Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Super Billiards Expo 2012

Landing in Philadelphia
After 8 months of galivantery around Europe, Africa, Asia and Europe again, it was time to return to one of my two lands of my roots. The stars and planets lined up perfectly (for real) and I would make it to Philadelphia on time to attend the largest pool expo in the world, the Allen Hopkins Super Billiards Expo. I bought in to the Amateur Open, a gigantic affair topping out at 984 players. Single elimination, two sets of race to 5 of 9-ball on barbox. I did not play well at all, losing 5-4 5-4 in the first round. After roughly 12 hours of anger and self-loathing I was back in the pool mood.
Billiards Show!

My entry fee to the open included access to the expo on all 4 days, and I was planning on taking full advantage of that. The last time I had been to expo, I did not follow pool very closely. This time, I knew much more about the pool world, had some very interesting people to meet, some old friends to see again and plenty of time to spend.

    Mixed feelings about the new venue. It was a bit further into the middle of nowhere than the Valley Forge expo center, although still quite close. The problem with that is that there are fewer hotels within walking distance, complicating transportation and partying logistics. On the other hand, everything was on one floor, and although this meant easier access and flow throughout the expo, I missed the awesome feeling of seeing the pool tables roll out endlessly as you made your way down the stairs. 

Pedro Piedrabuena, pondering the last shot of the 3-cushion tournament

The 3-cushion invitational and the trickshot competition were held right by the amateur open and TAP events - this surely brought some increased visibility to these cue sports which are too often forgotten. In fact, I watched quite a bit of 3-cushion and with the knowledge of the game that I acquired in Germany, this was very enjoyable. 
The last match, between Pedro Piedrabuena and Hugo Patino was quite amazing. Pedro was up 33-24 on the race to 35, and Hugo ran a 7 to get to 33-31. Pedro made one more to get to 34, and Hugo made two to get the match to 34-33. Pictured above, Pedro playing white on what turned out to be the last shot of the tournament. If you know about 3-cushion, and some of you do, you can immediately see the difficulty in this layout. Since the three balls are aligned, and the two object balls are far from each other, the options are very limited. Pedro went off the yellow for a difficult short-long-short, executed perfectly for the win.

Pool Cube paraphernalia
The very open layout of the expo also meant that you were constantly bumping in to pros and pool personalities going about their billiardly business.
I particularly enjoyed watching Ralf Souquet and Mika Immonen play Pool Cube, a variation with elements of backgammon. The setting sun was shining in through windows near the roof, and I got to take some rare pictures of pool pros playing in natural lighting - see the shadows projected by the balls? 

Ralf "The Kaiser" Souquet

Ralf Eckert trying his hand at the 14.1 challenge. He made the called 11 in the corner on this choochoo train combo.

One-Ball One-Pocket, Dominican rules
No trip to Super Billiards Expo would be complete without losing a few bucks betting on the rail at the action tables. This year, there was a contingent of Dominican players quite successfully introducing their game of choice : Dominican rules one-ball one-pocket. Each player gets a diagonally opposed corner pocket, and must make the ball in their pocket to win. Scratches don't "count", you simply get ball in hand behind the line. Making the object ball in the "wrong" pocket is loss of game. I watched a good bit of this game, and it seems particularly well adapted to railbird infested barbox action.

I had the pleasure to watch some of the pro action along with some knowledgeable friends. The pro arena was separate from the rest of the venue, and the silence in there brought a nice relief from the loud main area.

Darren Appleton

Shane Van Boening
I watched the whole final match, Stevie Moore vs. Shane Van Boening - this was not a "true" double elimination, they just increased the race to 13 from 10. Shane plays unbelievably well, And Stevie really didn't make many mistakes but was still down 8-0 at one point. In alternate break format, that is really impressive. Even being down by that much with a $13,000 swing on the line, Stevie kept his composure and did manage to stage a comeback while Shane was on the hill. Stevie got from 12-2 to 12-6, never losing his confidence. Shane did make a couple of mistakes at this point. Finally, Stevie missed a two ball entirely trying to thin it for a safe, and Shane got out for the win.

Stevie Moore during the finals

Shane Van Boening and Stevie Moore at the trophy ceremony. $20,000 for Shane, $7000 for Stevie. 
I had a blast, thanks to friends old and new, to good food, and to the heavy dose of pool radiation I absorbed all week long. Who knows where they will hold this event next year, and where I will be by then... This was sort of a homecoming for me, after being out of the country for so long and having acquired so much new knowledge of the game and its characters. I'm now off for some American adventures, heading across the continent in what could be a circuitous journey. I'm taking suggestions for pool rooms to come visit so please let me know if you would like me to stop by yours. 

Quotes from the rail :

"I got up there and played the game the way it's supposed to be played, and he didn't like that" - Earl Strickland to Stevie Moore, at the next table over in the pizza joint

"The moral of the story is, don't ever let your wife talk you into getting fixed" - One-handed 9-ball bandit

"Inconceivable!" - Hypothetical livestream commentary for the yet-to-happen Princess Bride 10-Ball Invitational Battle of Wits


Pros :

Michael Kang
Pedro Piedrabuena
Nachito Block
Sarah Rousey 
Robin Dodson
Ralf Souquet
Rob Saez
Shane Van Boening
Earl Strickland
Stevie Moore
Hunter Lombardo
Brandon Shuff
Allen Hopkins

Not-so-average pool nuts :

Hung N. 
Jason B.
Angel L.
Rick S.
Tony C.
Jill R.
Brian P.
Zack N. 
Rob P.
Christine P.

Cue Makers :

Joss Cues - thanks for the free joint protectors!
Eric Crisp - SugarTree Cues
Murray Tucker - Tucker Cue Works
Dennis Dieckman

Marine biologists :