A match to decide who will end 13th in a tournament, and who will end 14th: it does not sound important or exciting. Do the players even care? As it turned out, the 13/14 decider at the Verhoeven Open in New York was the most memorable match of the week, and it will have a place in the record books for a few decades.
Torbjörn Blomdahl was of course disappointed to lose in the eighth final (31-40 in 23/24 to Merckx), and for Haeng Jik Kim the race ended when he was run over by the Caudron train (19-40 in 16). It has to be said though, that both the oldest and the youngest player in the K.O. stage upped their level as the week went by.
Haeng Jik played poorly the first two days (1.296) but still ended with a tournament average of 1.734. Blomdahl (seeded) had 1.704 in the middle stage, and he was unhappy with his own performance. He raised it to 1.856, and even in 2016, that is air only a few players can breathe.
This is what happened when they met on the final day, with nothing more at stake than a negligible prize money difference.
Yes, an incredible 40-35 in 9. Their combined average of 4.167 makes this the fifth best match in history, if the cold numbers are all you look at. Naturally, a match should also be judged in terms of context: what was at stake, could it have gone either way, etc. The DJ - TB in Florange 2008 and the Caudron - Zanetti in Brandenburg 2013 are obvious examples of more historically important encounters.
If you watch the TB - HJK on Kozoom, you can see how relaxed the atmosphere was. Both players obviously like each other, and the former junior world champion spent a lot of time as a spectator at Blomdahl's table. He knows where he can pick up knowledge for free.
For your entertainment, here are all the (combined) 4.000 + matches in history:
What makes the TB - HJK match stand out most, is the loser's average of 3.889. It's a new world record: the highest losing average ever. I'm not sure TB is happy with it, but a record is a record. Blomdahl has a few memorable 3.000+ 's on his resume. In fact, he was the first player in history to lose with a 3.000 average: 39-50 in 13 against Raymond Ceulemans in the Crystal Kelly tournament of 1999. At one point during the 2008 EC final in Florange,he was doing 5.000 average and was down two sets to love.! How cruel is that?
Here are all the matches (to 40 or more points) where 3.000 or better was not good enough:
For me, the most astonishing of all the high losing averages is the one recorded by Caudron in 2013, because he actually averaged HIGHER than the player who won the match, Marco Zanetti. This was made possible by the fact that they did NOT play equal innings, so Marco made 40 in 12 for 3.333, Fred made 37 in 11 for 3.364.
The 2016 Verhoeven Open really needed that extraordinary match on the final day, or it would have been a slightly disappointing tournament. With - arguably - the three best Koreans and the three best Vietnamese present, and only Zanetti, Sanchez and Polychronopoulos missing from the top European squad, I had expected a bit more fireworks.
Bury showed a lot of grit and determination to win the event. He is difficult to play against, difficult to beat. His technique is flawless, his runs are intelligently constructed, his game hardly has weaknesses. He beat Caudron and Jaspers this week, what more can you ask for? But he is the one top player you are NOT going to watch, not if there are other tables. He'll put you to sleep, like he does his opponents.
His winning average of 1.542 is nothing to be ashamed about. But no less than ELEVEN other players in the final sixteen did better. The best player doesn't always win the tournament, not in 3-cushion.