By John Goralski
Jamie ‘Sharpshooter” Gray aimed his pools stick in one hand like a dart and began stabbing at cue balls to make them jump in quick succession over a perched pool stick. Andy “The Magic Man” Segal bantered after each shot with the confidence that comes from being the top ranked player in the world, and the two men shared a good-natured laughed as they took their places for the start of the final round.
On Sunday, March 9, spectators at Shooter’s Billiards on Spring Street were offered a rare treat. After two days of head-to-head battles, the 2014 Masters of Trick Shot Championship tournament came down to this—a battle between the top two players in the world in a Southington pool hall.
“We had seven of the top 10 players in the world here, so you really can’t ask for a better draw to be played,” said tournament director Sal Conti. “The Masters is one of two titles that they want to win every year. There’s a world championships, and there’s this. It’s a really sought after title.”
For the next hour and a half, the two champions whirled around the table as they pulled previously unseen shots out of their bag of tricks.
One shot had six racks spiraled out from the center of the table, and they took turns jumping balls out of the racks into each of the six pockets. Another shot involved a masse jump with a spinning cue ball that hit the felt and circled a cup before making the shot.
Gray’s cue ball took a one foot high jump over a balanced pool stick before completing a combination shot into a corner pocket. Segal jumped a full rack of balls, bounced the cue ball off the bumper and the rack before sinking an impossible shot in the side pocket.
Each player introduced six different shots, and both of them had three attempts to complete them. Gray took the early lead, but Segal rallied back to score his fifth masters victory.
“This never gets old. Any time I come to a tournament, I want to win. It doesn’t matter if it’s a mini tournament with six players. I still want to win,” said Segal. “Jamie and I have a history, and we have similar skills. Whenever we play each other, we come up with shots that we save for the end. I had three or four shots that I didn’t play at all for the whole tournament. I saved them for him.”
The match was the culmination of two days of ‘trick-shot’ pool. On Saturday, players battled for seeding in pool play. On Sunday, the ranked players squared off in a tournament structure that ended with Segal versus Gray.
Unlike some of the other artistic pool competitions, players were able to challenge others with signature shots instead of having to reconstruct set shots from a playbook. It takes a mixture of strategy, discipline, and focus as players dare each other to make shots like the driveway basketball game, H-O-R-S-E.
“Playing out of the book is good, but this is different. It’s more creative, and I like to see the creativity that was here,” said Segal. “I have a list of shots for each player—maybe nine or 10 shots. As the tournament progresses, I start to see which ones I’m making well and which ones I’m not. I start to watch them and see what shots they’re missing. Then, I’ll swap out some of my shots because I know I can beat them.”
Segal didn’t miss many shots. He set the pace in the tournament with a 70 percent completion rate, including those shots that were introduced by other players.
“He’s an amazing talent,” said Conti. “He’s so well-rounded that it’s difficult to pick a shot and not have him have some idea how to do it. Even if he’s never seen it before, he can figure it out. He’s a real student of the game.”
The victory was Segal’s fifth, but it put to end the rumors that he can only win on odd years. His previous master’s titles came in 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2013, but it was no surprise that his first even-year victory came in Southington.
“Shooter’s is really special to me because this is where I had my first win back in 2004 for the Northeast Regional,” he said. “Sal has always been a really good friend of mine, and he does a great job. I love coming to this place. He gives us the run of the room, and I always love it here.”
Conti said the event was a great success, and the finals match was taped for rebroadcast by CPTV Sports. It will be scheduled to air at a later date.
“This is a world class sporting event, and our town just doesn’t have an opportunity to pull in these kinds of events too often,” said Conti. “This really gives us an opportunity for people to come in here and see the same people that they see on ESPN. I loved seeing little kids coming in here to get shirts and cue balls autographed. To see the look of delight on the spectator’s faces when they knock in an impossible shot is what this is all about. There was electricity in the air, and it was a lot of fun for everybody. We’re honored to be able to host this type of event.”
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By John Goralski