Posted by Bert VAN MANEN on July 28, 2014
The Verhoeven Open, formerly the Sang Lee Memorial, is a three-stage tournament with both seeded players (4) and a draw. The bigger names invariably make it through the first round, but only then do the seeds enter the tournament. In this 2014 edition, last year’s winner Caudron was seeded, as well as the world nr. 2 Torbjörn Blomdahl, the world nr. 5 Dick Jaspers, and the legendary Raymond Ceulemans. Hard to argue with those choices? Actually, no. Unseeded, as a result of the organization’s respectful gesture to RC, were Murat Naci Coklu (17th on the world ranking), Tayfun Tasdemir (12th), Kyung Roul Kim (8th) and last year’s runner-up Eddy Merckx (4th).
If you love 3-cushion, you would want every player I have mentioned so far to be in the final stage of the tournament. But that was not to be. This is what happened, when the qualifiers were listed from 1 – 20, and drawn into groups: Blomdahl, Merckx, Tasdemir and Coklu were in the same flight (B), and only two of them could make it to the final 8-player round robin. Murat Naci Coklu, in case you did not know, is the 2004 European champion, and one of the world’s best players in terms of stance & stroke. Tayfun Tasdemir is a position play specialist, who almost routinely produces high runs and astronomical averages in practice. Two seriously big names had to go, and the first to fall was Tayfun. He lost to TB, EM and to his countryman Murat, and had a general average of only 1.389. You’d have to say, he just did not do well enough. But look at the results Coklu put into the books: A single loss (against TB), and he beats everybody else, including Merckx! General average: 1.644, nothing to be ashamed about, if three of your opponents are world class and one of them is the shrewd Jorge Rubio from Equador, who will play defense up to and including the equalizing inning.
So with just one loss, Coklu must surely qualify? Well, no. If two or three players end with the same win/loss record, the better average advances. And a three-way tie was possible, if Merckx would beat Blomdahl in the final match of that group. Poor Coklu had to sit and watch, as the TB – EM encounter turned into a classic nail biter. 26– 27 became 29 – 29 and both players looked nervy. When EM made his last point (the 30 – 29 by the way, represented the single one carom in the tournament TB did NOT make) , Coklu was out on average. EM first in the group, 1.953, TB second, 1.884, Coklu third, 1.644. Conspiracy theorists may say, and I’ve heard this in the stands: TB could pick who he wanted in the final round, and he gave it to EM. That is of course total BS. Nobody in their right mind will bring Merckx into a final when they have a chance to get rid of him, and TB will never lose a match if he can win it, that is just not how he functions. “What a shitty way for Murat to go out”, TB later said. “Don’t blame me, blame the format”.
Meanwhile, in flight C, another upset was about to happen. Danish player Lars Dunch was making a name for himself, beating Merckx in the first group stage and beating Jaspers in the semifinal group. He’s a relative unknown with little or no World Cup credentials, but he can sure play. His win over the Dutch champion, combined with the fact that Sameh Sidhom kept winning all his matches, put Jaspers at grave risk. The Dutchman had also lost to Patino, and he was as good as out. Only if he beat Sidhom in his last match, Kostistansky would beat Dunch and Dunch would beat Patino, could Jaspers still advance on average. Any other result in one of those three matches: exit DJ. But you guessed it, that is exactly what happened. In hindsight on Friday evening, you’d say that Jaspers was a logical and deserving finalist with 1.777, Sidhom closest on 1.464, Patino on 1.362 and Dunch on 1.153. But on Friday afternoon, you would not have put any money on his chances.
Group A had the two obvious winners: Caudron and Ly The Vinh, nobody else coming close. Caudron was his brilliant self when he made 30 in 11 and later ran a 14 and 12 back to back, but he was not playing his most consistent tournament. The Vietnamese player did remarkably well, averaging 1.707 and beating Caudron twice in the same weekend. Nalle Olsson from Sweden also had a good run, but he fell just short in the semi’s with a third place finish. In group D, Raymond Ceulemans could not repeat his sparkling performance of last year in NY, he ended 4th in the group with 1.293. Alexander Salazar qualified as 2nd, but the best impression was made by young Huberney Cataño who won the group. He is just 24, but he comes to the table with maturity, composure and confidence, a good game plan and excellent technique. Time will tell if he can cope with the pressure and deal with premature admiration, but in my opinion he has a better chance of becoming a top-10 player than Salazar.
Four final names were easy to predict: Caudron, Blomdahl, Merckx, Jaspers (but how easily two of them could have gone out!). The four additional contenders: Salazar, Cataño, Ly The Vinh, Sidhom. I’ll try to give you an account of the final round robin next time. To whet your appetite: the Verhoeven Open 2014 was not a “good” tournament, like 2009, 2010, 2011. It was a GREAT tournament, like 2006, 2007, 2008, 2013.