A club with thirteen members


Posted by Bert VAN MANEN on November 9, 2013

Bert van ManenCaudron’s second world title is just two weeks old, and before the World Cup in Medellin had even started, other players were already demanding the spotlight. The best post-Antwerp match by far was last week’s encounter in the Belgian league between Jef Philipoom, the 1995 World and European champion, and young but crafty Bart Ceulemans. Philipoom won it 50 – 15 in 10 innings, a personal best for the likeable Belgian veteran. The last three innings of his match were jaw-dropping: 17-1-18. Jef later commented that he had made two or three difficult shots at most, in that stretch of 36 points. Not because he had been freakishly fortunate, but because his position play had been  perfect. I was not there to witness the match, but I believe him. Philipoom is one echelon below Merckx and Caudron, and (not unlike Forthomme) may have bad days more often than he would like, but he is one of the great position players. With a 50 in 14 (v. Ceulemans in 1998) and a 50 in 13 (v. Wittens in 2012) already under his belt, he is no stranger to ultra high averages. On his best days, Jef has both the cue ball and the second ball on a string.

That glorious 17-1-18 finish comes with a bonus. Philipoom is now accepted into a very exclusive fraternity, the Five Average Club. It has only 13 members, worldwide.

I can relate to that induction. In 1998 I joined the Four Average Club, having played a 40 in 10, also in the Belgian league. My final stretch of 36 points was not as monumental as Jef’s, but still pretty good: 4-6-15-8-3. The Four Average Club club had… 13 members at that time, 12 world class players and me. In the past 15 years, it has lost some of its exclusivity, doubling to 26 members, so let’s focus on the current elite. The Five Average Players are: Jef Philipoom (1), Raymond Ceulemans (1), Javier Palazon (1), Filipos Kasidokostas (1), Martin Horn (1), Daniel Sanchez (1), Dong Koong Kang (1), Marco Zanetti (2), Eddy Leppens (2), Eddy Merckx (3), Torbjörn Blomdahl (3), Dick Jaspers (4) and Frédéric Caudron (6).

Look at their combined 27 top matches, a big chapter in 3-cushion history, and you’ll notice the following:

– Only 2 of the 27 performances over 5.000 were played in sets: DJ vs TB in the 2008 final of the European ch’ship in Florange, and FC vs Sayginer in the Taegu World Cup 1996. (Is that a relevant statistic or what? From 1985 to 2012 the world’s best have competed for World Cups and World titles in sets, yet 25 of their 27 top performances were produced elsewhere).

– Thirteen times a match to 40 was played in 8 innings or less, twelve times it was 50 in 10 or better.

– One match was played in New York (DJ – K.R. Kim, 40 – 4 in 8), one in Taegu (FC – SS, 45 – 9 in 9). The other 25 took place in Europe.

– Belgian ace Peter de Backer, one of the best defensive players in the world, was on the receiving end three times, when 5.000 or better was played. Lütfi Cenet twice, all others once.

– The lowest losing average was recorded by K.H. Gertzen (0.375), who lost 40 – 3 in 8 to Horn. Bury did a little better against FC (0.444), losing 50 – 4 in 9. Best loser was TB, who averaged 3.000 against DJ in Florange, 2008.

– The best combined average is the Merckx – In Won Kang match of 2011 (50 – 6 in 6, combined 4.666), but the 2008 DJ – TB (45 – 18 in 8/6) is not far off with 4.500.

– The high run prize (in the list of 5.000+ matches) goes to Eddy Merckx, with a 26.

– The Dutch league contributes 6 matches to the list, the Belgian (individual) VES tournaments 5. German league 3, UMB World Cups 2, European Ch’ship 2, Belgian league 2, Sang Lee Memorial 1, Crystal Kelly Tournament 1, Austrian league 1, Spanish league 1, Swedish Nationals 1, BWA World Cup 1, Greek Grand Prix 1.

It is quite possible that this list is incomplete, I have still not been able to find an English speaking Korean correspondent who keeps tabs on their top players. However, the Korean tournaments are mostly to 30 points, and we don’t keep records under 40.

To some of you, it may all be just a bunch of numbers. But I am certain that most 3-cushion aficionado’s can look at the chart of 27, and realize they are in the presence of greatness. If this were a list of paintings, Guernica would be on it, and Sunflowers, The Night Watch, and the Mona Lisa.  Come to think of it: we need a painting called: Who’s afraid of Red, Yellow and White. Which masterpiece would be the equivalent of EM’s 50 in 6? That sounds like a fun debate.

Back to Jef Philipoom’s evening of glory. What knowledgeable comment can you make about 17-1-18, or about any 5.000 average match for that matter? What do you say, when you see a 3-cushion player who is world class to begin with, at his very peak? What if you are lucky enough to be in the crowd on that special day, when knowledge, ability and intuition come together as one, when his every decision is spot-on, every stroke a caress, every point beautiful, inevitable and organic, a link in a chain? Have you ever witnessed it? You DON’T comment. You are speechless. You just drink it all in, and the memory will stay with you, a lifetime.