Do or Fly: Last U.S. Qualifier for IPT Brings 78 Players

It’s gut-check time in the world of pro pool as 78 players prepare to fight it out in the last U.S. qualifier for the International Pool Tour, held this weekend at Country Club Billiards in Boston.

Only four more spots are open on the 150-player tour for the 2006 season, and two will be awarded in Boston. The final qualifier is scheduled March 10-12 at House of Billiards Weert in The Netherlands.

Back for another shot at the open slots are such major names as Chia-Ching Wu, the current WPA world 8-ball and 9-ball champ; Europeans Thomas Engert, Vilmos Foldes, and Imran Majid; and Americans George Breedlove, Robb Saez and Frankie Hernandez. Also in the running are Filipinos Santos Sambajon, Warren Kiamco and Ramil Gallego.

Several of these players are making their third or fourth try at the multimillion-dollar tour. Almost every player paid a $2,000 entry fee for the event, with the exception of a few high finishers from earlier qualifiers who earned free passes.

The IPT’s first major 2006 event — the North American 8-Ball Open Championship — is scheduled for July 22-30 at the Venetian in Las Vegas. The purse is set at $2 million, and the top finisher will receive $350,000.

This is the second IPT qualifier in as many weekends. Germany’s Oliver Ortmann and Filipino Dennis Orcollo were the top finishers at the qualifier held Feb. 17-19 at Hard Times Billiards in Bellflower, Calif.

Teen Sensation Wu Joins Packed IPT Qualifier Field

If you thought the first two qualifiers for the International Pool Tour were tough, you haven’t seen anything yet.

Qualifier No. 3 begins today at Hard Times Billiards in Bellflower, Calif., and a full field of 78 players has registered to compete for two open spots on the million-dollar 8-ball tour. The top shooters include Chia-Ching Wu, the current WPA world 8-ball and 9-ball champion; German pool statesman Oliver Ortmann; and Filipino ace Antonio Lining.

With a field packed with pros and excellent amateur players, every match in the double-elimination event looks to be a barn-burner. Almost every player paid a $2,000 entry fee for the event, with the exception of a few high finishers from the previous two qualifiers who earned free passes.

Those taking their second — and, in some cases, third — shot at the IPT include European studs Thomas Engert, Vilmos Foldes, and Imran Majid; and Americans George Breedlove, Robb Saez and Frankie Hernandez. Also in the running are Filipinos Santos Sambajon, Warren Kiamco and Ramil Gallego.

The biggest surprise is 17-year-old Wu, who made the trip from his native Taiwan, apparently in hopes of cashing in on the big-bucks tour.

The IPT’s first major 2006 event — the North American 8-Ball Open Championship — is scheduled for July 22-30 at the Venetian in Las Vegas. The purse is set at $2 million, and the top finisher will receive $350,000.

The strength of this weekend’s qualifier field is even more remarkable taking into account that the Joss Tour’s Turning Stone event in Verona, N.Y., has fielded 128 players this weekend. Between the IPT and Joss event, almost every active pool pro in the Western world is playing this weekend.

The remaining two IPT qualifiers are scheduled for Feb. 24-26 at Country Club Billiards in Chelmsford, Mass., and March 10-12 at House of Billiards Weert in The Netherlands.

Two More Players Kicked Off IPT Bandwagon

Santos Sambajon of the Philippines and Glenn Coutts of New Zealand have been bumped from the International Pool Tour’s debut season after failing to submit their player agreements, according to IPT officials.

That means that there are two more open spots for the multimillion-dollar 8-ball tour, scheduled to kick off its 2006 season at an undetermined date near mid-year.

Both Sambajon and Coutts received exemptions from attending the IPT’s mandatory player meeting in Orlando, Fla., last December, at which players were presented the agreements, said IPT tour director Deno Andrews. Sambajon cited personal reasons for missing the meeting, and Coutts was contracted to play in a tournament in Australia.

However, neither player followed up on repeated attempts from the IPT to contact them via phone and/or e-mail, Andrews said. Neither player met the Jan. 13th deadline for submitting their agreements.

The two shooters are the ninth and tenth players to be expelled or excused from the tour. Four qualifying tournaments were arranged for the first eight open spots, the first of which occurred Jan. 14-15 in Louisville, Ky. A fifth qualifier will be added to fill the two new empty slots, most likely in Europe, Andrews said.

Sambajon Big Skins Winner

After a fluke scratch cost him a shot at $54,000 at the end of the finals of the Skins Billiards Championship, tiny Santos Sambajon held on to win a three-game playoff to pocket the same amount and bring his total Skins winnings to a gargantuan $73,500.

“It’s unbelievable . unbelievable,” the 45-year-old Filipino native said afterwards. “It’s five times as much as I’ve ever won before in a tournament. Six times!”

It was his second playoff victory of Saturday evening at the Skins, produced by Billiards International at the Resorts hotel and casino in Atlantic City, N.J. Sambajon barely snuck into the finals by winning a three-game playoff for $16,500 at the end of his semifinal bracket.

The finals then brought together Sambajon, Danny Basavich, Cory Deuel and Jose Parica for a shot at $54,000, divided into “skins” for each of 12 games. Any player who could win three games in a row would collect the accumulated value of the skins up to that point. However, unlike in previous rounds, none of the players in the finals could muster three consecutive wins. The value kept escalating until it maxed out at $54,000 in the 12th rack.

The only player with a shot at the astronomical sum at that point was Sambajon, who won the 12th game. Under the Skins rules, he would be allowed two more games in which to win the booty. Otherwise, the four players would draw for spots in a single-elimination playoff.

Sambajon collected the 13th game after Deuel inadvertently fouled on a shot on the 3. Then, in the 14th rack, Parica left Sambajon a wide-open shot on the 4. Breathing heavily to dispel tension, Sambajon sank the 4, but the cue ball spun around the table and caromed off the 6 into the corner pocket. Enraged and frustrated, Sambajon threw his head back and stayed in that position for almost a minute.

A grinning Parica cleaned up to trigger the playoff. Basavich, who had his own shot at the $54,000 dashed by Sambajon in the 12th frame, knocked out Deuel with a daredevil bank on the 2 that comboed in the 9. In the next game, Sambajon took advantage of a loose Parica safety to knock out his Filipino countryman.

It all came down to the lag for the last game, where Sambajon bested Basavich by an inch or so. He promptly sank three balls on his break, and ran out for the mammoth payday.

“Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!” Sambajon screamed, his arms shooting up to the ceiling.

It was a giant blow to Basavich, softened just a bit by his $17,000 in winnings from previous rounds.

“What are you going to do?” the gregarious “Kid Delicious” said with a smile. “It is heartbreaking to know I could have won $54,000 more.”

Bustamante Blows Away Masters

Filipino star Francisco Bustamante went undefeated though a field of 45 to win the 2005 Masters 9-Ball Championship at Barry Behrman’s Q-Master Billiards in Virginia Beach, Va., July 26-31.

Bustamante beat a mixture of big names and no-names as he charged to the final. Notable matches included a 9-5 win over Santos Sambajon.

In the final, Bustamante faced Robert Ray, and Ray unexpectedly leapt to a 5-1 lead in the race-to-11 match. Bustamante, unfazed, won the next 10 games and won, 11-5.

Bustamante won $5,000 for first place; Ray took home $2,500. Eric Moore and Santos Sambajon took third and fourth, respectively.

For more in-depth coverage of this event, check the Tournaments section of September’s Billiards Digest magazine.

Manalo Hits His Stride in Reno

Filipino player Marlon Manalo went undefeated to win the Sands Regency Reno Open, June 3-12, in Reno, Nev. The win comes on the heels of his unexpected tie-for-fifth finish at the BCA Open 9-Ball Championships in May.

Manalo beat countryman Santos Sambajon Jr., 9-8, and advanced to vie for the hotseat against Shawn Putname, winning 9-7. On the one-loss side, Tony Chohan beat Putnam, 9-8, to advance to the final.

In the final, Chohan took a 6-2 lead, but then let victory slip through his fingers. Manalo won, 9-6, and collected $12,000 for top prize. Chohan earned $5,400 for second place.

Deuel wins UPA Championship

Corey Deuel completed an undefeated run to win the UPA Pro Tour Championship at the Bicycle Club in Bellflower California this weekend.

Deuel, known as the master of the soft break, was working that break to perfection all weekend and had wins over Charlie Williams, Mika Immonen and Efren Reyes before a 7-5 win over Danny Basavich for the hot-seat.

On the one-loss side, Basavich eliminated US Open Champion Gabe Owen 7-3 and forced Owen to settle for third place.

The finals were one race to seven on the ESPN table, and it went all the way to hill-hill before Corey put it away.

Deuel earned $10,000 for first place, while Basavich settled for $5000 in second place prize money. Owen and Efren Reyes filled out the top four places.

Complete Results:
1st Corey Deuel $10,000
2nd Danny Basavich $5,000
3rd Gabe Owen $4,000
4th Efren Reyes $3,000
5th/6th Rodney Morris, Mika Immonen $2,400
7th/8th Ralf Souquet, Santos Sambajon $1,850
9th/12th Frankie Hernandez, Mike Davis, Paul Potier, Troy Frank $1,350
13th/16th Francisco Bustamante, Johnny Archer, Tony Robles, Rodolfo Luat $900
17th/24th Charlie Williams, Neil Fujiwara, Bill Ferguson, Danny Kuykendall, Dave Hemmah, Max Eberle, Robb Saez, Charlie Bryant $400

Parica fills out Skins Semifinals

Jose Parica snared the final spot in the semifinal round of the Skins Billiards Championship late on Friday night and, in doing so, narrowly averted a playoff with at least two other opponents to reach the big-money rounds of the $130,000 tournament.

Parica will be joined in the semis – where $42,000 will be up for grabs – by Johnny Archer, Luc Salvas, Rodney Morris, Santos Sambajon, Ralf Souquet, Cory Deuel and Danny Basavich. The four players then advancing to the finals will play for an additional $54,000.

The Skins opening round kicked off Friday afternoon at the Resorts hotel and casino in Atlantic City, N.J., with 16 players divided into four brackets, playing for $500 per game. Each bracket consisted of 16 games, thus allowing a total of $8,000 in prize money per bracket. The eight players with the highest prize totals at the end of the round would advance to the semis.

By the end of play in the third bracket, it became clear that a player would need at least $2,000 to have a shot at the semis. When Basavich reached $3,000 late in the fourth bracket, all the pieces fell into place. If Parica could win one more game and reach $2,500, the final eight would be set. If he finished with just $2,000, he and at least two other players with $2,000 would have to duke it out in a playoff for the eighth spot

It came down to the 15th game, when the shooting order allowed Parica one final turn to break.

Charlie Williams and Mika Immonen, both with $2,000 from previous rounds, huddled in the back of the cavernous Superstar Theatre, rooting for Basavich to win the deciding game. But even on the ropes, Parica was too clever for his foe. Stymied by a safety, Parica decided to foul intentionally and sabotage Basavich’s runout by nestling the 5 next to the 8. Sure enough, Basavich’s runout stalled at the 5, and Parica nailed a tough cross-side bank on the 5 to take control of the table and eventually win the game.

“I’m more experienced than anybody,” the plucky Filipino said. “I think. I make the smart play.”
The Skins action will finish up Saturday evening. Check back for the final results.

Sambajon’s Train Finally Arrives

After four previous failures, Santos Sambajon, Jr., finally added his name to the list of Filipino imports to win major pro tour titles in the U.S. when he defeated Mike Davis, 7-5, Sunday afternoon in the finale of the World Summit of Pool in New York City.

“This is good for me,” said the 44-year-old Sambajon, whose most recent bridesmaid appearance came at the Billiard Congress of America Open 9-Ball Championships in Las Vegas in May. “This is good for me up here,” he said, pointing to his head. “And here,” he added, tabbing his hand over his heart.
Sambajon went undefeated through the 68-player field in the United States Poolplayers Association (UPA) tournament, staged with substantial fanfare at the city’s landmark Grand Central Station.

Earlier in the day, Sambajon had squeaked past Davis, 7-6, in the winner’s bracket. The final four matches were shortened to races to seven to accommodate taping for future airing on ESPN.

After struggling through the early racks of the finale, Sambajon ran out from the break on his final three attempts in the alternating-break format. With the match tied, 5-5, Davis attempted to slide the 1 ball into the side pocket but missed, a tricky shot that would prove to be his last of the match. Sambajon cleared the table, then ran out from the break to seal the match.

“I think he’s supposed to play safe there,” said Sambajon, who earned $12,000 for the title. “But I’m glad he didn’t.”

Davis earned $6,000 as runner-up. Earl Strickland placed third in the event, followed by Danny Harriman.

Robles and Corr win BCA Open 9-Ball Championships

Tony Robles and Karen Corr won their respective divisions at the BCA Open 9-Ball Championships on May 22nd.

Robles went undefeated and beat Santos Sambajon 7-2 in the finals, which were taped for later showing on ESPN. Robles held a 4-0 lead before Sambajon was able to win a game and Sambajon finally “threw in the towel” at 6-2 after he scratched on the 8-ball.

Corr’s victory came at the expense of Allison Fisher who had gone unbeaten all week. Corr bounced back from a loss to Julie Kelly and defeated Fisher 7-4 in the finals. The alternating break match was close early, as the players traded games until the eighth rack when Corr won on Fisher’s break. Fisher came back to win the next rack on Corr’s break, but Corr won the next two racks for the victory.

The win was Robles’ first major tournament victory, while Corr has now won this title three consecutive years.