Having previewed the UK Pool Open late last week it made good sense for me to attend and see what all the fuss was about – and I wasn’t disappointed.
Walking in to the Britannia Adelphi in Liverpool is a time warp in itself with the ballrooms and chandeliers a joy to behold, though the culture clash of the history of the hotel meeting the fastest growing and perhaps most modern sport in Europe in the shape of Blackball pool was not lost on me, and brought a wry smile to my face on arrival.
Unclear exactly what to expect, I walked in to a room of eighteen pool tables and over a hundred dedicated players on the first event of the 2014 IPA (International Pool Players Association) tour to a cacophony of noise – 36 people crashing pool balls around at the same time is a lot louder than I expected, with the added conversations merely tweaking up the volume. Talking to the players they were keen to remind me that despite the name, these events were open to anyone and that the majority of competitors were in fact amateur pool players in love with the game, and taking the chance to mix it with the very best exponents of the game, win or lose.
With three tournaments taking pace and overlaps I did need a bit of help to work out what was going on but live score updates and tweeting made sure even I couldn’t get confused, leaving me to watch the sport with the other spectators.
For those unaware, Blackball pool is the version officially recognised by the IOC (International Olympic Committee), which in my mind gives it top ranking (other rule sets are available), and is certainly a no holds barred all action version of the sport, with potting the priority over tactics and snookers (probably in that order). A lack of television exposure means the top players are not well known to the sport loving public, but it looks as though that will soon be amended via Premier TV who are taking it on big time, so do keep an eye out for the chance to get a glance at what I see as an all action cue sport worthy of your attention?
As for the competitions themselves, there were a lot of first time entries (actively encouraged by the IPA Committee) in both the Amateur event and the Open and with a “double eliminator” format (two chances) in the Open and a round robin in the Amateurs, everyone got plenty of games for their money which they seemed to enjoy, though we soon confirmed we would have a new UK Amateur Champion as two players in their first event got through to the final – who said pool was closed shop, not at the IPA quite clearly? After both fighting their way through some tough qualifying groups and knockout rounds, it seems only just that 28 year old Alex O’Donoghue played 24 year old Curtis Lee (his birthday was Saturday), in a match worth waiting for. A few nerves were evident early on (and understandably so), but the standard was top level considering before Alex triumphed with a 5-1 win that was well deserved, if a little harsh on his opponent who played a good deal better than the scoreline implied.
Next up saw the Open final which did confirm a small gap still exists between the top professionals and the up and coming amateurs, with rankings number one Gareth Hibbott facing the ultra consistent Ronan McCarthy for the title, trophy and prize money, in a battle supreme watched by a decent and knowledgeable live stream crowd. A real see-saw battle saw Ronan lead at the mid way comfort break before a rejuvenated Gareth took over with some astounding shots to walk away the 8-5 winner and collect his prizes while presumably maintaining his ranking as current number one?
Finally (it’s a busy day but pure heaven to pool fans), we had the Grand Prix final, which is limited to the professionals. A straight knock out but first to nine (best of 17) seems a very fair way to judge performances over the weekend, with Jimmy Croxton winning through to face Ben Davies and I expected a tactical battle – how wrong can you be? Jimmy was playing well as he had been all weekend, though he was helped by a poor run of the balls for the Welsh Wizard who went in off the break at least twice that I saw, as well as breaking dry (no balls potted) and leaving relatively simple clearance chances for his opponent which to be fair, he snapped up cleanly and efficiently. Although a little one sided in that respect (after a level start), the run of the balls soon made the result rather obvious as Jimmy ran out a 9-3 winner and thus ended the UK Open 2014 – next stop Bradford!
Sean Trivass was a guest of the IPA.