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Junior Competitor Lucas Kilgore Comes From the Loss Side to Win 560-Under Fargo Event in MD

Lukas Kilgore

Not all of the junior competitors who are out and about in the pool world are associated with the Junior International Championships. One who is not, Lucas Kilgore (14), son of Brian Kilgore, the “B” in B & L (Lai Li) Billiards Tournaments in the Maryland area, is working on his own path to success at the tables, which last weekend (Sun., Sept. 25) brought him to Cambridge, MD and an amateur event for competitors with a 560-and-below Fargo Rate. Though he’d be sent to the loss side in a winners’ side semifinal, Kilgore came back after winning three and soundly defeated the man who’d sent him over, hot seat occupant Mark Somers. The $250-added event drew 34 entrants to Choptank Bowling & Billiards in Cambridge, MD.

Kilgore’s path to the winners’ circle ran through Rick Scarlato, Sr. before encountering a ‘bump’ in the form of a double hill match against Pepi Scarlato (brother to Rick, Sr.). He survived that match and defeated Shawn Heller to arrive at his winners’ side semifinal matchup against Somers. Tom Wilson in the meantime, started his tournament day with two straight double-hill matches against Wes Cannon and Jason Shard before sending Bill Tasler to the loss side 5-3 and picking up Jeff Sanders in the other winners’ side semifinal.

Somers took the first of his two against Kilgore 5-1 and advanced to the hot seat match. Wilson joined him after sending Sanders over 5-3. Somers claimed the hot seat 5-2 and waited on the return of Kilgore.

On the loss side, Kilgore picked up Bobby Brake, who’d lost a winners’ side quarterfinal to Sanders before defeating Brent Fitzwater 5-1 and shutting out Bill Tasler. Sanders drew Tree Chester, who’d be playing his fifth loss-side match that had included recent wins over Shawn Heller 4-4 (Heller racing to 6) and Michael Jones 4-1.

Between them, Kilgore and Sanders allowed their respective opponents only a single rack, won by Chester against Sanders. They advanced to face each other in the quarterfinals and locked up in a double hill match that eventually moved Kilgore into a semifinal against Wilson.

Kilgore wasted little time putting himself in position for a rematch against Somers in the final. He shut Wilson out in the semifinal to make that happen and gave up only a single rack to Somers in that final match to claim the event title.

Kilgore was unable to register for the Inaugural SVB Junior Open, scheduled for the weekend of Oct. 13-14 in Atlantic City, when the field closed at 32 entrants. He (and others) were granted a second chance when the field was extended to accommodate 64 players. Kilgore will join a lot of competitors who are engaged with the Junior International Championships in Atlantic City in a couple of weeks, when their different, junior paths for advancement cross.

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Brothers battles back in finals to win B & L 2nd Annual Fargo Open 9-Ball Championship

Josh Brothers

At the height of Josh Brothers’ pool career, defined by us here at AZBilliards as his best earnings year (2010), he finished among the top five competitors in 18 of the 19 (recorded) events in which he cashed that year. He won 10 of them; nine on the Mezz Pro Am Tour and was that year’s Maryland State Champion in a November event at which Manny Chau finished in the tie for 5th place. Twelve years later, this past weekend (Sept. 17), Brothers went undefeated at the B & L Billiards Tournaments’ 2nd Annual Fargo Open 9-Ball Championships and had to come from behind in the finals versus Manny Chau, who’d won seven on the loss side to challenge him. The event drew 78 entrants to Bank Shot Bar & Grill in Laurel, MD.

Brothers, racing to 8 throughout, was moving right along through his opponents (racing to between 5 and 7), who were chalking up an average of three or four racks against him; Sam Roberts (3), Josh Mohammed (2), Shawn Toni (4) and Rick Molineiro (2). This set Brothers up in a winners’ side semifinal match against Tom Zippler. Marvin Ramirez, in the meantime, racing to 5, got by Jenn Benton (1), Brandon Vaughan (3), junior competitor Nathan Childress (4, racing to 8), Curtis Branker (4, racing to 6) and Derek Crothers (4, racing to 7), which set him up to face Matt Krah in the other winners’ side semifinal. Krah had been responsible for sending Manny Chau to the loss side in the third round. 

Brothers advanced to the hot seat match 8-4 over Zippler and was joined by Ramirez, who’d defeated Krah 5-5 (Krah racing to 7), sending him west to an immediate rematch against Chau. 

Brothers shut Ramirez out to claim the hot seat.

On the loss side, Chau had chalked up loss-side wins #3 & #4 against Rick Molineiro 8-5 and Mike Saleh, double hill (8-6), when who should show up but the man who’d made all that extra loss-side work necessary, Matt Krah. Zippler drew Derek Crothers, who’d followed his winners’ side quarterfinal loss to Ramirez with wins over Richey Orem 7-2 and Scott Haas 7-4. 

Krah had a single ‘bead on the wire’ in a race to 8. He could have been given five of them, because Chau eliminated him 8-2. Crothers downed Zippler 7-2 and then had his brief, loss-side run stopped by Chau in the quarterfinals 8-1.

Chau had his hands full in the double hill semifinals that followed. Ramirez started the match with three ‘beads on the wire’ in a race to 8 and won four of the five he needed to win. Chau chalked up his eight and turned to face Roberts waiting for him in the hot seat.

Fresh off his double hill win in the semifinals, Chau opened the finals with five straight racks before Brothers got on the board. Brothers went on to win seven of the next nine games; #6 put him on the hill, #7 gave him the championship.

Co-tour directors Brian Kilgore and Lai Li thanked the ownership and staff at Bank Shot Bar & Grill for their hospitality, as well as all of those who came to play, to whom they extended their congratulations.

“We ended up a little short of our (attendance) goal,” noted Kilgore, “but with 78 unbelievable, game-ready competitors, we couldn’t be too upset.”

Special congratulations were extended to the winner and runner-up for “a roller coaster final set,” as well as to B & L regular and third-place finisher, Marvin Ramirez, in his first time “going deep” in one of the organization’s singles events.

“An unbelievable run,” said Kilgore, “beating two ‘700’ Fargos and multiple monsters along the way.”

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Gorst goes undefeated to claim 1st Annual Hannah Choi Memorial Title

Fedor Gorst, Shane Wolford, Kristina Tkach, Paul Oh and room owner Anthony Luong

There are times when words are insufficient to the task that they have been set out on a page to perform. So it is with reporting on the B & L Billiard Tournaments’ 1st Annual Hannah Choi Memorial, a $10,000-added event that drew 64 entrants to First Break Sports Bar in Sterling, VA last weekend (June 11-12). Spearheaded by a trio of Hannah Choi’s close friends – Paul Oh, Kristina Tkach and Fedor Gorst – the memorial was organized to commemorate Choi, who went missing from her home in early March and was discovered dead in a Maryland park weeks later. The person currently being sought in connection with her death, classified as murder, has still not been apprehended. 

Choi was an active player at Street Light Billiard Academy in Alexandria, VA, where Tkach, Gorst, Ruslan Chinakhov and other members of “Roy’s Basement,” along with players like Shane Van Boening, Efren Reyes and Nick Varner would gather along with Academy members, offering clinics, challenge matches and exhibitions.

“Hannah became Kristina’s handler, like a family member,” said Oh. “Hannah wasn’t like a professional player, although she was an APA 6, and she became close to Kristina. She was probably Kristina’s closest friend, lived with her whenever she was in-country.”

As a loosely-organized group engaged in the Virginia (and surrounding areas) pool community, the players would discuss any number of things around meals, table practice and tournaments. On more than one occasion, Choi had mentioned to the group the idea of organizing a Virginia-based ProAm tournament, which, for a variety of different reasons, had never really advanced beyond casual talk about it being a good idea.

“We’d had conversations about it,” said Oh, “wanting to hold a tournament in the area, so when Hannah passed, it was a no-brainer.”

Oh reached out to B&L Billiard Tournaments, in the persons of Brian Kilgore and Lai Li, within a matter of days after Choi’s passing. In less than three months, the circle of friends that had known Choi personally, organized the 1st Annual event that would bear her name.

“It meant a lot to Paul, Fedor and Kristina, who was her best friend,” said Kilgore. “Kristina talked to the players (at length) before the tournament began, telling them all of the things that Hannah Choi had done for her.”

Kilgore and the 64-entrant field were all on-hand to hear Tkach’s impassioned words. In retrospect, Kilgore regretted that the moments had not been recorded. Tkach did, though, write about Choi’s passing in an on-line post.

“I didn’t lose my best friend,” she wrote. “No…I lost so much more than that. I lost my soulmate, my partner, life mentor, my whole world.”

“But you didn’t leave me, right?” she went on to ask. “No, it just can’t be… you are somewhere here now, by my side, kindly looking at me, smiling, listening to me just like you always did.”

Tkach continued, eventually confronting the chasm of grief that lay before her; “the pain that doesn’t go away no matter what you do, eating you up from inside.

“But I can’t give up,” she added. “I have to keep grinding, growing and trying to be the best I can possibly be, because that’s what you would want me to do. I promise you will be proud of me.”

At the risk of presumption, one can only imagine that Hannah Choi would have accepted the need and impetus to discuss her passing and the memorial tournament arranged on her behalf, and then, expected all of us to proceed; “grinding, growing, trying to be the best that we can possibly be because that’s what (she) would want us to do.”

The 64-entrant, double elimination bracket that opened the proceedings had a proverbial ‘boat load’ of pool talent on board, including the very people responsible for the tournament’s existence; Paul Oh, Kristina Tkach and Fedor Gorst. Two of those three (Tkach and Gorst) would advance to the single elimination phase of the event and Gorst would win it. Things were set up through the event semifinals for Tkach and Gorst to square off in the final match, but Shane Wolford stepped in and left Tkach in the tie for 3rd place.

In one of the more entertaining matches of the event, Gorst opened up the double-elimination phase against junior competitor, Joey Tate. Live-streamed (as were selected matches throughout the weekend) by Omega Billiards, Tate encountered some early issues, arguably brought on by an initial concern that he might not make it to the event at all. He’d called Brian Kilgore to relate some ‘timing’ issues and assured him that though he was running late, he would be there in time. He made it on-time, by a matter of minutes and found himself facing Gorst in his opening round.

In the early going, Tate missed some ‘9’s and ‘10’s and found himself in a 3-1 hole after four. But he fought back to be within a single game at 6-5. Gorst prevailed and Tate would go on to lose his first loss-side match. 

Gorst advanced and ran into an immediate double hill battle against Atlantic Coast veteran Steve Fleming. He survived that battle as well, and then shut out Kevin West to become one of the eight winners’ side competitors advancing to single elimination. He was joined by fellow ‘winners’ side’ competitors Warren Kiamco, Greg McAndrews, Manny Chau, Roberto Gomez, Shane Wolford, Brandon Shuff and Chris Hansen. From the loss side, Rafael Reyes, Danny Mastermaker, Deo Alpajora, Kevin West, Dylan Spohr, BJ Ussery, Jr., Mhet Vergara and Kristina Tkach advanced to the final 16. Tkach, sent to the loss side by Manny Chau, had worked her way through William Moon, Lukas Fracasso-Verner and Roger Halder to join the loss-side’s group in the final 16.

Tkach got by Roberto Gomez in the opening round of single elimination and in the quarterfinals, drew Kevin West, who’d eliminated Chris Hansen. Gorst defeated Mhet Vergara and picked up Manny Chau, who’d sent Greg McAndrews home. Wolford, in the meantime, had knocked out Brandon Shuff and faced BJ Ussery, who’d defeated Rafael Reyes to reach him. Kiamco got by Deo Alpajora in the single-elimination opening round and squared off against Dylan Spohr, who’d ended Danny Mastermaker’s run.

Tkach downed West 9-7 and in the semifinals, drew Wolford, who’d defeated Ussery 9-7. Gorst eliminated Chau 9-4 and picked up Kiamco, who’d defeated Spohr 9-4. 

Wolford put an end to speculation and hopes for two of Hanna Choi’s best friends to meet in the finals with a 9-6 win over Tkach. Gorst downed Kiamco 9-5. In the extended race-to-9, Gorst and Wolford came within a game of double hill. Gorst pulled out in front in the end to win by two, 11-9. 

The 1st Annual Hannah Choi Memorial was in the books, with Gorst and Tkach proud to have played their part in making it a success. Paul Oh, though less than pleased with his finish ‘out of the money,’ as it were, was pleased at how well the entire affair had been arranged and executed, as was Brian Kilgore.

“It’s amazing to me how it turned out,” said Oh, noting that it was a combined effort on the part of the group of friends around Hannah Choi, who, over the years, “had eaten together, travelled together and worked together,” to include Anthony Milanesi (who’d donated a cue that he’d made for one of the raffles that helped bring money to the event), Ken Tranh and his wife, Linda, Joonick Jun and of course, the central trio of Tkach, Oh and Fedor Gorst. 

That core group along with Brian Kilgore and Lai Li thanked Anthony Luong and his First Break staff for their hospitality and a portion of the added money, as well as Cuetec Cues. They applauded the efforts of all 64 players who’d made Hannah Choi’s first memorial a memorable occasion. As something of an extended tour-promotion unit, they are already looking forward to the 2nd Annual Hannah Choi Memorial. While it’s a bit too early to determine how that will shape up, there is consideration being given to another Open event, as well as a Women’s tournament.

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Briana Miller takes season opener on J. Pechauer Northeast Women’s Tour

Briana Miller and Caroline Pao

She’s back.

After almost three years in which she had failed to record any sort of a payout in any pool tournament (that we know of), Briana Miller returned to Pennsylvania from St. Charles, MO, where she’d attained a degree in finance, thanks to a pool-related scholarship to Lindenwood University. She got a job upon graduation and then, later, just beyond the height of the pandemic, was allowed to transfer and do that job remotely, back at home in Allentown, PA. Just this past weekend (March 5-6), Miller went undefeated to chalk up her first win on the J. Pechauer Northeast Women’s Tour (JPNEWT) in five years. Her last two recorded payouts came during the 2018 and 2019 Super Billiards Expo’s Women’s Championships in which she finished 9th and 5th, respectively.

Miller’s last win on the JPNEWT, in November of 2017, featured two, back-to-back victories (hot seat and finals) over Tour Director Linda Shea. In a circumstance that at the time, we described to be “as rare as a teenager that doesn’t play video games,” Miller shut Shea out in both matches. Like that event, the tour’s 2022 season opener, with its 29 entrants, was hosted by Triple Nines in Elkridge, MD.

“It’s great to see her out and playing again,” said Shea after this past weekend’s event. “I loved it. She’s all grown up now; nice and settled and doing well. Her game showed it. She shot the lights out.”

It was, all told, a big come-back weekend for Miller that happened to accompany a turning point for the JPNEWT, as well. Their season opener capped an overall effort to revitalize the tour. Their 2022 season has begun with a new ‘look.’ They’ve partnered with a new streaming company – TTMD Streaming (ThinkTechMD) – which has brought a degree of professionalism and new vitality to the streaming services, including such improvements as multiple camera angles, the ability to do instant replay and steady commentary from the familiar face and voice of pool instructor George Hammerbacher and Wayne Everhart, owner of TTMD. The company has also undertaken to improve the tour’s presence on varied forms of social media and have been instrumental in creating a new tour Web site.

“They were very professional,” noted Shea of TTMD Streaming’s presence at the tour’s season opener, “and I’m looking forward to a great union with them.”

“Not only that,” she added, ‘but feature this: we held an amateur event, as well, for 450 and below Fargo rates that I’ve been trying to grow for two years. TTMD’s on board for our first event of the season and they get 25 women to participate. The most I ever got was eight. They worked that very hard and for sure, get all the credit for that 450 and under event. They even put four players in the main event, sponsored them.”

The winner of the ‘450 and under’ event was Lynn Richard, who came from the loss side (three matches) and claimed the title, with Linda Cheung as runner-up. There was also a preliminary, 17-entrant ‘chip tournament’ on Friday night, March 4, with races to one that proved immensely popular. 

“It was a lot of fun,” said Shea. “Only 17 people (mixed genders, won by Pete Boyer), but it was a blast and they want it to come back every week.”

In main event, Millers runs a gauntlet of some of the better-known competitors on the tour

In spite of what Miller encountered as a lot of new faces, she ended up facing people that she knew, beginning with Lai Li and following with Judie Wilson and Linda Cheung, which brought her to a winners’ side semifinal against another familiar face, Eugenia Gyftopoulos. Kathy Friend, in the meantime, got by Melissa Jenkins, Alyssa Solt and survived a tough double hill challenge by Caroline Pao before advancing to her winners’ side semifinal against Ada Lio.

Friend downed Lio 7-3 and met up with Miller, who’d sent Gyftopoulos to the loss side by the same 7-3 score. Miller claimed the hot seat, her first in a long while, 7-2.

On the loss side, Lio picked up Linda Shea, who’d lost her opening match to Shanna Lewis and embarked on a six-match, loss-side winning streak that was almost derailed by Melissa Mason’s double hill challenge in the second, losers’ side round. Shea survived that, advancing to eventually eliminate Linda Cheung and Kia Burwell. Gyftopoulos drew Caroline Pao, who, following her defeat at the hands of Friend, had eliminated Lewis 7-4 and Judie Wilson 7-1.

Pao defeated Gyftopoulos 7-5, as Shea was busy getting by Lio 7-3. It set up a classic JPNEWT quarterfinal match between two of the tour’s most enduring event champions; Pao and Shea. Pao won this round of that ongoing rivalry 7-4 and then, dropped Friend 7-3 in the semifinals.

The finals of the 2022 season, pitting Pao against Miller, was, by almost any standard, a classic of the tour’s long-standing and still ongoing history. Behind them, at this event, were quite a few former JPNEWT champions; Shea, Burwell, Friend, Lewis, Lai Li and in absentia, the memory of Karen Corr. Ahead of them, as is always the case, was the table in front of them. Miller completed her undefeated run with a 7-4 victory over Pao to reclaim her spot among the tour’s best.

She’d taken a break and had now come back, to her hometown and pool. 

“After I graduated (in 2018, from Lindenwood), I felt like a needed a break,” she explained. “I’d been playing since I was eight (but) felt as though I wasn’t having as much fun anymore. So, I shifted my focus to other things.”

As for future plans, she’s keeping her expectations and specific plans on a ‘tight rein,’ so to speak. A sort of one day at a time approach.

“I think I’m going to stick with the JPNEWT for right now, to get back into the swing of things,” she said, adding that her ‘future’ eye is extended forward a little, toward future WPBA events and CSI’s Predator Pro Series, as examples. She’s considering attending this year’s Super Billiards Expo, but more likely as a spectator and to get reacquainted with some of the women she’d come to know over the years. “I might just go and say ‘Hi’ to everyone.

“I’m not at that level of play (to be) in a Pro event yet,” she added. “I’ll just get out there when I’m ready. Right now, I’m just playing pool to have fun.”

Tour director Linda Shea thanked the ownership and staff at Triple Nines for their hospitality, as well as title sponsor J. Pechauer Cues, ThinkTechMD for their streaming and social media services, as well as Gina Cunningham (real estate agent of Keller Williams Integrity) and George Hammerbacher.

The next event on the JPNEWT, scheduled for April 9-10, will be hosted by Markley Billiards in Norristown, PA.

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Wilkie goes undefeated to claim inaugural B & L 2022 Open 10-Ball Championship

Brian Kilgore, Shaun Wilkie and Lai Li

Inaugural events in the pool world, can be fraught with any number of issues. It takes a clear idea of what needs to be done and an extraordinary amount of perseverance and assistance to assure that it does. It requires the patience of a saint and the temperament of a seasoned psychiatrist, especially when the inaugural event draws a long list of Atlantic coast pool veterans, as the inaugural $5,000-added B & L Open 10-Ball Championships did this past weekend (Feb. 19-20), drawing 106 entrants to Center Pocket Café and Billiards in Bowie, MD.

“I think they did a great job,” said the event’s winner, Shaun Wilkie, who went undefeated to claim the title, downing runner-up, Raphael DaBreo twice; in the fourth round and again, in the finals.

Wilkie noted that while the inaugural B & L Open 10-Ball Championships weren’t Kilgore and Li’s ‘first rodeo,’ from his perspective, their previous tournament experience tended towards smaller venues and decidedly smaller crowds. The Center Pocket Café and Billiards venue helped, too, in that with 29 tables, they were able to keep matches moving throughout the two-day event.

“Those extra tables can get you more players, moving through the bracket,” said Wilkie. “Speeds it up.”

“Sometimes, too, you get pool rooms wanting their tables back (for use by the general public),” he added, “but the room made sure that all of the tables were available. We had tables available for the whole first day.”

Runner-up Raphael DaBreo, who has, as he put it, “dabbled’ in the experience of running tournaments himself, noted that the B & L organization was “very punctual and professional the way they ran it.”  

“From the player meetings right on through getting everyone playing by noon,” he said. “They were super transparent, too, and if they keep going in the direction of their inaugural event, they have a bright future ahead of them, in my opinion.”

DaBreo also noted that the ongoing proliferation of tournaments and operators is likely a reaction to what players in these tournaments perceive about them; that they’re not done well, and that they, personally, could do a better job.

“I’ve always felt that you wouldn’t have so many tournaments and operators, if someone was doing it right,” he said. “But sometimes you run into situations where it’s not being done well; funds are disappearing or there are discrepancies with skill levels or with local tournaments, maybe someone hasn’t paid. There always seems to be something that comes up.”

“They did it right,” he added of B & L’s inaugural efforts at a much larger event.

They join a wealth of tournament organizations, promoters and tournament directors who get it right, as well, more often than not. Once established, though, the good ones rarely get the credit they deserve. Their efforts can be taken for granted in tournament narratives that focus on the players, so here and now, at B & L’s inaugural ‘big’ event, credit where credit’s due. 

Wilkie and DaBreo ran through a gauntlet of the aforementioned Atlantic coast’s best to reach the finals. The five competitors Wilkie defeated on his journey to the hot seat match could have been the final five in any number of Atlantic coast tournaments over the past decade. Wilkie opened against Brian Dietzenbach and Joey Mastermaker, defeating them both 7-2, before running into DaBreo, whom he sent to the loss side 7-4. And as if that wasn’t enough, he drew BJ Ussery in a winners’ side quarterfinal. Ussery got to within a game of double hill, but Wilkie finished it at 7-5 to draw Thomas Haas in one of the winners’ side semifinals. 

Kang Lee, in the meantime, got off to a shaky start, with Josh Thiele battling him to double hill. Lee prevailed to send Coen Bell, Henry Cha and John Moody, Sr. to the loss side and face Thomas Zippler in the other winners’ side semifinal.

Wilkie downed Haas 7-4, as Lee dispatched Zippler 7-5. Wilkie gave up just a single rack in the battle for the hot seat and waited in it for DaBreo’s return.

On the loss side, the two Thomases (Haas and Zippler) ran right into their second straight loss. Haas had the relative misfortune of running into DaBreo, who was four matches into his loss-side streak, that had most recently included the elimination of John Moody, Sr. 6-2 and Derek Benavides. 6-3. Zippler picked up a re-match against Paul Krimes, who’d sent him to the loss side in a match that kept Krimes out of the winners’ side quarterfinals. Krimes won five straight to get to the rematch, including victories over Justin Muller 6-4 and to the surprise of many (likely, his opponent among them), BJ Ussery 6-4.

DaBreo downed Haas 6-1, while Krimes was wreaking his 6-1 vengeance on Zippler for the earlier defeat. Krimes’ satisfaction with the results of his rematch was short-lived, as DaBreo didn’t grant him a rack in the quarterfinals that followed.

The semifinals weren’t really the ‘pre-party’ to the finals that DaBreo was hoping for. Lee battled tooth and nail to double hill before DaBreo prevailed for his second shot against Wilkie, waiting for him in the hot seat. 

The finals weren’t too much of a ‘party’ for DaBreo, either. Wilkie completed his undefeated run with a 7- 2 win over DaBreo to claim the inaugural B + L 10-Ball Championship title.

It was Wilkie’s first win since he won the MD State Bar Table 10-Ball Championship this past November. A tumultuous couple of months followed that saw him place 25th in Turning Stone XXXIV last month (Jan. 6-9). On January 25, the man who’d started him playing pool, his grandfather, passed away. He’d been spending a lot of time, before and especially after, with his grandmother, and in a way, brought his grandfather with him to the tournament.

“I had him in my heart the whole time,” he said, “and I was really happy to pull it off, for me and him.”

Brian Kilgore and Lai Li thanked the ownership and staff at Center Pocket for their hospitality, as well as all of the players who signed on to make their inaugural B & L 10-Ball Championship a success. 

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Lai Li goes undefeated to win her first JPNEWT stop since 2019

Kia Sidbury, Shanna Lewis, Colleen Shoop, Lai Li, Linda Shea, Caroline Pao

Lai Li may not have intended for the Dynaspheres Cup 8-Ball Championships, held in Bowie, MD a little over a week ago (June 4-6) to be a warmup for this past weekend’s stop on the J. Pechauer Northeast Women’s Tour (JPNEWT), but it seemed to be just what the pool doctors ordered. Li was among only a handful of women who competed in the 8-ball event that drew 108 entrants to Center Pocket in Bowie, and though she finished out of the money (49th), she won over half of the games she played (16-14). A week later (June 12-13) and about half an hour north of Bowie, she signed on for her third appearance on the 2021 JPNEWT and went undefeated to claim her first title on the tour since November, 2019. Both of Li’s wins were hosted by Triple Nines in Elkridge, MD, which drew 23 entrants to this most recent stop (#4) on the tour.

Also noteworthy of this most recent JPNEWT stop was a 3rd place finish for Caroline Pao, who’d won two of the season’s first three stops and was runner-up in the other one, was looking for her eighth win on the tour since 2019. She was sent to the loss side early by Kia Burwell, and though she’d win six on the loss side to appear in the semifinals, Shanna Lewis stopped her loss side streak to earn a second shot at Li, waiting for her in the hot seat.

Awarded a bye in the opening round, Li got by Melissa Mason 7-4 and Judie Wilson 7-2 to arrive at a winners’ side semifinal against Colleen Shoop. Shanna Lewis, in the meantime, had also been awarded an opening round bye, after which she defeated Teri Thomas 7-5 and Cecilia Strain 7-3 to draw tour director Linda Shea in the other winners’ side semifinal.

It came within a game of being two double hill matches for the right to battle for the hot seat. Shea and Lewis battled to double hill before Lewis prevailed. Li downed Shoop 7-5 to join Lewis in the hot seat match. Li and Lewis battled to double hill to claim the hot seat and it was Lewis who moved west to face Pao in the semifinals. 

On the loss side, Shea walked right into a rematch versus Kia Burwell, who’d followed her victory over Caroline Pao in the opening round with a defeat at the hands of Shea in the second round. Burwell won four straight on the loss side, including a 7-5 win over Sharon O’Hanlon and a 7-4 victory over Teri Thomas to draw the rematch versus Shea. Shoop drew Pao, four matches into her loss-side streak that had most recently included eliminating Cecilia Strain 7-1 and Kelly Wyatt 7-5.

Pao advanced to the quarterfinals 7-2 over Shoop and was joined by Shea, who defeated Burwell a second time 7-4. Pao then defeated Shea 7-4 in those quarterfinals before herself being eliminated by Lewis 7-5 in the semifinals.

The final match, unlike the one they’d fought for the hot seat, did not require a 13th deciding game. It did, however, require 12 of them. Li completed her undefeated run 7-5 and claimed the event title. 

The top four in the tour standings remained the same, with Pao at the top, Liz Taylor in 2nd place, Nicole Nester in 3rd and Linda Shea in 4th. Lai Li, though, jumped from 13th to 5th, edging Judie Wilson out of that slot into 6th. Rounding out the top 10 were Kia Burwell, Carol V. Clark, Shelah Joner and Christine Pross.

Tour director Linda Shea thanked the ownership and staff at Triple Nines for their ongoing hospitality, as well as title sponsor J. Pechauer Custom Cues, Bitzel and Associates PTPA Physical Therapy, George Hammerbacher (Advanced Pool Instructor), and Britanya E Rapp of angle aim Art (for the live stream). The next stop on the JPNEWT, scheduled for June 26-27, will be hosted by Shooter’s Family Billiards in Wayne, NJ. 

Fresh from VA State Championship, Taylor goes undefeated on JPNEWT Season Finale

Liz Taylor and Kia Burwell

The last two times that Liz Taylor played on the J. Pechauer Northeast Women’s Tour, finishing as winner, and later, 9th place in the spring of 2010, Barack Obama was President of the United States. Now, 10 years later, as the world waits to see who will be the 46th President, Liz Taylor made a somewhat triumphant return and went undefeated on the tour’s 2020 season finale. The victory came a week after she had successfully defended her title in the 2020 VA State 8-Ball Championships. The tour’s season finale drew 18 entrants to On Cue Sports Bar & Grill in Front Royal, VA.

After being awarded an opening round bye, Taylor advanced to defeat Tiffany Lear and Lynn Richard, both 7-3, to draw the tour’s second highest ranked player, Kia Burwell in one of the winners’ side semifinals. Playing in the other one was the tour’s #1-ranked player, tour director Linda Shea, who had also been awarded an opening round bye, and then shut out Dawn Takacs and defeated Christie Hurdel 7-2 to draw 4th-ranked Lai Li.

Taylor and Shea advanced to the hot seat match with identical 7-4 wins over Burwell and Li, respectively. In what would prove to be one of the more entertaining matches of the event, Shea and Taylor traded the opening two racks, before Shea began edging out to what appeared to be a commanding 5-1 lead. Taylor, though, won the next rack to make it 5-2, before Shea reached the hill at 6-2. Taylor won the next four to force a 13th and deciding game.

With three balls left in the deciding rack (6, 8, & 9), Taylor took a long, two-rail kick shot in an attempt to hit the 6-ball and it sent both the 6-ball and the cue ball, down table, where Shea had herself a bit of a connect-the-dots pattern to finish the rack and the match. The 6-ball went down smoothly, Shea had positioned herself well for the 8-ball and it went down, too. The cue ball fell either a little short or a little long, depending on your perspective. Shorter, and Shea would have had a credible shot to put the 9-ball in a corner pocket. Longer, and she could have put it straight into a side pocket. Where it lay, she had an oblique angle shot at putting it in a side pocket, and she came within half a ball of doing just that. But the half that didn’t make it, bounced the 9-ball out into the center of the table, as the cue ball meandered into place for a fairly straight-in shot for Taylor. She made it and claimed the hot seat, as Shea moved to the semifinals. 

On the loss side, Burwell began her three-match march back to the finals against Christie Hurdel, who’d followed her defeat at the hands of Shea with victories over Kelly Costello 7-3 and Shelah Joner 7-4. Li drew Shanna Lewis, who’d lost a winners’ side, double hill battle versus Burwell and then, defeated Sharita Green 7-3 and Misti Zamora 7-2.

Li advanced to the quarterfinals 7-3 over Lewis, as Burwell downed Hurdel 7-5. Burwell then eliminated Li 7-3 in those quarterfinals. In the semifinal battle between the tour’s top two ranked players, #2 (Burwell) downed #1 (Shea) 7-1 for a shot at Taylor waiting in the hot seat. 

It was Burwell’s third appearance in a 2020 JPNEWT final and she was still looking for a win. She’d been runner-up to Shea in July and to Caroline Pao in October. The wait, for Taylor, which included the quarterfinal and semifinal matches, did not appear to affect her game at all.

She broke out to a 4-0 lead, before Burwell got on the board with a rack; the only one she would record. Taylor came back and won three straight to complete her undefeated run.

Based on their number of appearances and how they finished throughout the year, Shea and Burwell will finish the JPNEWT season as the top two players on the tour. Lai Li’s 4th place finish edged her ahead of Kathy Friend into third place. Friend and Caroline Pao round out the tour’s 2020 top five.

Shea thanked the ownership and staff at On Cue Sports Bar & Grill for their hospitality, as well as title sponsor J. Pechauer Custom Cues, angle aim Art (Britanya E Rapp) and Turtle Rack. She also added her gratitude for the “girls” on the tour, who consistently lend a hand when needed, like Sharon O’Hanlon and Judie Wilson.

Though like most pool tours, the JPNEWT was affected by the pandemic, it had to cancel only tthree of its events; one each in April, May and June. At the same time, according to Shea, the tour attracted new players at almost every event.

“I’m feeling grateful,” said Shea, the day after the season finale and three days ahead of Thanksgiving. “It was a good year, everybody (in a broad circle of family, friends and members of the pool community) is healthy.”

Shea said that the 2021 JPNEWT schedule is in the works and that the tour will be improving on location and numbers.

“We have a lot of league pool players in the area, who generally play on bar boxes,” she said, “so this coming year, we’ll be at a total of 12 locations and two of them will have bar box tables to bridge to the area’s league players.”

“Overall,” she added, embracing activities beyond her direction of the pool tour, “I don’t think I have a thing to complain about.”

Friend comes back from semifinals to down Shea and win Stop #6 on JPNEWT

Nicole King, Lai Li, Kathy Friend and Linda Haywood Shea

This does take a little getting used to. The J. Pechauer Northeast Women’s Tour leapfrogged over three of its scheduled 2020 stops and returned to action on the weekend of July 25-26. Rather than re-number the tour stops throughout the rest of the season, they opted to keep the original numbers. Thus, the actual third stop on the 2020 tour, held this past weekend (August 15-16), is still considered for documentation intents and purposes as Stop #6.

Though Tour Director Linda Haywood Shea would make it to the hot seat in her quest for a second straight event title since the tour returned to action, Kathy Friend, making her first appearance on the 2020 tour, thwarted that effort in the finals, downing Shea to claim her first 2020 title. Participation doubled for this event over the numbers realized in the tour’s first stop back last month (9). The $500-added (by Coins of the Realm) event, hosted by Triple Nines in Elkridge, MD, drew 19 entrants.

It was an extraordinarily competitive weekend for the JPNEWT ladies. They played a total of 36 matches; 19 on the winners’ side (including the final) and 17 on the losers’ side. Of those 36, 15 of them were either double hill or 7-5 contests. Five of the eight matches played in the second round on the winners’ side went double hill or 7-5. The hot seat match and semifinal went double hill, as well.

Shea’s path to the hot seat went through Eugenia Gyftopoulos and Kia Burwell, both 7-5, to arrive at a winners’ side semifinal against Char Dzambo. Kathy Friend opened her campaign up with a double hill win over Kelly Daniel and then sent Nicole King to the loss side 7-5 to arrive at her winners’ side semifinal match against Melissa Jenkins.

Shea got into the hot seat match on the heels of a shutout over Dzambo. Friend joined her after sending Jenkins west 7-3. Shea claimed the hot seat, double hill, and waited on Friend’s return.

On the loss side, Dzambo picked up Nicole King, who, after being defeated by Friend on the winners’ side, had eliminated April Hatcher 7-4 and Sharon O’Hanlon 7-2. Jenkins drew Lai Li, who’d won a double hill match versus Sharon O’Hanlon on the winners’ side and then lost one to Dzambo, before showing up on the loss side to down Lynn Richard 7-3 and then, survive a third double hill fight against Kia Burwell.

Li downed Jenkins 7-3, as King was eliminating Dzambo 7-4. Li took the subsequent quarterfinal match 7-3 over King, but in her fourth double hill fight, Li was defeated by the apparently determined Kathy Friend in the semifinals.

Friend passed on closing out the JPNEWT’s 6th stop with a double hill final. In the single race to 9, she defeated Shea 9-5 to claim the event title and rocket her way to third on the tour’s standings, behind Shea and Burwell and tied with Shanna Lewis, who won the season opener back in March.

Shea thanked the ownership and staff at Triple Nines, as well as title sponsor J. Pechauer Custom Cues, Coins of the Realm, angle aim Art (Britanya E. Rapp) and Turtle Rack. The next stop on the JPNEWT, scheduled for Sept. 19-20, will be hosted by First Break Bar & Grill in Sterling, VA.

Shanna Lewis gets by Lai Li twice, double hill, to win JPNEWT season opener

Shanna Lewis

Pool tournaments will often play host to competitors who, for one reason or another, have been away from the game for a while. Depending upon the skill level they’d attained before they stopped competing, how long they’ve been away and the overall competitive level of the field they enter upon their return, the result could go either way. The competitor could go ‘two and out,’ if they’re seriously out of practice and stroke, or they could make it seem as though pool’s like riding a bicycle, where one can more or less pick up where they left off.

Shanna Lewis, whose last reported cash payout in a pool tournament was at a Q Master Billiards Mid-Atlantic Women’s 9-Ball Open in 2015 (9th place), returned to the tables this past weekend (March 7-8) to compete in the season opener of the J. Pechauer Northeast Women’s Tour. Lewis chose the ‘like riding a bicycle’ option and went undefeated through the field of 31, downing last year’s runner-up in the Tour Championship standings, Lai Li, twice. The $500-added (by Coins of the Realm), NAPT Div. II Semi-Pro event drew 31 entrants to Triple Nines in Elkridge, MD.

Her own assessment of her TAFT (time away from table) was more in the vicinity of 10 years. It was an absence prompted by a decision to focus on the business career side of her life. She’s back, now, still working on the business side of her career, but with some flexibility to spend more TAT (time at table). While acknowledging that she’s returned with her skills more or less intact, she noted that it wasn’t as easy as it looked from the nature of the undefeated run and her two victories over Lai Li might indicate.

“Yeah, there were times during the tournament when I was thinking, ‘Yeah, this is great,” she said, “but there were other times when I felt like I couldn’t put a ball in the hole that was a straight shot.”

That said, Lewis was back on the bicycle right from the start, winning 14 of her first 17 games. She gave up only one rack to Judie Wilson and then two to Melissa Mason before running into Elaine Wilson, who, in essence, by chalking up five racks against her, applied some brakes to Lewis’ bicycle. It dropped Lewis’ game-winning percentage by 10 points in a single match. Lewis won, though, and advanced to face Teri Thomas in a winners’ side semifinal.

Lai Li, in the meantime, had opened with a 7-1 victory over Charlynn Dzambo, defeated Kelly Wyatt 7-4 and downed the tour’s 2020 champion, Linda Shea, 7-4 in a winners’ side quarterfinal.  The draw wasn’t getting any easier as Li advanced to face Kia Sidbury in the other winners’ side semifinal.

Lewis got into the hot seat match with another 7-1 victory, over Thomas, and faced Li, who’d sent Sidbury to the loss side 7-4. In their first of two, they battled to double hill before Lewis prevailed to sit in her first hot (bicycle) seat in a while.

On the loss side, Nicole Nester and Sharon O’Hanlon were working on modest three-match, loss-side winning streaks that had begun when they’d lost their winners’ side quarterfinal match to  Teri Thomas and Kia Sidbury, respectively. Nester and O’Hanlon both won two loss-side double hill battles; Nester, versus Colleen Shoop and Eugenia Gyftopoulos; O’Hanlon, over two ‘powerhouse’ opponents – Nicole King and Tour Director, Linda Shea. They did not, however, draw rematches because Nester drew Sidbury and O’Hanlon drew Thomas.

Nester advanced to the quarterfinals 7-4 over Sidbury, as Thomas eliminated O’Hanlon 7-3. Nester then downed Thomas 7-3 in those quarterfinals, before herself being eliminated in a double hill fight versus Li in the semifinals.

A second, slightly longer double hill fight, Li’s third straight, ensued in the finals. Lewis won it 9-8 to claim the title to JPNEWT’s 2020 season opener.

Tour director Linda Shea thanked the ownership and staff at Triple Nines, as well as title sponsor J. Pechauer Custom Cues, Coins of the Realm, The Turtle Rack (www.mezzusa.com), Baltimore City Cues, and the live stream, sponsored by Britanya E. Rapp, billiards artist (angle aim Art). The next stop on the JPNEWT, scheduled for the weekend of April 4-5, will be hosted by Markley Billiards in Norristown, PA.

Li goes undefeated, downing Sykes twice to win JPNEWT season finale

Bethany Sykes & Lai Li

The finalists in the season finale of the J. Pechauer Northeast Women’s Tour were both in the midst of their best earnings year to date and were looking for their first win on the tour. Though Bethany Sykes was the State of Virginia’s 8-Ball Champion almost exactly a year ago, had chalked up a win on the gender-mixed Action Pool Tour in January and a month later, had won the Division II Championship on the (presently) all-female North American Pool Tour in February, she had yet to win an event on the JPNEWT. Lai Li, her opponent in both the hot seat match and finals, was looking for her first regional tour win ever and found it, as she went undefeated to win the tour’s season finale on the weekend of Nov. 16-17. The $500-added (by Coins of the Realm) event (Stop #8) drew 22 players to Triple Nines in Elkridge, MD.

The victory elevated Lai Li one spot on the Tour Standings list to #2. Tour director Linda Shea, who, for obvious reasons, has competed in all eight of the tour’s stops, finished 3rd in the season finale to retain her spot at the top of the tour standings. Caroline Pao, who won the three stops in which she competed and finished 3rd in the tour standings, did not compete in the season finale.

Following victories over Ceci Strain 7-1, Teri Thomas 7-3 and Melissa Jenkins 7-4, Lai Li advanced to a winners’ side semifinal against Anita Sowers. Sykes’ trip to the hot seat match was almost derailed at the outset. After being awarded an opening round bye, Sykes drew Eugenia Gyftopoulos, who battled her to double hill before finally giving way for Sykes to advance. Sykes went on to down Kelly Wyatt 7-5 and advance to her winners’ side semifinal match against Judie Wilson.

By identical 7-5 scores, Li and Sykes defeated Sowers and Wilson and advanced to the hot seat match. Li took the first of their two matches 7-5 and waited on her return.

On the loss side, Sowers picked up tour director Linda Shea, who’d been sent to the loss side by Judie Wilson in a winners’ side quarterfinal and had then defeated Serafina Concannon 7-5 and Sharon O’Hanlon 7-3. Wilson drew a rematch against Kia Sidbury, whom she’d defeated in an early round and was in the midst of a six-match, loss-side winning streak that had most recently included victories over Carol V. Clark 7-3 and a double hill win over Melissa Jenkins.

Shea defeated Sowers 7-3 and in the quarterfinals, faced Sidbury, who’d had a successful rematch against Wilson 7-4. Shea then ended Sidbury’s loss-side streak 7-5 in those quarterfinals.

Sykes, though, ended Shea’s four-match, loss-side trip with a 7-3 victory in the semifinals. Li, apparently unaffected by the wait, defeated Sykes in their second match, the finals, 7-3.

Tour director Shea thanked the ownership and staff at Triple Nines for their hospitality as well as title sponsor J. Pechauer Custom Cues, Coins of the Realm, Mezz USA, Baltimore City Cues, and for the live stream, Britanya E Rapp with angle aim Art. The tour will be back at Triple Nines in Elkridge, MD for their 2020 season opener on the weekend of March 7-8, 2020.