As 2015 comes to a close, an obvious question needs to be asked. Who dominated this year in 3-cushion? The answer is straightforward. Nobody.
We'll have to get used to it. No player is strong enough to win a world title and two, three World Cups in the same year, because the others are just too good. And how can you dominate, when everything is decided in a sprint to forty points? One mistake, and the other guy can control the match for a few innings. He'll run a five, a two, an eleven and a four (Yes, two dozen guys can do that). All he left you was a half-chance and three impossible positions. What are you going to do?
Three cushion has become less like heavy-weight boxing, where knock-outs are rare and decisions on points are the norm. It starts to look more like sumo-wrestling, where a split second of imbalance can be enough to get you kicked out of the ring. Blink and you'll miss it. It happened to all of them, in 2015. Here's a little recap:
Viersen (February). The World Championships for national teams is won by Belgium, for the 4th time in a row. Merckx and Caudron, together they are as lethal as nitro and glycerin. I would not be surprised if they won it for three more years. Runner-up: Korea, with Jae Ho Cho and Jung Han Heo. Semifinalists: Netherlands, with Jaspers and van Beers, and Turkey, with Tasdemir and Yüksel.
Luxor (March). One of the greatest talents in the world (Haeng Jik Kim) runs into Dick Jaspers at the wrong moment. A ruthless DJ wins the final in eight innings: 5.000 average. We already look forward to HJK's return to the circuit, when he's out of the military. Semi-finalists: Sanchez and Blomdahl.
Porto (July). Blomdahl beats Hyung Hwang Bum in the final, which is yet more proof of the Korean strength (and Blomdahl's stubborn refusal to get old). Quoc Nguyen and Birol Uymaz play an unforgettable match that puts them both in the main draw. Semifinalists: Sanchez and Jaspers.
The Turk ran 16, the Vietnamese hit back with 20.
New York (July). A very strong field in the Carom Cafe, with Jaspers and Tasdemir as the last two men standing. Jaspers wins the event in style, but TT also impresses with his win over Blomdahl in the semi. Caudron is the other semifinalist. Semih is in NY too, and he plays really well (1.885) but he is unlucky: Coklu runs out with 13 against him, and Blomdahl with 12. That last match ends 31-35 in 10/11 innings).
Ho Chi Minh city (August). Was it a confidence carry-over from New York? I see it more as an inevitability. Tasdemir again beats Blomdahl, but this time in the final of a World Cup. For the stylish Turk, one of the best position players in the world, it is a breakthrough. Very bizarre is the way Jaspers goes out: 40-40 in 13 to Shin Dae Kwon, and 0-1 in the shootout. Semifinalists: Jae Ho Cho and Merckx.
Guri (September). Tasdemir keeps playing well, is in the final again, but there is no stopping Daniel Sanchez that week. The Spaniard walks on water, and equals TB's world record tournament average of 2.739. Jaspers loses 40-33 in 9 to DS in the semi, recording a general average of 2.942 over four matches! Not a world record, because he does not finish the tournament, but a fantastic performance nevertheless.
Istanbul (October). Murat Naci Coklu, the European champion of 2004 had to wait a long time for another major title. Truth be told: he had been good in the past eleven years, but not quite good enough. This time he is, denying Roland Forthomme a third career World Cup. Semifinalists: Jaspers and Merckx.
Seoul (November). The LG Cup is an invitational event in Korea, with a strong field and a lot of prize money. The "Big Three", as my friend Seiyul Yu calls them, are all in the semi's: TB, FC and DJ. But it's the home player who wins: Dong Koong Kang beats Jaspers in the final. We already knew he was good, now we know he can beat the best in the world.
Lausanne (November). No Sanchez, no Caudron in this invitational. Plenty of other world class players though, including Martin Horn. We don't see enough of him, really. He is still 1.8 or better, and makes it to the final in Switzerland. Jaspers is too much for him, the Dutchman looks like he can run seven or eight from every chance he gets. Semifinalists: Blomdahl and Sung Won Choi.
Bordeaux (December). The World Championship was marred by cloth that was too new and too slippery, and averages were disappointing for a few days. From the QF on, all was forgotten because the tension was so high, it saved the tournament. Sanchez and Merckx lost in the semi's, they made way for an unforgettable final between Dong Koong Kang and Blomdahl. The Swede looked like losing it 40-34, then equalized with a run of six, and won in a shootout, 2-1.
Hurghada (December). Two of the very biggest names in billiards, Zanetti and Caudron, both travel to the Red Sea resort knowing their top-12 place is in danger. They dig deep and play some majestic 3-cushion, Zanetti beating Sanchez in 13 innings, Caudron denying Cenet, who had impressed with a 10-inning match earlier. The final is a one-man show. Caudron gives Zanetti the Sumo-treatment, winning in 11 innings, playing some mouth-watering 3-cushion.
Sanchez wins the overall World Cup for the season. Jaspers continues to play higher averages than anybody else. Dong Koong Kang and Tasdemir go from the silver to the gold category. Caudron ends his drought. Blomdahl is still the nr. 1 on the ranking, European champion and world champion.
It was a very good year.