Lai Lifts Third National Snooker Title
by InsidePOOL Staff
George Lai captured his third United States National Snooker Championship title, as the number-two seed from Las Vegas defeated New York’s Jian Qiang Wang 5-2 in this year’s final at the Embassy Billiards Club in San Gabriel, CA.
Eleven years after tasting his first national success, 33-year-old Lai last won the title back in 2005, though he suffered defeat in the final last year at the hands of Jack Kung.
Lai went into this final as a strong favorite, though Jian’s tremendous progress through this championship had been a revelation, particularly after defeating the defending champion and number-one seed Kung 4-1 in the semifinals.
Jian stated his early claim to this prestigious title as he won Group D in the round robin stage ahead of the former champion Paul Kimura and only lost one frame in the knockout stage in progressing to the finals.
In the last 16 he faced Chris Sheerin from Las Vegas and comfortably advanced into the quarterfinals with a 3-0 victory, where he then took on his fellow New Yorker Henry Wong.
Wong has worked hard at improving his snooker over the past few years and has competed well during this championship in reaching his first quarterfinal. He ran Jian close in the first frame by narrowly losing it on the final colored balls, but Jian then went onto easily secure the following two frames to record a 3-0 success.
Up against Kung in the semifinals, Jian’s run of 33 assisted in winning the first frame, and he then went 2-0 ahead by pinching the next frame on the final black ball.
The Californian sealed the third frame to open his semifinal frame account, but Jian restored his two-frame lead by securing frame four on the final colored balls.
Jian finished off the match to defeat the favorite for the championship, by winning the fifth frame helped by a break of 35 and advancing into his first final.
Lai resoundingly won Group D undefeated, though his passage to the final in the knockout stage had been a little more difficult than Jian’s, as he came through his last-16 match against California’s Jeff Szafransky 3-1.
He then had to face the former champion Ajeya Prabhakar in the quarterfinals, who was always going to give him a tough competitive match.
Prabhakar, who lost in the quarterfinals last year to the eventual champion Kung, ran Lai close in the first frame but went onto level the match by capturing frame two.
Lai then went 2-1 up over the San Jose, CA, resident but was again pegged back to 2-2 to take the tie into a tense final frame.
In a close fifth frame, it was Lai who went onto prevail in this battle of the former champions as he went onto seal it on the final colored balls by a score line of 55-43.
For the second successive year Lai had to play against New York’s Raymond Fung, who he defeated in the quarterfinals 3-0 last year.
Fung, who plays at the Prince Snooker Club in Brooklyn, came back from a 2-0 deficit in the quarterfinals against Tom Kollins to win 3-2 for the right to play Lai in this year’s semifinals.
Both of the first two frames went down to the final colored balls and were shared, but from that moment on Fung struggled in the tie.
Lai won frame three and then with a break of 52 he then forged into a 3-1 advantage.
The Las Vegas resident then secured his fourth appearance in a United States National Snooker Championship final by winning the following frame for a 4-1 success.
In the finals, a run of 31 by Lai in the first frame got his final challenge off to the perfect start as he went into a 1-0 advantage, and although Jian responded in frame two with a break of 30, it was still not enough to claim the frame as Lai eventually ran away with it with an 85-31 score line.
A break of 42 by Lai secured frame three, though Jian opened his frame account by sealing the fourth frame on the final colored balls.
Jian’s run of 32 in the next frame further reduced his frame deficit to 3-2, and he was now right back into this final.
From then on, however, the match turned right in Lai’s favor as he comfortably took the sixth frame assisted with a break of 39, and in the next frame he compiled a championship-winning run of 54.
Results from Last 16:
Jack Kung (California) def. Ruan Zhi Ming (California) 3-1
Cheang Ciing Yoo (Washington) def. Henry Nogiec (Nevada) 3-2
Henry Wong (New York) def. Michael Chan (California) 3-1
Jian Qiang Wang (New York) def. Chris Sheerin (Nevada) 3-0
Raymond Fung (New York) def. Sridhar Shrinivasan (Pennsylvania) 3-0
Tom Kollins (Illinois) def. Paul Kimura (California) 3-0
Ajeya Prabhakar (California) def. Christopher Szarek (Illinois) 3-0
George Lai (California) def. Jeff Szafransky (California) 3-1
Kung def. Cheang 3-0
Jian def. Wong 3-0
Fung def. Kollins 3-2
Lai def. Prabhakar 3-2
Jian def. Kung 4-1
Lai def. Fung 4-1
Lai def. Jian 5-2
Lai Lifts Third National Snooker Title