1st Players Championship of Puerto Rico Full Report

Guaynabo, Puerto Rico: The 1st Players Championship of Puerto Rico was held on April 26th through the 27th at the Criollo Pub and Restaurant. Everyone was expecting it to be a great challenge to all 24 players who secured a spot in the tournament. Not only the local players where there to prove themselves against each other, but there were also three (3) invited Pro Players from the US and Aruba who were going to test the skills of our Locals. Frankie Hernandez and Tony Flaco Rodriguez from New York, and Ditto Acosta from Aruba enjoyed the great sunshine and hospitality of Puerto Rico but at the end they gotten their skin tanned by the Sun and the Puerto Rican Players….in an amicable way that is.

On the first day, the 3 Pro Players who had been invited for a stay in Puerto Rico had been knocked over to the one-loss side. Frankie lost 10-4 to German Hernandez and Ditto Acosta lost to Efrain Morales 10-6. Tony Rodríguez lost a tough match against Antonio Perez 10-9 after handing 3 consecutive game losses to Antonio with the 3-foul rule. Flaco played nine (9) perfect safeties to almost demolish Antonio's game. Needless to say, Flaco's safety play was the talk of the day.

At the end of the first day, eight local Puerto Rican players had survived their rounds in the winner's side. These were Jason Cruz, Antonio Perez, Alan Rolon, Edwin Toro, Juan "Papin" Rodriguez, Efrain "Evangelista" Morales, Edgardo "Puruco" Ramirez, and German Hernandez. The other surviving players were Frankie Hernandez, Flaco Rodriguez, Javier de Jesus and Luis Cancel, who played against Ditto Acosta - Pan Am Champ from Aruba and knocked him out of the tournament with a tremendous 10-9 win.

The 2nd day proved to be a great one for the local players. Tony "Flaco" Rodriguez matched against Efrain "Evangelista" Morales, past National Champ, after Tony had victimized two of our local players, Ramon Perez and Eric Gonzalez with identical scores of 10-8. Flaco and Evangelista played a close match but Evangelista turned out the victor with a 10-6 win.

Frankie Hernandez was the only Pro Player left in the tournament but proved to be a tough cookie for several of the local players. After losing to German Hernandez, Frankie proceeded to hand out loses to Cheo Rodriguez 10-9, Edgardo Irizarry 10-6, Edwin Toro 10-7, Luis Cancel 10-9, and to Papin Rodriguez 10-6. Frankie seemed to have gotten a second wind and everyone was thinking that he could make it to the Finals. Frankie was winning, the tournament was reaching its end and he was now waiting for the results of the match between Jason Cruz, an impressive 20 year old and US Collegiate level Champ, versus Alan Rolon, the Island's 5-time National Champ. When the match was over, Jason had been handed his first loss and would be facing Frankie Hernandez but Jason had secured at least a 4th place finish.

Frankie and Jason proceeded to test the skills of each other. The fans were all excited and cheering loudly since Jason was playing "in his house." The cheering may have discomforted Frankie and the other Pro Players during the tournament but the people were just very happy for the Locals. Jason ended Frankie's run with a 10-6 win, leaving Frankie with a 4th place finish. Jason was hot and by now had secured a 3rd place finish. He was now waiting for the results of the match between Alan Rolon and Puruco Ramirez, the two undefeated players left in the tournament. Alan was handed a tough loss by "The People's Champ" Edgardo "Puruco" Ramirez 10-8, so it was Jason Cruz versus Alan Rolon, again, but in the one-loss side.

Alan, a strong player with excellent credentials was apparently handing Jason his second defeat of the tournament. The score was 9-6 at the time. One more win to take Jason out of the tournament…but all of the sudden the "Pool Gods" turned the tables and Alan found himself knocked out of the tournament with a stunning 10-9 loss to Jason. It was a great match to see, and the house was "coming down" with the noise from the "thunderous crowd." Jason had secured another win and a spot to run for the Championship against Edgardo "Puruco" Ramirez.

The final was a race to 13. Jason started out with a 4-0 lead against "Puruco" and it seemed that "The People's Champ" was to be handed an extremely tough blow; but "The Champ" was not about to give up. Puruco slowly but firmly gained his composure started to advance, exchanging wins with Jason. A couple of safety plays, a couple of runs…When all the heat and smoke cleared-up, Edgardo "Puruco" Ramirez had won the set 13-10 to go undefeated for the entire tournament and crowned once again as the "Undeniable Puerto Rico Champ."

After the tournament, we then proceeded with a surprise special recognition to Jason Cruz, who had just finished 2nd in the 1st Players Championship of Puerto Rico. The public recognition was for Jason's extraordinary efforts and accomplishments in the billiard's world. Jason won the 2001 and 2002 ACUI Men Pocket Billiards Championship and was runner-up this year. ACUI stands for Association of College Union International, a Collegiate level Championship. Jason also placed 5th in the WPA Junior World Championship in Japan, and is a two-time 3rd Place finisher in the 2000 and 2001 BCA Jr. Nationals. This past year he also won the Regional Championship of the 2002 Juegabillar National Championship. Jason definitely deserved this special recognition. We then proceeded with the customary awards ceremony.

In general, Mr. Johnny Cruz, owner and promoter of the event was very pleased with the results and promised the fans that another similar tournament was in the making, probably for November or December of the current year.

For the next tournament we should invite again Frankie, Ditto and Flaco whom all proved to be great ambassadors of this sport. We should also invite other Pro players, like Tony Robles, Mike Lebron, and Jose Garcia who have family ties with the Island.

One of our players, Javier de Jesus, suggested that we bring Ernesto Dominguez, Morro Paez or any of the strong Mexican contingent but then that would be up to those players, their itineraries, and if we can secure local promotional endorsements for a higher paying tournament. Only time will tell but one thing is for sure, all the mentioned players would definitely make our next tournament a great success, and most probably worth every penny.

Hope the "Pool Gods" give us their blessings…..

Special Contribution by: Harold Acosta Jr