AGIPI Billiard Masters, Round One

Day one of the second stage of the AGIPI Billiard Masters began in Schiltigheim, France on Thursday, January 29.   Our first two matches of the day were contests between Semih Sayginer of Turkey facing Ramon Rodriguez of Peru while Martin Horn of Germany went up against Jerome Barbeillon of France.

Sayginer took control of his match early and after 8 innings led Rodriguez 17-6 in the race to 50 points. After being close at the beginning, Martin Horn by the 9th inning had surged to a lead of 17 to 9 over Barbeillon. But a race to 50 is a long race and every competitor here is capable of stringing long series of points together. There is no room to relax, no moment to enjoy a lead that can evaporate as you sit in your chair.  

Nearing the halfway point the pairing of Sayginer and Rodriguez took a short break with Sayginer's lead now extended to 26-10. Rodriguez needed to generate a long run, needed to narrow the gap and get back into the game. At this point Barbeillon was in roughly the same position, trailing 25 to 14 and looking a bit frustrated at the table as many of his missed points were only off by the tiniest of margins.  

A 4-point inning helped the cause of Rodriquez and brought him close enough for hope. But he would need Sayginer to falter, to have a few weak turns. Sayginer would have nothing of it. He came back with a run of 7 points to extend his lead to 32 to 15 and put the heat on Rodriguez at a point where Rodriguez needed comfort and a calm arm.

Meanwhile, Martin Horn had truly been putting on a show. Steady, consistent play built him up to a lead of 38 to 19. Barbeillon must have felt he had a large mountain to climb with no shoes.  His efforts were commendable, but the second ball kept escaping collisions by slim margins while Horn was striking it solidly. The scoring patterns on both tables seemed to settle in to a routine. No matter what the trailing player accomplished it was matched or bettered by our leaders. Finally, Martin Horn won his match 50-24 over Barbeillon with a high run of 6 and an average of 2.174 points per inning compared to 1.043 for Barbeillon. The match lasted 23 innings.  

But then, on the other table, a window opened for Rodriguez and a ray of light found his heart.  A couple of solid innings followed by a magnificent run of 7 points drew him close to Sayginer at 38-34.  He had scored 23 points in the time that Sayginer had only managed 6. Sayginer could not answer with a single point in his next inning and Rodriguez had an opening shot to begin his comeback. He had another good inning at 4 points and, with the match tied at 38 points, the pressure now shifted over to Sayginer. These two men were now in a race to only 12 points!

Sayginer took a deep breath and regrouped for his next inning. He made two points and Rodriguez had no answer for him as he blanked his next turn. Sayginer then ran off 4 more points to lead 44 to 38.  Rodriguez managed only one point his next inning while Sayginer returned another four. The score now stood at 48 to 39 and Sayginer was knocking on victory's door.  Rodriguez again could only manage a single collision. 44 to 40. But Sayginer missed his next point and had to immediately return to his seat.  Rodriguez needed t make it happen now but he, also, failed in his attempt at a point to return Sayginer to the table. Sayginer made his two to stand at 50 but Rodriguez, playing the yellow ball, had one more chance at the table.  

It was not to be. A run of three points left Rodriguez short of the goal and Sayginer could finally relax and enjoy the win 50 to 43. Sayginer had runs of 9 and 7 points while Rodriquez high run was 7. Sayginer's average was 1.724 to 1.483 for Rodriguez and the match was comprised of 29 innings.  

Our second set of matches for Day One found Eddy Merckx of Belgium facing Nikos Polychronopoulos of Greece and Kyung-Roul Kim of Korea against Jean-Christophe Roux of France. The early leads went to Roux (6-1) and Merckx (5-2) but early leads are often meaningless in this game.  Indeed, by just the third inning Polychronopoulos had reduced his deficit to only a single point at 5-4.

The first run of any note came in the fourth inning when Kim cashed 6 points to take the lead 8-6. But all four players were spending the early part of their matches adjusting to the rails that had shortened a bit due to a minor change in the humidity of the room. They were running ones and twos. On table one the first player to get a good feel for the table was Polychronoupolos who managed a run of five to tie his score at 9 points apiece.

By the fifth inning Kim was comfortable and shooting his game. With the score tied at six points he uncorked a run of 7 to lay the challenge down to Roux. Roux, though still early in the match, could not afford to allow Kim too large a margin of comfort and yet he still had to play a controlled and accurate game to avoid any costly mistakes. Mistakes not only allow your opponent an advantage, they also work against your confidence and interfere with the inner workings of mind and arm.  

Forty minutes into the matches the performances on the two tables began to differentiate. On table two Kim was averaging 2.11 points per inning to Roux's 1.22 and led the match 19 to 11 after 9 innings while on table one Merckx was averaging 1.0 and Polychronopoulos was averaging 1.07 and leading 15-14 after 14 innings.  

Merckx then had his first nice run of the match and laid down a 9 to lead 23 to 15. This run brought his average up to a very respectable 1.533. On table two Roux had been picking up the pace and with a run of six had managed to tie, in the 12th inning, with Kim at 19 points apiece. At his next inning he took the lead for the first time, 21-19.  

At the one-hour mark both tables saw players with leads, but leads that could be overtaken. On table one Merckx was leading 33 to 24 and on table two Roux was ahead 30 to 21. Both leads could be wiped out in a single inning.  Roux was doing a good job of playing shots that when he missed did not leave easy beginnings for Kim to capitalize upon. Merckx was just making points. His average of 1.65 was very strong and keeping him in front event though Polychronopoulos had a fine 1.2 average of his own.  Making points would not be enough. Within the next two innings Polychronopoulos drew within one at 33-32. The fight was on.

On table two, Roux was maintaining his lead over the favored Kim 31-23.  But Kim had not come here to lose. He unleashed his arm in inning 18 and ran an 8 to tie the score at 31. Both tables now had tight matches and were closing in on the final efforts that would determine our winners. Polychronopoulos then ran 9 points on table one to lead 41-33 to take his first decent lead of the match. Merckx needed an answer to that run and he had a pretty good one as he ran 6 to keep it all close 41-39.  But Polychronopoulos came back with a 6 to gain an advantage of 47-39 and Merckx was going to have to hustle.  

At the same time Kim was having a small run of his own, 5, to increase his lead to 36-32.  But he was not setting the world on fire. No runs of 10 or more. Still, he was keeping a lead, though small after 23 innings at 38 – 32.  

Polychronopoulos reached 50 on table one and left the yellow ball of Merckx with a slim chance. He would have to run 10 to get the tie.  It would not happen. With a final run of two points Mercks was left nothing but a handshake as Polychronopoulos won the match 50-42 in 28 innings. Polychronopoulos had an average of 1.786 to 1.50 for Merckx.

Kim hit a nice high-water mark in the 23rd inning with a run of 10. This put him in the lead 48-35 and he would not fail from there. Roux could not score in his next inning and Kim closed him out with the required two points to end the match 50-35. Kim finished with an average of 2.083 to Roux's 1.458 and the match took 24 innings.  

Our final set of matches on day one found Frederic Caudron of Belgium playing Jerome Barbeillon of France and Semih Sayginer of Turkey matching up against Martin Horn of Germany. Sayginer and Horn had both already enjoyed victories earlier in the day while Barbeillon needed to overcome an earlier loss and Caudron was making his debut for the week.

Semih Sayginer began by winning the lag but then, very uncharacteristically, missed his opening shot. He left a tough shot however and was back at the table immediately without suffering any wounds. On table two Barbeillon won the lag and got out of the gate with a run of 4 points. Caudron would soon answer with a run of 6 and after 4 innings led their match 7-4.

Sayginer rode a run of 5 and another of 4 points out to a lead of 11-0 over Horn. If the opening miss was bothersome to him he certainly gave no display of that.  It seemed not to matter to Horn, however, as he ran 7 points in inning six to bring the score to 11-7.  After eight innings on table two Caudron was still ahead with a lead of 11-8.

Thirty minutes into the matches we had very close matches, with Sayginer leading 13-12 and Barbeillon leading 14-13.  Barbeillon and Caudron kept it close during the early stages and after 17 innings were tied at 18. On table one Sayginer began inching ahead with consistency, not flash and after 11 innings led Horn by the score of 28-15 and carried an average of 2.545.

After one hour our leaders had not changed but their margins had. Sayginer was leading 33-19 and still keeping a healthy 2.357 average. Caudron then led 28-20 but his average was lower at 1.40. Caudron just was not coming to the table with the type of opportunities that would lead to long runs. But he was persevering and he was slowly inching away.  

In inning 14 Martin Horn began a run that would change the scene for him. He ran 10 straight points to draw it close at 33-29 and the light of hope shone in his eyes. All he needed was a blank inning from Sayginer and he got it. Now was the time to strike. He came with a single point, then another and another still and did not stop until he had taken the lead for the first time at 40-33 with a run of 11 points that brought his average up to 2.50.

That was not the only run going on at that moment. On table two Caudron pulled out a run of 11 points of his own to stretch out to a score line of 44-25 and put the fork close to the flank of Barbeillon.  Caudron appeared very comfortable. He knew that if he could just match modest innings with Barbeillon he would win. And that seemed to be the course. After 26 innings Caudron led 49 to 32 and Barbeillon was looking for a miracle. It would not come. Caudron scored on his next turn and took the victory 50-32 in a match that consisted of 2 innings. His average was 1.852 while his opponent managed a 1.185

Sayginer was in danger. After 17 innings he trailed 42-34 and needed to make a spark. But his innings consisted of ones and twos. Not the type of scoring that mounts come from behind victories. At 45-39 Horn came to the table and ran off three quick points before taking an extension on the 40-second time clock to study a tough layout. He could not study it enough to make the point but still retired to his chair leading 48-39. Sayginer must have felt like he only had one more turn at the table.  He mustered a run of four before Horn returned to play. Horn made the most of it, ran the two points he needed and defeated Sayginer 50-41. The match required 21 innings and Horn carried a 2.381 average at the end compared to 2.048 for Sayginer.