Posted by Bert VAN MANEN on November 6, 2016
The “November Nine” is an expression from the world of Poker. Once a year, after many preliminary rounds, nine poker players will be left to compete for the greatest prize in their sport: the WSOP title, and they do it in November. If you end up 9th on that final table by the way, you go home with exactly 1 million dollars.
So, who are the November nine in 3-cushion billiards? We have 48 candidates for the world title, and I gave myself strict orders to only use nine names in this article, leading up to “Bordeaux 2016”. It is quite possible that the title will be won by someone else, one of the remaining 39, and you are all warmly invited to make fun of me when that happens.
Let’s start off with The Inevitables.
It is downright impossible to ignore Blomdahl, Caudron and Jaspers, in any tournament they play in. Forget about form, forget about a first-round loss last week, forget about a disappointing season. If they are in it, they can win it. Caudron and Jaspers are the two players who are simply a cut above the rest in terms of average, with a playing strength that is consistently over 2.000. Dick had another 2.3 tournament last week, in La Baule. Fred is currently on 2.3 in the Belgian league. They simply need fewer chances to get to 40 points than the rest of the field. The two of them together have produced twice as many matches over 4.000 average as the other 46 Bordeaux players combined. Blomdahl’s 2.000 average years are behind him, it looks like. He is almost always on, or a bit over 1.8, but he has a special gift for peaking at the right moment, as he demonstrated in an unforgettable way last year. All three MUST be seen as prime candidates for the 2016 world title.
My second group: The Smart Bets.
Here they are: Merckx, Sanchez and Zanetti. Why? Because they have done it before, and they can do it again. Two world titles for EM, two for MZ, and three for DS. As much as I love to watch Dong Koong Kang, Jae Ho Cho, the Ma’s, Nguyen’s and quite a few other Asian players, I don’t think they are quite ready yet to withstand the immense pressure of a world championship. They will have that ONE lesser day, that one weaker match, those two avoidable errors in a quarterfinal. If you play EM, DS or MZ on the final days and you make a few seemingly innocent defensive mistakes in the early innings, you’re looking at 4 -21 in 6. They are going to walk all over you. All three have killer instinct in spades, they will have a clear head and a steady hand when it’s 38-38 on the afternoon of November 19.
Group three: the Dark Horses.
My first pick for a surprise winner is maybe not even a surprise: Murat Naci Coklu. He has just won his second World Cup, he is confident and his game is technically top notch. What I like about Coklu is his temperament. He will never waste energy on something he can’t change anymore. If the ball goes through the tiny, tiny hole, Murat goes to the chair and prepares for the next inning. No theatrics, no disbelief, no deep sighs (which are all destructive). Move on.
Next in line: Jeremy Bury. The Frenchman went through the eye of the needle in the New York qualifications, but then played impressive 3-cushion on the final two days, beating both Caudron and Jaspers. He added the Guri World Cup to the Verhoeven Open win, and may now rightfully consider himself a top player. Bury’s major strength: not making mistakes. He is not the world’s most spectacular cueist, but he hardly ever misses when the point is makeable. And he is no longer afraid to win major tournaments.
Third dark horse: Eddy Leppens. Why Eddy, who is “only” 29th on the UMB ranking? Because he has the tools to do the job. Eddy has played tournament averages of 1.8 and better in the past years, and he is a more mature competitor now, than he was when he lost the world championship final to Dani in Sluiskil in 2010. Played terrific 3-cushion in Bordeaux 2015, but got hit by a 19-run from Sameh Sidhom. If his customary bad luck stays away this year, he could go far.
We may get a little more insight into the form of the top players, during the LG Cup in Seoul (Why is Jaspers not in that field? He was in the final last year!). All the strong Koreans, Sidhom, Piedrabuena, Blomdahl and Caudron will compete for a lot of money from 8-11 November. Here’s a question for you (and I will start off saying that I couldn’t answer it): Would the top players rather win “Seoul”, the LG Cup and cash 60.000 Euro, or win “Bordeaux”, the world title, and cash 10.000?