PoolRoom

Tools of the Trade

Pool players have a love/hate relationship with their cues. We talk to some of the game’s best to better understand how equipment impacts performance.

Photos by Mel Evans

Pool isn’t baseball, where an inside fastball can snap a bat in half. Pool isn’t golf, where an errant drive can wind up with a driver floating in the nearby pond. Pool definitely isn’t basketball, where LeBron James might never wear the same shoe twice. Pool players and their cues have a markedly different relationship. Maybe it’s the function of the cue, as a literal extension of the human body. Maybe it’s the sheer amount of time one spends with it, hours at the table, in the airport, in the car. It’s not an exaggeration to call it an intimate relationship, even if that 20-ounce hunk of wood and leather can be a fickle partner when it’s needed the most. For the Cue Issue of Billiards Digest, we talked to nine of the best players in the world. We asked them about their preferences, about their horror stories, about any advice they might have for the average player.

Kelly Fisher

Like Allison, Kelly Fisher dominated snooker before switching to American pool. The three-time snooker world champ has won a pair of 9-ball world titles and a handful of WPBA titles in her dozen years as a pool pro.

What’s the most bone-headed thing you’ve ever done with your cue(s)?
I once left my cues circling on the conveyor belt at the airport. I didn’t even realize I had left them there until I got home three hours later.

Do you remember your first “real” cue? What was your favorite thing about it?
I’ll never forget it. I was 13 or 14 years old. My dad took me to a custom cuemaker and I was allowed to choose it all by myself, whatever I wanted.

Do you have a particular horror story that comes to mind?
When I arrived at the 2015 Women’s World 9-Ball Championship in China, I went to practice the night before, only to find my tip was half off. I got my spare shaft out of my bag and, I have no idea how, but that tip was also hanging off. One of the players helped me reattach the tip, but the uncertainty was in the back of my mind. (Editor’s note: She finished in ninth place.)

Do you have any unique maintenance habits?
I don’t clean my cue. I actually don’t do anything to it — and I like it dirty.

Do you have any superstitions with your cues?
I take them out and put them back in my case in the same place and order.

Darren Appleton

In the decade since “Dynamite” made the switch to American pool from its English counterpart, he has won world 9-ball and 10-ball titles, two U.S. Opens and seven Mosconi Cups as a part of Team Europe.

What’s the most bone-headed thing you’ve ever done with your cue(s)?
In 2005, I lost, 9-8, on the TV table in the quarterfinal of the World 8-Ball Championship (in English pool). On the way out of the arena, I put my 10-year-old craftsman ash one-piece cue over my knee. I broke it right in half and threw it in the corner. Afterward, I was a little unhappy since that cue was like my right arm. I couldn’t find a good cue for the next two years. Nothing made me happy. I was never the same player again. Then, in 2007, I switched to American pool, so that was my savior really.

Do you remember your first “real” cue? What was your favorite thing about it?
My first cue was a Riley two-piece when I first started, around 1991 or so. I loved it because Stephen Hendry, the world snooker champion, used a Riley. I thought it was the best cue ever, even though it was worth all of $30. But Hendry won his seven world titles with a $30 cue, which is pretty amazing.

What, if anything, does a cue say about a player?
I don’t think it says much. My favorite color is red, so I’ve had a few of those.

What’s the most difficult thing about switching cues?
What kind of mental obstacles do you face?
Switching cues in English pool is very difficult, because no two ash cues are the same. But American cues are made of maple, so a lot of brands are pretty much the same. It’s more like golf clubs.

What’s the most common misconception among players in terms of tip maintenance?
Most amateurs don’t have a clue about their tips. Really, if you just have a nice dome shape, you should be good. But having the right tip is important. A player with no cue power should be using a soft tip and a player with a lot of power should be using a medium or hard tip.

Justin Bergman

One of the best young players in the United States, Bergman is dangerous in all of pool’s disciplines, while also being a dangerous barbox player. The Illinois native has represented Team USA three times in the Mosconi Cup.

Do you remember your first “real” cue? What was your favorite thing about it?
My first cue was a Dufferin, one of those made for little kids. My first normal cue was a McDermott — it was all red with a black snake on it.

Do you have any unique maintenance habits?
I never do anything to my cue except replace the tip.

 

Allison Fisher

It’s not often “Hall of Famer” is an understatement. The “Duchess of Doom” is arguably the greatest woman to ever pick up a cue. She’s a four-time world champ, 40-time winner on the WPBA tour and 11-time world champ in snooker.

Do you remember your first “real” cue? What was your favorite thing about it?
My first cue was a gift. It had a screw-on tip.

What’s the most difficult thing about switching cues?
What kind of mental obstacles do you face?
The difficult part is adjusting to the deflection and throw between cues. I can adjust pretty quickly because I am a feel and method player. I pay close attention to what happens to the path of the cue ball. The mental obstacle is the different feel of the hit.

Do you have any pet peeves about how other people handle cues (your or theirs)?
I don’t like it when people bang their shaft into balls to gather them for shots. I sometimes let people shoot with my cue, but I have to know they respect cues before I do. I observe what they do with their own. I don’t like people picking up my cue without my permission.

Thorsten Hohmann

The German now residing in Florida has nearly done it all in his career. “The Hitman” has won a pair of world 9-ball titles, a straight-pool world championship and $350,000 for his win at the International Pool Tour’s North American 8-Ball Championship.

What’s the most bone-headed thing you’ve ever done with your cue(s)?
I once made the mistake of wanting the front end of my cue to be heavier. I had a friend add an ounce of weight right behind the ferrule. It created so much deflection that when I put sidespin on the ball, I missed the object ball entirely.

Do you remember your first “real” cue? What was your favorite thing about it?
It was blue.

Do you have a particular horror story that comes to mind?
I once left my cue at a Guinness Beer booth during an event in Indonesia. It was my birthday, so I went to celebrate in a different part of the mall. When I went back to pick up my cues and go play, I realized someone had poured Guinness down the pipes of my case. The shaft had expanded and everything was filthy, wet and stunk like beer. I had to get all new equipment.

A good carpenter never blames his tools, but do you remember a time it was definitely your cue’s fault?
It’s always the cues fault—unless it was the crooked table, the very bad roll, the sharking opponent, the terrible lighting, the annoying spectator or the wind gust that made me miss.

Rodney Morris

“The Rocket” is one of the game’s most explosive players. The 1996 U.S. Open Champion and BCA Hall of Famer has dozens of titles and has represented Team USA in the Mosconi Cup 10 times.

What’s the most bone-headed thing you’ve ever done with your cue(s)?
The most bone-headed thing I did with a cue was grab my whole case and throw it across the room after losing in the World 9-Ball Championships in 2004. The best part was that it was a soft case! Very lucky that all my cues didn’t snap.

Do you remember your first “real” cue? What was your favorite thing about it?
The first real cue was a Barry Szamboti. I love everything about it — the feel, the hit, the sound. I knew right away I had something special in my hands.

Do you have a particular horror story that comes to mind?
I remember playing in a big match when my tip flew off right in the middle of a shot. I didn’t have another shaft, so I just quit.

Do you have any unique maintenance habits?
I don’t do any of my own maintenance on my cues except for scuff or tap the tip when I feel it needs it. I never learned how.

What’s the most difficult thing about switching cues? What kind of mental obstacles do you face?
There was a 15-year stretch where it seemed like I used a different cue about every six months. The hardest part is learning the deflection on slow spin shots — and they always come up when it’s hill hill! Mentally, you’re in big trouble at that point.

What does a player need to consider before switching to a low-deflection shaft?
Before switching, you need to try it out. A cue should fit you right away. It shouldn’t mean you have to adjust to it.

Do you have any pet peeves about how other people handle cues (your or theirs)?
I hate the way some people chalk their cues if they make a loud squeaky sound. That irritates the hell out of me. Or when they drag their cue around behind them when they walk around the table.

Monica Webb

A perennial top-10 player on the women’s tour, Webb has won two WPBA titles. She currently runs her own poolroom in Georgia while continuing to compete at the highest levels.

What’s the most bone-headed thing you’ve ever done with your cue(s)?
I once slammed the ivory butt of a cue once. The [bumper] was worn down, so it cracked all the way up.

Do you remember your first “real” cue? What was your favorite thing about it?
It wasn’t a “real cue” but when I was 8 years old, I kept my own house cue behind the bar. I got my own cue when I was 9 or 10. It was my favorite — being able to have a proper cue and get more consistent.

Do you have any unique maintenance habits?
I don’t clean my shaft much at all, but my ferrule needs to be clean.

What, if anything, does a cue say about a player?
Beyond something flashy versus simple and conservative, I think it might say something about a personality, but it doesn’t say much about the player.

Jennifer Barretta

New York’s own has been long been among the elite women in the U.S. She also starred in Tru TV’s “The Hustlers” and is a regular on the Women’s Professional Billiard Association tour.

What’s the most bone-headed thing you’ve ever done with your cue(s)?
All of my bone-headed things I’ve done have been at the table. The mishaps and mistakes were definitely not the cue’s fault. No cues were injured in the making of my career.

Do you remember your first “real” cue? What was your favorite thing about it?
I remember my instructor telling me about the Predator shaft when it first came out. I knew nothing about pool, but I sure did like the name.

Do you have any unique maintenance habits?
I never clean my cue. Other players touch it and cringe.

What, if anything, does a cue say about a player?
Flashy? They are the players with flashy games. Subdued and technical? Their game matches. Very expensive and filled with inlays? Play them for money. They usually suck.

What’s the most difficult thing about switching cues? What kind of mental obstacles do you face?
I’m not a fan of switching cues. You put so much trust in this instrument that you play with. How can I trust a stranger?

Do you have any superstitions with your cues?
Sometimes when I’m having a good tournament, I find myself “making them comfortable” in the hotel room—laying them on the sofa, making sure they’re out of harms way, ridiculous stuff like that. I think they appreciate it, though!

What does a player need to consider before switching to a low-deflection shaft?
That they won’t miss as much. Consider your decision very carefully!

A good carpenter never blames his tools, but do you remember a time it was definitely your cue’s fault?
I was sponsored by a new cue company right after I came off a very long break. I stuck it out because I thought I had forgotten how to play. That sponsorship ran out and I started playing with my Lucasi Hybrid. It was like night and day the moment I put it in my hands. Definitely the cue’s fault.

Mike Dechaine

A mercurial talent from Maine, “Fireball” has used his powerful stroke to take a place among the best in the U.S. The four-time Team USA member in the Mosconi Cup also starred alongside Barretta in Tru TV’s “The Hustlers.”

What’s the most bone-headed thing you’ve ever done with your cue(s)?
Wow, there are so many things I’d like to take back when it comes to cues. My biggest mistake was switching from something I really liked. When you get used to something, keep it. Also, I’ve changed tips in the middle of tournaments when I was playing perfectly fine. I do not recommend doing that.

Do you remember your first “real” cue? What was your favorite thing about it?
My first “real” cue was a McDermott my father gave me. It was simple but played extremely well. It was before I knew anything about high or low deflection. I actually still have this cue, so maybe I’ll dust it off and start playing with it again.

Do you have any unique maintenance habits?
Most everything about my equipment is straightforward. I use a specific tip, taper, like my shaft smooth but dirty and prefer a forward-balanced cue. Some have commented on my unique chalking habits. Personally, I don’t see what’s wrong with it, but I guess it’s strange from what I’ve heard.

What, if anything, does a cue say about a player?
For me, all I care about is if the cue plays well. It could be the ugliest looking thing in the world, but if it hits good, it’s in my bag.

A good carpenter never blames his tools, but do you remember a time it was definitely your cue’s fault?
I’d like to say every time, but we all know that’s not the case. One situation I wish I could take back was a week before the 2015 Mosconi Cup when my ferrule cracked. This was heartbreaking for me because I was playing excellent when this all happened. That time, it was 100% the cue’s fault!

Fill in the Blank

The most important single thing about a cue is _____.

Kelly Fisher: You trust it.
Monica Webb: The shaft.
Jennifer Barretta: The shaft.
Darren Appleton: The tip.
Rodney Morris: The hit.
Allison Fisher: The balance.
Justin Bergman: The tip.

Nickel- or dime-shaped tip?

K. Fisher: Dime.
Webb: Nickel.
Barretta: Nickel. I get too much spin with a dime.
Appleton: Nickel.
Morris: Dime.

I’m especially aware of my cue’s _____.

K. Fisher: Crisp hit.
Webb: Wrap.
Barretta: Balance.
Appleton: Tip.
Morris: Tip hardness.
A. Fisher: Balance.

Players who name their cues are _____.

K. Fisher: Odd.
Webb: Goofy.
Barretta: Lonely.
Appleton: Bipolar.
Morris: Participation-trophy kids.
Bergman: Strange.
A. Fisher: Interesting.

When I’m walking with my cues/cue case, strangers most commonly mistake them for _____.

Webb: Musical instruments.
Barretta: Musical instruments.
Appleton: Guns.
Morris: Arrows.
A. Fisher: Musical instruments.

As far as its hit, the most underrated aspect of a cue is _____.

K. Fisher: Vibration
Morris: The age of the shaft wood.
Webb: The ferrule.
Appleton: Again, the tip.
A. Fisher: Weight distribution.
Bergman: The joint.

How many cues do you currently own?

K. Fisher: Three, though hundreds more if you count the ones at my pool hall, retail story and Kwikfire line of cues!
Webb: Not many. Less than five.
Barretta: They seem to accumulate, but I only own three that I actually use.
Appleton: Three.
Bergman: 10.
Morris: Just two.
A. Fisher: Quite a few, but I only play with one.

How many cues have you owned in your lifetime?

Appleton: Around 20.
Barretta: Around 20.
Morris: Hundreds.
Bergman: Hundreds.

What’s the most you’ve paid for a cue?

Barretta: $200 for my first cue.
Appleton: $100
A. Fisher: $2,500
Morris: $12,500
Bergman: A couple thousand dollars.

How much does your cue weigh? Your break cue?

K. Fisher: Both my playing cue and break cue are 19.5 oz.
Webb: My playing cue is 19 oz. and my break cue is 18.5 oz.
Barretta: My playing cue is 19 oz., my break cue is 20 oz.
Appleton: My playing cue is 19.5 oz. and my break cue is 19 oz.
Bergman: My playing cue is 18 oz.
Morris: My playing cue is 20 oz. and my break cue is 19.5 oz.
A. Fisher: My playing cue is 18.2 oz. and I don’t know what my break cue weighs.

I prefer a wrap/no wrap because _____.

K. Fisher: A prefer a wrap because it is less sticky.
A. Fisher: I like the beauty of a wrapless cue, but I prefer wraps because the lacquer can be too thick and sticky.
Webb: I like a wrap because of the grip.
Appleton: I prefer an elephant ear skin wrap for its feel.
Bergman: I prefer a wrap because my hands sweat so it gives me a better feel.
Morris: I prefer a leather wrap because I like how it grips my hand.

A good cue repairman is worth _____.

Webb: A lot! Nothing is worse than your tip falling off at a tournament or needing repair on the finish and wrap. It’s very important to me that I have the best person work on those things.
Barretta: Chaining up in your basement!
Appleton: Paying him properly for his work.
Morris: $2 million! (Approximately.)
A. Fisher: A good repairman is worth quite a bit but a good cuemaker is priceless.

The Big Time

It’s been 10 years since the International Pool Tour died. How will history judge the short-lived $13 million venture that showed the promise and peril of attempting to bring pool into the big time?

By Nick Leider

It almost seems like a fever dream, now that it’s been a decade since its death. The International Pool Tour, founded and funded by infomercial maven Kevin Trudeau, held four events in 14 months that awarded more than $6 million in prizes. Pool had not seen — and most likely will not see — anything like this in the history of the sport.

Efren Reyes, winner of two tournaments, pocketed $765,000. The matches were live broadcast across Europe in primetime. Players were told of guaranteed income in the six figures.

But now, 10 years after the IPT’s final event, the World Open, left players with little more than IOUs for $3 million, Billiards Digest revisits the IPT’s unbelievable rise and equally astonishing fall. While setting the record straight on what remains one of the most controversial eras in modern pool, one question begs for an answer:

Though short-lived, the IPT still showered pros like Thorsten Hohmann with briefcases full of cash.


What was the IPT’s lasting effect on the game we love?

The Facts

Before telling the story of the IPT, it’s imperative to present the facts that are often lost in the legend of the IPT.

First, every player who won money received what they were due. The $3 million in prizes from the World Open, the abbreviated tour’s last stop, were awarded, though it took 14 months and a series of installments to meet the tour’s obligations.

Second, players did lose $2,000 paid to play in qualifying events for a tournament that never happened. The IPT postponed and then cancelled its future events, leaving those who had ponied up that qualifier money without recourse.

“Some players received that money back and others did not,” said Deno Andrews, the IPT tour director who handled day-to-day operations. “I can’t remember how many ended up losing that money. It was not that many players — with that said, any [number] more than zero was too large.”

Finally, among the top players who competed on IPT, the consensus was that, despite the missteps, broken promises and eventual failure, it was a good thing while it lasted.

“My brothers on tour, we were all really happy about Trudeau and the IPT,” said Rodney Morris, who earned $150,000 with a runner-up finish at that maligned World Open. “We made some money and we had a great time. We were more than happy to be a part of it. We wished things would’ve worked out, but I have nothing against anyone.”

Thorsten Hohmann, who netted $350,000 by winning the North American Open, agrees.

Trudeau’s events were lavish affairs, brimming with pomp and circumstance, as showcased in the Battle of the Sexes match between Loree Jon Hasson and Mike Sigel.

“I really benefited from the tour. It was a great experience. … I don’t know what [Trudeau’s] motivation was, what his goal was, but I don’t think he had bad intentions,” he said. “He had to do that — to promise a lot and get the players motivated. If it didn’t work out, then he [would have] to deal with that. It might make him look bad, but he did a great job.”

Still, the IPT, coming on so strong and crashing so quickly, affected much more than players’ bank accounts. To see these impacts, it’s worth starting at the beginning.

The First Time
The World Championship Open (Aug. 20, 2005)

Trudeau’s entry into professional sports was a moment of serendipity for pool, a bit of luck for a sport that desperately needed it. The women’s game, buoyed largely by the WPBA Classic Tour, was in decent shape, with events regularly appearing on ESPN and top players able to support themselves with tournament winnings. The men’s side, though, had little as far as organization. The Professional Billiards Tour Association had collapsed in the decade prior. Outside of a few big world championship tilts and the annual U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship, organization was minimal and cooperation was almost nonexistent.

The seeds of the IPT, though, were planted a decade earlier in 1994. Trudeau was already a successful businessman, but he was not yet riding what would be a wave of commercial success based largely on his “Natural Cures” brand, including a New York Times bestselling book and ubiquitous late-night infomercials. Long a fan of pool, he caught a radio advertisement for an exhibition in the Chicago area featuring Hall of Famer Mike Sigel.

“Kevin got in touch with me saying he wanted personal lessons,” Sigel said. “We became friends and I would see him every few weeks. And then I got it in my mind. I said, ‘Hey, you got all this money and you love pool. Let’s do something for the game.’

“I nagged him for 10 years, saying we should do something together. Finally, one day when we were playing pool, he said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

The two scribbled down some notes about prize money. Sigel imagined top prizes around $100,000, with other top finishers pocketing proportionally big bucks. Trudeau, though, had bigger ideas from the start.

“He looked at all that, without even adding it up,” Sigel said, “and he said it’s got to be bigger. For him, from the start, it wasn’t a matter of doing something. It was a matter of how big it was going to be.”

Eventually, the plan was to hold a kickoff challenge match in August 2005 between Sigel and fellow Hall of Famer Loree Jon Jones in Las Vegas. Dubbed the World 8-Ball Championship, the battle of the sexes paid the winner $150,000 with a consolation prize of $75,000. Trudeau threw a lavish party the night before the event, replete with celebrities. On the day of the Sigel-Jones match, the celebrities (actors Paul Sorvino, Allison Janney and Anthony Anderson, rapper DMX and boxing legend Thomas Hearns among them) entered the arena in true red carpet style.

Deno Andrews was taken with Trudeau’s insistence on this being like nothing pool had seen before.

“Everything had to be big. We did nothing half-assed,” Andrews said. “What gets him going is entirely different than what gets the rest of us out of bed. He wanted it big and he wanted it immediately.”

By August, the IPT had crash-landed on the pool world.

With media maven Trudeau at the helm, “everything had to be big.”

“Just think,” Trudeau said, after Sigel won the best-of-three set match with ease, 9-2, 9-2. “Mike Sigel just earned the biggest single payday in the history of the sport, and it will be the smallest first prize in IPT events!”

If a guy wanted to get pool players’ attention, big money and bright lights aren’t the worst ways to do so.

The Best of Times
The King of the Hill 8-Ball Shootout (Nov. 30-Dec.4, 2005)
The North American 8-Ball Championship (July 22-30, 2006)

The IPT initially started with 150 players hand selected by Trudeau and the IPT brass. Potential tour members had to apply for a spot on this lucky list, which may be the first and only time pool players put together resumes en masse.

A group of players automatically qualified based on past performance. Think Johnny Archer, Efren Reyes, Rodney Morris and other world-class talents. A dozen living Billiard Congress of America Hall of Famers received automatic entry and a $30,000 bonus simply for being part of the tour. Other players had to apply to tour membership. Darren Appleton, then a professional English 8-ball player but largely unknown in the U.S., emailed his application to the tour hoping that his unmatched record in a slightly different discipline would earn him a spot. (It did.)

The King of the Hill event, however, would only see 42 players compete for the $1 million prize fund, with $200,000 going to the winner. Still, the IPT managed to get all 150 players to Orlando for the event, because a mandatory players meeting promised to detail just what the tour had in store for its first year.

“It was the greatest speech I’ve ever heard,” said Thorsten Hohmann, of Trudeau’s pitch to the players. “It was incredible. I wasn’t really too aware of everything until I got to Orlando and heard Kevin. That made me realize: Holy shit. This is something big.”

Appleton, whose involvement with the tour led to him ditching English 8-ball for the American variety, was equally blown away.

“That players meeting, [there] was amazing excitement. I felt like a professional sportsman,” he said. “This was the biggest thing to happen for pool.”

Reyes scored pool’s biggest ever prize.

Reyes outlasted Sigel, who was awarded an automatic spot in the final after his win in the challenge match with Jones, to take the top prize, while Sigel settled for $100,000. The IPT had held its first real tournament — and it ended with 42 players pocketing money unlike any event before.

Six months later, the North American Open brought 200 players to the Venetian in Las Vegas for a chance at the $2 million purse. The top prize was $350,000, the biggest single payday in the history of pool. EuroSport was broadcasting the event live in primetime. Deals were made with Outdoor Living Network to replay the matches for North American audiences. Before a ball was struck, this event was the most significant tournament in years.

The grueling round-robin, multi-round format had players playing four or five race-to-8 sets a day, often clocking more than 12 hours at the table. Hohmann eventually prevailed over Filipino snooker convert Marlon Manalo. But what happened on the table took a backseat to the event itself. The bright lights, the professional production, the class of such an event seemed to mark pool’s arrival as a legitimate sport.

But just two months later, at the IPT’s fourth event, the wheels fell off what everyone thought was pool’s gravy train.

The Worst of Times
The World 8-Ball Championship (Sept. 3-9, 2006)

The World 8-Ball Championship began with Trudeau announcing the cancellation of a scheduled event in London, which had some of the 200 players nervous about what was to come. Regardless, the $3 million prize fund went a long way to relieving any anxiety among the players.

The grueling tournament schedule, again having players compete nearly nonstop for days at a time, left Rodney Morris facing Efren Reyes for the $500,000 top prize. The on-table action ended with the Filipino legend pocketing the top prize while Morris “settled” for $150,000.

Or so it seemed.

All the players left the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno, Nev., with nothing. Players walked away with promises of future payments, but concerns that were raised at the players meeting became very real for those with a stake in the game.

“That Sunday, Kevin came to me and said the money wasn’t in the bank,” Andrews said. “I’ll never defend him not paying the players. That was wrong and it will go down in history as wrong. But I told him, 100 percent, he needs to pay the players and he said he would.”

Rumors circulated about a proposed deal with Stanley Ho, a billionaire casino magnate based in Hong Kong, to buy the tour. The supposed windfall from this would have supported the tour’s future, Trudeau insisted. But an agreement never materialized. Also, on Oct. 13, 2006, President George W. Bush signed into law the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which outlawed wagering over the Internet for individuals in the U.S. This, according to the IPT, impacted the tour’s ability to market itself to potential buyers.

Over the course of 14 months, in nine installments of 11 percent, the payments arrived. All the while, no further tournaments were scheduled. The IPT staff, once more than 20 people, was slashed to a skeleton crew of five. Unable to produce profits through events, Andrews pivoted to reducing costs and raising what revenue he could through streaming recorded matches online, selling DVDs and collecting TV and product royalties.

The money wasn’t flooding in, but it was substantial enough to cover roughly half the amount owed to players, according to Andrews, with Trudeau covering the remainder.

“He could’ve filed for bankruptcy,” Andrews said. “He could’ve stiffed the players, but two months after that tournament, I did everything I could to persuade him to commit to paying the players.”

While the payments trickled out, the IPT held seven challenge matches, one-on-one events that were streamed online. The response was tepid and a steep decline from the glitz and glamor of the major tournaments that preceded them. The tour continued on in a sense, but it was evident to everyone within the sport that the IPT of 2007 was a far cry from what the tour had been just months before.

With the future of the IPT falling well short of expectations, Sigel took issue with players who quickly lost faith in the IPT.

“When players started knocking [Trudeau], I couldn’t believe it. That has to leave a bad taste in your mouth,” he said. “That’s when I thought, if it was me, I wouldn’t pay them and just go bankrupt. But he paid him. That’s the kind of guy he was.”

Andrews, however, puts blame on those around the game.

No expense was spared in the production of IPT events, including a sparkling arena to dazzle the masses.

“A lot of it is outside of the players — the people who think they are in the industry but are not.” he said. “They are armchair quarterbacks, people who think they are fans or people on the Internet, people who have not made an investment in the game. They’ve done nothing but bitch. Those are the people who are the loudest. I think they give a lot of players a bad reputation and they don’t speak for players.”

Regardless of where blame lies, those who had the most to gain from the IPT adventure felt a real sense of loss once it was clear things weren’t going to turn out as advertised.

“I had a chance to win $500,000 and then I had to go try to win $10,000?” Morris said. “I lost a lot of motivation. I did a lot of soul searching at that time. For about a year there, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was depressed for a while.

“It was real hard. I didn’t want to play at all. For a year, I was in a coma. I could’ve been on the “Walking Dead” — just walking around without an idea.”

Hohmann, another player who had profited immensely from the IPT’s short run, expressed similar feelings.

“It wasn’t like the tour ended at once,” he said. “It was a bit of a slow death — them dragging it out with exhibition matches. Of course I fell into a slump … It took me a few years to recover from that. You have these high expectations and then you’re back to playing in tournaments where you’re walking away with $2,000. It was hard.”

The End of Times

Once the players had been paid in full, Andrews met with Trudeau to discuss the IPT. More than $13 million had been invested, including prize money, production costs and marketing. The operation, already stripped to its bare minimum, was barely paying for itself.

The IPT, as it had been packaged from the beginning, was all but dead and buried. At that point, pool’s golden goose decided to pull the plug.

The slow death, as Hohmann put it, had come. But now, in 2016 and a decade after the cash was stacked on the pool table at the first event, the question still remains: Was the IPT a net positive or negative for pool?

“It was good,” Sigel said. “To this day, I defend the IPT whenever I hear someone talk about it. Add up all the money in the years before and after and it won’t come close to the $13 million Kevin put into the game.”

Sigel, who first hatched the concept of the IPT, agrees with Andrews, who was involved in the execution of that idea.

“Ultimately, it was good,” Andrews said. “If you remember what it was like before the IPT, it was very similar to what it is now. It was exactly like it is today … We created an entirely alternate universe for pool. It happened in a vacuum and ultimately I don’t think it had much of an effect on pool. It didn’t impact the actual state of the sport today.”

“He invested an amazing amount of money and it was great,” Appleton said. “I started playing American pool because of the IPT. I have that time to thank for my career and everything I’ve achieved since then.”

“Pool players can be some of the most loyal, trusting and straightforward people,” Andrews said, who continued to work with Trudeau until 2013. “Really the promoters are goofier than the players. The players show up, they pay their expenses, they pay the entry fees, they practice. They do all this stuff, and it’s such a basic thing: Pay them on time.

“I still hear about this. The money isn’t there or the added money was different than what was published … We were as guilty as anybody, but the players were overwhelmingly supportive.”

Teams Set For Mosconi Cup

With the announcement of the final “wildcard” selections by the opposing captains, the final rosters for Team USA and Team Europe are set with four weeks to go before the 23rd Mosconi Cup commences at the Alexandra Palace in London, Dec. 6-9.

Team USA captain Mark Wilson used his wildcard picks to add Mosconi Cup veteran and recent Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame inductee “Rocket” Rodney Morris and 29-year-old Justin Bergman to the roster. It will mark the tenth Mosconi appearance for Morris and the third consecutive appearance by Bergman. The duo will join Shane Van Boening, Skyler Woodward and Mike Dechaine, who earned automatic spots on the team by finishing in the top three in points over 28 tournaments throughout the year. Only Morris did not play on the 2015 team that fell to Team Europe, 11-8, in Las Vegas. (Corey Deuel was the fifth member of Team USA in 2015.)

Team Europe captain Marcus Chamat handpicked reigning World 9-Ball Champion Albin Ouschan of Austria and England’s Darren Appleton, who will be making his eighth consecutive appearance, to join Holland’s Niels Feijen, Scotland’s Jayson Shaw and England’s Mark Gray. The three automatic berths on Team Europe were awarded to the points champion of the EuroTour (Feijen), the top European points earner on a World Events Rankings (Shaw), and the highest-ranked player on the Combined (Gray, who placed third behind already-qualified Shaw and Feijen). Feijen, Appleton and Ouschan also appeared for Team Europe in 2015.

As is customary, the wildcard announcements were greeted by second-guessing in social media. American fans questioned Wilson’s selection of Bergman, ranked sixth on the U.S. points list, over fifth-place finisher Oscar Dominguez. (Morris finished fourth in points.) Given the fact that the 2015 squad was made up of the top five point-earners, and the fact that Bergman lives in southern Illinois, not far from Wilson’s St. Louis home, charges of favoritism and “politics” were bandied about as fans weighed in. “I don’t have a bias and I don’t give those claims any credence,” said Wilson. “I simply picked the team that I thought gave us the best chance of winning this year. I analyze things like late-season performance, strengths and weaknesses and how they fit in with the strengths and weaknesses of the rest of the team.

“In the case of Rodney,” Wilson continued, “He went to the last six events. The effort and results were there. He gives us the best chance of winning.Last year it just happened that the team I chose finished one through five in points. That doesn’t mean that is the way it was meant to be. People seem to have a hard time with the concept of what the wildcard pick means.”

The concept of a “wildcard” selection was even more pronounced in Chamat’s selection of Appleton for Team Europe. While the former World 9-Ball Champion has been a member of six Mosconi Cup-winning squads, Appleton suffered through a subpar 2016, failing to crack the top 10 in the European Combined points list.

“No player really stood out for me for the last spot,” said Chamat. “There are so many good players in Europe, but I had to weigh the ups and downs. Darren is a big-match player with huge experience. And he is an awesome team player. I could have picked other players, but I believe in Darren. This is the biggest event for all of us and the pressure will be amazing. I think Darren will be amazing, too.”

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.”

Van Boening Tops at Super Billiards Expo

Van Boening repeats as champion with an 8-4 win over Thorstan Hohmann in the final's third set.

Van Boening repeats as champion with an 8-4 win over Thorstan Hohmann in the final’s third set.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Allen Hopkins moved the 2013 Super Billiards Expo from the Philadelphia area to Edison, N.J., just outside of New York City. The April 4-7 consumer trade show that boasts a host of amateur and professional events also saw the Pro Players 10-Ball Championship switch formats — from the usual single-set, double-elimination chart to a single-elimination event that matched players in best-of-three races-to-8.

But with a new venue and new format, the champion remained Shane Van Boening. The reigning Player of the Year took his fourth Pro Players title, and second in a row, with an impressive run through a field of 61.

Starting with wins over Donnie Mills and Robb Saez, Van Beoning then ran into 2011 champ Ralf Souquet. The American dropped the second set, 8-6, but bounced back with a clinching 8-2 set to advance to the quarterfinals.

Souquet was hardly the only big name to be sidelined early. Efren Reyes drew German superstar Thorsten Hohmann in the first round — and the Filipino legend dropped consecutive sets to end an uncharacteristically quick event. Johnny Archer, Francisco Bustamante and Mika Immonen also crashed out before winning two sets.

In the quarterfinals, Van Boening took two close sets against Darren Appleton; Warren Kiamco edged Corey Deuel; Alex Pagulayan thumped Jeremy Sossei, and Hohmann outlasted Scotland’s Jayson Shaw.

In a rematch from the 2003 World Pool Championship, Hohmann took his spot in the final by edging Pagulayan. Van Boening then topped Kiamco in straight sets, 8-6 and 8-5, to take the other seat in the championship match.

Van Boening struck first in the final, taking the opening set, 8-6. He then worked his way to within a 10-ball of the title in the second when he got on the hill, 7-6. But Hohmann responded with a pair of racks to force a decisive third set.

In the final race-to-8, Van Boening turned a 3-2 lead into an insurmountable 7-2 advantage. Hohmann took a pair of racks to edge within shouting distance at 7-4, but Van Boening then broke and ran the 12th table for the 8-4 win.

His second consecutive Pro Players title netted Van Boening $10,000 while Hohmann pocketed $5,000 for his runner-up finish.

U.S. Open: Van Boening in Hot-Seat

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Despite their much heralded domination of professional pool in the past two decades, the Philippines has collected just two U.S. Open crowns, with Efren Reyes’s win in 1994 and Alex Pagulayan’s 11 years later. But that seven-year winless streak looked a good bet to end, when five of the six remaining players at this year’s event had connections to the island nation.

A Pinoy champion, though, will have to go through Shane Van Boening. The American throttled Pagulayan in Saturday afternoon’s hot-seat match. Clearing six racks from the break, Van Boening sprinted away from his frequent foe, eventually taking the match, 11-5.

The left side of the bracket, meanwhile, looked like a mini-tournament in Manila. Efren Reyes topped Ronnie Alcano late Friday evening, 11-9, in what was an uncharacteristically sloppy match. Dennis Orcollo bested Jose Parica, 11-4, in a one-sided set where the 63-year-old appeared to tire after a thrilling run deep into the tournament.

On Saturday afternoon, Orcollo then faced Reyes, with the winner then getting Pagulayan in the third-place match. Though making fewer and fewer trips to the United States in recent years, 58-year-old Reyes electrified the crowd with his play throughout the U.S. Open’s first week.

The greatest thrill came in his 11-10 victory over two-time defending champ Darren Appleton. Facing a tricky kick shot on the 4 ball in the case game, Reyes sent the pink off three rails and into the 9 ball, which then crawled into the side pocket for the win. From there, Reyes topped China’s Wang Can and Orcollo, before losing to Pagulayan.

In a left-side rematch with Orcollo, the Magician was unable to find a rhythm. Orcollo opened up an early three-rack lead, which he maintained until the final 9 ball fell for an 11-8 win.

With Van Boening now resting until Saturday night’s final, Pagulayan and Orcollo are facing off for the second seat in the championship set. Orcollo holds and early 4-2 lead in the modified race to 11.

Van Boening Takes U.S. Open Title No. 2

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Dennis Orcollo is arguably the best tournament player on the planet. But in the final of the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship, he barely stood a chance. Shane Van Boening, riding a break that bordered on the sublime, blasted his way past the Filipino powerhouse to take his second U.S. Open crown by a count of 13-7.

The 29-year-old American jumped out to an early 9-2 lead in the modified race to 13. Winning eight straight at one point, Van Boening dropped a ball on the break seven straight racks, four of which he cleared without letting Orcollo to the table. Following a scratch on the break in the 12th game, Van Boening’s only unsuccessful break in the set, Orcollo made an impressive run of his own, closing the gap to just 9-7. But a missed table-length jump on the 1 ball was the end of Orcollo’s road. Van Boening cleared that rack, then broke and ran the final three for an emphatic stamp on his U.S. Open victory.

“I’ve been playing a lot of pool the last month or so,” Van Boening said, shortly after his victory. “I felt really good coming here. I had a lot of confidence and started out [playing well].”

His path through the winners bracket and into the hot-seat included a number of world-class players, only one of whom managed to stay with the two-time BD Player of the Year. In his third match, Van Boening throttled Mosconi Cup foe Nick van den Berg, 11-4, before besting Chris Melling by the same count. In the next round, he faced Ronnie Alcano, his opponent from the 2007 U.S. Open final. The lanky Filipino stood within a rack advancing, but Van Boening collected the final two racks for a thrilling 11-10 win.

That would be his one and only close call. Two more Filipinos fell, with Van Boening topping Jose Parica and Alex Pagulayan, both 11-5, to take his spot in the final.

On the one-loss side, Orcollo was gathering steam after his loss to Efren Reyes. He won three straight, including an 11-7 victory that ended Darren Appleton’s hopes for a third straight Open crown, to earn a rematch with Reyes. The 58-year-old legend was the story of the tournament’s opening week, but Orcollo was too much. He sent Reyes packing, 11-8, before eliminating Pagulayan in third place.

While Van Boening and Orcollo are far from strangers — the two frequently match up in money games — the American would not be denied. With title no. 2 at just 29, Van Boening didn’t waste time looking forward, if only in jest.

“What do I need, three more to tie Earl?” he said, acknowledging Earl Strickland’s record five U.S. Open titles.

If he can come anywhere close to replicating his dominant form over the past week, though, the joke might be on his competition.

Dozen Remain in U.S. Open Hunt

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — If you’re looking for story lines at the 2012 U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship, the winners-side final four should provide plenty. Efren Reyes, Jose Parica, Alex Pagulayan and Shane Van Boening remain unbeaten. Young vs. old, Philippines vs. U.S., former champions chasing titles or an overdue contender closing in on his crown, the final 24 hours of the U.S. Open should be riveting.

Parica, 63, is chasing his first Open title after finished second in 2003. He will face the 29-year-old Van Boening, who has been absolutely dominant thus far. In a superb match against Ronnie Alcano — a rematch of the 2007 final, won by the American — Van Boening erased a late two-rack deficit to take an 11-10 victory.

On the other side of the bracket, Pagulayan and Reyes will square off. The Magician has been nothing short of magical in his march through the right side. He topped two-time reigning champ Darren Appleton, 11-10, on Thursday afternoon, then outlasted Wang Can, 11-7, that evening. On Friday, he then trumped Dennis Orcollo, leader of the Philippines’ next generation of stars, 11-7.

Over on the one-loss side of the bracket, it’s tough to find a player without top-tier credentials. Johnny Archer faces Darren Appleton, with the Englishman plodding through the left side in search of his third straight U.S. Open title. World 9-Ball champ Chang Jung-Lin, China’s Li Hewen and Netherlander Niels Feijen top an impressive international class of hopefuls.

Stay tuned, as updates will be posted as each round of play concludes.

Appleton Loses Bid for Third U.S. Open

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — It goes without saying that you can’t win the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship without a lucky break or two. In the case of Darren Appleton, who went unbeaten on his way to victories in 2010 and 2011, this year’s story took a turn with a very unlucky break. In a Thursday match with Efren Reyes, the Brit watched the Filipino legend fluke in the 9 in the case game. The loss sent Appleton to the left, where his pursuit of a third consecutive title would be much more difficult.

On Friday evening, that pursuit ended with an 11-7 loss to Dennis Orcollo. Like Mika Immonen, who chased the three-peat in 2010, Appleton showed championship mettle, but simply couldn’t muster the magic of the previous two years.

With the win, Orcollo earned a spot opposite Jose Parica in Friday’s last round of matches. The winner, as well as the winner of the set between Ronnie Alcano and Reyes, will be among the final four players to advance to Saturday.

While the eliminations continue, two unbeaten players — former champs Shane Van Boening and Alex Pagulayan — have punched tickets to Saturday afternoon’s hot-seat match. In his set with Parica, Van Boening struggled to get rolling at first. But he built a lead against the 63-year-old Filipino, and eventually ran away with the match, 11-5.

Pagulayan, meanwhile, sprinted to an early lead in his match with Reyes. Taking the first six racks, Pagulayan never relented in his pressure until he dropped the clinching 9 ball for an 11-5 victory.

U.S. Open Primed for Big Weekend

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Heading into the final two days of the 2012 U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships, it’s clear that the strong have survived. At the conclusion of play on the winners side on Thursday night, just eight players remained. And that octet packed plenty of star power.

Former champions Shane Van Boening, Alex Pagulayan and Johnny Archer are all chasing title No. 2. But in perhaps the most thrilling story of the U.S. Open to this point, 58-year-old Efren Reyes strung together five victories — including an electrifying 11-10 win over two-time defending champ Darren Appleton — to put himself in contention for the Open crown. He will square off against countryman Dennis Orcollo on Friday. Pagulayan and Archer will square off in the other match on that side of the bracket.

Scotland’s Jayson Shaw will face 63-year-old Jose Parica on the other side of the bracket. Parica, runner-up at the 2003 U.S. Open, advanced via a dominant victory over a resurgent Earl Strickland, 11-5. The winner of that set will then face the victor in Shane Van Boening’s match against Ronnie Alcano, a rematch of the 2007 U.S. Open won by the American.

While eight players have two bullets left in their revolvers, the left side is packed with championship-caliber talent. Most notably, late Thursday evening, Darren Appleton trailed American Oscar Dominguez. In search of his third-straight title, the Englishman was struggling to rally in the second match after his heart-breaking loss to Reyes.

Leading the charge on the one-loss side, Japan’s Yukio Akagariyama, China’s Li Hewen and Taiwan’s Chang Jung-Lin are major title winners seeking glory on American soil. Europe’s Albin Ouschan, brother of women’s star Jasmin and rising star on the EuroTour, joins England’s Chris Melling in the title hunt. American hopes settle on Corey Deuel, who dropped a Thursday night set to Jayson Shaw, and five-time titlist Strickland.