Sunday 15 June 2014

Brian Cook and a New Record Book

A comprehensive review of the fingers shooting categories at the 2014 World Crokinole Championships. A Cues Review will also be posted in the near future.

Brian Cook in action during the finals of the World
Crokinole Championships. Photo credit: Bill Gladding

Brian Cook came into the 2014 World Crokinole Championships as quiet as a 3-time world champion could. But he left on a new pedestal only he can claim.

A bright sunny day welcomed the 16th edition of the World Crokinole Championships, as crokinole banners and yard sales, welcomed many spectators to Tavistock, Ontario.

The morning doubles competition brought together a fierce crowd. With the recreational doubles category being a welcomed choice for 48 teams, the competitive division was limited to 28 teams of tremendous skill. It became clear that the day would not be won by skill, but rather great mental focus and steely concentration. 

The short preliminary round of only 6 games is always a frantic race to grab one of the top 6 playoff spots. Edging out the field to take the top seed was Clare Kuepfer and Nathan Walsh with 38 of a possible 48, making their first appearance as a team into the top 6 playoffs. They were followed closely by the brother team of Jason and Ray Beierling, and the father-son team of David and Matt Brown, both with 37 points, and both earning their second straight trip to the playoffs after missing out in 2012. 

Rob Mader Jr. and Jeremy Howey grabbed the 4th seed, returning to the top 6 for the first time since their 2nd place finish in 2010. The log jam of “just barely in” and “agonizingly close” followed at 32 points. Thanks to high 20 scores of 60 and 59, the PEI team of Wilfred Smith and Lawson Lea grabbed the 5th spot, while Justin and Fred Slater grabbed the 6th spot. 

That left Rex and Tom Johnston out in 7th with 32 points, but only 52 20’s. And joining them in the B playoffs were Paul Brubacher and Roy Campbell (31 points), Robert and Richard Mader (31), Brian Simpson and Roger Vaillancourt (30), John Harvey and Ron Reesor (28), and Chris Gorsline and Peter Tarle (26).

The B doubles playoff was extremely tight, and ended with 4 teams at a score of 23 points. Brian Simpson and Roger Vaillancourt would take the B title, while Paul Brubacher and Roy Campbell would take second.

The A playoffs were equally tight. Wilfred Smith and Lawson Lea would earn the highest finish of any non-Ontario team in World Championship history, but would finish just out of the money, with a 5th place finish. Finishing 2 points higher and grabbing their record-extending 11th top 4 finish, was Jason and Ray Beierling at 20 points. Matt and Dave Brown scored 23 points, good enough for 3rd place, and just below their best finish of 2nd in 2011.

Justin and Fred Slater pose as 2014 Doubles
World Champions. Photo credit: Bill Gladding
The top two spots were earned by the teams of Kuepfer/Walsh and Slater/Slater, both scoring 25 points. The head-to-head tiebreaker only further showed just how closely matched both teams were, as they tied their game 4-4. The difference would be 5 20’s in the overall score, as Justin and Fred Slater would take the top spot and win their second consecutive Doubles World Championship. 

The Slaters have now finished in the top 4 of the doubles competition for 4 straight years. That ties the record shared by Jon Conrad and Paul Hartman, and Jason and Ray Beierling. The odd thing about this record, now shared 3 ways, is the timing in which these 4 consecutive top 4 finishes occurred. Conrad/Hartman finished in the top 4 (winning twice) from the years of 2003-2006. As their streak ended, Jason and Ray Beierling began theirs from 2007-2010 (winning all 4 times). And they were followed by Justin and Fred Slater from 2011-2014 (and counting).
Photo credit: 104.7 Heart FM

The lunch break allowed the competitors to relax from the frantic doubles play and begin preparing for the preliminary round of the singles action. The biggest piece of excitement was the 20’s competition, and with the WCC boards in great shape, it was expected that the 20’s scores would be quite high. 

Beverly Vaillancourt and Ray Beierling with their respective
awards. Photo credit: Bill Gladding
While 3 players scored 20’s in the 90-100 range, another 3 players scored greater than 100. They included the usual suspects of Brian Cook, Ray Beierling and Justin Slater. Slater scored 104, which was enough to win the 20’s titles in both 2010 and 2011, but only good enough for 3rd in 2014. Brian Cook scored a WCC-personal best of 121, well above his scores of 79 and 86, which were enough to earn him the 20’s titles in 2006 and 2007. But the 20’s World Champion honours went to Ray Beierling in 2014, as he scored 131 over the 10 game preliminary round.

The preliminary round also determined the Women's World Crokinole Champion. Beverly Vaillancourt took home the Karin Jeske Memorial Award for the second straight year. Karin Jeske and her husband used to travel to the world championships from Germany every year, until her passing few years ago. In her honour, her husband created this award to reward the top female player in the tournament.

Focussing on the qualifiers for the Sweet 16 playoffs, Beierling, Cook and Slater all grabbed the top 3 seeds. The magic number turned out to be 50 points, which 5 players scored, but unfortunately there were only 3 spots remaining. Raymond Haymes, Roger Vaillancourt and Robert Bonnett came in just under the wire, leaving a bitter feeling for Nathan Jongsma and Rex Johnston.

An honourable mention must be given to Rex Johnston and Roy Campbell, who both missed the singles and doubles playoffs by a a mere 2 points. The good news for them is that they will be back next year, and are always in contention for the top spots.

The playoff groupings were set, with the top 2 from each group advancing further.
In Pool A:
Raymond Beierling
Brian Cook
Rob Mader
Kevin Bechtel
Tony Snyder
Ezra Jantzi
Matt Brown
Roger Vaillancourt

In Pool B:
Justin Slater
Fred Slater
David Brown
Nathan Walsh
Jon Conrad
John Harvey
Raymond Haymes
Robert Bonnett

Pool A action saw Brian Cook at the top his game, cruising into first place with 41 points through 7 games, and giving him his record-extending 10th top 4 appearance. Roger Vaillancourt had a good showing with 29 points, but that was only enough for 4th in the group. Matt Brown grabbed the final playoff spot with 35 points, barely edging out Ray Beierling, who had 34. That one point would give Matt Brown his first top 4 appearance, and stop Beierling from earning his 8 top 4 finish. He currently sits tied for 2nd (with Joe Fulop) at 7 top 4 finishes.

Pool B saw John Harvey earn 29 points for 4th in the group, while Nathan Walsh and Justin Slater grabbed the top 2 spots with 45 and 44 points respectively. 2-time defending world champion, Jon Conrad, saw his bid for a third straight title end in the round of 16, finishing 3rd in the group and just short of advancing.

So the final 4 was set to be Brian Cook, Matt Brown, Justin Slater and Nathan Walsh. It was only the second time in WCC history that the top 4 was entirely comprised of players who did not make the top 4 the year before. The only previous occurrence was 2003 to 2004.

As previously mentioned, it was Cook’s 10th top 4 appearance, Slater’s 3rd appearance, Walsh’s 2nd and Matt Brown 1st. Experience proved to be a major factor as Brian Cook and Justin Slater cruised past Walsh and Brown into the final.

Nathan Walsh and Matt Brown played a tight 3rd/4th place match, with the major turning point being a 5th round tiebreaker in game one. After Walsh edged out the first game, he went on to win the match for 3rd place, while Matt Brown had to settle for 4th.

The attention then all shifted to the World Championship final. Brian Cook and Justin Slater had met in the 2010 final, where Slater became the youngest world champion in history, while also ending Cook’s 3 year reign as world champion. Since that 2010 match, both had made the WCC finals once more, but were not successful. Cook in 2011 lost to Ray Beierling, while Slater in 2012 lost to Jon Conrad.

Justin Slater in action during the world championship
final. Photo credit: Bill Gladding
The 2014 rematch was only the second WCC rematch in history. The first, not surprisingly, also involved Brian Cook, and counterpart Bruce Hartung. Hartung won the 2005 match, but the fortunes reversed in 2007, the first of Cook’s 3 straight world titles.

With Cook looking for a similar fate in 2014, he stole 2 points from Justin Slater’s hammer in the 3rd round of the 1st game, to go up 4-2. Cook then won his hammer round to take the first game 6-2.

Even while ahead, Cook could not relax. In 2010 he had won the first game, before Slater won the last 2 to take the match. Even more so, Slater had won the St. Jacob’s crokinole tournament a month before after losing the first game to Nathan Walsh.

The top 4, including Brian Cook with his 4th world title.
Photo credit: Bill Gladding
Justin Slater’s chances of forcing the match to a 3rd game looked good. Tied at 2-2 he was able to outscore Cook, and go up 4-2 with a hammer round coming up. But Cook would come right back to tie the game 4-4 and force a 5th round tiebreaker. After Justin Slater missed the opening 20 attempt, he was forced to play aggressively, but it led to a mistake and Brian Cook held on to the advantage to take the match 6-2, 6-4

The 2014 title was Cook’s record-breaking 4th Singles World Championship, and his 9th top 2 finish. He has finally surpassed Joe Fulop’s 3 singles titles, earned from 2001-2004.

It was a great day of crokinole, and another fine display from the WCC committee and the community of Tavistock, who had once again put on the greatest crokinole tournament in the world. This year’s tournament attracted players from PEI, Kentucky, Connecticut, Ohio, New York, Michigan and Brazil, and once again showed just how spectacular this seemingly simple game is. 

With another year complete, and the boards being put away for the summer ahead, crokinole becomes an afterthought for now. But the National Crokinole Association (NCA) Tour will pick up soon, and in a year’s time there will be more players looking to be the newly crowned world champions, and we all look forward to seeing you there at the next edition of the World Crokinole Championships.


  1. Great write-up! It would have been wonderful to be there again. We really enjoyed it in 2013.
    Wilf - one of the CrokinOlsons

    1. It's great to hear from you Wilf! I hope the crokinole action in Saskatchewan is fast and furious, and I really hope one day we'll be able to see you again.