DAY 3 — WORLD POLICE & FIRE GAMES
|Day 3: (L-R) Dan Madden (tournament administrator), Michael Grosso (silver-USA), John O'Sullivan (gold-IRL), Eric Cloutier (bronze-CAN), Eric S. Townsend (sport coordinator, WPFG). Photo courtesy of Bob Lerch.|
July 1 st 2015
July 1 st 2015
Day 3 of the Pocket Billiards competition from the World Police and Fire Games has finished. Competitors locked up in a traditional double elimination bracket in modified straight pool.
In the classic movie The Hustler, “Minnesota Fats” (played by Jackie Gleason) outlasts “Fast Eddie” Felson (played by Paul Newman) in an overnight tussle of straight pool. The game that was once beloved in the United States has since fallen in popularity due to its deliberate pace and unusual rules. For one day, an experiment in its resurrection experienced its share of ups and downs.
Preliminary matches were advertised as races to 75 points or a time limit of 1 hour (whichever came first). A stipulation was added during the players’ meeting (and agreed upon by the field) that any “neck-and-neck” match whereby both competitors were in the 60s would be played out regardless of the time limit. Rounds were begun and ended as a group by announcement from tournament administrator Dan Madden. A ten-minute warning was offered.
While some struggled with the notion of playing this game to a clock, the cream mostly rose to the top (as is generally the case in timed, televised matches on ESPN). One competitor who had qualified for the final 8 in 9Ball but was eliminated from the straight pool field after two quick losses was Doug Moreau (Canada). “This is no way to play the game,” declared Moreau.
Parameters were raised for the hot seat match, a face off between undefeated Eric Cloutier (Canada) and Michael Grosso (USA). This was now a race to 100 or a time limit of 1.5 hours (whichever came first). The neck-and-neck stipulation was not specifically re-stated to these players before the match but assumed to be in play by sport coordinator Eric Townsend.
Cloutier stormed off to a lead in the match (+30 points) and seemed to be well on his way to victory. Grosso picked up his pace and began chopping up racks expertly. It was an impressive show that overtook his opponent and left him within 9 points of victory. It was then that the American began to slow his pace, in an effort to milk the clock. He surrendered the table with less than two minutes remaining.
The French Canadian began a run but came to a halt to consider the tailend of it. Time limit was called. Cloutier stood in shock. “We are both within 15 points of 100,” stated the Montreal-based serviceman. This fact was lost on everyone but the players. Cloutier had just entered the 15-point margin at 88 points, and straight pool scores are tallied at the end of each rack. Townsend moved to sort the developing dispute. Grosso became heated at the implication that his victory could be delayed or denied. He claimed that because the neck-and-neck stipulation was not specifically repeated for the extended match to 100 and 1.5 hours, it was not in effect. Townsend reminded the American that the spirit of the ask remained the same. It was Grosso who had introduced the stipulation for consideration during the players’ meeting. Frustrated by Grosso holding his ground, Cloutier walked over and shook his hand — effecting a concession. It was an unfortunate turn, as Townsend was planning to return the players to the table to complete the match from 91-88. It would now go down as a Grosso win, advancing him to the gold medal round.
“I’m here to compete, but also to have fun,” shared Cloutier. Fairfax County police officer Scott Davis, who saw the dispute unfold, was visibly irritated and approached the Canadian to offer an apology. “In America, we shouldn’t look to win this way,” underlined Davis.
Despite the setback, Cloutier remained in position for at least the bronze medal. As he waited, John O’Sullivan (Ireland) built a sizable lead in the second-to-last match on the one-loss side, eliminating Wesley Beins (Singapore) in 4th place. O’Sullivan would repeat the feat with Cloutier, denying his rematch with Grosso for the gold. Instead, it would be the Irishman from the one-loss side versus the American, with O’Sullivan needing to win twice to eliminate Grosso.
After stumbling out of the starting blocks, O’Sullivan found himself in a 45-6 hole. For the next hour, Ireland would find more than hope. O’Sullivan put in the performance of the tournament with a comeback for the ages, overcoming the American 125-72. For those who know straight pool, the Irishman “hit a gear.” For those new to the discipline, Grosso became a psychology study. First, his knees started to bounce to improve circulation. Stretching exercises began. The American went to his comb to keep the sweat from his eyes. He switched out his shaft to check the readiness of his equipment. Lastly, there were the one-shot misses when he was finally given the table. It was back to the stool to stew. Many players in this game can recount stories of being “put on ice” by their opponent in straight pool, as O’Sullivan enforced for over an hour of this match.
The subsequent and final match of the discipline pitted the two against each other in a resolving act of attrition. Each now had one loss for the tournament and was noticeably worn down. Grosso was against the ropes after the rough treatment doled out by O’Sullivan in the first set. This time, O’Sullivan jumped out to an early lead. The American showed great heart in locking things up at 51. Unfortunately for him, the leveling was short-lived. Ireland would have repeat gold in straight pool (Belfast, Fairfax), as O’Sullivan made the most of his mulligan in polishing off a 125-99 victory.
In addition to the police and fire matches, players who were eliminated in the afternoon had the chance to shoot racks and trade stories with Lucasi-sponsored professional player Shaun Wilkie. The pro even jumped into the commentator’s chair for the evening to call the final two matches of the event.