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Move over, Leicester City. Here's Ludo Kools.

Posted by on May 1, 2021

Move over, Leicester City. Here's Ludo Kools.

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If you're not from the Netherlands or Belgium, you had probably never heard of Ludo Kools a week ago. His life changed forever on 29 April, when he won the Dutch 3-cushion Nationals, better known as The Masters. Icons of the game Burgman, Jaspers and van Erp finished 2nd, 3d and 3d. Yes, the format was slightly in favor of the lesser player (sets to 10, 30 sec clock, no timeouts). Yes, his opponents performed below their best. But that takes nothing away from the fact that Kools showed incredible mental fiber, resourcefulness and courage in his knock-out matches, handled the pressure of the clock at least as well as the "professionals" and demonstrated way more knowledge of the game than he had been given credit for. His strong suit? Making the point, even from awkward positions. Room for improvement? Position play.   

Nobody should interpret the amazement of the pundits and the other players in the field as "disrespect" for the eventual winner. On the contrary. The emphasis on his ultra-low odds of winning is actually praise, and should be read as such.

How low WERE his odds? That is such a tough question. If only there was a little machine that could calculate how much chance player A with playing strength X has against player B with playing strength Y if they play to distance Q? Well, there is. I have a little piece of software on my PC that answers those exact questions.  

In the group stage, though, there is no bullet-proof, software-generated answer to the question about player odds of advancing to the next round, because you depend on the result of matches you are not even in. You could qualify with one win and two losses in a (match points) 6-2-2-2 flight, or NOT qualify with two wins and one loss in a 4-4-4-0 flight. A friend of mine who is a statistics and odds expert looked into it, and said that given Kools' realistic average and that of the other three in his group, his chance of qualifying was 2 % at best. One in fifty. You'll have to take into account that you need TWO wins much more often than one, to qualify. It proved to be not a problem for the "Beul from Berlicum": he beat the two strongest opponents he had in his group.

For Kools, I've used his last season average in the Dutch league as basis. He played an excellent Grand Prix in Rosmalen (which lifted him into the Masters), but in my experience league averages that are formed over many months and on many different tables are a more honest reflection of playing strength than any single weekend tournament

In the 2019-2020 season, Ludo made 439 in 507, for a 0.865 average. I must add that the high-pressure learning experience he went through last week is almost guaranteed to boost his level to well over 0.900 or maybe close to 1.000. He finished the Masters on 204 in 200, so that's an indication.

For the purpose of this exercise, I've placed Kay de Zwart on 1.100 and Dave Christiani and Barry van Beers on 1.400 or better. Barry had a poor year, Dave a brilliant one, but I think 1.400 reflects their advantage over Ludo Kools well enough. If anyone feels that Christiani's extraordinary 1.800 in the Dutch league is the number I should have used, I respect that. But it would only produce even LOWER odds for Kools, in the end analysis.  

And then there was the knock-out stage. The "distance" of these matches was, make no mistake, 10 points. Sets is just a series of small matches, right? Against van Beers, Kools had a 22.90 % chance of winning a race to 10 and a total 8.26 % chance of winning three sets. Against van Erp (1.500), Kools had a 19.99 % chance of winning a set, and a 5.78 % chance of winning three sets. Against Burgman, Kools had a 24.54 chance of winning a set and 9.87 % chance to get three sets on the board. (I've put Burgman on 1.350, knowing full well that he used to be good for 1.500. Raimond is still formidable and a tactical master, but his average is slipping).

What do those numbers mean, if you combine them? They gave Kools 8.26% x 5.78% x 9.87% or 0.047% which is a bit under 1/20th of 1% (for any of you struggling with the decimal places) or 1 chance in about 2120 to win the title, once the K.O. was underway. What if you combine that with his chance of getting to the K.O. in the first place? It would come to 1 in 2120 x 50 = a chance of 1 in 106.000

In my TV commentary, I referred to the Premier League championship of Leicester City a few years ago. The bookmakers would have paid you 5000 pounds for every pound you had bet on them, at the start of the season. So, our billiard miracle, the Kools fairy tale, is about twenty times more unbelievable than Leicester's. We could argue about the third or even second decimals of these players' starting averages, and I am certain some people will feel they could or should have been chosen a bit differently. But that will not change the essence of the odds. They were almost astronomical, unheard of in our sport.   

Can I come up with a comprehensive and solid explanation for the miracle of Berlicum? No.

Can I give it a try at least, and mention one aspect that - in my opinion - contributed to Kools' sensational wins on the two final days? Yes.

All these seasoned, high quality players he beat had lost their footing. They were confused. The format took away part of their normal thought process. They felt under tremendous pressure to win, because they were such huge favorites. These two factors combined, messed up their usual, trusted tactical game. When to attack, when to play defense? That's not the same as "underestimating an opponent". I'm sure they didn't. But when it came to choices in critical moments, they picked the wrong one quite a few times. Kools had a MAJOR psychological advantage. He had nothing to lose.

Here are a few billiard "miracles" for you:

5) Riujji Umeda winning the world title in 2007, in a field that also had Blomdahl, Merckx, Caudron, Sánchez, Zanetti and Jaspers. 

4) Avelino Rico winning the world title in 1986, running out with 15 to beat Ceulemans in the semi and beating Blomdahl in the final.

3) Caudron running a world record 28 in a match to 40 against Zanetti, and NOT winning the match.

2) Caudron trailing tough-as-nails Jaspers 7-44 in a match to 50, and winning 50-47.

1) Ludo Kools. By a mile. 


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My Comments

The exception rather than the rule!
It is crystal clear that the set format and a very short distance sets made Mr. Kools won this tournament. Mr. Kools would never have a chance (by playing 1.000 average) to be qualified for the main tournament (first 32) if he would play a World Cup/Championship. A 1.000 average player can NOT beat a 2.000 average player in long distance games.

So, it is all about what the event organizer would like to do!

-Do they want to promote their events by attracting low level players, giving them a chance with the new format like in this tournament, which handicaps high level players psychologically and limits or prevents the fulfilment of their roles?

-Or do they still want to promote this sport and also support and help high level players in these difficult times who devoted their lives for this extremely difficult and also wonderful sport?

Message 1/2 - Publish at May 2, 2021 12:41 AM

What is crystal clear???????????????
What you claim here may be correct at a distance of 500 or 1,000 points, but certainly not at 40 or 50 points.

I wonder what these discussions are about on all the KOZOOM pages (I mean the pages with the different languages). To this and especially to your statement at the beginning of your post:
It is even clearer that Ludo was the best player that day and made the BIG POINTS. In many sports it is more important to make the BIG POINTS, that is to score in the important moments, than to be good on average. That is the salt in the soup for the spectators, for the athletes themselves and above all for the marketing of a sport. This is especially improtant for ball sports.

That's what I want from the organisers of big tournaments. If I'm alone in this opinion, I would be very surprised.

I'm ready for a discussion --- Jimmy

Message 2/2 - Publish at May 3, 2021 12:07 PM

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