Successful Kings Cup a refreshing twist on pocket billiards
After 3 grueling days of action, the West team eventually prevailed over the East side, 10-8, in the very first run of the Kings Cup at Resorts World Manila. The series had everything we expected, with some great shooting, terrific safety play, shocking misses, and a few excellent comebacks.
The competition also had its share of memorable moments. Efren Reyes scolded the world's number one player, Ko Pin Yi, for rashly attempting a billiard on the 10-ball when a run-out was much easier. Shane Van Boening, the American ace of the West team, stunned the crowd by converting 3 consecutive back-and-forth shots, all over the length of the table, to run out the rack. The cue ball traveled roughly 50 feet on those 3 shots
The crowd at Newport Mall also witnessed Ko demolish Darren Appleton 5-0 in one singles match, only to absorb a hiding by the same score against Van Boening later in the series.
In match 11, Reyes, the captain of Team East, counseled Ko Ping Chung, the younger brother of Ko Pin Yi, to attempt a safety that involved caroming the ball off the point of the side pocket. The 20-year-old executed the bizarro Efren Special perfectly.
The finish to the series was dramatic too. East was down 9-6 in matches and 4-0 in racks, one rack away from losing, when they reeled off 5 straight games in the quadruples to stave off elimination.
It seems everyone had a great time, with the West team praising each other profusely on social media, and the elder Ko saying afterwards that he thoroughly enjoyed Reyes' tutelage and wished he could have the 61-year-old legend guiding him throughout all his matches.
But there was so much more to the story other than the triumph of Immonen, Appleton, Ouschan, and Van Boening over Reyes, Bustamante, and the Ko brothers. The Kings Cup also gave valuable lessons about how sports promoters can think out of the box to create a captivating sporting event.
British outfit Matchroom Sport used to produce the World 9-Ball Championship and air it all over the world, but never after 2007. They still show the Mosconi Cup, an annual Ryder Cup 9-Ball showdown between the USA and Europe.
Dragon Promotions also once helped big men's and women's tournaments here in the Philippines. But their latest events have been single-table team events – the first and second editions of the Queens Cup, and this Kings Cup. They have also held a Mixed Doubles event here with just one table.
Large tournaments need plenty of tables and a lot more coordination. A single-table event with just a handful of shooters is obviously a lot easier and cheaper to run, and gives just as much entertainment value. It is easy to see why the two promotion entities are going this way.
The Kings Cup also creates, or perhaps runs with, rivalry. In this case, an intercontinental one, like the Mosconi. That series used to be a heated one that was once dominated by the States, although Europe is now by far the stronger team, year in, year out.
The United Football League exploited a natural rivalry with the Western Visayas Classic football game that pitted a team of Ilonggo players against a side from Negros Occidental, two traditional soccer hotbeds. The Philippine Golf Tour has done the same with The Duel, a North-versus-South Ryder Cup style team event that the South tends to win.
There might have been doubts on whether the Philippine crowd would support the East team that had two Taiwanese players, but that was not an issue over the weekend, as the fans passionately cheered on the exploits of all four Asian players.
Dragon Promotions, spearheaded by ex-pro Charlie Williams and Cindy Lee, also made some very interesting calls with the format and tournament rules. Near the end of the tournament, the rules stipulated that the team captain of the trailing team must decide on the composition of some of the singles, doubles, and triples matches. That meant East captain Efren Reyes wisely omitted Shane Van Boening from the late showdowns, allowing the East to stay in touch with the Westerners with some big wins down the stretch.
Albin Ouschan was the least experienced of the Westerners and struggled the most among the quartet. Reyes picked him to play world number one Ko Pin Yi at 9-7 down, and Ko won 5-3.
This quirk in the rules nearly guarantees a close score between the two sides.
There were other changes. Unlike 9-ball, 10-ball is usually a call-shot game. But Dragon made up its own 10-ball rules, only requiring the 10-ball to be called and allowing flukes in all the other balls. This let the players use their imaginations and go for dual or even triple purpose shots not ordinarily allowed in 10-ball played under World Pool-Billiard Association rules.
Plus, in the Kings Cup, a 10-ball on the break will not win a rack, (a situation known as a “golden break”), if the 10 ball goes in off the break into the corner pockets near the pack. But it will be a won rack when the ball goes in off the other 4 pockets. The reasoning, according to Williams, is that this encourages players to go for the sexy hard break instead of the finesse soft break.
In the triples match 14, Van Boening picked up a golden break in this exact fashion to level the game at 4-4. The West won the next rack to win the match and take a crucial 8-6 lead.
The Kings Cup is a terrific concept, and Williams says the plan is to have it again in Resorts World next year, plus a third Queens Cup in the spring. It is great as it is but I don't mind going to 9-ball instead of 10-ball. That would mean faster, more offensive matches that fans would likely prefer.
East versus West is an intriguing match-up, but in my opinion, a Philippines versus Taiwan team event would be even bigger and more heated. These two nations are arguably the two best in the world at pocket billiards, and will no doubt hate to lose to one another. Sometime in the last decade, Solar Sports held a Taiwan-Philippines exhibition which the Philippines won. But the absence of Reyes and Bustamante, plus a befuddling insistence on using slow cloth that favored the Pinoy players greatly, detracted from its appeal. The concept deserves to be given a second chance.
Other sports apart from pool are also evolving with newfangled variants. Snooker, pool's close cousin, has a shorter version with 6 reds instead of 15. Cricket has a shorter form also, Twenty20. Basketball is the same, with its 3x3 competitions. And football has futsal, the 5-a-side indoor version, and beach soccer.
The Kings Cup shows that when it comes to innovation in sports, pocket billiards is not far behind. – Rappler.com
Follow Bob on Twitter: @PassionateFanPH.