Sunday, 9 April 2017

Varna Wins 25th Schneider Haus Crokinole Tournament

Early morning practice in the "overflow room"
as record-high attendance called for more space.
You could say Ray Beierling is on fire, but that’s pretty obvious, as on Saturday he made it 3 wins outs of 3 tournaments in 2017 by edging out Justin Slater by one point for the 2017 individual honours at the Schneider Haus tournament. More importantly though, as he’ll probably tell you, that performance helped the Varna Crokinole Club repeat as champions and win the club title.

Spring never does seems to start on the day of the Spring Equinox in Ontario, and that’s probably why the London crokinole tournament, set annually in March, always serves the memory as being a Winter event. But the Schneider Haus Crokinole tournament is crokinole’s annual kick-off to Spring, and a reminder of the sunny days that accompany the St. Jacobs and World Championship tournaments.

The oldest known crokinole board in the world.
Built in Sebastopol (near Tavistock) in 1875.
That was no different this year, as snowfall on Thursday covered the ground for Friday morning, but melted away to sunlight that carried on throughout the weekend.

This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Waterloo Country Crokinole Classic taking place at the Schneider Haus Museum in Kitchener, and welcomed a record-high 7 teams, from heritage members of St. Jacobs, Varna and Preston, and the relatively newer Waterloo, Scone, Belleville and London crokinole clubs.

History and heritage are clearly a big part of the tournament. The museum has the honour of holding the oldest known crokinole board built in 1875, and utilizes the same tournament format it did since it’s first edition in 1993. Perhaps the most impressive note is that it is the longest running continuous crokinole tournament in the world. Even though the Ontario Singles Crokinole Championship began in 1980, 3 separate years of inactivity have given the prize for consistency to the Schneider Haus event.

2017 Schneider Haus Crokinole Tournament Champions
Ray Beierling, Tom Johnston, Rex Johnston, Jason Beierling
The Varna Crokinole Club
After 12 games, half of the round robin, play stopped as the players were treated to generous lunch offering. Meanwhile the battle for the top club prize was clearly down to 2 teams, as Varna (consisting of the Beierling and Johnston brothers) held a 244-236 lead over the London club (Justin Slater, Ron Reesor, and Christina and Dwayne Campbell). In the battle of the individual crown, Ray Beierling held a slim edge with 79 points, just over Justin Slater’s 78 and Jason Beierling’s 73.

With every on the line in the afternoon, the Varna club inched forward and the London club lost some ground. At the end of the final game, the Varna Crokinole Club had amassed 495 points to earn the title, with the London Crokinole Club finishing with 460 for second place and their highest finish in club history. Waterloo would round out the top 3 with 400 points, and a 20 point edge over their cross-county rivals of St. Jacobs.



St. Jacobs
Varna
London
Scone
Belleville
Waterloo
Preston
Total
Rank
St. Jacobs
0
39
54
86
70
61
70
380
4
Varna
89
0
56
94
90
78
88
495
1
London
74
72
0
105
70
67
72
460
2
Scone
42
34
23
0
60
46
46
251
7
Belleville
57
38
58
68
0
55
70
346
6
Waterloo
67
50
61
82
73
0
67
400
3
Preston
58
40
56
82
58
61
0
355
5

Rank
Name
Club
Points
1
Ray Beierling
Varna
147
2
Justin Slater
London
16
3
Jason Beierling
Varna
137
4
Nathan Walsh
Waterloo
130
5
Dwayne Campbell
London
122
6
Andrew Hutchinson
Waterloo
118
7
Paul Brubacher
St. Jacobs
117
8
Jeremy Tracey
St. Jacobs
114
9
Matt Brown
Belleville
112
10
Christina Campbell
London
111

Other Notes

The remnants of what used to say 25th Annual Crokinole Tournament.
  • Interestingly, the London club was able to earn a head-to-head victory against each club, including a 72-56 win over Varna. 
  • It was also a great year for club representation as members of 5 different clubs made the top 10.
  • The victory is Varna’s 7th title at the Schneider Haus. St. Jacobs still leads the all-time title count with 10, while the inactive Cameron Heights Teachers club still sits with an impressive 8.
  • Only those 3 clubs have ever won the team title in the 25 year history of the event, and either St. Jacobs or Varna have won every year since 2006.


For some crokinole clubs the Spring ends the crokinole season. Preston held their season-ending banquet recently, and play at St. Jacobs concludes with a social gathering this Monday evening. However, competitive play continues as the NCA Tour heads to BC at the end of this month, before coming back to St. Jacobs for the Ontario Singles Crokinole Championship on May 6th, with the World Crokinole Championships growing ever-larger in the horizon.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Beierling Wins Epic London match over Slater

There isn’t much talk of rivalries, but it’s no doubt that Ray Beierling and Justin Slater are presenting the best head-to-head matches in crokinole. The championship match in London featured the two again, for third championship face-off this year, and in a wild finish of twists and turns, Ray Beierling gained the decisive edge to win his hometown crown.

55 crokinole players gathered in the hall of the Saint James Westminster church for the 9th Annual Forest City Flickers Crokinole Tournament. Both the London club and tournament date back to 2009 and the beginning of the National Crokinole Association Tour. The tournament has always pulled in a big group competitive and recreational players, and this year was no exception.

Justin Slater was making his first appearance at the event since his second place finish in 2010, and he came through the morning with the top score of 58 points and 86 20s, leading Nathan Walsh and Jason Beierling who both scored 57 points. Jon Conrad topped Pool B with 56 points and a tournament high of 96 20s, while Andrew Hutchinson finished second in the pool with 52 points. Jeremy Tracey, making his NCA debut scored 41 points to edge out Dwayne Campbell at 38 points for the final spot in the A group for the afternoon.

The 31 player Recreational pool was split into 3 pools after the morning play. In Pool C, Maxine Whitmore just outscored Dianne Willis by a point for the final spot in the playoffs, and from there went on to finish 2nd. Peter Holman and Caroline Baker finished 3rd and 4th respectively, but Paul Trnka was the top of the class, cruising to first in the round robin by as many as 13 points, and then backing it up with top spot finish in the playoffs for the C title.

In Pool B, Kathy Geris grabbed the final playoff spot, just ahead of Pat Weiler and Vera Gutske, all at 35 points. Similar to Pool C, it would be Karen Robinson grabbing the B title after a comfortable top finish in the round robin portion. Janet Diebel would finish second, while Kathy Geris would jump up to a 3rd place finish and Kelly Fischer would finish 4th in Pool B.

The top of the table was quite tight in Pool A as Jo-Ann Carter, Janet Waite and Bill Harris all scored 46 points. Derek McKie earned the final playoff spot with 42 points to finish just ahead of MJ Andreola with 41 points. The playoff round-robin was fierce, and from it Janet Waite would win the Recreational title in her NCA debut, as Bill Harris finished 2nd, Derek McKie earned 3rd and Jo-Ann Carter finished 4th.

Competitive B Playoff Action
The Competitive B section saw a decent amount of separation of the playoff combatants as Dwayne Campbell, Clare Kuepfer, Wayne Scott and Cathy Kuepfer all made playoffs with a 5 point buffer before Bill Geris in 5th place. Dwayne Campbell was strong the whole way and finished the day off with the Competitive B title as Wayne Scott finished 2nd, and Cathy and Clare Kuepfer finished 3rd and 4th respectively.

Meanwhile, the action was incredibly tight in Competitive A with only 7 points separating 1st from 7th place. Justin Slater finished as the top seed with 54 points, Andrew Hutchinson earned the second seed with 52 points and a tournament high 102 20s, Ray Beierling finished 3rd at 52 points, and Jason Beierling rounded out the top 4 with 50 points. That left Tom Johnston (49 points), Roy Campbell (48 points) and Nathan Walsh (47 points) on the outside looking in.

In the playoffs, each match was played with a “First to 9 points” format. Justin Slater and Jason Beierling were all square at 4-4, before Justin Slater pulled away and advanced to the final. The other semifinal of Andrew Hutchinson and Ray Beierling was a rematch of last year’s London final, which was dominated by Beierling. This time the match would be much tighter with Hutchinson overcoming a 7-3 deficit to level the match, but it would be Ray Beierling winning the final round for a 9-7 victory.
Ray Beierling vs Justin Slater - 2017 London Finals

So the final was Ray Beierling and Justin Slater with so much on the line. 
  1. It would be their third meeting in a final this NCA Tour season, following a Slater doubles victory in Brucefield and a Beierling singles victory in Hamilton.
  2. Both were sitting at 17 total NCA titles coming into the final, just two back of Brian Cook’s all-time record of 19.
  3. With the win, Justin Slater could clinch the 2016-2017 NCA Tour title, barring a BC trip from Ray Beierling or Fred Slater.

Justin Slater got the early edge in the final with a 4-0 lead, but Ray Beierling came back to tie it at 4-4. It looked like Slater might take the edge back as he had control in 5th round, but Ray Beierling made a tough follow-through takeout to steal two points against the hammer, and followed it up with another two points for an 8-4 lead. And, from an entertainment perspective, that’s when the match went from good to amazing.

Justin Slater won two points with the hammer to cut the lead to 8-6, but needed another two points in the following round to stay alive. Ray Beierling played a strong round with the hammer and had managed to be level in the 20 count and have two discs on the board. That was until Justin Slater’s final shot:



An epic shot, but it was only Beierling’s miss on the next shot that made it two points for Slater and pushed the match to a 9th round at 8-8.

Amazingly, Beierling was able to overcome the thought of missing an open 20 for the victory, and even overcame a small deficit in the final round to draw even. And with a tie game, an open board, and only one shot left for each player, Ray Beierling made the open 20, and Justin Slater’s shot fell short.

Ray Beierling accepts top prize from
tournament emcee, Joe Richards
It was a thrilling finish and a great match that ended in a 10-8 victory for Ray Beierling. Perhaps one of the greatest crokinole matches ever, and it encapsulated everything that a thrilling sport match could have: top players facing off with a lot at stake, great shots made under pressure, and the odd mistake that makes every shot that much more exciting.

So Ray Beierling wins the Forest City Flickers Crokinole title for the 5th time, and keeps the race alive for the 2016-2017 NCA Tour title, with only the BC Provincial Championships, and the Ontario Provincial Championships remaining on the calendar.


Monday, 6 March 2017

Listowel’s Paddyfest features Crokinole

North America’s largest Irish Festival added crokinole to its 2 week long calendar for the 2017 edition. Paddyfest is celebrating its 40th anniversary and is highlighted by the Irish and Country Concerts on the 17th and 18th of March. But playing part in the opening weekend of Paddyfest was a crokinole tournament in Listowel’s Kin Station.

The doubles tournament, sponsored by CrokinoleDepot, featured almost a 50/50 split of the local crowd and crokinole veterans from around Ontario, pulling in 18 teams.

The tournament certainly had its own unique flavour, with music playing in the background throughout the day, a slightly uneven floor providing an extra challenge, and a nearby bar area that allowed players to stay “hydrated” throughout the gruelling rounds of crokinole.

Even with the relaxed atmosphere, the tournament still came down to a very exciting finish. With the Elmira team of Roy (aka “The Hurricane”) and Jeremy, facing Andrew and Jon in the final match of the round robin. While Roy and Jeremy had won the first meeting of the day 8-0, Andrew and Jon returned the favour against their St. Jacobs/Waterloo counterparts by winning the second meeting 7-1. That was enough for Andrew and Jon to eclipse their 2 point deficit and come away with the top finish, leaving Roy and Jeremy in second, and Varna’s Ab and Rex in third.


The event was certainly a fun time, which could be attested by the numerous boisterous celebrations following successful 20 attempts. Note that the celebrations became more frequent as the day went on - a clear indication of some quick learners. The quote of the day belonged to one crokinole newbie who exclaimed, “Who knew you could have so much fun playing crokinole?”

Monday, 13 February 2017

Beierling ends the Slater Streak, Wins in Hamilton

While Ray Beierling had had success at the Golden Horseshoe Crokinole Tournament, he, along with many others, hadn’t had so much success against Justin Slater. But a Singles tournament win streak for Slater that had began in May of 2015, came to an end on the last Saturday of January 2017, when Ray Beierling was unrelenting, and ultimately came away as the victor.

It was another big crowd at the event, where even with a few late withdrawals, the total attendance still matched the record set in 2015 of 44 entries. The morning round robin split the field into 4 groups of 11, separating the players from Grismby, London, Waterloo, Kitchener, Milverton, Owen Sound, Toronto, Switzerland, and of course, Hamilton.
Photo Credit: Eric Miltenburg
While the morning round consisted of players jockeying for position in the afternoon, some ambitious fellows were also looking to claim the glory of the first “Perfect Game” of the tournament. It didn’t take long, only to game 3, for Ray Beierling to claim that title, on his way to a tournament high of 123 20s in 10 games. Beierling also topped the tournament in points with 73, ahead of Justin Slater at 67, Jon Conrad at 64, and Fred Slater at 64.

The afternoon split the field into 4 groups of equal skill with cash prizes on the line. Gloria Walsh topped the D Group with 48 points, and was joined in the playoffs by Lucas Merkli, Brian Henry and Cindy Paul, with Dorothy Rigg missing the playoffs by one single point. A playoff substitution required David Murray to compete in the semifinals, and it took the second seeded Merkli three games to win the match 6-2, 2-6, 6-0. The Walsh vs Paul semifinal was an even tighter affair with the two deadlocked and requiring extra rounds before Walsh won the match 6-0, 2-6, 8-4.
In the battle of the top 2 seeds, it was Switzerland’s Lucas Merkli showing top form, winning the D Pool final by a score of 6-4, 6-0.


The competition in Pool C saw a greater separation of the top 4 finalists as Jake Ruggi topped the group with 62, Jo-Ann Carter finished with 56, Lynda Baumann earned 50 and Peter Carter nabbed the final spot with 47 points through 10 games. Ruggi ploughed through the first game 6-0, but was nearly caught off guard with a late comeback from Peter Carter, who erased a 4-0 deficit in game 2, before Ruggi won the 2nd game tiebreaker and the match. Lynda Baumann was equal to the task early in the match, but Jo-Ann Carter’s consistency would win the bother semifinal 6-2, 6-0. The final between Carter and Ruggi pitted together two players who could have easily challenged for a solid spot in the A pool, and their match showed some fine skill, with the victory going to Jo-Ann Carter, over Hamilton’s hometown man 5-3, 6-2.

Group B also consisted of a remarkably strong group, who only competed in the section perhaps due to a slow start in the morning, or a highly competitive field of attendance at the tournament. The two Vaillancourt’s, Bev and Roger, sandwiched Eric Miltenburg at the top of the pile, with Bob Jones finishes 4th in the round at 46 points, to edge out Christina Campbell at 5th with 43. Jones remarked later that he wasn’t quite sure how all of the shots fell in to place, but he took his 4th seed into the finals after defeating Bev Vaillancourt 5-1, 5-1 in the semifinal. Roger Vaillancourt also scored an upset victory, in terms of seeding, over Eric Miltenburg, as he won the mach 5-3, 6-4. In the final, Bob Jones continued to play well, and earning one point in the final round of game one to take the first game 5-3. But Roger Vaillancourt responded incredibly well, winning the next two games 6-0, 6-0 to win the match and the B title.

In Pool A, Justin Slater and Ray Beierling, as they always seem to, found themselves entangled at the top of the scoreboard through the second round. Both earned 62 points, with Slater getting the top seed with 121 20s to Beierling’s 117, through 11 games. Jon Conrad earned 57 points and the third seed, while Nathan Walsh scored 55 points for the 4th seed. It was Andrew Hutchinson, finishing 5th for the second tournament in a row, with 51 points, and Fred Slater at 6th with 50.
Both semifinals gave rematches of previous NCA finals this year: Slater vs Walsh in Belleville and Tavistock, Beierling vs Conrad in Owen Sound. Both semifinals would end in the exact same score of 6-4, 6-0, but it was Justin Slater backing up his previous head-to-head victories over Walsh, while Ray Beierling flipped the result of the Owen Sound final won by Conrad.

And so the final matched Ray Beierling, making his 5th Hamilton final, against Justin Slater, looking for his 7th consecutive title. The match began with each player trading 2 points on hammer, when Slater scored a slight edge in the 3rd round of game one, tying the round without hammer, and taking a 3-3 game into the 4th round. Slater finished the first game with 2 points on hammer in the next round for 5-3.



Beierling stole 2 points to start game 2, but Slater looked to be back in it when he sole 1 point in the following round. However, Beierling was near perfect on the 20s, and won the third round against the hammer, 5-1, to force a decisive game. Beierling jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third game, and was ahead for most of the 2nd round, until Slater scored a takeout and 20 on the final shot to tie the round. However, Beierling pushed on and won the match in the next round 3-5, 5-1, 5-1.

The win is Ray Beierling’s 17th NCA title. He now sits 2 behind Brian Cook’s top mark of 19, and level with Justin Slater, also at 17. The win is also Beierling’s second title of the 2016-2017 NCA Tour, which at least puts him within striking distance of challenging Slater for grand prize, if Beierling can manage one more victory before the finale in St. Jacobs.


And if Beierling is looking for one more victory, he may find it most fitting to earn the victory at the London tournament, which he has dominated, winning 4 titles. That event is the next on the NCA Tour, happening on Saturday, March 25th at the St. James Westminster Anglican Church.



Thursday, 1 December 2016

Conrad narrowly edges Beierling for Owen Sound Championship

Jon Conrad and Ray Beierling were side by side throughout every round in Owen Sound, and when it came to the final match there was absolutely nothing in between them, until the last round when Conrad managed to gain the only separation he needed to claim the Scenic City Crokinole title.

The brisk November weather was a sure sign of things to come for the Canadian Winter, but it was a good day for 20s around the crokinole board, which cooked up some ridiculously high scores and several perfect games.

18 Doubles teams comprised of a large portion of the local crokinole contingent, and they were joined by 23 competitive Singles players from New York, London, Kitchener-Waterloo and Penetanguishene. 

The morning singles round consisted of 10 games with players vying for afternoon pools. Ray Beierling led the way in points with 65 and 20s with 118. 6 players reached or surpassed the century mark in 20s, as Jon Conrad, Nathan Walsh, Jason Beierling, Roy Campbell, and Dwayne Campbell used those high scores to make the A Group. The final two spots were snagged by Andrew Hutchinson and Ezra Jantzi. Jantzi’s 47 points were just enough to edge out Robert Bonnett at 46 points.

Al Arnold (left) and Bob Jones (centre) - Owen Sound
Recreational Doubles Champions
The Recreational pool consisted of a Doubles round robin, as is always the case at Owen Sound as they miraculously juggle the two events simultaneously. Inside the 18 doubles teams there were 13 first-time participants, which certainly didn’t curtail their enthusiasm or chances in the tournament.

Al Arnold and Bob Jones made some noise early in the event for many reasons. Not only were they racking up points, but a chair malfunction had one member of the pair on the ground in the middle of the game. That however, was not enough to slow them down as they scored 71 points to win the title. Neil and Carol Cook had finished second last year, and scored a significant number of 20s with 96 (19 more than the next team), but had to settle for 5th place with 57 points.

Winning just enough points for the top 4 was Clark Campbell and Paul Armstrong as they scored 58 points. Corey McRae and Mike Mazurek played very well in their very first tournament, earning 65 points for 3rd place. They were just beat by Bill Harris and Larry Hennessey, who also scored 65 points, but had a better 20s score at 73 20s.

In Group C of the Competitive side, Clare Kuepfer ploughed through the second round with an incredible 37 points in 6 games. He was followed by Peter Carter at 27 points, and Jo-Ann Carter and Derek McKie at 25 points, just beating Gloria Walsh for the final playoff spot by 2 points. 

In a fantastically tight playoff round robin, only 2 points separated 1st from 4th. It was Derek McKie making the most of the smallest margins, winning the C group with 13 points. Clare Kuepfer had to settle for 2nd with 12 points, ahead of Peter and Jo-Ann Carter at 12 and 11 points respectively.

In the B group, Roger Vaillancourt and Robert Bonnett battled for the top seed, with Vaillancourt getting the honours with an equal 33 points, but an additional 5 20s. They were joined in the playoffs by Eric Miltenburg, racking 30 points, and Brian Simpson at 29 points and 50 20s. Christina Campbell finished in the unlucky position of 5th, as she also scored 20 points, but her mark of 43 20s wasn’t enough.

In the playoffs, Brian Simpson stepped up to another notch, playing well enough for 14 points, but Roger Vaillancourt was unstoppable with 17 points of a maximum 24 in the 3 games, for the Owen Sound B title.

The A group saw the 20 scores continue to be quite high as the players battled for a top 4 qualifying spot to keep their shot at the title alive. Jon Conrad finished first with 33 points and 82 20s in 7 games (which is on pace for 117 in 10 games). Dwayne Campbell scored 33 points and 65 20s for second. Ray Beierling and Ezra Jantzi rounded out the playoff qualifiers, as Andrew Hutchinson’s 8-0 squashing of Nathan Walsh in the final round was only enough for 5th place at 28 points.

While the Owen Sound tournament has many annual returnees, the tournament seems to experience an unusual amount of parity, and the A group’s playoff qualifiers exemplify that. Despite all of last year’s top 3 finishers returning, none of them made the top 4 again this year. In fact, in the entire 6 year history of the event, only twice has someone made the top 3 in two consecutive years. The first was Brian Cook’s back-to-back victories in 2011 and 2012, and the second was Nathan Walsh’s agonizing playoff defeats in the semifinals in 2013 and finals in 2014.

The top 4 round robin saw some dominating performances from Ray Beierling and Jon Conrad who, once again, had very little separation between them. The first round of the tournament saw Ray Beierling at 65 points to Jon Conrad’s 63. The second round had Conrad at 33 and Beierling at 32. The playoffs gave an edge to Beierling at 18 points to 17. Through the entire day only a two point separation appeared (115 to 113), as they headed to the Championship match.

Some recognition should be given to the other playoff qualifiers, as Ezra Jantzi is certainly gaining a stiff competitive edge quickly. In only his first full NCA season, and just his second singles tournament this year, he’s already found the top 4. For someone that was only seen as the dark horse finisher in the Top 16 several times at the World Championships, he is definitely making himself well known, and one must wonder what else is to come.

Meanwhile, Dwayne Campbell is making a case as the breakthrough star of this year’s NCA Tour. Only two singles events played this season, and already two top 4 finishes. He’s emerging as another potent 20 scorer and pulled off some pretty nice angle ricochet shots on Saturday, and should be very fun to follow throughout the rest of the season.

Double Takeout? - Conrad contemplates a crucial shot in
the 8th round of the championship match
So Ray Beierling and Jon Conrad were set to face off in the “First to 11” points final. They had met in 3 finals previously, all of which sided with Ray Beierling (2010 in Exeter, 2013 in Turtle Island, and 2015 in Brucefield at the ODCC).
Ray Beierling began with the hammer and held it for the 2-0 lead. Jon Conrad responded in kind to level the match 2-2, and so it went back and forth until Ray Beierling led 8-6. Conrad was up against it in the 8th round. Although he had the hammer, he trailed by a 20 and faced two opposing discs on the board with only two shots remaining. After making a long ricochet 20, Beierling missed long on his open 20, and Conrad elected a safer single takeout attempt as opposed to the double. While he may have hoped to follow through for a 20, he secured a single point in the round and Ray Beierling led 9-7.

Needing to win the round without the hammer, Conrad played it perfectly, not conceding a miss to level the match at 9-9, and held the hammer advantage for the final round. Conrad jumped out to lead, but Beierling was shocking in his ability to almost draw even, scoring a tough ricochet 20, and then having a second one unluckily bounce out of the 20 hole. That gave Jon Conrad the final exclamation point 20 to win the match, and win the Scenic City Crokinole title.

Jon Conrad (right) accepts the trophy from tournament organizer
Clare Kuepfer as 2016 Scenic City King of Crokinole
An incredible final match it was to close the tournament. While some of the noted cons of the “Race” format for a championship match are how one player can run away with the match, there are matches that can bring great tension and excitement with how evenly they unfold.


The NCA Tour breaks for the harshness of Winter and warmness of the holiday season, but when the new year comes in 2017 the crowd will be pleading for more crokinole, and so they will be satisfied when the Golden Horseshoe Crokinole Tournament takes place in Hamilton in late January.