Spain’s Jonas Souto is the Diamond Billiard’s SBE 2023 Pro Player Open Champion

Jonas Souto and Mika Immonen

The Iceman wins the SBE’s inaugural Senior Pro Player Open Championship

Of the 56 competitors who signed on to the Open 9-Ball Pro Players Championship at the Super Billiards Expo this past weekend (April 13-16), Spain’s Jonas Souto was not on many people’s list as a presumed favorite. That designation was assigned to Scotland’s Jayson Shaw who came to Oaks, PA to defend the title he’d won last year when he defeated his friend Darren Appleton in the 2022 finals. Souto defied the ‘presumed favorite’ odds and spoiled the two-in-a-row party for Shaw, downing him in a five-set, 40-game final match that took a little over three hours. 

The 56-entrant field this year lacked a bit of 2022’s firepower. Though Appleton was present, primarily manning his Dynamite Billiards booth this year, he remains on the mend, following a serious heart attack in January, and did not compete. Neither (from 2022) did Fedor Gorst, Billy Thorpe, Ralf Souquet or Thorsten Hohmann among others. Returning from last year’s championship (in addition to Shaw) were John Morra, Jonathan Pinegar, Kang Lee, Warren Kiamco and Earl “The Pearl” Strickland, all of whom finished among the top 16 in the 2022 event.

In defying the ‘odds-against’ him, Souto played three of those returning veterans; Kiamco, then Morra, and in the end, Shaw. He entered the finals having survived a quarterfinal, double-hill (set) battle against Kiamco and a relatively easier 3-1 win over Morra (5-4, 2-5, 5-3, 5-2). 

Shaw played four matches to get into the finals and three of them were 3-0 set victories. The only real ‘trouble’ he ran into was against ‘young gun’ Shane Wolford, who battled him to double hill before Shaw prevailed in one of the quarterfinals (5-3, 2-5, 3-5, 5-3, 5-2). Shaw chalked up his last match win against Jonathan Pinegar in the semifinals (5-2, 5-4, 5-2).

While the final match had its share of top-notch shooting, excellent pattern play, fine cue-ball control and its share of crowd-pleasing jump shots, it got off to a slow start. They battled their way to a 3-3 tie in an opening set that featured seven unforced errors, a couple of dry breaks, and a pair of squandered ball-in-hand opportunities. Shaw broke the tie and won the opening set 5-3.

The second set didn’t look much better. Shaw broke the first rack, but an unforced error shooting at the 3-ball led to Souto clearing the table. Souto followed up with a break-and-run that gave him a two-rack lead. Shaw came back with a break-and-run to get on the board. Souto won the next two to take a 4-1 lead, before Shaw responded by clearing the table off of Souto’s dry break and then, broke-and-ran to pull within one at 4-3. Souto closed it out to tie the sets at one each.

The third set found them engaging in a number of safety battles, which eventually played out to a 4-4 tie. Shaw broke the tie and won the set to reach the hill (in sets) at 2-1. The fourth set  stretched out to another double hill tie in games, with Souto finishing it to knot the whole shootin’ match at double hill.

While the match was continuing to have its entertaining moments and the double-hill final set was a bit of a nail-biter, the two were still having their troubles. The ‘wheels’ started coming off at the point when they only played back and forth to a 1-1 tie in their final set. Souto broke the third rack, but scratched. With ball-in-hand, Shaw was looking at a few ‘traffic’ problems and had to play safe, shooting at the 3-ball. This led to a safety battle that went back and forth until finally, Souto found the opening necessary to clear the table and take the lead, 2-1. 

Shaw broke the 4th rack, ran to the 7-ball and missed a bank shot. Souto cleaned up to make it 3-1 and then broke and ran the 5th rack to reach the hill, ahead by three. Shaw chalked up what would prove to be his last game win, when he broke and ran the 6th rack. Souto broke dry in the final rack, but Shaw, unable to ‘see’ the 1-ball had to play safe, which led to another safety battle, a failed jump shot by Shaw and a final scramble to the end for Souto, who walked away with the 2023 Open Pro Players Championship.

Shaw was out of the arena in seconds after congratulating Souto warmly. Later, when fans attempted commiserating with him over the loss, Shaw just shrugged.

“I don’t know what happened,” he said, “I was up 2-1 (in sets, after winning the third game, double hill) and then a bunch of weird things happened.”

Souto was elated. He spent a few minutes when it was over, accepting congratulations from friends and ahead of the obligatory session of photography with the trophy, stepped aside and made a video call to his father in Spain. All by himself, circling around a random pool table in the arena, with a smile as wide as the country he comes from, he shared his elation and his happy face with his family.

“I just tried to stay positive and do my best,” he said of his first SBE Pro Players Championship and the roller-coaster ride that characterized his final match. “I like the (short-matches) format, but it does take a toll.”

“It’s super tough, psychologically,” he added, “because it’s very long and sometimes you are playing well and sometimes, you’re not playing so well. You have to stay focused because anything can happen.”

And did.

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