An International event, the first for the city of Houston, Texas, was held at US Bida (US Billiards.). Players from Vietnam, Ecuador and the United States met on eight Verhoeven tables from November 17 to 19. The event was won by visiting Vietnamese player Minh Cam Ma. Cam had just come off an incredible 3rd place finish in the World Championship held in Bolivia only two weeks before. He went undefeated in the tournament with a final win against US and Pan-American Champion Pedro Piedrabuena who placed second.
in the gallery that follows we have all the charts from the event and photos of the venue and players. (Click any image to start the slide show.)
The USBA sanctioned event was organized by Patrick Tran (owner of US Bida) with the assistance of Michael Kang (owner of Carom Cafe in Flushing New York.) The Tournament Director was one of the greats - Charles Brown - who for years has directed the Verhoeven Open in New York and also boasts TD duties at the 2016 World Championship held in Bordeaux, France.
The tournament format consisted of 5 groups of 8 players playing round robin to 25 points in the preliminary round. Three players from each group advance to a single elimination knock-out final playing to 40 points. A lotto was held to fill the 16th spot.
After two days of qualifications the field of 16 was set for the final rounds. Pedro Piedrabuena led all players with a perfect 7-0 record and was placed first on the ranking with the lowest points against at only 64! Visiting Vietnamese star Minh Cam Ma was next followed by former US Champion Sonny Cho, both who also had perfect scores. All of the foreign players advanced (Vietnam's Nguyen Quoc Nguyen, Quyet Chien Tran, Anh Vu Duong and Dinh Nai Ngo, along with Luis Aveiga from Ecuador.) Former US Champions Mazin Shooni and Hugo Patino moved on to the finals. Local players who made it through included Kiet Nguyen, Cong Nguyen, Joel Rivera and Tim Nguyen. From New York Eric Kwon advanced and the field was rounded out by Michael Kang who just missed qualifying but was awarded the Lotto position.)
In the first round there were no surprises... all of the local players fell to their much more experienced opponents. Former US Champion Sonny Cho just topped Ecuador's National Champion Luis Aveiga 40-38, while former US Champion Hugo Patino fell to Vietnam's Anh Vu Duong by the same score. Although none of Houston's local players were able to advance into the quarter finals, their grit and determination will be remembered, along with the joy of meeting some of the world's best players.
In the 1/4 final round all five visiting players from Vietnam were still in, while three former US Champions rounded out the field. As it turned out Pedro Piedrabuena faced long-time friend, rival and USBA President Mazin Shooni. The match was hard fought with Pedro on top 40-34. Sonny Cho faced Anh Vu Duong for the second time in the event. In the qualification stage Cho won a nail-biter with a one billiard margin 25-24. But with the money on the line Vu unleashed a furious attack and crushed Sonny 40-15 to exact his revenge and move on. In the other games Quyet Chien Tran topped Nguyen Quoc Nguyen, while Minh Cam Ma continued his undefeated streak winning a great match against Dinh Nai Ngo 40-34.
Both semi-final games were a bit lop-sided as Pedro played strong and defensive against Chien running away 40-24. Ma played equally strong against Vu winning 40-21 and setting the stage for the expected final match. Pedro Piedrabuena holds multiple titles, boasts world records for average and at one time the high run in a World Championship event. He entered the final round undefeated. Minh Cam Ma we have already seen exhibit his world class skills reaching the podium next to Frederic Caudron and Eddy Mercks in the 2017 World Championship and he also arrived undefeated throughout the event. The match was played to a packed house with many from the local Vietnamese community jamming the bleachers and the aisles. The great group of Hispanic players in Houston also came out to watch. The room was buzzing with anticipation as the match began, and with each billiard the crowd applauded and cheered. It is a testament to the true nature of this gentleman's game that all in the crowd cheered equally for the incredibly creative and skillful shots each player made. But on this day in Houston the better player was Minh Cam Ma of Vietnam who put on a dazzling display of 3-cushion billiard skills. Ma reached the break at 20 with a five point lead that he only extended as he cruised to a 40-29 victory earning the first place prize of $4200.00 in Houston's first truly International tournament.
Congratulations to Minh Cam Ma, his fellow teammates visiting from VIetnam, Ecuadorian Champion Luis Aveiga, all the players from New York and around the USA who traveled to Houston, and our great contingent of local players who faced some of the toughest competition in the world. Here's hoping we will some day very soon see another tournament like this one here in one of the great 3-cushion cities in the USA.