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Linares wins seven on the loss side, meets and defeats Rodriguez in Bar Box Championship final

Joel Rodriguez, John Gore & Raymond Linares

It’s been a while since Raymond Linares has made any ‘noise’ on any of the country’s pro tours. Prior to this past weekend (Nov. 14-15), the last recorded victory for him in our database was the last of three times that he won the American College Unions International Collegiate Pocket Billiards National Championship in 2013, at the age of 26. Linares won it two years in a row (’10-’11), skipped a year, and then, in the same year that he won the APA’s Amateur Championship, 2013, he won it a third time. 

Linares was a very active participant in the Florida-based Seminole Pro Tour, prior to these victories of his, but it was during his time with the tour, and as it neared its end around 2011, that his interest started a shift in the direction of camera operation, videography and the production end of promotional material. Before the days of YouTube, circa 2008, he worked with George Torres of, at a time that coincided with his taking pool lessons from John DiToro of the Seminole Tour, who introduced him to Torres.

“John DiToro recommended him to me, as a person who could help me with entry fees if I agreed to help him,” said Linares. “George and I hit it off from there.” 

It was the start of three or four years, during which Linares carried Torres’ bags, helped him set up equipment and worked with (at the time) DVDs. It became Linares’ passion and his career. He won his first ACUI championship as a result of being enrolled in film production courses at Miami Dade College.

“Florida’s the place where that foundation was built,” he said, “and John DiToro was my early coach and inspiration.”

Pool’s loss was videography’s gain and as Linares settled into a career, marriage and a recently, a daughter, pool slipped quietly, though not completely into the background, which accounts for his limited appearances in events after about 2013. He is currently a videographer with Spectrum, a part of the company’s news offering within its cable channel operations.

A few years ago, Linares got an invitation from Mark Wilson to go and train with him at Lindenwood University. His career, being what it was, often time-consuming, he put it off for quite a while and then accepted the invitation; staying with Wilson and training. The training led, more or less, directly to this past weekend, when Linares entered a 93-entrant field for the Sunshine State Pro Am Tour’s $1,500-added Amateur 9-Ball Bar Box Championships, held at Rack’s Billiards in Sanford, FL. Linares was awarded an opening round bye, and won two matches; shutting out Donnie Lester and defeating Justin Toye 9-6, before being sent to the loss side by Chris Daly 9-7. Linares won seven on the loss side for the right to meet Joel Ricardo Rodriguez in the finals, where a nail-biting, double hill final gave him his first major victory in a long time.

It was, said Linares, not really a surprise to him, because as a result of his training with Wilson and a table in his home, he’d been working his way back into pool shape. In a letter he’d written to Wilson recently, he described a new difference in the way he was positioning himself at the table.

“I’m not sure what it is,” he wrote to Wilson, “but lately I’ve had a noticeable settling in to the stance and stroking position where there’s incredible stillness during the cueing motion.

“Likely,” he added, “due to residual effects of regular training and implementing of foundational basics, now becoming well-seasoned and embedded into normal operations.”

Well, sure. . . whatever works, right?

As Linares began his work on the left side of the bracket in this Sunshine State Pro Am Bar Box Championship, the man who’d sent him over there, Chris Daly, advanced to a winners’ side semifinal against Joel Ricardo Rodriguez, who’d gotten by Will Harper, David Angelo, Steve Wiggam, Rhyan Hunter, and Mike Griffin to reach him. John Gore and James Sandaler squared off in the other winners’ side semifinal.

Rodriguez sent Chris Daly to an immediate loss-side re-match against Linares with a 9-3 win. Gore sent Sandaler over 9-7. Rodriguez claimed the hot seat, sending Gore off 9-7 to a semifinal against Linares.

Daly caught Linares four matches into his loss-side streak, which had begun with victories over Serafin Serrano, Jerry Arvalaez and most recently, included wins over Dennis Brown 7-5 and Obbie Cirillo 7-3. Sandaler picked up Justin Gilsinan, who’d recently defeated Mike Delawder 7-5 and survived a double hill battle versus Mike Griffin.

The rematch was a somewhat predictable double hill fight, eventually won by Linares, who advanced to the quarterfinals. Gilsinan joined him after shutting Sandaler out. It looked as though there might be fireworks in that quarterfinal struggle, but it didn’t turn out that way. Linares defeated Gilsinan and semifinalist, Jon Gore 7-3.

Another predictable double hill battle ensued in the race-to-11 finals that followed between Linares and Rodriguez. After the back and forth battle that led to the 10-10 tie and the 21st deciding game, Rodriguez dropped two balls on the break and looked to have a fairly open, connect-the-dots-to-the-winners’-circle layout. Following his drop of the 2-ball, Rodriguez found that he’d under-run his position for the 3-ball. He made that 3-ball, but it was tricky enough to send the cue ball into the jaws of a corner pocket. Shooting at the 4-ball, he missed and watched as the cue ball moved cross corner, dropped the 8-ball and followed it in. Linares took ball in hand, sunk the remaining four balls and claimed the event title.

Linares had not been playing competitively until the last few months, during which he had competed and won a few small venue tournaments here and there. This event, he explained, wasn’t exactly a breakthrough for him.

“The breakthrough for me had been in my training,” he said. “Getting consistent time on the table and seeing the evolution of what I’d done in the past.”

“One of the things I noticed as the tournament went on,” he added, “was that as I was going through it, I felt like matches were not like individual matches. Instead of the highs and lows of one match following another, it was like every match was a small piece of a big match. It was very encouraging and I knew I had a chance to win it. When I get to that place, I’m liable to beat anyone.”

He’s reached two peak places this year. In addition to this Bar Box Championship, Linares also won a 2020 Emmy award for a documentary he helped shoot for Spectrum, NY, called “Northern Boulevard,” detailing the historic significance of Flushing, Queens, as it relates to religious freedom in the US.

Double threat. Look for him in the credits on your television shows and watch out for him, perhaps sooner than you think, at a pool table near you.

Tour directors Janene Phillips and Bobby Garza thanked Pedro Botta and his staff at Rack’s Billiards for their hospitality, as well as title sponsor Predator Group, Kamui, Diamond Products, Stitch It To Me Embroidery, Central Florida USA Pool League and AZBilliards. They also extended thanks to Jeffrey DeLuna for stream commentary, along with Jimmy “Hollywood” Antionetta and Rob McLaren, photos from Bill Katchuski, assistance from Jessica Ammons for running the boards, and raffles help from Leah Nusbaum and Danielle Cirillo.

Arvelaez and Martinez split top prizes on Sunshine State Pro Am

Raymond Linares, Jerry Arvelaez and Joselito Martinez

At 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, September 13, at Boulevard Billiards in Ocala, FL, Jerry Arvelaez and Joselito Martinez opted out of a final match at the 4th stop on the Sunshine State Pro Am Tour. They were prepared for one, but the venue was closing. As the occupant of the hot seat at the time, Arvelaez was declared the official winner and according to our records, it was his first major win. The $1,250-added, Open 10-Ball event ($750 by Boulevard Billiards’ owner Don Kreischer and $500 by Predator for cue raffle) drew 64 entrants.

Though the event was won by relatively new talent, the full field was not without its share of top-notch Florida (or anywhere else, for that matter) talent. Raymond Linares made it to the hot seat match. Donny Mills, Tony Crosby, James Sandaler, Obie Cirillo, and co-tour director Bobby Garza were in the mix, as well.

Arvelaez, though, went 6-0 and defeated three of those – Cirillo, Sandaler and Linares. He opened with a victory over Malcom Dodson before facing and sending Cirillo to the loss side 7-5. He survived a double hill fight versus Jon Gore, before sending his eventual and just potential opponent in the finals Joselito Martinez to the loss side 7-3, which set him up to face Sandaler in one winners’ side semifinal. Raymond Linares, in the meantime, had defeated John Souders, Justin Toye, Ameet Kukadia, and Donny Mills 7-3 to face Joel Rodriguez in the other winners’ side semifinal.

Linares moved into the hot seat match on the heels of his 7-5 victory over Rodriguez. He was joined by Arvelaez, who’d defeated Sandaler 7-3. In what proved to be his last match, Arvelaez claimed the hot seat by giving up only a single rack to Linares in the match.

On the loss side, Sandaler picked up Jon Gore, who, after his double hill loss to Arvelaez, won three in a row, including two rather significant wins over Donny Mills 5-1 and Tony Crosby, double hill. Rodriguez picked up Martinez, who’d also lost to Arvelaez, and then survived a double hill battle versus Ameet Kukadia and eliminated junior player Trenton White 6-4.

Sandaler and Gore locked up in a double hill fight, eventually won Gore. Martinez downed Rodriguez 5-3 to join Gore in the quarterfinals. Martinez ended Gore’s loss-side winning streak 5-3 in those quarterfinals, and then, like Arvelaez in the hot seat match, gave up only a single rack to Linares in the semifinal.

Arvelaez and Martinez agreed to the split. Everybody went home.

Tour directors Janene Phillips and Bobby Garza thanked title sponsor The Predator Group, Kamui, Central Florida USA Pool League, Stitch-It-To-Me Embroidery, Diamond Products & AZ Billiards. They also gave a shout out to Don Kreischer and his Boulevard Billiards staff, in particular for the effort Kreischer and John Souders put into re-covering the tables, which at the time of the event “looked and played great.” The next stop on the Sunshine State Pro Am Tour, scheduled for the weekend of Oct. 3-4, will be a $1,000-added Amateur 9-Ball event, hosted by Brewlands North in Lakeland, FL.