IN reply to my congratulatory note to the World Pool-Billiard Association (WPA) for a thrilling and superlative world championship in Doha, Qatar (December 9-15), WPA president Ian Anderson sent me a gracious reply. He understood my elation that two Filipino players wound up contesting the championship in the final – Carlo Biado and Rolando Garcia.
“It was indeed a great occasion for the Philippines, both players demonstrated a high level of skill and great sportsmanship, a credit to themselves, their country and the sport. Should give interest in the Philippines a great shot in the arm. Don’t forget also that Carlo won the gold medal at the World Games earlier this year, the two biggest titles in pool.”
“The two biggest titles in pool.” And Carlo Biado,34, will own them both until he is legally dethroned on the pool table, where pool honors are won and sealed and taken away.
A champion not once, but twice
Carlo has scaled the summit of pool, not just once, but twice this year: first as the gold medalist in the World Games in Poland earlier this year (August), and second as the new world champion in the nine-ball championship in Qatar (December).
With these victories in these highly coveted championships, Carlo Biado presents an interesting problem to writers. He tests our vocabulary in describing the feat of an athlete or sportsman who reaches the top of his sport. Which idiom should you use: “reach the peak,” “reach the mountaintop,” or “scale the summit.” The American writer and Philippine resident Ted Lerner used “reached the mountaintop” in his report from Doha.
I like “scale the summit” because it captures the arduous and demanding side of winning, like climbing a mountain. Victory does not come easy in pool, because the rules take out luck.
Carlo is literally the best in pool today. In each of these tournaments, the competition consisted of the best and brightest in the sport, significantly including the reigning and past champions, and the young prodigies who have lately sprouted in the sport, in Europe, Asia and Oceania.
All the recent world champions were in the field. Yet no one came close to the level of Carlo’s play last week.
At the rate Carlo is playing at this point, with his near flawless game, strong in both offense and defense, and in his prime at 34, he could stay at the top of pool for some time. But pool is a dynamic sport. New and brilliant talent are constantly emerging to challenge the champions (I watched a 17-year-old Taiwanese prodigy named Wuxia Ching win the world championship in Taiwan in 2005), even as the best players continue playing well up to their sixties.
Even the legendary Efren Reyes faded with age. So did the great Earl Strickland of the US.
The return of Filipino dominance?
Carlo Biado’s victory is special and memorable because he has been knocking on the door for championship recognition for over a decade.
In the last world championship that I organized in Manila in 2012, there were many of us who thought that it was his time. He had just won the national championship. It looked like he could go all the way. But it was not to be. He came close to winning several other times.
Now it has finally happened.
Observers tell me that it has been apparent all year that Carlo looked ready for the big one this year. A year spent competing overseas had honed his game to razor-sharpness. His gold-medal victory in Poland this summer vested him with a new level of confidence that you see in those who attain the heights of success in pool. No shot looked difficult to him; no position was beyond rescue. The belief in eventual victory was unmistakable.
The big revelation in Doha was Roland Garcia, who hails from the same town as Efren Reyes and grew up worshipping the magician. At 36, he is climbing up in the ranks in a big way. His game finally all came together when he went to work as a pool pro in Thailand. In his first-ever world championship in Doha last week, Roland proved himself a pro all the way. He beat two former world champions, Niels Feijen and Ko Pin Yi, to reach the finals.
Another Filipino who was a revelation in Doha was Jeffrey Ignacio. He gave Carlo Biado perhaps his toughest match in the round of 16, when he battled the champion toe-to-toe in the race to 11 match.
It’s too much, and too soon to say that Filipino players have returned to claim their old dominance of pool. It has not been that way for many years now. Philippine pool went to sleep for many years because of the twisted leadership of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) and its president Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr.
They forced our group into the sidelines by hook and by crook. It was their version of “tuwid na daan.” Never mind that our group won consistently the pool gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games and Asian Games while we were in charge of pool.
Let Carlo play before our people
As a longtime pool enthusiast, I can attest that there is nothing more satisfying to watch than to see two of our countrymen contesting the world championship in the final. I say so because it confirms beyond doubt the superlative quality of Filipino pool. Filipinos are really among the very best in the world today.
In the heyday of my stint as Philippine billiards chairman, I had the happy experience of watching two Filipinos, Roni Alcano and Dennis Orcullo, contest the world eight-ball championship in Fujairah in 2007. Alcano won the world championship that time. Dennis would win his crown in another time.
It was a great achievement then. It is a great achievement now.
What’s the best reward that I can think of for Carlo and all our players for their great year in competition this year?
I believe nothing would be more satisfying than to allow Carlo and other Filipino players to play before our people in a world pool championship again.
This was my original vision when I first thought of bringing the world championship to Manila after watching it played in Taiwan in 2005. This is still my dream today as I put the finishing touches on a new plan for the return of the world pool championship to Manila next year.
The only drawback to Manny Pacquiao’s spectacular triumphs in the ring is that all his heroics happened away from his homeland, with his countrymen watching and cheering from a distance.
With pool, we can transcend these limitations. We can bring the world championship back to our country. We can see Carlo’s and Roland’s game up close. We can see them all as they pit their talent against the very best in the world.
I would like to see this happen while Carlo Biado is on top of the world and in his prime. Filipinos should have the chance to watch him play—and Carlo deserves the chance to show his countrymen the best that he has to give.
I hope to announce soon some good news about the WPA world championship before the year is over.