Tips & shafts
By George Fels
Consulting Editor George Fels has been writing for Billiards Digest since 1980, and his "Tips & Shafts" column is usually our readers' first stop when they crack open the magazine. For better or worse, pool has been his only mistress for 40-plus years.
Best of Fels
October: I Donít Know
I'D TELL you if I did, and it's probably not the most authoritative way possible to begin a column. But what follows are questions to which I simply do not have answers. Yet.
The source around which all this ignorance of mine swirls is Dragon Promotions' recently completed 14.1 tournament in New Jersey (I hesitate to name it here, fearing my column may not be sanctioned either). The meet gathered almost as much attention for what happened the day before as for what happened at its conclusion: the World Pool-Billiard Association announced a last-minute withholding of sanction for the event, meaning neither its winner nor any individual records would ever be officially recognized.
The Association obviously does not believe that the tournament deserved bona fide world-class status; even I know that much. So let's lob a few semi-soft questions their way:
Why not this year? You sanctioned the same tournament the last five.
Was it because the prize fund was sub-standard (or sub-your standards)? The promoters raised the highest amount ($70,000+) for which straight pool has ever been competed, with eight fully credible sponsors spearheaded by the indescribable generosity of New York's Dr. Michael Fedak. I believe I read online that you require nearly three times that much before a competition is considered world-class in your eyes. For this pool game? On this continent? On this planet?
Was it the playing field that didn't measure up? Thorsten Hohmann and Oliver Ortmann have already both won versions of this tourney that you did sanction, so let's not waste time denying that they're world-class. After that, about 99.44% of the cue-games universe would agree that at the very least, Mika Immonen, Jose Parica and our own Mike Sigel and Allen Hopkins rate that designation too; all were there. Yes, Ralf Soquet, Thomas Engert, Jasmin Ouschan, the top British players, and just about all the Asian stars were missing; I imagine most of them were gearing up for the Manila meet you did bless.
Does it bother you that inclusion in the playing field was granted to a few sponsors, as partial repayment for their own largesse, and another few recreational players who might be at the sub-regional level? So what? I'm not sure why that should concern you in the first place. Ever heard of Morris "Snookers" Pearlstein? I didn't think so, but he once met the late, great Irving Crane in tournament play. Un-credentialed players have been part of the field in the lion's share of every pool tournament ever held. It fills out the field, adds to the prize fund, and bothers no one.
Were you offended because Dragon Promotions had the temerity to use the word "World" in its title? I'll grant you that they showed considerable chutzpah in implying that they had something or other to do with all the previous 70 incarnations of world-class play, but that's nothing more than an overhyped ad claim. After that, they're using that terrifying term in part because this particular meet is far and away the best in the world right now. That, and the fact that their prize-fund size was unprecedented for 14.1, ought to count for something. And who is it that's going to stage a straight-pool tournament that meets your standards where theirs does not? Are you? I doubt it; if you were, you would have already. And in the nations where your association and its meets do flourish, straight pool is barely played at all.
No doubt there are followers of the New Jersey event, and maybe even readers of this column, who would add to my list of questions, "Who the hell do you think you are to begin with?" But that's not my stance. I think you're right to point out that we've already seen an era in which any mischievous room owner who could put together a 16-man rapid-fire tournament had a perfect right to label his meet "The World Doofus Invitational," or anything else he saw fit. But that era was nearly 30 years ago. The standards you claim to be guarding so vigilantly simply have ceased to exist. And nobody has even come close to what Charlie Williams, his staff and his company have done for this game, certainly not in the time their event has been staged.
All credit to your association for the growing size and success of the Asian tournaments; further, I'm aware almost all of you are unpaid volunteers. And I'll admit I know none of you personally right now. I do know Jerry Forsyth by reputation, he's 100% honorable and credible to me, and I seriously doubt he reached the non-sanctioning decision on his own anyhow. But the one person I do know who was part of you has quit; she didn't think you were doing enough for the game in general, and we are absolutely not going to make this discussion about her. Which begs the last question: Exactly what have you done for pool, especially in America?
The only stipulation to be made here is that my not knowing the answers to these questions does not diminish nor demean those answers in the slightest way; I simply don't know. So I invite the WPA to fill me, and our readers, in. After all, it is we who are due these answers. The sporting world in general will scarcely notice the record book that, years from now, will merely report that no 14.1 champion was determined for 2011. It'll be a curiosity and disappointment to people who hack away at the game, independently or in leagues, once or twice a week, and pay to get into tournaments and hold their breath as an object ball approaches a pocket jaw and read publications such as this. You've denied recognition to the world's finest contemporary 14.1 competition, and a player whose individual performance is unparalleled in almost exactly 70 years. The game's only real audience would like to know why.
Your response is respectfully invited.