I am always wary of being seen as “bigging up” the IPA but luckily for me the players did it on my behalf in Cardiff this weekend, with three new winners crowned and perhaps the best atmosphere yet.
The IPA Tour starred for 2017 at the classy Mercure Hotel and with twenty-four pool tables brushed ironed and ready for action, those of us not good enough to compete could soak it all up and enjoy. With a sold out entry the room was full and buzzing from the very start, perhaps noisier than normal but only in a very positive way.
With the new professionals determined to make their mark and the amateurs this season looking to gain enough points to be invited to turn Pro next year the competition may well have been the most intense we have ever seen, with the Open seeing seeds scattered like bowling pins from the moment they joined the tournament. Wave after wave of matches were played on the twenty-four tables in one room (a sight in itself) until we were left with the four semi finalists for the Open by Saturday evening as Marc Farnsworth v Ben Davies and Mark Boyle v Ross Fernie. As if to advertise just how closely matched they games can be both semi’s went to last frame deciders with 7-6 wins Marc and Mark to set up an intriguing final. Before getting to that we need to at least mention the sportsmanship of Ben Davies, a credit to the World of blackball pool. After Marc had gone in-off the break in the deciding frame Ben called his own foul while positions the white ball after brushing a red with his finger. His opponent hadn’t seen it, we hadn’t seen it (and we still can’t see it after numerous replays) yet ben called it and effectively lost the match accordingly, annoying I’m sure but what a credit to the sport and pool players everywhere.
On to the final and 2016 number one Marc Farnsworth will have been fully aware that he was in for a battle against former professional snooker player Mark Boyle who is no stranger to the world of blackball having been crowned Scottish Pool Champion in 2013 and is back on tour as an Amateur (for now). In a tightly fought match no one ever really got away from the other by more than a frame until two in a row saw Mark (with a “k”) take a crucial 4-2 advantage. Despite a valiant fight back he was never headed from that moment onwards before winning a last frame decider (again) to fall over the line after an epic battle between two superb players at the top of their game.
After a night’s sleep we rejoined the action on Sunday with the amateurs and the professionals both playing to a conclusion for their events and with the competition just as fierce as anything offered up the previous day. Whether it was the top-class venue, the local hospitality, or just the pool we had a full house of both players and spectators pretty much throughout the day as we lost player after player via the knock out format until we were left with the four finalists, all of the very highest standard.
Open Champion Mark Boyle was having a weekend to remember and is clearly an amateur in name only, reaching his second final when playing Ryan Clark in the Amateurs Final. Both are/were snooker players which make life interesting with the pace dropping slightly, and the one minute shot clock pushed to the limits on more than one occasion. Despite leading 1-0 and 2-1 those were the only times Mark got his nose in front as Ryan ran out a 7-5 winner (which was a surprise according to the odds), winning his first title and looking likely to add plenty more in the future based on that showing.
Meanwhile, for many the Professional Final is the highlight of the weekend as the ever-consistent Marc Farnsworth was looking to make amends for his Saturday defeat with a victory over Jon McAllister in the final. A worldwide audience watched enthralled on the HD livestream as the pair went toe to toe playing pool at the highest level despite the obvious pressure, but despite all his best efforts that saw Jon lead 5-3 at one stage, it was Marc who landed the odds 8-5 in the end rattling off the last four frames in a row to be crowned Welsh Professional Champion.
So, with the tables packed off in to temporary storage and work to do ahead of the World Series Qualifiers, the weekend drew to a close with the players still buzzing about the first event of the 2017 IPA tour – and Bradford in May (23th to 14th) is next on the list with players undoubtedly working hard on the practice tables between now and then.
Go to www.ipapool.com for full details of events in your area.