I just experienced seven days at the International and I’ll file this trip report. I did not attend the one pocket, except for a bit at the end, so I’ll omit it.
Monday, October 31
The 9-ball and 10-ball began. I didn’t watch entire nine-ball matches, preferring to watch bits and pieces. I saw a) junior Kashton Keaton’s winning over Jesus Atencio, b) Amber Chen giving Al-Awadhi a tough test until a miscue erased her chances, c) Woodward needing his best to beat Candela, and d) Margaret Styer’s coming from behind to win over Pecelj. In 10-ball, Gorst offered the most impressive performance of the day, playing near perfect pool to whitewash Alcaide 11-1.
Tuesday, November 1
The 10-ball delivered, as four of the five races to 11 reached 9-9. Filler and JL Chang eked out close ones before Shaw ran over Corteza to complete the first round. In the first quarterfinal, Yapp was impressive in edging a solid Roland Garcia. The second quarterfinal, between JL Chang and Albin Ouschan was one for the ages. Albin must have been emotionally drained entering the match, having just survived a scare in the 9-ball against Hohmann. Chang’s play for the first half of the match was otherworldly, and he played to about .925 in earning a 6-3 lead, but Albin kept grinding and eked out the win.
In the 9- ball, Stage 1 continued. It was a memorable day in the tournament room filled with nail-biting matches. There were some huge comebacks, including Al Awadhi’s double hill win over Woodward, Grabe’s escape against Sanderson, Biado’s really from 8-4 down to Souto, Ku Lin Wu’s rally to top Morra, Mario He’s comeback vs Eberle and, as noted, Ouschan’s rally to beat Hohmann. Other hard-fought matches included a) Hsieh’s double hill win over Strickland, and b) relatively unknown Vietnamese player Nguyen playing well to beat Kaci.
The only negative on this day was the absence of a shot clock in 9-ball, which caused huge delays, and the evening session in 9-ball went until 2:00 AM.
Wednesday, November 2
The 9-ball delivered fewer good matches than Tuesday, but there were a few gems. One of the best was Oi’s double hill come from behind win over Grabe, A shocker was Majid’s win to eliminate Kaci. Sanderson had a great come from behind win over Al- Shaheen. One of the more memorable matches was 18-year-old Moritz Neuhausen’s convincing win over JL Chang. Tyler Styer played well and was among the remaining 48 players at day’s end.
It was all Fedor Gorst in the ten-ball, as he prevailed comfortably over both Ouschan and Filler to win the event, in which he beat four of the five Mosconi Cup Team Europe members (Alcaide, Shaw Ouschan, and Filler).
Thursday, November 3
Stage 1 was to end on this day. Kazakis put Ruiz on the loser’s side with a great come from behind win, but Ruiz managed to advance to the last sixteen anyway. Ouschan edged Alcaide in a double hill affair, and David then fell to Al-Yousef and was eliminated. Most of the favorites advanced to Stage 2, including Filler, Zielinski, Gorst Shaw and Ouschan. Both of the Ko brothers reached Stage 2, with Ko Pin Yi coming from 8-4 behind to top Robbie Capito. The Cinderella story was surely that of Jonas Souto, who reached Stage 2 at the expense of Naoyuki Oi.
Friday, November 4
Stage 2 began and the ones reaching the quarterfinals were Filler, Zielinski, He, Shaw, Souto, Ko Pin Yi, Gorst and Ouschan. The great match in the Round of 16 was Zielenski vs Ko Ping Chung, which came down to an electrifying safety battle in the double hill rack in which both played well. Zielinski won the race to the shot and ran out for victory.
It was on to the quarters, and Zielinski, after trailing 6-3 to Filler, won seven straight racks to reach the semis. Gorst continued to show otherworldly form to easily beat Ouschan, Shaw demolished Souto and Ko Pin Yi outdueled Mario He. The semifinals were set, with Zielinski vs Gorst and Shaw vs Ko Pin Yi.
Saturday, November 5
Four good stories were waiting to happen. Would Shaw add the International to his 2022 resume that included setting a 14.1 high run record? Was the Ko Pin Yi of 2015 back? Would Zielinski win his first major? Would Gorst achieve the unfathomable and win both the 10-ball and the 9-ball at the same International?
In the first semifinal, Zielinski’s play was superb and he outplayed an off-form Gorst to reach the final. Shaw was then brilliant in dismissing Ko Pin Yi to earn his spot in the final. Shaw’s outstanding play continued in the final, and he outgunned Zielinski to win the title.
I’ve never been terribly keen on the Sheraton Norfolk hotel, but it’s very suitable for this event, having a great ballroom.
The Equipment and the Officiating
There were area refs for each section of the arena. In the early rounds, a few of them seemed less than up to the task, and many players with whom I spoke were dissatisfied with the racks they were getting. By the later rounds, referees did a better job. The tables played well and seemed to play a little looser than those at the US Open last month, but they were certainly not loose.
The Break Rule
The break rule was nine on the spot with a break box. Unlike at the US Open 9-ball, alternate break was in effect, and this was to the liking of most of the pros with whom I spoke.
The Sparkling Play of the Women
Even in the absence of Kelly Fisher, the women’s contingent had to be reckoned with. Margaret Styer beat Aleksa Pecelj. Kristina Tkach gave Brandon Shuff all he could handle in a close loss. Pia Filler made eventual quarterfinalist Souto work hard for victory. Amber Chen gave Bader Al-Awadhi a stiff test, too. Women’s pro pool is in good hands.
The Basics of the Fan Experience
The tournament room was exceptional. Internet tracking of the scores on the digital pool website was OK, but the site was not always dependable. All streamed matches were played with a shot clock, and this was very much to my liking. There was a snack bar, but the choices were few and the food was not very good.
The BCA Hall of Fame Dinner
Friday night brought the BCA Hall of Fame dinner. Mike Panozzo has the hall of fame banquet down to a science and he presided with his usual excellence. He welcomed members of the BCA, congratulated the two inductees, and introduced the BCA Hall of Famers in attendance, including Pat Fleming, Kim Davenport, Nick Varner, Mike Massey, Darren Appleton, Ralf Souquet and Thorsten Hohmann.
Shane Tyree of the BCA made a brief presentation to Jayson Shaw in recognition of his world record 14.1 run in January, but then it was on to the inductions.
Jay Helfert spoke with eloquence about Dennis’ life story, in which Jay had played a major supporting role. Dennis, who came from humble beginnings, had been involved in menial jobs in the tuna fishing trade as a youth, but, thanks to his grandfather, found pool early in life. When he first came to the United States in 2006, he found instant success and pool became his full-time profession. The rest, as they say, is history.
Jay then introduced Dennis, who addressed the gathering live on video and spoke well for about five minutes with a central theme of gratitude for all those who had supported him on his long journey to pool superstardom.
Next, Mark Wilson introduced Jerry Briesath. Mark spoke well, but chose to be brief, quickly giving Jerry the stage to himself. Jerry, who spoke well, reminisced about how he got into pool instruction and about the many gratifying experiences he’d had. Although he had influenced many pros, he focused on his experiences teaching amateurs, and it was clear that this had been his true passion. Jerry called on the world of pool to support young people who want to get into pool urged the pool instruction profession to continue growing its associations with colleges and their students. Jerry still has dreams about what pool can be in America, and the attendees enjoyed sharing those dreams with him. Well said, Jerry.
The hall of fame dinner was a wonderful occasion and I’m so glad I attended.
How Did Pat Fleming Do With this Event?
Pat gave us a killer field, with 11 of the Top 13 based on Fargo in the field. The tournament room was great, with six tables on either side of the stream table and plenty of good seats from which to view any match. Scoreboards were large and could be seen easily from either side of the table, even at distance.
I loved the 16 player Stage 2 format. The pacing of the event was improved from a year ago, and the event built to the climax that attendees hope for, as nine of the top 20 based on Fargo made it to the round of 16.
In general, the production of this event was first rate and Pat Fleming and his team rose to the occasion.
The International Socially
As has been the case of late, I didn’t socialize much outside the tournament room, but even outside the tournament room, I did get some quality time with well-known pool figures Mike Sigel, Mike Massey, Bobby Chamberlain, Jayson Shaw, Elliot Sanderson, Darren Appleton, Imran Majid, Mario He, Max Lechner, Albin Ouschan, Jerry Briesath and Bob Jewett. Inside the tournament room, I caught up with dozens of pros. Among others with whom I managed to catch up briefly were Mike Page, Mike Shamos, Jay Helfert, Mike Panozzo, and Nick Varner.
So that’s about the size of it. Pat Fleming’s International Open delivered yet again.