It’s a Race to the Finish Line
After cutting the field in half, Immonen and 31 other gear up for a frantic ride to the wire at the World 9-Ball Championship
By Ted Lerner
Photos by Michael Neumann
(Doha, Qatar) – In a long day of hard core pool and tense drama, the grind that is the toughest pool competition in the world kicked into high gear on Wednesday as the unforgiving single elimination knockout rounds commenced at the 2012 World 9-ball Championship.
The day started with 64 players eyeing the ultimate prize of world supremacy in 9-ball, and ended with 32 of them happy and relieved to play another day, and the other 32 seriously considering a long lonely walk into the Qatari desert.
Some of the scripts played out as expected, while others offered fans twists and turns right up to the last ball.
With 13 players in the final 64, the Philippines had the most to lose and indeed that’s exactly what happened as 8 Pinoys, including 2010 World 9-ball Champion Francisco Bustamante and 2006 champion Ronnie Alcano, went down to defeat. But Pinoy pool fanatics can take heart; the legend Efren Reyes is still kicking, as is the country’s current top player, Dennis Orcullo.
Continuing with a macro view of the championship landscape, Germany put in an all around solid performance today, as did the Chinese. But out of all the countries, the Taiwanese are looking like the team to beat this year.
Based upon some of the upstart performances in the group stages, the morning session with 8 tables in action offered good possibilities for a few upsets, but instead it became a confirmation of that age old phrase, ‘the cream rises to the top.’
Germany’s Ralf Souquet, Taiwan’s Fu Che We and the Netherland’s Nick Van Den Berg all beat back pretenders to the crown. As did the Philippines’ Orcullo, who took a measure of revenge against Hong Kong’s Andrew Kong, who had beaten the Filipino in the group stages.
“The pressure is very big here,” Orcullo admitted after his match. “You just have to deal with it because it’s only going to get bigger.”
The second session presented the fans with a terrific match as multi world champion Mika Immonen faced the Maltese speedster, Tony Drago, in a match played on the TV table. The two stars engaged in a back and forth slugfest that neither one could put away. Drago, who plays five shots while others in the arena play just one, sprinted to a 10-8 lead in the race to 11, alternate break match and seemed to have the win in hand when he tied Immonen up in a pickle.
But Immonen, always massively hungry for a world title, escaped with his second incredible late match shot in two days, and ended up catching Drago. A break and run sent the Finn into the final 32 while Drago headed for the door.
“At 10-9 I snookered him behind the 3,” Drago said, “but he made that miracle escape. When that happens you think that someone up there doesn’t want me to win.”
“I’m lucky to be here,” Immonen said. “He’s a phenomenal shot maker. It’s easy to get shell shocked when you play Tony. You blink your eyes and you’re out.”
As expected the Philippines Reyes drew a decent crowd of Filipino overseas workers to the arena. Reyes didn’t look particularly impressive but his opponent, Toh Lian Han of Singapore, wasn’t up to the task on the TV table. Reyes won 11- 4.
“I played terrible,” Reyes said. “He miss a lot of easy shots. I can’t win if I play like that.”
Philippine fans hung around to cheer on Alcano. But Alcano looked a shell of his self from last year and lost to his steadier countryman Jundel Mazon, 11-9.
The Kuwaitis continued their Cinderella story at this year’s championship with a seriously awesome performance from 19 year old Omar Al Shaheen. Al Shaheen was a heavy underdog against Taiwan’s Chung Yu Lu but the pride of Kuwait held his own and led for much of the match. But he showed his real mettle when Chung caught him at 7-7, then moved to a 10-8 lead and what looked like a sure win for the Taiwanese. Al Shaheen battled back, and to the delight of the crowd, tied the match at 10. A cool break and run in the last rack put the youngster in the final 32.
“I was just lucky,” the humble Al Shaheen said. “Every time I break, I get 2 balls down and an open table.”
Kuwait is sure to have one player in the final 16 as Al Shaheen will now play Khaled Al Mutairi in the round of 32.
As the day wore on it was clear the Taiwanese are going to be very difficult to take down. Chang Jun Lin, fresh off a confidence boosting win at the World 8-ball Championship in Fujairah, crushed the Philippines very capable Joven Alba, 11-2. Ko Pin Yi, who could have the best break shot in pool, manhandled the Netherland’s Huidji See, 11-6. Even the veterans got into the act. Yang Ching Shun, who’s making a comeback to competitive pool, streaked past Vincent Faquet. And two time World 9-ball Champion Fong Pang Chao took down Bustamante, 9-6. Bustamante complained that Chao sharked him twice during the match.
There’s another phenomenal Taiwanese player who showed he could go all the way, but he doesn’t player under the Taiwanese banner. Lo Li Wen is Taiwanese but he lives in Japan with his Japanese wife and he plays under the Japanese flag.
Lo and 2007 9-ball champion Daryl Peach of England engaged in a veritable slugfest of high quality pool, with Lo prevailing, 11-9. It was one of those matches where you feel bad that somebody had to lose and get the boot so early in the knockout stages.
“I missed one ball all game,” a stunned Peach said afterward. “That was as tough a draw as you could get. I can’t believe it.”
Defending champion Yukio Akagariyama of Japan put in a high quality outing as well, with a hard fought 11 – 9 comeback win over Thomas Engert of Germany. His buddy Toru Kuribayashi wasn’t so fortunate as he fell 11- 7 to one of the tournament’s feel good stories, Matthew Edwards of New Zealand. No Kiwi has ever made it this far in a World 9-ball Championship and Edwards’ run is attracting real media and fan attention down under and helping to lift the game of 9-ball to new levels.
With the round of 64 history, the World 9-ball Championship really ramps up on Thursday as the field will be whittled down to just four players. The semi-finals and final will take place on June 29th, with the final being a race to 13.
The WPA will be providing full up to the minute coverage of the 2012 World 9-ball Championship via its website at www.wpapool.com. There you can follow the action through our live scoring platform, articles with insights and analysis, and updated brackets. Fans can also get updates via the WPA Twitter page, @poolwpa.com.
Fans can also access live scoring through the official website of the Qatar Billiards and Snooker Federation at: http://www.qbsf.net/en/live_score.php.
*The World Pool And Billiard Association(WPA) is the international governing of the sport of pocket billiards.
The prize breakdown is as follows:
Champion – $40,000
Runner-up – $20,000
3- 4 – $12,000
17-32 – $3,500
65-96 – $1000 (loser of 2nd round in the loser’s bracket of Stage 2)
Total – $300,000
The 2012 WPA World 9-ball Championship
Sponsored by – Qatar Olympic Committee (QOC)
Co-sponsored by – Simonis (cloth)
Organized by – Qatar Billiards & Snooker Federation (QBSF)
Sanctioned by – World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA) & Asian Pocket
Billiard Union (APBU)
Simonis 860 Cloth, Electric Blue Color.
Aramith Super Pro TV Ball
RESULTS FINAL 64
Winner goes to the round of 32. The loser is out
Ralf Souquet(GER) 11 – 4 Nikolaos Malaj(ALB)
Fu Che Wei(TPE) 11 – 3 Andrea Klasovic(SRB)
Bruno Muratore(ITA) 11 -6 Jayson Shaw(GBR)
Hsu Kai Lun(TPE) 11 – 5 Aki Heiskanen(FIN)
Dennis Orcullo(PHI) 11 – 8 Andrew Kong(HKG)
Nick Van Den Berg(NED) 11 – 6 Marlon Caneda(PHI)
Han Hao Xiang(CHN) 11 – 8 Israel Rota(PHI)
Jonny Martinez(VEN) 11 – 8 Uraoka Takashi(JPN)
Le He Wen(CHN) 11 – 9 Jason Klatt(CAN)
Mika Immonen(FIN) 11 -10 Tony Drago(MLT)
Yang Ching Shung(TPE) 11 -4 Vincent Faquet(FRA)
Khaled Al Mutairi(KUW) 11 –8 Majide Alazme(KUW)
Antonio Gabica(PHI) 11 – 7 Mario He(AUT)
Lee Van Corteza(PHI) 11 – 4 Serge Das(BEL)
John Morra(CAN) 11 – 7 Elvis Calasang(PHI)
Chang Jun Lin(TPE) 11 – 2 Joven Alba(PHI)
Omar Al Shaheen(KUW) 11 – 10 Chang Yu Lung(TPE)
Efren Reyes(PHI) 11 – 6 Toh Lian Han(SIN)
Yukio Akagariyama(JPN) 11 – 9 Thomas Engert(GER)
Chao Fong Pang(TPE) 11 – 6 Francisco Bustamante(PHI)
Thorsten Hohmann(GER) 11 – 4 Bader Al Awadi(KUW)
Dominic Jentsch(GER) 11 – 6 Manuel Gama(POR)
Naoyuki Ohi(JPN) 11 – 10 Carlo Biado(PHI)
Karl Boyes(GBR) 11 – 9 Do The Kien
Ko Pin Yi(TPE) 11 – 6 Huidji See(NED)
Lo Li Wen(JPN) 11 – 9 Daryl Peach(GBR)
Jundel Mazon(PHI) 11 – 9 Ronnie Alcano(PHI)
Konstantin Stepanov(RUS) 11 – 5 Ryouji Hori(JPN)
Darren Appleton(GBR) 11 – 5 Mateusz Sniegocki(POL)
Matthew Edwards(NZL) 11 – 7 Toru Kuribayashi(JPN)
Liu Haitao(CHN) 11 – 4 Roberto Gomez(PHI)
Nick Ekonomopoulos(GRE) 11 – 5 Ryu Seung Woo(KOR)
Round of 32 Matches on June 28
Ralf Souquet(GER) vs. Jonny Martinez(VEN)
Fu Che Wei(TPE) vs. Bruno Muratore(ITA)
Hsu Kai Lun(TPE) vs. Dennis Orcullo(PHI)
Nick Van Den Berg(NED) vs. Han Hao Xiang(CHN)
Lee Van Corteza(PHI) vs. Mika Immonen(FIN)
Antonio Gabica(PHI) vs. Yang Ching Shun(TPE)
Khaled Al Mutairi(KUW) vs. Omar Al Shaheen(KUW)
Jonh Morra(CAN) vs. Lee He Wen(CHN)
Chang Jun Lin(TPE) vs. Naoyuki Ohi(JPN)
Thorsten Hohmann(GER) vs. Yukio Akagariyama(JPN)
Chao Fong Pang(CHN) vs. Karl Boyes
Efren Reyes(PHI) vs. Dominic Jentsch(GER)
Liu Haitao(CHN) vs. Nick Ekonomopoulos(GRE)
Matthew Edwards(NZL) vs. Darren Appleton(NZL)
Konstantin Stepanov(RUS) vs. Jundel Mazon(PHI)
Lo Li Wen(TPE) vs. Ko Pin Yi(TPE)