Some are entitled, some are invited


Posted by Bert VAN MANEN on October 12, 2013

Bert van ManenInviting 48 players for the annual UMB world championship 3-cushion is about as easy as negotiating a permanent peace in the middle-east. There is just no way to please everybody. I often hear fierce criticism of the UMB, when people find out their personal favorite is not on the list. They point at an invited player with a low-ish ranking, and say: “what is HE doing there?, So-and-so can beat him every day of the week and twice on Sunday”. They mean well, but perhaps don’t quite understand the procedure. “The UMB should just invite the best players, it’s as simple as that”.

Well, that is actually what they do.

The numbers 1 – 22 of the world ranking are invited by the UMB to play, assuming the reigning world champion is in one of those positions. And that is where the UMB’s involvement with the player list ends. The local organization hands out two wild cards. The remaining 24 spots are distributed by the four confederations: CEB, CPB, ACBC and ACC. You can read that as: Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa. The CEB has the most tickets to give out: ten. North/South America have eight, Asia four and Africa two.

Of course criticism of the player field focuses not on the top, but on the bottom half of the list. If you want to blame the UMB, do it for the right reason: they should acknowledge the spectacular growth and strength of 3-cushion in Korea and Vietnam (added to Japan’s steady contribution) by giving the ACBC six spots, not four. As the ACC is on only two, the difference should come out of CEB’s and CPB’s pockets.

So the UMB just does its job, sending in the top half of the field. Do the Confederations mess it up in the bottom half then? Yes and no. The ACC is only a year old, it now has the two spots that were traditionally reserved for Egypt. They selected Riad Nady and Khaled Salem, currently 48 and 70 on the ranking. Africa’s best player, Sameh Sidhom, was already in the field by right. It looks like the ACC has done its best to send the best they have.

The ACBC has an ever growing number of strong players, hundreds over 1.2 average in Korea alone. They send Umeda, Funaki, Ngo and Heo, the current nrs. 26, 31, 34 and 36 on the world ranking: the highest four Asians not already in the field. Two from Japan, one from Vietnam, one from Korea. You’d have to say, that is immaculate.

The CPB is where it gets a little more complicated. They send eight players, now ranked 43, 56, 59, 72, 94, 134, 141, and 181 in the world. But you have to look at those rankings in a different way. Six of these eight players never compete in World Cups, quite possibly because they don’t have the personal means or the sponsorship to travel that far. Their ranking says very little about their ability: it can be deceptively low because they have not played in World Cups, or surprisingly high if they did well in their own Nationals and in the Pan American championships. Catano for instance, was ranked 369 before that recent confederational tournament in Colombia, and is now 43d. He is very young and a major talent, I am happy to see him on the list. Teran and Salazar are excellent players, well over 1.2. Piedrabuena, as we all know, is in the 1.5 region and world class. For reasons of playing strength, I would have picked Hugo Patino or Heriberto Aristizabal rather than Michael Kang, but all in all I say the CPB has done well.

Europe is a different story. The ten CEB tickets have been awarded to the nrs. 23, 24, 29, 44, 64, 66, 86, 149 and 153 on the latest ranking (that’s nine) and one player who currently has no points at all. With selections from 10 different countries (Italy, Germany, Netherlands, France, Portugal, Spain, Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece and Austria), and a dozen stronger players to choose from, the CEB’s objective here was obviously not quality (of play), but equality (of member federations). A less friendly word for that would be “politics”. What it looks like, is that as many national champions as possible were selected. It’s a marginally defensible strategy at best, if your organization represents the 3-cushion talent of Montenegro, Ireland and Latvia, as well as that of Belgium, Turkey and Spain. Having apparently chosen that path anyway, no CEB official comes forward to explain to Swedish champion Michael Nilsson (with a 1.4-1.5 average, ranked 51st) why he was ignored in favor of Andrea Bitetti, Martin Bohac or Mario Aranha. I have nothing against these fine players of course, I hope they have splendid careers and win the lottery. But I do have a problem with the CEB, because unlike the UMB, it has learned precious little in the past 25 years. It came up with an all-new formula for the European Championships last year, which was a massive and admirable effort and half a success. But neither before nor after “Brandenburg” did the CEB consult those insignificant little creatures: billiard players, to ask about THEIR format preferences. There is (still) no transparency or accountability, letters of complaint can be sent to 1 Ivory Tower, Bottrop, Germany. Learning from the Koreans is good. But not if you pick the wrong Korea.

Back to Antwerp, where Ludo Dielis and his team have prepared a feast of 3-cushion for us, from 16 – 20 October. Who will NOT be there, as a result of all this inviting and selecting?

Players who are in the top 48, but not participating: Tran Quyet Chien, Ruben Legazpi, Savas Bulut, Javier Palazon, Glenn Hofman (3d place in the European Championship), Raimond Burgman, Duong Anh Vu, Ahmet Alp, Dave Christiani, Can Capak, Heriberto Aristizabal, Manuel Rui Costa, Nguyen Quoc Nguyen, Xuan Cuong Ma, Andreas Efler. That’s 15 players with a “high” ranking who won’t be there, and 15 players with a lower ranking who do get to play. Given the many reasons why some players are lower on the list than they should be, and in view of the fact that nine of these 15 un-entitled but invited players are still ranked in the top 100, I think we are not going to be disappointed this year, not even in the early rounds. This is an awesome field, and we may see a historic tournament. Who do you think has a realistic chance of winning it? My shortlist has 17 names. And if you think your prediction is a good one, let me ask you this: Who was your pick in 2007? (<– broken link)