Sorry if this is long and indulgent, but you have been warned.
Today I got on a train over the border to Den Bosch and then on a bus out to a little town called Berlicum. This is the site of the 2022 European 3-Cushion Championships and it just so happened to be on when I booked this short trip. Fate, I thought. I must go.
The first two days of play (this was day two) were devoted to the group stages. The top sixteen in the world are seeded so they don't appear - although occasional Nigel Farage-lookalike and world number #1 sausage Jaspers poked his head around the door of various rooms I was in today, so they're present.
It's groups of 3, round robin. If there's a logjam and all have won 1, then it goes to best overall average (points divided by innings) who goes through. Looking at previous World Champs, winners tend to win with a tournament average of low 2s or high 1s (1.8 to 2.4) with occasionally special performances seeing players average over 3 or 4 in a single match.
As a special piece of reportage, I will, after mentioning a player's name for the first time, put in brackets what job I could imagine them doing based on their face and physique. Don't ruin the illusion by looking them up.
So - the Benelux Theatre is a nice public space and library as well. Two tables in the larger theatre space seats about 200 for early rounds, with a full camera set up and big screens to each side. It's intimate without being a pressure cooker. The other two tables are in the 'music salon', which is a smaller performance space with about 80 seats.
Another quick note in difference of fan and play experience between live snooker and 3-cushion:
i. they pipe music in. gentle radio pop and rock. nothing abrasive, but some toe-tappers.
ii. chatter is fine. there's a polite hubbub in parts, but no player even looks up or disgruntled once.
iii. there is waiter service. they have a token system to make it easier, but you don't have to up sticks to get a beer. this is living!
iv. no stewards. they just trust everyone not to be an bottom. referees just ref the game.
So. Games are scheduled at 10, 12, 2, 4, 6, and 8. Four at a time. I opt for the big room and for my first two live games of 3-cushion I get:
- Jerome Barbeillon (France, philosopher-thief) against Simon Blondeel (Germany, junior doctor). If scoring were animal eating habits, Barbeillon was a squirrel running down to get a nut and scarper every minute or so, whilst Blondeel was a bear who ate huge and then slept it off. They sparred well and it finished a 40-40 draw (which is permissible in group stages) in 40 innings for an average of 1. Barbeillon is the only pro I have ever seen miss on his break-off.
- Nalle Olsson (Sweden, Brian Glover impersonator) against Cengiz Karaca (Germany, henchman). Despite being the worst match by averages, this was a really exciting match with exchanges of lead that was close all the way. The averages tanked as both men kept missing their outshots, like darts players failing to make doubles to win. Karaca got it in the end to win 40-39. He fist-pumped in delight. I felt Olsson got hard done to in a mid-game call. He whacked one and two balls went up in the air but he made a carom. The ref didn't see it in the chaos, and his opponent played dumb. No replay and Olsson had to take it on the chin.
Went for a wander down the road for lunch and then back to see the following underway in the smaller room:
- Armin Kahofer (Austria, music teacher) against Lars-Harald Riiber (Norway, coroner/undertaker). This was quite one-sided though Riiber showed some deft flair in his 40-17 defeat.
- Jose Miguel Soares (Portugal, third division goalkeeper) against Sauli Solhager (Finland, EU Commissioner). This was very one-sided and if Soares had played as well as I have seen online, it could have been brutal. Solhagen chipped the ball off the table at one point, which I have never seen in billiards.
These both finished quite quickly so I went to see the last knockings of Jacob Sorensen (Denmark, graphic designer) beating Cedric Melnytschenko (France, can't remember) and a tight match between Ronny Lindemann (Germany, adult actor) and Brian Hansen (Denmark, bouncer). They set a blistering average in the first half but the pace cooled off.
Another quick walk in the lovely Brabant sun and a drink. I was feeling a bit sleepy but I powered on. And I'm glad because I got to see:
- Roland Forthomme (Belgium, bus driver) against Vangelis Moulos (Greece, acclaimed director). The first half was sensation - Forthomme was averaging 3.5 going into the break and led 21-1 at one stage. Moulos looked shell-shocked and like he didn't know which end of the cue was the right one. After the interval he kept a steady pace and Forthomme dropped off a little, but not a lot. He won 40-18 in an average of 2.22, which is contender material.
- Raymund Swertz (Netherlands, office clerk) against Martin Bohac (Czech Republic, police). This was only sporadically interesting, I'm afraid, on the table next to Forthomme playing legend style. Swertz is the reigning balkine champion and racked up a 250 break last week. His 3-cushion game isn't at the same level.
The place was really filling up and for my final session, in the smaller room, there wasn't a seat to be had. I'd been led to believe no one went to these things!
- The reason for the commotion was the 'Iceman' Jean van Erp (Netherlands, like Fred Armisen pretending to be a billiards player) against Maxime Panaia (France, McDonalds drive-in guy). This was a slower-paced but a better average than any of the other games going on at the same time. Nip and tuck and contrasting styles - Panaia more the scalpel while van Erp was the dagger. In front of his wife and kids and several cheering friends and fellow pros, van Erp won a popular victory 40-30.
- Lukas Stamm (Germany, pool player) beat Cetin Behzat (Switzerland, hotel manager) quite handily and with more than his fair share of luck. All eyes were on van Erp though.
I left after that - two hours back to Antwerp and needed dinner as well. Quite overwhelmed with the experience but I'll do it again in future. If you can ever go to a decent UMB level event I highly recommend it.