’s elite, it is the title revered above all others, and every nation’s champion players fight for the opportunity to wedge themselves into the talent-laden 128-player field.

“With some dazzling shot-making (and a few fortunate rolls), Ko jumped into the record books.”

And as if the sheer depth of talent isn’t enough, the fickle and unpredictable game of 9-ball itself makes the task of advancing through the treacherous group stage gauntlet and winning six single-elimination matches even more daunting. One only need look at the unlikely finalists in recent years to realize the degree of difficulty the annual WPA championship provides. For every Darren Appleton, Niels Feijen and Thorsten Hohmann that have reached the title match, the 9-ball world championship has seen its share of Albin Ouschans, Yukio Akagariyamas and Ronnie Alcanos — all world-class players, but hardly perennial international champions. No, the WPA World 9-Ball Championship is not often kind to predetermined favorites.

In 2015, however, the World 9-Ball Championship delivered perhaps the perfect title match — heavyweights from opposite ends of the globe, each seemingly predestined to win the coveted world championship at some point in their careers.If there are players more devoted to the game or more obsessed with practice and perfection than Taiwan’s Pin Yi Ko and America’s Shane Van Boening, they’ve yet to be discovered. The 26-year-old Ko, a wunderkind since winning back-to-back WPA World Junior 9-Ball Championships, has finally met the pool world’s lofty expectations with wins at the CSI 10-Ball Championship and, more recently, the WPA World 10-Ball Championship in late February. Van Boening, arguably America’s best player since three-time world champion Earl Strickland, has dominated U.S.-based tournaments for nearly a decade, and has shed his reputation for underachieving on foreign soil with back-to-back World Pool Masters titles.

“Van Boening appeared headed to his first world title, having thrashed his first five opponents in the final bracket by a margin of 55-15.”

All of which made the pair’s epic battle in Doha, Qatar such a delicious treat for the thousands of pool fans from around the globe who hung on every shot while viewing the match on a live stream from the mostly empty Al-Arabi Sport Club. And when Ko pounced on an errant Van Boening safety attempt to secure the title, 13-11, in a nail-biting finale, the overwhelming sentiment was that the finalists had not seen the last of one another on pool’s biggest stage.The win made Ko, who battled through several close calls but never wavered in his resolve, the first player to claim two WPA world titles in the same year. For Van Boening, who had authored several otherworldly performances en route to the title match in hopes of becoming the first American player to win the World 9-Ball Championship since Strickland’s 2002 triumph, the loss was bitterly disappointing, although it further dismissed any notion that he can’t stand up to top-flight international competition.The long road to the World 9-Ball final began with a play-in stage for 13 open spots, a stage of uninvited hopefuls that included former World 9-Ball champions Akagariyama and Fong Pang Chao (both of whom advanced). That was followed by the double-elimination group stage, which produced four players from each of 16 eight-player groups who advanced to the 64-player single-elimination rounds. Despite spreading the top-ranked players through the groups, upsets traditionally abound in the opening stages of the tournament and 2015 proved to be no different. No fewer than five former world champions booked early flights home during the topsy-turvy group stage, the most stunning of which was defending World 9-Ball champion Feijen. After winning his opening match, the normally consistent Dutchman suffered through back-to-back 9-8 losses, first to Alexander Kazakis of Greece, then to unheralded South Korean, Ryu Seang Woo. The 30-year-old Woo overcame deficits of 5-1 and 8-5 to stun Feijen and advance to the knockout stages. Feijen had company on his return trip to Holland, as his World Cup of Pool teammate and Euro Tour Player of the Year Nick van den Berg also failed to survive Stage Two.

“Time and again in the finale, Van Boening found himself on the wrong end of Ko’s unintentional safeties.”

A pair of Brit former champions also got to share in one another’s misery on flights back to the United Kingdom, as Karl Boyes (2010 World 8-Ball) and Daryl Peach (2007) failed to advance. Boyes dropped successive matches to Lo Ho, 9-5, and the resurgent Chao, 9-7, while Peach’s elimination at the hands of Mishel Turkey, 9-4, gave the host country its first-ever player in the final 64.

To complete an unusual trend, two former champions from Germany also departed Qatar on what is now deemed “Judgment Day.” Oliver Ortmann (1995) and two-time winner Thorsten Hohmann (2003 and 2013). Not surprisingly, the always-lethal contingent of players from the Philippines led the finals bracket with nine players while Taiwan (7) and China (6) were close behind. What was a surprise, however, was Van Boening being joined by two other Americans (Mike Dechaine and Hunter Lombardo) in the single-elimination stage. Young Canadian challengers John Morra and Jason Klatt joined the fray as well.

One by one, however, the mighty Filipinos were sent packing, with eventual champion Ko, who opened with an easy 11-7 win over Australia’s Justin Campbell, dispatching Carlo Biado (11-4) and Warren Kiamco (11-9). In fact, the only Filipino player to reach the quarterfinals was the nation’s top player, Dennis Orcollo.

Ko advanced to the semifinals with an 11-6 win over Morra, who had displayed plenty of nerve with back-to-back come-from-behind wins over England’s Mark Gray (11-10) and former champion Mika Immonen (11-8). Morra won the final seven games in his win over Immonen.

Tracking Ko to the semis was Jia Qing Wu of China. A decade ago, Wu, then called Chia Chung Wu and hailing from Taiwan, shocked the pool world by winning the World 9-Ball Championship at the tender young age of 16. The baby-faced lefty appeared to have regained that form in Qatar, rolling past world No. 1 Ouschan of Austria, 11-6, countryman Wang Can, 11-9, and surprising Aloisius Yapp of Singapore, 11-7.

“When the opportunity arose, Ko delivered the knockout punch.”

America’s hopes rested on the other side of the 64-player bracket, where Van Boening was starting to find a groove. Painstaking preparation has long been the South Dakota native’s calling card, and Van Boening spent hours on the practice tables in Qatar fine-tuning his break shot. The results were staggering, as Van Boening blasted through four consecutive opponents (Poland’s Tomasz Kaplan, Spain’s Francisco Diaz-Pizzaro, Taiwan’s Yu Chang and Orcollo) by a combined score of 44-14. Particularly impressive was Van Boening’s beatdown of Orcollo. The Filipino (losing finalist to Van Boening in the last two U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships) came into the match on a roll of his own, having demolished Turkey, 11-1, Lombardo, 11-7, and 2012 champion Appleton, 11-2.

But Van Boening ran from the break on virtually every opportunity in the alternate-break format and pounced on every Orcollo mistake to seize a 10-0 lead before winning, 11-1.

Dechaine, arguably America’s second-best player, performed admirably in his first foray overseas. The East Coaster showed plenty of nerve in winning back-to-back 11-10 matches against Taiwan’s Chang Yu and Estonia’s Denis Grabe. In the round of 16, Dechaine battled Pin Chung Ko, the 20-year-old brother of Pin Yi Ko, 9-9. Trailing, 10-9, but en route to forcing a case game, Dechaine jawed the 9 ball. The younger Ko, winner of the 2014 CSI 8-Ball Championship, advanced to the semifinals with a convincing 11-5 win over Poland’s Wojceich Szweczyk.

“It was an incredible experience,” said Dechaine, who will partner with Van Boening for Team USA in the World Cup of Pool. “I learned some things here. I need to stay calm. I also need to figure out my sleeping pattern. But I’m really looking forward to traveling to more of the international events.”

The semifinals offered a number of juicy storylines, with the possibility of the Ko brothers meeting for the title at the top of the list. Having split the 2014 CSI titles, with Pin Yi topping Pin Chung for the 10-ball title and Pin Chung topping Van Boening for the 8-ball crown, the brothers threaten to dominate pool for years to come. Some observers go so far as to contend that the younger Ko is the better player and simply needs more seasoning. Regardless, the duo figures to be dynamic in international events.

Of course, the storyline in the U.S. was the chance for Van Boening to reclaim the title that was won by American players six times between 1990 and 2003. And in the semifinal between Van Boening and Pin Chung Ko, that potential result looked increasingly possible. Continuing his incredible success on the break, Van Boening streaked to a 5-0 lead before Ko scratched out a game. Undaunted, Van Boening simply raced through the next six racks for a startling 11-1 win and a place in the final.

Meanwhile, the elder Ko and Wu were engaged in a tense battle of wills. Wu bolted to an early 6-2 lead, but Ko chipped away and forged a tie at 7-7 when Wu botched an easy safety. The miscue turned the tide in Ko’s favor, and the Taiwanese star edged ahead, regaining the break advantage he had earned by winning the lag. The match was tied at 8-8, 9-9 and 10-10, but Wu could only watch helplessly in the case game, as Ko broke and ran out for the win. The title match was close throughout, due in large part to some good fortune in Ko’s favor. At 4-4, Ko scratched and missed in the same rack, only to leave Van Boening stymied both times. Ko eventually won that rack, then, at 5-5, and botched a 2-9 combination, only to see the 9 carom across the table and into the side pocket for a 6-5 lead.

Van Boening maintained pressure, eventually forging an 8-6 lead that easily could have been 10-4. Ko fought back to tie the match, 8-8, but another scratch handed Van Boening a 9-8 lead in the extended race to 13. Van Boening appeared to be headed to another two-game advantage when a positional error left him hooked on the 7 ball. His jump attempt railed and Ko again tied the match, regaining his serve.

The combatants battled nerves and tough run-outs to 10-10 and 11-11. Ko broke and ran out to reach the hill, 12-11.

As it had several times during the match, Van Boening’s break yielded a pocketed ball, but no open shot. He pushed out to a tricky kick attempt, which Ko quickly handed back. Van Boening’s kick was thick and the 2 ball was left in the open. The unflappable Ko calmly picked his way through the rack, pumping his first at the drop of the final 9 for the 13-11 victory. “I definitely didn’t play perfect in the final,” admitted the elated Ko. “But it is the final of the World 9-Ball Championship and you know so many things can happen. I think we both played good and both made some mistakes. I feel that I got a few lucky rolls to help me win the match. But at the end of the match, I played good. I was able to stay patient.”

“He got a lot of fortunate rolls and got lucky to hook me a couple of times after misses,” said Van Boening. “But I also made mistakes that I should never have made. He played great. I think I made more mistakes than he did and that is what cost me. My break wasn’t working, but that’s the way the game plays.

“It’s an honor to play in the world championship final,” Van Boening added. “I know I can’t win every tournament. I’ll be back.”

“When I won the World 10-Ball Championship, that was great,” said Ko, $30,000 wealthier for the win, “But winning the World 9-Ball Championship is unbelievable. I’m really happy.”

Orcollo Undefeated at Carom Room Fall Classic

dennisorcolloEarly on, it looked as though one way or another, it was going to be over quickly.

Dennis Orcollo and Johnny Archer met up in the finals of the $10,000-added Carom Room Fall Classic up in Benoit, WI, a 10-ball, bar table event held on the weekend of August 28-30. They broke and ran their way through the first five games of that final matchup, until, ahead by one, Orcollo jumped on Archer’s first dry break of the match to take a lead he’d never relinquish. The event, streamed live, by Ray “Big Truck” Hansen and his crew at PoolActionTV, drew 96 entrants to The Carom Room in Beloit, WI.

They’d met first in the hot seat match. Archer had just sent Josh Roberts to the loss side. Orcollo sent Jason Klatt over. Archer broke dry five times in the hot seat match that sent him to the semifinals 9-5.

Still playing on the loss side when the first money rounds came around were (among others) Shane Van Boening, Skyler Woodward, John Morra, and Tony Chohan. Billy Thorpe was still playing, too. He’d sent Van Boening to the loss side, and they were both working their way to a potential head-to-head rematch in the quarterfinals. Working on that loss side, Thorpe got by Chohan and Morra to pick up Klatt. Van Boening had defeated Jesse Bowman and Skyler Woodward to draw Roberts.

Roberts spoiled the Thorpe/Van Boening re-match by eliminating Van Boening, while Thorpe took Klatt out. Roberts then defeated Thorpe in the quarterfinals 9-6.

Roberts then ran into the buzz saw of Johnny Archer smelling the finish line. Mindful of his break problems in the hot seat match, Archer had spent much of the intervening time between the hot seat match and semifinal (during the quarterfinal match) practicing that break and it paid off. Roberts broke to get things underway, but Johnny took the first game and then, sunk three on his subsequent break to jump start his way to taking the second. On the third rack, Roberts broke dry, but left Archer a long, rail-first shot at the 1-ball, nestled against the 10-ball, pointed right at a 6-ball, sitting just off-center of the side pocket. Acting as though he did this sort of thing every day, Archer stroked the ball and sure enough – rail first, cue hit the 1-ball, 10 slid over, nudged the 6-ball out of the way and dropped into the side pocket.
3-0, Archer. He won six more to shut Roberts out and the re-match versus Orcullo was on.

Though Orcollo would win by four racks, he and Archer both were handed and squandered numerous opportunities. Immediately after Archer broke dry to give Orcullo the 4-2 lead, Orcollo broke dry to hand Archer his third rack. Archer then broke dry a second time, and for the second time, Orcollo made him pay. It was 5-3.

The 9th rack created a problem that was, much to Archer’s chagrine, solved by allowing Orcollo to break rack # 9 a second time. Within a shot or two of Orcollo’s initial break that saw three balls go down, the 1-ball was locked up in a tight pack of balls and could not, without foul, be touched. Archer and Orcollo took turns giving each other ball in hand, by shooting at a ball that either tied up the 1-ball even further or just moved a different ball, away from the pack, in some random direction. The game and match came to a halt, before it was determined, by TD David Coles, that the game was a stalemate, and that, by rule, Orcollo (the original breaker) would be allowed to break again.

Orcollo did so, made two balls and was looking at a decent table for a run when he put himself out of position, shooting at the 5-ball and gave the table to Archer. Archer, in much the same way, gave it right back and Orcollo finished it – 6-3.

Archer broke dry for the third straight time, but Orcollo chalked up another unforced error, missing a ball completely to give Archer ball-in-hand, and eventually, the game. It was 6-4 and still looking interesting.

A quick break-and-run for Orcollo moved him back out in front by three (7-4), before Archer broke dry for the fourth straight time. Again, Orcollo failed to capitalize, and when he turned the table over to Archer, Archer jumped on it to complete what proved to be his final winning rack.

Orcollo broke rack # 13, sinking two balls, and though he’d make a tricky 1-8 combination, the position result was not what he’d hoped for. He played a safety that left Archer snookered, and went on to reach the hill first at 8-5.

Archer broke the final game, and though he did sink a ball, he was left with a difficult shot on the 1-ball that he missed. Orcollo stepped to the table and completed his undefeated run to claim the Carom Room’s Fall Classic title.

Ortmann, Ursitti Elected to BCA Hall of Fame

Oliver OrtmannJust as Jose Parica is credited with leading the Filipino invasion of professional pool in the United States, Germany’s Oliver Ortmann did the same for European players. Ortmann, whose stunning upset over Steve Mizerak in the Billiard Congress of America U.S. Open 14.1 Championship finale in 1989 spirited the rise of European challengers to American pool dominance, will be honored for his incredible international career when his is formally inducted into the BCA Hall of Fame in October.

Ortmann, 48, was the top vote-getter among eligible players in the Greatest Players category on the 2015 Hall of Fame ballot, according to the United States Billiard Media Association. Joining the German pool legend in the BCA Hall of Fame class of 2015 is longtime promoter and billiard historian, Charles Ursitti, who was elected in the Meritorious Service category.

Appearances by European players at tournaments in the U.S. were sporadic before Ortmann, then just 22 years old, outlasted America’s best straight pool players to capture the coveted U.S. Open title. Ortmann went on to win a second BCA U.S. Open crown, as well as three World Pool-Billiard Association world championships — two in straight pool (2007 and 2010) and the 1993 World 9-Ball Championship. He was also a Mosconi Cup staple on Team Europe during the 1990s, playing times and captaining his squad to victory in 2002

Ursitti, 68, began his career as a billiard promoter in 1978, when he teamed with New York production company Big Fights, Inc., to produce the first-ever meeting of pool legends Willie Mosconi and “Minnesota Fats,” an event that drew more than 10 million television viewers. Ursitti and Big Fights went on to produce hundreds of hours of pool programming on ABC Wide World of Sports, CBS Sports Spectacular and ESPN in the late ’70s and throughout the ’80s, featuring dozens of the top professional players of the day and legends of the game.

Ortmann and Ursitti will be formally inducted during ceremonies Thursday, Oct. 29, at the Sheraton Norfolk Waterfront in Norfolk, Va. The event will be held during the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships.

All Systems Go for U.S. Open

The start of the 40th U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships is almost three months away, and the full $75,000 in added money has been accounted for, according to Accu-Stats Video Productions owner Pat Fleming. In a July 27 release, Fleming added that the World Pool-Billiards Association (WPA) is satisfied that the event has met the requirements for WPA sanctioning as a “Tier 2” tournament.

U.S. Open promoter Barry Behrman has viewed the WPA sanctioning, which awards valuable world ranking points to participants, as critical in drawing international players to the tournament. In an effort to appease the WPA and quell the concerns of players, Behrman turned over the collection of added monies and entry fees for the 2015 U.S. Open to Accu-Stats. Behrman’s event has been beset with prize money shortfalls throughout the past 10 years. This year, however, all added monies and entry fees are being collected by Accu-Stats, and are being deposited into an escrow account. Accu-Stats will be in charge of paying all prize monies from the escrow account at the end of the tournament.

The U.S. Open field will be limited to 128 players, with a $1,000 entry fee.

BCA Hall of Famer Butera Dead

buteraFast-shooting former world champion and Billiard Congress of America Hall of Famer “Machine Gun” Lou Butera passed away June 25 in Los Angeles. Butera, 78, had been battling Parkinson’s disease for several years. Born in Pittson, Pa., Butera learned to play in a poolroom owned by his father. A devoted family man, Butera played in professional tournaments only sporadically, opting instead to work in both billiard rooms and billiard retail stores as a means to fend for his wife, Caroline (who died in 2012), and seven children. Butera was 35 when he won his only world title, wresting the crown from Irving Crane in 1973. His rapid-fire shooting style made Butera a fan-favorite.

Living in L.A., Butera was often called upon to serve as technical advisor for pool scenes in films and television shows, and even appeared on film several times.

Butera is survived by his seven children and many grandchildren.

The Hustlers

HustlersLinkCan “The Hustlers” garner the mass appeal of “Pawn Stars” or “The Deadliest Catch?” Will Jennifer Barretta gain the notoriety of a Kardashian or a Braxton? Is Mike Dechaine pool’s version of Gordon Ramsay? The answers to those and other questions will begin to take shape after TruTv’s new pool-focused reality show debuts Friday, March 22, at 9:00 pm EST.

The 10-episode first season of “The Hustlers” follows a troupe of players of various skill levels as they play for money and jockey for hierarchical standing at Steinway Billiards, one of New York City’s busiest poolrooms. Pros Mike Dechaine and Jennifer Barretta are among the central characters in the series, which also features self-appointed ringleader William Finnegan, Boston player Jarrod Clowery and locals Gregg McAndrews, Emily Duddy, Scott Simonetti and Gary O’Callaghan.

“The Hustlers” was produced by reality TV powerhouse Pilgrim Studios. The episodes were taped at Steinway over a 10-week period this spring.

Battle Of The Sexes – Finn goes up against Emily in an epic 9-ball battle royale.

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Home Turf Advantage – Gary and Finnegan show a pair of opponents why Steinway is their home turf.

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Mosconi Junior

With the well-documented success of the Mosconi Cup and the emergence of the Queens Cup, it was only a matter of time before international team clashes reached the junior ranks.

Enter the Atlantic Challenge Cup, an event recently announced by the Billiard Congress of America (BCA) and the European Pocket Billiard Federation (EPBF). As with the Mosconi Cup, which pits players from the United States against a team of European stars, the Atlantic Challenge Cup will be a transatlantic clash. Four boys and two girls will represent Team USA and Team Europe at the inaugural Challenge, which will take place July 1-4, in Rankweil, Austria. Players must be 19 or younger.

“The future of the game lies in our ability to develop tomorrow’s players,” said BCA Chairman Mike Serra. “The prestige of competing in an event of this magnitude will further promote the game to today’s youth.”

Europe, through the EPBF, already enjoys a strong youth program, and EPBF officials suspect the addition of the Atlantic Challenge Cup will further fuel the efforts.

“We expect the desire from the players wanting to be included into the team will be very strong and will further increase the standard within pool,” said EPBF President Gre Leenders. A seven-person committee, chaired by longtime instructor and referee Rick Doner, was assigned by the Billiard Education Foundation to select the U.S. squad The committee included players Jeanette Lee, Johnny Archer and Laura Smith, along with instructor Randy Goettlicher, instructional author Phil Capelle and longtime tournament director Earl Munson, who will also serve as coach and captain for Team USA. The BCA was expected to announce the Team USA members on May 4.

Meanwhile, the EPBF announced its roster, which will include Germany’s Joshua Filler and Raphael Wall, each of whom earned a pair of gold medals at the 2014 Youth European Championships. Maxim Dudanets of Russia, currently ranked 34th on the Euro Tour, will also participate, as will Sweden’s Daniel Tanguud. Youth Euro Championships silver medalist Marharyta Fefilava of Belarus and youth 8-ball champion Kristina Tkach of Russia will round out the squad.

While details have yet to be determined, the four-day event is expected to be a race to 11.

Accu-Stats To Take Over US Open Entry Fees, Payout

In an effort to quell player concerns and secure critical sanctioning from the World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA), U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships promoter Barry Behrman has come to an agreement with Accu-Stats and its owner, Pat Fleming, to allow Fleming to collect all entry fees and added monies for the 2015 event. Fleming will also be in charge of distributing prize money once players are eliminated from the tournament.

Behrman and Fleming announced the new arrangement in separate press releases March 18. The 2015 U.S. Open is scheduled for Oct. 23-30, at the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel in Norfolk, Va.

“Pat [Fleming] has opened a U.S. Open Bank of America escrow account and will collect the $75,000 added funds prior to mid-July, as well as all players’ entry fees, which will be used to pay through 48th place,” said Behrman in his release.

According to Fleming’s Accu-Stats release, Behrman has until July 23, 2015, to deposit the $75,000 in added money. The total purse (player entries are $1,000) is projected to be $188,000. According to the release, Accu-Stats and Pat Fleming are the only persons on the Bank of America account authorized to receive entry fees and sign prize money checks.

The announcements should have a calming effect on players considering participation in the tournament. Behrman has a history (including 2014) of failing to pay cashing players at the end of the tournament, often having to pay players in installments over a period of months following the event. Fleming, a former pro player and Billiard Congress of America Hall of Famer, is well respected by both the players and industry members. His Accu-Stats video company has covered the U.S. Open for more than 30 years, and in recent years has offered both live streaming from the event and edited shows for distribution around the world.

While the WPA has not stated it publically, it is thought by most with knowledge of the situation that the world governing body would not have granted sanctioning to the U.S. Open if Behrman had been solely responsible for the distribution of the prize fund in 2015. WPA sanctioning means players earn world points, making them eligible for other WPA-sanctioned events and world championships. With $75,000 added, the U.S. Open would qualify as a Tier 2 event by the WPA, earning players more points for higher finishes. The U.S. Open is also slated as the final points event for players hoping to qualify for Team USA and Team Europe in the 2015 Mosconi Cup. “It is really good news all around,” said Darren Appleton, two-time U.S. Open champion and a player who travels to most big international events. “The players were losing faith, and the loss of the WPA sanction would have meant 50 percent of the players from Europe and Asia would not have come over. Now, with the money safe and the WPA points, all the foreign players will show up. Pat Fleming rescued the U.S. Open. We need the U.S. Open. It’s a prestigious event.”

The Accu-Stats release included a list of options for players wanting to post their entry fee, as well as a list of options for the collection of prize money. More information is available at http://www.azbilliards.com/news/stories/11850-pat-fleming-announces-us-open-escrow-details/

WILSON ANNOUNCES FINAL SELECTIONS FOR TEAM USA

After making “some of the roughest telephone calls I’ve ever had to make,” Team USA captain Mark Wilson announced his five-man team for the 21st Mosconi Cup, scheduled for Dec. 1-4, in Blackpool, England. The squad features a mixture of veteran players and youth.

Not surprisingly, newly minted U.S. Open 9-Ball champion Shane Van Boening will lead the U.S. squad, which has dropped four Mosconi Cups in a row (and six of seven) to Team Europe. The 31-year-old Van Boening will play in his eighth Cup, and will be joined by Cup veterans Corey Deuel, also making his eighth appearance, and John Schmidt, who played in 2006 in Rotterdam. Making their Mosconi Cup debuts will be 27-year-old Justin Bergman of Fairview Heights, Ill., and 26-year-old Justin Hall of Palm Harbor, Fla.

The “tough calls” Wilson made were to Brandon Shuff, Oscar Dominguez and Jeremy Sossei, who have been offered coaching positions in Blackpool. Dominguez and Shuff have each participated in one Mosconi Cup, with Dominguez being a member of the last U.S. team to win the title, in 2009.

“This represents a new era for Team USA,” said Wilson, who was named captain by Matchroom Sport in January, just a month after Team USA was humiliated by Team Europe, 12-2, in Las Vegas. “And I’m counting on these players to be leaders. “The final decisions were difficult,” Wilson added. “Every player put a lot of time and effort into their game over the past nine months. And they all represented the sport and the U.S. well during that time. There were a few close calls, but I’m confident in these picks. It was a pretty thorough process.”

According to Wilson, the three players left off the final squad were asked to travel with the team to England, expense-paid, to assist during the event. “This won’t be a holiday,” Wilson added. “Each player will be assigned special duties, setting up little refresher drills for the team before each round.” Wilson said the duties include an Offensive Coordinator, a Defensive Coordinator (to work on safeties and kick shots) and Specialty Shots Coordinator (for breaking and elevated cue shots).
“I will have drills for the players to work on,” said Wilson, “and the coaches will help the players run through the drills.”

According to Wilson, the team will meet in St. Louis, Nov. 20-21, for intensive practice sessions at Lindenwood University, where Wilson coaches the billiards program. The team will participate in Mosconi Cup-style match play at Starship Billiards in Decatur, Ill., the following two days. After several more days of practice in St. Louis, the team will share a Thanksgiving dinner, before leaving for Blackpool on Friday, Nov. 28. “I feel great about Team USA,” Wilson said. “I’m ready to go to war with these guys.”

Immonen, Parica Elected to BCA Hall of Fame

Mika-Immonen-thbOne year after missing induction into the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame by two votes in a special run-off against Jeanette Lee, Finland’s Mika Immonen overwhelmed the 2014 field to earn his spot in the sport’s hallowed hall, according to the United States Billiard Media Association (USBMA). Two-time world champion Immonen, 41, will be joined by 65-year-old Jose Parica, the leader of the “Philippines Invasion,” who was added to the ballot under recommendation from the Veterans Committee.

Born in London, raised in Helsinki, Immonen was Europe’s No. 1-ranked played at age 20. But his career really took off after he moved to New York City in 2000. He won the WPA World Pool Championship in 2001, back-to-back U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships titles (2008, 2009) and the World 10-Ball Championship (2009). During the 2000s, Immonen won 10 U.S. pro titles, and numerous international events.

Parica was the first top player from the Philippines to come to the U.S., when he entered the World Straight Pool Championship in 1978, six years before the arrival of Efren Reyes. He won his first U.S. pro title in 1986 (the Clyde Childress Open). After several years away from the game, Parica returned to win two Camel Pro Billiard Series titles in 1997, and was the tour’s top points-earner and Player of the Year.

Immonen and Parica will be formally inducted into the BCA Hall of Fame on Friday, Oct. 17, at the Chesapeake Convention Center in Chesapeake, Va.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Immonen, upon hearing the news. “You never really believe it until it’s real. Last year was interesting, obviously. But I’m a little beside myself right now. I’ve got goose bumps.”