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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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July: Pool As It Should Be
July 2024

How disappointing.

I’ve seen the future. Gotta be honest, it’s pretty exciting.

Admittedly, I thought this might be pretty special, which is why I convinced myself that a trip to Middle East (my first ever) was warranted. Of course, there were high expectations for the World Pool Championship in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. And understandably so. From the moment Matchroom announced its 10-year deal with the Saudi Ministry of Sport to stage the annual WPC with a guaranteed $1 million prize fund, the entire dynamic of the promoter’s ambitious World Nineball Tour seemed to change.

For players, there was an added sense of direction and purpose to the path they had bought into when they signed a WNT agreement at the start of the year. The chase for “points” took on a new look. No longer would players have to look at chipping away at other tournaments to gain leverage for Matchroom’s lucrative and exclusive “invitationals.” A good showing at the World Championship, where even players finishing in the top 16 were guaranteed at least $15,000, could change a player’s entire year. The addition of the Reyes Cup — an Asia-centric version of the Mosconi Cup — suddenly added even more meaning for the contingent of players from the Philippines and Taiwan, as well as the stars from Vietnam, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore. And a player could pretty much punch his ticket for the Mosconi Cup, as well, in a single event.

There was also the prize fund itself. Most WNT players had never been part of a traditional pool event with a $250,000 top prize. A few were around for the International Pool Tour meteor that whizzed by in 2006 with its $300,000 and $500,000 top prizes, but that seems like only a myth these days.

The result of all that anticipation was a delicious atmosphere of tension and angst. You could feel it in the lobby and restaurant of the Holiday Inn Corniche, one of the host hotels for the event. As players milled around, greeting one another and preparing to head by bus to the Green Hall arena, there was a sense of nervous energy and even apprehension.

It was difficult to pinpoint the source of this anxiety. Was it the lofty top prize? Was it the title itself? Was it self-imposed expectations?

Shane Van Boening, the American star and a former World Pool Champion himself, was keenly aware of the tension hanging over the event.

“The players all wanted to win this event so much,” Van Boening told me. “There was more tension with the players than any tournament I can remember in the last 20 years.

“And there was lots more emotion from players after a loss. Even from players who don’t normally show much emotion.”

I loved all that added anxiety. And I remember thinking how much I’d hoped the title match would go to the hill because I wanted to see if the players could hold their nerve in a final rack with $150,000 and the title on the line — $150,000 being the difference between first and second place.

Incredibly (or maybe not, considering the number of big events that have been decided in hill-hill fashion over the past year), that’s exactly what took place, with Fedor Gorst and Eklent Kaci battling to the wire in a toe-to-toe heavyweight fight.

I couldn’t imagine all the thoughts that must have been racing through their minds as the shot clock continually reminded them of how quickly they’d have to make a decision and pull the trigger on a shot. I couldn’t imagine because I, myself, could barely keep up with what was going on at the table. Looking back at my notepad from the final match later, I noticed that the last note I’d actually penned onto the page was when the score was tied 13-13. Meanwhile, the TV commentators, Karl Boyes and Jeremy Jones, were standing at the edge of the raised telecast stage, eschewing their monitors for a live look at the table.

It was, as Boyes is wont to say, “high drammer!”

In the end, both combatants later insisted that once the match started the thought of the money at stake never entered their minds. They each said it was the magnitude of the event and the title that was at the root of all the pressure. And I believe that. This was the biggest match of the year and all they could think about was making the decisions and shots that might lead them to the finish line.

I’m not privy to the telecast and streaming numbers from that title match. I’m curious to know if the audience numbers grew as the match went on.

Regardless, credit Matchroom and the Saudi Ministry of Sport, and the players themselves, for producing an event that lived up to lofty expectations, from the presentation and hospitality (a lavish players’ lounge, an even more lavish VIP area and, shock, a media room fully stocked with Middle Eastern delicacies), to performances of the players.

And so, this becomes the bar for pool. This is what all events should aspire to become, if not in prize money at least in organization and presentation.

They say a rising tide lifts all boats. Let’s hope that all promoters and event producers follow the 2024 WPC as the template for a tournament that can help pool generate more viewers, more interest and more partnerships.

It certainly was “As Advertised.”

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