Day Two at AGIPI Billiard Masters

Day two at the AGIPI Billiard Masters began with matchups between Kyung-Roil Kim of Korea and Eddy Merckx of Belgium and Roland Forthomme of  Belgium and Jean-Christophe Roux of France.  

Merckx began his day with a tidy run of 6 points, a good way to begin when you are playing Kim, one of the best in the world. After two innings Kim had three points of his own, but he must generate a string somewhere as Merckx came back right away with a 9 to lead 15-3. A pity, really, as one more point in that inning would have garnered him a 500 Euro bonus.

On table two Forthomme began with three dry innings, then put up a four to lead 4-2 after four innings. But Roux answered right away with a 5 to lead 7-4. Two innings later Roux played a safety that Forthomme could not escape, frustrating an early charge of any sort.  

After four innings on table one Kim had yet to find any traction. His high run of 2 and average of 1.25 paled to the performance of Merckx whose average at that point was an impressive 4.5. The score was 18-5, Merckx. At the same time, table two had completed 9 innings and Roux was leading 7-4 with an average of .778 to the average of Forthomme at .444.

Merckx was really on his game at the halfway point. The world record for a 50 point game is 9 innings with an average of five and Merckx was close to that pace with a 25 after five innings. Kim needed to rally to stay in the match and took a break to regroup. The break helped, as he retuned with a run of 5 to edge the score to 25-10.

On table two Forthomme was beginning to get the feel of the table and after 17 innings led Roux 12-8 with a high run of 4. Still, both players had averages that were below par. Roux at 0.471 and Forthomme at 0.706. Finally, in inning 23, Forthomme came to life and ran a very impressive 15 points to earn a lead of 35-13 and, (perhaps more importantly in this format where ties are settled by averages) lifted his average up to 1.458.

One hour into the match table one had settled into an endurance run of low innings. Merckx was maintaining his lead at 32-18 but neither man was generating any electricity at the table. Kim had yet to run more than the five he posted earlier while Mercks was posting 2's and 3's and 4's to creep towards the goal of 50. Then, in inning 15 Merckx rose again with a run of 7 to increase his lead to 39-18 and Kim needed a good inning to come soon or face an impossible task. His next turn netted him a zero and he returned to his chair as a prisoner mounting the gallows. At his next turn he miscued on his second shot. The fates were raining on him hard.

Roux was having a bad day of his own. Trailing 40-13 after 26 innings his average languished then at 0.500. Again and again his first attempts came up shy of the mark. The chair was giving him bedsores and his arm was developing a chill. One can only imagine how a poor performance from someone of his skill level must eat upon the mind. He held his composure, but sometimes in his chair his head would shake, the disbelief rising to the surface of his face.  One never wishes to be the recipient of empathy from the audience. Admiration is the goal.  

Forthomme was humane enough to finish the suffering quickly. He came with a 9 in inning 28 to settle at 50 and Roux needed a 34 to tie. He managed a two and then a handshake, as the final score of 50-18 will not be one he wishes to remember. The match required 29 innings and Roux had an average of 0.621 to the 1.724 of Forthomme.

By now table one was in the 23rd inning and Merckx was still in command. His inning began with a lead of 40-22 and he did not step away until he had marked up 7 more points to lead 47-22. Kim made a bit of a charge in the 27th inning with a run of 6 to bring the score to 49-30 but the match was decided with a single point from Merckx in inning 28 to end the match in his favor at 50-30. The match required 28 innings and Merckx retired with an average of 1.786 compared to the 1.071 of Kim.

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.  

The third set of the day had Roland Forthomme of Germany VS Nikos Polychronopoulos of Greece and Jean-Christophe Roux of France VS Eddy Merckx of Belgium. Only Polychronopoulos had the feel of the tables early, an advantage he exploited with a run of 6 and after five innings he led Forthomme (who just yesterday had a run of 15) 11-6. On table two both Merckx and Roux struggled to find their arms and after eight innings had only managed a score line of 7-2 in favor of Merckx. Roux, in particular, was having a hard time with the table. After 9 innings he had managed only two points and those came in separate innings.  

His opponent, Merkx, took full advantage of the weakness. Without ever scoring a run higher than 6 he managed, by Inning 15, to lead 25-5. Table one was more dramatic. In inning 14 the two contestants were tied at 19 points apiece. Polychronopoulos then scored a 7 and Forthomme took a break. The break did not manage to inspire him. After two more innings and a run of 7 by the Greek the margin had worsened for him to 34-22.  

On table two Merckx was having his way with Roux. Not that he was lighting up the stars with runs, but he was outscoring Roux and after 18 innings led 33-10 with an average of 1.833 to only 0.556 for Roux. After a combined 36 innings on the two tables no one had as yet managed a bonus run of 10 or more and no average had topped the mark of two.

Forthomme finally found a piece of his arm in inning 20 and made a 5 to draw close at 34-30. He appeared determined to make a match of it and looked stronger after the run. A glimmer of his confidence had returned. Then, after Polychronopoulos managed a two Forthomme came right back at him with a run of 14 points to take the lead 44-36. This run also served to lift his average to 1.913 compared to the 1.739 of Polychronopoulos. Both men then scored twos, but that score of 46-40 meant Forthomme only needed a four to win the match. That four would prove elusive. Two blank innings left Forthomme with an opponent only two points behind him. Then, in inning 26, Forthomme, with a seven-rail shot that put him on the hill took final control. Polychronopoulos needed a 6 point inning but came with nil. Forthomme made the point he needed then to close out the match 50-44 with an average of 1.852 over 27innings. Polychronopoulos managed an average of 1.630.  

On table two Eddy Merckx had a nice run of 7 points to finish his task and defeat Roux 50-20 with an average of 1.515 over 33 innings compared to the 0.606 of Roux.  

Our final matches on day two featured Frederic Caudron VS Martin Horn and Ramon Rodriguez VS Jerome Barbeillon. Caudron is always the favorite and he did not disappoint. While the match stayed close through the first 13 innings with the score at that point 26-24, Caudron then let loose with one of his patented runs of 8 points to lead 34-24 and he would then never again surrender the lead.  

In inning number 20 he led 40-28 and came with a final run of ten to clam both the match as well as the 500 Euro bonus. A nice way to end the day.  Caudron finished the match with an average of 2.50 to 1.40 for Horn.  

Table two was considerably closer. As of inning number 28 neither man had executed runs of more than five points and the score stood at 43 for Rodriquez and 36 for Barbeillon who had missed many points by the width of a single sheet of paper.  

At the start of inning 30 Rodriguez ran another 3 points to extend his lead to 46-36. Close enough to the finish line but Barbeillon still was within reach.  A run of two for Barbeillon moved him to 38 points, but the pressure was now on him badly. Rodriguez was in his comfort zone in inning 31 and nearly got home with a run of three to get him to 49. Barbeillon needed a run of 12. Instead he blanked. But Rodriguez also came dry and so the opportunity was still alive.  

Barbeillon calmed himself and approached the table. He ran three points before another narrow miss sent him to the chair. Rodriguez, now leading 49-41, needed an extension for the final shot but stretched and made the point to reach 50 points. Barbeillon, on the yellow ball, still had one final chance at tying the match. He made one, then two points but did not like the position he left himself.  His attempt was not close and the match ended 50-43 with Rodriguez carrying an average of 1.47 to 1.265 for Barbeillon in a match that lasted 34 innings.