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By the Skins of His Teeth: Feijen Wins $42,500 at Skins Event Debut
Nov 21, 2004, 7:29 PM

Trailing badly late in the finals of the inaugural Skins Billiard Championship, steely Niels Feijen of Holland summoned the composure to win three games in a row and pocket a knee-knocking $35,000 – enough to seize the lead and eventually win the debut event.

“I got out, and I didn’t know how much it was for,” said the jubilant Feijen after accepting a massive winner’s check for $42,500. “I sat down, and I heard it was for like $35,000, and I was like, ‘Man!’ … I knew it was big. But to get the skin, that was the pressure. It was intense. I mean, I was almost going to faint after I made the 9. I was super-shaking.”

Producers Allen Hopkins and Billiards International hope that the Skins Billiards Championship, held Nov. 19-20 in Atlantic City, N.J., will fill TV viewers with the same sense of anticipation. Patterned after the “skins” game in golf, the event was designed to capitalize on the public’s recent rabid fascination with games of chance, such as Texas Hold ’Em poker.

Here, 16 of the world’s top shooters vied for a cut of the gaudy $130,000 prize fund. (Each player ponied up a $5,000 entry fee, and the promoters added another $50,000.) In the first round, four sets of four players squared off, with each player taking $500 for each game won. The top eight winners advanced to the semis (to be televised with the final on ESPN in January), where the “skins” came into play. Each game carried a value, which would roll into the next until a player could win three games in a row (the “skin”).

The fast-paced and unpredictable format seemed to trump the typical mano-a-mano 9-ball telecast. Here, players openly rooted against whichever contestant seemed closest to a skin, and the loose atmosphere prompted several zingy exchanges between players and audience members. In a bit of a coup for the promoters, loose cannons Keith McCready and Earl Strickland both made it into the televised semis, and their lips were flapping. After Strickland thwarted Charlie Williams’ run for a skin in the semis, he turned to the bench and quipped acidly, “You guys are lucky. You’re pulling for me now. It’s the only time a pool player has pulled for me.”

The swings in fortune were intense. Heading into the four-man finals, Thorsten Hohmann and Willams led with $22,000 and $21,500, respectively. Feijen and Rodney Morris pulled up the rear with just $7,500 and $6,500. But by the fourth game, Morris had won the first skin, worth a hefty $13,000. Morris later ruined Hohmann’s bid for the second skin (by then worth $18,000) with a quick break-and-run. Feijen took the advantage from Morris in the next game with a break-and-run, then watched as Williams missed the 1 in the next game, leading to a two-game streak. In the next game, Hohmann tried a chancy 1-9 combo a good 24 inches from the corner pocket, and missed. That let Feijen back to the table to wrap up his $35,000 skin in the 11th game of the 12-game final.

Morris then won a playoff for the remaining $6,000 skin, putting him in second place overall with $25,500. Williams and Hohmann left with the same amount they had at the beginning of the final.

“That is one advantage this has over the ring game format,” Williams said, comparing the skins event to the other gambling-style game currently in vogue at pool tournaments. “With a ring game, there is one winner and five losers. Whereas here, everybody can win some money.” -- Mason King

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