Story by NYC Grind Creative Director, Jerry Tarantola
Over the last weekend, November 24-25, The Predator Pro/Am Tour was hosted by the popular Queens pool room, Steinway Billiards in Astoria, NY. Steinway Billiards stepped up to fill a need for a schedule change on the tour due to the effects of Hurricane Sandy. In the Amateur 9-Ball division of the event, sixty-seven players converged at Steinway to compete amongst some of the strongest amateur players in the NYC area.
The format for the event is double-elimination, with a game on the wire handicapping system. The tournament is broken up into two separate brackets, the A/B and C/D brackets, where the final two players from each bracket would face off in the hot seat match. The tournament started on Saturday with all sixty-seven amateur players competing, which would narrow the field to twenty-four players to move on to Day 2 on Sunday.
The field was littered with strong up-and-coming talent, hungry to make a statement on the Predator Tour this season before it comes to an end. This stop was the 14th stop of the Predator Pro/Am Tour’s amateur 9-ball division, and players were looking to improve their player standings for the season.
Following this event, there will only be two more events left for the season… with Mr. Cue Billiards finishing their regular season this weekend, December 1-2, and Raxx Pool Room holding the Predator Pro-Am Tour’s season finale, set to feature $3,000 in added prize money.
The Predator Tour continues to attract strong players from the NY area and beyond, and it’s players seem to be chalking up their experience in competition to step up their level of play. In this event, a number of regular players had strong showings, but when the dust settled, an emerging talent from the NYC would break through to win his first Predator Tour event with a remarkable performance.
Day 1 brought out several impressive players who stepped up to the plate to perform well, including Michael Yednak, Yesid Garibello, Tony Ignomirello, Christian Smith, and local grinder Rene Villalobos.
It is always a challenge for players to be able to bring a strong game to the table on both days of a weekend event, and the competitors still in the mix after day one would work to keep their mojo going on Sunday.
Eight players from the winner’s side and eight from the one-loss side made it back to return on Sunday, all with the goal of earning the bragging rights, improving their points on the player standings, and taking home the $1,000 first prize.
Pro player and past local tournament director Zion Zvi stepped up to help Tony Robles fill in for their tournament director William Finnegan, who wasn’t able to make it out on Sunday.
Zion is a fan favorite and knows all of the local players in the NY area, and it was a pleasure to bring an air of professionalism and focus to the table that left the players feeling supported. Tour owner Tony Robles also had an opportunity to showcase how you can be a leader with clear communication and a smile, assuring that Zion and his players felt supported.
The well-oiled machine continued to roll on, as Sunday brought back the sixteen players who were playing the best. Here is the breakdown below:
Winner’s Side – Final 8
Kevin Jaikeran C+ over Luis Jimenez C+ (7-6)
Meshak Daniel C+ over Jose Kuilan C (7-2)
David Burgos B over Brian Hunter A (7-6)
Jorge Vivanco A+ over Christian Smith A (7-6)
Winner’s Side – Final 4
David Burgos B over Jorge Vivanco A+ (8-5)
Meshak Daniel C+ over Kevin Jaikeran C+ (7-1)
Winner’s Side – Hot Seat Match
Meshak Daniel C+ over David Burgos B (7-6)
Match Insight: Meshak Daniel came into this set on fire, dominating his last two opponents with confidence and style. Meshak played more like a B+ than a C+ on this day. In the match with David Burgos, Meshak came from behind to earn a gritty win against David, who was bringing the firepower in the form of impressive shotmaking and safety play.
Meshak is clearly showing that he has stepped up to the B level, or is at least playing that way from my perspective and it’s really cool to see a player’s game improve as the season goes on.
Talent and heart are key elements contributing to one’s game, and when they are awakened by the spark of competition, it’s fun to watch how this game transcends to become art.
Meshak Daniel advanced to the finals, and would then play the last man standing out of the players left on the one-loss side of the bracket.
On the one-loss side, a number of players were battling for redemption, but at the end of the day, only one would prove that he had what it takes to get a shot at the title. Some of the top finishing players grinding through the west side of the bracket included Tony Ignomirello, John Greslik, Jose Kuilan, and Juan Guzman.
In the match-ups between the four final players to make it through the one-loss side, Kevin Jaikeran (C+) would defeat Luis Jimenez (C+) 7-6, while Michael Yednak (A+) would win over Yesid Garibello (A+) at 7-2.
Player Insight: Top amateur player Michael Yednak recently broke through with his first win at Cue Bar in Bayside, and was playing superb throughout this event. (Link) Mike was looking to build upon his recent success, and brought his A game to the table.
With the dominant 7-2 win over Yesid Garibello (also an A+), Mike made it to the final 6 players, but was matched up against a worthy opponent who was also hungry to take his game to the next level.
One Loss Side Final 2 vs Losers of Winner’s Side Final 4
Rene Villalobos C+ over Kevin Jaikeran C+ (7-5)
Jorge Vivanco A+ over Michael Yednak A+ (7-6)
Kevin and Michael would finish tied in 5th/6th.
Match Insight: Jorge vs Michael was a battle between two top amateurs in the NYC area, and they did not disappoint players and fans watching on. While both players played extremely well, in the end Michael would lose the game on a safety error, leaving Jorge a shot at the 3-ball, giving Jorge an opportunity to run out and continue on.
Jorge took advantage of the opportunity to pull out a clutch win and give himself a chance as he moved into the final 4 players of the tournament. A few weeks back, Jorge Vivanco finished 1st in the 12th stop of the season at Eastside Billiards, and was hungry to greatly improve his place in the year’s standings with another win.
Quarterfinal: Rene Villalobos C+ over Jorge Vivanco A+ (9-8)
Rene played with heart and passion to come away with the close “hill-hill” win.
Semifinal: David Burgos B+ over Rene Villalobos C+ (7-6)
Match Insight: David and Rene both found themselves in another hill-hill match against each other, but in the end David dug deep and pulled out the “W”. This win earned David his highest finish in the Predator Tour to date, but he made it clear that he wasn’t looking to stop until he was the last man standing.
David Burgos B+ over Meshak Daniel C+ 8-5
Coming into the final, Meshak was the hot hand, overcoming his last two opponents before defeating David for the hot seat 7-2 and 7-1. David lost a gritty hill-hill battle with Meshak on the winner’s side, but proved that he had the heart and will to bounce back.
This match-up really was a special final match, as not only had one of NYC’s young up-and-coming players had beaten his own personal best, but also because of the setting. In the first time in the Predator Tour’s history (as far as I can remember) the amateur final match played alongside the Open/Pro 10-Ball final at the same time.
Not only were the two matches playing simultaneously, but the Open/Pro final featured two top international players. One of the greatest Filipino players to ever pick up a pool cue, veteran pro Ronnie Alcano was matched up against the young 24-year-old phenom from Scotland, who rose the ranks as a junior standout, named Jayson Shaw.
The energy at Steinway Billiards was palpable, and it was clear that a special something. Looking around the room, there seemed to be the feeling that pool was thriving in a special kind of way. New York is known for attracting people from all around the world on a quest to fulfill their dreams and use their talents, and I took a moment to take in the electricity of the evening… it felt as if I was part of something special. It really was an awesome feeling, a feeling that I can’t fully explain or express. Maybe it was the excitement of someone who is on the verge of accomplishing one of their lifelong goals in their passion, and seeing him have this confident knowing that it was going to be realized.
While the event at the Astoria, Queens pool room that players just call “Steinway” offered an ideal setting… it was the players and fans who brought a level of interest and excitement around competitive pool that left me with a hopeful feeling. Seeing the players play near flawless pool and the fans really appreciating what they were seeing, left me feeling proud to be a New Yorker. This city is really a melting pot, and it seems that we were all witnessing the spinning of straw into gold.
Both the Open/Pro winner, Jason Shaw, who mentioned after the final match that he didn’t miss a ball in the final, and David Burgos, who put on a dominant performance en-route to a 9-5 scoreline, helped showcase what heart, will, and skill, combined with the love of the game, can look like.
One thing is certain for me…watching David never give up, trust himself, and connect with several friends and supporters who enjoyed seeing David breakthrough to another level was inspiring. On this day, the stars seemed to align to set the perfect setting… and ultimately, seeing David fight through and turn his dream into a reality helped me re-connect with a part of myself that felt burned from the wear and tear of the ongoing grind.
Congratulations to David Burgos on a great breakthrough, as well as the other top finishers: Meshak Daniel, Rene Villalobos, and Jorge Vivanco.
As the tour’s season is nearly at it’s end, there are a number of close races being fought for the Player of the Year honors in each skill division. Click here to visit the Predator Tour website and check out the current standings.
Amateur 9-Ball Final Results:
1st: David Burgos – $1,000
2nd: Meshak Daniel – $750
3rd: Rene Villalobos – $575
4th: Jorge Vivanco – $425
5th/6th: Michael Yednak, Kevin Jaikeran – $300
7th/8th: Yesid Garibello, Luis Jimenez – $175
9th-12th: Brian Hunter, Tony Ignomirello, Jose Kuilan, Christian Smith – $125
13th-16th: Juan Guzman, Rich Lang, Victor Nau, John Greslik – $80
Check out more photos from the event by NYC Grind contributor Henry Chan below: