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Strickland Stuck After Varner’s Two-Rail Kick
1989 PBA Rackm Up Classic • Jan. 22, 1989 • Columbia, S.C.
NO DOUBT the sweators at the PBA Rakm Up Classic final between Nick Varner and Earl Strickland walked out of the arena jabbering about one of the greatest matches of all time. But you know a final was truly great when even the pros themselves said it was a barnburner.
“This is the best 9-ball match we’ve had in a long time,” he said.
And there was no doubt about that. Varner and Strickland split the first 10 racks in the race-to-15 final in Columbia, S.C. Then the Pearl rattled off four straight for a 9-5 lead, but Varner stayed within striking distance — 10-8, 11-9, then 12-9.
While the two men dueled, their Professional Billiard Association colleagues started to assemble in the first row, just behind the golden bunting surrounding the table. The onlookers included Mizerak, Allen Hopkins, Jim Rempe and Bobby Hunter.
Back at the table, Varner dropped two combinations on the 9, ran a rack, then buried another combo on the 9 to inch ahead, 13-12. Strickland responded by running out after Varner scratched on the break, then climbed on the hill by dropping the 9 on the snap, 14-13.
In the 28th game, Strickland made the 2 on the break but had to play safe on the 1. Varner had a tiny window for a kick shot on the 1 and pocketed it. The front row of future Hall-of-Famers stood and jostled around to see what kind of position awaited Varner.
The 3 ball sat near the corner pocket, but Varner had nothing even close to an angle on it. Knowing this well could be the match, the Kentucky Colonel fired the white ball two rails and knocked the red one in the corner.
The crowd erupted, with the pros falling on top of each other in laughter and disbelief. Varner kept his nerve and ran out to meet his opponent on the hill, 14-14.
In the decisive rack, Varner attempted another 2-9 combo, but misfired. The two then traded safe after safe, while the onlookers — more than 800-strong — murmured after every delicate shot.
“It’s like Old Milwaukee: It doesn’t get any better than this!” Strickland said.
Tied up, Varner went to his case and pulled out a 3-foot jump cue.
“Illegal stick!” Strickland shouted, but was overruled by tournament officials.
Varner’s jump shot left Strickland no clear angle, and he played a loose safety. That was all Varner needed. He quickly ran out the remaining balls, unleashing an uncharacteristic fist pump when the 9 fell.
After the room settled, the two combatants knew what kind of match they had just played.
“That may have been the best two-rail [kick] shot I’ve ever made,” Varner said. “Really, though, I pocketed balls about as well as I ever have.”
In last month’s edition of 30 Over 30, Strickland lost to Efren Reyes thanks to one of the greatest shots of all time. Again, Strickland was the hard-luck loser, but he knew what it took to beat him.
“Nick played a great match, but so did I,” he said. “I don’t like finishing second, but the crowd really got treated to 9-ball at its best tonight.”
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Since 1978, Billiards Digest magazine has been the pool world’s best source for news, tournament coverage, player profiles, bold editorials, and advice on how to play pool. Our instructors include superstars Nick Varner and Jeanette Lee. Every issue features the pool accessories and equipment you love — pool cues, pool tables, instruction aids and more. Columnists Mike Shamos and R.A. Dyer examine legends like Willie Mosconi and Minnesota Fats, and dig deep into the histories of pool games like 8-ball, 9-ball and straight pool.
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