While COVID restrictions were able to wreak havoc on the scheduling of this wildly popular event, known for a waitlist almost as deep as the field, the pushbacks were unable to quell the enthusiasm of the players and fans awaiting its return.
The Turning Stone Classic, with $25K added prize money by the hosting title sponsor and world-class Turning Stone Casino & Resort, is the signature event of Mike Zuglan’s Joss Northeast 9-Ball Tour, occurring twice a year at the mid-season and end-of-year of the “Joss Tour,” as it is known, which holds its regular-season stops at pool rooms throughout New York and New England and has been in existence since 1997. Bucky Souvanthong, who has been burning up the tour this season with two first-place finishes and four-out-of-four finals in the stops he played, says, “It’s the atmosphere!” when asked his favorite thing about playing in the Turning Stone Classic.
This pro-am open features a 128-player field comprised of many nationally- and world-ranked touring pros. Despite the delays of the event that would cause it to be rescheduled three times from its original date in August 2020, this iteration of the Classic is no different as its player list reads like a who’s who of Mosconi Cup participants and BCA Hall of Famers. The Inaugural event was held as a 32-player invitational in July of 2000, with Mika Immonen seizing the top prize. When asked if he would have anticipated the Turning Stone Classic achieving this degree of longevity, Tour Operator and organizer of the Classic, Mike Zuglan says, “I didn’t really know what to expect,” and goes on to echo the sentiment of Souvanthong, “but with the product we put out, why wouldn’t it last? It’s a great event!”
Among the notables competing for the TSC XXXIV championship is the aforementioned Souvanthong —poised to make a breakthrough, inaugural champion Mika Immonen who is still going strong; Skyler Woodward, Earl Strickland, Fedor Gorst, Thorsten Hohmann, Tyler Styer, Jennifer Barretta, and Billy Thorpe as well as Shane Van Boening, Jayson Shaw, and Johnny Archer. They have each taken the top prize six times. Whether the tie will be broken with one of these three men capturing the seventh title or with a new champion emerging from this field of monsters remains to be seen, but what is clear is that spectators are in for a treat in this four-day event that starts with 16 tables of simultaneous action in days one and two
until the field narrows by late Saturday as players exit in defeat. Play, in this double-elimination tournament, begins Thursday, January 6th with rounds at 4:00, 6:00, 8:00, and 10:00 PM, continuing on Friday and Saturday with play beginning at 10:00 AM and rounds every two hours with the final round of the day at 10:00 PM both nights. Sunday play starts at 11:00 AM with rounds every two hours until the final commences at 7:00, with the winner of the one-loss side taking on the undefeated semi-finalist in a single extended race to 13. In addition to the main event, Zuglan runs a 32-player Second Chance tournament for eliminated amateurs to pursue an additional opportunity to reign victorious in the best two-of-three, race-to-four, with the deciding set being a single game of sudden death. This tournament will also run on Sunday concurrently with the main event.
Additional attractions of the Classic include billiard supply vendors, onsite cue repairs, an exhibition of his 4T5 game by long-time local room owner Victor Conte and an opportunity for attendees to win one of two custom-engraved Joss cues valued at $1,600 and $1,900, respectively, one of which will be raffled before the 8:00 PM round on Saturday, with the Saturday winner getting the choice of cue, and the remaining cue before the final on Sunday. While raffle tickets must be purchased at the event, winners need not be present at the time of the drawing to win. There will also be a daily free stream of one “tv table” and commentary by Upstate Al and his team.
Zuglan says he is “more relieved than excited” to see the event finally take place, noting, “It’s a lot of work to carry these things over with postponement after postponement after postponement.”However, delays aside, Souvanthong is ready. When asked how he kept himself sharp over the downtime, he shared, “I think about the game no matter what else I’m doing in life—24/7—it’s the urgency of wanting to compete in it.”
While the wait has been long and the disappointment of schedule changes nerve-wracking, it appears that this year’s mid-season event promises to be as competitive and entertaining as events of the past as players and fans fill the spacious Event Center, located on the second floor of the Casino, with the best there is to offer in pool talent and spectator energy. The end-of-season Turning Stone Classic XXXV is tentatively scheduled for September of this year.
By Andrea Duvall