The tournament was well affected by the uncertainty that has been too common over the past two years. Travel issues, COVID diagnoses, and schedule conflicts would see a few expected attendees missing from the action. Perhaps most notably, six-time Classic champion Shane Van Boening, whose flight delay and subsequent cancellation would render him unable to make the trip. Nonetheless, there was no shortage of top touring pros gracing this beautiful venue and myriad marquee matchups with Fedor Gorst, Tyler Styer, Earl Strickland, Jayson Shaw, Thorsten Hohmann, John Morra, and many others on hand and in peak performance.
The recently-inducted BCA Hall of Famer, Thorsten Hohmann, who has only missed a handful of these Classic events over its 22-year history, says, “I’m happy to be back. This is always one of my favorite events.” He shared that the mix of world-class players and ambitious amateurs taking the step up to play in such an event is one of the appealing features of the tournament and the venue. One can choose to watch from the stands, scan multiple matches at once, or sit right up close to the table and watch their favorites in action.
Fedor Gorst, 2019 World 9-Ball Champion, returned to the States from Russia to play in his first Turning Stone Classic and offered high praise of the host site and organization of the event. “I’m excited to be here. I’ve always heard really good things.” He went on to say that the event was perhaps the most professional tournament in which he has competed in the U.S. “Well-organized. Well-run.” He responded when asked what especially stood out for him. He also found the spaciousness of the Event Center and layout of the playing floor conducive to play. He certainly had good reason to have enjoyed his Turning Stone Classic debut as he prevailed in match after match to sail into day four undefeated.
As play moved through to the later rounds, fans were treated to some edge-of-your-seat hill-hill matches among those on the shortlist of predictions to hoist the championship trophy: Earl Strickland versus Jayson Shaw in a match where Strickland got out to a five-game lead, but Shaw was able to battle back and prevail 9-8 to stay on the winners’ side, Johnny Morra taking the victory in a hard-fought hill-hill matchup with Frankie Hernandez, and local favorite Bucky Souvanthong who had a great tournament but came out on the wrong side of two exciting hill-hill matches, the first against Tyler Styer which would send Souvanthong over to the one-loss side of the bracket to then take on Bader Al Awadhi who would prevail to knock Souvanthong out of the tournament and his opportunity for a Sunday appearance.
As day three would close, spectators would see, on the undefeated side, Abdullah Al Youssef of Kuwait send local strongman Dave Dreidel to the one-loss side in a 9-5 victory. Jayson Shaw outlasts Earl Strickland in that aforementioned 9-8 nail-biter. Mika Immonen take out the very hard-to-beat “Hitman” Thorsten Hohmann 9-5. Fedor Gorst had a dominant performance defeating Tyler Styer 9-4 to secure their return for the final day without a loss. Meanwhile, on the one-loss side, Earl Strickland would prevail over Demetrius Jelatis 9-4. Dave Dreidel persevered over Hunter Lombardo 9-7. John Morra overpowered Thorsten Hohmann 9-5. Tyler Styler eliminated Kevin West 9-3 to make it into the final day of competition, still with a chance to raise the trophy.
On the winners’ side, final day matchups opened with Abdullah Al Youssef set to battle Jayson Shaw and Mika Immonen taking on Fedor Gorst. In contrast, on the one-loss side, Dave Dreidel took on Earl the Pearl, and Johnny Morra sparred with Tyler Styer. Strickland took down Dreidel 9-4, and Morra was masterful in a 9-1 defeat of Styer.
Shaw would outlast the exceptionally impressive Al Youssef in a 9-8 victory. At the same time, Gorst got past Immonen in yet another hill-hill battle. Then, pushed to the one-loss side, Immonen defeated Strickland, and Al Youssef came out on top versus Johnny Morra—both matches going to the wire, ending 9-8. Abdullah beat Mika 9-7. at the same time, Gorst secured the hot seat in an impressive 9-3 win over Shaw. Leaving Shaw and Gorst the final two undefeated players and Al Youssef and Immonen as the one-loss survivors.
Shaw and Al Youssef then battled a second time, this one for the right to challenge the undefeated Gorst in a final race to 13. Shaw got past the tough Al Youssef, again in a set that went back-and-forth, until. Jayson, fresh off of his second consecutive Mosconi Cup MVP title, was able to seize control later in the match and win by a score of 9-7 to join Fedor Gorst in the final.
The sheer number of 9-8 matches is a testament to the tenacity and talent of these world-class players, and this event final certainly put that intensity and skill on display. Outside, the area was under a winter storm warning, but inside, the action was hot from start to finish.
The opening game began as a defensive battle with neither guy wanting to give in. Still, Shaw drew first blood after Fedor failed to make contact attempting to kick out of Jayson’s safety shot. Jayson was then able to navigate the remainder of the rack. With a 2-0 lead, Shaw broke in game three, and the cue ball came to rest near the opening of the side pocket until the three-ball came around the table and knocked it into the pocket. Gorst came to the table with ball-in-hand and was able to skillfully pot the nine off of the two-ball, in a set-up that was no “gimme,” and gets on the board 2-1.
Fedor used the momentum of the 2-9 combo to run the next three racks, opening up a 4-2 lead before getting safed on the one-ball after his break in game 7. While Shaw missed after the push-out by Gorst, Fedor uncharacteristically missed a three-ball, and Jayson was able to get back to the table and run out to close the gap to a 4-3 Gorst lead.
Unfortunately, Jayson scratched on the break in game 8, and Fedor was able to run out, even with a table that had some challenges in the layout, to again extend his lead to 5-3. Gorst ran rack nine but didn’t have a pocket for the one ball off of his break in game 10. Both guys swatted at it a couple of times until Fedor pocketed it with a jump shot and went on to get out of the rack and forward to a 7-3 lead.
Fedor pocketed four balls on the break-in game 11 and was left with a clear shot on the one. He finished the remaining balls and quickly extended his lead to 8-3. Gorst, in game 12, committed an unforced error on the four-ball, bringing Jayson to the table off of the foul to finish the rack and take the match to 8-4.
Shaw came to the table exhibiting some signs of frustration with the combination of strong shooting by Gorst and unlucky situations he faced throughout. The frustration continued as he broke, and the seven seemed poised to drop but decided instead to hang in the pocket, bringing Gorst back to the table to run out after the dry break and move to 9-4.
After some ups and downs in game 14 for both men, Shaw was able to capitalize off of a missed 3-9 combo attempt that failed for Fedor and lined up for Jayson, making it 9-5 Gorst. Shaw fought to take game 15 as well with some good defensive play to narrow Gorst’s lead to 9-6. Jayson took a quick bathroom break before his break of rack 16 and seemed to settle down from the brief walk away. He broke and ran racks 16 and 17, looking comfortable for the first time in the set, bringing the score to 9-8 and perhaps shifting the momentum in his favor.
Shaw continued to work back to form, taking games 18, to tie, and 19 to retake the lead 10-9 in an amazing show of resolve.
With his break back for several games and his swag back as well, Shaw took an 11-9 lead, having won seven consecutive games. He then had the misfortune to scratch on the break in game 21, allowing Fedor back to the table. Gorst took it and ran out, to bring the score to 11-10 Shaw. Fedor’s interruption was short-lived as Shaw took the next game to be the first to the hill in this miraculous comeback. After 22, games the score read 12-10 Shaw.
In-game 23, Jayson Shaw broke and made a ball but had no pocket for his one ball. This turned into a safety battle for several innings. Still, Shaw broke free first to finish the rack and take the win in this breathtaking match with its twists and turns, securing his seventh Turning Stone Classic title, surpassing Van Boening and Archer, with whom he was tied.
As the proverb says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” This was certainly true of this tournament and the final match. The wait and disappointment are over, and a new champion has been crowned in amazing fashion. Pool is alive and well, indeed. The next regular-season stop of Mike Zuglan’s Joss Northeast 9-Ball Tour will be February 5-6, 2022, at Utica Billiards on the Boulevard, just down the road a few miles from the Turning Stone Resort Casino and Turning Stone Classic XXXV is tentatively scheduled back at the world-class resort September 1-4, 2022.
By Andrea Duvall