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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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Hogue goes undefeated to claim 2022 Sandcastle Open in Edison, NJ

Greg Hogue and Danny Olson

Conflict between expectations and event reality stirs controversy 

Greg Hogue of Tulsa, OK, has had two good (recorded) earning years at the tables. They stand as bookends to a 15-year pool career that began in 2006, which remains on record with us here at AZBilliards as his best earnings year. It continues with what is now his second-best earnings year, this one, thanks in large measure to his undefeated performance at the 2022 Sandcastle Open last weekend (June 4-5). The $2,500-added event drew 32 entrants to Sandcastle Billiards in Edison, NJ.

Hogue had to face South Dakota’s Danny Olson twice in this event. Olson, as it happens, is in the midst of his best recorded earnings year since he first showed up in our player database back in 2011. At the end of the Sandcastle Open, while Hogue had moved up to a career-high spot on our AZB Money Leaderboard (#100), Olson moved up to his career-high spot on the board to #72.

They met first in the winners’ side second round. As Hogue was working on an opening round, 7-4 victory over Alex Vangelov, Olson had his hands full with a double hill fight against one of the top players in the world, Jayson Shaw. Olson won that battle, only to be sent west by Hogue 7-4. Hogue advanced to win his third straight 7-4 victory, over Levie Lampaan and pick up Jonathan Pinegar (aka Hennessee from Tennessee) in one of the winners’ side semifinals. Meanwhile, Oscar Dominguez from the West Coast had been busy downing his young protege Adrian Prasad, Alex Osipov and Josh Thiele to arrive at his winners’ side semifinal battle against Raymond Linares.

Dominguez added another 7-4 win to the batch of them, downing Linares to earn his spot in the hot seat match. Hogue joined him after sending Pinegar to the loss side 7-5. Hogue sent Dominguez to the semifinals, claiming the hot seat 7-5.

On the loss side, Pinegar picked up Danny Olson, four matches into the seven-match, loss-side streak that would end in the finals against Hogue. He’d recently eliminated Mhet Vergara 7-2 and Shane Wolford 7-3. Linares drew Derek Daya, who was working on a six-match, loss-side streak that included victories over Lampaan 7-5 and knocked Jayson Shaw out of the tournament 7-4.

Daya chalked up his sixth in a row against Linares 7-5, while Olson was defeating Pinegar 7-3. Olson then stopped Daya’s run 7-3 in the subsequent quarterfinals.

Olson punched his ticket to the finals with a 7-5 win over Dominguez in the semifinals. Though Olson would chalk up one more rack than he’d managed against Hogue in the second round, Hogue claimed the Sandcastle Open title 7-5.

Old story, new day . . .

The 32-entrant field, which resulted in the promotional, expected figure of ‘$5,000-added’ being reduced to the reality of ‘$2,500-added,’ didn’t sit well with the players who showed up. Sandcastle Billiards owner, Ed Liddawi, wasn’t too happy about it either. Prior to the event, 55 players had registered to compete. By the time the event started, that number had dwindled to 32, with only two of the 23 players who did not compete, providing reasonable explanations regarding their inability to attend.  The flyer promoting the event made it clear that the ‘$5,000-added’ figure was contingent upon a field of 64 entrants and in the end, Liddawi returned the entry fees to all of the players who had submitted an entrance fee, to include some who reached out to him, in less than reasonable ways, while he was in the middle of conducting the event they had failed to attend.

In comments that surfaced on our own AZBilliards Forums, some players made the point (in a variety of ways) that financial considerations dictate whether or not someone is going to sign on to compete (entry fees, green fees, calculated travel and living expenses, weighed against the potential for winning enough cash to offset those expenses and hopefully, more). Thus, plans to compete are often contingent on there being sufficient money at stake to make attendance worthwhile. A subsequent and substantial reduction in the amount of prize money available has a way of altering the cost/benefit analysis to the point where not only might a player have to face the reality of not making any money, he/she might end up losing money.

That said, room owners, tour directors and event promoters, like Ed Liddawi, are conducting the same sort of cost/benefit analysis built on the financial burdens they have to assume when considering the creation and promotion of a given event. When, through no fault of their own, some of the math is thrown off track, then they, too, have to face the reality that instead of an event, that as planned, was designed to benefit their own financial expectations, as well as the  expectations of the players, they have to make hard decisions that inevitably impact both sides of the financial equations. Just like the players, they can end up losing money, too. 

Not an ideal set of situations for anybody. 

The debate, articulated in the Forums and in some cases, personally to us here at AZBilliards is not new and in a polarizing way, familiar to anyone who follows politics these days. It’s not enough apparently to just state a given case, it becomes necessary to demonize one’s opponents; to call a room owner/event promoter ‘greedy,’ or complain, in general, about how much ‘these people’ work toward making a player’s life miserable by ‘stealing’ from them with no regard as to what they, the players have to deal with, or, conversely, that players ‘don’t understand or care’ about what it takes to organize and ultimately run an event and are ‘only interested in themselves.’

Those are NOT quotes from any particular individuals, merely examples of the sort of close-minded debate that contributes little or nothing to the solution of a central problem that has plagued pool longer than AZBilliards has been around. Part of the problem is, of course, that there have been in the past and continue to be room owners/event promoters who are greedy, cheat players out of money and act in bad faith, caring little about the fate of the players they’re hosting at a given event. But there are also players who act out of bad faith, too, assume they’re being cheated and start with that as a premise when they engage in any sort of discussion about a specific controversy.

The specifics of this decades-old controversy, to include actual quotes from players and room owners can be found in our Forums, stretching back over the years, with a great deal of regularity. Complaining falls under the umbrella of individual and “inalienable rights,” afforded to greedy room owners/event promoters and self-centered, whining pool players alike. But you can’t paint all room owners/event promoters and players with the same brush. It should be noted, as well, that many room owners are players themselves at varied levels of proficiency (Jayson Shaw and Oscar Dominguez, who attended this event, as two examples, and Ed Liddawi, who put it on). Responsible, reasonable room owners/event promoters and responsible, reasonable players do not tend to join the acrimonious debate, especially when it devolves into senseless name-calling and baseless accusations. It is not anyone’s intent to censor the commentary or the Forum community, but it should be incumbent on individuals in both ‘camps’ to seek reasonable solution(s) to the varied and apparently intractable problems represented in the debates themselves.   

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Two tour veterans, each seeking first Joss NE 9-Ball title, battle it out in finals of season finale

Pete Bowman, Mike Zuglan, Snookers manager Paul Troxell and Ray McNamara

Oldest player to win on tour,’ Bob Darigis, wins Second Chance event

He’d be the first to tell you that it’d been a long time coming. But it did show up. This past weekend (June 4-5), after 20 years of attempts, Ray McNamara (generally known on the tour as ‘Ray Mac’) claimed his first Joss NE 9-Ball Tour title, using the last regular season event of the tour’s 2021-2022 season to do so. In an effort that began (as far as we know) with a 7th place finish at a stop in Bristol, CT in October of 2002, McNamara went on to compete regularly on the Joss and other tours, and more recently, won the 364-entrant Amateur Senior event of the Super Billiards Expo this past April. The $1,500-added, 15th stop on the 2021-2022 Joss Northeast 9-Ball Tour drew 53 entrants to Snooker’s in Providence, RI.

In addition to crowning a first-time champion, the event played host to another event champion, whom tour director Mike Zuglan described as “the oldest person (he could) think of who won any of (their) events.”  A $500-added Second Chance tournament that drew 14 entrants was won by 71-year-old Bob Darigis.

“Ray Mac and Bob were both around in the days when me, Larry Lisciotti and Joe Tucker were still playing around,” said Zuglan.

Ray Mac’s trip to the winners’ circle had to go through another Joss NE 9-Ball veteran, also looking for his first (recorded with us) win on the tour, Pete Bowman. They met twice; hot seat match and finals. Mac had gotten by Nick Coppola, Lida Mullendore, Clyde Matta and Ryan Cullen to arrive at a winners’ side semifinal match against Bob Madenjian, who, it should be noted, finished in the four-way tie for 5th place behind McNamara in the SBE’s Amateur Senior tournament in April and would end up in the same position at this event. Peter Bowman sent Aro Majumber and Brandon Coley to the loss side before encountering the later-to-be winner of the Second Chance event, Bob Darigis, who battled him tooth and nail to double hill before he sent him over, as well. Bowman then downed Darren Jevons to pick up Kerry McAuliffe in the other winners’ side semifinal.

Mac sent Madenjian west 9-2, while Bowman was defeating McAuliffe 9-3. McNamara claimed the hot seat 9-5, which was, as far as we know, his first.

On the loss side, McAuliffe picked up Steve Mack, who’d lost a winners’ side quarterfinal to Madenjian and jumped onto the loss-side wagon with victories over Rich Kravetz 7-5 and Dan Sharlow 7-3. Madenjian picked up Francisco Salas, who’d also lost to Madenjian on the winners’ side (3rd round) and was working on a seven-match, loss-side streak that would take him as far as the semifinals and include the double-hill elimination of Jeremy Sossei, followed by wins over Darren Jevons 7-2 and Frankie Hernandez 7-3.

Mack did his part to secure a rematch versus Madenjian with a 7-4 win over McAuliffe, but Salas took Madenjian out 7-5 and then eliminated Mack 7-3 in the quarterfinals. 

Bowman closed out Salas’ run with a 7-3 win in the semifinals to earn his second shot at Ray Mac, waiting for him in the hot seat. Though Salas would chalk up three more racks against Ray Mac in the finals than he had in the hot seat, Ray Mac prevailed 9-5 to claim his first Joss Northeast 9-Ball title, closing the ‘long time coming’ door behind him.

The final standings in tour points were headed up by Bucky Souvanthong, who appeared in nine of the season’s 15 events, winning five of them. Ron Casanzio finished in 2nd place, based on 10 appearances, with a single win. Jeremy Sossei was in 3rd place, having won three of his five appearances. Len Gianfrate placed fourth, just ahead of Aaron Greenwood. Rounding out the top 10 on the 2021-2022 tour were Jamie Garrett, Dan Sharlow, Frank Hernandez, Mhet Vergara and Bruce Carroll. 

Tour director Mike Zuglan thanked Regina and Steve Goulding and their Snookers’ staff for their hospitality, as well as title sponsor Joss Cues, Turning Stone Resort Casino, Simonis Cloth, Poolonthenet.com, AZBilliards, Aramith, Billiards Press and World Class Cue Care. The next event, the tour’s season finale, scheduled for Sept. 1-4, will be the $25,000-added Turning Stone Classic XXXV 9-Ball Open, hosted by the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, NY

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Sossei takes two out of three over Kiamco to win Joss NE 9-Ball Tour stop on Long Island

Warren Kiamco, Raxx Owner Holden Chin and Jeremy Sossei

It was Jeremy Sossei’s third, and second straight, win in four attempts on the 2021-22 Joss Northeast 9-Ball Tour this past weekend (May 14-15). It was Warren Kiamco’s first appearance on the tour this year, and with it being a long way from the man’s ‘first rodeo,’ he got as close to winning it as possible; facing Sossei three times, battling to double hill twice, but winning only the first set of the true double elimination final. The $1,500-added event drew 42 entrants to Raxx Pool Room, Sports Bar & Grill in West Hempstead, NY.

Going into Stop #14, Bucky Souvanthong and Ron Casanzio were the tour’s top two points leaders (#1 & #2), way out in front of the field, based on the number of times they’ve competed in the 2021-22 season and on their finish positions each time they did so. They didn’t compete in Stop #14, which left a door open for Sossei, who obligingly walked in, won his second straight stop on the tour and promptly moved himself into third place in the tour-point standings. Kiamco was probably a ‘wild card’ that Sossei had not expected in the deck.

Sossei ran into some immediate trouble when he opened his run in a double hill battle against Ron Piontkowski. Once over that hurdle, he downed Chuck Allie 9-5 and shut out Chris Lazaravitch, before facing Mhet Vergara in a match that came within a game of double hill. He survived that to draw John Francisco in one of the winners’ side semifinals. Kiamco drew a bye in his opening round and went on to send Troy Deocharran (4), Alex Osipov (2) and Ray Lee (2) to the loss side, picking up Mike Renshaw in the other winners’ side semifinal.

Kiamco got into the hot seat match with a shutout over Renshaw, while Sossei sent Francisco to the loss side 9-4. In his first of three versus Kiamco and the first of two straight double hill matches, Sossei claimed the hot seat.

On the loss side, Francisco drew a rematch against Yesid Garibello, whom he’d sent to the loss side in a third-round, double hill fight. Garibello moved over to engage in a four-match winning streak that had recently eliminated Lazaravitch 7-2 and Caroline Pao, double hill. Renshaw drew Mhet Vergara, who’d followed his winners’ side quarterfinal loss to Sossei with wins over Jay Plonski and Mike Salerno, both 7-4.

Garibello wreaked his vengeance on Francisco 7-5, while Vergara was eliminating Renshaw by the same score, and, as it turned out, by the same score that Vergara eliminated Garibello in the subsequent quarterfinals.

Vergara was one step away from a rematch against Sossei, who’d sent him to the loss side, five matches ago. Unfortunately, for him, it was Warren Kiamco who was in his way in the semifinals that followed. Kiamco was the one who earned the rematch, downing Vergara 7-4.

For the second time, Sossei and Kiamco locked themselves up in a double hill fight, in the opening set of the true double elimination final. This time, though, it was Kiamco who won. The ‘wild card’ was on the table and very much in play. Sossei, though, had his own hand to play and did so in the second set, defeating Kiamco 7-3 to claim title to the 14th stop on the 2021-22 Joss NE 9-Ball Tour.

A $500-added Second Chance tournament drew eight entrants and was won by Raxx Pool Room, Sports Bar & Grill’s owner, Holden Chin. Chin shut out Sly Vachiro in the hot seat match and in the true double-elimination final, faced Mike Callaghan, who’d lost his opening match to Vachiro, won two straight double hill matches to begin his four-match trip back to the finals and then shut out Vachiro in their semifinal rematch. He then took the opening set of the true double elimination final, before Chin came back to shut him out in the second set. 

The next stop on the Joss NE 9-Ball Tour, scheduled for the weekend of June 4-5, will be a $1,500-added event, hosted by Snookers Sports Billiards, Bar & Grill in Providence, RI. The season finale of the 2021-22 season – Turning Stone Classic XXXV 9-Ball Open – is scheduled for September 1-4 at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, NY.

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Shaw wins final battle versus Appleton in Open NineBall Pro Players Championship

Jayson Shaw

Nearly 2,000 entrants, with some event crossovers, compete in Amateur events

As of March 31, three weeks before the Super Billiards Expo opened its doors, the Diamond Open NineBall Professional Players Championship was designated as an Official Nineball World Ranking event, and while it did not literally draw its entrance field from everywhere, there was a very evident sense of international competition. The final 16 featured representation from the US (five) and 11 competitors from seven foreign countries – Austria, Germany (2), Russia, the UK (2), Canada (2), the Philippines and Hong Kong (2). The international ‘feel’ of the event was most evident in what was easily among (if not “the”) most anticipated matchup of the four-day event, between the UK’s Jayson Shaw and Russia’s Fedor Gorst. The matchup, which occurred in the single-elimination quarterfinals, lived up to its billing, as the two battled to double hill before Shaw advanced. More on this later, along with the final matchup between Shaw and Darren Appleton, which waited until the 17th of its potential 21 games before Shaw pulled away to win the next two and claim the title. 

There were quite a few “wish I coulda been there” matches throughout the event’s four days, up to and including matches among the final 16, which were, for obvious reasons, witnessed by the SBE’s largest crowds in the Pro arena. Pre-single-elimination, there was the double hill battle between Shaw and Billy Thorpe, which moved Shaw into the final 16, the Fedor Gorst and Ralf Souquet (new school/old school) match that sent Gorst to the final 16, and Appleton’s two straight double hill matches; one win (Jeff Beckley) and one loss (Mhet Vergara), which sent “Dynamite” to the loss side, where a single win, over Bucky Souvanthong, sent him (Appleton) to the final 16. And, as always, any match featuring Earl Strickland as a competitor is always entertaining, whether because of exuberant antics or just plain rock-solid shooting.

The Shaw/Gorst match followed a Shaw “Sweet 16” victory over John Morra 11-6 and a Gorst win over Thorsten Hohmann 11-8. Gorst opened with two straight racks and kept that as a minimum lead until rack #17. By the 12th rack, Gorst was leading by four. Two straight racks that featured Shaw dropping a combination shot that dropped the 9-ball cut that lead in half. Gorst went three-up at 9-6, but Shaw came right back with a break and run that reduced it to two again.

Off a Gorst break, Shaw narrowed the lead to one until that 17th rack, when Shaw came within one. Shaw broke the 18th, but turned the table over briefly, before, with a second chance, he dropped a 3-9 combination that yielded the match’s first tie. Gorst dropped two balls on his break, but Shaw came through to get on the hill with his first lead of the match. Gorst, with a scratch-on-the-break assist from Shaw, made it interesting by winning the 20th, double hill rack.

Gorst broke dry in the deciding rack, but Shaw turned the table back over to Gorst, who promptly scratched shooting at the 2-ball. Shaw ran to the 8-ball and Gorst conceded the game and match. 

Moving into the semifinals, Shaw drew Mario He, who’d earlier defeated Jonathan Pinegar 11-7 and Oscar Dominguez 11-9. Appleton’s path to the finals from the final 16 started out against Earl Strickland. He got by him 11-6 and then downed Joseph Spence 11-3. In the semifinals, Appleton drew Billy Thorpe, who’d recently eliminated Robbie Capito 11-9 and Souquet 11-8. 

Shaw downed He 11-7, as Appleton was busy dispatching Thorpe 11-4. The all-UK battle was on.

In the early going of the finals, it appeared as though neither of them was going to win a rack off their own break. Appleton won the lag, broke dry and Shaw ran the table to take a 1-0 lead. Shaw broke, dropping two balls and scratching. Appleton set up a 1-9 combination to tie it up. They went back and forth like this, winning the other’s break to a single game lead for Shaw at 4-3.

Shaw broke the 8th rack, dropped one, and after giving the table back to Appleton briefly, won the rack, his first off his own break, to take the game’s first two-game lead. He made it a three-game lead (his first of two), before Appleton chalked up two in a row to make it 6-5. Shaw used a terrific jump shot at the 2-ball to maintain his run of rack #12. On Appleton’s break of rack #13, he dropped one ball, but almost immediately gave the table to Shaw, who missed hitting the 1-ball, completely. Shaw saw an obvious 1-9 combination awaiting Appleton’s arrival at the table, so, gentleman that he was, he picked up the cue ball and placed it in the position it needed to be for Appleton to make the combination. He did so without handling the cue ball Shaw had set for him.

Shaw dropped two balls on the break of rack #14 and used another terrific jump shot to jumpstart his third win off his own break and then, off Darren’s break, established his second three-rack lead at 9-6. Appleton fought right back, winning the next two and including his own terrific jump shot at the 1-ball that started his 8th game win.

Ahead by a single rack at 9-8, Shaw broke and ran the 18th (his fourth win off his own break) to reach the hill first. Darren broke the 19th rack, sinking one ball, but couldn’t see the 1-ball. He pushed (the one and only time that happened all match) and Shaw finished the game to claim the event title. 

Amateur events draw 35 shy of 2,000 entrants

Not including the two junior events for ages 17/Under and 12/under, the total entrants for which were not recorded, the nine amateur events of the 2022 SBE drew a total of 1,965 entrants (with some crossover between events). This brought the total number of participating pool players to 2,101. The two Pro events (73 Open and 63 Women) thus represented just 6% of the total number of players who competed this year. Trying to detail 9 events, especially the 996-entrant Open Amateur would be unwieldy, so we offer some information about and congratulations to the 94% percent who were the largest participating contingent of pool players at the 2022 SBE.

6-Ball Amateur Players Championship (200) – 1st Danny Mastermaker, 2nd Fred Goodman III, 3rd Jared Demalia/Daniel Dagotdot

Early Bird Super Seniors (58) – 1st Ike Runnels, 2nd Martin Ciccia, 3rd Al Muccilli/Flaco Rodriguez

Open Amateur (996) – 1st Chris Bruner, 2nd Pat McNally, 3rd Jomax Garcia/Derick Daya

Senior Amateur (364) – 1st Raymond McNamara, 2nd Chris Sutzer, 3rd Javier Perez/Efrain Morales

Super Seniors (149) – 1st Gene Rossi, 2nd Ed Matushonek, 3rd Frank Sorriento/Ace Aughty

Women’s Amateur (166) – 1st Tina Malm, 2nd Ashley Benoit, 3rd Nicole Nester/Bethany Tate

Junior (12 & Under) – 1st Jim Powell, 2nd D’Angelo (“Jaws”) Spain, 3rd Noah Majersky, 4th Evan Demelo

Junior (18 & Under) – 1st Brent Worth, 2nd Payne McBride, 3rd Landon Hollingsworth, 4th Yan Pena

ProAm BarBox (32) – 1st Joe Dupuis, 2nd Alan Rolan Rosado, 3rd Bart Czapla/Joey Tate

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Local Room Owner Jayson Shaw Wins New England Hall of Fame Open

Jayson Shaw, Regina & Steve Goulding and Raphael DaBreo

The biggest story this season on the Joss NE 9-Ball Tour has been the dominant player of tour points leader Bucky Souvanthong. While he was not in attendance at the 12th New England Pool & Billiard Hall of Fame Open on March 5th – 6th at Snookers in Providence Rhode Island, even Souvanthong might have had a hard time keeping up with eventual event winner Jayson Shaw. 

Shaw, the owner of the nearby pool room US1 Billiards, made the two hour trek to Providence and turned in an undefeated run through the field of 81 players. Shaw explained that taking care of his room had kept him from devoting the time to the game that he wanted to over the past couple of years, but with the assistance of his wife Ara, he now had the room under control and was ready to get back to his past form. He must have been pretty close to that past form, as he had wins over Scott Tavernier, Mhet Vergara, Frank Wolak and Kevin West on Saturday. Tavernier and West both got four racks against Shaw, and that was the most he allowed all day. 

Shaw’s Sunday started off with two more dominant wins, a 9-2 match against Greg “Sweet Money” Winbush and then another 9-2 win over Phil Davis for the hot-seat. Just prior to the loss against Shaw, Davis sent last year’s Ocean State 9-Ball Champion Raphael DaBreo to the one loss side and DaBreo got his revenge in the semi-final match, eliminating Davis 7-3.

The final match only took one set, with Shaw scoring a 9-7 win for first place and his first Joss Tour win since January’s Turning Stone Classic. 

Shaw, who says he likes nothing better than getting together with some fellow Europeans for a team event at the end of each year, earned $1550 for first place and hopes this won’t be his last big win of the year. Shaw isn’t limiting his options to just 9-ball events either. Lately, he says he has picked up the game of straight pool and actually had his lifetime best run just a few weeks ago. If what the fans saw in Providence is any indication, we will definitely be seeing Shaw’s name in the winners circle again soon. 

Sunday’s second chance event saw Robert Lee take the hot-seat with a 3-1 win over Jamie Gauthier, but it was RJ Carmona coming from the one loss side scored 3-1 and 3-0 wins over Lee in the finals for first place. 

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Vergara over Vann Corteza For First Career Joss Tour Win

Lee Vann Corteza, Raxx Owner Holden Chin and Mhet Vergara

Mhet Vergara went through a field of 42 players undefeated, including back to back wins over Filipino powerhouse Lee Vann Corteza, to notch his first career Joss NE 9-Ball Tour win at Raxx Pool Room & Grill in West Hempstead, NY on November 6th – 7th.

Vergara was on a roll on Saturday with wins over Nick Brucato 9-1, Dave Callaghan 9-2, Muhammad Ali 9-0 and Rick Motilal 9-1. Vergara was joined by Vann Corteza, Jonas Souto and Ryan Cullen. While Saturday play had its share of lopsided matches, things tightened up on Sunday. In Vergara’s 9-5 win over Cullen on Sunday, he lost more racks in one match than he lost all day on Saturday. Meanwhile, Vann Corteza defeated Souto 9-6 to set up a Vergara / Vann Corteza hot seat match. That hot seat match was even closer, with Vergara scoring a 9-7 win over Vann Corteza. 

On the one loss side, Souto made quick work of Gregg McAndrews 7-1 and Frankie Hernandez made even quicker work of Cullen 7-0. The matchup between Souto and Hernandez went to hill-hill before Souto pocketed the case 9-ball. In the semi-final match though, Souto was on the wrong side of another hill-hill match, with Vann Corteza advancing to a rematch with Vergara in the finals. 

With all of the close matches leading up to the finals, surprisingly it was a pretty lopsided final match with Vergara scoring a 9-3 win for his first career Joss Tour win. 

Sunday’s second chance tournament saw Aaron Greenwood with an undefeated run through the field for the win. Greenwood’s run didn’t come without its challenges, as he scored three straight hill-hill wins over Mike Callaghan and then Ray Lee twice in the hot-seat and final matches.

2021 Ocean State 9-Ball – Billy Lanna vs Mhet Vergara

 

The Iceman goes undefeated to win Predator Pro Am Open/Pro Championships

Robles wins 7 on the loss side and is runner-up for second straight year 

(l to r): Mike Salerno, Jorge Rodriguez, Mika Immonen & Tony Roble

Ten years ago, in what was reportedly his best earnings year ever, Finland’s Mika Immonen (aka The Iceman) cashed in a total of 29 events all over the world, 21 of which he finished as either the winner (13), the runner-up (4; to include his appearance on Europe’s Mosconi Cup team) or in third place (4). Six of his 13 victories that year were chalked up in the state of New York; he won a stop on the Tri-State Tour, two on the Joss NE 9-Ball Tour, and three on the Predator Pro Am Tour. Many of the cash winners in those three 2009 Predator events were present for the 2019 Tour Championships held on the weekend of December 14-15 at the event’s traditional location, Raxx Billiards in West Hempstead, NY. They included Jorge Rodriguez, Frankie Hernandez, Mhet Vergara and Tour Director Tony Robles, who, in the 2009 events won by Immonen, finished third in February, 5th in July and 9th in October. Notable, as always, in his absence from this year’s event was George “Ginky” Sansouci, who was 5th in that 2009 February event, 13th in July and tied with Robles for 9th in October.

The Predator Pro Am Tour’s defending Open/Pro Tour Champion and the 2018 runner-up met in this year’s semifinal; Jorge Rodriguez and Tony Robles, respectively. It was, though, Mika Immonen who became the 2019 champion, going undefeated through a field of 24 entrants, on-hand for the $1,000-added, 10-ball event at Raxx Billiards.

A concurrently-run, $9,930-added A/B/C/D Amateur event (separate story), which drew 93 entrants, was won by Pascal Dufresne, one of the tour’s 18 event winners this year. Sent to the loss side early, Dufresne won seven in a row before meeting and defeating hot seat occupant Ryan Dayrit in the finals.

For the second year in a row at the Open/Pro Championships, Rodriguez battled for the hot seat; last year, versus Robles, this year, against The Iceman. This year, Robles was sent to the loss side by Frankie Hernandez and like Dufresne in the Amateur event would win seven on that side of the bracket for the right to face Immonen in the finals.

Immonen advanced through the field to draw Joey Korsiak in one of the winners’ side semifinals. Rodriguez, in the meantime, faced Mike Salerno in the other one. Immonen gave up only a single rack to Korsiak and moved on to the hot seat match. He was joined by Rodriguez, who’d sent Salerono west 7-4. The Iceman and Rodriguez battled to a somewhat predictable double hill battle that eventually sent Rodriguez to the semifinals.

On the loss side, Robles chalked up wins #3 and #4 against John Francisco (7-2) and Mhet Vergara (double hill) to draw Korsiak. Salerno picked up Frankie Hernandez, who’d eliminated Jimmy Conn 7-2 and Jonathan Smith 7-3 to reach him. A potential rematch between Hernandez and Robles loomed in the shortly-distant quarterfinals.

Robles did what he could to affect that rematch with a 7-5 victory over Korsiak in the event’s first money round. Salerno, though, ended Hernandez’ weekend 7-4.

Robles downed Salerno 7-5 in the quarterfinals, setting up a repeat of the 2018 hot seat match and final; Robles versus Rodriguez. They split those two matches last year. Robles, winning the first one and Rodriguez, claiming the title in the finals. Robles earned his shot against The Iceman with a 7-2 win over Rodriguez in that semifinal matchup, guaranteeing himself at least a repeat, runner-up finish and a certainly possible finish as the Open/Pro Champion.

According to Robles, he lost that final matchup, early. He missed an early shot that he says he shouldn’t have missed and The Iceman used the resultant momentum to move on and win the match 7-4.

“I made one mistake in that final match,” said Robles later, “and it cost me.”

Robles thanked Holden Chin, Matthew Harricharan, Troy Deocharran, and Joshua Friedberg’s Raxx staff for their hospitality, his own Predator Pro Am staff (to include his lovely wife, Gail) and title sponsor Predator Cues, Ozone Billiards, PlayNAPL.com, The DeVito Team, PoolOnTheNet.com, Cappelle (BilliardsPress.com), AZBilliards, Pool & Billiard Magazine and Billiards Digest. The Predator Pro Am Tour will open its 2020 season at Amsterdam BIlliards with an event scheduled for the weekend of January 18-19, 2020

Kazakis goes undefeated to claim Open/Pro side of 9th Annual Ginky Memorial

Jayson Shaw, Alex Kazakis, James Aranas and Hunter Lombardo

In the absence of defending champion, Klenti Kaci and runner-up Lee Van Corteza (or third-place finisher, Mike Dechaine), Jayson Shaw and Alex Kazakis were the early, euphemistic ‘fan favorites’ going into the 9th Annual George “Ginky” Sansouci Memorial Tournament, held over this past Memorial Day weekend (May 25-27). There was a bit of a collective groan when Shaw stumbled in the third round, falling to Del Sim, double hill, to begin a loss-side trip, but the Scotsman validated fan interest in his abilities when he won seven on the loss side to meet Kazakis in the finals. Kazakis, though, coming off his best earnings year to date (2018), completed an undefeated run by downing Shaw in the finals to claim the 9th Open/Pro 10-Ball Ginky Memorial title. The $2,000-added event, held under the combined auspices of the Predator Pro Am, Tri-State and Mezz Tours, drew 36 entrants to Steinway Billiards in Astoria (Queens), NY.
 
The weekend also included a $2,000-added Amateur event, which, like the Open/Pro event drew a record field of 169 entrants, divided initially into upper and lower handicapped brackets. Jason Sheerman won seven on the loss side to meet and defeat the man who’d sent him there, Jimmy Acosta, in the finals. Further details on the Ginky Memorial’s Amateur tournament, which once again, crowned a unique champion, will be featured in a separate report.
 
As it turned out, Del Sim’s triumph over the event’s presumed ‘favorite’ was short-lived and ended with a 9-4 loss to Kazakis in one of the winners’ side quarterfinals. What was left at that point was a list of three usual suspects, with one unusual suspect to compete in the winners’ side semifinals. Kazakis advanced to face Jeremy Sossei, who’d just survived a double hill fight versus Raphael Dabreo. The other usual suspect, Zoren James Aranas, advanced to meet the somewhat unusual suspect, 19-year-old Russian phenom, Kristina Tkach, who was the event’s only female competitor.
 
Kazakis sent Sossei to the loss side 9-7, while Aranas sent Tkach west 9-3. Early on, in the battle for the hot seat, it looked as though the second ‘fan favorite’ – Kazakis – was going to join Shaw on the loss side. Aranas jumped out to a 4-0 lead, before Kazakis woke up and chalked up four of his own to tie it and then, take the lead at 5-4. Aranas responded with three racks to tie and retake the lead at 7-5. They proved to be the last three racks he would win in the match. Kazakis followed his five-in-a-row with four-in-a-row to reach the hill first and then, claim the hot seat.
 
Over on the loss side, Kristina Tkach drew an immediate rematch against the man she’d defeated in the third round of play, Hunter Lombardo. Lombardo had defeated Jimmy Rivera 9-5, Raphael Dabreo 9-1 and moving into the first money round, just did survive a double hill fight against the  Ginky Memorial’s 2016 champion Zion Zvi. Zvi had previously spoiled any hopes Shaw might have been entertaining about a rematch versus Del Sim by defeating Sim 9-6. Sossei had the misfortune of picking up Shaw, four matches into his loss-side winning streak, having given up only eight racks over the past 35 games; two to Mhet Vergara, three to Alan Rolon and three to Dmitris Loukatos.
 
Lombardo successfully navigated his way through his rematch against Tkach, which was tight through about the halfway point of the match. He pulled out in front and advanced to the quarterfinals 9-5. Shaw joined him after eliminating Sossei by the same 9-5 score.
 
Shaw took an early 3-0 lead in the quarterfinals, after which, briefly, it looked as though Lombardo was going to give him a run for his money, literally. Lombardo won two to draw within one at 3-2. Shaw, though, roared right back to win another three in a row to go out in front by four at 6-2. Lombardo fought back a second time with another two, but they’d prove to be the last two. Shaw added his third run of three to win it 9-4.
 
Now, as one might imagine, things started to tighten up. Though externally calm and composed, it was clear from the semifinal get-go that both Shaw and Aranas wanted a shot at Kazakis in the hot seat. From all appearances, this might just have been a match between two buddies with nothing at stake but a good time playing pool; there was no grim determination, or frustration over the occasional (actually, rare) bad rolls. Even the mistakes, and there were a few, were met with an easy sense of humor as these two battled to see who’d be relegated to a third-place finish. It was rare to see either of them actually finish a rack. Each of them conceding up to three balls at the end of racks to move on.
 
Shaw took the opener and Aranas came back to tie it. Shaw won two and then, they traded racks back and forth to 5-3. Aranas missed the 8-ball in the 9th rack and conceded the final three balls to give Shaw a 6-3 lead. Aranas came right back with three in a row to tie things at 6-6 and then sunk four on the break, ran the other six balls and took his first lead at 7-6. It would be his last. Shaw won three straight to end the Filipino’s weekend 9-7.
 
The match everybody had been waiting for, was on.
 
It was a modified race to 11. If Shaw reached 11 first, they’d extend the match to 13. At the 8-7 mark, with Kazakis out in front, that probability remained. But getting there was more than half of the fun of this match, which was preceded by a few trick shot demonstrations by the two of them. Accompanied by microphone commentary that introduced the finalists, they placed two object balls on a diagonal from each other, and stroked the two balls simultaneously. The balls collided at the center of the table, each of them bouncing off the other and landing in a pocket. One time, one of the balls failed to drop into its designated pocket, but bounced off of an extra rail to land in a side pocket.
 
Demonstrations over, they lined up for the lag, won by Kazakis, who opened the proceedings with a win. Shaw responded with a win of his own to mark the first of four ties. Kazakis got out in front by two at 3-1, but Shaw came back to win two to tie it at 3-3. At 5-5, the tide turned in Kazakis’ favor. He won three in a row to give himself an 8-5 lead that he’d never relinquish (Shaw conceded the last three balls in the rack that gave Kazakis this biggest lead of the match).
 
Shaw closed the gap with two in a row to pull within one at 8-7, but in the following rack, Kazakis made a match-defining shot – an oblique angle, long table bank shot on the 8-ball – that led Shaw to concede the game’s last two balls. Kazakis won the next rack to reach the hill first and though Shaw won the 18th rack, Kazakis took the 19th to claim the event title.
 
Event director Tony Robles thanked Manny Stamatakis and his entire Steinway Billiards staff, who worked tirelessly, professionally and with remarkable grace throughout a long weekend with over 200 pool players and a contingent of venue regulars who spent time playing chess and backgammon at nearby tables. Robles also acknowledged his regular tour sponsors, including Predator Cues, Ozone Billiards, PlayNAPL.com, Capelle (Billiards Press.com), PoolontheNet.com, The DeVito Team, as well as the cooperation of the other sponsoring tours (Tri-State and Mezz Tours) and the tireless, non-stop live stream operated by Upstate Al and his broadcast team.
 
Robles also made note to all in attendance of the defining fact that this annual event is held each year in memory of George “Ginky” Sansouci, who passed away in 2011, and whose legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of innumerable players in the New York area and wherever “Ginky” played. The event was attended by members of the Sansouci family, who were accorded ‘front row’ seating privileges for all of the live-streamed matches and remain deeply grateful for the opportunity to celebrate Ginky’s life with a living, breathing memorial to his influence on the game and the people who continue to play it.