TAR 22, Day One

Earl Strickland

This match, a race to 75 games for $10,000 winner-take-all, was one that TAR fans had anticipated with glee. Earl Strickland is one of the most colorful players ever to hold a cue with a top gear that is hard to match. But Shane Van Boening isn't afraid of anyone, even one of his heroes like Earl. This one promised to be a barn burner.  

The way the evening began it appeared that Earl and Shane would run neck and neck the whole way. With rarely more than a game between them, the two champions played trade-off pool until the score stood at 12-12. But then Earl began to edge out and his lead grew rack by rack until he enjoyed a lead of 22-16 in the race to 25 for the first evening. The first day would not seal the deal for either player but both of them wanted badly to be able to sleep with a lead, no matter how slight.  

With Earl only three games away from ending the evening Shane knew he needed a late charge, but the balls were not coming apart on the break to form any road maps and safety battles made it tough for him to get into the type of rhythm required to string racks. The tight (4 1/8") pockets were tough for both players. Both players missed long shots on the three ball in rack 39 that they would have made as a matter of course on a normal table. Nothing can be taken for granted on this table. Lose focus for a moment and you give up the table.

But Shane wound up with the fewest wounds in this rack and edged closer to 22-17.  

The next break found Shane making the six ball and with a shot on the one. But the two ball was hidden and a safety exchange began that Earl escaped from first. The pockets stopped him on the four ball and Shane made a remarkable razor cut on the four to get an ever tougher shot on the five ball. He made that as well and soon claimed the rack to bring us to 22-18. (How tough is this table? At this point there had only been two break and runs from two of the greatest players on the planet! Both of those taken down by Earl.) 

The rules were also tough. The nine ball had to be the last ball off of the table. Combinations, caroms and nine balls on the break were all spotted up with the shooter continuing play. No jump cues allowed. If one player missed a shot the other had the right to put him back in and shoot his own mess. Slop was nonexistent.  

Shane took the next rack and the next but Earl wasn't ready to let him just roll on down the road. Earl claimed the next nine ball and our score was then 23-20 in favor of Earl. The next rack put Earl on the hill and Earl charged through the last rack to earn first day honors. 

The evening was made even more enjoyable by the presence in the commentary booth of Joe Rogan, pool fan and star of the UFC and Fear Factor television productions. Rogan is an extremely quick wit who knows a lot more about the game than one might believe and he is a great deal of fun to banter around with over a great pool match like this one. Thank you, Mr. Rogan, for the time you gave us tonight.  

We would like to offer our thanks to the sponsors of this event. Kurzweil Country Meats, CSI and cuemaker Eric Crisp of Sugartree cues. Thanks for stepping up, folks!