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From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.


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June: Easing Back Into Stroke
June 2021

Iím no different from most avid pool fans. The past 15 months have been excruciatingly long. I missed watching real competition. And by that I mean tournament fields filled with the worldís top talent. I longed to watch dazzling shot-making, punishing safety play, creative position play and nerve-testing outs in critical situations.

Most of all, of course, I missed witnessing these things in person.

But I long ago resigned myself to the realization that the likelihood of a light switch being flipped and professional pool returning in full force ó 128-player fields, every player at peak performance level, battling in packed arenas for huge purses ó was pretty remote. Poolís return was going to be a matter of baby steps. And I was prepared to accept and, indeed, embrace whatever morsels the pool world could provide along the road to normalcy.

Our first taste, of course, was the Mosconi Cup in December, an ambitious undertaking by pool promotion giant Matchroom that resulted in a Twilight Zone-like presentation of the sportís most popular single event. Still, the effort was beyond commendable. It was Matchroom taking the reins and saying, ĒIt wonít be perfect, and it will be a money loser, but we need to do what we can to get pool back to the fans.Ē

Matchroom has been steadfast in its promise to deliver a half-dozen marquee events in 2021, and the road to recovery continued with the inaugural Predator Championship League Pool event. The marathon of matches generated gobs of programming hours and, despite a mind-numbingly complicated format, no shortage of uneven play and dollar-per-match payouts that was less than lucrative, it was again a praiseworthy effort to get players playing and fans...well...fanning!

Inch by inch, pool was getting back into stroke.

The latest event, again a Matchroom production, was the World Cup of Pool team event. As with the others, the event was staged in a bubble atmosphere with no fans. Not surprisingly, with travel restrictions preventing many nations from participating and protocol inconveniences causing a number of top players to decline invitations, the field was likely the weakest in the 15-year history of the event. Thatís no knock on any player or team, or even on Matchroom for that matter. It is simply an observation. Again, in the end, I was happy to see the effort to present competitive pool.

Play at the WCOP was also an indicator that players, albeit slowly, are getting back into competition stroke. There was some great pool on display in Milton Keynes. And, of course, there were a fair number of head-scratching misses and blunders. But isnít that true of virtually every tournament, mid-season or not?

The inspired play of beyond-last-minute replacements Darren Appleton and Karl Boyes (Boyes literally pinched from the commentatorís booth after the first day) was the story of the event. Boyes has been, for the most part, retired from competition for almost four years, while Appleton has been a part-timer and shell of his former self for nearly three. I have to admit, however, that, fairytale aside, I did have some concern over the notion that they might actually win the event. What would that say about professional pool, I thought, if these guys could get off the couch at a momentís notice, with no practice, and top the best in the world? Could that possibly happen in golf? Or tennis? Or even snooker? Would it actually be a bad thing?

Not surprisingly, that concern soon gave way to unabashed cheering for the Great Britain C duo. (They easily could have been dismissed early on as ďGreat Britain C-minus.Ē) In the end, their runner-up finish will be talked about for years.

Not that everything about the WCOP left me cheering. I have to admit, I was a little confused and concerned about some of what the event presented to the viewing public. These arenít criticisms as much as they are observations.

In recent years, firecracker Matchroom Multi Sport Managing Director Emily Frazer has touted the promotion companyís goal of elevating pool as a real sport and its players as real athletes. And sheís done a credible job of grabbing the sport by the scruff of the neck and willing it into its future.

So, I was a little confused by the WCOP arena, which featured a stark, industrial set with a faux concrete floor, exhaust fan graphics on wall monitors and pinball machines circling the periphery of the playing area. Fellow players, in shorts and hoodies, sat on barstools as spectators. At the end of the event, the finalists all slumped back in their chairs, their legs casually stretched out.

I have to admit, I was a shade turned off. Whatís it gonna be? A polished, professional look, like the previous CLP? Or the basement rec room approach? Again, I think of golf or snooker and I donít see a mixed message. I think we have to make up our minds when it comes to the presentation of the sport at the highest level going forward.

That said, I will reiterate: I realize the immediate future is going to be baby steps. And Iím fine with some experimentation along the way. I just want to be sure decisions are being made with purpose.

And in the meantime, I will remain giddy with excitement that we get to see these great players compete again.

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