By Bert van Manen
One of my favorite tournaments is just around the corner: the Viersen World Championship for National Teams (13–16 March). The charming city of Viersen is in the lower Rhine region of Germany, and its “Festhalle” adds architectural beauty to an already classy event, run with German “Gründlichkeit”. Which is in no way the reason I always look forward to this week. It is the weird format that adds spice to this championship, where winners can lose and losers can win, and 50 % is sometimes more than half.
Let’s first clear up the matter of the live stream. “Your Event Live” had a 5-year contract with the Viersen organization up to and including 2014. That means, we will again be able to see it for free this year, but in poor quality (http://viersen.billiard-worldchampionship.org/). If the stream is as reliable as it was last year, we are in for another few days of torture. There is good hope that in 2015, Kozoom will take over and things will be as they should be.
Back to the format. Two players from one country play two players from another country, that sounds fair, right? Let me take you back to 1989, when Boris Becker was quoted, saying: “Germany did not win the Davis Cup, I did.” He had a point, because he won both his singles and the double he was in (with Jelen), and his teammate Steeb lost twice, making it Germany 3, Sweden 2. Similar things have happened in Viersen. If you have one player who comes up with 3-0 wins time and again, all the other guy has to do is win a set. If the “star” player really crushes his opponent, his team mate can even afford to lose 0-3, and the team will win on caroms made. It’s like a tag-team beauty pageant that could be won for South Africa by Charlize Theron and her grandmother.
No, I am not making fun of Michael Nilsson, Raimond Burgman, Tayfun Tasdemir or Christian Rudolph. They are superb players. But they all lost matches in Viersen and still held the trophy: it sure must have felt good for them to know that Blomdahl, Jaspers, Sayginer and Horn were there to do the heavy lifting.
Another thing that is “special” about Viersen, is the fact that matches are terminated when the outcome is no longer relevant. If on one table the score is 2-1 in sets, and on the other table it is 2-2, when the player on table 1 wins his 3d set, the fifth set on table 2 can no longer change the end result, so play is stopped. There is some logic to that, but there is also cruelty. Imagine you are a 3-cushion player from Vietnam. You have practiced until your fingers bled, then boarded a plane to Germany, where one night in a hotel costs as much as you make in a month. You are on table 2, playing Blomdahl. You have dug deep and poured all your skill, knowledge and heart into this match. It’s 2-2 in sets, you are at the table leading 11-4 in the decider, and you are already working on the story you will tell your grandchildren, about that unforgettable day you beat the legend from Sweden. Then the referee picks up the balls, and puts them in the box. “Thanks, that will be all. You can go home now.” If that is not weird, tell me what is.
A quick look at the chart will tell you that Sweden has been the most successful country in the Viersen event, with Turkey, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands also doing well. Korea is yet to show what it can do; Spain and Denmark were on the podium a few times, but not on the highest step. In 1998, Netherlands A finished last in Viersen, but Netherlands B won the tournament: tough to explain that to an outsider. This year, Belgium A is a Porsche 911 (Forthomme and Leppens), but Belgium B is a Bugatti Veyron: Merckx and Caudron, which is as good as it gets. They won in 2012 and 2013, and you’d be a brave man to bet against them in 2014. Other strong contenders next week: Sweden, Turkey, Korea, and my “Geheimfavorit” (outsider) Greece.
Three cushion is a small community, and Viersen is as much a clash of team mates as it is a clash of nations. If Jaspers plays Merckx, they both face a team mate from Holland. Caudron could meet Leppens, and they are team mates in Holland AND Belgium. Horn and Blomdahl play together in the German Bundesliga. Forthomme and Kasidokostas are teammates in Laxou, France. Yes, they will try hard to win for their country, but the opponent is most likely a good colleague, possibly a friend, only rarely an enemy. The world leaders of 3-cushion have their summits, they don’t always agree, but they handle their diplomacy well; usually better than the nations they represent. Viersen is about sport, skill, and personal excellence. Let’s not take the anthems, the flags and the national pride too seriously, shall we?