Aranas, Fisher And Marks Victorious In Vegas
Mary Kenniston (for Poolaction.tv)
May 20, 2018
James Aranas, Kelly Fisher and Justin Marks (Photo courtesy Poolaction.tv)
James Aranas, Kelly Fisher and Justin Marks (Photo courtesy Poolaction.tv)
Players from all over the globe arrived at the Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, NV for the First Annual Asian Culture Day pool tournament with a whopping $43,500 added to the prize fund. Billed as the opening event of the Efren Reyes Retirement Tour, it drew a star-studded field.
 
Tournament promoter Kenny Hsi pulled out all the stops and called in all his favors to put together this fabulous event in the relatively short time frame of ten weeks. With the advice and assistance of longtime WPBA touring pro and Tornado Open promoter, Vivian Villarreal, in addition to a countless number of volunteers, Kenny pulled together all the various sponsors and pieces for one of the most flawless inaugural events I’ve ever seen in my over forty years of involvement in the sport. Tournament sponsors included the Orleans Hotel and Casino, Caesars Entertainment, FaDa Vlogs YouTube, Aruze Gaming, Kovacs Pool Promotions and PoolActionTV.com.
 
Nevada is the only state in the country that has an officially designated day recognizing and celebrating the enormous Asian population in this state. Celebrations began with a Launch Party at the top of the Rio in the world famous Voodoo Lounge. This was continued the following evening in downtown Las Vegas at the Fremont Street Experience with a New Years Eve-style countdown to midnight. The Fremont Street Experience is also known all over the world for its overhead canopy and light show. Another major part of this celebration was in recognition of one of our own, BCA and One Pocket Hall of Famer Efren Reyes. He was chosen to be the first recipient of the Asian Culture Day Lifetime Achievement Award. The governor of Nevada, Brian Sandoval, presented Efren with a beautiful etched art piece commemorating this award in a special ceremony. Congratulations, my friend!!!
 
Due to the fact that the announced dates for this tournament were inflexible and fairly “last minute,” the fields in the three divisions were relatively small as compared to the fields of other events that are set far in advance. In addition to the short time frame, 64 of the world’s greatest male players were in Shanghai, China this week competing in the annual World Cup of Pool. I’m sure they’ll be here next year!
 
Although the fields were smaller than usual for an event of this caliber, the level of talent was exceptional. I have never been to a tournament where nearly every single match was “televison table” quality. I also have never been to a pro event where there were no evening matches! I was told this was because of other happenings during the Asian Culture Day’s week long celebration. If you’re interested in seeing what else was going on, visit asiancultureday.com!
 
Being that this event was part of the celebration for Asian Culture Day, the field was a magnet for and included some of the greatest players from Asian countries such as China, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines who were eager to participate to try to claim the titles for their countries. Stars from Europe, Canada and the United States rounded out the field.
 
There were three divisions in this event – pro men’s, pro women’s and amateur. The men’s division had 37 players, the women’s 23 and the amateurs 50. The amateurs played on seven foot tables while the pros played on nine footers. The format in the pro divisions was double elimination ten ball, call shot, alternate break with magic rack and races to nine.
 
Play began at noon on Wednesday and everywhere you looked, there were matches that you might see normally in a finals clash! Women’s world number one player, Chen Siming, drew Allison Fisher in the second round. With Allison leading the match and on the hill, 8-4, Siming charged back to tie it up but to Allison’s relief, she managed to take the win. After the match, Allison told me that this was the first time she had ever beaten the young 24 year old star!
 
A sampling of Wednesday’s action included wins by Vivian Villarreal over Jasmin Ouschan, Ga-Young Kim over Brittany Bryant and Karen Corr over Line Kjorsvik and then junior champ, Taylor Hansen. In two of the men’s division matches, Max Eberle prevailed over Donny Mills and James Aranas defeated Tony Chohan.
 
A sampling of Thursday’s action saw Ouschan over Erin McManus, Efren defeat Billy Thorpe, Aranas beat Ho Jun Lee and Ga-Young took down Vivian.
 
By Friday, many players had been eliminated. Steamrolling through the field, Efren beat Justin Bergman but was defeated in the next match by Chris Melling while Rita Chou defeated LoreeJon Hasson. Rita was then defeated by Siming who was methodically dispatching her opponents after losing to Allison in the second round.
 
Melling claimed his seat in a very exciting and well played hot seat match and sent Roberto Gomez west. There Roberto faced the young James Aranas. Still playing at a top level, Roberto led James 8-5 and then, with two balls left on the table, he underhit position leaving himself an extreme but makeable cut shot down the rail. Roberto missed the ball. James went on to win that game followed by the next three and survived being tossed out of the tournament. It had to be devastating for Roberto as he had been playing topnotch pool the entire event and then to be knocked out by a 1-2 punch.
 
After watching it happen, a thought popped into my head. As many players look back on their tournament titles, sometimes something occurs that seems to preordain the victory. I can look back at most of my titles and recognize a turning point which gave me the chance to win. I said to a friend that James might go on from here to win the whole thing instead of watching from the rail…
 
I also have to mention that I haven’t seen Efren as determined and focused in a very long time. I believe he really wanted to win this event and go out with a bang! Alas, it was not in the cards, as Efren finished a very respectable 5th-6th in a killer field.
 
But, I digress, so…back to the matches. On the ladies side, the two undefeated players, Kelly Fisher and Ga-Young, duked it out in the hot seat match. Kelly prevailed to claim her seat in the finals.
 
Saturday noon kicked off with the men’s hot seat match. The match featured Dennis Orcollo and Melling. After a spanking by Melling, Dennis headed to the other side to play the survivor of the one loss side. Chris would be in the finals.
 
On a side note, Erin McManus had told me earlier in the day that her good friend, Chris Melling, had been in Vegas celebrating a pal’s 40th birthday and had known nothing about this tournament and she had urged him to play as he could win!
 
Meanwhile, on the ladies side, Siming had fought her way through the one loss side after her defeat by Allison. After a long tough match the night before with Chou and leaving her in fourth place, Chen had made it to the semifinal match against Ga-Young.
 
The match began with a rocky start by Chen and exemplary play by Ga-Young, Siming was trailing 4-1. An unexpected miss by Kim allowed Chen some air and by mid-match, it was neck and neck. With momentum on her side, Chen closed out the match and marched into the finals. A very disappointed Ga-Young Kim finished in third place.
 
After surviving his match against Roberto, his day was not over. James had to defeat another young player who has having a great event - Vilmos Foldes. Vilmos has been honing his game playing on the Mezz West State Tour racking up victories and high finishes. It was another close hard fought match but James prevailed. Vilmos finished fourth - a great finish in a very tough field.
 
James now had to face Dennis Orcollo in the semifinals. The match was close but James Took it down 9-7 and advanced to the finals.
 
The ladies final match was first. Since this was true double elimination, Siming would have to defeat Kelly twice to win the event. At the start, the match was all Chen. Her powerful break combined with her flawless play rocketed her to an early lead. Kelly had struggled with her break most of the tournament and it was no different in the finals. She clawed her way back to 4-3.
 
To go ahead in the match 5-3, Siming missed a fairly routine 10 ball. The crowd gasped and Kelly leaped out of her chair to tie the match at four. Although still struggling with her break, she fought hard, taking the lead and managing to win most of the next few games with her great safety play and pocketing ability and reached the hill first. Siming, however, wasn’t going down without a fight. She clawed her way back and joined Kelly on the hill. Each player got to the table in the case game but it was Kelly Fisher who took the crown! Congratulations to Kelly for a well played victory!
 
There were no easy matches in this tournament. I’m sure Siming was very disappointed as, from what I’ve been told, she’s won just about everything in the past year or so! Great tournament, Siming!
 
The men’s final was highly anticipated as well. A young James Aranas, seeking his first international title, would have to defeat the very accomplished Chris Melling – twice! The race had been extended to 11 for the final matches.
 
Aranas won the first set 11-7 and the second one 11-6 to overcome the previously undefeated Melling. Both sets followed a very similar path. Starting each set with extremely close lags, each player won one and James jumped out to an early lead. Things didn’t go so well for Chris as, uncharacteristically but like Kelly, he struggled with his break. However, he still managed to knot the score after a few games. Even though both players displayed excellent shotmaking ability, James exploited his exceptional break by consistently running out or playing formidable safeties. Even when Melling broke and pocketed a ball or two, he couldn’t take advantage of it because he just didn’t have a good starting shot. Once after pocketing FIVE balls on the break, Chris was wedged between the ten and the rail with no shot! Consequently, most of the games in which Chris broke turned into safety battles with Chris on the kicking end. That, combined with a series of unlucky rolls opened the door for Aranas to dominate both matches. The only thing that kept Chris in the match was his world class and fearless kicking ability. As we all know, the balls knows who’s winning!!!
 
By winning this tournament, James has taken a giant leap to joining the ranks of the great Filipino superstars like Parica, Reyes, Bustamante and Orcollo. He displayed extraordinary poise and composure as he dismantled rack after rack and player after player with his exceptional play. Congratulations!!
 
During the week, I had a chance to spend some time with Chris Melling. A World English 8 Ball champ, Chris is mainly known in this country for his impressive come-from-behind victory in the finals of the Derby City Classic 9 Ball Championships over John Morra and his Mosconi Cup appearances. I know he has to be hugely disappointed. As an incredibly accomplished player in all facets of the game, I truly believe that this man will be back in the winner’s circle in the very near future. Keep your eye on him! Good tournament, Chris!
 
The amateur event was won by Justin Marks over Ray Skenandore. Randy Kukla was third and Ben Sutherland finished fourth. Congratulations to Justin for a great event! Good job, Ray!
 
I thoroughly enjoyed my opportunity to provide commentary for this event. Working alongside the always informative and accomplished player Jeremy Jones and special guest Allison Fisher was a real treat. The only thing better than watching the matches at home on the PATV stream is to have a front row seat from the booth! It was also a pleasure for me to interview old friends Allison Fisher and Kelly Fisher in post-game interviews.
 
Thanks again to tournament promoter Kenny Hsi for producing a fabulous event. Tournament Director Tim Kovacs of Kovacs Pool Promotions and ably assisted by his wife, Darcy, did a fantastic job of keeping the event running smoothly.
 
PoolActionTV.com would also like to thank our sponsors and fans for another fantastic event! Our sponsors include Steve Lomax Custom Cues, Kamui, John Barton of JB Cases, GoPlayPool.com, Mike Durbin Custom Cues, Aramith, James Hanshew Custom Cues, Simonis and Club Billiards of Wichita, KS. Thanks for all your support!
 
Our next event is the Fourth Annual Buffalo’s Pro Classic and Professional One Pocket in Jefferson, LA. The world famous Buffalo’s Billiards is adding $2000 to the Nine Ball and $10,000 to the One Pocket! Dates are May 24-27th. Hope to see you there!!!