Pinoy Pool hopes for a boost at the World 9 Ball Championship

Bob Guerrero
Pinoy Pool hopes for a boost at the World 9 Ball Championship
One of the Philippines' strongest sports is in the doldrums. Might a new Filipino world champ spark a revival?

MANILA, Philippines – The World 9 Ball Championship for 2015 is underway in Doha, Qatar, but you might not have noticed.

Once upon a time the event was a pretty big deal in these parts. English promoter Matchroom Sport ran the show with plenty of slick glitz and glamor. The UK’s Sky Sports aired it with top-drawer production values, and ESPN and Star Sports beamed it all over South East Asia, including the Philippines. 

Pinoys saw Efren Reyes down Hao Ping Chang in the 1999 final in Cardiff, Wales, while Filipino-Canadian Alex Pagulayan lifted the trophy in 2004 and Ronnie Alcano from Calamba, Laguna, topped Ralf Souquet to win the 2007 event in front of a massive crowd in the Philippine International Convention Center.

Then Matchroom pulled out, opting to concentrate on their other pool events, the Mosconi Cup and the World Cup of Pool, a doubles competition. The World 9 Ball was not played in 2008 and 2009. Then Qatari interests picked up the cudgels for the game and began holding it again starting in 2010, with Francisco Bustamante finally getting his maiden world title after besting Taiwanese pro Kuo Po Cheng, 13-7.

But by 2010, so much had changed. For starters, only the Filipinos who were in the hall in Doha got to see Django win his world title. There was no TV coverage, and there didn’t seem to be any streaming back then. By that time, the volleyball revolution was in full swing, and social media helped fuel its rise. The PBA was in the midst of a revival and the Azkals would get their their seminal triumph in Hanoi at the Suzuki Cup 4 months from then. The iconic Efren Reyes was aging. Pool in the Philippines was inextricably drifting into the shadows.

The game has languished in the country since then, with a paucity of tournaments and TV exposure. The fickle Filipino sports fan seemed to be enamored with other new playthings. Fortunately Manny Pacquiao started holding big-money tournaments again, even staging the World 10 Ball Championship in General Santos this year. But once again, a Filipino stumbled in the final hurdle as Carlo Biado’s brave fightback was not enough to deny Taiwanese star Ko Pin-yi his first world crown. Biado lost 11-9 in the final, just as Lee Vann Corteza had against Mika Immonen in that same event 6 years earlier.

Filipinos love a winner. And the country, for all its excellence in the sport, has a spotty record of delivering the goods in the business end of world titles. You can blame it on the vicissitudes of a sport where luck is a big factor. Or maybe the Pinoy players, weaned on late-night challenge matches, can’t quite adjust to the different demands of tournament play. Or maybe the rest of the world has just caught up. It’s probably a mix of all of that. 

In 2002 a grief-stricken Bustamante, whose young daughter had just died in Manila, lost the final to Earl Strickland. The very next year another Pinoy, Pagulayan, would lose to Thorsten Hohmann in the final as well, although the “Killer Pixie” would win in 2004. In 2006 Roberto Gomez of Zamboanga withered under the intense pressure of the final in Araneta Coliseum to fall to Englishman Daryl Peach. 17-15.

Johann Chua is a rising star for the Philippines. Photo by Bob Guerrero/Rappler

2010 was the first and last year that a Filipino would win the title in the Qatar era. The next year a heavily favored Alcano made crucial errors in the endgame to fall to Yukio Akagariyama 13-11, (the Qataris shortened the race for the final match), allowing Akagirayama to become the third Japanese mens world champion in 9 Ball after Takeshi Okumura and Kunihiko Takahashi.

In 2013 it was Antonio Gabica’s turn to break Pinoy hearts as he lost the final to Hohmann. 

That brings us to this year’s tournament, which has been in play since last week. What are the Philippines’ chances of winning the title that Niels Feijen claimed last year? First the bad news. 

Bustamante, Reyes, Pagulayan, Alcano, and Gomez did not make the trip. Veterans Jeffrey De Luna and Ramil Gallego are also not present, and work commitments meant Elmer Haya, last year’s top-performing Filipino, skipped the event. Many of those players were probably too far down the world rankings to be guaranteed a spot in the “stage 2” main draw and would have had to slog it out for a berth in the short-race “stage 1” qualifiers, where they might be at the mercy of the pool gods. 

But then there is the good news. Reyes and Bustamante may be in the autumns of their careers but the remaining bunch of players are more than capable enough to carry the torch.


Dennis Orcollo, one of the best in the world, is there and wants to add to his world 8 ball title. Corteza is still waiting for his first world championship and it would be foolish to write him off. Warren Kiamco and Carlo Biado, who will represent the Philippines in the World Cup in the UK right after this event, are both wily veterans who can take on anybody. Raymund Faraon, who won the prestigious All-Japan Championship last year, has a buttery-smooth stroke that could take him to a title.

(READ: Introducing billiards standout Raymund Faraon

Jeffrey Ignacio, a terror at challenge matches, is another dangerous young shooter waiting for his breakout moment. He made it through the stage 1 phase to book his spot. Johann Chua is another star-in-the making. He reached the quarters in the 10 Ball worlds this year and has gone deep in tournaments before. Gabica is also in the hunt. He lives in Qatar and appears to be representing both his adopted nation and the country of his birth.

All of those players have a realistic shot at winning the title. The rest of the Filipino delegation may be known only to the cognoscenti, but Francisco Felicida, Oliver Medenilla, and Israel Rota are all capable of deep runs in the bracket.

As of the writing of this article Orcollo, Gabica, Faraon, Ignacio, and Biado all hurdled their first two assignments in the double elimination group stage to make the final round-of-64 single elimination bracket. Other Pinoys like Corteza must win another match or two to reach that stage after losing early. Kiamco and Chua stayed alive with 9-6 wins over Shannon Ducharme and Chang Jung Lin. It will be a bitter exit for Chang, who is a decorated Chinese Taipei campaigner who certainly had dreams of winning his first world 9 ball title. 

Carlo Biado has hurdled his first two assignments to make the final round-of-64 single elimination bracket. Photo by Bob Guerrero/Rappler

The tournament may not be on TV anymore but an excellent free HD streaming of all 14 tables is available here.

You only need to register to watch. Sessions usually start midafternoon Philippine time. The final match will be on Friday in Doha, possibly early Saturday here. The official Facebook page for the event, which is regularly updated with news, brackets and scores, is here.

The time is ripe for a Pinoy pool renaissance, especially with the King’s Cup coming up in November in Resorts World Manila. The Dragon Promotions team event is patterned after the successful Queens Cup held earlier in the year, only with male players. Efren Reyes will captain the East (Asia) team while Immonen will skipper the West team composed of North American and European stars.

(READ: How to make the Queens Cup even better)

But if pool were to make a resurgence, the Philippines must have a new hero, a new world champion. It’s been a half-decade drought in this event, and maybe 2015 is the year when that sorry streak ends. – 

Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.

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