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.”

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.”

Black Widow & Barry Hearn BCA HOF Bound

Jeanette Lee

Jeanette Lee

Broomfield, Colo., August 21, 2013 — The Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame is honored to welcome two of pool’s most media-savvy personalities in 2013. The United States Billiard Media Association today announced that women’s champion Jeanette “The Black Widow” Lee and British promoter Barry Hearn have earned induction into the sport’s hall of fame by becoming the 61st and 62nd members.

Lee, 41, will enter the Greatest Players wing of the BCA Hall of Fame, while Hearn, 65, will be honored for Meritorious Service. Both will be formally inducted during ceremonies on December 2, 2013, at the Mirage Hotel/Casino in Las Vegas.

In the closest Hall of Fame voting ever, Lee edged Finnish star Mika Immonen in a special runoff election. The two champions were tied after the initial ballots were submitted. In the runoff, Lee and Immonen went head to head, where Lee surpassed her male contemporary by just two votes.

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.

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.

Thirty-one Countries Vie for World Dominance in Wales

National pride is at stake at the PartyPoker.com World Cup of Pool, taking place now at the Newport Centre in Newport, Wales. Pressure is high as the scotch doubles matches are played on a straight knock-out basis.

The first round began on Aug. 22, with 32 two-man teams working together to represent their country. Thailand, represented by Tepwin Arunnath and Amnuayporn Chotipong, fell to Canadians Luc Salvas and Tyler Edey, 9-5. Team Qatar (Fahad Mohammadi and Bashar Hussain) was stymied by Malaysians Patrick Ooi Fook Yuen and Ibrahim Bin Amir, 9-3. And in an inter-continental contest, the Czech Republic, represented by Roman Hybler and Michal Gavenciak, defeated Poland’s Radoslaw Babica and Mariusz Roter.

The Phillipines, represented by Efren Reyes and Francisco Bustamante, were the clear crowd favorites, and rose to the occasion in round one, with a 9-0 massacre over Malta’s Tony Drago and Alex Borg. It was a tight battle between Taiwan’s Wang Hung-hsiang and Yang Ching-shun and India’s Dharminder Lilly and Alok Kumar. The tiny island nation prevailed, 9-6.

England has two teams in the running, one of which is represented by Steve Davis and Daryl Peach. It was 5-5 before the Brits were able to pull ahead of Jeong Young-hwa and Lee Gun-jae of Team Korea. On Davis’ 49th birthday, he joyously accepted their 9-6 victory.

In the second day of play on Wednesday, Aug. 23, Russia’s Konstantin Stepanov and Konstantin Zolotilov starved Hungary’s Vilmos Foldes and Gabor Solymosi of opportunities, defeating them 9-3.

Hong Kong produced a heroic performance to stun sixth- seeded Sweden in the biggest shock thus far in the PartyPoker.com World Cup of Pool. Sweden, whose side consisted of former World Championship finalist Tom Storm and former World Championship semi-finalist Marcus Chamat, had been 4-1, 6-2, and 8-5 ahead in the race-to-9. But the Hong Kong pairing of Lee Chenman and Kong Man-Ho showed their character to win the last four racks to secure a place in the final 16.

Team Japan, Maasaki Tanaka and Satoshi Kawabata obliterated Indonesia’s Imran Ibrahim and Ricky Yang, 9-0. While the English “A” team of Ronnie O’Sullivan and Raj Hundal, didn’t have it quite so easy against Spain’s David Alcaide and Rafael Guzman. The crowd was gutted as the duo fell to a fast 4-0 deficit, but had their hopes back up as England got their nose in front at 8-7, but the Spaniards took the final two racks to close out a famous victory.

Team U.S.A. is composed of Rodney Morris and Earl Strickland, who had a decided victory over Singapore. The home team, Rob McKenna and Ben Davies of Wales, disappointed their fan base with a heart-breaking 9-2 loss to Germany (Thomas Engert and Oliver Ortmann).

Today, Aug. 24, three matches are left to determine the final 16. This morning, Ireland had no luck against Finland’s Mika Immonen and Markus Juva, heading home after a 9-5 loss.

The first matches of round two will begin tonight, with No. 1-ranked Phillipines and No. 3-ranked U.S.A. taking on their respective opponents. For up-to-the minute coverage at www.partypoker.com!

IPT Round Three Complete

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Despite some strong opposition from European players, including the surprising contingent of English 8-ballers, the always tough Filipinos are dominating the history-making IPT North American 8-Ball Open.

Virtually every Filipino competitor who started in the 200-player field has made it through to the 36-man fourth round of play – nine altogether, including three Pinoy hopefuls who needed to win qualifiers to gain entry to the $2 million tournament.

Leading the pack, as usual, was legendary Efren “Bata” Reyes, whose overall record stood at 12-1 after three days of round-robin play. No less impressive was the ball-control mastery of Filipino Marlon Manalo, who held an identical 12-1 record, along with Germany’s Ralf Souquet and Rafael Martinez of Mexico.

Third-round play began on Wednesday at the Venetian Hotel and Casino with the remaining 60 players divied into 12 groups of five. The top three in each group would advance to the fourth round on Thursday with a guarantee of at least $17,000 in prize money; the eliminated players would collect a still-impressive $10,000 each.

By 9:45 p.m., the lucky 36 were known. Their names follow, grouped by country, with their third-round records:

USA: Dee Adkins, 4-0; Jason Kirkwood, 3-1; Earl Strickland, 3-1; Cory Deuel, 4-0; Shawn Putnam, 3-1; Rodney Morris, 3-1; Larry Nevel, 3-1; Gabe Owen, 2-2; and David Matlock, 2-2.

Philippines: Efren Reyes, 4-0; Marlon Manalo, 4-0; Francisco Bustamante, 2-2; Dennis Orcollo, 3-1; Antonio Lining, 4-0; Rodolfo Luat, 2-2; Alex Pagulayan, 3-1; Santos Sambajon, 2-2; and Ronato Alcano, 2-2.

United Kingdom: Rico Diks, 2-2; Raj Hundal, 1-3; Daryl Peach, 2-2; Darren Appleton, 2-2; Mick Hill, 3-1.

Netherlands: Niels Feijen, 3-1; Alex Lely, 3-1; and Nick Van den Berg, 3-1.

Germany: Ralf Souquet, 4-0; and Thorsten Hohmann, 3-1.

Other countries: Quinten Hann (Australia), 2-2; Ivica Putnik (Croatia), 2-2; Mika Immonen (Finland), 3-1; Sandor Tot (Italy), 2-2; Yannick Beaufils (France), 2-2; Rafael Martinez (Mexico), 4-0; Evgeny Stalev (Russia), 2-2; and Marcus Chamat (Sweden), 3-1.

Here are some highlights from the round:

* The biggest eye-opener for many established players at the Open has been the success of the top competitors on the English 8-ball circuit, including perennial champions Mick Hill and Darren Appleton. Both will compete in the round-of-36.

“Us lads have come to play the top players from around the world, and I feel that we haven’t been given a chance,” said 26-year-old Hill. “The point that us English lads want to get across to everyone, including our own back home, is that we’re playing 8-ball, not 9-ball or straight-pool. … A lot of people don’t realize that the English players play 8-ball.”

Among their strengths are excellent cue ball control and solid stroke mechanics, said observers.

“Those guys shoot very straight, and I can respect that,” said IPT member Ike Runnels.

* Fifteen women started the competition on Sunday, and only former snooker stars Allison Fisher and Karen Corr were given much of a chance to advance. One woman was able to infiltrate the third round, and she was a U.K. native, but no one you might expect.

“I sort of in a way proved a point,” said Sarah Ellerby, who collected dozens of 8-ball titles in England before coming to the U.S. to compete on the WPBA Classic Tour. “…There wasn’t as much attention on me as on the other girls, and that’s fine.

“I’m sure that some of the guys were like, ‘The women won’t do well here,’” Ellerby said. “If I could break better, I feel like I could really make more of a dent. I think the women are capable enough to come here and do well.”

Unfortunately, Ellerby fell into a tough bracket in the third round and finished with a 1-3 record. Knowing she wouldn’t advance, Ellerby immediately left for the Las Vegas airport to catch an 11:30 p.m. United Airlines flight to Chicago. There, she would catch a limo for a two-hour drive to Peoria, the site of the WPBA Midwest Classic, which was starting play Thursday morning.

“I’m going to be very tired,” she said.

* Staying on the English for another moment, sharp observers might note that Raj Hundal advanced with a 1-3 record. It’s no misprint. Hundal was in a bracket with players who posted 4-0 and 3-1 records (Reyes and Strickland), leaving the other three players with 1-3 tallies. Of the three, Hundal had the highest games-won percentage (56.49 percent, just over American Gary Abood’s 55.09 percent), which pushed him into the next round. That 1.4 percent difference was worth at least $7,000.

“I’m in! I’m in!” the burly Hundal screamed upon hearing the results. “I’m freewheeling tomorrow! … I’m the luckiest [expletive] in the world!”

* Another surprise at the end of the day was how many players who were forced to qualify for the event ended up in the round-of-36. The 200-player field offered 50 qualifiers, and no fewer than nine made it into the fourth round. They included Filipinos Luat, Sambajon and Alcano.

* Most of the favorites remained in the running for the fourth round, with one major exception. American Johnny Archer faded in his bracket, finishing with a 1-3 record.

IPT Round Three: The Plot Thickens as the Field Thins

Round three starts today in the International Pool Tour’s North American Open and already 17,066 games have been played. Fatigue certainly played a role yesterday with 120 players facing a $5,000 difference in payout as they were whittled down to 60 in 12 straight hours of 8-ball action. The 60 remaining contenders who advanced to round three have been placed into 12 groups of five players each. Three players from each group will advance to the next round. The 24 who are eliminated will receive a lovely parting gift of $10,000.

Here’s a breakdown of yesterday’s highlights:

Mike Sigel was eliminated with a 2-3 record after losses to Marlon Manalo, Marko Lohtander and Quinten Hann. “The Mouth” settled for 61st and a $5,000 consolation prize.

The female players are near extinction, survived only by Sarah Ellerby who edged out Corey Harper by less than one percentage point in win average to advance to round three. Both Loree Jon Jones and Allison Fisher went winless in round two, and Gerda Hofstatter was eliminated with only one win.

Only eight players went undefeated throughout yesterday’s round, including three Americans: David Matlock, Nick Varner, and Charlie Williams. Also unscathed: Australian Quinten Hann, Filipino Santos Sambajon, Mexican Rafael Martinez, Mika Immonen of Finland, and Ivica Putnik of Croatia.

The Filipino contingent is now down three men, with Warren Kiamco and Gandy Valle eliminated after round two, and Jose Parica eliminated after round one. Still, 10 of the original 13 remain and most dominated their groups. Francisco Bustamante fell to Efren Reyes, but has the highest winning percentage of the entire field at 73.68 percent. (Johnny Archer is second with 70 percent.)

Snooker superstar Ronnie O’Sullivan held on by the skin of his teeth, with only two wins, but advanced on the merit of his winning percentage. On the other hand, Takeshi Okumura missed out on advancing by 0.03 percent to Larry Nevel.

Veterans Allen Hopkins, Kim Davenport, Keith McCready are all heading home. George San Souci and Tony Chohan went winless in round two. Other notables who are heading home with $5,000 consolation prizes: Danny Basavich, Jeremy Jones, George Breedlove and Oliver Ortmann.

Round three is upon us, and each player will play five matches among formidable fields. Here’s a quick analysis:

Ellerby will have to face two top Americans: Gabe Owen and Charlie Williams and two Filipinos: Marlon Manolo and Ronato Alcano. Good luck!

Earl Strickland is alive and well in the tournament, but grouped with Raj Hundal and Efren Reyes, the recently inducted Hall-of-Famer will have to fight hard to see another day.

German Thorsten Hohmann is by far the biggest name in his group, but will face Mick Hill, a promising British 8-baller.

Check out this group: Break-and-run Bustamante, Undefeated Ozzy Quinten Hann, 8-Ball Boy Wonder Karl Boyes, Prince of Pool Cory Deuel, and Bad Boy O’Sullivan. Yikes!

Mika Immonen and John Schmidt will face off in their group — undoubtedly there will be some good-looking pool played there.

Immonen Rises to Eminence at First Norwegian 9-Ball Challenge

The Norwegian 9-Ball Challenge, a first-time tournament, attracted several of the best players in the world including Tony Drago, Niels Feijen, Raj Hundal, Jasmin Ouschan and Marcus Chamat to Oslo, Norway, July 12-15. It was not surprising that two former World Pool Champions rose to the top, with Mika Immonen from Finland facing German Oliver Ortmann in the final. The pool powers that be were not on Ortmann’s side and Immonen was in top form, taking the title, 9-4.

The event took place at ElbowRoom, a posh poolroom in Oslo. The format divided the field into 16 groups in which a round-robin format was used. Almost half the field was dismissed by day three and a single-elimination format went into effect with the final 64.

Immonen took home $7,500 Euros for his efforts. Bronze medalists were Brian Beekers from Holland and Kurt Maflin from Norway.

“Yikes!” or “Whew…”: IPT North American Groupings Announced

“Yikes!” or “Whew…”: IPT North American Groupings Announced
Jul 14, 2006, 9:44 AM

Several top pool pros won’t be sleeping too soundly for the next week, now that they know the identities of their opponents in the first round of the International Pool Tour’s North American 8-Ball Open Championship.

Among those who might have trouble catching some “zees” are Karen Corr, Cory Deuel, Charles “Hillbilly” Bryant, and Kim Davenport. On the other hand, Allison Fisher and 13-year-old Austin Murphy look to be pretty well rested.

The $2 million, 200-player event — with a $350,000 first-place prize — kicks off Sunday, July 23, at the Venetian in Las Vegas, Nev.

The IPT announced the first-round groupings — composed of 40 sets of five players each — on Thursday. After round-robin play, the top three finishers in each group will proceed to the next round. Eliminated players from the first round will each receive $2,000.

The complete list of groupings is available at the IPT Web site: www.internationalpooltour.com.

However, we’ll point out a few of the more remarkable first-round matchups to get the inevitable debate and buzz started. In no particular order:

Group 20 — International Incident
A big-time pro is going home with $2,000 — and the lonely, agonizing plane ride could be transcontinental. The round’s toughest group is topped by former world 9-ball champions Mika Immonen (Finland) and Oliver Ortmann (Germany). They’re closely followed by tough-as-nails American Charles “Hillbilly” Bryant and the wily Gandy Valle from the Philippines. If “Gentleman” Jim Raney (USA) can make it out of this group, he deserves a $10,000 bonus.

Group 14 — Cakewalk
It’s dangerous to call any group a “gimme,” because there are so many relatively unknown international players in the IPT. You can bet there will be several surprises along the way. But Brit snooker and 9-ball ace Allison Fisher looks like a lock to get past group 14, populated by middling and/or obscure players Grady Matthews (USA), Andreja Klasovic (Serbia/Montenegro), Marko Lohtander (Finland), and Jeff Abernathy (USA).

Group 32 — Dogfight of the Sleepers
Fans might not know all these names, but one or two of these guys are sure to be around late in the event. The group features rough road player Steve Moore (USA), 2006 Derby City Master of the Table winner Jason Miller (USA), resurgent 9-ball pro Kim Davenport (USA), and Canadian aces Paul Potier and Tyler Edey.

Group 18 — Bloodbath
A top player is going to go down here. This one looks like the semifinals roster from a Reno Open, with multitalented Shannon Daulton (USA) facing off against Canadian stalwart (and, coincidentally, 2005 Reno Open winner) Ronnie Wiseman, former BD Player of the Year Cory Deuel (USA), Chicago 8-ball machine Ike Runnels, and sneaky veteran Pete Fusco (USA).

Group 2 — No Rest for the Invader
Ireland’s Karen Corr will have her work cut out for her against Holland’s top pro Niels Feijen, China’s no-nonsense Wei-Liu, underrated 8-baller Greg Hogue (USA) and Hall-of-Famer Ray Martin. But Corr went 4-1 in the first round of December’s IPT King of the Hill event, so look for her to pass with honors.

Group 5 — Let’s go, Austin!
Okay, we’re (unofficially) rooting for 13-year-old Austin Murphy, who is no slouch, by the way. He just won his second consecutive title at the BCA Junior Nationals, and he can hold his own against the big guys. He has an excellent chance to get out of his first-round group, where he will face Danny Basavich (USA), Hall-of-Famer Ewa Laurance (USA), and little-known qualifiers Sam Monday (USA) and Anthony Ginn (England).