Kelly Fisher downs defending champ Tkach in finals of WPBA Sondheim Kiwanis Invitational

Kelly Fisher

It almost didn’t matter who won.


It was just encouraging, not to mention great fun to watch 48 of the world’s best women pool players compete again under the banner of their signature organization, the Women’s Professional Billiards Association (WPBA), for the first time in nearly two years, when many of the same competitors met for the 2020 Ashton Twins Classsic in Alberta, Canada (won by Allison Fisher). The 2021 site for this 2nd Sondheim Kiwanis Invitational (Sept. 10-12) was once again, the Fairfield Convention Center in Fairfield, Iowa, where, two years ago, Taipei’s Tzu-Chien Wei and Russia’s Kristina Tkach met twice, with Wei winning their winners’ side semifinal matchup. Three loss-side matches later, Tkach came back to down Wei in the finals.

This year, in the absence of Tzu-Chien Wei, Tkach went undefeated to the hot seat, having, in an epic battle, sent soon-to-be Hall of Famer Kelly Fisher to the semifinals. Fisher came back from those semifinals and wasted no time establishing a rhythm that had eluded her in the hot seat match and dethroned the event’s defending champion. The $10,000-added event drew 48 invited entrants to the Fairfield Convention Center.

Fisher left Iowa almost immediately for a flight to Philadelphia and subsequent trip to Atlantic City, where today (Tuesday), she took the opportunity to talk about the win. She did so just minutes before facing Tkach again in the second round of Matchroom Sports’ US Open. 

“(Though) I’d been playing in Open events,” she said of her WPBA win, “it was the first all-women’s event since Covid and it was fantastic.”

“It felt quite surreal,” she added, “but within a day, it was like we’d never left.”

Fisher and Tkach were among 16 of the 48 entrants who received automatic entry into the second round. Tkach had to battle right from the start. She opened up against Michelle Monk and then, in order, downed Teruko Cucculelli and Jessica Barnes (for an aggregate score of 24-16) to arrive at her winners’ side semifinal match against Jennifer Baretta. Fisher got by Angela Janic (doing double duty by working the live stream of selected matches), Ashley Burrows, and Monica Webb with a much better aggregate score of 24-6 to arrive at her winners’ side semifinal matchup against Canadian Brittany Bryant, who’d faced Tkach in the quarterfinals of the 2019 event.

There were a number of notable, ‘under card’ matchups on both sides of the bracket in this event. April Larson, for example, the five-time BEF Junior Champion, downed Caroline Pao and Loree Jon Hasson before she was sent to the loss-side by long-time, frequent opponent Brittany Bryant in the winners’ side quarterfinals. Long-time rivals Jeannie Seaver and Stephanie Mitchell met up in the second round. On the loss side, Loree Jon and Line Kjorsvik met up (Kjorsvik advancing), as did Kjorsvik and Bryant (Kjorsvik advancing again). It was April Larson, who ended up stopping Kjorsvik’s loss-side run in a not-so-under-card setting.

Tkach downed Baretta 8-3 to earn her spot in the hot seat match. Fisher joined her after defeating Bryant 8-4. Fisher’s somewhat expected advance through the field hit a ‘speed bump’ in the hot seat match. Tkach chalked up more racks against her than all of her first three opponents combined (8-6) and claimed the hot seat by that score.

Her 24-6 start notwithstanding, Fisher was, as she put it, “off-footed at the start” of her hot seat match versus Tkach and made a couple of mistakes, to include scratching on a couple of occasions.

“It’s frustrating when you’re ‘off’ and can’t put your finger on why,” she said, “and then, when you scratch on top of it . . .”

On the loss side, Baretta picked up April Larson, who’d followed her defeat at the hands of Bryant with victories over two JPNEWT veterans, Kia Sidbury 8-3 and a second win over Caroline Pao 8-4. Bryant ran right into Line Kjorsvik, who had lost her opening round match and was on a six-match, loss-side run that had recently included wins over Loree Jon Hasson 8-4, Gail Eaton 8-5 and Dawn Hopkins 8-1.

Larson moved into the quarterfinals with an 8-5 win over Baretta and was joined by Kjorsvik, who’d survived a double hill battle over Bryant. Larson ended Kjorsvik’s loss-side run 8-6 and turned to face Fisher in the semifinals. Former junior champion and soon-to-be house pro at Stixx and Stones Billiards in Lewisville, TX versus established world champion and soon-to-be-inducted Hall of Famer Kelly Fisher, just itching for a second shot at Tkach in the hot seat.

Larson, known as “The Grinder,” was already looking at one of her top finishes on the ‘pro circuit’ since her final year as a junior competitor in 2016. She’d won the 2nd Annual Ashton Twins Classic a year later, finished in 3rd place at the WPBA’s Ho-Hunk Classic in Minnesota a year after that, and earlier this year, was runner-up to Tkach at the 7th Annual Junior Morris Memorial Shootout in Texas, where she’ll be heading in a couple of weeks to take up that position as house pro at Stixx & Stones. Like Fisher, “The Grinder” was itching for a shot at the young woman against whom she has been competing for some time.

It didn’t happen. Fisher stopped Larson’s four-match, loss-side run with an 8-4 win to earn her shot at Tkach. She gave Larson credit for “coming back at her” in that semifinal and noted that the hot seat loss might have done her a favor.

“It was a good comeback for her,” Kelly said of April’s work in the semifinal. “I did get going in that (semifinal) and it put me in good stead for the final.”

As one might have expected from a world champion, she took full advantage of the opportunity she was provided and wasted no time establishing her credentials in the final matchup. She found the rhythm she needed and gave up only a single match to Tkach in the race-to-10 finals, claiming the event title.

Though wide, final score margins can often mask struggles in the back and forth of individual games, Fisher noted that she got off to a good start and basically, just never looked back. 

“I wanted to play well against (Tkach),” she said. “I didn’t care about win or lose . . . I mean, I care, but for me, it’s more about playing a good match; me, playing well. I started off, broke, ran out and got sharp pretty quickly. I was up 9-0, without an error that I can remember.”

“(Tkach),” she added, “got unfortunate with her break, missed a couple of shots. Things certainly went my way.

Waiting for her next match versus Tkach, which both knew was likely to occur, based on the bracket draws, she reflected on how their soon-to-be lag for the break might take on added significance.

“More than anything, though,” she said. “I just want to play well.”

Representatives of the WPBA thanked the Fairfield Convention Center and its staff for their hospitality, as well as sponsors Diamond Tables, Aramith Balls, Simonis Cloth, Ottumwa Radio, Mad Hatter Billiards, 2nd Avenue Corner Pocket in Cedar Rapids, Seven Roses Inn and Premier Car Rental. They also thanked Daryn J. Hamilton, a member of the WPBA Board of Directors, for acting as a sponsor, promoter and added money to the prize fund. They also extended thanks to Angela Janic, who “figured out how to do the live stream and then did a phenomenal job doing it.”