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02-21-2005, 09:13 AM
Published: February 21, 2005

Local News: Rockford
Pool sharks take stab at national tourney

By MIKE WISER, Rockford Register Star
>> Click here for more about Mike

ROCKFORD -- By the time Rockfordian Duane Tuula faced Adam "GQ" Smith in the closing rounds of the Viking Cue 9-ball Tour Sunday afternoon, 54 billiards players had already been sent home.

Tuula, a 41-year-old retired computer programmer who works in insurance, has been playing pool for 20 years. His opponent, a skinny kid from Michigan with a close-cropped haircut and a disarming smile who crosses himself after each win, barely looks like he's been alive that long.

As two of the final 16 still alive in the two-day double-elimination tournament at the Rockford Billiards Cafe, Tuula and Smith were guaranteed cash by the time they go home.

But like everyone still in it at Rockford Billiards Cafe, 1436 N. Main St., they're aiming for bragging rights of being the best, and the $1,000 cash that goes with it. The pool hall is the 55th of 61 tour stops leading up to the $25,000 Viking Cue National Championship in Villa Park next month.

Angela and Tyler Voorhees, the husband and wife team responsible for bringing the Viking Tour to Rockford this year, are recent transplants to the area, having come from Chicago when they bought the former Leisure Tyme billiard hall in August.

Angela said owning a pool hall has been a dream since college when she started playing billiards while a student at Illinois State University. Her love of the game took her to Chicago and then Rockford. She’s an accomplished player and holds the Wisconsin State Women’s Open 8-ball title.

But Sunday, Voorhees doesn’t want to talk about herself; she’s more interested in pointing out local players and touring professionals gathered in the cafe this weekend.

Meanwhile, a coin toss goes in Tuula’s favor and he gets the first shot in his match against Smith. In 9-ball, the cue ball must hit the lowest-numbered ball on the table before it hits any other. The game ends when the 9-ball is pocketed. In tournament play, the first person to win nine games moves onto the next bracket.

Unfortunately, the coin toss is about the only thing that goes right for Tuula this round. He scratches on the break and Smith gets the run of the table, winning nine games in a row.

“The key after something like that is to keep your focus,” Tuula says while ordering a soda from the bar. His loss to Smith is his only one for the tournament, so he’ll play at least once more.

Tuula believes that being successful in billiards “is just like life. You have to stay educated; you have to study and practice.”

Across the bar, another Rockfordian, 34-year-old Mike Sterling, is faring a bit better. Down six games to three against his opponent, Sterling turns it around, going on a 4-0 streak. Ultimately, though, he loses control of the table on a tough shot.

“Sometimes it falls, and sometimes it doesn’t,” said Sterling, whose day job is designing kitchens for Benson Stone.

“You know, I’m real happy where I’m at right now,” Sterling said as he was gearing up for his second game. “I mean the guys we’re playing now, they’re all good. I had a real tough one in just the second round, and I squeaked by that one.”

By the end of the day, Sterling would finish ninth and Tuula would make seventh place.

It turns out that the secret to running a table is practice, focus, attention to detail, enthusiasm for what you’re doing and humility.

“You’re only as good as your next game,” Sterling said.

Contact: mwiser@registerstartower.com; 815-987-1377