What a Difference a year makes…..
The emergence of Blackball pool.
12 months ago Leicester City were bottom of the Premier League, Lewis Hamilton had won the Australian Grand Prix, John Carver was manager of Newcastle United, and me and my friends had just entered a World rules tournament in Yarmouth. Fast forward to now, Leicester are top of the premier league, Lewis Hamilton came 2nd in the Australian Grand Prix, former Real Madrid manager Rafa Benitez is now manager of Newcastle United, and World rules are now a thing of the past.
Introducing, Blackball, the not so new rules that are taking over the pool world. After playing World rules for most of my competitive pool career, and part of the Durham county pool set up, changing rules again was something I personally did not want to do. When I first changed from the old, old rules to World rules, it did take some adapting, and at first I didn’t like them, however I adapted. If you can pot balls, it shouldn’t matter what rule set you play. After watching players on line, and especially on the IPA tour, it came to my attention that Blackball was the way forward. As I am notoriously known as a bit of a “fudger” World rules favoured my game, and changing to a more attacking Blackball rule set may not be the best for my particular game. Especially seeing as my money record in World rules is pretty good. However, one simple solution to adapting to Blackball? Get better! Simple!
So we all started to practice Blackball in the middle of 2015 and at first it was very strange. 1 free shot, with no follow on. You must get out of snookers. But, you can pick the white up, and still pot your opponent’s ball. It certainly does favour the more aggressive potter. It’s much more exciting to watch, and a frame can be over in the time it takes a kettle to boil. Hanging balls over pockets is no longer an advantage, as the minute you do that, your opponent is already thinking of ways to play a “skill shot” and clear that pocket. There is some thinking involved and it’s not just all about potting the first ball you see. For instance when you get a free shot, it is important to use your free shot as best as you can to ensure you gain an advantage and get out all your balls in to a pottable position. Or, to be a little negative, use your free shot to tie one of your opponents balls up, just to give you a little safety net so that if you miss, your opponent will find it harder to clear up.
So as the year went on, we continued to play pool, playing World rules through the County, and Blackball in practice. We even set up our own little Blackball league in the local snooker hall, which I eventually won. There was then an advert I saw to join the IPA tour. When first asked about this I laughed it off completely. The clue is in the name, “Professional”. The top players in the country. I’m not as good as these. I’ll never win a game I thought. My good mate Kai was first to join the tour. If I’m honest, I thought he was a little bit insane. “Why waste the money?” I thought. Then our Wednesday league captain, Ross, decided to sign up too. I thought, he’s a young lad, he’s getting better all the time. Why wouldn’t he want to join? He’s only going to improve playing all the big players, and the experience will be massive for him. Good luck to him I thought. Then a month or so down the line, I’d played a World rules money game and I had changed my game completely. I hadn’t bored the player into submission and fudged him completely out of the game. I attacked him, I potted the balls. I was a changed player! I thought it may have been a one off, but again a few weeks after that I played again in the same manner, attacked the game and won. The question was asked about the IPA tour again. This time my attitude was a little different. I actually thought about it. Then after a discussion with one of my good friends again, I decided, I may never get the chance to do this again. I thought to myself, I’m only going to get better by playing better players. Let’s see how good I can get. So I signed up. Within a few months I went from laughing off the thought of playing on the IPA tour, to paying my deposit and joining my good friends Kai and Ross around the Country playing pool against the very best. I was in.
We then managed to persuade another good friend of ours, Philly to join us. He was a little unsure at first, but he paid his deposit and was in. Another young lad who will only get better by playing the top players.
So the 4 of us were in, the IPA tour 2016 was to involve 4 new players of different ages, all joining for different reasons.
We have Ross, one of the top up and coming players in the Consett area. Touted as being a future star of the game, a century break snooker player, with an excellent temperament. Then we have Kai, a family man who has one of the biggest passions for the game you’ll ever see, joining the tour for a similar reason to myself, to see how far he could go and how good he could be. The last to join our group was Philly, another young player, who wants to improve, and has the ability to be one of the top players around. An improving temperament, he will gain some valuable experience playing on the tour. And of course, myself, persuaded to join the tour, after being encouraged to believe in myself, looking to see where I am at the end of 2016, with an aim to be a better player by the end of the tour. One thing we all have in common, we love pool, and we all expect to be better players by the end of the tour than at the beginning.
So we awaited 2016. We looked forward to the 2264 miles and 41 hours of travel 5 venues and the guaranteed 4 games per tour. IPA Tour 2016, we’re coming to get you.
Tour 1 Newport – 594 miles down.
With our cues and bags all packed, we all squeezed into Ross’ car and headed off around 2.40pm, Kai bringing his weekly shop as well as a suitcase big enough to tour Australia for a month. Philly provided the pork pies, flapjacks and cheese and onion pasties, whilst Adele was in the background bellowing out her “fire in the rain”. We were all in joyous mood. Steve McClaren had just been sacked as Newcastle manager with Rafa Benitez set to take over, the sun was out, although with a bit of wind, and of course, we were all looking forward to being amongst the best players the Uk has to offer. Who would win? What are our expectations? Will we get drunk?
We headed past Wetherby services then onto the M62. I was getting a bit peckish after my Sausage in an omelette sandwich covered in beans with hash browns on the side, and we headed into McDonalds for Ross to have a much deserved breather before finishing the second half of our trip. The quote of the trip has to go to Kai for his one line “It just lies down and goes to sleep”
We arrived at the Holiday Inn between 8.30-9.00pm, parked up and checked in. We threw our bags in the rooms, and headed to the arena. As we got to the main room, most of the tables were set up with a few still being worked on by the IPA staff. The tables looked superb, although the room did look a little small. The set up was fantastic and was as professional as I have ever seen. We’ve all been to many pool tournaments in the past, and this was definitely up there with being one of the best set ups we have seen. IPA posters dotted around with players such as Marc Farnsworth, Ronan McCarthy and the eventual IPA Open winner Dan Davy. The stream table with a set up like a mini crucible and looked fantastic. There wasn’t a lot of room between the tables, and we have played in larger venues, however after talking with the chairman Kevin Barton, this was a new venue, which was smaller than others they have used in the past. However with that set, this was still a great venue.
We started to practice on the tables, between each other. I dished a couple, as did Kai, Philly, and Ross. The tables were playing great and looked fantastic. A few pints to wind us down, then we headed back to the room as it was a 9.00am start for yours truly. My aim for the weekend? Win a frame for the love of God, just win a frame!
9.00am came, and I played a young lad called Paul Bradbury. My mission was complete as I won the first frame. It was a very nervy affair and I ended up losing 6-4. Lessons learned. Take your chances, otherwise you will get beat, and I did have chances. Kai followed suit and lost 6-2, whilst Philly had a real eye opener and got beat 6-1. Ross on the other hand won his first 2 matches and seemed to be flying. With double elimination, the other 3 of us ended up in the loser’s section back on at 6.30pm. I again lost, Kai the same, however Philly broke his duck and beat women’s champion Deb Burchell 5-2, only to then get beat in the following round. Ross eventually bowed out at round 4. The Open event was over for the fantastic 4.
On to the amateur event, and we had a very long wait until one of us was on with Ross on at 5.15 followed by myself at 6.30, and Kai and Philly who had byes, on at 21.45. It was another torrid time as Kai, Philly and myself all bowed out at the first round, whereas Ross bowed out at the last 64. Byes for Philly and Kai meant they did not get entered into the plate draw, whereas I played at 10.15 only to go out in the first round again.
It was all over for Newport as far as pool was concerned, although a lot can be taken from the tour. Ross has a few wins under his belt which will help him for future tours, Philly at least broke his duck during the tour, Kai had a fantastic come back in his amateur game being 5-0 down to come back to 5-4 only to lose 6-4, and myself? I’ve enjoyed watching some top-notch pool. Marc Farnsworth, as always was a joy to watch at times. I enjoyed watching Jules Goodyear when I saw him play, very steady player, and rarely made a mistake. Dan Davy was brilliant in the Open final, hardly giving Marc a shot and deservedly winning in my view. The north east lads were all spurring each other on, asking how we all got on, supporting each other when on the table, which is fantastic to see, and great for north east pool. Chris Bowron won the amateur event, which again is fantastic for northeast pool. The next 4 tours will have one or two northeast players in and around the business end, watch this space!
As pool events go, although my pool was not what I hoped, it was still a great tour. The waiting around wasn’t ideal, and could be looked at for the future, however it was still run fantastically well. I take the positives from the negatives. I lost 4 games, but will ensure that does not happen at tour 2. Brilliantly organised, and brilliantly set up. Such a laugh, with the highlight being some of the Northumberland lads managing to balance just about anything on one of the other lads heads whilst he was asleep drunk. Pool will always be a pub game, however the IPA is only making the game better. The tour will go from strength to strength. The stream quality is fantastic, and in a few years time, who knows, TV may take over. Bradford next, only a couple of hours down the road. Practice Practice Practice. Tour 2, we’re coming to get you!