It’s easy to look back at just about any Player of the Year campaign and claim it to be a Dream Season. But for Jayson Shaw, such a descriptor is especially fitting. The 28-year-old shot his way from up-and-coming to fully arrived. Coming into 2016, the Scotsman had a handful of impressive performances and regional titles, including three wins at the always-tough Turning Stone Classic. But last year, Shaw proved to be the best in the game. He first took the $16,000 top prize at the 16-player Derby City Classic 10-Ball Challenge. The New York transplant, with an American green card in his back pocket, knocked off a number of events on the East Coast, including the Steinway Classic and Accu-Stats’ 8-ball invitational. His international-level breakthough came in November, just days after finishing third at the U.S. Open. Shaw outlasted Taiwan’s Chang Jung Lin in the final of the Kuwait 9-Ball Open to nab $50,000, the year’s biggest prize for American pool. Not stopping there, he then survived the short-race International Challenge of Champions for the $20,000 winner-take-all prize. The dream year came to a fitting conclusion at the Mosconi Cup in London, where the first-time member of Team Europe propelled his squad to a lopsided 11-3 victory, earning MVP honors along the way. The tough-nosed Scot never appeared phased by his success, which leads one to believe he intends on sticking around near the top of the hill for the foreseeable future.
Outstanding Performance: Shane Van Boening (U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship)
Back in 2012, when Shane Van Boening won his second U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship, the then 29-year-old made mention of an ultimate goal: to match and eclipse Earl Strickland’s record of five U.S. Open titles. Even at the time, it seemed ridiculous. Dennis Orcollo, Darren Appleton, Mika Immonen — these guys were all at the top of their game and eying an event that boasted dozens of world-class players. Flash forward to 2016 and Van Boening’s business-as-usual statement seems more a promise than a boast. With Barry Behrman’s passing earlier in the year, Van Boening put extra meaning into this year’s event. Perhaps not the most outstanding player in the 149-player field—he lost a fourth-round match to Chang Jung Lin—the American star was the most driven. He earned a spot in the final with 10 victories on the losers side, including turning a 6-0 deficit against Jayson Shaw in the left-side final into an 11-9 victory. The final against Chang was a hard-fought 13-9 win for his fifth U.S. Open. “Barry told me a year ago he wanted me to tie Earl’s record of five titles,” he said. “Winning this for Barry is even more important than tying the record.” At just 33 years old, Van Boening, winner of four of the last five tournaments, has plenty of chances to be the first to pocket a half-dozen titles in America’s most prestigious event.
Player of the Year: Yu Han
Yu Han, at all of 24 years old, has been near the top of the women’s game for nearly a decade. Picking up the game as a 6-year-old after a trip to the poolhall with her father, Han reached the pinnacle of the sport as a 15-year-old wunderkind when she won the 2007 China National Women’s 9-Ball Championship — an incredible feat considering the depth and width of talent produced by the nation this century. That early success proved to be the first move in what has become a young career full of momentum. Han won the 2009 All Japan Championship, a massive event that always attracts hundreds of best players, specifically from the typical Asian powerhouses like Taiwan, China and the Philippines. The major titles continued to pile up, with Han knocking off the Women’s World 9-Ball Championship in 2013 and the China Open the following year. Her 2016 Player of the Year campaign began relatively quietly. She advanced to the semifinals at the Amway Cup in June. But she then caught her stride with huge wins at the China Open and World 9-Ball Championship, both held on Chinese soil.
Outstanding performance: Ga Young Kim (WPBA Rivers U.S. Open)
There’s a curious contradiction found in just about every pool player. Years spent in poolhalls make them extraordinary at ignoring distractions — that annoying song on the juke or the overserved guy at the adjacent table. But the tiniest disruption, in certain situations, can be the most vicious shark. For Ga Young Kim at this year’s WPBA Rivers U.S. Open in Pittsburgh, her own body presented the biggest problem. A week before the March tournament, the Korean star developed a stye in her left eye. The world’s No. 1 player or not, Kim feared the annoyance would erase what slight advantage she had over the usual suspects on the women’s tour. Right out of the gate, she struggled — dropping a first-round match against journeywoman Jeannie Seaver. But Kim rattled off eight straight wins, including a win over Line Kjorsvik in the semifinals and a straight-sets, 4-0, 4-0, victory over American star Monica Webb in the final to take her fourth U.S. Open title.
Breakout Player of the Year: Chezka Centeno
For the waves of talent emanating from the Philippines in the men’s game, the islands have yet to produce equal amounts of world-beaters on the women’s side of things. Rubilen Amit’s World 10-Ball Championship in 2009 was the last breakthrough for the Philippines — until 2016. Chezka Centeno, just 17 years old, knocked off the Amway International Women’s 9-Ball Championship in June. Centeno topped Ga Young Kim in the round-robin stage, then blasted her way through the single-elimination bracket with three easy victories. In the case game of the semifinal, the teen star cleared from the break to top Player of the Year Han Yu. The race-to-11 final, opposite Kelly Fisher, looked grim from the start, as the Brit jumped out to a 5-1 lead. But Centeno knotted the set at 6-6, before edging her way past Fisher, 11-8. Add a gold medal at the Asian Junior U-18 Championships and a strong 32nd place finish at the predominantly male U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship, and Centeno showed why she rocketed up to No. 7 on the world rankings.
Breakout Player of the Year: Shi Han Qing
Shi Han Qing had earned the moniker of “Mr. Runner-Up” for — you guessed it — repeatedly coming in second in major tournaments in his home country of China. His biggest near miss was taking silver at 2014’s Chinese 8-Ball Masters. But the snooker convert made good in 2016 with a lucrative victory at the China Billiard World Championships. Chinese 8-ball — a hybrid of snooker and American 8-ball — has attracted top players from across disciplines and across the world. China’s table manufacturers pour money into tournaments — and Shi’s victory at last year’s event meant a hefty $92,000 payday. Among hundreds of talented players, Shi worked his way into the final bracket of 32, which included 16 ranked snooker and pool pros. He worked his way into the race-to-21 final where he met World English 8-Ball Champion Mick Hill. The Brit, who was all but new to the Chinese discipline, kept pace with Shi through much of the long slog. Shi was on the hill, 20-19, facing what appeared to be a gimme 8 ball for the title, when Mr. Runner-Up jarred the clincher. Hill cleared to force a deciding rack, but then came up dry on the break. Shi kept his nerve this time around and pocketed the eight balls that gave him his breakthrough victory.
Person of the Year: Darren Appleton
It’s not uncommon for someone that’s highly competitive to also be a bit stubborn. There’s no question Darren Appleton can be described as the former — and his venture into hosting pro pool events might be evidence he is the latter. When most pros are content to sit back and bemoan the state of the professional game, “Dynamite” put his money where his mouth is with the announcement of the World Pool Series, a four-stop 8-ball tour that would add at least $20,000 to each tournament. “Over the last 10 years, I’ve played in so many events around the world,” said Appleton, who relocated to Pennsylvania from the U.K. five years ago. “At first, I just showed up to play. In recent years, though, I’ve spent more time observing how tournaments are run, what has made them successful and what I did and didn’t like about them.” The 40-year-old sees the World Pool Series as his answer to all those who say, “Somebody needs to do something.”
The “Start… No, Stop… No, Start… Wait, No,
Stop Again” Award:
Jim Wych and the WPA
Jim Wych, whose voice should be instantly recognizable to pool fans as a play-by-play man for Matchroom Sport, found himself in a tough place last summer. The Canadian roomowner, player and promoter put together a sponsorship team to potentially run a World 8-Ball Championship sanctioned by the World Pool-Billiard Association — an event that has sat dormant since 2012. The WPA awarded Wych the event for 2016, but the governing body’s president, Ian Anderson, called the supposed host two weeks later. A Chinese group had proposed a bigger and more lucrative 8-ball tournament, with a proposed five-year deal. Wych, a passionate supporter of the game and its players, had the right to keep the event, but he relinquished control back to the WPA. Despite the underhanded tactics from the WPA, Wych couldn’t let himself stand in the way of a big payday for players. “I didn’t want to see $3 million from China go up in a puff of smoke,” he said. Wych then announced a Canadian 10-ball tour, only to cancel the proposed events days later. As for that multiyear deal for the World 8-Ball Championship in China? It didn’t happen in 2016, and details are murky at best for an event in 2017. If this story sounds all too familiar, at least we know you’re paying attention.
The “Whaddaya Gonna Do?” Award: Mark Wilson
Mark Wilson took the helm as captain of the Mosconi Cup’s Team USA in early 2014. At the time, the Americans had lost six of the last seven transatlantic tilts, in addition to an unceremonious tie in 2006 allowing the Stars and Stripes to retain the Cup. One of the country’s leading instructors, Wilson promised a three-year plan to develop a competitive squad. He often cast aside veteran talent like Johnny Archer and Earl Strickland to foster growth among younger players. Such a move created plenty of controversy, allowing fans to second guess his choices and tactics. Unfortunately for Wilson, the momentum he helped create at the 2015 Mosconi Cup with a relatively competitive 11-7 losing effort crashed and burned in 2016. Team USA was out-classed from the start and limped to an 11-3 loss. Wilson’s record of three unsuccessful tries at bringing the Mosconi Cup back to American soil was enough for him to step down as the team’s skipper in late 2016. Sure, the guy didn’t produce a winner. But with the dearth of young talent in the U.S. — along with strong performances of his picks Skyler Woodward and Justin Bergman — Wilson can’t be entirely to blame. His failure may reflect more on the state of American pool than his qualifications as an instructor and coach. I mean, Whaddaya gonna do?
The “Provenance Isn’t a Town in Rhode Island” Award: Ernie Gutierrez, Ginacue
If the sports classic, “The Natural,” taught us anything, it’s that how it hits is more important than where you got it. Except, maybe, in the case of Ernie Gutierrez. The owner of Ginacue, a highly regarded brand of custom cues based in California, got into some hot water in July when he was charged with aiding an attempt to smuggle protected elephant ivory. Gutierrez was accused of selling cues to two individuals that contained ivory for a combined $160,000. In November, he pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and sentenced to two years of probation and four months of home confinement. Investigators discovered the cuemaker helped the two buyers attempt to smuggle cues out of the U.S. by failing to submit proper paperwork and acquire necessary permits for the items. While the ivory trade has been a hot topic among cuemakers and conservationists for years, this incident shows just what can happen when craftsmen don’t cross their T’s and dot their I’s.
For the celebratory nature of the BD Awards, not a year passes without the game losing a handful of people who’ve made pool what it is today. Social media was full of comments asking when 2016 was going to be over — and our little community lost its fair share of luminaries.
Pool’s most prolific author, Bob Byrne passed away Dec. 6, 2016, at the age of 86. He produced several instructional books that are practically assigned reading for pool players. “Byrne’s Standard Book of Pool and Billiards” was his first, written in 1978, and most popular book, selling more than a half-million copies. He followed this success with “Byrne’s Advanced Technique in Pool and Billiards” (1990), “Byrne’s Book of Great Pool Stories” (1995), “Byrne’s Wonderful World of Pool and Billiards” (1996), “Byrne’s New Standard Book of Pool and Billiards” (1998) and “Byrne’s Complete Book of Pool Shots: 350 Moves Every Player Should Know” (2003).
A contributor to Billiards Digest since its founding in 1978, he is one of only two writers in the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame. (“The Hustler” author, Walter Tevis is the other.) The author of seven novels, Byrne was one to create colorful characters — but even his imagination couldn’t conjure something like Barry Behrman, another difficult loss for pool in 2016.
Behrman, the founder and longtime promoter of the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship, died April 23, at the age of 70. Behrman opened Q Master in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1971, during the backend of the golden age of pool hustlers. He held the first U.S. Open five years later, with a modest 16-player field. In the span of four decades, Behrman turned the event into the longest-running and most prestigious event on American soil.
All the while, Behrman never strayed far from controversy, including a short prison sentence for illegal gambling and tax inconsistencies. The last 15 years also produced a string of payout shortfalls and delays associated with the U.S. Open. One of the biggest personalities in pool, Behrman had his faults, but the dedication and passion for the game, its players and its fans cannot be denied.
Billiards DigestPlayers of the Year MEN
1980 Nick Varner (Owensboro, Ky.)
1981 Mike Sigel (Towson, Md.)
1982 Buddy Hall (Paducah, Ky.)
1983 Steve Mizerak (Spring Hill, N.J.)
1984 Earl Strickland (Houston, Texas)
1985 Earl Strickland (Houston, Texas)
1986 Mike Sigel (Towson, Md.)
1987 Earl Strickland (Houston, Texas)
1988 Earl Strickland (Houston, Texas)
1989 Nick Varner (Owensboro, Ky.)
1990 Kim Davenport (Modesto, Calif.)
1991 Buddy Hall (Metropolis, Ill.)
1992 Johnny Archer (Twin Cities, Ga.)
1993 Johnny Archer (Raleigh, N.C.)
1994 Nick Varner (Owensboro, Ky.)
1995 Efren Reyes (Manila, Philippines)
1996 Johnny Archer (Raleigh, N.C.)
1997 Jose Parica (La Puente, Calif.)
1998 Francisco Bustamante (Kiel, Germany)
1999 Johnny Archer (Marietta, Ga.)
2000 Earl Strickland (Greensboro, N.C.)
2001 Corey Deuel (Columbus, Ohio)
2002 Francisco Bustamante (Kiel, Germany)
2003 Johnny Archer (Marietta, Ga.)
2004 Johnny Archer (Marietta, Ga.)
2005 Wu Chia-Ching (Taipei, Taiwan)
2006 Ralf Souquet (Manching, Germany)
2007 Shane Van Boening (Sioux Falls, S.D.)
2008 Mika Immonen (New York, N.Y.)
2009 Mika Immonen (New York, N.Y.)
2010 Darren Appleton (Pontefract, U.K.)
2011 Shane Van Boening (Sioux Falls, S.D.)
2012 Shane Van Boening (Sioux Falls, S.D.)
2013 Shane Van Boening (Sioux Falls, S.D.)
2014 Shane Van Boening (Sioux Falls, S.D.)
2015 Pin Yi Ko (Taipei, Taiwan)
2016 Jayson Shaw (New York, N.Y.)
1980 Jean Balukas (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
1981 Loree Jon Ogonowski (Garwood, N.J.)
1982 Lori Shampo (Detroit, Mich.)
1983 Jean Balukas (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
1984 Jean Balukas (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
1985 Belinda Bearden (Austin, Texas)
1986 Jean Balukas (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
1987 Jean Balukas (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
1988 Loree Jon Jones (Hillsborough, N.J.)
1989 Loree Jon Jones (Hillsborough, N.J.)
1990 Ewa Mataya (Grand Ledge, Mich.)
1991 Robin Bell (Cypress, Calif.)
1992 Ewa Mataya (Grand Ledge, Mich.)
1993 Loree Jon Jones (Hillsborough, N.J.)
1994 Jeanette Lee (Bayside, N.Y.)
1995 Loree Jon Jones (Hillsborough, N.J.)
1996 Allison Fisher (Charlotte, N.C.)
1997 Allison Fisher (Charlotte, N.C.)
1998 Allison Fisher (Charlotte, N.C.)
1999 Allison Fisher (Charlotte, N.C.)
2000 Allison Fisher (Charlotte, N.C.)
2001 Karen Corr (Feasterville, Pa.)
2002 Allison Fisher (Charlotte, N.C.)
2003 Allison Fisher (Charlotte, N.C.)
2004 Allison Fisher (Charlotte, N.C.)
2005 Allison Fisher (Charlotte, N.C.)
2006 Allison Fisher (Charlotte, N.C.)
2007 Allison Fisher (Charlotte, N.C.)
2008 Kelly Fisher (Charlotte, N.C.)
2009 Jasmin Ouschan (Klagenfurt, Austria)
2010 Ga Young Kim (Seoul, South Korea)
2011 Chen Siming (Beijing, China)
2012 Kelly Fisher (Charlotte, N.C.)
2013 Kelly Fisher (Charlotte, N.C.)
2014 Ga Young Kim (Seoul, South Korea)
2015 Ga Young Kim (Seoul, South Korea)
2016 Yu Han (Shanghai, China)
Top-Earning Pro Men NAME 2016 WINNINGS
1. Shane Van Boening $186,565
2. Jayson Shaw $174,344
3. Alex Pagulayan $112,233
4. Shi Han-Qing $96,217
5. Dennis Orcollo $87,948
6. Albin Ouschan $68,896
7. Darren Appleton $58,031
8. Chang Jung-Lin $58,026
9. Skyler Woodward $55,075
10. Cheng Yu-Hsuan $49,692
11. Ko Pin-Yi $49,143
12. Niels Feijen $48,858
13. Qu Jia-Qing $48,108
14. Yang Fan $47,112
15. Mick Hill $46,362
16. John Morra $41,205
17. Rodney Morris $40,610
18. Mika Immonen $36,777
19. Mike Dechaine $36,538
20. Justin Bergman $35,678
21. Mark Gray $28,691
22. Warren Kiamco $28,546
23. Jeremy Jones $25,823
24. Francisco Bustamante $23,600
25. Corey Deuel $23,351
Earnings are calculated by AZBilliards.com. Tournament purses include, but are not limited to, the events listed here.
WORLD CHINESE 8-BALL (JAN.) + QINHUANGDAO, CHINA
Yang Fan $45,567 WINNER
Lu Chuang $15,189 RUNNER-UP
TURNING STONE CLASSIC XXV (JAN.) + VERONA, N.Y.
Mika Immonen $8,000 WINNER
Erik Hjorleifson $5,000 RUNNER-UP
DERBY CITY CLASSIC (JAN.) + ELIZABETH, IND.
Big Foot 10-Ball: Jayson Shaw $16,000 WINNER
9-Ball: Shane Van Boening $16,000 WINNER
One-Pocket: Alex Pagulayan $12,000 WINNER
9-Ball Banks: John Brumback $10,000 WINNER
Master of the Table: Alex Pagulayan $20,000 WINNER
CHINA BILLIARD WORLD CHAMP. (MARCH) + SHANGRAO, CHINA
Shi Han-Qing $92,724 WINNER
Mick Hill $46,362 RUNNER-UP
PLAYERS 10-BALL CHAMP. (APRIL) + EDISON, N.J.
John Morra $10,000 WINNER
Shane Van Boening $5,000 RUNNER-UP
WORLD 9-BALL CHAMPIONSHIP (JULY) + DOHA, QATAR
Albin Ouschan $40,000 WINNER
Shane Van Boening $20,000 RUNNER-UP
CSI U.S. OPEN 8-BALL (JULY) + LAS VEGAS, NEV.
Shane Van Boening $11,000 WINNER
Rory Hendrickson $6,300 RUNNER-UP
CSI U.S. OPEN 10-BALL (JULY) + LAS VEGAS, NEV.
Shane Van Boening $10,000 WINNER
Rodney Morris $6,000 RUNNER-UP
U.S. BAR BOX CHAMPIONSHIPS (AUG.) + LAS VEGAS, NEV.
8-Ball: Shane Van Boening $4,400 WINNER
9-Ball: Justin Bergman $4,100 WINNER
10-Ball: Justin Bergman $3,800 WINNER
CHINA OPEN (AUG.) + SHANGHAI, CHINA
Wu Jia-Qing $40,000 WINNER
Cheng Yu-Hsuan $20,000 RUNNER-UP
INT’L CHALLENGE OF CHAMPS. (AUG.) + ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.
Jayson Shaw $20,000 WINNER
Shane Van Boening — RUNNER-UP
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.