With the Dutch National championships around the corner (14-17 Jan), I would like you to take a closer look at the record Dick Jaspers has built up in his home country, because it's rather impressive. These are the two key facts: 104 Grand Prix events were played in the Netherlands since 1986, Jaspers has won 56 of them, 26 Masters tournaments were held, Jaspers has won 16.
Here's how it all started.
Dick Jaspers was barely 18 years old and looked to have a great future in the free game and balkline disciplines, when he started playing 3-cushion in the Dutch league. His average at that time: around 0.800. But he had gone from nothing to 0.800 so fast, it was obvious to everyone that he would jump the 1.000 barrier in no time. The team from Zundert wanted him, and Louis Havermans' room was the perfect place for a prodigy to play. Even in league teams players had contracts now, and Dick's father did the negotiating. He was willing to compromise on money, but he had one firm demand: his son had to play on board 1 in the team (of four), even if there was a teammate with a higher average. Jaspers sr. wanted Dick to have only the strongest opponents.
"If you're gonna do it, do it right". Jaspers apparently took that motto from his dad, and has lived by it ever since. Even as a kid, Dick knew what he wanted: to become a professional billiard player. And he meant it: to the point where he begged his parents to let him quit school and focus on the game. You're not going to believe this: they let him.
My guess is, that mom & dad did a very good job of telling their son what a responsibility he was about to take on. Going to the disco, smoking or developing a taste for beer? He could forget about all that. If he had no diplomas, there was no plan B. He wanted to make a living playing billiards, so he'd better start living, scoring and winning like a pro pretty quick, and compete with the likes of Bitalis, van Bracht and Dielis. And raise his average to 1.200 at least, because with any less, there was no challenging the great man from Mechelen, or that unorthodox Swedish fellow.
In order to understand anything about Jaspers, you need to realize that he was a grown-up billiard pro before he was a grown-up.
Three decades have passed, and he's built a phenomenal career: 3 World titles, 4 European titles, 21 World Cups, 8 Crystal Kelly victories, 2 Agipi wins, the World Games gold and a gazillion other achievements. In terms of super-averages, the 3.000+, 4.000+ and 5.000+ matches, not even Blomdahl has kept up with the Dutchman; the only one in the same league is Frédéric Caudron.
Yes, Jaspers was criticized by part of the 3-cushion audience for many years. In the early nineties his game was called "slow and studious", and he was said to lack charisma. Times have changed. He's won numerous tournaments with a 40 second shot clock, and these days his presence at the table can only be described as "commanding". Also, he's won many fans with sportsmanship that was always beyond reproach.
A quick look at his Dutch stats:
- The only player to ever have won a Dutch GP with a general average under 1.000 is Dick Jaspers! He did that in Rotterdam 1987, with 0.996.
- He is also the only player to have won a GP with a general average over 2.000, and he did that on FIFTEEN occasions. The record is his 2.666 in Veldhoven 2005.
- Dick's best stretch of wins is seven GP's in a row, in '96 / '97. He has never had a season without a GP win, although it was touch and go in 2011, with only one win out of four events. 2005 was his best year, when he won four out of four.
- The only player to beat Jaspers in three GP finals is Frans van Kuyk. Gerwin Valentijn and Raimond Burgman did it twice, van Bracht, Weijenburg, Habraken and Koorevaar once.
- As for the Masters (the Dutch National championship), Jaspers was a quarter- finalist five times and a semi-finalist four times, but a runner-up only once: to Burgman in 1989. So that is one final lost, sixteen finals won.
- Dick won the Masters title with an average over 2.000 on six occasions, the best being his 2.395 in Nijverdal 2009.
- From 1993 to 2006, the Masters were held in the same venue, in Veghel. In the Veghel years, Jaspers conceded one title to van Kuyk, two to Burgman, and won the remaining ten.
The 2016 Jaspers is a likeable and approachable guy, who is confident but never arrogant, a star but not a Diva. The tunnel-vision prodigy is still there though, inside the now fifty year old father of two teenagers, icon of the sport and citizen of the world. He will eat tomato or chicken soup between matches, but not onion or pea soup: there's a risk of feeling gassy an hour later. That's the way his mind works.
Next week's Masters could be the 17th for DJ, if he can get past the usual suspects: de Bruijn, Burgman, van Beers, Christiani and title holder van Erp. Guys like Van Schaik, van der Spoel, Hofman and Koorevaar could be dangerous outsiders. Or can Therese make headlines? My money is on Dick of course, he is still the best player in the Netherlands by a mile, technically, tactically and mentally. And they're not going to catch him in the next five /six / seven years.