18th Annual International Challenge of Champions Underway
by Tom Martin
As most of the world’s attention is riveted to the ultimate international athletic competition going in Beijing, eight of the world’s top competitors in the sport of pocket billiards convened at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT, for the 18th running of the International Challenge of Champions, held August 13-14. Like their “amateur” counterparts half a world away, they are here to compete and represent their countries, but as professionals, they all have their eyes on the $50,000 winner-takes-all first-place prize.
In this made-for-TV pressure cooker of an event, the format is a best of three, race-to-five set 9-ball challenge—a virtual coin-toss by pool match standards—with a single sudden-death game deciding who goes on and who goes home.
The first match of this two-day tournament pitted 2007 world champion Dennis Orcollo of the Philippines against long-time Japanese national champion Satoshi Kawabata. Orcollo cruised to a quick 3-1 lead in the first set before Kawabata found his pace and was able to turn the tables and knot the match at 3 apiece and then move forward to reach the hill. Orcollo took advantage of the alternate-break format and with a smooth run-out gave himself a chance. Tied 4-4, Kawabata looked to take the first set when an inexplicable miss on an easy 6 ball gave Orcollo the set and the advantage. In the second set, both players traded games as they both climbed the hill, but a quick 2-9 combo gave Kawabata the tying set. Orcollo earned the break by winning the deciding lag in the sudden-death tie-breaker and negotiated a tricky table to win the match and be the first to move on.
In the second round of play, American favorite and InsidePOOL Magazine’s 2007 Player of the Year Shane Van Boening faced off against Chinese pro and top ranker Jian-Bo Fu. Van Boening had all of the momentum in the first set, as smooth play and some fortunate breaks allowed him to steamroll to a 5-1 victory. Fu, however, proved he was not to be intimidated by breaking and running the opening game of the second set. Van Boening’s soft break failed him repeatedly, and Fu took the second set and the sudden-death game with solid play.
The 7 o’clock match saw England-born reigning world 9-ball champion Daryl Peach tee off against Jung-Lin Chang (pictured above) of Chinese Taipei, recently the hottest player in all of East Asia. Chang quickly found himself down 3-1, plagued by iffy position and dry breaks. Peach faltered from there, and as he was unable to capitalize on Chang’s mistakes, the match turned and Chang took a 4-3 lead. A scratch on the break by Chang gave Peach life, but after evening the score at 4 he returned the favor … and it cost him the set. In the second set, Peach saw a 3-0 lead slip away and stepped to the table at 3-3 with his break yielding him a roadmap out. Poised to reach the hill and perhaps force a tie-breaker, Peach was literally “running” out but came to an abrupt halt after butchering a straight-in 6, instead giving the edge to Chang, who took the final game and won in two straight sets.
The final match of the day was returning ICOC champion Neils Feijen against Korean ace Seung-Woo Ryu. The nerves were obvious from the get-go for the 22-year-old Korean, and some early missed opportunities allowed “The Terminator” a lead that he refused to relinquish, taking the first set 5-2 and coming from behind to win in consecutive fashion.
Thursday’s semifinal pairings to be filmed on ESPN will be Dennis Orcollo vs. Jung-Lin Chang, while Jian-Bo Fu will match up against Neils Fiejen, with the championship to be decided later in the evening.
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