By Keith Paradise
CSI Staff Writer
As crazy as it might sound, Mario He wasn’t exactly overflowing with confidence when he reached the final stages of this weekend’s FargoRate Ohio Open.
The semifinal and finals matches would be played on the event’s main table which is specially lit for televised broadcasts. The more intense wattage gives the equipment’s cloth a more slippery slide and the rails a little different bounce, factors that the Austrian struggled with early on. As a result, He want into the last day of competition with one idea in mind: win both sets to avoid the extra-frame shoot out.
He would ultimately go a step further: avoiding playing an entire rack altogether, as He benefitted from back-to-back pocketed 10 balls on the break to jump out to an early lead and defeat Roberto Gomez in straight sets, 4-4, 4-0, Saturday evening at Roberts Centre in Wilmington. The Austrian, who posted his first tournament victory since the 2019 Veldhoven Open, earned his first win on United States soil by surging ahead when opportunities were presented while also benefitting from mistakes from his opponents.
“Everything went well but it was not my best game,” said He, conceding that his stellar play was met with the occasional fortunate break during the four-day event. “You need some combination of all to win a tournament because there are so many good players.”
Throughout his day of play on the table, He noticed that his break shot was causing a ball from the last row to kick the 10 ball towards the rail. The Austrian decided on hitting the cue ball at slightly less than full power to try and unleash solid contact. What he ultimately unleashed was not one, but two, “golden breaks,” with the 10 ball kicking into the far corner pocket for one win and trickling into the side pocket for another. He broke a third time and watched as the 2 and 10 balls lined up for a combination shot near the side pocket, which he cleanly pocketed.
After taking four shots, He had a 3-0 lead.
“I was feeling pretty bad for my opponent, honestly,” said He.
The sympathy was more-than-likely short-lived, as He failed to pocket a ball on the break in the fourth rack then missed a kick attempt on the 2 ball after a Gomez safety. The Filipino cleared the table, used a break-and-run to pull within a game and won a safety exchange on the 3 ball to tie the set. After his break in the set-deciding rack, Gomez was faced with a tied up 3 and 4 ball, which he attempted a combination shot on but missed.
“I didn’t see a safety available so I went for the shot,” Gomez said after the match.
He cleared the table to snag the set, then took advantage of Gomez misplaying a safety on the 1 ball in the opening rack of the second set and broke and ran to build an early 2-0 advantage. The Austrian tacked on another game after Gomez overcut the 1 ball in the third game and closed out the match when Gomez missed the 3 ball in the fourth game.
After opening his day with defeats of Jeremy Sossei and Daniel Schneider, He didn’t win his semifinal match as much as he dodged defeat, as Russian Ruslan Chinahov matched the Austrian throughout the two-set match but faltered in key situations and allowed He to escape, 4-3, 4-3. After Chinahov jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first set, He took advantage of a dry break from his opponent to win three straight racks. After tying the set with a victorious safety exchange, the Russian appeared to be positioned to run out the rack and claim the set but missed a cut shot on the 7 ball.
“When he missed that ball, it was a shocker to me,” said He, who cleared the remaining balls and won the set, 4-3.
“I’ve been having trouble with my nerves and my hand was shaking,” said Chinahov. “I was trying to fix it but it was difficult to shoot straight.”
He claimed the set, then won three out of four in the second set to grab a 3-1 advantage. Chinahov wasn’t finished, taking advantage of a He foul in the fifth rack to claim the rack, then adding a break-and-run to tie the match, 3-3. Standing at the table with a chance to break and win the set’s deciding rack, Chinahov spread the balls effectively but unfortunately none of them fell into a pocket. He methodically ran the table to advance to the finals.
The runner-up finish was Gomez’s second in the U.S. Pro Billiard Series, having also placed second in last month’s CSI Michigan Open. After defeating Mika Immonen and Devin Poteet, Gomez met fellow Filipino Jeffrey De Luna in the semifinals, who battled back from a 3-0 deficit in the first set to tie the match. After breaking in the deciding rack, De Luna attempted a safety on the 1 ball but instead left a sharp cut shot, which his opponent pocketed and ran out the rack to claim the set, 4-3. After De Luna won the opening rack of the second set, Gomez took advantage of a handful of open shots left by his opponent after safeties to win four consecutive racks and advance to the finals.
The FargoRate Ohio Open was the fourth and final stop of the U.S. Pro Billiard Series, which featured four open professional events between July and the end of the year. Created by Predator Group and amateur league operator CueSports International, these tournaments will run in tandem alongside of CSI league amateur events being held throughout the country. The winner of each competition receives a guaranteed spot in the $130,000-added 2022 Predator World 10-Ball Championship, which will be held March 28 through April 1 in Las Vegas at the Rio Hotel and Casino. This competition was played on Predator Pro pool tables covered with Predator Arcadia performance cloth, with Predator Arcos II precision balls, and under the Predator Arena billiard lights.
For more information on the U.S. Pro Billiard Series or amateur leagues, visit www.playcsipool.com. For the latest information on the Predator Pro Billiard Series action, follow @ProBilliardSeries on Facebook. Watch replays on Billiard TV on your TV, or watch them on the WorldBilliardTV YouTube channel on mobile devices. Photo credits: Matt Porinsky