In China’s Jiangxi Province, Yushan County in the city of Shangrao, the first World Championship in China’s eight ball and discipline was held.
This event is little known outside of China. The whole city of Shangrao was in the spirit of pool and you could see billiard motives all around.
This tournament had the best snooker and billiards players from 23 countries, in both male and female categories, so the tournament brought together nearly 200 best representatives of the sport from all over the world.
This is a unique spectacle where you could see snooker and billiards players competing in the same discipline and in one place. Big prize money would be awarded of $500,000 and also the prestige of the tournament had summoned the world’s largest snooker names such as Mark Selby, Neil Robertson, John Higgins, and many players from the top 16 snooker players, as well as the best pool players on world like Darren Appleton, Thorsten Hohmann, Nick Ekonomopoulos and several more world champions.
Also, the world’s best ladies, such as Allison Fisher, Kelly Fisher, Jeanette Lee (“The Black Widow”) as well as many other world-class and European caliber players were in Yushan. Besides these big names involved in the tournament, extremely good Asian players—some of which are Chinese champions—such as Fan Yang, Zheng Yubo, Can Wang and Haitao Liu. They were an insurmountable obstacle for many of the world’s biggest names among the frontrunners for winning the prestigious title of “first world champion in the Chinese billiards” and an award of $100,000 for first place in the men’s category.
While China’s Jing Cong, Ge Bai, Liu Shasha were the favorites in the women’s competition (the prize for first place in the women’s competition was a tempting $75,000).
In one group were only Chinese players and had a different proposition for qualification, and in another group were all the other players from around the world. So 32 players from the world, and 32 Chinese players were in main event.
The tournament is organised in two stages. The first phase consisted of three qualifying days. In the first and second day four group winners passed into the second stage which was the final tournament, while in the third day of the final tournament entered another six players.
A total of 14 qualifying players joined 18 wild card opponents in the final group of 32 non-Chinese players. This only speaks in favour of how this game is unknown to all players of the world except the Chinese competitors, for whom this is a national billiard disciplines.
It is a hybrid game that is played on a 9 foot table with cloth, cushions and pockets that are shaped identical to the snooker table. The playing surface is pleasantly warmed up, but a noticeable 50 degrees Centigrade.
In this snooker environment we played with classical pool balls, numbered 1 to 15, with the characteristic division into “stripes” and “solids.” All equipment is made in China. Tables are manufactured by a leading Chinese manufacturer of tables (“Star” company), and the balls are also a Chinese brand called “Cyclops” and they are very well known in the Asian soil, but differ noticeably from the whole world’s standard competitive balls—brand Aramith.
In such strange environment for most except the Chinese players, we felt uncertain, because 99% of the foreign players had never seen such equipment—or trained on it—and the organiser, having regard to foreign players, separates foreign and Chinese players in a qualifying tournament. This gave them a chance to adapt to the conditions of the game.
Among the foreign contenders were snooker and pool players who started their career as a snooker player or player of English billiards. They had some advantages over classical billiard players, so the English competitors better accommodated to the conditions of the game.
After six days of the second phase of the competition, in which crashed 32 of the best Chinese players with the 32 best players in rest of the world in a final match.
The standing players left were the best snooker player from England, Mark Selby and the best English and world billiards player, Darren Appleton. Both of them in the semi-final match opposed the best Chinese players: Haitao Liu and Chu Bingjie who were favorites, but were unable to defeat them.
The final match was held on February 2nd in the sports hall, which was packed with an audience that enthusiastically followed the matches of the championship, with a special support for snooker players who are highly valued in China and have the status of real sports stars. The entire hall supported Selby and each of his masterful moves were received with enthusiasm.
That did not affect the best player of billiards—Appleton—who started the match very concentrated and stable. Appleton ended the first session with a score 11: 9.
It was like the miracle is on the horizon since he managed to trounce the far more famous snooker player. However, the second session brought some thrill and Mark Selby evened the score at 18:18, which caused true excitement in the audience.
All were looking for a huge change, but a seasoned Appleton did not succumb to the pressure of circumstances. While his opponent’s game was extraordinary, he just played perfect pool, finishing the match with a score of 21:19.
Not only was he was able to beat the best players of the world of snooker and to turn the audience on his side, he has succeeded in an extremely important moment of his life—he overcame himself and played the best pool that could be seen not only in his career, but also throughout the billiard world!
The great triumph of Appleton has not only had everyone in the hall raised on their feet, but it also caused an unusual reaction on the face of a professional billiards player!
The four-time champion of the world, its historic, first ever tittle of world champion in Chinese billiard greeted with tears in his eyes! That is surely proof of how hard this game was and how this title was of great importance to him and for his so far, brilliant career!
The hosts did everything to make this billiard spectacle, with an unprecedented prize fund in the history of billiards, given in the best possible order. Hundreds of volunteers were available to players, special police and army units were guarding the event, yet all fans of billiards in the audience were able to easily take pictures and get autographs from their favorite billiard stars.
Hotel accommodation was top notch. Shuttle transportation for players from different venues to hotels functioned perfectly and the entire organisation was on the highest possible level.
Particularly spectacular was the opening and closing ceremony of the championship. Among the guests were the highest officials of the world’s billiard and snooker organizations, as well as many Chinese public figures and government representatives.
I was so happy do play this event and even more to have a great time with the best of the best among all pool players of the world.
With this tournament, the Chinese hosts have not only introduced new billiard discipline into the spotlight of the international public, but also raised the organisational level to a new and higher level. They definitely set new standards in the world of sport billiards in every sense.
Photos: Provided by author
Editor; Dana Gornall