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"Richie the Kid" Wins Reno Open
Dec 14, 2006, 10:02 AM

Rich Orem, 25, of Clearwater, Fla., attended the 44th annual Reno Open to help out his good friends Mark Griffin and Ric Jones from Diamond Billiards with set-up and table maintenance. He didn’t expect to walk away with $12,500, and a lifelong goal checked off his list: winning a major tournament.

“I’ve been playing pool since second grade, and I always wanted to be a pro pool player — not really a hustler. I wanted to be one of the best in the world. I wanted to win a major title,” said Orem, who grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Jones asked Orem to work with the crew, adding that he'd be able to play in the tournament. “I jumped at the chance. I had only played at the Reno Open one other time, and I was 18 and I went two and out. I wanted to redeem myself,” he said.

Orem started off strong in the tournament, beating Jim Gottier, 9-1, Mike Bredehoft, 9-7, and Chicago player Ike Runnels, 9-4. “Ike’s a great payer. That really helped me play better because when I face a tough opponent, I’m usually bring my A-game, instead of folding under pressure or getting nervous,” he said, attributing that quality to his experience playing the likes of Rodney Morris, Earl Strickland and Tony Crosby in weekly tournaments in Florida.

Next he faced 18-year-old Justin Bergman, three-time junior national champion. Orem was down, 8-6, and had the break. His hopes went from soaring to sunk when he snapped the 9 in on the break, but scratched. Bergman had ball in hand, and ran out for the win, sending Orem to the one-loss side.

That night, just as he had been doing every night, Orem went to bed early, and prayed. “I prayed every night. I talked to the man above, not asking for a win, but asking for him to allow me to play my best pool. I knew if I could do that, everything would fall into place,” he said.

And the next morning, just as he had every morning, he got up at 6 a.m. to wipe down the tables and clean the balls. “I think that helped prepare me for the day. It gave me a feeling of pride, of wanting to earn this, rather that take it all for granted,” he said.

Orem faced some fearsome competitors, but true to his claim, he rose to the occasion, beating Bobby Hunter in a hill-hill match, and then settling into what he called “Superman mode,” plowing over Keith Bennet, 9-3, and the King of Filipino pool, Jose Parica, 9-3.

“I watched Jose Parica on tapes while growing up, and here I was, playing a guy I idolized as a kid,” Orem said. And, not to mention, shellacking him. It was 8-0 before Parica even got on the board. “It was crazy being in those shoes. I was at the table thinking, ‘I can’t believe it, I’m about to skunk Jose Parica.”

Orem fell back on his heels a bit then, and Parica managed to win three racks in a row, but it wasn’t enough, and Orem sealed the deal to advance to the semifinal. There he blasted past Canadian Bill Ganne, 9-2, to face the young Bergman once again. It was another tight match, but Orem was not planning on losing to him twice. “I was determined to play better and to keep control of that set, which I did,” he said. Bergman fought to the death, but Orem ousted him, 9-6.

Next, he came out on top of two hill-hill battles in a row against two top players. The first was against Houston’s Cliff Joyner, and the second, sealing him a spot in the final, was against Tony Chohan.

In the final, he would meet the undefeated Gabe Owen. “Honestly, by the time I got to Gabe Owen, I felt in my heart that it was meant to be for me to win that tournament,” Orem said.

Despite the long days, the tight matches, the rigorous one-loss side schedule, and the task of having to beat Owen twice, Orem once again rose to the occasion. The first set was the toughest battle, with Orem falling behind, 7-4. Owen gave him an opportunity, and Orem took it and ran, taking the next five racks for a 9-7 win. Orem called the second set “icing on the cake,” winning easily, 9-4. And with that, his hard work paid off with his biggest payout ever, $12,500.

“It has got to be the single most exciting feeling I’ve ever had in my life. I’m not exaggerating,” he said.