PoolRoom

The Storm Before the Calm

A week prior to the start of the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships, players across the United States were informed that they would be required to complete a World Pool-Billiard Association Player License Agreement if they intended to play in the WPA-sanctioned event, setting off wave of questions, allegations and criticism across social media, and threatening the success of the international tournament. The announcement, posted online by the Billiard Congress of America, the North American representative federation to the WPA, seemed to catch many players off guard. The posted announcement and attached license offered no explanation as to why the license was necessary, nor why the players were finding out about the stipulation just days ahead of the country’s biggest tournament. For most players, the license was viewed as a heavy-handed measure meant to place the players at the mercy of the WPA.

“I see only negatives and no positives,” one American player posted on a Facebook thread that prompted hundreds of responses. “Nothing to help the players. Just fines and being excluded from events if they don’t comply with each and every part of this contract.”

At the core of the backlash were stipulations in the license agreement that seemed to make heavy demands of the players and threatened harsh penalties for non-compliance, like fines for missing player meetings, fines for missing publicity appearances, and restrictions on logos affixed to player clothing. Additionally, the license also prohibits players from competing in events not sanctioned by the WPA if that event meets the WPA’s sanctioning criteria.

A “slave agreement,” is how one former player referred to the license. “I’m really surprised that this has become such an issue,” responded Ian Anderson, president of the WPA. “The Player License has been working for some months now, and was a requirement at the men’s World 9-Ball Championship in Qatar in July and the China Open. I’m guessing that it is the players who would only play in one WPA ranking event a year that are so unsure about it all.”

In fact, Anderson went on to point out, virtually every foreign player attending the U.S. Open, as well as a dozen North American players (including American Shane Van Boening), had already signed the license and received a WPA Player Card earlier in the year when they participated in the World 9-Ball Championship and/or the China Open.

According to Anderson, the need for a player license arose in 2014 when promoters of a Chinese 8-ball event tried to force players to sign contracts that would have prohibited their participation in other Chinese events without approval for up to three years.

“I assured the Chinese that the WPA would have a player agreement done to cover the concerns that China claimed it had.”

Anderson also attempted to shed light on the two most contested stipulations of the player license: preventing players from participating in other events; and players being held hostage by the WPA.

“This is not about telling players where they can and cannot play,” he said. “For one, it protects organizers against having their event undermined by someone deciding it a good idea to have a tournament on the same dates as a WPA ranking event.

“Also, I think everyone has missed the very first paragraph of the license, which says, ‘Either party may cancel this license at any time.’ This means that after playing in the U.S. Open, if the player felt he was too restricted or unfairly treated because of this agreement, he could terminate his license immediately.”

Still, the fact that the announcement was made so close to the start of the U.S. Open and the WPA’s late explanation may well have had an adverse reaction on entries into the tournament. According to U.S. Open producer Pat Fleming of Accu-Stats, numerous players called with concerns and complaints.

“There were a lot of complaints,” Fleming said, as he was preparing the tournament site in Norfolk, Va. “Lots of, ‘What’s this?’ There’s not telling how many players who were on the fence decided not to sign up. All of a sudden entries stopped coming in.”

Fleming added that the field, which was expanded to accommodate 164 players this year, was full, but a number of foreign entrants cancelled due to visa issues. American players failed to snatch up the open spots, leaving the final field at 149. Fleming was hesitant to infer that those spots would have been filled had it not been for the WPA Player License.

All Systems Go for U.S. Open

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

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

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

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.

Irrepressible Pagulayan Wins Second Major in All-Filipino U.S. Open Final

Alex Pagulayan ran undefeated through a 256-man field to win the 30th Annual U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships, which this year could well have been called “The Philippine Open” after placing three Filipinos in the top three spots.

“A win is a win is a win,” an ebullient Pagulayan said after beating Jose Parica in an error-filled final, 11-6. Parica had knocked Francisco Bustamante out of the running in the losers’-bracket final, 11-10.

Pagulayan first beat Parica in the winners’-bracket final, 11-6, and then earned the $40,000 top prize by taking advantage of a Parica miss on the 4 in the 17th rack of the finals. It was a dream come true for the tiny Canadian-by-way-of-the-Philippines, and his second major title after winning the 2004 World Pool Championship.

“The only dream I have left is to grow another two inches – either taller or the other way, I don’t care,” the irrepressible Clown Prince of Pool joked.

It was a bittersweet win for a couple reasons. Parica failed again to take the title after reaching the semis of the U.S. Open several times, and the finals at least twice. And Pagulayan, perhaps the most talented player of his generation, said after the event that he has all but forsaken mainstream U.S. pool events for poker – both tournament play and online gaming.

“The money is terrible,” he said, echoing a longtime lament of many top pool pros. “I can make a lot more playing poker.” For the time being, Pagulayan expected only to compete in the States at the Derby City Classic and U.S. Open.

Upsets Galore at U.S. Open as Former Champs Drop to One-Loss Bracket

The giants all fell from the winners’ bracket on Friday night at the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship in Chesapeake, Va., as Johnny Archer, Francisco Bustamante, Efren Reyes, Ralf Souquet, Niels Feijen and Jeremy Jones dropped to the one-loss side in the same round of matches.

The carnage started at 9 p.m. Friday with Filipinos Alex Pagulayan and Francisco Bustamante lagging on the TV table. The wily Pagulayan jumped to a quick 5-0 lead, allowing his foe near the table only once – and that was for a push. Regaining his world-beating form after two years of ho-hum play, the resurgent Bustamante rocketed back to take the lead at 9-8, but a hung 4 ball in the 18th rack brought Pagulayan back to the table, where he ran out and then ran the next two racks for an 11-9 victory.

“At the end I got lucky with the 4 ball,” Pagulayan said. “That was the key to the match. I was thinking when it was 8-8, just give me one more chance.”

On the next table over, Filipino expatriate Jose Parica kept one step ahead of countryman and longtime rival Reyes to win, 11-9. Reyes was joined soon on the one-loss side by several other former Open champions: Johnny Archer fell to Troy Frank, 11-6; Jeremy Jones lost to Andreas Roschkowsky, 11-9; and Ralf Souquet dropped a hill-hill slugfest with upstart Sylver Ochoa, 11-10.

This was all in the same round, mind you, and all within an hour of each other. Other significant winners’-bracket results from the 9 p.m. round included Nick Van den Berg smashing Charlie “Hillbilly” Bryant, 11-4; Viet Nam native Tang Hoa elbowing Holland’s Feijen, 11-8; and Charlie Williams halting Ernesto Dominguez.

That left eight men still in the winners’ bracket, and dozens left to brave the extraordinarily deep one-loss bracket in this field-of-256 competition with a $200,000 prize fund. At 3 p.m. EST, Tang will play Roschkowsky, Pagulayan will face Frank, Van den Berg will meet Parica, and Williams will lag against Ochoa.

U.S. Open Field Down to Half

Ochoa's play is turning some heads.

Ochoa’s play is turning some heads.

The 256-man full-capacity field has been cut in half on the fifth day of the 30th annual U.S. Open 9-ball Championships in Chesapeake, Va. there were no gimme matches left as several big name had slipped into the treacherous, mile-deep losers’ bracket.

Reno Open winner Marlon Manalo and 2003 BCA 9-ball Open titlist Tony Robles found themselves slugging it out deep in the one-loss bracket on Friday afternoon. Nearby, major event winners Marcus Chamat and Mike Davis faced off as red-hot Robb Saez and 2004 BCA champion Thorsten Hohmann battled for survival in the one-loss bracket.

Playing on diamond tables with 4 1/2 inch pockets and an absolutely unforgiving cut the finesse players and most experienced pros seemed to have an edge.

“You aren’t seeing a lot of guys breaking and running out,” said pro Tony Crosby.

Among the 16 players left in the winners’ bracket was Efren Reyes, who dropped defending U.S. Open champ Gabe Owen to the one-loss side, 11-8 on Thursday night. Reyes will meet Filipino countryman Jose Parica on Friday night. After a weak showing at the World Pool Championships, the Filipino contingent is performing quite well here; Alex Pagulayan and a resurgent Francisco Bustamante will meet in a winners’-bracket match on Friday night as well.

So far, the surprise of the tournament is young Sylver Ochoa, 19, a college sophomore at Texas-Pan American and a mainstay on the Fast Eddie’s regional tour. Ochoa beat Keith McCready Thursday night, 11-8, to stay undefeated. He will face Ralf Souquet on Friday night in a winners’-bracket match.

The sixteen players now left in the winners’ bracket are:
Nick Van den Berg, Charlie “Hillbilly” Bryant, Jose Parica, Efren Reyes, Ernesto Dominguez, Charlie Williams, Ralf Souquet, Sylver Ochoa, Tang Hoa, Niels Feijen, Andreas Roschkowsky, Jeremy Jones, Alex Pagulayan, Francisco Bustamante, Johnny Archer and Troy Frank.