Amsterdam Billiards World Tournament of 14.1 Qualifier: Smith & Lombardo Triumph!
By Jude Rosenstock
The battle for the two last remaining spots in the 2014 World Straight Pool Championships took place this past weekend at a poolroom truly worthy of hosting it. Amsterdam Billiards, home to the world’s oldest and largest 14.1 league has seen its share of great straight pool over the decades and this tournament would be no exception.
The field was filled with qualifier winners from past years including Holden Chin, Bob Madenjian, Sean Morgan, Gary O’Callaghan, Jude Rosenstock and Jonathan Smith but it was clear from the start that the polished professional yet new-comer to straight pool was certain to make an impact. Hunter Lombardo was here to play.
With a bye in his first round match, Hunter began his journey through the bracket with the lone shut-out of the tournament, dispatching Holden Chin 100-0 while posting a 50+ consecutive run along the way. The Hunter locomotive continued past veteran local player Ed Culhane in a decisive 100-19 victory but was immediately stalled by the field’s most accomplished straight pool player, 178-ball runner, Jonathan Smith. It was clear, Hunter’s path to the finish just got a lot more difficult.
First to meet Hunter on the B-Side of the bracket was Holden Chin who had just narrowly eliminated Brian Lau from the tournament. A rematch from the second round, Holden rebounded from his early loss and proceeded through Jim Murnak, Gene Ok, Bob Zak and Lau to earn his chance to revenge his shut-out but it was not to be. Hunter, on his own rebound, returned to form and handed the Raxx House Pro another loss. This time, he won by the score of 100-36, sending his journey into Sunday to meet Gary O’Callaghan.
Gary had been here before; the second day, the finals in sight. This was familiar territory for the Irish-born pool player who boasts a cash-finish in his first World Championship appearance. To say Gary was comfortable would be an understatement. His four victories on Saturday were won in an average of 55 minutes and his only loss was delivered by none other than Society Billiards house pro, Jonathan Smith. Storming out of the gate, Gary set the pace, quickly depositing the first rack of balls but ran into trouble in the next. Hunter managed to come back and take the lead momentarily but Gary served-up another batch of balls and looked destined for the finals, taking a 90-73 lead but facing an awkward break-shot.
It didn’t take Gary long to decide the risk was not worth the reward and instead of thinly slicing his break-ball, he opted to play safe which proved costly. Hunter went on to win the safety battle and, in spite of the long break between offensive opportunities, came up with one great shot after another to win 100-94 and face Sean “Alaska” Morgan.
This was Sean’s second opportunity to secure a spot. The night before, in the midst of all the B-side action going on, he lost to Jonathan Smith in the Winner’s Side Finals. Jonathan truly earned his spot having gone through Gary O’Callaghan, Hunter Lombardo and finally Sean Morgan but Sean remained optimistic about his chances even though he would have to go through Hunter to get there.
Sean opened the final match with a textbook perfect safety, forcing Hunter to foul twice in a row and earning the first lead. That lead, established in the third inning, would expand to a 34-point margin inning with the score at 91-57 in Sean’s favor. It was at that moment, the game would come to a grinding halt for Sean. Hunter began by running off 16 balls and playing safe. The battle for control continued with both players taking fouls and playing safe while picking off open shots during the process. All the while, Hunter was gaining ground and then finally, the pivotal moment worthy of Hollywood happened.
Up by the score of 95-92, Sean played an aggressive safety, further opening the table while leaving the cue-ball frozen and tucked neatly away from any direct shots but an unpredictable kiss would send the 10-ball dangling over the side pocket. It was clear; Hunter would have to try and kick the 10-ball in. Leaving it was too risky and the scattered balls nearly insured that this lone shot would determine the outcome of the tournament. After taking a moment to measure the shot, Hunter opted for a soft kick, pocketed the 10-ball cleanly and positioned perfectly to run the final seven balls to win the final qualifier spot. Undoubtedly, this was the most dramatic ending ever seen at any previous Amsterdam qualifier.
Hunter Lombardo and Jonathan Smith will go on to compete at the 74th August 4-9, hosted by Steinway Billiards in Astoria, Queens, New York City. This will be Jonathan’s 9th appearance and Hunter’s first. Note from Dragon Promotions: Special thanks to Jude & Cate Rosenstock who did an excellent job directing the event and updating live score brackets for 14.1 fans around the world. And many thanks once again to Greg Hunt, owner of Amsterdam Billiard Club for his staunch sponsorship and support of the World 14.1 since its revival in 2006.