2018/8 – Gravel, grass and hardcourt

Wimbledon is my favorite tournament, but tennis wouldn’t be tennis without Roland Garros, the US Open and Melbourne. Different players shine, different aspects of the game play key roles. I would never recommend or hope that Flushing switches to grass, or Roland Garros to hardcourt. Potatoes and rice are fine, but once in a while you want pasta.  

It’s more or less the same with formats for 3-cushion tournaments. The World Cups, as they are today, have a solid formula and I think there will be no urgent reason to make drastic changes to it in the coming four, five, or six years. But we have other formats, and that’s a good thing. The Scotch Double is not something I am hysterically enthusiastic about, but if it’s February and Viersen is around the corner, I can certainly watch and enjoy it. The 48-player World Championship format is always under criticism because the field is half based on merit, half based on invitation. Still, there are (very) good reasons to do it this way, and I’ve not seen an uninteresting 3-cushion World Championship in my life. Newest addition to our formats: the 3CC Masters with computer generated positions. We’ve only done that once so far, and I half-liked it. But I truly don’t think it is interesting enough to have several tournaments every year that lack the man-against-man dynamic of attack and defense. I wish they did this once a year.   

The McCreery tournament of last week took a different path: instead of introducing a new format, it brought back an old one: the Round Robin. Call me a fossil, but I loved it. A tournament in Round Robin means every player meets all the other players once. A good tournament director (and Charles Brown is exactly that) will make sure that the crucial matches are in the last round(s). On the negative side: there will be matches on the last two days that only decide about 11th or 12th place and a small difference in prize money. Not too many people will tune in for that. But on the positive side: a Round Robin will always let the cream rise to the top. It’s how Ceulemans won most of his 23 world titles.

In knock-out events, such as World Cups, a better player can be eliminated by a lesser player who has a superb day. Shin Dae Kwon – Jaspers in Ho Chi Minh 2015 comes to mind, and Zapata – Caudron in Blankenberge 2018; no doubt you will have other examples in your memory. In a Round Robin with 12 players, the top four will always have higher averages than the bottom four. The format measures your quality of play during a week, not during a day. You can have one or two unlucky losses, but not five or six. It was no different in New York, where Caudron, Merckx, Jaspers and Sayginer were the top four, and they were simply the best players that week. Dani Sánchez and Sung Won Choi had a good enough average but a few too many weaker moments. Haeng Jik Kim was pretty close to the last four, but he was denied by Marco Zanetti in the last match. Marco’s storyline was the strangest of them all: he started with four consecutive losses and a poor 1.228 average, then won seven matches on the trot and changed 1.228 into 1.526.     

In short: I love Round Robin because it’s so honest. Look at it this way: in a World Cup, the winner is ALWAYS undefeated. In a Round Robin, he hardly ever is. Caudron was the best player in the McCreery, a totally deserving winner, and he is the best player in the world. But he lost FOUR of his thirteen matches in New York, because it was such a strong field. Single elimination will hide the vulnerability of a top player, Round Robin will expose it. I don’t think that takes anything away from your title; it only adds to it.     

My final thought about formats: we have enough now. A few years ago, we were all desperate to come up with innovations that could maybe turn the tide for the sport. Today, we can relax a little: the sport is in fine shape and top players can make some money. The calendar is full, and there is plenty of variety. If there is one thing we should NOT do, it is this: try to transform the identity of 3-cushion and turn it into a sport for the masses. If there is one thing we SHOULD do, it is this: attract kids to billiards. We must spend time and money on this. Because you and I, we’re getting older.

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