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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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September: Break Dance
September 2022

Based on the ruckus on social media, one might think the European Open Pool Championship in Fulda last month included the unveiling of a seventh pocket. Or, as Earl Strickland champions, the elimination of side pockets!

“This completely changes the game!” came the chorus of responses.

First off, the changes to the break employed by Matchroom at the inaugural European Open weren’t exactly mind-blowing, why-didn’t-anyone-think-of-this-before revelations. Racking with the 9 on the spot has been used in tournaments for a number of years and has been the rule in all Euro Tour events for some time.

And the break box? Also been around and tested sporadically for years. In fact, the 2021 International Open used virtually the same format that Matchroom used in Germany — break box and 9 on the spot. (Incidentally, Shane Van Boening struggled mightily with the break in losing to Albin Ouschan in the semifinals in Norfolk, Va., last October, just as he did in the final in Germany.)

But because Matchroom events are so visible internationally and marketed so robustly, the format modification and resulting impact on the event were publicized, analyzed, and legitimized by fans around the globe for days on end. Even players, once eliminated from the event, took to social media to hail the latest efforts to make major 9-ball tournaments more competitive and interesting.

And I don’t have a problem with any of that on any level.

For starters, Matchroom, already the leader in big-money, high-visibility pro 9-ball tournaments for several decades, doubled down in 2022 with the addition of several new open tournaments, the creation of its own ranking system and a leadership role in convincing other promoters to join the journey to a full, structured and lucrative annual lineup of events.

With the calendar beginning to take shape, efforts turned to fine-tuning the competitive aspect of the events. What playing format supports the desire to reward the very best players, while at the same time showcasing all aspects of the game?

Traditionally played with the 1 on the spot and the break allowed anywhere in the kitchen, major 9-ball events had dissolved into break-and-run fests. Guaranteed of pocketing the wing ball (and often the 1 as well) and getting a predictable and cushy spread of the remaining balls, the game had become interesting, even to those who love watching beasts like Van Boening, Josh Filler and Jayson Shaw string together five-packs and six-packs like tying their shoes.

For me, one of the key benefits of Matchroom’s continued tinkering with the rules was the inclusion of top pro players in the process, which invariably would lead to buy-in from those same players if their suggestions were actually implemented. Don’t underestimate how important that is going forward.

The success of the new rules was lauded almost universally. The only real complaint by the players was the switch from templates to hand-racking for the final 16, a move every pro insisted was pointless and, indeed, detrimental more often than necessary. And, to its credit, Matchroom immediately announced that its open event going forward would use template racking from start to finish.

Some concern has been expressed that the pros will eventually uncover a way to “solve” this rack as well, as if pool is a Rubik’s Cube. But most pros agree that, regardless, the latest racking and breaking requirements will lead to more open breaks, more scratches on the break and more confounding ball layouts — all of which means tighter matches, more cat-and-mouse action, less predictability and more tension.

That was evident in Germany, where players looked physically and mentally exhausted after more than a few close matches.

The goal now will be to get all major 9-ball events to follow the same script.

So, you ask, is this really all such a big deal?

I’m here to say, “Yes.”

And here’s why.

Look at it from a “Big Picture” perspective. (Yeah, I really hate that cliché as well!)

Pool’s ability to grow to the next level (which Matchroom likes to promote as somewhere between professional darts and professional snooker, both of which it has steered to great heights) will be in making the sport greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, all of these little tweaks and changes and efforts pieced together will create a more exciting, more compelling, more uniform and, by extension, a more attractive total package to potential outside industry sponsors.

Lack of uniformity, organization and, of course, prize money have been the primary pitfalls preventing pool from garnering serious consideration from companies outside our little circle in the past. If the sport, the players and billiard industry partners can rectify those drawbacks through all these little improvements, pool will be far better positioned to take that critical next step to mainstream understanding and acceptance.

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