Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Mosconi Cup Wrap Up: Managing Expectations and Looking to the Future

By: Markus Noé

Last Friday saw Team Europe put the finishing touches on their sixth consecutive Mosconi Cup win. A truly remarkable feat that the American team has accomplished themselves but that seems like a lifetime ago. This was the 22nd edition of the very popular Mosconi Cup event brought to you by Barry Hearn and Matchrooms Sports.

In the 1990's, 9 ball was still mainly a game played and dominated by the Americans. In Europe, Snooker was still by far the most popular cue sport played and this showed in the early teams that they put together. If you look back at the old videos, Snooker legends such as Jimmy White and Steve Davis made appearances and even enjoyed some success. That being said the Americans dominated the 90's and early  2000's so much that I believe only after this year has Europe finally drawn even or near even according to matches won and cups won.

The reality is during the last 20 years as legends like Earl Strickland, Johnny Archer, Nick Varner and others have begun to decline there really has not been many top players to take their place. Meanwhile the Europeans and the Asian countries have leaped forward. As a Canadian I have said before I don't really have a stake in the outcome of the Mosconi Cup, however as a die hard pool junkie I do crave competitive matches. During the last several years as the Americans have been getting blown out year after year, the fans to my amazement still cry out for players like Strickland and other older legends who have not won anything on the international scene in years.

At first I credited this to simple nostalgia which runs rampant in this sport. However I am starting to believe that the fans are simply not properly informed as to what they are up against in the European side despite their recent domination. For example this years team featured recent World 9 Ball Champions Niels Feijen and Darren Appleton. They follow that up with the 2010 World 8 Ball Champion and potting machine Karl Boyes. Next would be Nick van den Berg who has won various Mosconi Cups along with Euro tour stops and a top 3 finish at this years China Open. Finally you have the rookie Albin Ouschan who did not make the team in 2014 when he finished second to Feijen at the World Championships. Ouschan also captured one of this years major titles by beating John Morra in the final of the China Open.

Now outside Shane VanBoening who we all know has won four U.S Opens, two World Pool Masters and countless other events, who on this team has enjoyed any kind of success recently against international fields? The best I could come up with on the top of my head was Mike Dechaine who placed 4th at the 2014 U.S Open and second at the most recent Turning Stone Classic as well as a solid World Championship appearance. Outside of these two you have Corey Deuel who is a U.S Open Champion, All Japan Champion and winner of other tournaments but that was mostly in the early 2000's.  Next you have Justin Bergman who just played in his second Mosconi Cup.

I am admittedly a big Bergman fan, I enjoy the amount of heart he plays with and how he conducts himself on and off the table. That being said until recently he has been known as a barbox player and perhaps one of the best money players in America. Which is an accomplishment but it is hard to compare that to the Europeans who play in all the major events each year and have sharpened their skills both physically and more importantly mentally. Lastly we have the rookie Sky Woodward who we can argue had the overall best performance of any American this year. However he too is just beginning to come on the scene and at only 22 years old he really is the future of American pool.

I am outlining this not to slight the American team at all, but to have some perspective and realistic expectations. It frustrates me when I am scrolling through my social media accounts and see dozens of comments along the lines of how lucky the Europeans are, and that they get all the rolls. Or that "we need Archer and Strickland back." The simple truth is that the American legends are just that now, legends. Meaning their time has come and gone and it is time for the younger generation to take their place. When it comes to "luck" or "rolls" I have noticed that since I started playing competitively it frequently looks like the better players or teams are getting lucky. That is because when you are not good enough you rely on these "rolls" to win and when the better players get them it is just that much more demoralizing.

All this being said this was by far the most competitive Mosconi Cup I have seen in years with the final score being 11-7. A lot of this is due to the continued development of players like Woodward, Dechaine and Bergman. Also the addition of Captain Mark Wilson these last few years has really seemed to help with character and team building which is imperative for a competition like this. Unfortunately though until players like Bergman, Dechaine, Woodward and other "Young Guns" get more exposure to international events, crowds and have success, I don't see the Americans winning anytime soon. This is nothing to be mad about it is all a part of the natural progression. If you look at any sports team they are not winning the World Series, Super Bowls or Stanley Cups because of one good off season. It is developed over a few years of players getting more seasoning and acquiring new additions.

As a fan, I do feel it is time to expand on this two team event. Because to be honest it is not that interesting to see one team dominate over another each year. With pool being in such a bad way for so many years now the Mosconi Cup has been a bright spot. I fear with one team's consistent domination, eventually it will not be interesting to watch. Let's face it, in my opinion both these teams would be blown out out of the water by a team in Taiwan if they were permitted to play. At one time the Mosconi Cup was an event built and promoted by best on best. In 2015 that is not true anymore; the Philippines, Japan, Taiwan and even England on their own could come up with some monster teams. I even think Canada could have a very competitive team.

In conclusion the accomplishments of team Europe need to be respected more as this domination has not been due to luck. It is undeniable that the the format of the Mosconi Cup is exciting and great for T.V but it is time to expand. 9 ball is now a game played all over the world and how exciting would it be to see it expanded on to include some of the other talented teams that are out there? Also how great would that be for the exposure and promotion of our sport overall?

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Thursday, 16 July 2015

Promoting Pool but at What Cost?: Handicap vs No Handicap Debate

Graphic taken from https://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-no-professionals-allowed/

By: Markus Noé

Last weekend Shooters Snooker & Sports Club in Scarborough Ontario held an open no handicap tournament. These types of tournaments have been lacking in all of Ontario not just the Greater Toronto Area (G.T.A). Handicap tournaments as a whole have been gaining in popularity over the past decade in North America, but at what cost?

I credit this popularity because these handicap systems present the illusion that everyone has a chance to win. However this thought process comes with some major pitfalls. For example if Erik Hjorleifson, John Morra, or Mario Morra are playing on one of the various tours in the G.T.A, these three have a talent level that is above any field that can be can be assembled in the area. Thus they are the favourites to win any event they play and if participants are being honest with themselves they should feel that this is perfectly reasonable. Because these three players are perfect examples of people who have dedicated their lives to mastering the sport of pool, therefore their talent and motivation have earned them this edge in play.

By the end of the season there are people who like to look back and see how many tournaments "The Big Three" have won. Lets say that number is around 60% of the tournaments, based on the handicap philosophy this would not seem right. In this thought process ideally if there were 10 tournaments there should be at least 7/8 different winners, so what happens from here? Keeping inline with the handicap mantra there needs to be an adjustment. In the G.T.A what has happened if "The Big Three" have to race to 11 they introduce something called an 11 minus.

This is another method to try and take the edge away. Meaning if you are an 11 minus when you play a 6 they race to 5 or if you play a 7 they race to 6. You can imagine when they play higher ranked players whether they are 8,9,10 how difficult this could be. That being said these three are elite professionals. With their knowledge of the rack, ability to keep calm under pressure and the intimidation factor they bring to the table they still find a way to win the majority of the time.
Thus the next step is you see countless of tournament posters with the fine print that reads "No Pro's."

It is not just the Pro's being left out now you will also see a lot of tournaments where no one over "8" permitted. So there has been an outcry of late for traditional tournaments with straight up races. Going back to last weekend, 36 players ended up showing up with most of them being between the 5-7 level. There was a big gap of players in the 8-10 range who are not only the better players in the area but the ones who were a part of the outcry for these types of tournaments.

Now 36 players showed up for a non handicap tournament less then a month after 115 play a 7 and under tournament at the same location. So when push comes to shove the players who wanted this most did not show up. Of course it is summer and people don't play as much but it still does not account for the low turn out of the higher skilled players.  This fact begins to make me ponder the will of amateur players. As a group, is our ego and pride so fragile that we cannot even enter a tournament anymore where we are not some sort of favourite, or with the illusion of being a favourite? Is this what handicap tournaments have done to the sport, where pool room owners and tournament organizers have to cater to the lowest common denominator.

Combined with this, these top players have to deal with insulting statements like, "I am just here to donate," or "they are here to rob us." Not only insulting to people who have dedicated their lives to the sport but how much more short sided could these statements be. Especially in the format that was just presented at Shooters which had staggered entry fee's for the different levels. The value in this is to compete against high level competition without a spot to see what you got, and toughen you up and see what needs to be worked on.

Living in Cornwall, Ontario an hour outside of Montreal I play most of my pool in Quebec each season. In the Quebec Federation there are only 2-3 Handicap tournaments a season and they are mostly frowned upon. They have the luxury of having enough players to fill division for players ranked "C" through to Professional without the need for handicaps. In fact many of the Quebec players are against Handicaps as a whole. I have noticed the benefit in just the last two years alone playing the most tournaments I have ever played. As a "A" ranked player this year I secured wins over a Semi-Pro and some other higher ranked players straight up. My game and my confidence has benefited greatly from these tests and am on my way to consistently playing at a higher level.

If I would compare this system to that of the ABO handicap system in the Ottawa/Gatineau region, which I have played on and off for 5 years. It is easy to notice that many of those players who solely play these handicap events have not improved at all since I began to play. This has nothing to do in my opinion with talent level but however with these players not needing to improve. Because they have had moderate success with many mid-level cashes and the occasional tournament win. However all the while not earning enough points to be bumped up to the next level.

The result of this is we are not developing players and thus not progressing the sport we all love. Now I wont argue the fact that handicap tournaments have their place, especially for weekend enthusiasts. However we cannot let it get to the point where we are heading now. Which is we are excluding our pro's from the majority of the tournaments and handicapping them in ways where their opponents might not even have to play well to win. We need to be embracing our talented players rather then turning our backs on them, and in a sense berating them for their high level play rather then celebrating it.

Finally I would like to make the point, if Tiger Woods came strolling into our local Golf Club, and decided to play the weekend tournament. Would everyone be saying to themselves "I am not playing because I don't have chance." I think not, people would be lining up to play because they have a chance to play with one of the best players in the world and see how he handles himself ,how he hits the ball, what his approach to the game is. It is the responsibility of all players and enthusiasts alike to treat our sport in the same way, because if we don't no one will.

Currently we have two Canadian players ranked well within the top 20 in the world, John Morra and Jason Klatt. They have done this with zero government support, minimal sponsorship and at time when the sport is recovering from the lowest point ever seen. A truly commendable accomplishment and a testament to their will and determination. I can guarantee you they got to this level by competing in hundreds of tournaments in which they where far from the favourite. I fear if we continue on this path we are just a few years away from a talent drain in our Canadian Pool community, which could be devastating to the future of competitive pool in Canada.


Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Deuel Reignites Rack Your Own Debate at the Carom Room Spring Classic

By: Markus Noé

This past weekend the Carom Room Spring Classic $2000 bar-box 8 ball tournament in Beloit Wisconsin was played. This was a star studded field with the likes of Dennis Orcollo, Shane VanBoening, Darren Appleton, Jason Klatt, John Morra all in attendance. In the end it was Sky Woodward who double dipped Shane VanBoeining in this true double elimination final. 

 The "Prince of Pool" Corey Deuel was also in this field. He is a multiple Mosconi Cup team member and former U.S Open Champion. On top of many people suggesting that he could be the best bar-box player in the world, he is also one of the most knowledgeable players when it comes to racking and breaking the balls. In fact he is so adept with his racking and breaking techniques that he has become a controversial figure in pool.

 Sardo Tight Rack

When I first got into the "pool scene" in the mid to late 2000's, I remember the outrage from fans and fellow pro's for his mastery of the Sardo Tight Rack. This was a new rack on the market at the time that tightened the balls in an almost machine like fashion to provide a "perfect rack". The reason why this was a "perfect rack" is because the balls were tapped into place upon instruction from the Sardo company. This is called training the cloth, the rack helped in arranging the balls into the divots. After some  time with this new rack he was able to figure out a way to consistently pot the wing ball and to have a reasonable opening shot by soft breaking the balls. With his world class ability these racks were almost too easy as his run-outs were abnormally high even compared to other pro's.

For certain purists they believe there should not be this type of consistency with the rack, and that running out carbon copy patterns over and over again does not demonstrate much skill. To others the game is simply about winning the most racks and if you are doing that by breaking and running more racks than the others based on superior knowledge, then all the more power too you. 

 Deuel's Experimental Break

This past weekend Deuel once again caused a stir with his racking and breaking techniques. In a match early on in the tournament, Deuel was up against Canada's #1 player John Morra. Check out the video below to see what he was doing. 

As you can see this was not a traditional break by any means. Deuel clips the last ball in what looks to me like a straight-pool break. He does so intentionally to make the 5 ball cross corner. Right away any pool player can tell that this will be a challenging rack to run-out as he does not break out the 8 ball at all. However if you look closely Deuel has patterned racked the balls in such a way that by hitting it at the speed he did only the solid balls came out of the pack, with the exception of two striped balls. This allows Deuel to have complete control of the rack. Because at this point if he misses, Morra's stripes are all clustered together with the 8 ball directly in the center of the pack making for a very tough out.  

Another top ranked Canadian player who was also there, Jason Klatt had this to say when asked about the Deuel break. "Well if he broke like that vs. me I would like it cause he needs to come with some Houdini outs.  And I like the slow grinding games personally.  He just did it to change the pace of the match and mentally breakdown his opponents.  I love that stuff."  

On the other hand there are those who feel like this is nothing more than a gimmick that cheapens the game. After the match with Morra, Deuel took to Facebook and stated to his followers that he just won a tight match against Morra 15-13. It would be an understatement to say Morra was bothered by this, as he took to Facebook and criticized Deuel's methods. This debate ended as all good arguments between world class players should, which was by Morra challenging Deuel to a high stakes money match. 

I also reached out to the "Prince of Pool" to inform him of this story and wanted to know his thoughts to the question I had. Which was how he feels about the divide in opinion his techniques has caused. Some peg him as a genius and some think these types of tactics diminishes the game. Deuel had this to say, "Can't hurt the sport...it's the worst I've seen...I like to try new things maybe this will spice it up a bit. Shane has been winning last few years but still no money in the game... and his break is very flashy and exciting...but the run outs are too easy...and rotation games are self explanatory ...1 then 2 then 3 ...viewers that don't know what 'English' is get bored to death.

It appeared to me that Deuel who is a veteran on tour, is more concerned about the current state of the game. This is a guy who has seen the sport come down to a historic low in America, and I get the feeling that he thinks his tactics are far from the biggest concern facing the sport today. Personally I am divided on the whole issue, so I am curious to what you the readers have to say. 

Feel free to join us on the Cue Sport Nation Facebook page to get in on the discussion. Finally it should be noted that Deuel was forced to abandon this method. I was informed by Ray Hansen at  Pool Action Tv that this tournament was played under the Billiard Congress of America Rules (B.C.A). The ruling was this was not a "random rack" which is a requirement by the B.C.A, thus he was no longer able to use it.  

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Will the Canadian Championships be a Success This Year ?

2014 Canadian 10 Ball Champion Erik Hjorleifson with Rob Sakell

By: Markus Noé

Here in Eastern Ontario we are getting our first wave of spring-like weather. The melting snow signifies that the Canadian Championships are just around the corner. It kicks off March 31st with the Open 8 Ball division and concludes April 4. During this week the 8, 9, 10 ball Men's Champions will be crowned as well as the 9, 10 ball Women's Champions.

Over the past year as the "Straight-Pool" blog gained in popularity and grew into Cue Sport Nation, I have had the opportunity to talk to many of Canada's top players. With less than a decade of competitive experience under my belt I still consider myself a rookie of sorts on the on-goings of the Canadian Billiard & Snooker Association(C.B.S.A) or cue sports in general in Canada. It did surprise me however that every single top player I had a chance to speak with did have a horror story to share about our Canadian Championships. Complaints include amateurish streams, and not enough added money which results in players getting gouged in entry fees. Overall payouts being next to nothing, poor organization and communication with provinces outside of New Brunswick and Ontario resulting in no qualifiers being held, little to no room for spectators and the list goes on. 

 To sum it up quickly for a lot of players, their relationship with the C.B.S.A has been comparable to being stuck in in a loveless marriage and not being able to afford the divorce. The C.B.S.A is the only association in Canada permitted to give out World Championship spots, and for our top professional players who live solely off their pool winnings they are forced to compete. Otherwise they risk the expense money to travel to Qatar to play in very tough qualifiers just for a chance to make the final group. Thus the 5 spots the C.B.S.A have are coveted, and in all fairness might be the only reason it has survived the last decade. In defense of the C.B.S.A , top players who I have talked to do praise their efficiency when it comes to securing these spots but admit they could do more overall. 

 This recent track record has been less admirable and has resulted in dwindling participation. Last year the turn out was so bad that I felt the need to express my thoughts in an articled I headlined "Is Pocket Billiards Dead In Canada".  A few months later I wrote another one "Why Will Canada not be at the World Team Championships". To the credit of the C.B.S.A one of their executives reached out and shared his willingness to put in the effort into improving our national association and working with media such as myself to grow the game as a whole. 

Over the past few months I have been sent and posted "new sponsorship" press releases from the C.B.S.A. They have obtained sponsors such as O.B Cues, Diamond Tables, Aramith Balls, Chalk Cube, and Kamui-Tips to mention a few. The location for this years Championships will be the Delta Meadowvale hotel in Mississauga, ON, a great venue by all accounts. For streaming, I did recently hear that one of my favourite production companies Billard Québec offered its services for as little as $1000 plus accommodations, a true bargain price for the quality Guy Simard brings to the table for 6 days of uninterrupted coverage. 

Leading into this years events I am concerned that the entry fee is $325 for each division. Meaning that for players wanting to compete in all three they would be in for $975 and that is if you're from the G.T.A. For players who need to travel this can easily be a $2000 week. Also I have not heard of one C.B.S.A backed qualifier once again this year. However as pool players and fans have been accustomed to, we all must approach it as a clean slate. Already this year promises to be an improvement from years past and because of this there is interest from players who have not competed in the Canadians in years. This past weekend I had a chance to talk with one of our Canadian legends Luc "The Machine Gun" Salvas and he appears to be reinvigorated. He has been playing in all the Pro events in Québec and has hinted at participating in this years Canadian Championships and perhaps Turning Stone later this year

In conclusion I invite everyone to watch the stream this year if they cannot make it to Mississauga and like it or hate it be vocal on your thoughts of this years Canadian Championships. Because pool is not dead in Canada and whether the Canadian Championships is considered a success or not this year it is important to at least keep the conversation going. Remember the intention of this website - whether you are a pro, amateur or spectator, we are all one as a nation and are all responsible to improve the sport we love.

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Monday, 19 January 2015

Sportsmanship to a Fault

By: Markus Noé

Yesterday I jumped in the car and drove just over an hour to take part in a "A" class tournament at Le Skratch Laval. After blowing a 6-1 lead in my first round match to lose 8-6 I battled for five matches on the losers side to finish in 5th. During my third match of the day something happened on the table next to me that stuck with me the rest of the tournament.

For privacy sake I will leave the names out as it is really not the point of this article. A habit of mine is to watch what is going on on other tables in between my turn because it just eases the torture a bit for me. I happened to glance over to the left of me at a key time in the match, as what happened next to me determined the end result.

There was only two balls left with the 9 on the spot and the 7 ball underneath and close enough that I would call the ref because a cut into the corner looked impossible without fouling. The option the shooter chose looked to be to play the 7 ball ball to the end rail safe and come back to center table. Keep in mind the opponent never chose to get up and get a ref despite having ample time to do so.

The safety which I mentioned before was attempted and of course the 9 ball moved but as I was watching I saw the cue ball clearly hit the 7 first. Now what I think added to the confusion was that the 7 ball ended up drifting quite a bit as is notoriously the case at this pool hall, and happened to barely make its way into the pocket.

As soon as the 7 ball dropped the opponent jumped out of his chair and suggested that what just occurred was a foul. I must say that what happened next is something I never saw before in a competitive match. After about 5 minutes of discussion the shooter was quilted into giving up ball in hand on the 9 ball, without getting the tournament director involved. The worst part of this for me was that I could tell that the shooter did not think they fouled but in an attempt to be gracious and avoid a scene conceded the game.

As a competitive player myself I have several issues with what went on here. First the ref was not called so any close call automatically goes to the shooter with no questions asked. Second the player who thought it was a foul should have had the etiquette to not say anything at all as he is a veteran of this circuit and is well aware of the rules, meaning he did not have a leg to stand on argument wise. But this was a "move" as he tried to play on the timid nature of his opponent.

As much as I hate the idea of someone making a move like this because one way or another it has an affect mentally on the rest of the match, if you want to have success as a competitive player you have to be more cut throat and have the confidence to defend your shot in this scenario. Giving up the rack might be considered the "nice thing" to do but in reality it was a mistake.

It was almost predictable what happened the rest of the match as mentally the player who committed the "non foul" was broken. The frustration was evident as after the incident it was a blow out with the one player barely able to pocket a ball, and I believe only won one more game the entire set. To add insult to injury this was a losers side match.

No one wants a good shot or a win to be taken away because they are called a cheater or lucky and so on. However the lesson here is yes you want to show sportsmanship and etiquette as overall we all know this is lacking in our sport. But by no means do you want these good qualities to work against you as it did in this particular match. It could be argued here that what the player sitting down did was in poor taste, but at the end of the day "this is war" as the great Earl Strickland has said, and some people will do whatever they can to win.  It is important for all players to have the confidence and mental toughness to fight through these situations.

 Yes it might feel good to avoid an argument and rise above the situation, but that missed opportunity will weigh on you mentally the entire set and magnify any bad rolls you get and any good rolls your opponent gets the rest of the match. It is hard enough to win matches and tournaments so do yourself a favour and don't get swindled into giving anything away.