"Who do you like?"
I ask and get asked this question all the time recently. In this particular case it is in relation to the upcoming Mezz/TAR 19 match with Mika Immonen vs Shane Van Boening. I never get down on one side or the other in any of our matches but I enjoy bench racing and analyzing match ups as much as the next guy so I though I would write down some of my thoughts and see what the reactions and others opinions on the subject are. Away we go....
In another thread mikeyfrost brought up a question based on something I posted a long time ago I call my three rules of pool gambling. To refresh:
JCIN's Three Rules Of Pool Gambling:
1.) Always bet on Shane
2.) Never bet against a Pinoy
3.) If Shane is playing a Pinoy keep your money in your pocket and enjoy the show.
Now Mikey brought up the interesting point: Is Mika an honorary Pinoy and if so how does that jibe with my tried and (usually) true outlook ? This got me thinking and I decided to write my manifesto on all things plus and minus for both guys.
Breakdown of Shane Van Boening:
Shane is IMO the king of TAR style matches. I make this statement based on seeing all of his performances first hand. The long format plays to many of his strengths and he seems to be able to concentrate in the middle portion of the matches where it is easy for a player to kind of slack off when the finish line is still out of sight. Add to that his experience in playing in the environment of a TAR match, which is kind of unique compared to other types of matches, and he is obviously a formidable opponent for anyone.
Ask anyone who has the best ten ball break in the world and more people than not will say "Shane Van Boening". If you have ever seen him catch that gear you understand. Second ball goes in the side, one ball comes up by the corner pocket, cue ball jumps up and back off the rack and squats in the middle of the table. Its a wrap from there. The Race to 100 format allows him time to find that gear and IMO this is his biggest weapon by far.
One thing Shane has demonstrated in his TAR matches is a killer instinct when he gets a lead. He likes to grind on an opponent when he hits that 8-10 game margin and try to put them away. He demonstrated this most in his matches with Corey and Frost. He had Alex put away on both day two and three but Alex is an alien and Shane got weak at the end of both days but he still had him in the hole at one point. More on this particular match and its effects later.
Shane is a stone gambler. He loves it. There is a reason he has played so many TAR matches, he loves that one on one winner take all type match. He has played more big money matches against elite players than anyone in recent memory. Some names: Alex, Mills, Frost, Efren, Bustamante and Corey. He didnt win them all but he was in the box with the best in the world.
I should state that neither of these guys have too many if any real technical weaknesses. By saying safety play is a weakness for Shane I mean that I think in relation to Mika he is a little behind. This is my opinion mainly based on a great respect for Mika's safety play and not so much thinking Shane plays bad safeties.
Shane is playing a 10 Ball tournament in Nicaragua of all places the weekend before and will arrive in NYC on the 11th the day before the match. He has never been to Amsterdam Billiards or New York City before. While he is a very experienced traveler I think this may play a small factor especially in the first day of play.
The Alex Factor
By the Alex factor I mean that when Alex came back and beat Shane after being down by what seemed an insurmountable distance it put Shane on a bit of a tilt for sometime. At the time I told Shane that with time it would make him stronger and I think that is the case today. I have seen him play in person more hours in TAR matches than anyone I know and in all those hours Donny Mills had him weaker than anyone I have ever seen. Even more than when Alex came back on him. He looked and acted beat several times during that match. But....instead of giving up he got mad and kept fighting and he managed to win a game some said couldn't be beat and one I don't think anyone on earth is the favorite to win. That said some smart people I have talked to say that the Alex match sticks in their head that Shane can fold in the end so while I personally think he is over the Alex match it could be a factor.
Breakdown of Mika Immonen
Some people will say I am nuts for saying Mika's mental game is one of his biggest strengths because of some his actions at the table such as the arm movements and head tilts and such. Here is the thing though, no one in recent times has had a string of successes on the world stage like Mika has. World Championships, back to back US Open's, major events all over the world. Tournaments are mentally tougher than gambling in certain ways. You MUST perform on demand there is no second set. Mess up in a short tournament race and you are done. Mika has shown that when his back is against the wall under tremendous pressure he can perform.
I list heart for one reason in particular. Last year at the US Open on the final day I watched all of Mika's matches. He played all day long one tough match after another. In several of them I was positive he was done. But he didnt quit, didnt find an excuse to lose he fought. That day convinced me that Mika takes a back seat to no one when it comes to having the will to win.
Mika is fundamentally a monster. Watch him play and you see that he possesses that rare combination of power and finesse in his game. It really is fun to watch and when he is in gear. He always seems to make the right decisions and consistently pockets the tough shots that come up. He is a top 14.1 player and is technically damn near perfect when it comes to shooting balls in the hole.
While all of that tournament experience is invaluable and Mika does have more action experience than most people realize or give him credit for; in comparison to Shane he is pretty far behind in big money matches on a major stage. It has been proven that tournament and action matches are two different animals and I think this could play a factor in this match.
Another one where people are going to say "You are crazy" but hear me out. While playing in his home room definitely has advantages in my mind it presents at least as many challenges. Mika is very well known at Amsterdam, he is the house pro there, and with all that support comes expectations and demands on his time. People who know him from being in the room all want two minutes to talk, they all want to offer encouragement and everyone wants to offer their two cents on the match. The thing is if he gets off to a slow start I have seen those same home fans start muttering and a weird vibe can come over the home players side. Will it happen here? Who knows but I have seen it before.
This is only a weakness in comparison to the guy he is playing. Mika will be using the Magic Rack (Shane has yet to declare if he will as well or rack with a traditional rack) this could mitigate some of the distance between the two in this area I really don't know. I know what Shane is going to do eventually in the match, he is going to get the break to work and run like a scalded dog for a couple of hours. The question is can Mika do the same thing when he has his opportunity.
The Filipino Factor
Mika has spent a good deal of time in the pool capitol of the world. He has gambled with most of the guys there at one time or another and understands what it takes to compete in money matches against top players. So as mikeyfrost asked, is that experience enough to qualify him for rule #2 (see above)? In my opinion? No. That experience is valuable without question and will help him but it just isnt the same as playing to eat everyday like many in that country have done since they were big enough to hit a ball.
So what does all this rambling come down to? I think our best match ever. We have two of the best players of their era in their primes going head to head. It really doesnt get better than this. In my mind it kind of comes down to an age old question...tournament champion vs action champion. This has happened in some ways before but never at this level and that elite level of play brings the tournament player a lot closer in my mind.
Put a gun to my head and make me pick a guy right now and I have to say Shane for two reasons: The break and his experience in a race to 100. That said I wouldnt give up a single solitary game to Mika and sure as hell wouldnt give up odds. Maybe I am nit but it is a very real possibility Mika could win this thing by 15.
In my opinion for Mika to win he has to keep it close or lead the first day. It is vital that he not let Shane get 8-10 games out on him early if he does his chance of winning plummets. If he comes out and leads by that margin he is obviously in the drivers seat but we have seen Shane overcome that gap against Donny so in my mind we know he can do it and Mika is an unknown so it is a bigger deal for him to not get in a hole early.
I honestly am somewhat biased based simply on my experience of having seen Shane play a lot more than Mika. I dont think Shane does anything better than Mika except when his break works and that doesnt always happen, it can go cold just like anyone else. One thing that would scare me if I had to go heavy on Shane is that I have seen that fire in Mika's eyes when he wants to win and I have always said give me the guy who is really hungry, the guy who is willing to do whatever it takes to win and simply won't give up. Mika has that in him. I am glad I just get to watch this one. If I was free to get down on this I doubt I would other than maybe a small sweat on Shane or if I could get a price on Mika I may go a little heavier.
One prediction I will make is over/under on total games is 189.
So there is my manifesto on Mezz/TAR 19. Single day and three day seating is available now if you can make it to NYC. Get them at http://theactionreport.net/category...91C853F5A568346082.qscstrfrnt03?categoryId=29
The match will be available on streaming Pay Per View with the link to purchase going up on our homepage www.theactionreport.com Monday Oct. 11th
I also want to thank the people who made this possible: Mezz Cues, Amsterdam Billiard Club, Kamui Tips, Spot Clothing,CueSports International, NYC Grind, Simonis Cloth and AZ Billiards.
So lets hear it. Am I stupid, crazy, nuts, genius, perceptive or just full of hot air. What is your opinion on this clash of champions ?