Roland Forthomme Wins Prestigious Sang Lee Open
Sang Lee International Open / Flushing, NY
It was three-cushion billiards week in New York in Flushing from July 20-27, as the top three-cushion players of the world assembled for the Fourth Annual Sang Lee International Open. The talented field came to honor the memory of a great champion and to compete for the $125,000 purse, which is the richest ever offered at a three-cushion event on American soil.
The tournament was played in a two-staged round robin format (qualification and semifinal) that funneled into single-elimination games to decide the champion and the placement among the top finishers.
Seventy-seven players began the week divided into eleven groups of seven players in each flight for the qualification rounds, and the matches were played to 30 points. Eleven top players were seeded into each of these qualification groups, including four former and current U.S. national champions, as well as champions from Turkey, Korea, Austria, and Ecuador: Michael Kang (USA), Jung-Han Heo (KOR), Dong-Koong Kang (KOR), Miguel Torres (USA), Tayfun Tasdemir (TUR), Andreas Efler (AUS), Javier Terán (ECU), Mazin Shooni (USA), Jeremy Bury (FRA), Sonny Cho (USA), Hugo Patino (USA).
During the players’ meeting held Sunday July 20, the rest of the field was determined by a random draw, forming groups (lettered A-K). This led by chance to some flights being stronger than others. Only the top two finishers, based on winning record and points, advanced from each group, along with five best-performing third-place finishers. This process resulted in a total of 27 qualifiers.
Michael Kang dominated Group A, although the former Korean champion Ji-Soo An came two points shy of disrupting Kang’s undefeated run. Mauricio Aguilar, from Columbia, also breezed through the flight (falling only to Kang) to clinch the group’s second spot with a 5/1 win-loss record.
The player ranked seventh in South Korea, Jung-Han Heo, was the seeded player in Group B. The random draw had set the stage for a fierce battle among the ninth-ranked Korean Deuk-Hee Hwang, two younger Ceulemans, Denmark’s dangerous Allan Jensen, as well as Francisco Parra, a New York top local. Parra’s one-point loss to the young Peter Ceulemans kept him from advancing and enabled Peter’s uncle, Kurt Ceulemans (son of the great legend) to move ahead. The group’s seed Heo also emerged victorious and advanced.
In Group C, Korea’s talented Dong-Kong Kang swept his field 6-0 to secure the first spot. The second spot was taken by Bahattin Gundogdu, a talented three-cushion player and also a celebrity entertainer and recording artist in Turkey. Many fans were also impressed by the debut of Bora Jeong, a talented women’s 9-ball player who entered the event at the encouragement of her playing coach, top men’s player Shin Young Park.
The 2008 U.S. national champion, Miguel Torres, prevailed in Group D, falling to no one, although he was given a bit of trouble by the second-place finisher, Robert Raiford from Florida, who came within 5 points of a win against Torres. After Raiford advanced to the semifinal round robin, he took down a number of top European players.
The random draw pitted the two top-ranked Turkish players against each other in Group E. Tayfun Tasdemir sprinted ahead of the field to cinch the first spot. The other Turkish favorite, Murat Naci Coklu, advanced via the second spot by points criteria, tied in win-loss record of 4/2 with Bert van Manen (NET). But van Manen had fallen hard to Coklu 6 points to 30 in their match, allowing a wide berth.
In Group F, Austrian champion Andreas Efler never lost his grip on the first spot. Ira Lee, from New York, lost to Efler in the first round 16-30 but prevailed in a few close matches against the rest of the field to finish with a 5/1 record, assuring him the second position.
Javier Terán, the three-time Ecuadorian national champion who was the seed for Group G, dominated his field with a perfect record of 6/0. The second spot was secured by Heung-Sik Lee, the playing coach for the South Korean “team” with a record of 5/1, with his one loss to Terán.
The 2006 U.S. national champion, Mazin Shooni, was one of only two qualification round seeds that was unable to capture the first spot in their group, but he qualified for the second spot. The Group H number-one spot was stolen from Shooni by the talented Santiago Carmona of Colombia, who breezed through his flight undefeated.
Group I was the other flight in which the seeded player, Jeremy Bury (FRA), did not sweep the field. Jae-Ho Cho, the 27-year-old talent and thirteenth-ranked national champion of Korea, took first place with an almost perfect record, falling short by only 3 points to Bury, who settled for the second spot.
In Group J, the U.S. national champion from 2005, Sonny Cho took one loss from the junior three-cushion champion of Korea, Jin-Pyo Hong. Hong also took an unexpected loss by Don Sperber of Florida, giving Hong th second spot. Both players finished with one loss each, advancing to the semifinal round robin.
Hugo “Mister 31” Patino, the former U.S. national champion, took a loss to the ever-dangerous Min Jae Pak (USA), manager of Carom Café. Pak fell to the cue of Frederik Nielsen. Both Patiño and Pak advanced from Group K with a 5/1 record. Ester Park, runner up to Mercedes Gonzalez in the 2007 U.S. Women’s Nationals, who will represent the United States in the Ladies’ World three-Cushion Championships in September, participated in this flight.
The top five third-place finishers from the qualification round robin were: Sang-Jin Lee (Group D), Don Sperber (Group J), Dan Kolacz (Group C), Seong-Cheol Kim (Group I), and Frederik Nielsen (Group K).
In addition, as part of a traditional wildcard selection process used by the event organizers called “Auction/Lottery,” four players from the preliminary advanced to the semifinal round robin as well. They were: Peter Ceulemans, Joel Switala,
Bert van Manen, and Deuk-Hee Hwang.
At the semifinal round, nine seeded players were introduced: Frédéric Caudron, Torbjörn Blomdahl, Raymond Ceulemans, Sung-Won Choi, Roland Forthomme, Martin Horn, Kyung-Roul Kim, Ramon Rodriguez, and Semih Sayginer.
According to a pre-determined policy, the nine seeded players were divided into four flights based on world ranking. The 27 qualifiers and the 4 wildcard players were then cycled into the four flights according to a sorted list that was based upon their performance in the previous round. Semifinal round matches were all played to 40 points.
Each of the four flights (lettered A-D) contained ten players. The top two from each flight would advance to the A-Final, making up the top eight players in the tournament with matches played to 50 points (no equal innings). The third-, fourth, and fifth-place finishers from each of the semifinal groups would advance to the B-Final to determine paid spots 9-20. The finals were single elimination; however, additional matches were played to determine rankings for prize money payouts.
As anyone can imagine, as soon as the four flights in the semifinal rounds were set, the excitement and drama ran extremely high during the fight for the top spots in each round.
The star-studded semifinal Group A included seeded players Frédéric Caudron (Belgium), Sung-Won Choi (Korea), and none other than the great legend Raymond Ceulemans (Belgium). Unsurprisingly, with this difficult, talent-packed field, neither these nor any of the other seeds were able to go undefeated. Duek-Hee Hwang, one of the wildcard players, emerged with no losses as he took down two-time SLIO champion Caudron by two points in the first match of the first round. Caudron began the tournament playing one of his worst matches against the Korean, but in championship style, he fired up and plowed through his next match of the day against Sperber, finishing 40 points in 14 innings. Caudron continued on at a determined, feverish pace finishing his next 2 matches each in 15 innings and averaging 1.946 for the duration of the A flight, securing himself the number-two spot into the A-Final. Hwang took top honors and remained undefeated, finishing the flight with a 1.423 average. In close contention but coming just shy of the number-two spot was Sung-Won Choi, who lost the deciding match against Caudron by 5 points while averaging 1.667. The two other players to fill out the B-Final with Choi were seed Raymond Ceulemans and Jae-Ho Cho.
In Group B, Semih Sayginer and Ramon Rodriguez were the seeds, but the upper half of the field proved so strong, it was a true battle for everyone. Sayginer started in top form, finishing his first 2 matches in 18 and 19 innings. He remained undefeated until the third day of the semifinals, taking two harsh, down-to-the-wire losses against Dong-Koong Kang and Ramon Rodriguez. But despite the comeback from Rodriguez against Sayginer, Ramon experienced two too many “one-hole” losses himself, losing to Michael Kang (USA) and Jeremy Bury (FRA), both times needing only one point to clinch the match. This misfortune knocked him out of the B-Final by a single point as he finished sixth in the flight. In the end, despite Sayginer’s losses he advanced into the A-Final with a grand average of 1.596 along with formidable Dong-Koong Kang, who notably won two matches in 17 innings. Onto the B-Final were Jeremy Bury, Sonny Cho (USA) and Kurt Ceulemans (BEL).
In Group C, Torbjörn Blomdahl and Martin Horn dominated the field leaving everyone else to fight it out to for the B-Final. Blomdahl, intent on repeating his 2005 glory at this event, made sure no one got even close. In the process, he suppressed two U.S. national champions, Miguel Torres and Hugo Patiño, without letting either get past 15 points. He almost seemed to relax a bit with Seong-Cheol Kim, as he played his worst game against the Korean from San Francisco and enabled the talented amateur to reach 34 points before closing him out. But for the rest of field, Blomdahl had his game face on, seemingly delivering his highest average performances selectively against the best players, playing between 2.2 and 2.5 average on more than half of his matches. He took the number-one spot with a grand average of 1.885.
The solid German, Martin Horn, also advanced to the A-Final with a comparable average of 1.799 despite having suffered two losses to Blomdahl and Torres. Turkish favorite Murat Naci Coklu and the two U.S. favorites, Torres and Patino, settled for the B-Final in this competitive flight.
Turkey’s shining star, Tayfun Tasdemir, stole the show in Group D, overshadowing top seed Roland Forthomme and Korean favorite and seed Kyung-Roul Kim. After easily dominating his group in the qualifications, Tasdemir rocketed though the opening rounds of the semifinals in Group D, finishing with wins in 18, 17, and 10 innings for his first three matches with an average of 2.667. His ten-inning match with Jin-Pyo Hong was the tournament’s best game, netting him an extra $4,000 for the best game prize.
With the bar now set, many players made valiant attempts to split or best this achievement. Close on his heels but no cigar, Roland Forthomme finished his match against KR Kim in an equally impressive 13 innings. Forthomme suffered an early-round loss to Peter Ceulemans but then won seven straight matches each in 27 innings or less. In the last match of the semifinals he was handed his second defeat, this time by Tasdemir, who finished quickly again in 16 innings. Tasdemir completed the flight first in his group with a 1.901 grand average with only one loss to Jung-Han Heo. With two losses, Roland Forthomme (BEL), with a terrific 1.667 average, squeaked into second place ahead of Jung-Han Heo who dropped into the B-Final. Peter Ceulemans and Javier Teran, each with three losses, filled in the remaining two B-Final spots from this group. A difficult match against Tasdemir (38 to 40) and a harsh loss to Forthomme (12 to 40) left KR Kim out of the tournament.
Of the 180 matches played in the semifinals of the 2008 SLIO, 40 matches were completed in 20 innings or less (over 2.0 average).
The B-Final was played single-elimination games to 40 points. The third-place finishers from each semifinal group (Jung-Han Heo, Sung-Won Choi, Jérémy Bury, and Murat Naci Coklu) received byes in the first round. Though they lacked representation in the A-Final, three top U.S. players advanced to the B-Final. Unfortunately, two of the U.S. players were eliminated in the opening round—Hugo Patiño lost to Javier Terán and Sonny Cho was defeated by Kurt Ceulemans. U.S. national champion Miguel Torres played brilliantly, scoring 40 in 24 innings with a run of 10 to close Peter Ceulemans out of the tournament. Jae-Ho Cho streaked past Raymond Ceulemans 40-18 in 12 innings (3.333) with a run of 13 and only 3 scoreless innings.
In the quarterfinals, Jung-Han Heo made 40 in 19 innings to wipe Terán out of the top four. Jae-Ho Cho started his first three innings scoreless against Coklu but then regained his impressive style, finishing in 16 innings with a high run of 11. Bury dispatched U.S. hopeful Torres and Kurt Ceulemans won over the struggling Choi.
Heo faced Cho in the semifinal match, but now it was Heo who finished in 16 innings with a high run of 10. Bury handily defeated Ceulemans in the other semifinal match 40 to 21 in 25 innings.
Cho and Ceulemans battled closely for third and fourth place, but Cho hung on for a 40-38 win. In the final match, both Heo and Bury played like champions. Heo slipped through with a 40-39 victory over Bury to claim the B Champion title. Heo finished his three 40-point matches in the B-Final in 19, 16, and 19 innings for a grand average of 2.222. Second-place finisher Bury averaged 1.750, and third-place finisher Cho averaged 1.905.
The top two finishers from each semifinal group advanced to the A-Final where they would play single elimination matches to 50.
In the quarterfinal matches Blomdahl faced D.K. Kang and Caudron met Sayginer in the top half of the draw, while Forthomme played the undefeated Hwang and Tasdemir went against Horn in the bottom half of the draw. Determined to make his mark in the U.S., Roland Forthomme blew away his Korean opponent Deuk-Hee Hwang 50-18 in only 25 innings, averaging 2.000 with the help of a high run of 11 points. Martin Horn, who came into this stage averaging close to 1.800, continued his pace starting his match against Tasdemir with a 7-point run and finished in an exciting 29 innings.
On the opposite side of the bracket, Torbjörn Blomdahl appeared determined to resurrect his 2005 title at this event. The heavy hitter Blomdahl destroyed Dong-Koong Kang, who had done so well up until this point, unleashing a 2.381 game which included a run of 11 points to close out Kang in 21 innings.
But the best was yet to come. The quarterfinal match between Frederic Caudron and Semih Sayginer was the most amazing match of the entire tournament. As fans recalled last year, Semih Sayginer took an early lead before Caudron came back out of nowhere to win by one point. This year Sayginer opened the match with five and Caudron immediately responded with four. Sayginer added two and Caudron three in the second inning to level the score at seven each. In the third inning, Sayginer unleashed a run of thirteen, matching the tournament high run thus far, giving him a thirteen-point lead. Caudron answered with four, cutting his deficit to nine. In the fourth inning Sayginer added one more to his total, and defending champion Caudron fearlessly stepped up and ran eleven to take the lead 22-21, with both players averaging over 4.000. At the end of seven innings it was again tied at 25-25.
The following inning Caudron catapulted ahead with a run of twelve this time. Caudron continued to slowly surge forward trying to avoid giving Sayginer the upper hand at the end of the match. Sayginer was under pressure as Caudron drove ahead 44-27. Sayginer responded bravely with style and charisma scoring 5-0-3-4 to bring his total to 41 points, while Caudron added only two to his total. After sixteen innings it was Caudron still on top 46-41. Not knowing who to root for, the crowd applauded both champions loudly all through their amazing performances.
Charging to the table needing nine after Caudron missed, Sayginer played flawlessly, making point after point and positioning the balls perfectly. The crowd sensed a run-out was possible, and the atmosphere was tense, but Sayginer scored seven points to take a late lead and then missed. Caudron would have another chance. Cool and calm as always, Caudron immediately posted three points and was shooting for the match. After another close miss, Sayginer now had his final chance. He scored one and was faced with an extremely difficult and delicate short angle shot for match point. Sayginer’s momentary hesitation caused him to miss, to the groans of the audience. Breathless throughout, the crowd exploded in applause once Caudron closed out with an even more difficult short angle. After eighteen innings and an average of 2.778 over Sayginer’s 2.722, Caudron earned a spot with Blomdahl in the semifinal match.
The Blomdahl versus Caudron semifinal match went back and forth for the first five innings between the only two defending champions. Both champions proceeded cautiously at the start, slower than their usual pace, but soon Blomdahl fired away with an 8-point run to take the first real lead of the match, 17-6. Caudron soon responded with an equal amount of bravado, and after 6 more innings, the score was once again tied 21-21. Then, uncharacteristically, Blomdahl faltered and left Caudron an opening for nearly 12 innings. Caudron seized the moment to surge ahead, making 22 points in the last ten innings of the match to win 50-28 in 28 innings.
In the Horn versus Forthomme semifinal match, Horn seemed to slow his pace under the lights of the television table and appeared to struggle, having made only 5 points going into the tenth inning. Forthomme, on the other hand, was steadfast with repeated runs of threes and fours whenever the opportunity appeared. He kept his eye on the prize and closed out Horn 50-32 in only 30 innings.
The much-awaited final match was set between Caudron and Forthomme. The house was packed as the players entered the arena for the final match to begin their warm-ups. Caudron looked poised and calm but very serious. Forthomme seemed deeply determined and concentrated. Forthomme began with a run of 8. Caudron missed and could not seem to get started, only scoring 6 points in the first 8 innings while Forthomme slowly and steadily built his lead. After 8 innings it was Forthomme way ahead 24-6. Over the next 8 innings Forthomme’s pace slowed a bit, which allowed Caudron to chip away at Forthomme’s lead by scoring 12 points to Forthomme’s 5 points cutting the deficit to 11 points. Forthomme tried to distance himself from Caudron scoring 4-1-0-1 in the following innings but Caudron closed the gap faster than Forthomme could cut away by scoring 7-5-0-2. Pressured now with the score at 33-32 and only a one point lead, Forthomme followed with three open innings, allowing Caudron to take the lead 35-33 after 23 innings. Rising from his chair, the unwavering Forthomme surged ahead with a run of 11 to bring him within 6 points of the title. Caudron fought back with 2 and then 3, but Forthomme confidently added 4 more to his total. Caudron could only answer with 1 before Forthomme finished the match 50-41 in 27/26 innings.
Currently ranked fifth in the world, Roland Forthomme has won two World Cup tournaments (Hurghada 2005 and Volos 2006). He has won the Belgium Cup four times and was the 2005 Superprestige champion. In his two previous appearances at the Sang Lee International Open he finished sixth and eighth. Winning the 2008 Sang Lee International Open is surely a distinguished accomplishment in his career.