Three weeks, three titles, three surprises


Posted by Bert VAN MANEN on January 24, 2015

Bert van ManenThe Kozoom crowd was spoiled rotten this January, with quality tournaments one after the other. It started in Blankenberge, Belgium, with the traditional multi-discipline event, was followed by the Dutch Masters in Kaatsheuvel  (which is 3-cushion only), and topped off by the Asian championships in Seoul.

Caudron, Forthomme and Merckx did not win the Belgian title. Leppens did.
Jaspers, de Bruijn and Burgman did not win the Dutch title. Van Erp did.
Jae Ho Cho, Jung Han Heo, Sung Won Choi and 317 others did not win the Asian Confederational event. Haeng Jik Kim did.

Of these three winners, who is the odd one out? Definitely Van Erp. Let me explain that. Leppens IS a professional billiard player. He may have struggled long to make it into the top-12, still isn’t there, but he makes a living off billiards nevertheless. Has done so for many years, regardless if he was 14th or 31st on the ranking. Not many titles to his name, but a very high standard of play, consistently. He puts in the hours, and has taken all the punishment our game can dish out. Battle-hardened now, he can come up with the goods anytime.  Eddy is on 1.8 more often than he is on 1.6, and that puts him on a very short list. A few days after his national title win, he beat Caudron in the Belgian league (50 – 44 in 27), and I don’t think he will be pummeled by FC in years to come. Beaten, sure. Swept under the rug? No.

Haeng Jik Kim wants to BECOME a professional billiard player. If anyone should give that a try, it should be this guy, with no less than four world junior titles to his name. I read this week that he is 22, almost can’t believe that. He is, whatever his exact age, a seasoned player already. He has lived in Germany for a while, sharing an apartment with In Won Kang, playing the Dutch league and the Bundesliga. (remember In Won Kang? He had the pleasure of playing to 50 pts against Merckx once, for all of 6 innings). HJK’s game is a delight: poise and smart decision-making mixed with the arrogance of youth,  scoring always his first priority. Haeng Jik is fearless, and in his “damn the torpedoes” moments he reminds me of the younger TB. How far can this fellow with the Bieberish haircut go in the game? There’s no telling. He could go all the way and be world champion in 2018 or 2020. Maybe he has a solid 2.2 average by then, I don’t know. All I can tell you is, that I don’t see a ceiling in his near future, a technical handicap or mental flaw  that will keep him from developing.  If HE is not going to be a pro, who is?

Certainly not Jean van Erp, the odd one out.  Jean is an amateur.  And in this context, I hope you will be able to read that as it was intended:  a compliment.

Jean van Erp grew up in a billiard room and was surrounded by knowledge, opportunity and inspiration. There were lessons from Henk Habraken early on, Blomdahl, Sayginer and later Sanchez played their home matches practically under his roof. No boy could have resisted that lure, in the years when  3-cushion in Holland was a big deal, topplayers commanded good money and the Dutch league was the strongest in the world. Jean was not a fluent natural talent, but he was dedicated and stubborn. He improved year after year, first broke the 1.000 barrier, then 1.2, then 1.4. Won a Dutch Grand Prix, and another one. Ended 5th in a European championship. For several years, he was the “crown prince” of Dutch 3-cushion, in the shadow of DJ of course.

And then came the crisis. The 3-cushion economy in the low countries shrank to maybe a third of its former size. It became obvious to everyone, that there was room for 15 or 20 billiard pros in the world now, not 80. Playing World Cups was not a source of income, it was an expensive hobby.
Jean got married, found a job, he and his wife Samora had two lovely daughters. He still plays the leagues, no longer the World Cups. Still practices, but not five hours a day. Loves to win, fights hard for every point, had the absolute highlight of his career last week when he beat de Bruijn, Jaspers and Burgman to win the Dutch title. But he’ll be unable to keep up with Leppens and HaengJik. Because he’s an amateur now.

I hope Leppens will make his way into the top-12. I hope Haeng Jik will amaze us in the upcoming years. But I do admit, that Jean’s title was the one that gave me the most joy.