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haters gonna hate




17th Annual Jay Swanson Memorial

Once again, prom rolls around for Southern California’s pool players and the Jay Swanson Memorial 9-Ball Tournament comes to town. I believe this is the first year the field of 192 filled up a week in advance. The format is a fun/harrowing race to 7 on the winner’s and race to 6 on the loser’s sides the first day. Should you make it to Day 2, your reward is races to 7 on both sides.




click to embiggen and see if you can recognize people

…Hard Times Bellflower’s parking lot at 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday.


Narrowing down 192 players over the course of two days to find the One True Prom Queen/King requires much time, hence the Normal Business Hours opening time of 9:00 a.m. I went a little panorama-happy at this tournament with the ol’ cell phone. Actually, 90% of this post is illustrated with cell phone pictures. My faithful point-and-shoot is dang near obsolete. 🙁

There was much discussion leading up to the tournament regarding the large amount of elite players in the field. This may have been due to new billiard venture Bonus Ball being headquartered in Las Vegas. Los Angeles was just a hop, skip, and several extortionate gallons of gas away — so, why the hell not. Roadtrip!

Accomplishments of this distinguished field included:

2 WPA 8-Ball World Champion titles
4 WPA 9-Ball World Champion titles
1 WPA 10-Ball World Champion title
6 U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship titles

Take all those, toss in additional past and present men and women professionals, shortstops, gamblers, darkhorses, Canadians, and ride-the-nine sh#t-out artists and you have the makings of a slightly terrifying regional tournament. Oh, and the winner-break short-race rack-with-Magic-Ball-Rack format will either scare or delight the hell out of you (maybe both).


$30 each day for this view. Ouchies. Seating arrangements for this Swanee tournament were distinctly different. There were VIP bleachers and the first section of side bleachers closest to the front (tables 6 and 1) were also sold as VIP seating.
The spectating crowd for this Swanee tournament was the largest I have ever seen. It was standing room only and seats were scarce. Because of this, I did not have the same kind of freedom to roam around as I did at previous events, hence the lack of pictures.


As with last year, the billiard tables was where all the Cool Kids (with the Pumped Up Kicks) hung out in between matches.
You can't rattle a ball when there are no pockets.
Among those in pocket-less action were Rodney Morris and Shane Van Boening (pictured), Ronnie Alcano, Manny Chau, Oscar Dominguez, Dennis Orcullo, and Arturo Rivera.


I remember when this hung on the wall of College Billiards. Ah, the good ol' days. The Swanee plaque showing the top three finishers of each tournament.
According to the Railbird Rumor Mill, this was the first time America’s Billiard Sweetheart Mr. Van Boening had competed in the Swanee. As arguably the top American player at the moment, he was one of the favorites to win this event.


The entryway to Hard Times and part of the Skid Middle Row.



The tournament side showing the bleachers running the length of the room and the streaming and commentary station.


Matches were called beginning at 10:00 a.m. and the hectic tournament was underway. It was nonstop match after match after match. No one could request tables during the first day — you played where you were called. The coveted tables in the Tournament Room were only available to you by luck or if you were deemed worthy enough to wear the silk pageant sash that read “STREAMING TABLE” — then you got to play on Table 1.

In the beginning rounds, it was interesting to see some well-known professionals have a bit of trouble with the Tournament Room tables. Those tables are legendary, with the front two the tightest pocketed at 4- and sub-4 inches and loosening up toward the back of the room to a comparatively generous 4-1/4 inches.


I did all right last year, did a little worse this year. I won 7-6, then lost 7-4 and 6-4. The last 8-ball I shot in my hill-hill match was worth the price of admission, though, so I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the tournament. And now, I could enjoy my time out of the tournament. 🙂


At the conclusion of Day 1, 48 players remained.




Returning players received the favor of an extra hour of sleep. Doors opened at 10 a.m. and a small but mighty contingent was already waiting long before then.

"Pacquiao? He can't fuggin' beat me... on a pool table." Mr. Van Boening wears a Nike Manny Pacquiao tracksuit as he stands in front of three Filipino world champions (from the left they are Ronnie Alcano, Alex Pagulayan, and Francisco Bustamante).
This photograph is just so nifty.
(Also: Hi Brock!)


This is a picture of the lonely (so lonely) billiard tables in the morning.

Sorry billiard tables, it was just a one-night stand. The pros went back to pool.


Middle Row: "I just want to be loved!" With 48 players still left, the hardworking — yet perpetually underappreciated — Middle Row at Hard Times was still in use.
Jayson Shaw of Somewhere Across the Sea plays Victor Ignacio of Somewhere South of Los Angeles.


click to see a slightly funnier version of this picture Santos Sambajon, Jr. and Frank “The Barber” Almanza duked it out on the losers’ side in one of the toughest grindfests of the tournament.
Mr. Almanza missed a 7-ball and hooked Mr. Sambajon. Mr. Sambajon made a nice masse to pocket the 7-ball and that made it hill-hill. Mr. Sambajon won the hill game.
This is one of the better photographs I took. If you want to see a slightly funnier version, click on it. 😉


in da club Mr. Alcano rocks a stylish striped sweater. I liked it. Preppy-ish, but with a nightclub flair.
Table 16 became the de facto headquarters of the Filipino contingent. Table 16 and Table 11 are the best playing tables in the Middle Row. The higher the number of the table, the less pleasant it is to play on it.


so chill melted ice cream runs in his veins Mr. Bustamante is always a snazzy dresser. Remember his Awesome Pants from last year’s TAR match?
This outfit is all soothing creamsicle orange and pastel pink with the zing of the red stripe on his back pant pockets. Totally Rainbow Sherbet.
Mr. Bustamante’s winner side match with Mr. Shaw was greatly anticipated by the crowd. Just a week or so prior, Mr. Bustamante and Mr. Shaw had played an Accu-Stats 10-ball challenge match on a 10-foot Diamond table at the Simonis Arena at Sandcastle Billiards in New Jersey. The race was to 21. Final score: Mr. Bustamante 21, Mr. Shaw 19.

Mr. Shaw took this match down, 7-1, in 35 or 40 minutes. Partway through the match, Mr. Bustamante was sharked by the redeye light on a photographer’s camera (not mine, whew). That and a missed 9-ball took him out of stride and Mr. Shaw’s shotmaking took the rest.


I spent a good amount of time standing, moving, walking, surreptitiously sitting, climbing dangerously in heels and raising up on tiptoes to sweat the marquee matches. Finally, I found the best spot to tuck myself into — the tiny, tiny space behind the commentator’s booth. I fit between the back of the big screen TV and a filing cabinet. As long as I didn’t knock anything over I was allowed to sit in relative comfort. I had the best seat in the house, right behind Table 1. 🙂

Table 1, like Table 6, has its own reputation. From what I know, Table 1 is actually slightly tighter than Table 6. In particular, John Bertone of Kamui Tips noticed one pocket, the upper left, seemed to spit out an inordinate number of balls shot seemingly directly into it. The next match up was Ernesto Dominguez vs Mr. Shaw. Mr. Bertone mentioned that Mr. Shaw shot with incredible accuracy, but he still believed the “devil” pocket would get him. He was so sure, we made a bet over the matter.

I bet $1 to one of Mr. Bertone’s Kamui tips that Mr. Shaw would NOT rattle a ball in the devil pocket, (Twenty-to-one odds on the money, how can you NOT bet?!) At one point in the match, Mr. Shaw jumped a ball towards the devil pocket and off the table. Upon discussion, Mr. Bertone agreed jumping a ball off the table, even if it was aimed toward that pocket, was not “rattling”. Rattling meant the ball would bobble in the pocket and stay on the table. I won my tip. Best bet ever.


The biggest buzz at this time developed around Mr. Orcullo and Mr. Shaw. Mr. Orcullo had sent Mr. Morris to the left side enroute to the hotseat match and Mr. Shaw had done the same to Mr. Dominguez.

"Jayson Shaw was kidnapped by pool-playing gnomes as a child. He played the King of Gnomes a set of English 8-Ball and won his freedom. They left him on my doorstep and I adopted him because his ears indicated inherent billiard greatness, as do mine." Jay Helfert, author, commentator, and player extraordinaire, made an appearance to commentate on the stream matches. Pool’s Resident Famous Person Joe Rogan also dropped by to do some commentary with Mr. Helfert.
By now, the spectator situation had devolved into a Lord of the Flies free-for-all. People were jammed shoulder to shoulder, standing on chairs, climbing on things, sitting on laps (ooh la la!), hanging off guardrails, and even my tiny crawl space fit two additional people. This is the kind of attention pool should command all the time.
Darren Appleton and Miss Angie (she has excellent taste in shoes) wrote out biographical information on Mr. Shaw for the commentators. Amongst the bits of information was this: Prominent ears are a source of pool talent. 🙂

After the iceberg hit the ship, it was Mr. Orcullo in the lifeboat floating away, 7-5, with the hotseat, and Mr. Shaw heading to the left side of the board.


The fun on the scenic route side of the board was already well underway. After many matches including the following notables (as chosen by how many people I heard say, “Daaaaam!” regarding each one):

4:30 PM, Feb 24th
#Swanee9B LSide // Santos Sambajon d. Alex Pagulayan, 7-4
follow me & be entertained
4:54 PM, Feb 24th
#Swanee9B LSide // Brian Butler d. Darren Appleton, 7-6
follow me & be entertained

I had a discussion with Mr. Butler earlier in the tournament regarding shoes (of course) and how they should match an outfit.

5:32 PM, Feb 24th
#Swanee9B LSide // John Morra d. Ronnie Alcano, 7-4
follow me & be entertained
6:59 PM, Feb 24th
#Swanee9B LSide // Shane Van Boening d. Manny Chau, 7-6
follow me & be entertained

This was a thrilling match. Mr. Chau came back from a significant deficit and played well to bring it to the hill.

7:00 PM, Feb 24th
#Swanee9B LSide // John Morra d. Francisco Bustamante, 7-6
follow me & be entertained

Another thrilling match with Mr. Morra showing great play and composure to win the match.

8:28 PM, Feb 24th
#Swanee9B LSide // Ernesto Dominguez d. Shane Van Boening, 7-5
follow me & be entertained

“Ay, Chihuahua!”


The Final Four at this time were:

match for 4th Ernesto Dominguez vs Rodney Morris
match for 3rd Jayson Shaw
the finals Dennis Orcullo


When Mr. Morris is in stroke, he is the definition of “freewheel”.

8:51 PM, Feb 24th
#Swanee9B LSide // Rodney Morris d. Ernesto Dominguez, 7-0. Ernesto finishes in 4th place. Rodney plays Jayson Shaw next.
follow me & be entertained

“Ay. Chihuahua.”


The match between Mr. Morris and Mr. Shaw was everything we thought it would be: lots of fearless shotmaking that made the sub-4 inch pockets seem like buckets, good safes and kicks, and a fast pace of play.

During the match, Mr. Morris asked Mr. Shaw if a hit on a ball was good. No referee had been called so there was no official ruling. That usually means the shot goes to the shooter, but both players wanted to confirm. They asked some spectators, but that can be a difficult situation, especially if the spectators have a bias toward either of the players.

Daniel Busch of POV Pool took down the recording camera and replayed the hit while Mr. Shaw and tournament referee Bill Stock looked on. The replay confirmed it was a good hit.
"This is a picture of Jayson Shaw's triceps."
This is the first time I have seen instant replay used to determine a hit in pool. Other major sports use instant replay and I wonder if instant replay would ever become the norm for pool.
Mr. Shaw won this match, 7-4, securing his spot and a rematch in the finals against Mr. Orcullo.


There was a pleasant surprise in store for those watching final on the live stream. Legendary player, gambler, and debonair billiards gentleman Billy Incardona was in town on business (one pocket match between champions for a significant bag of jellybeans) and would be commentating the final match with Mr. Helfert.

The finals were a single race to 11.

The very beginning of the match seemed like it could go either way. Then Mr. Shaw missed a ball. Mr. Orcullo didn’t miss another ball for six racks. Pause here and let’s talk about some of the conditions that helped make this six-pack possible. Some of the things noted by the commentators, other players, and even people watching on the stream:

the Magic Ball Rack (MBR)
The Magic Ball Rack became the standard rack for CSI events a little while ago. It speeds up match play because it allows player to rack tightly in a lesser amount of time than if they used a traditional triangle rack. However, in standardizing each rack, the MBR opens up a facet of the game first brought to light by its predecessor, the Sardo Rack. Once you standardize the rack, there is a good chance you can develop a break to exploit that standardization (looking at you, Corey Deuel).
When the rack was aligned correctly, a good solid stroke break ensured the wing ball would be pocketed every time. You may have noticed many players opting for a mid-speed stroke break rather than an all-out Hulk-SMASH break. You only needed to pocket ONE ball on the break to ensure you had control of the table, and you could further extend that control into a run out if you were aided by…
pattern racking
In this tournament, I heard pattern racking was against the rules.
Pattern racking is placing the balls repeatedly in a specific order to obtain a favorable layout after the break. Once again, standardization is at play. If you standardize the break with the MBR, and you standardize the layout of the balls after the break — you take a large chunk of unpredictability out of the game of 9-ball. Add one world champion speed player and you have Mr. Orcullo breaking and running out until the cows come home.
Now we must ponder the following: if pattern racking is not allowed, how do you enforce that rule?
I think the current standard requires the opposing player to raise the issue and bring it to the attention of the referee, not unlike asking for a hit to be watched. Mr. Incardona said the referee should be watching and enforce the rule, regardless of whether a player brings it to his attention, or else the game of 9-ball will become too easy at the professional level.

All the above aside, it was mesmerizing to watch Mr. Orcullo run out rack after rack. I actually forgot to keep up with my real-time updates, only remembering to do so when the score was 7-2 in Mr. Orcullo’s favor.

On the hill, Mr. Orcullo finally did not get a shot he liked and he pushed out. Mr. Shaw gave it back. Mr. Orcullo missed a safety and Mr. Shaw ran out.

The next rack, Mr. Shaw pushed out after the break, Mr. Orcullo played safe. Mr. Shaw attemped a jump and fouled. Mr. Orcullo ended up hooking himself on the 4-ball and after a nifty safety battle, Mr. Shaw missed the 4-ball and Mr. Orcullo ran out for the win.


Mr. Incardona gazing wistfully at the tables after the final match ended and everyone was running around doing the handshake-picture famous-person gimme-mah-money thing.
dude has Gucci loafers and fedora -- total swaggster


A few moments later, Mr. Incardona was in one pocket action with Mr. Dominguez, as they used to do in days of yore.



t h a n k s Resident Famous Person
EMCA | J&JNCA | Daniel Busch & POV Pool | CueSports International | Mark & Sunny Griffin | John Bertone of Kamui Tips | Eddie Arreguin of Hard Times Billiards
first time hello & hello again
Jay Helfert, Billy Incardona, Joe Rogan | terminal888 | BigCat | Brian Butler | Bill Stock | Chip | hilla_hilla | meezergirl | Mr. Harris and our mutal famous friend Mr. Parks | anyone I missed


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