Well, I warned you all that the pool world was so competitive I would almost certainly get my selections wrong – and that turned out to be the truth, though that takes absolutely nothing away from those who came out on top in their respective tournaments.
Friday was the usual organised chaos, but with over 250 players in various tournaments that is to be expected, though thankfully we have a brilliant Tournament Director in Bronnie Ward who keeps the players (and me) on the straight and narrow and makes sure things run smoothly – or as smoothly as they can in the real world.
Going through it day by day (match by match, frame by frame, pot by pot) isn’t an option you will be delighted to know, so we will separate the tournaments, praise the winners, and fete the runners up – that seems like the sensible way forward to me.
IPA International Ladies Elite
Defined and started off at the Ladies request, the Elite tournament is the current equivalent of the professional series, limited to the best of the best. Some close fought semi-finals saw Rhiannon Graham beat Bec Sweeney 7-5 while Rachel Tucker edged out Ashley Bird 7-6 to set up what we all felt could be a closely matched final, and so it proved. In a see-saw battle that saw each player in ascendance at one time or another, we ended up with a predictable last frame decider where nerves were bound to play a part. To be fair, neither player cracked under the TV lights but it was Rachel who came out on top though I suspect this is not the last time we will see these two in an Elite final.
IPA International Professional
Although by definition the entry to this event is restricted to the professional players, that is the end goal for all the players here – to be listed among the very best the sport has to offer. Both Craig Brown and Dan Davy shone brightly throughout the tournament but succumbed at the semi-final stage to Gareth Hibbott and Liam Dunster respectively, by scorelines of 9-3 and 9-5 respectively. Both our finalists have been IPA World Champions so we knew the standard would be straight out of the top drawer, but it was the younger Scotsman who came home clear at the line to win 10-5, suggesting the prodigal son was well and truly back home and among friends on the IPA tour.
IPA International Ladies Amateur
Just like the men’s side of the equation the Ladies amateur section keeps on getting better and attracting more and more players – and unknown quantities – to the tour. With a double elimination format to give every one a second bite of the cherry, we had more pool than you can shake a stick at, but after plenty of hard fought matches, good and bad luck, and the odd curse word (?) we eventually got to a semi-final line-up of Linda Maider v Hayley Weston, and Clare Peaty v Beckie Watkins, though I rather doubt the bookmakers would have been able to separate that quartet. As things turned out it was Linda (6-3) and Beckie (also 6-3) who battled their way through to meet on the TV table under the lights. To their credit neither wilted under said lights in another see-saw final that went one way then the other, before Beckie came out on top after a final frame decider, much to her delight.
IPA International Amateur
Most of us play down the pub of club of an evening, beer in hand, but when you head off to the tour all hours (within reason) are treated the same, with the Amateur Final held at 11.15am – too early for me I confess, but they are a lot better than I am! I mentioned in my preview how difficult it was to second-guess the amateurs, and so it proved with the last eight made up of players I would not have named in a month of Sundays. That is not to take anything away from the players concerned, and is more about my ignorance and pointing out the high standards among the majority of Amateurs on the IPA tour. Lee Shepherd and Matt Peel were the two who battled through to take their places on the TV table, and hats-off to them both as they put on quite a show. Lee stormed off into what looked an unassailable lead but credit where it is due, and Matt battled back and looked as if he may have turned things around – before Lee pulled away again for an 8-3 victory. Mark the name Lee Shepherd – he has the game to go professional in a year or two, and his love of the game (and winning!) was there for all to see.
IPA International Open
No disrespect to any of the other events, but for many this is the most important – after all, you can sign up to play, and if you get far enough to when the seeds come in, you may well get to play a household name so you can find out just how good they are – or you aren’t in my case. Amateurs and professionals are all mixed in here and although it invariably does go the way of a Professional, there are always upsets along the way. Evan Parry-Williams was the surprise package this time around, disposing of Amateur winner Lee Shepherd, ex-Snooker Pro Robert Stephen, and World Number 5 Cory Rees on his way to a semi-final meeting with Andy Croasdale, while Mark Boyle and Rob Donkin battled It out on another table. In the end Andy came through 8-6 after an energy sapping battle that both players can be proud of, while Rob beat Mark by the same score, proving once again the thin margins at the top end of the game. The final was just as competitive with Andy and Rob taking it in turns to win a couple of frames in a row before Rob potted one of the best blacks you will EVER see in a match at this level which may be the shot that turned the tide in his favour as he went on for yet another 8-6 success, rounding off the weekend in spectacular fashion.
IPA International Ladies Open
On to the Ladies Open to round off our report and once again Rhiannon Graham was there or thereabouts, while Deb Burchell also made the semi-finals – along with Alice Paylor and Ashley Bird. Alice beat Rhiannon 6-3 while Deb beat Ashley 6-2 to set up a mouth-watering final. Alice is seen by many as the up and coming potential star of the game while Deb is a former World Champion respected by everyone in the game and is the current ladies number one for a reason. It was always going to be a tough one to call but then new kid on the block eventually came through as Alice won 6-4 in the end as she looks to take over at the top of the rankings by the end of the season.