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It’s Hohmann vs Manalo for biggest prize in pool history.

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – German precision will meet Filipino steel in the final of the $2 million IPT North American 8-Ball Open on Sunday, as Thorsten Hohmann and Marlon Manalo battle for the history-making tournament’s $350,000 top prize.

Germany’s Hohmann and Manalo of the Philippines rose to the top of the final round-robin stage of the tournament on Saturday night in the Venetian Hotel and Casino. Both posted records of 4-1 in the six-player bracket, besting foes Ralf Souquet, Efren Reyes, Dennis Orcollo and Evgeny Stalev.

“It’s not over yet,” said Manalo after coming back from a 6-2 deficit against Souquet in his fourth match, winning 8-6 and securing his spot in the final with a then-perfect 4-0 record.

Manalo then faced Hohmann in their fifth set of matches for the night. Hohmann needed to win in order to tally four victories and cement his spot in the final. In what was to be a preview of the championship match-up, Hohmann blistered Manalo, 8-1.

The winner of Sunday’s race-to-8 final will skyrocket to the top of the IPT’s rankings, this being the first event of the fledgling’s tour’s 2006 season. The winner will pocket $350,000, and the runner-up must settle for $99,000.

Hohmann, certainly the most fit of the final six, seemed to get stronger as the day wore on. The rest were visibly flagging, and missed balls and mental miscues were common.

“For next time, I will need to exercise more,” said Orcollo of the Philippines, who finished third with three match wins, collecting a none-too-shabby $80,000.

Reyes and Souquet both had one win apiece by the last match of the night, putting them in the position of fighting for fourth and fifth place. In a painfully slow and often sloppy battle, Reyes squeaked out a hill-hill victory, 8-7, to take fourth and $65,000. Souquet settled for fifth and $50,000.

Stalev of Russia, the biggest surprise of the final six contenders, had trouble shaking off the debilitating effects of the previous five days of morning-to-night play. He finished sixth with a 1-4 record but happily accepted a $40,000 check, roughly $33,000 greater than his previous high-watermark for prize money.

The final will pit perfectionist Hohmann, a former world 9-ball champion and current world straight-pool champion, against rising star Manalo, whom many believe could be the heir to Reyes’ throne as dominant Filipino in a country of pool giants.

As far as experience in big events and technical mastery of pool mechanics, 27-year-old Hohmann seems to have the edge. But 30-year-old Manalo had the best record in the Open, finishing the round-robin stages at 23-5 and winning 61 percent of the games played. Hohmann often found himself on the brink of elimination, only to pull through with gutty wins. His overall record was 21-7, with a games-won percentage of 57.3 percent.

And Then There Were Six: Heavy Favorites Make Beeline for Final IPT Round-Robin

The cream has risen to the top of the field at the IPT North American 8-Ball Open, and six well-known players look to get significantly richer in the next round.

After 12 hours of round-robin play on Friday, a half dozen players separated themselves from the pack of 18 remaining shooters, in some cases by mere inches on the table, or percentages point on the official stat sheet. Those deserving six stand to make a minimum of $40,000 in the next round, and a maximum of $350,000 for winning the title at Sunday’s final.

The players are: Efren Reyes, Marlon Manalo, and Dennis Orcollo of the Philippines; Thorsten Hohmann and Ralf Souquet of Germany; and Evgeny Stalev of Russia;

Stalev was probably the biggest surprise of the bunch. The 26-year-old from Litkarino, 20 miles outside of Moscow, rarely ventures outside his home country for pool events, beyond the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships and Derby City Classic. But he’s a legend in Russia, having won nearly 100 titles in the cue sport of pyramid.

The reedy Stalev found himself in a must-win situation in the fifth and final match of the day, against plucky Englishman Darren Appleton. He took control of the match from the start, using his powerful break (with full-body extension) to gain control of the table, and his surgical-quality touch to pilot the cue ball.

With Stalev up 7-4, his close friend Fabrio Petroni of Italy began nudging fellow spectators in the stands, saying in a dramatic stage whisper, “That is my friend. I know him. He is a very good player!” Stalev closed the match at 8-4, leaving Appleton slumped in his chair for several minutes with his head in his hands.

“It was tough,” Stalev said. “Every opponent right now is tough. … I feel terrible. My back, my legs. The whole week, you wake up and play 10 hours a day.”

He quickly grabbed his cell phone and called his father back in Russia, and then his manager.

Meanwhile, Hohmann and Sweden’s Marcus Chamat were fighting on an adjoining table for the final spot in their bracket. Chamat led 7-5 and had three solids left on the table when he ended up straight-in on the 2. His only choice was to draw straight back on the shot, hooking himself on the 6. After a missed multi-rail Hail Mary, Hohmann took over the table and didn’t let go until he had the 8-7 victory.

The final set of matches for the night were anticlimactic for three players: Reyes was undefeated at 4-0 and a sure thing to advance; and Souquet and Manalo could afford to lose their matches, knowing that at worst they would tie with their respective bracketmates and still advance on the basis of their superior games-won percentage.

Hallelujah: Winners Sing Out as IPT Field Narrows, Grows Richer

Jubilant shouts and the deep thud of cue butts slamming the floor echoed through the Venetian Hotel and Casino on Thursday night as 18 pool players took another step closer to the $350,000 top prize at the $2 million IPT North American 8-Ball Open – and another 18 saw their dreams cut short.

“Haalllloooooooo!” cried Efren Reyes, as he sank the winning 8 in a must-win hill-hill match against Mick Hill of the U.K., and pumped his fists to the ceiling. He punctuated his triumphant shout with a relieved chuckle, as he watched the cue ball come an inch from scratching in the corner.

“YES!” shouted Englishman Darren Appleton, upon hearing that bracket imate Cory Deuel had lost his last match of the day, leaving the door open for his own ascension into the next round.

“Thank you! Thank you! See you tomorrow, everybody! Yiiiii yiiiiiii!” shrieked Ronato Alcano of the Philippines, after his stats were posted on the official scoreboard and he saw that he beat America Dee Adkins for the third sport in his bracket by a percentage point.

After a 12-hour day of round-robin play, the field of 36 players in round four winnowed to 18, who were guaranteed $30,000 each by virtue of advancing to the fifth round of play. Their 18 eliminated compatriots pocketed a none-too-shabby $17,000.

The Filipino contingent continued its dominance and bettered it chances for claiming the championship, placing seven players in the last 18: Reyes, Alcano, Francisco Bustamante, Marlon Manalo, Dennis Orcollo, Alex Pagulayan and Rodolpho Luat.

The U.S. placed three players in the fifth round with Gabe Owen, Larry Nevel and David Matlock. The U.K. is two strong with Appleton and Daryl Peach. Germany’s last two hopes were Thorsten Hohmann and Ralf Souquet. The remaining four players were Evgeny Stalev of Russia, Australia’s Quentin Hann, and Sweden’s Marcus Chamat, and Rico Diks, representing the Netherlands

As the clock rounded 8 p.m., it was gut-check time for several players who had recorded records of 2-2 and needed a win in their final match for a shot at advancing. Players took their turns in front of the tournament’s billboard-sized scoreboard, nervously drawing numbers in the air as they tried to figure out the calculus of the bracket and how they would fare in different scenarios.

Players on the bubble with 2-2 records included Reyes, matched against Hill (1-3); Alex Pagulayan, playing against fellow Filipino Dennis Orcollo (3-1); and Deuel, set against Filipino Marlon Manalo (3-1). Matches that paired players with identical 2-2 records included Frenchman Yannick Beaufils vs. Niels Feijen of the Netherlands; American Earl Strickland vs. Alcano; and Francisco Bustamante vs. Santos Sambajon, both of the Philippines.

American Gabe Owen was stuck in a must-win position from the third match of the day. He faced fearsome Filipinos Bustamante and Sambajon in his first two matches and lost both of them. He needed to win the next three matches to have a hope of advancing.

“I just thought, screw it – just let it go. You only live once, just do it,” Owen said.

He proceeded to beat Reyes, 8-6; then Hill, 8-6; and in the longest match of the fifth set, Ivica Putnik of Croatia, 8-5. Sinking the last 8, he yelled and pumped his fist at jackhammer speed.

“My feet are killing me,” he said afterwards.

One of three Americans left in the field, Owen felt he had a shot at the title. “I feel like 8-ball is my best game, and I’m getting underrated here,” he said. “I’ve been practicing nothing but my 8-ball break for the last six months. Even in 9-ball tournaments, I’ve been breaking from the box. Screw $5,000 for winning a 9-ball tournament when you can win on the IPT.”

Stalev of Russia already knew what he would do with the $350,000. “I promised my friend [IPT member] Fabio Petroni that we would go on a vacation to Hawaii with five girls,” he said.

Stalev was one of the few players whose record was strong enough by early evening to count on advancing. Others were not as lucky.

“The pressure … the pressure … the hunger … I’m so tired,” said the rail-thin Alcano after squeaking by Strickland, 8-7, in their 8 p.m. match. He tossed his cue in the air, caught it and then did a stiff jig as Strickland packed up his cue case and ignored repeated requests for an on-camera interview by IPT staff.

Even countryman Reyes, perhaps the best big-money player in history, felt the pressure and dogged several shots in his 8-7 win against Hill. He often appeared listless and confused, and several observers opined that the rugged, five-match-a-day schedule was getting to the 51-year-old Hall of Famer.

“I don’t feel tired, … I feel the pressure because I’m in danger,” he said. “My opponent played good. Every time he got a shot, he ran out. In the last game, it was too much pressure for me. I didn’t know what to do in the last game. That’s why I was just shoot, shoot, shoot.”

Groups for Round Five: The Final 18

Here they are, folks: the final 18 players at the $2 million IPT North American 8-Ball Open. Play in round six will start at 10 a.m. on the West Coast. The top two players in each bracket will advance to the next round, where the prize money will start at $40,000. The winner of the event will collect $350,000.

Group 1
Quentin Hann, Australia
Evgeny Stalev, Russia
Efren Reyes, Philippines
Larry Nevel, USA
Darren Appleton, U.K.
Rodolpho Luat, Philippines

Group 2
Francisco Bustamante, Philippines
David Matlock, USA
Daryl Peach, U.K.
Dennis Orcollo, Philippines
Ronato Alcano, Philippines
Ralf Souquet, Germany

Group 3
Marlon Manalo, Philippines
Alex Pagulayan, Philippines
Thorsten Hohmann, Germany
Marcus Chamat, Sweden
Gabe Owen, USA
Rico Diks, U.K.

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.

Hohmann Takes World 14.1 Straight Pool Top Honor

The German penchant for straight pool was evident in the final of the World 14.1 Straight Pool Championship, in which Thorsten Hohmann defeated his fellow countryman Thomas Engert, 200-80.

The first tournament of its kind in over 15 years, the World 14.1 Straight Pool Championship took place over six days, from May 30 to June 4 at the Hilton in East Brunswick, N.J., attracting an international field of 64 players.

Hohmann topped the list of high runs with 174, and tore through the bracket in the double-elimination second round and single-elimination final. In the first round, a round-robin format among eight groups of eight players, Hohmann survived the elimination of half the field with a record of five wins and two losses, to John Schmidt and Allen Hopkins, respectively.

In the second round, among 32 players, Hohmann remained on the winners’ side with wins over Antonio Fazanes, 150-68, and Charlie Williams, 150-14. With only the top 16 advancing to the third and final round, Hohmann defeated everyone in his path. He avenged his first loss to Schmidt with a 200-64 win, then went on to beat Austrian “Ice Princess” Jasmin Ouschan, 200-117, and came out on top of a tight match against Max Eberle, 200-177 to land in the final with Engert.

Engert had a tough road to the finals, losing to Allen Hopkins in the second round, but making it into the top 16 with a win over Vilmos Foldes, 150-45, on the one-loss side. In the final round, he matched up against some formidable straight pool opponents, including Bobby Hunter, who he barely bested, 200-177, straight-pool veteran Allen Hopkins, 200-32, and Mika Immonen, 200-80.

The all-German final saw Hohmann ahead for the entire match, jumping out to a 160-49 lead. Engert was able to narrow the gap to 80, but missed the 15 in the side pocket after leaving the cue ball burrowed into a stack of balls. Hohmann ran out the next two racks for the win.

Thirty-two Remain in the World 14.1 Straight Pool Championship

The World 14.1 Straight Pool Championship got underway May 30 at the Hilton in East Brunswick, N.J., the first competition of its kind in over 15 years.

The 64-player field included some of pool’s elite players, including Mika Immonen, Nick Varner, Mike Sigel, Allen Hopkins, and Oliver Ortmann. Top women pros Jeanette Lee, Jasmin Ouschan and Megan Minnerich were also invited to play.

The event kicked off with an opening ceremony in which the players were divided into eight groups of eight players. The first round was a round-robin format, with only the top 32 advancing to round two, which is currently underway, employing a double-elimination format.

After round one, Max Eberle, Go Takami and Mike Sigel remained undefeated. Lee, losing only to Sigel, had a 6-1 record going into round two. Big names eliminated early include Johnny Archer, Larry Schwartz, Luc Salvas, Tony Robles, Jimmy Mataya, Varner and Minerich.

Players recording high runs thus far include: Mike Sigel – 125, Ralf Souquet – 99, John Schmidt – 91, Danny Harriman – 83 and Thorsten Hohman – 71.

Ouschan Upsets Fisher; Souquet Gives Archer Second Second-place Finish

Jasmin Ouschan, who has become known as the “Ice Princess” for her arctic facial expression during competition, couldn’t help but crack the no-nonsense mask, revealing a stunning smile after ousting the undefeated defending champion Allison Fisher, 7-5, in the 2006 Enjoypool.com 9-ball Championship final, held May 20 at the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nev.

Ouschan joined German Ralf Souquet in the winner’s circle after Souquet gave Johnny Archer his second second-place finish at the event, 7-5, after a 7-0 whitewashing by Thorsten Hohmann last year. Both victors worked hard for the $20,000 payout, battling back from the one-loss side, where they had to overcome some stringent competition.

Just 20 years old, Ouschan is an Austrian native who came onto the U.S. women’s pool scene four years ago. Ouschan made waves early on in the tournament, knocking two-time World Champion Ga-Young Kim to the losers’ side in the first round. She had a mettle-testing road to the finals after Melissa Herndon knocked her down to the one-loss side in the third round. She beat the likes of Dawn Hopkins, 9-8, Karen Corr, 9-7, Kelly Fisher, 9-3, Pam Treadway, 9-3, fellow Austrian Gerda Hofstatter, 9-3, and Shin-Mei Lui, 9-2, to meet Helena Thornfeldt in the semifinal, who she defeated, 7-6.

In the final Ouschan faced the favorite Allison Fisher, who remained unscathed through the winners’ side. Fisher was flawless early in the match, jumping out to a 3-0 lead. Ouschan then came back and won 3 games of her own to tie the match at 3-3. The match was tied again at 4-4, but Ouschan won two in a row to get to the hill at 6-4. From there, they split racks on their breaks and Ouschan won, 7-5.

After making it to the fifth round by beating the revered Efren Reyes, 11-8, Souquet was knocked to the one-loss side by Archer, 11-8, where he had to face Reyes again. He came out on top once again to redeem himself against Archer in the final, 7-5.

Both Archer and Fisher took home $10,000 for their efforts.

Enjoypool.com 9-Ball Championships Underway

Pool heavyweights and hopefuls alike arrived in Las Vegas over the weekend to compete in the Enjoypool.com 9-Ball Championships, which got underway May 14, at the Riviera Hotel and Casino.

This event always draws the top fields from both the men’s and women’s games, and this year is no different. Reigning champions Allison Fisher and Thorsten Hohmann will both be defending the titles they earned last year. Fisher will started off with a 9-1 win over My-Hahn Lac, while Hohmann will get his start today at 11 a.m. with a match against Bruce Wilkinson.

The first round of matches on Sunday featured a fair share of marquee matches. Johnny Archer defeated Kim Davenport, 11-4, and Jose Parica bested veteran Nick Varner, 11-8. On the women’s side, Chinese newcomer Xiao-Ting Pan tipped the scales against Tracie Hines, 9-6.