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Carom Billiard - 3-Cushion - Bert's column (NED)

Mixed emotions after the PBA launch

Posted by on June 8, 2019

Mixed emotions after the PBA launch

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It didn't matter if you were a fan or a skeptic, you simply HAD to watch and see how the PBA's first tournament would turn out. A few people I know had already made up their mind: it would be great, and anyone who disagreed was just a stupid dinosaur. I also have friends who were just waiting to hate it, looking for reasons why this Korean undertaking was doomed to fail. You had to look long and hard to find a patient person who said: "let's just wait and see".

In the past months people were almost forced to take a side, and there was a war of words on social media. I was "unfriended" on Facebook by a handful of people, for "not being pro-PBA enough". I don't lose any sleep over something as silly as that, but it is a sign that things got out of hand.

So how was that first event? Let me go over a few not-that-important points first, before I get to the substance. Things that were new:

Cheerleaders doing a little dance between sets? I could not care less, really.  Added value for billiards? No.

The relaxed dress code, with sneakers and polo's and golf pants in every color of the rainbow. That's fine by me. We have looked stiff and old-fashioned long enough, and our clothes have become an obstacle in the process of attracting young people. If we can pull in a few more 12 - 20-year old's by removing the old bow-tie, that's a small sacrifice. Added value for billiards? Yes.

A drum roll after every successful point? I hated that. Let the audience decide which points are run-of-the-mill, and which deserve to be rewarded with cheers and applause. Billiard players are sportsmen, not stand-up comedians. Added value for billiards? No.

The new, extended lag? Instead of just up and down, they went up and down and up again. I have no idea what the intention of this is. If something isn't broken, don't fix it. Added value for billiards? No.

Moving on to more serious business: the format. There is of course a reason the UMB abandoned the set system in 2013, and that reason is scheduling. If a quick player beats a quick player 3-0, and on the adjacent table a slow player beats a slow player 11-9 in the fifth set, you are looking at a two-hour difference. That reduced fifth set (11 pts instead of 15) does not help much. This isn't innovation, it's turning back the clock.

Then there is this new break-off routine. Nine spots are in play, three for each ball. Cards are drawn to determine how the balls are set up, and you can end up with a break-off position that is either very easy or very hard. As a consequence, you can no longer compare player's averages in a tournament, because one could have had all "easy" breaks and the other hard ones. Added value for billiards? I don't see it.

The double points for rail-first shots. That's a tough one. On the one hand, it destroys every possible comparison with high runs and averages in the traditional format, which pains me. On the other hand, it encourages players to risk a stylish rail-first shot on a heavily defended position, and not try to just "defend back". This is an innovation with a plus and a minus, in my view. The 2-point rail first rule will add to your average: it's roughly a 6 % bonus. That's considerable.   

The stream on You Tube was excellent on my PC, but other browsers / providers may have produced different results. Too bad there was no way to switch off the Korean commentary without losing the room ambiance. The chat section was of course useless for Europeans. I did like the replays from different angles. Added value for billiards? Yes.

There is much room for improvement for the PBA, in terms of servicing their non-Korean audience. The current website is a nightmare, results and schedules are hard to find, we can't read names in Korean, and they managed to NOT let us know any match averages during the week. I spoke with a PBA official who promised these things would be fixed before the second event. In all, you got the impression that this entire organization is by Koreans and for Koreans, with Fred's face on the billboard to legitimize the "global" ambitions.  

In conclusion, how did this event compare to a World Cup? In terms of prize money, it's roughly on the UMB / Kozoom Survival level, so much better than a World Cup. It had a great winner: Filippos Kasidokostas, very fine play by Pedro Piedrabuena, and two Korean revelations: finalist Kang Min Gu and bronze medalist Oh Sung Uk (2.073 general average!). Does that make the tournament equal to a WC? Not even close. The grand average for the last 32 was 1.485, WITH the 2-point advantage for rail-first shots. That translates (at best) to about 1.400 flat. You have to go back twenty World Cups, to Luxor 2016, to find a last-32 grand average that low. A pace between 1.620 and 1.785 has been the WC norm in the past years.

And need I mention it? All you can ever win in this Tour is money. For some, that will be enough. Others will say: "I want to compete for the world title". There is only one place where you can do that: within the UMB.

The PBA field, despite all the Korean talent, is second echelon. It may develop and attract more European top players, or it may not; I don't have a crystal ball. My conclusion for now? The PBA currently is neither meat nor fish, it's hedging its bets. Either get even more ambitious than they have been so far, become a global organization, strike a deal with UMB / Kozoom, have events on all continents and JOINTLY expand the World Cup cycle, or be content to be Korean. The first will take major investment and heavy-duty negotiating; it's a mountain to climb. The second is easy, but I can see European and American interest fading quickly in that scenario. 


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My Comments

Great points..
Great analysis Mr. Bert. Ofcourse, a "new tree" just needed to trim a little. Trimming takes time to become attractive. In time will tell.

Message 1/2 - Publish at June 9, 2019 12:30 AM

Well said...
I agree on almost everything but one thing. Sets are giving an opportunity for the weaker player to have a chance, thus raising interest for the "local heroes". Since they own a TV channel that broadcasts only billiard games, I see no problem. Even the 11 point set was not for timing saving purposes but another chance for the weaker player who was putting a fine game till then.

Message 2/2 - Publish at June 9, 2019 1:32 PM - Edited at June 9, 2019 1:33 PM

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