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04-01-2005, 09:02 PM
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Pool players rack 'em up at state tournament

By DENNIS MAGEE, Courier Regional Editor

WATERLOO --- Poke-and-hope players need not apply: This pool tournament is for big sticks only.

"If you're serious about the game and you live in Iowa, this is probably the place to be," competitor Jason Chance said.

The Des Moines businessman won the men's open 8-ball title in 2004. He's back in Waterloo this weekend to compete in the 10th annual Iowa State Pool Players Association 8 & 9 Ball Championships at The Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center.

The event is the largest state pool tournament in the country and second only in size to the Billiard Congress of America's national tournament. In five days, about 1,500 players will scatter balls across 120 tables and log about 40,000 games.

Winners in 11 divisions --- organized for men, women, teams, those working on their game and those who've mastered it --- will collect their rewards. About $100,000 in cash and prizes will be given away. Chance, for instance, won $900 last year.

However, with the expense of hotel rooms, food and drink --- and dropping Susan B. Anthony dollars into pool tables most of the week --- the real motivation for competitors lies elsewhere.

"It's an event that attracts people more for the bragging rights," said Kevin Lange of Waterloo, vice president of the pool organization and the tournament coordinator.

The level of play is well above the average night's game in the average tavern. But most tournament participants realize ultimate victory goes to a select few.

"To them, it's a mini-vacation," Lange said. "They get to play with other people of the same caliber that they don't normally play."

Many are repeat customers.

"A lot of camaraderie has built up because we are in our 10th year," Lange added.

Because Chance proved himself last year, he is competing in the masters division this year.

"No matter how good you are, you can always learn something," he said.

"And you can always run up against somebody better than you."

Thursday, Chance was 3-1 and facing a long road --- and many more games --- by battling back through the losers' bracket. He remained confident, though: That was the path he took in 2004, too.

Russell Damme of Waterloo, a retired John Deere worker, intended to play as long as possible, as well.

"We're here to have a good time," he said. "But we're here to win, too."

"There'd have to be a lot of guys forfeit for that to happen," suggested his son, Dana Damme, an auto mechanic in Gilbertville.

Terry Ziakis of Shorewood, Ill., is serving as a tournament referee, answering questions about rules and offering an impartial observer on tough shots. For a time Thursday he watched men's open 8-ball competition.

"The better pool players know the rules," he said. "Hopefully, our job is boring."

Despite the massive setup required to turn the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center into a pool hall on steroids, a simple game drives the tournament's heart.

"I'm not saying there aren't finer points. But basically, it's make your color and the 8 ball. That's it," Ziakis said.

Skill --- and a bit of luck --- will make the difference over the next few days.

"It's like cards," Ziakis said. "A lot of people know how to play. But few are good at it."

Rick Willert, a farmer from Rockford, is a first-time tournament player.

"I just want to learn how things work," he said. "My expectations are to win a couple of times and get the nerves out."

Watching a friend lose Thursday and coming up short himself in one round, Willert discovered an early lesson.

"There's a lot of good players down here," he said.

But like a confident shooter, Willert had his eye on the next game and his hand on a stash of dollar coins.

"I got $75 worth before I came. Hopefully, I use them on matches, not just practice."

Contact Dennis Magee at (319) 291-1451 or dennis.magee@wcfcourier.com.

Go & Do:

The 10th annual Iowa State Pool Players Association 8 & 9 Ball Championships continues today through Sunday at the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center in Waterloo. Admission is free, and food and beverages are available. World champion trick shot artist Mike Massey, a familiar face on ESPN, will perform at 2 and 7 p.m. today and Saturday.

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