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What About Parica?

It drives Parica mad. Puzzles him to no end. Ticks him off, though he often refuses to admit it. He doesn't want to give Reyes, or any of his cronies, the satisfaction. At the moment, however, drinking black coffee at a Burger King on Manhattan's Upper East Side, he's finding it impossible to completely restrain his disdain for the whole Efren-the-Magnificent thing. The best he can do is adopt this odd-looking smirk. Not quite a hard grin, not quite a soft grimace, but something definitely in between.

For the life of him, he just doesn't get it. He doesn't understand why people rate him so much lower than Reyes. He swears the numbers tell a different story.

"Efren and I, we play so many times," he says in that unusual high-pitched voice, cradling his coffee with both hands. "We maybe play more than a hundred times gambling. And I win most of the time. Probably around 70 percent of the time. I think I'm a better player than Efren when it comes to playing for money. I mean, he's a great player and he's tough to beat, but he beats me only when I'm not ready. When I'm ready, I always beat him. People just like his game, because he's so creative. He likes going for shots where the cue ball goes three and four rails." He chuckles, takes a couple of quick sips of his coffee, then smiles thinly before taking a not-so-concealed swipe at Reyes' magical style. "My game isn't a carnival," he adds. "I am simple and consistent - but dangerous."

He remembers a time when he was the No. 1 player in the Philippines, and Reyes was just a teenage kid. The strong rivalry was there back then too, from the get-go. "At first, I gave him big handicaps playing rotation," he says. "And I beat him and beat him and beat him. I beat him in his hometown, all through Manila, and around the provinces. Then one day, I was at a place in the Philippines where there was a poolroom on the second floor and a bar on the third floor and I went drinking that night. He asked to play, said he would play me even for the first time, and we played and he beat me. I made him a big guy in one night. But that was one of those times where I wasn't ready."

Last year, the rivalry between them took on a heightened, more frustrating dimension for Parica, when Reyes was voted into the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame. Parica, 54, has not only never even been on the ballot, but there doesn't seem to be a clamor to nominate him any time soon. In addition, Parica nearly won his first U.S. Open 9-Ball title, an event Reyes captured in 1994, but finished runner-up to Jeremy Jones, who beat him in the finals, 11-4. Parica says Jones kept him from reaching his dream by putting him on tilt with slow play. "He shoots the ball, wipes his hand on a towel, powders his fingers, drinks some water, chalks his stick," Parica says, twisting his expression. "Every shot - towel, powder, water, chalk. What happened to the time clock?" This double whammy of last year - Reyes' Hall of Fame induction combined with falling just short of winning the prestigious Open - sticks with him. He hates Reyes' having anything over on him. Not so coincidentally, he says: "I've done everything I've wanted to do except two things. The only goals I have left are winning the U.S. Open and getting into the Hall of Fame. After I have those, I'll be happy."

Johnny Archer can sense the animosity between the two countrymen. "Every time Jose and Efren play each other, you can feel the tension," Archer says. "I think Jose is a little jealous of Efren. But I also think Efren is a little jealous of Jose, especially because Jose has always beaten him so much. And Jose likes to talk about beating him. And Efren can't stand it. In my opinion, Efren is a better all-around player, but if they go head-to-head, my money goes on Jose. He really performs against Efren. I think Efren has a harder time playing against Jose than any other player."

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