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Breaking News at WPC: Rash of Soft-Breaking Prompts Complaints, Study by WPA
Nov 9, 2007, 9:08 AM

MANILA, Philippines An epidemic of soft-breaking has struck the main TV table at the World Pool Championship, and tournament officials are working to cure the problem for future events.

Players at the Championship have discovered that a slow-speed break from just off the rail on the TV table will nearly always sink a wing ball, and often draw the 1 ball into the side pocket. At this level of competition and in the winner-breaks format, players threaten to run five or six racks in a row with regularity and leave their opponents in the dust.

The prevalence of the soft break and not just on the TV table has been one of the main topics of conversation at the Championship this year between players, spectators, the media and tournament officials.

Thomas Overbeck, vice president and sports director of the World Pool-Billiard Association, which sanctions the WPC, has been interviewing players and other experts about the problem here at the event and asking for potential solutions.

What we would like to have back is that spectacular power break, and that is completely lost here, Overbeck said. I think nobody wants to see the slow break.

One problem is that no one is quite sure what is making the slow break so effective. Likely its a combination of factors. Here are the common elements from match to match and table to table: The tables are Brunswick Metros with 4.5-inch pockets; the cloth is new Simonis 860; the 1 ball is racked on the foot spot; and the 1 and the back three balls are tapped. Players are allowed to break from the wings.

The intense lights of the main TV table could be drying out the cloth and allowing balls to slide more. The intense humidity of the Philippines adds an unpredictable element to the equation.

The problem isnt just confined to the main TV table, although it appears to be the most reliable locale for the soft break. In a Thursday match on a peripheral table between Shane Van Boening and Vilmos Foldes, both players employed the slow- or medium-speed break, and sank at least one ball on the break in all 18 racks of Foldes 10-8 victory.

Its too easy, said Van Boening after the match. Its a big advantage for everybody, and everybody has a chance. I dont think its very fair.

Nor is the problem confined to this year. Overbeck recalled the use of the slow break beginning early in the decade. Notably, 2006 WPC champion Ronnie Alcano used the soft break almost exclusively in the knockout stages and throughout the final.

Its too late to implement any changes to breaking conditions for this years tournament, Overbeck said. Im doing an investigation and trying to think of solutions. What we dont want to do is change it to A next year, and then B the next year and C the next year. We want to sort the problem out and find the [right] solution.

Some of the many solutions that have been mentioned include mandating a minimum speed for the break and enforcing it with speed guns; moving the rack so the 9 ball is on the spot; and confining the cue ball to the break box.