Hallelujah: Winners Sing Out as IPT Field Narrows, Grows Richer
by Mason King Jul 28, 2006, 1:43 AM EST
Jubilant shouts and the deep thud of cue butts slamming the floor echoed through the Venetian Hotel and Casino on Thursday night as 18 pool players took another step closer to the $350,000 top prize at the $2 million IPT North American 8-Ball Open – and another 18 saw their dreams cut short.
“Haalllloooooooo!” cried Efren Reyes, as he sank the winning 8 in a must-win hill-hill match against Mick Hill of the U.K., and pumped his fists to the ceiling. He punctuated his triumphant shout with a relieved chuckle, as he watched the cue ball come an inch from scratching in the corner.
“YES!” shouted Englishman Darren Appleton, upon hearing that bracketmate Cory Deuel had lost his last match of the day, leaving the door open for his own ascension into the next round.
“Thank you! Thank you! See you tomorrow, everybody! Yiiiii yiiiiiii!” shrieked Ronato Alcano of the Philippines, after his stats were posted on the official scoreboard and he saw that he beat America Dee Adkins for the third sport in his bracket by a percentage point.
After a 12-hour day of round-robin play, the field of 36 players in round four winnowed to 18, who were guaranteed $30,000 each by virtue of advancing to the fifth round of play. Their 18 eliminated compatriots pocketed a none-too-shabby $10,000.
The Filipino contingent continued its dominance and bettered it chances for claiming the championship, placing seven players in the last 18: Reyes, Alcano, Francisco Bustamante, Marlon Manalo, Dennis Orcollo, Alex Pagulayan and Rodolpho Luat.
Two nations placed three players in the fifth round: the U.S. with Gabe Owen, Larry Nevel and David Matlock; and the U.K. with Appleton, Rico Diks and Daryl Peach. Germany’s last two hopes were Thorsten Hohmann and Ralf Souquet. The remaining three players were Evgeny Stalev of Russia, Australia’s Quentin Hann, and Sweden’s Marcus Chamat.
As the clock rounded 8 p.m., it was gut-check time for several players who had recorded records of 2-2 and needed a win in their final match for a shot at advancing. Players took their turns in front of the tournament’s billboard-sized scoreboard, nervously drawing numbers in the air as they tried to figure out the calculus of the bracket and how they would fare in different scenarios.
Players on the bubble with 2-2 records included Reyes, matched against Hill (1-3); Alex Pagulayan, playing against fellow Filipino Dennis Orcollo (3-1); and Deuel, set against Filipino Marlon Manalo (3-1). Matches that paired players with identical 2-2 records included Frenchman Yannick Beaufils vs. Niels Feijen of the Netherlands; American Earl Strickland vs. Alcano; and Francisco Bustamante vs. Santos Sambajon, both of the Philippines.
American Gabe Owen was stuck in a must-win position from the third match of the day. He faced fearsome Filipinos Bustamante and Sambajon in his first two matches and lost both of them. He needed to win the next three matches to have a hope of advancing.
“I just thought, screw it – just let it go. You only live once, just do it,” Owen said.
He proceeded to beat Reyes, 8-6; then Hill, 8-6; and in the longest match of the fifth set, Ivica Putnik of Croatia, 8-5. Sinking the last 8, he yelled and pumped his fist at jackhammer speed.
“My feet are killing me,” he said afterwards.
One of three Americans left in the field, Owen felt he had a shot at the title. “I feel like 8-ball is my best game, and I’m getting underrated here,” he said. “I’ve been practicing nothing but my 8-ball break for the last six months. Even in 9-ball tournaments, I’ve been breaking from the box. Screw $5,000 for winning a 9-ball tournament when you can win on the IPT.”
Stalev of Russia already knew what he would do with the $350,000. “I promised my friend [IPT member] Fabio Petroni that we would go on a vacation to Hawaii with five girls,” he said.
Stalev was one of the few players whose record was strong enough by early evening to count on advancing. Others were not as lucky.
“The pressure … the pressure … the hunger … I’m so tired,” said the rail-thin Alcano after squeaking by Strickland, 8-7, in their 8 p.m. match. He tossed his cue in the air, caught it and then did a stiff jig as Strickland packed up his cue case and ignored repeated requests for an on-camera interview by IPT staff.
Even countryman Reyes, perhaps the best big-money player in history, felt the pressure and dogged several shots in his 8-7 win against Hill. He often appeared listless and confused, and several observers opined that the rugged, five-match-a-day schedule was getting to the 51-year-old Hall of Famer.
“I don’t feel tired, … I feel the pressure because I’m in danger,” he said. “My opponent played good. Every time he got a shot, he ran out. In the last game, it was too much pressure for me. I didn’t know what to do in the last game. That’s why I was just shoot, shoot, shoot.”