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World 10-Ball Champion Kaci Remains Undefeated at CSI Michigan Open

Eklent Kaci

The only real problem with Thursday afternoon’s match between Russia’s Fedor Gorst and Albania’s Eklent Kaçi is that someone had no choice but to lose.

Both competed in that way you’d expect two players who have won recent major championships to challenge each other, with Kaçi using a powerful break and smooth shot making while was Gorst sinking jump shots like he was on the basketball court. Just when it appeared one player had the lead, the other would battle back to either narrow the gap or take the lead themselves.

In the end, it would be Gorst who finally blinked, missing a spot shot in sudden death, as Kaçi remained on the winner’s side of the bracket with the sudden death victory in the third round of the Michigan Open Thursday afternoon at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek, Mich. With the victory, the reigning World 10-Ball champion qualified for the final 16 single-elimination portion of the tournament and is one of eight players who remain undefeated in this weekend’s event.

Playing in the race-to-four first set, the Albanian used a combination shot on the 10 ball, a break-and-run and a missed shot by his opponent to build a 3-1 lead. Gorst, who won the World 9-Ball Championship in 2019, used a combination shot on the 10 ball in the fifth rack and a missed 4 ball by his opponent to tie the match, but then failed to pocket a ball on the break in the seventh game. Kaci had the opportunity to claim the game but committed a foul on the 3 ball, but he would ultimately win the rack anyways when Gorst overran position on the 6 ball and missed the ball in the corner pocket.

The young Russian regrouped in the second set, claiming the first two games then returning to the table in the fifth game after Kaçi missed position on the 5 ball and played safe. Gorst banked the ball in and ran out the remaining balls to climb onto the hill, 3-2. The next rack was textbook Gorst, as he jumped in the 3 and 4 balls then banked in the 5 ball again to claim the set, 4-2, and force sudden death shots. Both competitors were perfect through the extra session until the fourth inning, where Kaci made his spot shot while Gorst missed.

The match was one of two that went to an extra frame during the afternoon session, with Tony Robles making a second half comeback in his match against Edgie Geronimo to stay alive in the tournament.

Geronimo jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the race-to-four first set, but Robles used a dry break from his competitor to return to the table, claim the next two racks and tie the score. Robles lost control of the table in the fifth rack when he failed to pocket a ball on the break, and the Filipino Geronimo cleared the table to regain the lead. Geronimo, who finished third at the Arizona Open, again failed to pocket a ball on his break in the sixth game but would return to the table when his opponent missed position on the 2 ball, then missed a kick shot on the ball.

Using a break-and-run and a couple of unforced errors by his opponent, Robles rallied in the second set to shut out Geronimo, 4-0, and force a match-deciding extra inning. He then pocketed the first and third shots in the extra period, which was more than enough to defeat Geronimo, who did not make a ball in three attempts.

Robles now moves on to face Abdullah Alshammari Friday afternoon at noon local time, with the winner scheduled to face Aloysius Yapp, who struggled at times in his match against Roberto Gomez Jr. and was defeated in straight sets, 4-2, 4-3. After losing the opening set, Yapp used a break-and-run and a pair of missed shots from his opponent to build a 3-2 lead in the second, but failed to pocket a ball on the break in the sixth rack. Gomez ran out the rack and then tacked on a break-and-run to claim the set and avoid a shootout.

Also remaining undefeated was Austria’s Mario He, who needed a shootout of his own to defeat American Tyler Styer, who overcame a handful of early unforced errors in the first set to clinch the second.

He jumped out to an early 2-0 lead then took advantage of a Styer scratch in the third game and a missed 10 ball in the next rack to pitch a shutout a 4-0 in the first set. After He won the first rack of the second set, Styer managed to swipe a game back then use back-to-back break and runs and a missed kick shot by his opponent to win the set and force sudden death. He was perfect in the extra-inning frame, making all four spot shots while Styer only pocketed two.

The tournament will resume play Friday, with live matches being broadcast on WorldBilliardTV’s YouTube page as well as Billiard TV beginning at noon eastern time. Notable matches include Poland’s Mieszko Fortunski meeting Russia’s Ruslan Chinahov in a win-or-go-home match on the one-loss side, with the winner facing Gorst. Also playing is Estonia’s Denis Grabe, who will face Kuwait’s Bader Al Awadhi, with the winner scheduled to face Spain’s Francisco Sanchez Ruiz. When eight competitors are remaining on both the winner and one-loss side, the brackets will be re-seeded as the format transitions to the single-elimination knockout phase.

This event also is the third stop of the U.S. Pro Billiard Series, which features five open professional events between July and the end of the year. Created by Predator Group and amateur league operator CueSports International, these tournaments will run in tandem alongside of CSI league amateur events being held throughout the country. The winner of each competition receives a guaranteed spot in the $125,000-added 2022 Predator World 10-Ball Championship, which will be held March 28 through April 1 in Las Vegas at the Rio Hotel and Casino.

This competition is played on Predator Pro pool tables covered with Predator Arcadia performance cloth, with Predator Arcos II precision balls, and under the Predator Arena billiard lights.

For more information on the U.S. Pro Billiard Series or amateur leagues, visit www.playcsipool.com.

For the latest information on the Predator Pro Billiard Series action, follow @ProBilliardSeries on Facebook and Instagram. For Live broadcasting watch   or follow WorldBilliardTV on YouTube for replays.

The stars came out in Florida to support the Black Widow Legacy Tournament, raise over $30k

Tommy Kennedy, Jeanette Lee and Mika Immonen

The pool community at large has always been good at coming out to support members of its own extended pool family. At pool tournaments large and small, coast to coast, when a player is in need of help, his or her fellow players, and usually, lots of them, come out in support. This was especially true last weekend (April 10-11), when the player in need was the Black Widow, Jeanette Lee, whose diagnosis of ovarian cancer had galvanized the pool community into a flurry of benefit events, designed to assist Lee and her daughters. Lee, in the meantime, who visited the benefit event on Saturday, had already begun a fierce and determined battle to beat the cancer, with much the same style and verve that has characterized her entire career.

She entered Brewlands Bar and Grill of Carrollwood in Tampa, FL on a wheelchair to (literally) thunderous applause from the hundreds assembled, who stopped shooting pool long enough to welcome her. She thanked everyone and proceeded to tell them that she had already undergone three of six scheduled chemotherapy treatments, and that she was scheduled for surgery on Thursday (April 15). 

“From there,” she explained, noting that the surgery was going to require some extra healing time, “each cycle is about three weeks apart, so . . . I’m supposed to turn the big five-oh on July 9th and am supposed to be finished with chemo the first week of July.”

“The goal,” she added, “is to make it to 50.”

No stranger to pain, having spent the latter part of her career battling scoliosis and becoming the national spokesperson for the disease, she didn’t need to tell people about her courage and strength. Many of the people in the room had been eyewitness to the pain she would occasionally endure during competition. She went on to tell them from where that courage and strength emanated.

“I’m as stubborn as all get-out,” she said. “I plan to be here for my children.”

She paused for just a moment, looking at the crowd that had gathered to support her efforts.

“I could never have imagined this kind of support,” she added, “and I am humbled by it. We’re going to get through this and thank you guys for being on my team.”

Among her friends in the Tampa, FL area where she and her family live, are a number of people quite familiar with the process of organizing pool tournaments. One of them, Jeannie Seaver (the APA’s 2020-2021 Women’s US Amateur Champion, as of March 20) has had experience with benefit tournaments and along with Sonya Chbeeb, jumped at the chance to organize this one. Having become close friends with Lee since she relocated to Florida, they didn’t hesitate to give back, in return for all that Lee had done for them over the years.

“She’s an icon and a legend,” said Chbeeb, “and inspirational in so many ways. (People) can relate to so many of her experiences, with their own; the life struggles she’s gone through can touch so many people’s lives that way. She has always been supportive and helpful to people who want to learn or advance their game, always there for them.”

“We’re doing this for her and her family,” she added. “She’s always been focused on everybody else and now it’s time for her to focus on herself and her family. We wanted to have this event to allow her time to just relax and let someone else take over, to let someone do something for her.”

Though experienced at running benefits, Jeannie Seaver was used to somewhat smaller-in-scale events and thanks, in part, to the pandemic, she hadn’t actually organized one in quite some time. When she heard of the need, signing on to help put it together was obvious to her, and she came to it with what she believed to be reasonable expectations.

“I figured we’d be making $10 to $15k,” she said. “I didn’t think it would be over $30k.”

But it was. Closer to $32k when all was said and done, and thanks to the efforts of the co-tour directors of the Sunshine State Predator Pro Am Tour (Janene Phillips & Bobby Garza), it went off smoothly. As Garza set up the streaming service that would broadcast throughout the event, Phillips, with the assistance of Rob McLaren, Leah Nusbaum and Cami Becker set themselves to the task of running not just one, but two tournaments. Having anticipated the large gathering that eventually did show up, they had decided beforehand to run two separate tournaments, one for higher-ranked competition (Open/Pro) and one for the lower ranks; A & B brackets, as it were. The Open/Pro competitors would compete on the venue’s 9-ft. tables, while everyone else would compete on 8-ft. tables. The A bracket held 63 players, while the B bracket had 89.

And now, as Jeanette likely thought, but didn’t actually say, ‘Let’s shoot some pool.’

Shawn Collie and the Iceman, Mika Immonen win B and A brackets, respectively

Shawn Collie, Carrie Vetrono and Allan Ellison

The competitor who won the larger tournament (the B bracket), Shawn Collie, had, until this weekend (according to our records), cashed in only four events since 2007. It looked as though he was going to struggle again, when he lost his opening match, in a double hill fight against Steven Krogh. Collie moved to the loss side and won 11 matches, concluding his loss-side run the way he’d started, in a double hill fight. He would go on to give up only a single rack in the finals and claim his fifth cash payout and his first-ever tournament win. 

With Collie already at work on the loss side, the eventual, mixed-gender hot seat opponents – Allen Ellison and Carrie Vetrono – advanced through the field. Ellison faced Kim Burbank in one of the winners’ side semifinals as Vetrono squared off against Anthony Rotenberry. Two double hill matches followed, with Vetrono and Ellison moving into the hot seat match, won by Ellison 4-2.

It was Rotenberry who had the misfortune of running into Collie, who was eight matches into his loss-side winning streak. Burbank drew Andrew Erb, who was working on a six-match, loss-side winning streak that was about to end. Collie downed Rotenberry 3-1, as Burbank was busy surviving her double hill match versus Erb. Collie took the quarterfinal match versus Burbank 3-1 and then cleared his last hurdle for the finals, a double hill win over Vetrono in the semifinals.

Collie would put an exclamation point on his loss-side run. As noted at the outset, he gave up only a single rack to Ellison in the extended race-to-6 finals to claim the title.

The Open/Pro segment of the tournament ended with two classic battles between two of the sports more recognizable personalities; the ever-ebullient Tommy Kennedy and the Iceman, Mika Immonen. Behind them both and finishing in third place was ‘young gun,’ Trenton White.

The Iceman got himself into a winners’ side semifinal against Les Duffy, having given up only nine racks over four matches, including a winners’ side quarterfinal, 6-2 win over Tony Robles. Kennedy, rather unceremoniously, dropped event organizer and APA Women’s Amateur Champion, Jeannie Seaver, 6-3 in the opening round and then went on to shut out Mike Sullivan. He then gave up two to Ken Black, before defeating Jeffrey De Luna 6-4. This set him up in his winners’ side semifinal against Ray Linares, who was, when he wasn’t playing, doing duty in the stream booth as a commentator.

Immonen downed Duffy 6-1, as Kennedy was busy sending Linares to the loss side 6-4. Kennedy took the first of his two against Immonen 6-4 and waited in the hot seat for his return.

Duffy and Linares didn’t last a round on the loss side. Duffy was defeated by the ‘young gun,’ Trenton White, double hill. Linares fell to Robles 5-1. White and Robles locked up in a double hill, quarterfinal fight that eventually sent White to the semifinals, where he was shut out by the Iceman. Immonen claimed the Open/Pro side of the Jeanette Lee Legacy Tournament with an 8-3 victory in the finals.

The list of people who brought this event together and saw to it that it ran smoothly is long, and though it’s likely that none of those who contributed in one way or another, were or are interested in being recognized for their efforts, that is exactly the reason that we’ll mention them; beginning with Jeannie Seaver and Sonya Chbeeb, along with Brewlands owner, Larry Wathal and venue manager, Sammy Hewett.

“Larry and Sammy outdid themselves hosting this event,” wrote Janene Phillips. “Larry added $1,500 to the two events, 20% of which went to Jeanette. Sammy was one of the event coordinators and worked around the clock to make sure this event was perfect.”

Phillips, too, was among those who contributed to the success of this event, along with the previously-mentioned Rob McLaren, Leah Nusbaum, Cami Becker and, running the live stream, Bobby Garza and commentators Ray Linares and Cheryl Baglin. With apologies to a number of contributors who stopped into the venue and donated a variety of different items like merchandise, cues and autographed items, noted sponsors included Mezz Cues, Molinari, Roy’s Basement, Predator Cues, Sterling Gaming, Bass Pro Shops, Dunnski Dungeon, Kamui Products, Shells Restaurant of North Tampa, Joss Cues, N the Zone, Tiger Products, Ladies Florida Tiger Tour, Bulletproof Break Tips, and Sammy Hewitt’s Crew – Sara, Bri, Jamie, Mika, Lollipop, Dee, Millie, Mary, Mark, Lauren, Tony, Stephanie, Marci, Nick and the Egnatowski’s. Thanks went out, as well, to all of those who competed in both of the tournaments, including, but by no means limited to, Lee’s fellow professionals Mika Immonen, Tommy Kennedy, Janet Atwell, Jeffrey De Luna and Tony Robles. 

There are two more Black Widow Legacy benefit events scheduled. This coming weekend (April 17-18), Janet Atwell (who competed in this recent event) will host the Black Widow Open at her room, Borderline Billiards in Bristol, TN. Seaver, Chbeeb and company will be on hand for another Legacy event that will be hosted by Stroker’s Billiards in Palm Harbor, FL on the weekend of May 8-9.

Meglino goes undefeated at Beyond Billiards’ 10-Ball Tournament

Anthony Meglino (Ryan Acosta – 1801 Photography)

Anthony Meglino has already made about half of what he made at the tables all of last year and it’s barely March. He cashed (according to our records) in six events last year; three of them at Derby City, one on the Predator Sunshine State Pro Am Tour and two at the Meucci Classics. He’s already cashed in five (that we know of) this year; two on the Predator Sunshine State Pro Am, one on the first of a Bi-Annual pair of events, held under the auspices of AH tournaments and two, at Beyond Billiards in Davie, FL. The most recent Beyond Billiards event – the Beyond 10-Ball Open Tournament – was held this past weekend (Mar. 6-7) and saw Meglino go undefeated to chalk up his first recorded win since he captured an event title on the Sunshine State Pro Am Tour almost exactly two years ago (March 11-12, 2019).

To win it, though, Meglino had to win his final three matches against the competitor who’d won the Beyond Billiards’ Super 9-Ball Open last month (Randy Epperson), the competitor who was that event’s runner-up (Tony Robles) and a seasoned Florida veteran, who’d won seven on the loss side for the right to meet him in the finals (Raymond Linares). The $200-added event drew 32 entrants to Beyond Billiards.

Meglino’s path to the winners’ circle actually went through Linares twice. Meglino opened his campaign with a 7-1 win over Steve Goulding before meeting and defeating Linares 7-4 in the second round. Meglino went on to defeat Cristian Vanegas 7-3, which set him (Meglino) up for a winners’ side semifinal match against Randy Epperson. Tony Robles, in the meantime, got by Raul Alvarez and Rick Sanchez, both 7-5, before defeating Howie Salstein 7-1 and drawing Sam Kantar in the other winners’ side semifinal.

Meglino dispatched Epperson to the loss side 7-3 as Robles, doing what he’d done in the previous Super 9-Ball Open, sent his winners’ side semifinal opponent over; in this case, Kantar 7-1. Also, as he had done in the previous event, Robles followed his winners’ side semifinal opponent over to the loss side, when his hot seat match opponent defeated him; in this case, Meglino, 7-3.

Linares had opened his loss-side campaign with a 6-2 win over Erick Poveda and then survived the first of two double hill matches he’d face, against Chris Filippelli. He went on to defeat Jhay Powell 6-3 and get through another double hill fight, against Bishop Ramcharan, to draw Epperson. Kantar, in the meantime, drew Rick Sanchez, who was also working on a four-match, loss-side winning streak, which had started when he’d been defeated in the second round by Robles. Sanchez had most recently eliminated Dror Ami 6-2 and Yusan Alvarez 6-4.

Kantar stopped Sanchez’ run with a double hill win that sent him to the quarterfinals. He was joined by Linares, who chalked up his 5th loss-side win 6-3 over Epperson. Linares defeated Kantar 6-4 in those quarterfinals.

Robles was, of course, looking to get back into the finals as he had done in the 9-Ball tournament last month. This time, though, he’d have been hoping that he wouldn’t have to share the victory as he’d done with Epperson, when they’d opted out of a final. He never got the chance. In an almost predictable double hill fight between the two veteran competitors, Linares prevailed and got a second shot against Meglino in the hot seat.

While Meglino came into the event looking to claim his first victory in two years, Linares came into it looking for his first victory in three months. Linares had yet to cash in 2021, but had cashed three times on the Predator Sunshine State Pro Am Tour last year, including a bar box victory at the tour’s stop in November. Meglino completed his undefeated run with a 9-3 win over Linares in the finals.

According to Beyond Billiards’ owner Eduardo Gomez, Tony Robles will conduct a Straight Pool Clinic at the Davie, FL location on Sunday, March 21. The event will touch upon the sport’s history, fundamentals, techniques and patterns. RSVP to secure your spot at 954-434-3487. The venue will hold another Beyond 9-Ball Open Tournament on Sunday, April 11.

Epperson wins* Florida tournament at Beyond Billiards, but the Silent Assassin gets the trophy

Randy Epperson

There are any number of reasons why two competitors opt out of playing a final match in a pool tournament; it’s late, one of the players has to get to work, another has a long drive, this one just doesn’t want to be bothered, etc., etc., etc. As a rule, we don’t often write about the reasons, because in a lot of cases, we don’t know. The negotiations are initiated by the players themselves and their reasons are often unknown to even the tour director who dispenses the cash in any way the two players dictate. We also don’t generally know exactly how the cash was split, because often, even the tour directors who distribute the cash don’t know. On Super Bowl weekend, however, we were apprised of a ‘top prizes’ split between the last two standing in a $200-added Super 9 Bowl Open, hosted by Beyond Billiards in Davie, FL.

We know about the split, because while the venue and tournament itself were relatively unknown, one of the competitors was Tony “Silent Assassin” Robles, who, with his wife Gail and son, Antonio, moved down to Florida over the winter. They left behind them the Predator Pro Am Tour, Tony’s operation of the National Pool League, a lot of Tony’s students and a boatload of friends, acquaintances and pool players in the tri-state area pool community. Not to mention, for a while, Tony’s pool game.

“I don’t regret any of the time I spent with the (Predator Pro Am) tour or the league, or any of my students or corporate events,” he said from his Miami-area home earlier this week. “I enjoyed it while it lasted and there weren’t any plans to stop, but the pandemic didn’t give us much choice.”

It took a little while for them to settle in, but it wasn’t very long before he found a local venue and on Super Bowl weekend, February 2021, Robles joined 31 other competitors (including, by the way, the Iceman, Mika Immonen) in the Super 9 Bowl tournament at Beyond Billiards. He worked his way through the field and arrived at the hot seat match, where he suffered his first defeat, at the hands of Randy Epperson. He came back from the semifinals and was approached by Epperson, who proposed that they opt out of the final match and split the cash. As the undefeated occupant of the hot seat at the time, Epperson would be the event’s official winner, but Robles didn’t really care about that. He’d fallen in love with the event trophy (pictured at left with Robles) and suggested to Epperson that he’d agree to a split if he could get the trophy.

Tony Robles

He got the trophy. And part of the $950 in cash (how much was not revealed) that represented the first two cash prizes.

“The first match,” Robles said of his return to the tables, “I was shaking like a leaf. In my second match, I was feeling really good and by the third match, I felt like I was back in stroke.”

He won the first match, versus Nikolin Dalibor, 7-2 and survived a double hill challenge from Sam Kantar in the second match.  He downed Jason Sheerman 7-5 and advanced to a winners’ side semifinal match against Raul Alvarez.

In the meantime, Epperson and The Iceman set out on a collision course to the other winners’ side semifinal. Epperson defeated Carl Kahn 7-2, Gabe Messa 7-1 and Pierre Palmieri 7-4, as Immonen shut out Ignacio Meindl and Felix Lunda, to either side of a 7-2 win over Eric Poveda.

Now, ‘in stroke,’ reportedly, Robles advanced to the hot seat match 7-1 over Raul Alvarez. Having lost only two of his first 23 games, Immonen found himself fighting for his winners’ side life against Epperson. And losing, double hill. Epperson claimed the hot seat 7-5 over Tony and waited on his return.

“He played phenomenally well,” said Robles of the hot seat match. “I had a few opportunities to win that match. He made a few simple errors that gave me ball-in-hand.”

“There are very few times,” he added, “when I’m losing that I find myself enjoying the match, but I was really enjoying that match.”

On the loss side, Mika Immonen picked up Florida powerhouse Anthony Meglino, Beyond Billiards’ house pro and tournament director for this event, who was fresh off a runner-up finish in an independent event in Port St. Lucie last week and a 4th place finish in something of a leftover 2020 event on the Predator Sunshine State Pro Am Tour the week before that. Meglino had lost his opening match, double hill, to Yusan Alvarez and was in the midst of a five-match, loss-side winning streak that was about to come to an end. 

Alvarez drew Pierre Palmieri, who, after his winners’ side quarterfinal defeat by Epperson, had defeated Karen Freire 5-1 and shut out Yusan Alvarez before Meglino could get a loss-side shot at him. 

Immonen ended Meglino’s loss-side run 5-2 and was joined in the quarterfinals by Raul Alvarez, who’d eliminated Palmieri by the same 5-2 score. Alvarez and Immonen locked up in a double hill fight, which bore the extra weight of a potential Immonen/Robles matchup in the semifinals. It was not to be. Alvarez defeated Immonen, setting up his re-match versus Robles. 

In what proved to be the final match of the night, Robles earned himself a second shot at Epperson with a 5-1 victory over Alvarez in those semifinals. Epperson and Robles launched their negotiations over who’d get what and how much and called it a night, relatively early.

Robles was happy with his overall performance in what was his first, somewhat official return to the tables; not counting the one in his home. He posited a theory as to why he did as well as he did this first time out.

“I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m not in charge of a tour anymore,” he said. “I’m at peace.”

“All I’m doing in Florida is teaching and competing,” he added, “so all I’m thinking about when I come to the table is the game. It’s like night and day.”

While as he noted earlier, he left the tri-state New York area without a lot of regrets, he reflected on the more positive notes his departure and resettlement struck.

“I wanted to watch my son grow,” he said. “I realized when I was up there that I was away over  30 weekends a year between the tour, the NAPL, lessons and corporate parties.”

“When I stopped doing the tour, the world opened up,” he added. “It’s been awesome. I am really, truly enjoying life.”

You might be seeing more of him at tournaments being scheduled by Eduardo Gomez, originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina and as of October, the new owner of Beyond Billiards. Prior to his arrival, he said, the site didn’t hold tournaments, but once he’d arrived and like Tony Robles, settled in a little, he began to organize them; a couple in January, including New Year’s Day. Then, of course, this most recent Super 9 Bowl tournament, to be followed by another one, for intermediate players, this weekend. A comprehensive and ongoing schedule is in the works. For further information, call Beyond Billiards at 954-434-3487 or check out their Web site – beyondbilliardsfl.com

Predator Pro Am Tour Ceases Operations

Tony & Gail Robles

The following letter was released by Tony & Gail Robles of the Predator Pro Am Tour today, August 13th, 2020.

To the Players, Sponsors, Room Owners & Spectators

Never in our wildest dreams did we see 2020 ending up the way it has. January and February tournament turnouts brought big numbers and we had high hopes for the 2020 season being the best season yet. The economy was booming and tours, leagues & lessons were in high demand. Then March hit and like everyone else, the rug was pulled out from under us.

First and foremost, we truly hope you and your loved ones have weathered these difficult times as best as possible. Like so many, we have lost players, teammates, captains, mentors, friends, and even family. It’s been a devastating turn of events.

With our health in tack, we count ourselves blessed despite the trying business times.

The pandemic has affected all of us in a variety of ways, and the Predator Pro/Am Tour is no exception. Now six months without a tournament and no real end in sight, Gail and I have asked ourselves some tough questions.

Will the tour come back this year at all? Will players feel safe playing in large participation events any time soon? Will ‘WE’ feel safe hosting large, indoor events? When will NYC even open pool rooms again, let alone to full capacity?

Will we ever be the way we were before?

After speaking with several local room owners and industry leaders, we feel the timeline for being “back to normal” is years long and filled with uncertainty.

And so, it is with a very heavy heart that Gail & I have decided to no longer run the Predator Pro/Am Tour. This was an incredibly hard decision for us to make. We love our tour. We love the players, the room owners and sponsors, the atmosphere and the joy we felt seeing our contribution to the pool world. We mourn the loss every day.

Many tears and hard conversations led to this decision and we know it won’t be easy for some to accept, but ethically, we don’t feel comfortable hosting the large events we’re known to run given the health risks. Economically, pool rooms cannot afford to host our events in lieu of recovering their own financial losses. Financially, we cannot afford to wait for New York to recover. We have begun the process of selling our home and will be moving out of state by year’s end.

We have a lot of people to thank for the 12+ years we had the tour so bear with us.

Predator Cues. Thank you for trusting us since day one. Representing your brand helped propel our tour to one of the best in the country. Players from all over the world came to play in our events because you believed in us and they believed in you. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for being the backbone of all we do on the tour.

Ozone Billiards, Blatt Billiards, The Devito Team, Pool on the Net, Billiard Press, & Delta-13. Thank you for helping us grow and for supporting the tour all these years. You have been an integral part in the success of our events.

Our room owners. Amsterdam Billiards, Cue Bar, Gotham City Billiards, Raxx Pool Room, The Spot, Steinway Billiards. And past rooms: Boardwalk Billiards, BQE, Castle, Carom Café, Comet, Corner Pocket Café, Cue Nine, Eastside Billiards, Master Billiards, Mr. Cue, Park Slope, Rack n Roll, Sandcastle, Snookers, and Spin City.

Thank you for hosting us and the players and helping grow the sport in our area. Thank you for sacrificing tables so players could compete comfortably. Thank you for offering table time so players could practice before matches. Thank you for funding these tournaments. Thank you to your staff for taking such good care of us and the players during long tournament days. Thank you for caring. Amsterdam Billiards, Cue Bar, Steinway Billiards & Raxx Pool Room; thank you for being with us from the beginning and hosting over half of all the events in the tour’s history. We are eternally grateful for your belief in us and your generosity over the years.

To those that helped behind the scenes. William Finnegan, who started the tour with us back in 2008. You are, and always will be, an icon in the history of NYC pool tournaments. Irene Kim, who always kept us in line and organized from the day she came on board. Julie Ha, Tommy Schreiber, Marisol Palacios, Ambi Estevez, Henry Chan, Mandy Wu, and Dan Faraguna; thank you for all your help running the charts and assisting wherever you could to make the tour such a great success. Rob Omen, thank you for maintaining and revamping our website and charts over the years. Erwin Dionisio, who elevated the social reach of the tour by leaps and bounds with his beautiful photography work. Thank you. Billiards Digest, AZ Billiards and all the media outlets; thank you for advertising and reporting on all our events. Skip Maloney, you’re one of a kind. And thank you to Upstate Al, Joey & Chris Leon for the countless hours of live-streaming and advertising you’ve done over the years. You truly are a blessing for the pool community.

To our fellow tours. The Tri-State Tour, Mezz Tour, Ride the 9 & New England 9-ball Series. We wish you all the best and hope you continue promoting and supporting the sport in this area. Your work and dedication will always be revered by us. John Leyman, collaborating with you on so many different events was a true pleasure. Thank you.

Last, and perhaps the most important, THE PLAYERS! Your commitment to excel in the sport, your determination to achieve goals like winning a tour stop, winning Player of the Year, and for some, just having the guts to step up and play the strong players on the tour are qualities we have treasured witnessing. We cannot tell you the number of times we have looked over a packed room at one of our events and marveled at you. The friends, great conversations, life lessons, and learning to love each of you has brought us so much happiness. It is overwhelming and adds to the sadness of this decision. We will miss seeing you so often and hope to see you at other competitions along the way.

Also, we recognize that most players paid a $40 annual membership expecting a full 2020 season. While no one could have predicted the events that unfolded, we still wanted to offer a partial refund of these fees. Any player that paid the $40 registration, we are offering a $20 refund of dues. Please email tonyroblesnyc@gmail.com with your name and address and we will mail you a refund check.

We sincerely thank everyone for the many memories we have had with our Predator Pro/Am Tour family. We will miss you all very much and wish nothing but the best for yourselves, your families and your future pool goals.

With love and gratitude,

Tony & Gail Robles

Rocket Rodney wins The Social Pool Network’s benefit tournament

They’ve been popping up on the landscape like weeds in a garden; pool competitions utilizing some variation of pool’s ‘ghost’ games in which individual players pit their skills against an imaginary opponent that wins every game that they lose. This past weekend (May 22-24), The Social Pool Network (TSPN) joined the party and hosted six top-notch pool players, competing against each other in a modified single-elimination tournament of what’s known as Rocket Runout, one of a series of games invented by “Rocket” Rodney Morris and a friend, Ed Glode.
 
“We created these games about 12 years ago and hammered out these rules,” said Morris, “right before (Ed) became mayor of Saratoga, Wyoming.”
 
According to Tanya Mapes-Stremler, TSPN’s Chief Operating Officer, it was Morris, in fact, in his role as TSPN’s Vice President of player relations, who “took the lead’ on the initiative that led to this weekend of tournaments.
 
“We all worked together,” she said, “and did this as one team, but it was Rodney who came up with this idea.”
 
And then, “Rocket” called five of his pool buddies – Johnny Archer, Tony Crosby, Tony Robles, Raj Hundal and Oscar Dominguez – and invited them to take part in a benefit tournament that would aid First Responders and Food Banks in the five states, represented by the six players; Georgia, Florida, New York (2), California and Hawaii. All six played on Friday, May 22. The four top scorers on Friday played on Saturday, and on Sunday, two of those four played in the finals of the event. Though Oscar Dominguez ended up scoring the two highest scores of all 12 matches, it was the “Rocket” himself, who downed Dominguez on Sunday to claim the first TSPN Cares benefit tournament title.
 
It should be noted that while the tournament did end on Sunday, and we’ve just provided you with the ultimate ‘spoiler’ alert, readers can still view the matches themselves on the TSPNCares page on Facebook. As of Monday night, donations were continuing to be accepted on the tspntournaments.com Web site, as well as entries for a number of raffles for pool-related, donated items. The matches themselves, streamed live and commentated by the team of Neight Mindham (from CueItUp podcasts) and Mike Demarco (with ShiptheCash stream) offer some entertaining play by the six professionals, playing a unique game.
 
Rocket Runout is one of a series of pool games, designated by Morris as the Saratoga series of games, which are a hybrid of 8-ball and 9-ball. In each of these Saratoga games, including the 9-ball variant played at the TSPN Cares benefit, the rack is divided up between the lowest stripes and the lowest solids and the 8-ball. In the TSPN Cares benefit that meant the balls numbered 1-4, 10-13 and the 8-ball were organized in a 9-ball rack. Played as a solo game, each player plays a rack in a race to a designated number; in the TSPN case, it was 20 racks. The game(s) could be played in a two-player matchup, as well. The object of the game is much the same as 8-ball; break the balls, select either stripes or solids, sink ‘your’ four balls (in rotation, low to high) and the 8-ball. Each pocketed ball is worth a single point and the 8-ball is worth 6, making the total points possible per rack, 10. There are ‘less point’ options available and rule specifics that would make this report longer than it really needs to be, like the ‘Salvage’ rule that states that if you’ve sunk a certain number of your designated solid or stripe balls and miss one, you may take ball-in-hand and try to run the other ones, which, if successful, will score you five points.
 
Thus, with the specific race-to-20 racks, 10-points-available per rack rule firmly in mind, we have a perspective on the scores that were recorded, beginning with Friday’s six matches. As noted earlier, Dominguez, who played last among the six, recorded the day’s highest (and event’s second highest) score point total of 152. Morris was second with 138 and Hundal checked in with 127. Though absolutely convinced that he wasn’t going to be advancing to day two of this event, The Scorpion (Archer) recorded 120 to make the cut.
 
“I don’t think I’ll be playing tomorrow,” he said, right after completing his 20 racks. “120 probably ain’t going to make it.”
 
But it did. As low men on the proverbial totem pole on Day One, the two Tonys (Crosby, 118 and Robles, 111) didn’t make the cut.
 
On Day Two, Dominguez showed up with his ‘A’ game again and recorded the event’s highest score of 166. For the second time, Morris came in second, this time with 122. Archer and Hundal, who chalked up 114 and 96, respectively, didn’t make it to Day Three.

In the finals of the event on Sunday, it was Morris who showed up with his ‘A’ game, chalking up the third-highest point total of the 12 (131) and defeating Dominguez’ effort by 12 points at 119.
 
In concept, the Saratoga series of pool games, especially the 9-ball variant, would appear to be easier than either of their hybrid forebearers; 8-ball or 9-ball. But like a lot of things, appearances can be deceiving.
 
“The (9-ball Saratoga) game seems easy, like all you have to do is run five balls,” said TSPN’s Mapes -Stremler, “but it’s very deceptive.”
 
“You not only have five balls, but you have to shoot them in rotation,” she added, “so with calling shots and the other balls in the way, this is a challenging game.”
 
“It improves everything about your game,” said Morris. “There’s a lot of strategy and a lot of thinking going on.
 
“In games, like 8-ball and 9-ball,” he added, “normally, it’s like connecting the dots. People like the creativity that comes into play with this game.”
As with its streaming ‘ghost’ game predecessors – The Ashton Twins, Roy’s Basement, and the WPBA (among others) – TSPN will likely be doing this again.
 
This one, it should be noted, is still happening, with the videos available on the TSPN Cares Facebook page and donations and raffle purchases still being accepted at http://www.tspntournaments.com. The raffle and donations are being extended for an indeterminate amount of time, based on site traffic. According to preliminary reports on the ‘views’ associated with the stream, around 12K people watched over the three days of the event. Sunday’s finals recorded views of 6.2K.
 
Donated money, by the way, will be divided up among all six players and donated to their respective states in the following way:
 
1st Rodney 28% for Hawaii
2nd Oscar 22% for CA
3rd 20% for Johnny, GA
4th 15% for Raj Hundal, NY
5th 10% for Tony Crosby, FL
6th 5% for Tony Robles, NY

Finals of TSPN Cares Rocket Runout to feature Rodney Morris and Oscar Dominguez

Rodney Morris (File photo courtesy of JP Parmentier)

Though we’ll wait to tell the whole story until it’s over sometime tomorrow (Sunday), we wanted to let everyone know that starting at 6 p.m., EST, tomorrow (again, Sunday), Rocket Rodney Morris and Oscar Dominguez will be squaring off to compete in a match of Rocket Runout to determine the winner of The Social Pool Network Cares Rocket Runout to benefit First Responders and Food Banks in the five states that are being represented by the six pool players that have participated; New York (2, Tony Robles and Raj Hundal), Florida (Tony Crosby), Georgia (Johnny Archer), Rodney Morris (Hawaii) and Oscar Dominguez (CA).
 
You can watch the stream on TSPN’s event-specific Facebook page (tspncares) and make donations to the cause at http://www.tspntournaments.com, where a heart icon will provide you with the opportunity to do so. You can, when you donate, make it a general donation or opt to benefit a state of your choice. At this site, you will also be able to participate in a number of raffles, offering seven different items and multiple donation levels, including a signed painting of Rodney Morris and Johnny Archer together, training balls, cue shafts, a 50% discount certificate for a J. Pechauer Cue, and a Break-Rak with Radar.
 
The Rocket Runout format entails each player breaking a 9-ball rack, containing four stripes, four solids and the 8-ball. After the break, with ball in hand, the player has to run out either stripes or solids in order, from lowest to highest and then, drop the 8-ball. The player receives 1 point per solid or stripe that they sink and 6 points for the 8-ball; thus, 10 points overall per rack. Each player will play 20 racks.
 
The event began on Friday with the six players and was followed by the highest-scoring four from that first day, competing today (Saturday). Rodney Morris and Oscar Dominguez were the highest-scoring competitors of the day and will play in the event finals tomorrow.

Castillo goes undefeated, downs Laboy twice to win 1st Predator Pro Am Tour title

(l to r): Euryel Castillo, Mike Callaghan & Miguel Laboy

The nature of pool lends itself to showdowns between long-time veterans and so-called ‘young guns,’ although not all of them are necessarily young. The finals of this past weekend’s (Feb. 15-16) stop on the Predator Pro Am Tour was a case in point, when newcomer Euryel Castillo, with only six cash finishes and one event victory (*) on his ‘resume,’ all recorded within the past year, faced off against Miguel Laboy, with cash finishes and multiple event victories, dating back 15 years, to his first appearance at the 2005 US Open 9-Ball Championships, at which he finished 33rd (along with Tony Robles, by the way). The ‘young gun’ Castillo came out on top in this one, going undefeated and taking Laboy down twice at the $1,000-added event that drew 84 entrants to Raxx Billiards in West Hempstead, NY.

Their first get-together was in the battle for the hot seat. Castillo had defeated Monika Callaghan (whose husband was already toiling away on the loss side) 7-3, while Laboy was involved dispatching George Poltorak to the loss side 9-5. In their first of two, they battled to double hill before Castillo prevailed to claim the hot seat.

On the loss side, George Poltorak picked up Eli Trajceski, who’d recently defeated Jaydev Zaveri 7-3 and survived a double hill battle against Troy Deocharran. Monika Callaghan drew her husband, Michael, which is always the kind of match that draws speculation about how their relationship will proceed immediately after one of them wins; the standard speculation which follows a husband victory is usually about the husband spending at least one night sleeping on a couch. Michael had defeated Katie Baker 6-3 and Mikhail Kim 7-3 to reach his wife.

Poltorak and Trajceski locked up in a double hill fight that eventually sent Poltorak to the quarterfinals. He was joined by Michael Callaghan, who’d sent his wife home (figuratively) 6-3, his assumed night on the couch possibly avoided by the eventual $1,000 in cash they managed to bring home as a team.

Michael advanced a step further, downing Poltorak in the quarterfinals 7-4. His loss-side run was stopped by Laboy who downed him 11-9 in the semifinals, to earn a second shot at Castillo in the hot seat.

The odds in the final match were likely on Laboy’s side. Castillo, though, did not apparently get that memo, as he defeated Laboy 10-4 to capture his first non-asterisk (meaning, played a final match) title.

A Second Chance event which drew 16 entrants was won John Francisco, who pocketed $160 for the win. Sean DaCosta was runner-up ($100), with Debbie Buyukdeniz and Erick Toledo finishing in the tie for 3rd ($30 each).

Tour director Tony Robles thanked Josh and Holden Chin and their Raxx Billiards staff for their hospitality, as well as title sponsor Predator Cues, Ozone Billiards, PlayNAPL.com, The DeVito Team, PoolOnTheNet.com, Cappelle (BilliardsPress.com), AZBilliards, Pool & Billiard Magazine and Billiards Digest. He also thanked his own Predator Pro Am staff to include his lovely wife, Gail. The next stop on the Predator Pro Am Tour, scheduled for March 14-15, will be hosted by Steinway Billiards in Astoria (Queens), NY.

Robinson comes from the loss side, wins first regional tour event on the Predator Pro Am Tour

(l to r): Nick Croce, Sherwin Robinson, Eric Toledo & Ron Bernardo

Between them, the winner, runner-up and third-place finisher in this past weekend’s (Feb. 8-9) stop on the Predator Pro Am Tour at Steinway Billiards, had only 10 recorded cash finishes in any regional tour events anywhere. Nick Croce, who finished third, had half of those. Eventual hot seat occupant and runner-up Erick Toledo had four, one per year, all on the Predator Tour dating back to 2008 (’19, ’10, ’09 & ’08). His best, before this past weekend, was his third-place finish in ’08. The eventual winner, Sherwin Robinson, had only one recorded cash finish anywhere, that occurred two years ago on the Predator Pro Am, when he made it as far as a winners’ side semifinal, before forfeiting out of that match and finishing in the tie for 5th place.

Robinson, Toledo and Croce earned their top cash finishes by navigating through a relatively large field that included some of the tour’s more recognizable competitors. Robinson, for example, in his first loss-side match, eliminated B+ player Pascal Dufresne, who’s fresh off his best recorded earnings year (2019), in which he won two stops each on the Predator Pro Am and Tri-State tours and whose recorded cash finishes last year alone were three short of the total for Robinson, Toledo and Croce over the last 10 years. The $1,000-added event drew 87 entrants to Steinway Billiards in Astoria (Queens), NY.

Toledo and Robinson met first in a winners’ side semifinal, as Croce and Ray Feliciano squared off in the other one. Toledo got into the hot seat match with a 7-4 win over Robinson. Croce joined him after defeating Feliciano 7-1. Toledo moved into his first (recorded) hot seat match and won it 9-5 over Croce, assuring himself his best (recorded) finish ever, regardless of what happened in the finals.

On the loss side, Robinson launched his three-match, loss-side journey against Dufresne, who was in the midst of an eight-match, loss-side winning streak that had recently included a double hill win over Arturo Reyes and a 7-1 victory over Duc Lam. Feliciano picked up Ron Bernardo, fresh off of two straight, double hill matches versus DeMain Patrick and Kanami Chau.

Identical 7-4 scores sent Robinson and Bernardo to the quarterfinals, over Dufresne and Feliciano. Robinson went on to defeat Bernardo in those quarterfinals 8-6 and Croce, in the semifinals 8-5.

It was going to be either Robinson or Toledo walking away with his first (recorded) regional tour win. It was Robinson, edging out in front of Toledo at the end and winning the match 9-7, who chalked up the event title.

A Second Chance, single-elimination event that drew 15 entrants saw Jason Goberdhan down Mikhail Kim 7-3 in the finals to claim the $160 first-place prize. Kim pocketed $100 as runner-up, while Dave Callaghan, who’d been defeated by Kim, and Julian Tierney, who’d been defeated by Goberdhan, each took home $30. An 11-entrant, single elimination Third Chance event was won by Jose Mendes, who downed Juan Guzman, double hill, in the finals. Mendes pocketed $130. Guzman took home $90.

Tour director Tony Robles thanked Manny Stamatakis and his Steinway Billiards staff for their hospitality, as well as title sponsor Predator Cues, Ozone Billiards, PlayNAPL.com, The DeVito Team, PoolOnTheNet.com, Cappelle (BilliardsPress.com), AZBilliards, Pool & Billiard Magazine and Billiards Digest. He also thanked his own Predator Pro Am staff to include his lovely wife, Gail. The next stop on the Predator Pro Am Tour, scheduled for this coming weekend (Feb. 15-16), will be hosted by Raxx Billiards in West Hempstead, NY.

Kuilan goes undefeated at record-breaking season opener of the Predator Pro Am Tour

(l to r): Ron Bernardo, Jose Kuilan, Emit Yolcu & Jaydez Zaveri

Tour director Tony Robles thinks this past weekend’s (Jan. 25-26) stop on the Predator Pro Am Tour at Steinway Billiards broke a tour record for attendance – “more than we ever got,” said Robles, with just the hint of a question mark at the end. Difficult to verify this because there are a lot of records to look through, and very few, including individual memories, have recorded specific entrant information. We mention it, routinely, in event reports, but it’s not actually a statistic that’s searchable, and if nobody remembers if there’ve ever been more than 114 entrants at a regular stop on the Predator Pro Am Tour, then, for all intents and purposes, it was a record-breaking season opener this past weekend, and a hundred years from now, when people will be wanting to know whether that Predator Pro Am Tour stop back in January of ’20 broke a tour record or not, you can tell them that it did.
 
And that it was won by Jose Kuilan, who battled Jaydev Zaveri twice to claim the title. Kuilan was looking for his first Predator Pro Am title and went undefeated to claim it. Jaydev Zaveri was clearly looking to chalk up his second win in as many weeks, having won a stop on the Tri-State Tour just last week (Jan. 18) at Shooter’s Family Billiards in Wayne, NJ. Zaveri and Kuilan advanced themselves into two double-hill winners’ side semifinals. Kuilan battled Ron Bernardo, while Zaveri took on Dave Shlemperis, with whom he had split the top two prizes at the Wayne, NJ tournament the week before. Zaveri had sent Shlemperis to the loss side in that event’s second round and Shlemperis won six on the loss side to earn the right to a finals rematch. They reckoned without the weather and in light of the distance needed to travel and worsening conditions, they opted out of a final and split the money.
 
Zaveri sent Shlemperis to the loss side this week, too, though he had to win a deciding 13th game to do it. Kuilan fought a double hill battle that eventually sent Bernardo over. Kuilan and Zaveri fought to a predictable double hill standstill, before Kuilan prevailed and grabbed the hot seat.
 
On the loss side, Shlemperis picked up Emit Yolcu, who’d defeated Raiju Dasrath 7-2 and Bryan Jeziorski, double hill, to reach him. Bernardo drew Katie Baker, who’d eliminated Gordon McDaniel 6-3 and JC Iglesias 8-5.
 
Bernardo got caught up in his second straight double hill fight, but he won this one against Baker. Yolcu joined him in the quarterfinals after downing Shlemperis 7-5. Bernardo then allowed Yolcu only a single rack in those quarterfinals and advanced to meet Zaveri in the semifinals.
 
Zaveri got by Bernardo easily enough (if it can ever be described as ‘easy’) 7-4, but couldn’t catch Kuilan in the finals. Kuilan completed his undefeated run and his first win on the tour with an 8-5 victory in the finals.
 
A Second Chance event drew 16 entrants and saw Russell Masciotti down Paul Carpenter 7-2 in the finals to win it and take home $160. Carpenter pocketed $100. Marc Lamberti and George Poltorak each took home $30 for their third place finish. A second Second Chance event (sometimes known as a third chance) drew 10 entrants and was won Lidio Ramirez after a double hill win over Brooke Meyer. Ramirez took home $120, while Meyer went home with $80.
 
Tour director Tony Robles thanked Manny Stamatakis and his staff at Steinway Billiards for their ongoing hospitality and support of the tour, along with title sponsor Predator Cues, Ozone Billiards, PlayNAPL.com, The DeVito Team, PoolOnTheNet.com, Cappelle (BilliardsPress.com), AZBilliards, Pool & Billiard Magazine and Billiards Digest. He also thanked his own Predator Pro Am staff to include his lovely wife, Gail, who, as it turned out, filled in for him at this event (to include information dissemination to us here at AZ), when he was not well enough to attend on Sunday. The Predator Pro Am Tour will return to Steinway Billiards on the weekend of February 8-9 for a $1,000-added “Shake It Up” event.