Justin Bergman goes undefeated to win $20K in 1st Annual Smokin’ Aces Bar Box Tournament

Pretty much everything about the 1st Annual Smokin' Aces Bar Box 9-Ball Open held from April 18-20 in Poplar Bluff, MO was a little different. It was limited to 16 players, required a $2,000 buy-in, featured races to 21, and paid out $20,000 to the winner, Justin Bergman. It was the realization of room owner and tour director Mike McKuin's desire to improve the money-making possibilities for traveling pros.
"I did it for the players," said McKuin, who grew up within a dozen miles of an abandoned restaurant called Spencer's Barbecue that he bought back in October, and after re-opening the restaurant, expanded the facility to house a pool room. "I just don't think it's fair. I see all these pool players going to these big tournaments (where) expenses are high, and they don't make money like they should.
"I feel like promoters are taking too much out of pool," he added.
His solution: limit the number of players, increase the buy-in, and give the players who show up the opportunity to win big money, in addition to whatever money accrues from the player auctions. And the players responded; a veritable 'Who's Who' in Midwest pool circles, like Shane McMinn, Chip Compton and Joey Gray, along with top-notch players from the rest of the US of A, like Corey Deuel, who was the runner-up, Robb Saez, who placed third, Brandon Shuff, Rodney Morris, Jonathan "Hennessee from Tennessee" Pinegar, and Oscar Dominguez, to name a little over half the field. All 16 were treated to two free dinners over the weekend.
"I'm going to continue to do these tournaments," said McKuin, noting that he has scheduled a second such tournament for August 15. "I'm going to (pursue) sponsorships, and I want to be able to give players a free hotel room."
The winners' side semifinals in this event featured all three money winners, and Joey Gray. Bergman faced Saez, as Deuel battled Gray. Bergman defeated Saez 21-19, and in the hot seat match, faced Deuel, who'd sent Gray to the loss side, 21-18. Bergman downed Deuel 21-19 and waited in the hot seat for his return.
Over on the loss side, Morris, Compton, Chuck Raulston, and Danny Rose finished in the tie for 13th, as Scott Frost and Skyler Woodward advanced through to pick up Saez and Gray. Frost had downed Pinegar 21-18, and survived a double hill fight against McMinn to draw Saez. Woodward defeated Whitney Walker 21-12 and Jesse Bowman 21-10 to draw Gray.
Gray and Saez got right back to work; Saez downing Frost 21-15, as Gray eliminated Woodward 21-18. Saez then dropped Gray, 21-19, in the quarterfinals, moving into a guaranteed money slot in the semifinals. Deuel stopped him right there 21-18. Bergman and Deuel duplicated their hot seat match, with Bergman winning it 21-19 to claim the 1st Smokin' Aces Bar Box 9-Ball Open title.
McKuin thanked all of the players who participated, as well as his staff for their work over the weekend. He also thanked Big Truck and his crew for their streaming of the event, Jumpin' Jack Cues, Bill Roach, and a "lady named Angel," who stopped by to do work on her pool documentary, Raising the Hustler.