32nd U.S. Open Begins With Bangs From Past Winners
Sternest 9-ball field prepares for draw, Schmidt and Reyes make noise in their specialties
by Paul Berg, InsidePOOL Magazine Staff
The most coveted crown in the home of 9-ball goes up for grabs this evening, as a field of 232 at press time representing 25 countries awaits the opening draw. From aspiring American road stragglers and hungry European stars to the full might of the feared Philippines, the great mix that descends upon Virginia for promoter Barry Behrman’s amazing national title has never been more diverse. From the site of the 32nd U.S. Open 9-Ball Championships at the Chesapeake Conference Center to the backroom action at Behrman’s Q-Master Billiards II in Virginia Beach, the stage is set for greatness from tonight through Saturday.
Efren “The Magician” Reyes is no stranger to the spotlight here. Winner of the Open in 1994 and also the Mid-Atlantic 9-Ball Classic here 2003, Reyes overcame a field of 30 at Q-Masters in a warm-up one-pocket tournament. Falling in the hot seat match 3-1 to Francisco Bustamante, Reyes roared back in the shortened one-loss match that followed, closing the 2-0 victory over Rafael Martinez-Chavez with a 10-and-out run that signaled his intent in the finals.
Reyes flip-flopped the earlier 3-1 result to his countryman, displaying the fantastic strategy and unbelievable offensive firepower that he is known for in the tactical discipline. Reyes is universally hailed as the world’s greatest one-pocket player, but reigning Open champion John “Mr. 400” Schmidt has his own niche. In the revered game of straight pool, known to dedicated fans as the country’s first championship-caliber pocket game and casual enthusiasts as Fast Eddie’s money-maker in “The Hustler,” Schmidt is a master. In the midst of Reyes’ finals triumph in one-pocket in the backroom, Schmidt was out in the front of the building running a new personal best.
“I’ve already bragged to everybody I could about it,” Schmidt said to Behrman as he was being presented with his green jacket for last year’s victory. “I was testing out this OB-1 cue and in my third inning ran 403,” Schmidt continued. The simultaneous level of play at Q-Masters may be a sign of the week to come for the two great champions, even as Schmidt joked, “I heard this was a nine-ball tournament.” In their path stand many greats, some with green jackets of their own, and others with one seemingly guaranteed to be within their sights before too long.
With slight changes to the classic format, a smaller break box, and a champions’ consensus move of the finals to one race to 13 from 11 the most notable, two rounds of play will take place tonight. Stay tuned to InsidePOOLmag.com for news from the opening rounds of the U.S. Open as the draw for the national 9-ball pinnacle is underway.
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