Four Men Qualify for AGIPI Billiards Masters Championship Rounds

Roland Forthomme

Our last day at the AGIPI Billiard Masters dawned snowy and chilly but the action in the arena was just beginning to find its heat. On table one Kyung-Roul Kim had to have a win against Roland Forthomme to keep his chances alive. On table two Jean-Christophe Roux knew that his chances were already gone but still he wished a good show against Nikos Polychronopoulos.

As is usually always the case, the early innings were spent adjusting to the rails. Runs of 1, 2 and 3 get the arms accustomed to the conditions of the day and prepare for grander things to come. Kim was the first to show comfort. In inning 3 he presented a run of 10 points to set the early mark and claim the first bonus of the day. At this point he led Forthomme 12-4 with an average of 4.0.

Roux had not shown his true form this week and today things also were not going his way. By the fifth inning he trailed 18-5. He was not off much. His caroms were just barely missing the mark time and again. His frustration showed more with each return to the chair. Sometimes the gods ignore your pleas. It is a terrible feeling, as being lonely in a crowd. The audience so wanted his points to make, but the balls refused all offers.

Roland Forthomme is a very tenacious player. He is a kamikaze who refuses to surrender to anyone. While his early efforts produced nothing spectacular, he was consistently running one or two or three per inning and after 6 innings was still in the hunt trailing Kim only by the margin of 13-10.  Kim tried to stretch out a bit in the last half of that inning by putting down a 5 to lead 18-10 but Forthomme showed no concern, only determination. He is a scary competitor. He is the kind of guy you would want on your side in a fight. If you broke his arms he would fight with his feet. If you broke his legs he would no doubt fight with his head. He would never lie down and certainly never give up.

That kind of determination usually pays off, but the brilliance of Kim kept breaking through the clouds. A run of 8 increased his lead to 26-15. Forthomme needed to develop the table into a position where he could close the gap.  But the balls he faced each time were not prone to development. He had to travel long distances each time and he rarely had his choice of speeds.

On table two the tragedy continued for Roux and in inning 14 he trailed Polychronopoulos 33-20. Again and again he could not generate more than a single point while the Greek was making twos and threes. Not the exciting performance of a hare, but the faster turtle will still win the race. By the end of the 17th inning the score had worsened to 46-27. A single inning later found Polychronopoulos on the hill at 49 with Roux requiring a miracle. The miracle avoided him and Polychronopoulos pounded the final coffin nail in inning 21 to bury the match 50-35. His average was an admirable 2.381 compared to the 1.667 of Roux.

Table one contained the true drama of the moment. In inning 15 Forthomme took the lead at 31-30 with a run of 4 points, a run that matched his best performance of the day. And Kim had cooled. He was having a great deal of trouble with the layouts that he was given and the zeros continued to fall his way. Now trailing in averages by 1.824 to 1.765, Kim needed to return to the form with which he had begun the day.

Forthomme continued to just grind away with short but consistent runs. He kept coming with great opening shots that positioned the balls for more points. After 21 innings he led Kim 39-32. Certainly not a comfortable margin, but a lead is a valuable asset as the finish line draws near. Kim seriously needed a run, but desperation and a smooth arm are not often found in the company of one another. Time and again the zeros drove him to the sidelines. Forthomme's small runs were like Chinese water torture. No single serious blows but the drops were wearing a hole in Kim's armor. And Forthomme can come with long runs at any moment. He had already given us a 15 and a 14 this week. In inning 23 he came with his best effort of the match thus far and posted a run of 5 on the back of a marvelous masse shot that brought the hands of the crowd together in earnest applause. At 44-33 Forthomme had the odds in his corner while Kim sat alone.

Finally, in inning 25, Kim found a table that he could work with. He massaged the balls around the baize and found point after point. He would not retire his cue until he had made 10 points and brought he match close at 44-43. Forthomme needed to put him away, not allow any more opportunities. A single point was not enough. Kim came back with the chance to win the match but another zero found his cue. That same zero crashed the effort of Forthomme, however, and so the match could have gone either way. By inning 28 the match was tied at 45, so the cruel brevity of a race to 5 points would determine this critical match.  

Forthomme reached the 50-point mark first, but Kim (playing the yellow ball) still had an opportunity to tie. And he only needed a run of five to do so. He fell short by two and Forthomme won 50-48 with an average of 1.613 to the 1.548 posted by Kim in a match of 31 innings.

The second set of matches on the final day featured Semih Sayginer VS Frederic Caudron and Ramon Rodriguez VS Martin Horn. Sayginer needed a win with a high average to have a chance at getting through. Caudron, with three victories already under his belt, was in a more comfortable situation. Rodriguez fate was in the hands of others, as he needed to beat Horn as well as have some other players lose. Horn was also on the cusp, but his chances were still good.

Horn began his charge early, coming straight out of the box with a run of 8 to begin the second inning. Sayginer and Caudron traded minor runs until Caudron found a run of 6 points in the second half of the 3rd inning to lead 11-6. The first man on either table to reach the halfway point was Frederic Caudron who, with a run of 6 in the tenth inning led Sayginer 30-15. Within moment Martin Horn also reached halfway on table two as he led Rodriguez 25-8.

Caudron was giving Sayginer very little air. In inning eleven he came with yet another run of 8 points to lead 38-17 and carry his average onto high ground at 3.167. Sayginer languished at 1.417.  Horn was delivering a similar message to Rodriguez as with the score at 27-11 his average of 2.455 towered above the 1.000 of the Peruvian.

Caudron never let up the pressure. In inning 13 he finished with an 8 to destroy Sayginer 50-13. His average was 3.846 compared to 1.308 for Sayginer. Caudron thus qualified for the finals in March.

This left us with still the match between Horn and Rodriguez to finish. After fifteen innings Horn had a nice lead at 36-16 and his average of 2.25 was dominating the 1.00 of Rodriguez. But Rodriguez made a nice run of 9 to keep hope alive at 36-25. He repeated that run of 9 performance in the very next inning to bring it very close at 36-34 and firm the arm of Horn with his 18 unanswered points. Horn then made a 3 to get to 39. Both men slowed their pace of play.  Neither wanted to make that first big mistake. They traded off short runs of 1 and 2 points that allowed Rodriguez to stay within reach without earning the lead.  

Trailing by 45-39, Rodriguez came to the table with a rudimentary opening shot. He capitalized on that and then made a stunning rail-first shot to lift his confidence. But he barely missed his fourth point and had to take his seat still trailing 45-42. He had by now lifted his average to 1.826 compared to 1.957 for Horn and knew that the match was well within his reach.  Again, neither man could grab momentum for a while. The innings drew short and disappointing.  

Then Rodriguez got hot and, at 46-43, he began a run of 7 points to reach 50 points first. A remarkable come-from-behind story. Horn, with the yellow ball, had the opportunity to tie with a run of 4 points.  He made the run and tied the score for our only tie math thus far of the week. Horn finished with an average of 1.923 and Rodriguez matched that with a 1.923 as well. The match required 26 innings. This result allowed Horn to also qualify for the March event.

Our final set for the week was Roland Forthomme VS Eddy Merckx and Nikos Polychronopoulos VS Kyung-Roul Kim. All four of the men in the room had a shot at qualifying for the finals in March. So this was a round of great import as the finals of the AGIPI Masters is the highest-paying event in the world of three-cushion. Kim, with a run of 9 points, took the early lead in his match 15-7 while Mercks led Forthomme 15-9.

Thirty minutes into the matches Eddy Mercks led Roland Forthomme 16-14 and Kim led Nikos Polychronopoulos 23-17.  Play on both tables was as studious as one can be under the stress of a 40-second shot clock.   

At the halfway point Merckx led Forthomme 25-20 while Kim had stretched out to a 34-19 margin over Polychronopoulos. The room was still noted by cautious play. No one seemed to be able to get on a roll. The play was certainly of a high caliber, but the tables just were not setting up for long strings. The averages proved the point with Kim, at 2.211, being the only man over 2. Kim was the most consistent player in the room. In inning 19 at his table he led 44-31 while Merckx led Forthomme 35-25 in their inning 24.

In inning 23 Polychronopoulos caught a gear and executed a nifty run of 8 points to bring the score to 49-41. Kim needed a single point to win and just could not find that final collision. Four times he came to the table and four times the rails would not respond to his commands.  Polycronopoulos kept clawing back into the match and drew within sweating range at 49-45. But finally Kim scored the final point and in inning 26 drew us to a close at 50-45. Kim carried an average of 1.923 to 1.731 for Polychronopoulos.

Merckx and Forthomme were still keeping it close. After 32 innings Merckx led 42-39. Forthomme, the man with the high run of the week at 15, just could not get anything going long enough to let his stroke out. Merckx fared no better. Their averages in inning 34 were 1.265 for Merckx and 1.147 for Forthomme.  

Forthomme grabbed a run of 4 points in inning 37 to tie the match at 44. Once again a short race would prove the victor. Merckx scored a 1. Forthomme matched that to tie us again at 45. Again Merckx found but a single point but this time Forthomme came with a 5 to end the match in the 39th inning. Forthomme carried an average of 1.282 to 1.179 for Merckx.

And so we end this leg of the AGIPI Billiard Masters. Four men have qualified for the March finals form the play this week. Those are Nikos Polychronopoulos, Roland Forthomme, Frederic Caudron, and Martin Horn. They will join Dick Jaspers, Filipos Kasidokostas, Marco Zanetti and Jeremy Bury. One of the four will take the title of Billiard Master and the first prize of 20,000 Euros.