BONUS BALL: The Real Deal, or More False Hope?

Larry Chiborak and Mike Massey

When I first heard of Bonus Ball several months ago, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it.  The game, as it was explained to me at that time, sounded decent enough, but it was the notion this new game would be used to build a professional league around that put me on instant alert.  I mean, haven't we heard of ideas similar to this in the past, only to have them all turn out to be false hopes?  Then in May, I got my chance to find out for myself whether Bonus Ball is the “real deal,” or not.

In May, President, Larry Chiborak, and his promoter and VP of World Wide Sport of Billiards, Barry Bremner, acquired a “studio” building in Las Vegas, and quickly thereafter spread the word that they would be filming trial runs with some of the pros who had been drafted to play in their new professional league.  When they posted on Facebook that anyone could get complimentary tickets to come out and watch the filming of the matches, I was quick to take them up on their offer.

Immediately upon my arrival at the Bonus Ball venue, I was warmly welcomed by Larry and Barry, who then treated me to completely open and honest explanations of their individual roles and collective plans, even though they had no knowledge at the time that the main purpose of my visit was to spy them out and write this report for AZBilliards.  The following is a recap of what I learned from Larry and Barry.          

The Game: The game is played with nine colored balls. There are four purple balls, worth 1 point each; four orange balls, worth 2 points each; and one black ball (the “bonus” ball), worth 3 points. You must pocket a purple ball before you can shoot at an orange ball, and you must pocket an orange ball before you can shoot at the bonus ball. The bonus ball spots up after each time it is pocketed, and a player can continue shooting in that same 1-2-3 order until missing.  At the amateur level, balls can be pocketed in any of the six pockets, but at the advanced level, each player has only one side pocket and the two opposite corners in which to score their points.  The objective of the game is to be the first player to reach a certain number of points in the prescribed amount of time (a shot clock is employed for this).  Note: At the beginner level, the shot clock is generally not used at all.  The preceding is simply a cursory rundown of the game.  Complete rules and procedures can be found at

The League: The World Professional Billiard League (WPBL) will be made up from top professional players who will compete as teams.  The WPBL will choose the captains of the teams, and then the captains will draft the remainder of their teams from any professional pool players of their choice.  Each team will have its own name, and each player will have his own matching numbered jersey.  For the time being, all play will be in Bonus Ball's new, specially prepared arena located in Las Vegas.  Competitions will be staged weekly, and the inaugural season is planned to span a six-month period.  A start date for this first season will be announced as soon as business permits and business structure are completed.  They would like to see a November 1st start of the league, if possible.

The Plan:  Although the WPBL will start out as a single-venue league, long range planning calls for teams to be located in major market areas all across the US and parts of Canada.  The main source of revenue for the league is expected to come from Internet pay-per-view sales, merchandise, and ticket sales.  Since the owners of Bonus Ball have obtained their own Internet broadcasting channel, they will be able to store taped matches that can be accessed and viewed at the convenience of their subscribers; along with pay-per-view live streaming of league games.  To make this venture feasible, the owners of Bonus Ball want to expand their market potential by attracting a large following of new fans.  They intend to do this by grooming their professional players to become recognizable entities that fans can identify with.  This will come about when the WPBL teams are eventually split up and moved into large cities where they can each build their separate fan bases.      

My Prognosis:  With the support and guidance of superstar player, Johnny Archer, the promoters of Bonus Ball have been able to attract many of today's top players to the WPBL stable.  This fact will no doubt lend a measure of instant credibility to the league — but will it guarantee Bonus Ball's success?  If I had asked the professional players who were in Vegas at the time I was there about their opinion of Bonus Ball, I'm sure I would've gotten a positive reaction from each of them.   But really, that's all that can be expected of anyone who is hoping for a string of guaranteed paydays. 

But what could I expect from someone who has vast promotional and playing experience, and yet has no “vested” interest in the WPBL or Bonus Ball?  The answer to that came from the great CJ Wiley who recently posted on his Facebook page: “I want to help this Bonus Ball project, but it just seems like all I could see was the negative aspects of it…the rules, the cloth, the atmosphere, the contracts, the timetables, the financial aspects, the marketing challenges, the player dynamics…on and on and on…but what I realize now is these are real people, with real hopes, dreams, aspirations and a true love for the game of pocket billiards….and this is something I truly admire and want to support, not just for myself, but for everyone like me who just LOVES THE GAME…”*

I have to agree with CJ.  Larry and Barry impressed me as being real people with real hopes, real dreams, real aspirations, and definitely a real love for the game.  But on top of that they have shown real plans, real drive, and real dedication.  And with all of those things going for them, I honestly believe that the rest of us are going to be in for one great ride.

* Reprinted with permission of CJ Wiley.