Sunday, 22 June 2014

Cues Crokinole Review – 2014 World Crokinole Championships

Contributed by Andrew Hutchinson

The 2014 World Crokinole Championship has come and gone, and this year the name of the game was parity.  In both cues singles and doubles, there was little room separating the victors from their opponents.  Furthermore, this year saw a
The trophies for the 2014 World Crokinole
Champions. Photo Credit: 104.7 Heart FM
mixture of the “new and the old” taking home the money.

Cues Doubles
The morning began with 24 cues doubles pairs facing off with the hopes of landing in the top 6 to reach the A Division finals.  Each pairing only played 6 games each in the preliminary round, making the opponents that you draw all the more crucial.  When all was said and done, Andrew Hutchinson and David King took advantage of a relatively light draw to finish the first round in first place, with a total of 37 out of a possible 48 points.  Stalwarts Wayne Schultz and Floyd Kuepfer and husband-and-wife duo Merv and Marjorie Roth finished a point behind with 36 points each.  Ernie Martin and Maurice Sauder finished tied with the Brubacher brothers, Dennis and Dave, with 34 points each. 

With these five teams comfortably in the A Division finals, one spot remained: three teams were tied with 30 points apiece, including James and Joseph Ward, the only cues doubles participants from outside of Canada, Gary Palmer and Sam Moore, last year’s cues doubles runners up, and Jonathon and Jeremy Brubacher, the Brubacher cousins with a strong crokinole pedigree.  The tie breaker came down to 20’s accumulated, with the Ward brothers from Ohio coming on top with 59 20’s scored in the first round.

Also looking in from the outside of the A Division finals, were some other traditional cues doubles powers.  Last year's fourth place finishers Wayne Kipfer and Arthur Poole finished with 29 points.   More shockingly, 3 time (and defending) champions Lorraine Proud and Carol Litt finished with 28 points.  Newcomers on the rise, Doug Schwartzentruber and Josh Carrafiello finished with 27 points, and Jim Nau and Murray Walker rounded out the B Division finals.

In the B Division finals, Proud and Litt took care of business, with the Brubacher cousins and Kipfer and Poole in hot pursuit.  But everybody’s eyes were on the A Division final, to see who would take Proud and Litt’s cues doubles crown away.   The A Division draw was full of uncertainty, with no contestant having ever won a cues doubles championship before. 

As the round robin finals got under way, it became quite clear that there the final draw was filled with parity – in the end, the top 5 teams were separated by only 6 points.  The Brubacher brothers were barely left on the outside of the money with 18 points.  Martin and Sauder earned just enough points, 20, for the fourth place finish.  In third, the Ward brothers came away with 23 points their first time doubling up together at the World Crokinole Championship.  Finally, both
David King and Andrew Hutchinson
2014 World Cues Doubles Crokinole Champions
Photo Credit: Bill Gladding
Schultz and Kuepfer and Hutchinson and King finished with 24 points; like in the fingers doubles event on the other side of the arena, the championship would be decided by a tie breaker.  Schultz/Kuepfer and Hutchinson/King had split their match in the finals 4-4, thus going to the second tie breaker, 20’s accumulated.  Schultz and Kuepfer finished with a strong 59, but that proved only enough for 2nd place, as Hutchinson and King’s strong 20’s showing (64) proved to be the difference, allowing them to claim their first cues doubles championship!

Cues Singles
After a close and intense cues doubles tournament, the competitors had to refocus and prepare themselves for the cues singles tournament in the afternoon and evening.  The question heading in was would some of the newer faces from the Division A final continue their strong play and make some more noise, or would some of the “old faithfuls” make a comeback in the singles event?  A gruelling 10 game preliminary round would help determine the answer of that question.

There were 34 competitors in the cues singles events, meaning the top 16 would make it to the second round.  In addition to seeing who would advance, the preliminary round would also decide the 20’s champion.  Despite the good conditions, no competitor was able to break the 100 mark, but Dennis Brubacher came close, winning the 20’s title with 95.  When all was said and done, the top 16 players advanced, scoring between 45 and 60 points.  Players were broken into the following divisions for the second round.

Wayne Schultz
Wayne Kipfer
Andrew Hutchinson
Carol Litt
Lorraine Proud
Paul Weber
James Ward
Lorne Steckley

Jon Brubacher
Carl Litt
David King
Dennis Brubacher
Murray Kuehl
Ernie Martin
Doug Schwartzentruber
Arthur Poole

The second round always proves to be an extremely challenging round, with only the top 2 from each division advancing.  At first glance, the A Division appeared to be an incredibly competitive division, and it lived up to such hype.  Little separated the top two from the rest of the division, but after the 7 game round robin, Andrew Hutchinson and Wayne Schultz emerged on top, both with a score of 32 points.  However, things could have gone very differently with James Ward, Wayne Kipfer, Lorraine Proud, and Carol Litt all within a handful of points away.  The B Division proved to have a little less parity.  Carl Litt and Murray Kuehl both comfortably advanced with scores of 37 and 34.  Others had good showings such as Doug Schwartzentruber, Jon Brubacher, Dennis Brubacher, and David King, but none were able to get close enough to Litt and Kuehl.

Thus the finals saw the two most decorated cues singles players (Schultz had 8 top-four finishes and Litt had 7 heading into this year), and two relative newcomers (Hutchinson finished 4th last year, Kuehl had never finished top-four).  Furthermore, from last year’s four finalists, only Hutchinson had reached the top four again.  In fact, the champions from the past three years (Kipfer – 2013, Proud – 2012, 2011) did not make it to the final four.  Coming off of his doubles victory in the morning, Hutchinson came out hot in the 4 player round robin, winning each game 6-2, leaving the 3 other competitors fighting for the second spot in the final.  Schultz (11 points) managed to hold off Litt and Kuehl (10 and 9 respectively) to earn a place in the championship game.

In the 3 vs. 4 game, Litt faced off against his doubles partner of the morning, Kuehl.  Despite less experience, however, Kuehl managed to defeat Litt.  Litt however, could take solace in earning his 8th top-four finish in cues singles (to go along with 4 top-four finishes in cues doubles).

All the eyes, however, were focussed on the championship match.  Could Hutchinson sweep the singles and doubles championships?  Could Schultz avenge the tie-breaking loss in the morning’s doubles finals?  Schultz was motivated to beat Hutchinson after having lost 6-2 to him in both the round of 16 and the round of 4.  While Hutchinson, knowing that he would be missing next year’s World Crokinole Championships due to going to Africa to teach this coming year, was motivated to win his first singles championship.

Wayne Schultz posing with the top 4 cues players at the 2014
World Crokinole Championship. Photo Credit: Bill Gladding
The finals would prove to be extremely tight.  Schultz was on top of his game and won the first game by a score of 5-3.  The second game was down to the wire, going to 4-4 before requiring a tie-breaking round.  Knowing that missing just one 20 could mean losing the match, Hutchinson went toe-to-toe with Schultz each scoring a perfect “six-pack” of 20’s (in cues singles, each player only shoots 6 buttons per round).  They would be forced to play another round tie-breaker.  This time Hutchinson got up in 20’s early and then played defensively, staying away from the hole the rest of the round.  This proved successful, allowing Hutchinson to win the second game 7-5: it would go down to a decisive third game.  Hutchinson, however, was never able to get ahead in the third game, missing his first 20 and losing the first two rounds to go down 4-0.  Entering the third round, Schultz only needed a single point from a tie to claim the championship.  Hutchinson went up a 20 early, but with the hammer, Schultz was able to tie the game with two of his pieces in the 10-ring.  The tie was enough to earn Schultz his 5th point in the third game, winning himself the championship!

With the victory, Schultz earned himself a record 9th top-four finish in cues singles and also a record 4th cues singles championship.  Hutchinson, on the other hand, proved that last year was not an anomaly, and let the rest of the cues crokinole world know he will be a force to be reckoned with when he returns from Africa after next year.  This coming year, however, looks to be just as parity-filled as ever – but we will all have to be patient to see who emerges victorious in 2015!

Andrew Hutchinson is a competitive cues crokinole player who broke through in 2013 to finish 4th in the singles competition. He can be followed on Twitter in his preparation for the 2014 World Crokinole Tournament at @FavouriteHutch

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.