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Duke Challenge as a model for experiments

Posted by on January 26, 2021

Duke Challenge as a model for experiments

© Ton Smilde
European top players to talk about the formats at the Duke Challenge: Marco Zanetti, Semih Sayginer and Dick Jaspers

Has the attractive and flashy style of format in the Duke Challenge in Holland put the future of traditional billiards in the spotlights? Can it all be better, faster and more exciting in three cushion billiards with the players in modern outfits? And will this make billiards more suitable as a public sport for TV channels and internet? The top players in the Dutch Duke tournament, where Dick Jaspers was a phenomenal winner, have spoken out for innovations last week and to experiment with revolutionary playing formats. The question, however, remains if these new formats are suitable for big tournaments like the World Championships and World Cups.

The first billiard balls to roll after ten months of enforced rest, in the Duke tournament with European top guns, have caused quite a stir. Three cushion needs an injection of rejuvenation and renewal to captivate the television audience. The Duke Challenge, in the luxurious, Brabant enclave, was a model for innovations in all respects, matches that can make three cushion sport more exciting and images that must be able to reach younger, potential viewers.

Three of the world's high class players in the Duke Challenge, Dick Jaspers, Marco Zanetti and Semih Sayginer, had discussions with other players during and after the tournament. The general feelings were that the Duke Challenge, in the midst of this COVID crisis, has set the gaze forward. ''We want to use these experiences to talk to the federations (UMB, CEB), to organisations and to plead for a new image of our sport.''

''We have to make billiards more popular and move with the times'', Dick Jaspers (55) commented in an interview that appeared in the media. ''People who watched the live broadcasts were very enthusiastic, because there was constantly tension and the players were under pressure all the time. The matches were never boring, playing sets can go up and down all the way. Even when you are hopelessly behind, the game can still turn around. This Duke tournament was a role model for the future of billiards.''

Did players, organisers and hopefully the federations get a wake-up call during the Corona months? The Duke Challenge attacked the protocol with a knock-out system, one match table in the arena, cameras around the playing field to record all matches for TV and internet, short, dynamic games. And players who could choose their own clothes other than the traditional black, with modern, colourful t-shirts and white or even red sneakers. The Kozoom Challenge, which is played over a longer period this spring near the French west coast in Andernos, already has set this trend, with a different format, three players in a group, summery outfits, short sets and live footage of all matches.

But of course, Korean billiard culture, with the new PBA competitions, has already set the tone. The professional, new organisation, where Frédéric Caudron, Filippos Kasidokostas and young Spaniards David Martinez and Javier Palazón are the star players amidst hundreds of Koreans, has no need to follow the UMB rules. The PBA has set its own rules, like with scoring system (two points for a bank shot, an improvised break shot) and organises tournaments in an ambiance with lots of show and entertainment. The Asians are the forerunners, inspired by tens of thousands of professionals, amateur players and fans in their country and daily live images on TV canals.

The European stronghold, still with its great resume of champions, also wants to introduce a new trend for the new start and, after COVID, and enter into a dialogue with the federations. In the much-praised Duke Challenge, players discussed between the matches. Dick Jaspers said: ''We want our sport to be more dynamic, to bring it on TV and to captivate many spectators. The shot clock used to be sixty seconds in the past, now it is thirty. And if it goes down to twenty seconds later on, as played in Korea last weekend, I will deal with it. We are professional players, world class billiards and entertainment should make our sport attractive.''

Dick Jaspers: we have to make our sport more popular and bring it to television

Semih Sayginer on the Ziggo Sport microfon: we can attract more and bigger sponsors

Semih Sayginer argued: ''This is the time for a revolution in our sport. The Duke Challenge has shown that. The comments afterwards were that everyone loves this format with short sets. Players and viewers. The matches are dynamic from start to finish, TV audience loves it. This is an important moment for all of us. We want to make billiards more professional, bigger and better. I myself have put myself in the shoes of the TV crowd. And if we want to get more and new viewers, we have to show our sport like it was in this Duke tournament. With modern, sporty clothes, thrilling formats we can attract more and bigger sponsors.''

The Duke Challenge, and soon the Kozoom Challenge come up, are perfect examples. Semih Sayginer: ''We could also think of a BMW Challenge, a Mercedes Challenge and other famous multinationals. The organisers surely want to participate in this development. The ambiance, the venu and the way players were treated in the Duke Challenge was in one word fantastic. I got the feeling here that we are top athletes, that our sport is important. I do think that we should apply these systems in invitational tournaments, not in UMB tournaments, like World Cups. We must avoid that players travel from one side of the world to the other. And then play knock-out, three short sets and finish within one hour. The experiment is good for new and invitational events, not for the world's championships for the time being.''

Marco Zanetti, fired up as well by the Duke Challenge, wants to apply the new, exciting formats only on invitational tournaments. The Italian, one of the seasoned players with a long history, doesn't want the development should go too fast. Zanetti: ''I personally think that in World Cups and other major championships we should play according to the current UMB rules. We may not forget that recent World Cups in Veghel and Antalya, were wonderful tournaments. I would plead that we continue in official tournaments the traditional formats, to more caroms, longer distance, so that players get the chance to show their skills with wonderful averages and high runs.''

Marco Zanetti: every match in this format is a battle of nerves

The Italian two-time world champion however is convinced that the future of three cushion is in need of innovations. ''The Duke Challenge has shown well why and how billiards can be a perfect TV sport. Every match in this system is a 'battle of nerves', attractive and often a psychological fight. We must promote this in all kinds of events. I think our world federation should consider, for example, whether the Survival system, which originated in Korea, is interesting for UMB tournaments. The billiard sport must innovate, experiment, certainly with the dress code as well: I would like that the player himself decides what to wear: the traditional clothes, t-shirts, shoes, trousers. But playing a World Cup in Vietnam, for example, in the traditional clothing with a tight shirt and bow tie, when it's 40 degrees, we can't do that to the players anymore. So..., why not, let's give it a try.''

Peter Ceulemans, Jean van Erp and Antonio Montes in front of the Duke hotel where the Challenge was played






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My Comments

My philosophy in general is that what is good for the players is good for the spectators. I do concur with what Dick, Marco, and Semih have said. Innovation and experimentation is almost always a good thing. It's well overdue. Some attempts may fail. And that is fine. That's how we learn. As an amateur player I like the shorter games both as a player and a spectator. The 30 second time clock is ok by me. But, I might humbly suggest trying the chess time clock system. If a player wants to spend two minutes on deciding on a solution then so be it. Managing the aggregate time of the match may add additional intrigue to our sport. What if you are playing for match point but only have 7 seconds in which to score? My last thought is that the BOD's of the UMB should have more player representation. For of the directors should be a consortium of top pro players who vote. I wish everyone a safe and successful 2021. Take care my friends.

Message 1/2 - Publish at January 26, 2021 1:40 PM

Juan Rojo
Juan Rojo
Innovations... for whom?
Amazing play from Jaspers as always in this tournament. But this format seems off putting to many of us. A player that scores less can win (for ex., player A vs player B: 10-9; 0-10; 0-10; 10-9; 10-9. Player A scored 30 points, player B scored 47; player A wins). It impedes high runs and disrupts the game flow: you are on a high run, and suddenly it is cut and your opponent breaks. Breaking the flow of the game even impedes specific-game high averages that can only happen on a long run format and when the player is allowed to play until a final score (40 in 10 innings types of game).
The even shorter clock, and no timeouts, may lead occasionally to poor shot selection and/or poor execution as well (few at this level, but have happened). Averages did not seem to be affected at this tournament (mean average was pretty much the same as top 16 Antalya World Cup players, for instance), but we need a wider sample of tourneys played (in this new format) to evaluate. Organizers should be wary of making clock times lower and lower.
Add to all of this the fact that, at this level, runs of 10 or 5 are not that uncommon, and the result is a random, fluke-like competition. Less sets with a higher point limit would be far more sensible.

There is a general trend to appeal to a wider, younger public. Famous "shorter attention spans", plus the idea that everything needs to be made into a full of tension spectacle. Hence, I believe, the shorter clock+no timeout, and set format. I'm young, but the exception. This game is mainly enjoyed by older generations, and few people my age understand or care the slightest in this game. Unless you are Korean maybe, or Turkish.

This is a highly technical sport, not the same as snooker or pool. It is mainly people who have played it and studied it who enjoy watching it. Few youngsters play 3 cushion for starters; but almost anyone has played pool. Snooker is much less widespread, but you do not need any specific knowledge (whether theoretical or practical) to enjoy it. You should remember that, in making these young-appealing formats, you forget your actual audience: older gents that don't mind a minute clock, that don't mind players calculating a shot to inch perfection, that want to see high runs, that want to see a player trying to come back from the deeps of being 20+ points down because they know how difficult it is. They know it because they have played the game, I stress once again.

We want high quality, perfectionist 3 cushion, not showcase, thrill-to-watch 3 cushion billiards. Artistic billiards serves this second purpose. Please remember, quality of play for your actual game lovers comes before dynamism for potential consumers.

Message 2/2 - Publish at May 1, 2021 4:29 AM

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