|1. This post is not optimized for mobile viewing.|
|2. I’m happy it’s done.|
|3. <– That is a zedonk, a cross between a zebra and a donkey.|
I’d taken Greyhound to and from Vegas the weekend before so I could witness the phenomenon known as “Earl Strickland” in his natural habitat. Less than three days after my return home, I was back on the Greyhound going back to Vegas. That’s a teensy bit over 1,200 miles in two weekends which is a little much, even by my bizarre standards.
So much stuff happened that I’m not sure how to go about summarizing it all. I’ve melded together social media (I’m very prolific and proficient when it comes to Twitter), photographs, snark, opinion, facts, rumors, other peoples’ tweets, alcohol, dance music, and random bullshnizzle into this year’s most disjointed Frankenpost.
Let’s go kill it.
The Mosconi Cup is an annual nine-ball pool tournament contested between teams representing Europe and the USA since 1994. The trophy is named after American player Willie Mosconi, and is modelled on and compared to the Ryder Cup in golf. As of 2011, USA has won the tournament 11 times against 6 victories for Europe and one tie.
(Boy, do I love Wikipedia. It allows me to be very lazy on the writerly duty of background information.)
Beginning in 2003, The Mosconi Cup competition alternates between being held in American and European venues. The last Mosconi Cup I attended was in 2007 (America lost) at the MGM Grand. I took a plane on that trip. That was before I got really hardcore about tournaments and gambling, though. Ah, the good ol’ days.
|Team America (left to right: Rodney “The Rocket” Morris, Mike “The Fireball” Dechaine, Shawn “Bubba the Love Sponge” Putnam, Johnny “The Scorpion” Archer, and Shane “South Dakota Kid” Van Boening) entered the arena first. The lady Mr. Morris is extending his hand towards is Michaela Tabb, billiards’ most well-known referee. The dude facing the cameras with the microphone is Master of Ceremonies John Macdonald.|
The matches are broadcast live to Europe during prime evening hours. That just amazes me. I don’t know when, if ever, we would ever have that much interest in cuesports in America that a company would be willing to broadcast an event live.
After getting lost in the MGM and having more than a few staff members tell me they had heard the “Macaroni Cup” was in the MGM but they didn’t know which ballroom, I stumbled into the right doorway.
The arena was very different from the one where the 2007 (the last one I attended) event was held. It was smaller and the seating went into higher tiers. I greatly prefer the old arena but that’s probably because I’m not a fan of being tightly packed together with people I don’t know.
|The rainbow sherbet colored spotlights surrounding the arena gave everything a candy-pink-orange tint and induced diabetes if stared at too long.||Team Europe (left to right: Ralf “The Kaiser” Souquet, Nick Van Den Berg, Neils “The Terminator” Feijen, Chris Melling, and Darren “Dynamite” Appleton) ascending the stairs prior to their introduction.|
The seats were plastic and reminded me of those desk-chair combinations you often find in public elementary schools. The studio lights were hot. There was a high-pitched whine which came from one of the many pieces of technical equipement. Or maybe that was just Earl the Pearl complaining from across the country. All these were minor discomforts to be borne in the name of watching pool’s greatest spectacle (I don’t mean Earl Strickland).
I hid out in the top row of seats for the first day.
|The teams doing their team huddle and cheer thing after entering the arena. Team Europe had the left corner and Team America had the right. Although the fans on the “American” side seem rather dour, I assure you they were most excited.|
To review, the players in this event (with number of previous appearances) are:
|Ralf Souquet (14)||Johnny Archer (14)|
|Niels Feijen (6)||Rodney Morris (7)|
|Nick Van Den Berg (4)||Shane Van Boening (4)|
|Darren Appleton (2)||Shawn Putnam (1)|
|Chris Melling||Mike Dechaine||Rookies!|
|Johan Ruijsink (3)||Charlie Williams (5)||The non-playing captains.|
In totally unrelated news, if you look at the program cover, they photoshopped Mike Dechaine’s head on to Rodney Morris’ body.
|A closeup of Team America’s corner and some of the audience on the “America” side of the arena. You can see Vagabond, who was dressed in a stunning variety of amazing suits (some studded with enough crystals to make Liberace envious) and shoes (some also crystal-studded) each day, in the very front row, third from the right.|
When I last attended the Mosconi Cup, I watched only the last two days. This time, I was here for the whole rodeo (there was a real rodeo in town, too). The most basic match rules:
- Alternate break (the 9 racks on the spot)
- Race to 6
There were two possible player formats:
(I didn’t need to use bullet points up there, but it looks So Much More Scientific when I do.)
The first three days of competition would be a mix of singles and doubles matches while the final day would be composed exclusively of singles matches. Pool’s Mosconi Cup is similar to golf’s celebrated Ryder Cup.
The entire competition was a race to 11 match points between the two teams.
The opening match was just line-up versus line-up: each player played their counterpart (as determined by line-up order) a single game. First team to win six games won the first match point.
Basically, these worldbeaters were playing league.
Here’s a quick rundown of how that turned out:
|Ralf Souquet||d.||Shane Van Boening|
|Johnny Archer||d.||Nick Van Den Berg|
|Niels Feijen||d.||Shawn Putnam|
|Mike Dechaine||d.||Chris Melling||break and run|
|Darren Appleton||d.||Rodney Morris|
|Ralf Souquet||d.||Shane Van Boening||ran out Van Boening’s dry break|
|Johnny Archer||d.||Nick Van Den Berg|
|Niels Feijen||d.||Shawn Putnam|
|Chris Melling||d.||Mike Dechaine|
Europe won the first match point.
It was during this time when I was posting updates to Twitter that I saw, via clicking on the hashtag I assigned to my updates, that #MosconiCup was a popular topic. The majority of updates (like, 99% of them) were from Europe and the majority of those (like, 99% of them) were from England. The English Mosconi Cup fans were admirably rabid and mixed in with the “destroy the Yanks” exhortations, I often came across passionate, charming, and humorous updates, some of which I’ve sprinkled throughout this post.
|2.||Archer & Putnam||d.||Melling & Van Den Berg||6-3|
The next match would be scotch doubles, with the players alternating shots. I think doubles play is the closest pool ever gets to being a team sport. Both players are directly responsible for the outcome of a match.
Scotch doubles at the hack level (the current strata of skill where I currently reside) can be less than enjoyable. Differences in shot selection, position play, and strategy lead to all sorts of crappy situations, some of which lead to scotch doubles being known as “scotch troubles” or “divorce pool”. Most of the disharmony in hack-level scotch doubles comes from players setting up shots for their partners that they may think are easy, but their partner thinks otherwise.
I was interested to see how professionals fared in scotch doubles since elite players should be able to make the majority of shots they are presented with and more importantly, they should all be on the same page concerning position play.
I paid close attention to this match and one of the things I noticed was how similar the Europeans are in tempo, form, and style of play. They are truly “textbook” players: methodical and precise. I believe this is a very big advantage the Europeans have over the Americans in the doubles format. They rarely second-guess their shots and already feel comfortable with the way their partner plays. Americans are a lot more individual in their styles and the pacing of their games range from Johnny Archer’s careful grooming of the table for lint all the way to Rodney Morris’ one-stroke fire-in-the-hole.
|3.||Niels Feijen||d.||Rodney Morris||6-0|
We returned to mano-a-mano format, with individual players racing to six.
This match started a twitterstorm in the twitterverse because it seemed apparent to a great many people, including snooker legend Jimmy White, that Rodney Morris Did Not Give A Sh#t.
Mr. Morris’ laid-back “hakuna matata” personality shows in his game: he plays with a sort of confidence bordering on laxity. His relaxed attitude works for him and he is almost always upbeat and often jokes with his opponent or the crowd, making him an entertaining and popular player.
I saw him play earlier in October at the Chuck Markulis Memorial 9-Ball Tournament at Hard Times Billiards Sacramento. He dominated the field and won easily, running out effortlessly on Brunswick Gold Crowns with four-inch pockets.
Although he is one of my favorite players to watch, Mr. Morris’ performance in this match did not seem to be a typical episode of his trademark relaxed confidence gone too far – it seemed more like a study in carelessness and indifference. It’s hard to explain, or quantify, but Mr. Morris just seemed to play faster than usual, take less time than usual, and Jimmy White described it best — it seemed like he had somewhere else to be.
I heard later that Mr. Morris had played the match with the wrong shaft. His usual shaft had cracked and he was waiting for a new one to be sent to him. Since I don’t know what his situation was, I say to that: fair enough.
However, someone else put it thusly: “He’s Rodney F#cking Morris, U.S. Open champ! He didn’t look like he was struggling with equipment, he looked like he just gave up — or didn’t care. He didn’t even try.” Only Mr. Morris knows for sure what his motivations (or unmotivations) were. He’s the Man In The Arena and we’re The Birds In The Stands.
There were short breaks in between the matches and since I was not willing to lose my seat, I didn’t leave the stands and scrolled through more tweets about the #MosconiCup. I had never paid attention to those hashtags before, but now I was
intrigued addicted to them. Clicking on that hashtag afforded me a glance into an infinite amount of thoughts on the topic — hateful, mundane, mispelled, excited, and more — all at once from people around the world. This is what being a mindreader must be like: one gigantic mental data dump.
One of the most talked about topics (keep in mind almost everyone who gave a sh#t about the Mosconi Cup on Twitter was from overseas) was the absence of Earl Strickland. In past Mosconi Cup events, Mr. Strickland has offended fans, referees, players — it’s actually a better question to ask who he didn’t offend. He almost came to blows once against English player and then-world champion Daryl Peach (hey, whatever happened to that guy?). Mr. Strickland has had many dozen more forgettable moments and is almost universally reviled.
That is why I was surprised to see that quite a few people missed Mr. Strickland.
I think, after thirteen Mosconi Cup appearances (second only to Johnny Archer and Ralf Souquet’s fifteen appearances), people have gotten used to the wild-eyed gloved-and-earmuffed ball of wackiness that is Mr. Strickland and he has become a legendary figure, like the Grinch during Christmas. When he’s there, people will call for him to be thrown out but when he is gone, it’s too quiet.
Mr. Strickland was not selected by the American team starting in 2009 (he had played in every Mosconi Cup before then) and he also did not play in 2010. Now that the Mosconi Cup player selection is determined objectively by points and rankings rather than selection by persons, I am interested to see if Mr. Strickland will ever play in the Mosconi Cup again. He finished 10th in the American rankings this year so, as long as he doesn’t go completely off the deep end, he is within striking distance of qualifying for the team in the future. If and when he does, we’ll get out the lawn chairs, fire up the grill, crack a beer, and wait for the inevitable fireworks.
|4.||Appleton & Souquet||d.||Dechaine & Van Boening||6-4|
This match pitted a team comprised of the youngest U.S. players versus the very seasoned “Kaiser” (mmm… seasoned Kaiser roll…) and Darren Appleton, who recently defended his U.S. Open title ($30,000) and then snapped off the Challenge of Champions ($25,000) a week later.
Dechaine and Van Boening jumped out to a 4-0 lead but Appleton and Souquet were not impressed. When the Americans were up 4-2, Dechaine left Van Boening the eight-ball at an odd angle. Van Boening made the eight, but left the cue ball on the side rail. Dechaine missed the nine. Team America did not win another game and lost 6-4.
|5.||Chris Melling||d.||Shane Van Boening||6-5|
This was the final match of the day and it was a good one. Chris Melling and Shane Van Boening were the highest-ranked players of their respective teams.
Van Boening went three ahead in short order but Melling caught up by breaking and running twice off his own break, and winning a safety battle on the one-ball in another game. 3-3.
They missed once each in the next two games before Melling broke and ran to get to the hill first. Then Van Boening made it hill-hill, with him breaking.
…and that’s all she wrote.
After the first day, things looked bad. From what I could see, the American team was not breaking well, which is unusual considering everyone on the team has a smashing break. To me, it seemed like they were all attempting stroke or cut breaks and they weren’t working.
The rules pertaining to breaking also include the “illegal break” rule where three balls must make it past the side pocket. This rule is meant to ensure that players break with some amount of force so they can’t attempt the soft break made famous by former American Mosconi Cup team member Corey Deuel.
Thanks to Luke Riches and Matchroom Sport, I was granted something pretty f#cking awesome for a hacktastic American C-player: a media pass. I was able to go behind the scenes (to an extent — they have a security dude who’s a Very Serious Cat) to take a look at the equipment.
|The neon under the table is so kewl!||As usual, a picture of the pockets. They are not extremely tight. There’s a tiny gap between the balls I placed in the pockets, so these pockets are probably bigger than the factory-issued 4-1/2 inches.|
This was the first year the Mosconi Cup was played on Diamond tables. A Diamond Smart Table was used and after the first day, they changed the pockets to drop pockets to reduce the noise of the undercarriage.
Matches ended quite early so I was actually left with a good amount of free time. I filled it by having overpriced food at the food court and then some very reasonably priced jello shots with some friends. Definitely one of the better Thursdays I’ve had in a while.
I got in very early the next morning, excited to watch more great pool. The Magic Ball Rack had been used all day yesterday, but today they were returning to the traditional rack.
|Ken Shuman (left) and Michaela Tabb (racking) work on lining up the racking guides accurately. They also tested the available traditional racks. In America, racking the one-ball on the spot is standard practice while on the Eurotour (which were the rules they were playing by) racking the nine on the spot is standard.|
Yesterday, the Magic Rack moved noticeably after some breaks when it was supposed to remain in place after breaking. It also seemed everyone was not pocketing less balls than usual on the breaks and the balls would cluster up afterwards instead of spreading out. The high temperatures of the studio lights may have affected the performance of the Magic Rack material. It was decided to eschew the Magic Rack for the rest of the event and return to the traditional triangle rack.
|6.||Archer & Boening||d.||Feijen & Van Den Berg||6-5|
Somewhere in a parallel universe, there’s joke that goes, two Americans playing Scotch Doubles with two Dutchmen walk into a casino…
|The redness of the shirts hurt my eyes.|
This was a quality match. Both teams worked well together and when quality meets quality at this level, you get hill-hill.
|7.||Mike Dechaine||d.||Ralf Souquet||6-1|
Mike Dechaine played absolutely great in this match. I believe he was playing with a Predator break cue, but never got around to asking him why. In any case, it was a set that really showcased his shotmaking and multi-rail position play. This was his first match win in the Mosconi Cup and gave him a measure of redemption for his earlier doubles loss to Souquet and Appleton.
|8.||Morris & Putnam||d.||Appleton & Melling||6-5|
I think we would all agree, Rodney Morris included, that he has won the 2011 Earl Strickland Cup.
|The most controversial match of this whole shindig. Rodney Morris swore on live television and asked Darren Appleton to go outside and fight to settle things.|
When this match was tied 2-2, Morris exchanged words with Appleton. I was too far away to hear what was said, but it seems he was annoyed at European fans talking/sharking him while he was shooting and he asked Appleton and Melling to do something about it.
Here is the video clip (watch it before it gets taken down) so you can judge for yourself.
Morris drops a couple of f-bombs and tells Appleton, “We can handle it later in the street.”
Not Rodney Morris’ finest moment.
After this incident, the microphones were removed from the players.
I don’t know what it is with Rodney at this event. He seemed too laid-back in his 0-6 loss against Niels Feijen and then in this match, he seems very high strung. I’m not judging him further. I drop f-bombs more than anyone else I know (and I did it on a live stream, too, once) and I have offered the Parking Lot Settlement before as well.
I do solemly swear, however, that should women ever be a part of the Mosconi Cup again and happen to defy impossible odds (for realsies) to be in it — I won’t drop an f-bomb or offer the Parking Lot Settlement.
I will wait until after the event, hee hee hee!
Rodney Morris and Shawn Putnam issued on on-air apology after the match.
After this match, Team America pulls even with Team Europe at four match points apiece — and the Twitterverse just f#cking EXPLODES with Rodney- and America-hate. There was plenty before, but now, that’s all there was — expectedly and justifiably so. I stopped following the #MosconiCup topic after this incident since everyone wanted to kill Rodney and nuke America. I also lost some enthusiasm for this event.
|Behind the whole production. That’s Fireball on the table. If you look just off to the left of the center of this photograph, you’ll see some wheelchair spectators. The regular seating arrangement could not be navigated by wheelchairs so their special section was front and center. 🙂|
|9.||Nick Van Den Berg||d.||Johnny Archer||6-1|
I think Nick Van Den Berg was one of the steadiest players on the European team. He’s not seen stateside very often so it’s nice to get to watch him play live. This year’s Team Europe very nearly had three Dutchmen on it: Van Den Berg and Niels Feijen made it while WPA World 10-Ball Champion Huidji See clocked in at sixth place in the rankings, juuuust missing the cut. When reached for comment, Mr. See expressed regret at now having to wait until next year before having his first Vegas buffet experience.
|My seats were behind the team seats today. That’s Johnny Archer and his two kids. Johnny Archer’s wife, Melanie, was one of the loudest supporters for the American team. She led cheers and chants and without her, we wouldn’t be able to counter the Singing Euros. She and St. Louie in the front row kept the energy going on the American side. In case you were wondering, she was a part of the Pep Squad when she was in school. The Pep Squad is not the same as the Cheerleading Squad. Make a note of it.|
|8.||Melling & Souquet||d.||Morris & Van Boening||6-5|
Doubles: You’re only as good as your weakest link.
In the last game, Chris Melling broke and it was determined that his break was illegal as three balls did not pass the side pocket. That meant the turn was given to the American team. Shane Van Boening as incoming player had two options, take the shot or pass it back to Melling. Melling had played brilliantly throughout the event. Although the shot on the one-ball was pretty f#cking brutal, Van Boening opted to shoot it himself rather than pass it back. He missed and the Europeans ran out.
The score gap was significantly reduced for the Americans and it looked like we might have a match on our hands. Team America’s break was much, much better today.
No rest for the wicked.
It was time for the inaugural day of TAR 23! The players were Oscar Dominguez from Southern California and Raj Hundal from England. It was a Mini-Mosconi Cup! (They’ve both played in the Mosconi Cup before, too.)
|The Magic Rack works fine in the Studio. This is because high heat is the natural enemy of the Magic Rack and the Studio could very well be rented out as a polar bear preserve when not in use. Brrr! I used to say, “If it’s too cold, bet higher.” Nowadays, I just wear a parka.|
The match was best 2 of 3 sets, races to 25 win by 2 to 30.
Hoo, that’s a lotta numbers. Let me see if I can explain what it all means.
A player may win at 25 games if he gets to 25 when his opponent is still at 23. If the score is 24-24, that is not hill-hill. If a player gets to 26 when the other is at 24, then he wins.
But what about the “to 30” part?
The hilliest of hill-hills is reached at 29-29. It is then that the set is officially at hill-hill as the maximum — the “to 30” — is 30 games. Otherwise, we could be here forever.
If one player wins two consective sets (one each day), the third scheduled day of play is not necessary. If they split sets one each, then the final day will be the tiebreaker set.
|My humble signature. Those who know, know which one it is!||TAR branded appliances now available.|
The rules both players agreed upon were winner breaks, no call-shot, only the ten-ball spots up if made on the break. This is different from World rules of 10-ball which dictate each shot made must be intentional.
|Twenty minutes before showtime, the players decided they wanted to clean the table. The table hadn’t been cleaned since May and two matches (TAR 21 and 22) had already been played on the table. There were no proper cleaning materials available, but Ernesto Dominguez, Oscar Dominguez’s father, is a renowned table mechanic and if anyone is going have the supplies and know-how to get that table as perfect as possible, it’s Papa Dominguez.|
After fussing over equipment, the two ponies were off and trotting.
Both players were cautious of the table and these first games were torturously slow and rather unexciting. TAR matches 21 and 22 featuring Shane Van Boening, Alex Pagulayan, and Earl Strickland had also had slow first days as the players did their recon work on the equipment.
Oscar started to build a lead while Raj looked increasingly uncomfortable. The music list, controlled by Justin Collett, played a Jay-Z song and Justin promptly hit the skip button. Raj requested Justin put the Jay-Z back on and this was when I learned that Mark Griffin, a TAR partner (TARpner?) did not like hip-hop/rap music because of the explicit lyrics and TAR had not played rap music since 2007. Raj asked if he could put in his own playlist but his request was not granted.
Discussion ensued and Mark said he didn’t mind what music was being played.
|Justin Collett, captain of the USS EnTARprise, monitors things from the bridge. He is simultaneously DJ, director, commentator wrangler, cat herder, money clip, and chatroom moderator.|
Despite the change in music, Raj continued to lag behind although he made some nice break and runs. Oscar played very well and you could tell he thought each shot through.
Mr. Dominguez, aided by some fortunate rolls, looked impossible to catch at this point. Mr. Hundal had some moments where he made some nice runs, but I think he was so irritated at rolls and the thought of balls skidding that he could not focus past a certain point.
After the set was over, Mr. Hundal disappeared into his private dressing room (the women’s restroom — I guess he preferred to share with us) and emerged prim, pressed, and pink.
I thought that was pretty James Bond-ish of him — not everyone is going to bring an extra change of spiffy clothes to change into after losing a big set and then hit the town with a chick.
Partway through the match, a lady in clubbing clothes and ill-advised, semi-sheer zebra-stripe leggings that were filled to capacity, arrived and declared herself (with an attitude and a pointy finger) “on the list” as RAJ HUNDAL’S guest. She acted as though this was an exclusive Las Vegas club and she was a VIP. Hilarious! Welcome to Club TAR. As Raj Hundal’s “guest” she received complimentary entry to watch the match. She strutted in and held court on one of the couches.
There are people I meet who are ridiculous.
Some bring it to the next level and are redonkulous.
This one established a new category: zedonkulous.
One of the best things about the Studio are the snacks and drinks included for all paid guests. If you want adult beverages, you generally BYOB. The atmosphere is relaxed and very enjoyable for pool nuts. Everyone is here to sweat the action and elite play and if you’ve paid for admittance, you generally know What The Hell Is Going On and the shared knowledge pretty much makes everyone at least acquaintances if you are not friends already.
Zedonkulous, after establishing herself upon the couch, began to treat the people around her and the assets of the Studio as though they existed solely for her. She was rude. She ordered people to get her drinks. She took drinks that other attendees had brought for themselves and did not bother to thank them. But, hey — she’s not a serious pool player (a “civilian”) and you don’t want to ruin your own experience, so, whatever. Move to another spot in the little Studio and let it go.
After the set, it seemed she would be going out on the town with her sponsor(?). She asked for a ride back to the MGM Grand. No one paid much attention to her. A ride was offered to Raj out of courtesy. She came along as collateral damage. I would also be riding in that car.
Buckle up, sh#t is about to get redonk.
We’ve already established that she was not the most self-aware person in the world which, by extension, meant she was also not the most courteous. She might have been one of the most self-entitled people I have ever met. She also talked nonstop. With a voice like Fran Drescher. Let me recount a fraction of the things she said:
|Raj remarked he had asked Oscar to change the game to call-shot after this evening’s set.|
|Both had agreed to playing “sloppy” 10-ball, meaning that no shots needed to be called and the only ball that would spot up was the ten-ball if made on the break. As mentioned earlier, Oscar had gotten a few lucky rolls and Raj had felt those lucky rolls had cost him the entire set. Raj said Oscar had declined to change the game and he was a little frustrated by his refusal.|
We (and by “we” I mean the “real” players in the vehicle) generally agreed he couldn’t blame Oscar for declining to change the game because 1). Oscar was up a set playing by these rules and 2). the rules had been set for the entire match and Raj had agreed to those rules. Miss Sunny pointed out that if Raj had been the one up a set, he would not want to change the rules, either. If you were winning, why change the game if you didn’t have to? Raj agreed she was right and he would not change the game if he were in Oscar’s position.
Zedonkulous now, uh, “butted” herself into this discussion and the first thing she said was, “I, personally, could NEVER live with myself if I played slop. I’m just not that kind of person.” She had said “that kind” with a generous amount of digust and disdain.
I was curious as to what kind of pool player Zedonkulous was that she would say such a thing. She volunteered that she had “played league a few times”. Interesting. She was an amateur (my generous assessment) and yet she had NO PROBLEM WHATSOVER judging other pool players, saying that WHOEVER agreed to “slop” rules was pretty much a horrible and unethical person. Miss Sunny informed Zedonkulous there were entire leagues that played with slop rules — did that mean all those players were bad people? You could not judge a person’s level of morality based on the rules of pool they played by.
Zedonkulous would not be swayed and maintained her holier-than-thou attitude while repeatedly insinuating that Oscar was undoubtedly a “cheater” and not honorable like she was because he would not agree to change the game to call-shot after the first set.
It was train-wreck fascinating to listen to this self-admitted amateur (very generous assessment, now) affect being an expert and pontificating on everything and everyone.
|Raj did not want to return to the MGM Grand.|
|Zedonkulous insisted she had to go to the MGM because that was where all her friends were. I found it interesting she ditched all her friends to watch Raj play pool. Maybe she was interested in pool. Or maybe she was interested in Raj. Or maybe her friends didn’t like her. Anyways, Raj told her he would rather go somewhere quiet and relax with a drink or two.|
Her Donkesty was not amused.
She demanded to go to the MGM and she wanted to go now and all her friends were there and if he wasn’t going with her to the MGM then she wasn’t going anywhere with him. <insert earthquaking foot stomp here> Raj, who was very patient, explained to her that there would be a lot of people at the MGM he knew and he didn’t want to have to discuss tonight’s set with them.
She waved her hand dismissively and said in her nasal Fran Drescher whine, “Don’t be silly! Why would anybody know who you are?”
Raj, who continued to be patient, explained there was a big pool tournament going on called the “Mosconi Cup” and a lot of people — friends, sponsors, industry people — he knew would be there. She rolled her eyes like she didn’t believe him. This made me chuckle. When she first arrived at TAR Studio, she acted like a big shot because she was the guest of a big shot. Now, she was treating that same big shot like he was a little sh#t.
|Raj did not want to talk about his loss repeatedly to a bunch of people.|
|We sympathized with him. After a tough loss, you don’t always want to talk to people about why you lost (especially when you were considered the favorite).|
She told him “get over it”. Losing wasn’t a big deal. And why was talking about it such a big deal? Just tell everyone to f#ck off. He said he couldn’t because these were industry people and his friends. She reiterated he should tell them to f#ck off.
We continued (I don’t know why we even bothered) to explain to Zedonkulous that sometimes, you just want a little time to yourself after a loss. Raj was playing for $10,000 and he was halfway there to losing it all. I said I once lost two thousand dollars and then had to go to a party afterwards and patiently and politely recount why I lost to everyone who asked. It was a grueling experience that I bore with good grace but would never do again if I could help it.
Zedonkulous gave another dismissive flip of her hand and schnorted, “Oh, I lose two thousand dollars all the time. It’s nothing. Nothing!”
“It wasn’t nothing to me.” I turned to look her dead in the eye and say, “You lose it playing pool?”
“Well — no.”
My turn to schnort dismissively, “That’s what I thought.” I faced forward and wondered silently how f#cking long did it take to get to the goddam M-G-f#cking-M.
Zedonkulous valiantly attempted to rally attention back to herself by putting on a ridiculous air of superiority, saying offhandedly, “I lose my two thousands by playing that game with the numbers.”
Miss Sunny deadpanned, “You mean — roulette?”
We were shortly thereafter deprived of the favor of Her Lady of Zedonkia’s presence and wisdom. She promised to be at the match tomorrow, for “the whole time!” Huh. Hoo boy.
I had a late dinner with Miss Sunny and after the first day of watching both the Mosconi Cup, TAR 23, and a Zedonk safari, I was zealous about zonking out and getting some Z’s.
My Internal Billiards Clock failed and I snoozed happily through the first three matches of the day.
|The entrance to the ballroom where the Mosconi Cup was being held. Yup, that little sign was the only thing there letting you know there was a life-or-death struggle between two continents in progress. By the size of the sign, it could have been a yard sale.||Obligatory picture of convention center carpet.|
The results of the matches I missed.
|11.||Appleton & Feijen||d.||Dechaine & Putnam||6-3|
|12.||Darren Appleton||d.||Shawn Putnam||6-2|
|13.||Feijen & Souquet||d.||Archer & Morris||6-2|
Europe extended its lead to 9-4 in match points in a race to 11. Maybe it was good I slept through these matches. Cuts down on the PTSD.
I was impressed at how many and how enthusiastic the European fans were. They had songs for every player as well as their quasi-musical chant of “COME on EUUUUUROOPE!” They definitely seemed waaay more into the matches than the American fans. I have a theory about this.
Cuesports are much bigger in Europe (hey, they get the Mosconi Cup broadcast live!). The bigger the sport, the louder and more raucous the fans. In America, pool has not reached that level of national recognition and so, we haven’t got to the level of fanaticism the Europeans are at — although we have plenty of it in football, baseketball, and baseball. Americans are still used to pool being a sport/game of silence and golf claps and it’s hard for us to break out of that line of thinking.
|14.||Shane Van Boening||d.||Nick Van Den Berg||6-5|
This was another close match between these two (it seems like they’re always matched up). When Van Boening was on the hill, he broke dry and Van Den Berg ran out that rack to make it hill-hill. Van Den Berg then broke dry on the hill game and Van Boening returned the favor by running out on him.
Alternate break: it’s fun to watch that format but NEVER my preference to play it.
|Europe’s loudest fan also brings present to good little girls and boys who haven’t three-fouled this year. If you’ve three-fouled, he may bring you a beer. For therapy.|
|15.||Chris Melling||d.||Mike Dechaine||6-2|
This was Chris Melling being Chris Melling. He’s a happy little sparrow hopping along in the park, bobbing up and down to examine his shot which he then nails, runs out on your ass, and then skips away humming while you bleed out.
But, really — he seems like he’s a happy dude. Bet he’s a lot of fun to drink with.
Uh, yeeeah. Europe’s on the hill. They need just one more match. They could have won it all today and then we’d all have a spare day in Vegas to fill with assorted sins and vices. America’s almost flatlining, but there’s still a chance and that’s really all you ever need — a chance.
Day 2 of TAR 23: Oscar Dominguez was on the hill in terms of sets and he had soundly beaten Raj Hundal the previous night, 25-16. Raj was widely considered the favorite so this was considered an upset.
Raj had to win tonight in order to force the third set while Oscar, who could afford to lose, certainly didn’t want to. Win in two sets because it’s sure as hell better than winning in three.
Today’s music selection was from the radio and the station selected played dance dance dance music music music all night loooOOOOooong.
Raj was definitely more focused tonight and he was the one who jumped to a lead.
Although Raj continually pointed out that the balls were skidding on him, they didn’t prevent him from maintaining his lead.
|“Roxanne, turn on the TAR light.”||Raj brought another dress shirt for after the match.|
In the middle of the match, I was given the very fun opportunity of doing some commentary. I was joined briefly after starting by America’s Great Billiards Hope, Shane Van Boening. I am a curious person and I told him since he was there, I would ask him a great many questions. He was kind enough to answer them and what resulted was an informal interview that was all over the map, but very interesting.
Here are some of the things I remember (not in order, and apologies if they are incorrect).
|He LOVES ice fishing.|
|His longest session of practice was 17 hours long sometime in 2007. He said during that practice session, he played the best he’s ever played. I asked if he ever played like that at a tournament and he firmly said no. Asked why, he said there was no pressure during practice.|
|If he were to play a doubles match on TAR, he would pick Johnny Archer to be his partner and they would play against the world.|
|He and Rodney Morris won the World Masters double tournament once. He said he didn’t know Rodney that well, then, but the first thing he said to Rodney was, “NO PARTYING.” He made sure Rodney and he practiced every day, paying the equivalent of $75 a night in table time (they were in London). The result? They won.|
|The most difficult match he played was against Earl Strickland in TAR 22. He will never play Earl again on TAR.|
|The toughest opponent he has faced on TAR is Alex Pagulayan.|
|His longest gambling session was three days, playing sets of 7-ahead bar table nine-ball against a guy who said he had come to South Dakota to hunt bears (“that’s what he said but I didn’t believe him”). One set lasted 17 hours. They started at $500 a game and it escalated into sets for $10,000.|
|He would play anyone on planet Earth on TAR.|
|If there was another planet like Earth out there, he’d play their players, too.|
|The most money he’s ever played for was $50,000.|
|The most important thing is to keep a positive outlook. Never get down on yourself.|
|He would like to play some of the Taiwanese players on TAR.|
|He feels he played his best in 2007 when he won the U.S. Open. He was running six- and seven-packs in the tournament and he felt unstoppable.|
|He is unhappy with his game and wants to put in more practice. He says he does three to four hours of breaking practice alone and then six or more hours of playing the ghost. No drills.|
|He believes the TAR Studio Diamond table is the ideal table with its 4-1/8″ pockets.|
|He didn’t like the table used for the Mosconi Cup. He felt the pockets were too big.|
|His ideal tournament would be 64 players playing races to 21 in single-elimination format.|
|He wants to get rid of the push shot in nine-ball.|
|He has a list of goals and he marks off each one as it is accomplished. The World Championships is the one that keeps getting away. When I asked what would he do after he’d finished his list, he said, “enjoy life”.|
|He would like to go to Brazil for a vacation.|
Seriously. That was one of the funnest commentary sessions for me, ever. I enjoy picking the brains of champions to see how they think and to hear their stories. If you caught any of it, I hope you found it informational and enjoyable as well.
As for the match, today was Raj’s day to shine and he beat Oscar almost exactly the way Oscar beat him the day before.
Each of them now had won a set and the overall amount of games won was Raj 41 and Oscar 40. Hell of a close match! The third day of play was now guaranteed: it would be one race to 25 for $10,000.
|Once again, Mr. Hundal disappeared into the women’s restroom/his private dressing room and emerged all dapper in a collared shirt. I took another photograph of him and told him to strike a model pose. He and Sunny Griffin did the standard “Is That Superman?” pose you sometimes see in catalogues. Meanwhile, Mark Griffin is confused.|
|What’s that? Oh. I’ll just quote Mr. Hundal’s witty quip, “Those are the hangers I left on the table.” Tee hee!|
Team America was barely alive going into the last day of the Mosconi Cup. On the last day, all the matches are singles matches and since Team America didn’t seem to bond very well as a team, this format could be to their advantage.
|My breakfast, courtesy of the writer of the pool blog Kicks, Banks, Caroms and Combos.|
|Due to the excellent quality of these Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, I regret that I will never find happiness in Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups again.|
|Unless absolutely necessary.|
|Once again here is Master of Ceremonies John MacDonald! This dude is freaking awesome. I highly recommend kidnapping him so we can have him at all our events.|
|Team Europe and their — as MC MacDonald put it — “WAGs”, their Wives And Girlfriends. In the blue shirts from left to right, Darren Appleton, Chris Melling, Ralf Souquet, and Niels Feijen.|
|16.||Shane Van Boening||d.||Nick Van Den Berg||6-2|
With Team Europe on the hill, Team America would have to bring out its biggest guns first just to stay in the game.
Shane Van Boening was the obvious choice.
|It’s “Van” on “Van” violence! When I look at this picture, I automatically hear the them from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”. When I took the photograph, I wished irrationally that a tumbleweed would materialize and roll between them.|
Van Boening played exceptionally well in this match, displaying great shotmaking and cue ball control.
|17.||Johnny Archer||d.||Darren Appleton||6-3|
The second-biggest gun on the American team was Mosconi Cup veteran Johnny Archer.
|Here is Team America. You can recognize them from the back of their heads. In the red shirts, from left to right: down in front with the fireball of hair and next to Spandex America is Fireball Mike Dechaine, behind him is Shane “Just Gonna Sit Back Now ‘Cause I Done My Job” Van Boening, Shawn Putnam, and then Charlie “Captain Korea” Williams.|
|In the middle of the match, Johnny Archer’s young daughter ran up and asked for a kiss.||She was a little short, but Spandex America gave her a boost. Awww.|
Archer played some inspired pool as well and Team America looked like it might claw its way back from the brink of death.
|These dudes rock.|
|18.||Niels Feijen||d.||Rodney Morris||6-3|
Rodney Morris, the most controversial of the American players, was next. The first match he played in this event was also against Feijen and Feijen had blanked him, 6-0. There had been some buzz about Morris’ uninspired play and his later on-air cursing and offer to fight Darren Appleton had not endeared him further to both sides of the Pond.
Once again, Morris seemed to play in a weirdly unfocused manner. It was painful to watch. I’m used to seeing him play fast and loose, but not this fast, and not this loose. When Feijen was on the hill at 5 and Morris was at 2, Morris ran out a fairly ugly rack. Now, when he ran out this rack, he noticeably took more time on each shot and was much more methodical. So, it seemed if Morris would slow down and concentrate he could play like his normal badass self.
Then, in the next rack, he tried to play some strange-ass safe on the five-ball and was not successful, leaving Feijen a road map to victory.
|Team Europe with the trophy and Team America with silver medals. Hooray. But, seriously, the best/worst part of the post-game interviews was when Charlie “Open Mouth, Insert Foot” Williams, captain of Team America, said TEAM EUROPE GOT ALL THE ROLLS. What the F#CK, Charlie?! Goddam.|
|Team Europe admires their reflections in the Mosconi Cup. Team America signs autographs for their fans.|
|The most prestigious soup tureen in all of pooldom.||This picture needs no commentary.|
I’m an emotional eater so I salved my Mosconi Cup disappointments with some nice appetizers. Thanks, Miss Sunny!
There was still some time to kill before attending the last day of Tar 23. We wandered about down for a bit and stopped by Pool Sharks to visit a friend. While I was there, I saw the dude pictured below. People who live where I live will recognize him.
It was time for the last session of pool in a pool-deluged four days. It was time to finish the last iteration of America vs Europe: Oscar Dominguez (US) vs Raj Hundal (EU) in a race to 25 (win by 2) for $10,000.
|Mosconi Cup referee Ken Shuman works his second job as a TAR personality (TARp? Okay, I’ll stop now.) and commentator.|
Dance music was still on the menu and I had finally tired of the endless playing of Rihanna and LMFAO. I felt like a curmudgeon in my grumpiness.
Raj started off playing very smooth. He looked solid, he looked comfortable — until he got to the last balls. Then, and there’s no nice way of putting it, he let the dogs out.
Oscar seemed to struggle a little himself at the beginning but Raj’s inconsistencies gave him time to settle down and get more in stroke. He was playing more like he did the first day (measured, careful) rather than how he played the second day (Whac-A-Mole) when he lost to Raj.
Raj would close the gap to within two games.
The then Oscar would widen it back to four.
Four games seemed to be holding steady as the most constant gap. Four games at the professional level isn’t much of a lead. They were not playing call-shot, so crapping in a ten-ball or short-gaming a ten-ball (via carom or combination) could bring things to even mighty quick.
|Both of these guys broke extremely well|
Four games still making the difference…
…until Oscar got to the homestretch.
Raj had been complaining about skids all night and I don’t know if that was a bit of a Stricklandesque, self-sharking thing. Regardless, he continued to swing between strange errors…
…and moments of determined brilliance.
But, too little, too late (that’s what she said), and in the end, Oscar was too close to the hill to allow Raj any room for errors.
|The post-game interview. Hundal was adamant that the Diamond table was a huge disadvantage for him and he stated that he would play Dominguez again as he had not shown him anything to scare him.|
|I tried really hard to see how much $10,000 looked like. Seriously, the wad was only the size of a Rubik’s cube — maybe smaller. This made me sad. I think I would change it for ten thousand one-dollar bills to stuff a mattress with and then sleep on it (sleeping on money would actually be very uncomfortable).|
|Since Oscar is from Southern California, I was happy to see him win. Also, it made me feel better about the keychain I gave him earlier this year — I had said it would bring him luck and now I could be a little more secure that he wouldn’t sue me for false advertising.|
I got to the Greyhound station in time to catch my bus home. The station clerk issued my luggage tag and he said he would give it to me but I had to answer some questions first. I figured it would be standard security-type questions.
“What does that ring symbolize?”
“Oh, this? The pattern is from ancient Greece and it is of sheaves of wheat. They symbolize prosperity and back then–“
“So, who gave it to you?”
“Nobody. I bought it myself with some of my first tournament winnings. It’s a memento and a bit of an inspiration to me–“
“But, no one gave it to you.”
“No. I just told you, I bought it myself.”
“It don’t symbolize marriage?”
“I just told you that, too. It symbolizes pros–“
“So you single, then!”
I lost enthusiasm as I finally saw what he was driving at. Moments like this are disappointing because I realize I am not excited about the same thing or for the same reason as the other person. Sigh. He leaned over the counter to get closer. I took this opportunity to swipe the luggage tag from him.
“You know, I’m single.”
“You know, I’m married.”
“To my hobby.”
Now begins the psychotic ranting. Proceed at your own risk.
Charlie Williams as Captain of Team America
I would have liked to have seen the American team captained by a player who has won titles from the U. S. Open 9-Ball or the WPA World Championship (not the Dragon Promotion ones).
A coach doesn’t have to be a great player, but should be someone with experience who has garnered the respect of those he will be coaching. In my opinion, if you are not a grizzled veteran with solid titles to your name, you’d better be someone who can hang with the dudes you are coaching. Experience and skill: You always want both, but you should have at least one. Charlie Williams is a capable player (he finished eighth on the rankings list that determined who the Mosconi players were), but I think of him as a marketer/promoter, random player union organizer (ABP, anyone?) these days, more than anything else.
This Mosconi Cup gave Mr. Williams a chance to silence a majority of his detractors, since nothing forgives assholity quicker than victory (or money, if you have lots of it). Team America lost, which was disappointing, but what made it terrible and showed much of Mr. Williams’ character (or lack thereof) was his choice to almost immediately blame Europe’s win and America’s loss on the rolls.
Are you f#cking serious?!
Team America got outplayed, that’s all.
I would have expected more dignity and grace from someone representing and leading a team of America’s best players.
Mosconi Cup Team Dynamics
The European team enjoys playing this event and you can see they genuinely like each other as friends. I believe they hold the pride of representing country and/or continent higher and more valuable than the $7,500 appearance fee they are given and the bonus $7,500 they each received for winning.
The American teammates look like coworkers rather than friends and that makes a difference in the level of desire to play. They’ve already got $7,500 for showing up so chances are, they’ve broken even. They must be persuaded to do more. The younger players look like they want to achieve something, but without the help of the older players, it won’t happen.
The Mosconi Cup captains are not there to offer instruction or advice in the way we usually think a coach does. They are more like managers and their duties are to keep track of the whereabouts of their players (so Matchroom doesn’t have to implant GPS microchips in them), offer moral support, and be the catalyst in bonding the players. From what I saw, American captain Charlie Williams was not effective in bonding the teammates together. In fact, I heard later from a well-placed source that once he stopped his heavy-handed and clumsy (although well-meaning) attempts to enforce team bonding, some players played better.
1, 2, 3, 4, I declare a press release war
I’ll just leave these right here… with my comments…
|No Offense – A note from Barry Behrman|
|Dear Barry Behrman. Your love affair with press releases need to end. Please start a blog. If people want to know your thoughts, they will visit your blog. Thanks.|
|USA Team Message to the Public|
|A series of quotes from the players and yourself does not a press release nor article make. If you do go this route, you should have quotes from all your players. Surely you must notice, as we all do, that Shane Van Boening has NO COMMENT. Since he’s the best player on the team, his statement would hold especial weight with the inquiring public. What were his thoughts on the Mosconi Cup? The other players flatter you in their comments. What does Van Boening think?|
|Matchroom Sport Addresses Mosconi Cup Questions|
|“This is our party. We can pick Charlie Williams as captain if we want to (and here’s how and why we did it). We look forward to further discussion about future parties.”|
Wow, this is so reminiscent of an earlier “he-said he-said he-said” situation!
After losing twice this year to Oscar Dominguez in long-race sets for nice chunks of change, Raj Hundal says he wants a rematch but it will have to be on a Gold Crown. He has named Table 6 (the one I call the Canadian Nightmare) at Hard Times Billiards in Bellflower as the next venue. Table 6 has 4-inch (likely smaller) pockets but Hundal prefers that to the 4-1/8 inch pockets on the TAR Studio Diamond. This is because Hundal hates Diamonds. He really, really hates them. He says the Hard Times rematch will require them both to “bet something”. Something = $50,000 or better. Nice.
Francisco Bustamante vs Shane Van Boening, best of 3 races to 25 for $5,000. Bustamante beat Van Boening in a long-race gambling match a couple of years ago and this will be a rematch. Scheduled for January 13, 14, and 15, 2012.
|t h a n k s|
|EMCA | FWCCA | Mark & Sunny Griffin | Justin Collet & The Action Report | Luke Riches & Matchroom Sport ||
|first time hello & hello again|
|EVERYONE! (really! hee hee hee!)|
|This is the last major post for this year and thank heavens it’s over.|
|I’m off for the holidays and there will be one more minor post before 2012.|
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Happy Holidays everyone!