UBL League Makes History in Chattanooga

UBL Champs Kracker Jacks 5 with UBL Heads Mike Sigel, Pete Margo, and investors

The best way to get a pool players attention is with money. Our game has been cash-poor for a long time, but those days are coming to an end if the UBL (United Billiard Leagues) has its way. This past weekend at the Chattanooga Billiard Club they gave away $240,000 in prize money to a field of 16 teams. The last-place team earned $5,000 while the first place team took home a whopping $100,000 for their effort. This has never been rivaled in amateur pool.

The idea of the UBL is to level the playing field between a wide range of player skills. They want a banger to be able to compete with a pro. The new handicap system they have devised is called Ball in Hand.

The founder of the UBL, Mike Sigel, came up with the idea for his unique handicap system while searching for a way to play competitively with one of his sons. One day his son had no shot and picked up the cue ball and moved it. That set the light afire in Mike’s brain and he soon came up with the Ball in Hand handicap system. Briefly, each player is rated according to their skill and is assigned a number of Ball in Hand opportunities for each rack that they play.

So if a player who is a one plays a player who is a five then the one gets to take Ball in Hand once at  any time he wishes during the rack and the player ranked as a five gets five Ball in Hands for each rack. This levels the field so that a beginner actually has a good opportunity to win against a much better cueman. This later proved itself out as one of the wildcard teams got all the way to the finals of this championship.

So Sigel, concept in hand, has recruited investors to fund the leagues until they grow to the point of self-sufficiency. He also recruited Pete Margo as a partner as well as Loree Jon Hasson as a “point man” to be a popular face for the company and to help recruit rooms into the system. 

The UBL teams nationally had to qualify for the trip to Chattanooga by playing the ghost in 8-Ball. The fourteen highest scores earned the right to play in the Chattanooga event. Then they pulled two team names at random from a list of all teams and with that brought 16 teams to the Finals. Each of the teams knew that they were guaranteed $5,000 just for playing, so they were all winners before the first ball was ever struck.

The final match was between “Tammy and the Boys” and “Kracker Jacks 5”. Two teams of amateurs playing for a minimum of $40,000 with the winner grabbing the $100,000. Obviously, none of them had ever played a race to 3 points for a $60,000 difference before.

The first two matches were split, so with the score tied at 1-1 Kevin Lawder of “Tammy and the Boys” led Jamie Person of “Kracker Jacks 5” 3-1. They are both ranked as 2 BIH. As an interesting aside, “Tammy and the Boys” were one of the two wildcard teams drawn at random into the field. When Jamie was shooting the 8 ball to win his 2nd game someone in the crowd had the red focus light on their camera go off right on his final stroke and he missed the 8. However, he soon returned to the table and sank the 8 for the win. At this point in the match the score of this match-up was 3-2 in a race to four and the team scores remained at 1-1 in the race to 3 for the victory. Remember, every individual match win contributes one point to the team score. Jamie won the next match as well so we were on double hill at 3-3. Whoever would win the final rack would put their team’s score at 2, also on the hill. In the final rack Jamie Person ran through his suit of balls but landed really tough on the 8 with no BIH left. He made it for the big point. “Kracker Jacks 5” needed one more match win to take the 100 grand.

The next pairing was Mark Mariana of “Kracker Jacks 5”  and Joshua Penfield of “Tammy and the Boys”. Mariana drew first blood but then Penfield took control and kept Mariana a spectator for most of the next three games to go up 3-1 in the race to 4. Penfield continued the domination in the next rack to take the match 4-1 and get the team score to double hill at 2 apiece.

The next match would be the deciding match for the $100,000. It came onto the shoulders of Dani Martin of “Kracker Jacks 5” and Michael Burke of “Tammy and the Boys”. Dani was ranked as a 3 BIH while Michael is a 0. A female ranked as a 3 against a man ranked as a 0 with a $60,000 difference hanging on the outcome.

Michael Burke won the first rack with comfortable skill and some nice position play. Then Dani Martin showed she had done her homework on the strategy of when to use your BIH. She managed the table well, kept her 0 BIH opponent off-balance with safeties, and won the next two racks to  lead 2-1. In the next rack she combined excellent BIH timing with some fine shots. Now leading 3-1, she was only one rack win away from the big money. And she showed virtually no nerves. Most of the time she looked to be playing a friendly game with her chums. She is a cool cat.

Michael Burke was under the gun. He had to win the rest of the racks in order to win. He ran the first 7 balls of the final rack but then got out of line on the final object ball and had to play a safety that went awry.. That brought Dani back to the table with her 3 BIH plus the one she would start her run with as a result of the foul by Burke. She used it to try and tie up the table, an effort that fell short. Nerves now seemed to be all over both players. The money effect finally kicked in. After another inning apiece Burke intentionally fouled again to tie up the table but each time this gave Dani another BIH. Dani Martin then called safety and made the 7 and Burke returned with a safety where he freed his final ball.

Martin had 5 balls on the table with 3 BIH in her bandolier. She gave Burke another chance at  the table but left him only a bank and he scratched. Now Dani had an open table and still 3 BIH. She played a safe and Burke banked in his final object ball. But he had only a half-pocket shot for the 8 into a blocked corner. It would not fit and that brought Dani Martin back to the table.

With BIH she shot the one ball into the side pocket. With that shape she shot the two into the corner. She then had a ball in the jaws of the corner and one about a foot away from the other corner and the 8-ball a near hanger. And she had a BIH to use. She really did not need it. She got great shape on the final ball but took the BIH to make it perfect.

Two easy shots later the "Kracker Jack 5" had won $100,000. Needless to say, the place went nuts. This was what Sigel, LoreeJon Hasson, and their investors had sought. Proof that the handicap system actually makes it possible for social amateur players to win big money.

The spirit of this league was defined by a note in the video chat room from the wife of Derek Allemand, a member of the fifth place finishers, Bubba’s Shot in the Dark, a team that took home $15,000 for their three days.  Ashley Allemand wrote: “The tension is definitely felt in the room. This was big money for my husband just starting out. A facilities maintenance man with some oil field guys and a car dealer/bar owner. Average Joes.”

The league grows by having room owners sign their rooms up and forming teams to play. Any information you may need to get your room registered or to get any other details about the UBL may be found at www.UBLNOW.com. All the contact information you could need is on the website.

A special thanks is due to Phil Windham and his entire staff at the Chattanooga Billiard Club. They were most excellent hosts and always present a marvelous venue for events.