Sunday, 16 September 2012

Cooked in Belleville

A few months removed from the 2012 World Championships and the end of the crokinole season, few players looked rusty and the winner’s circle had a familiar face.

A stuffy room at the Avaya centre held the 2nd Annual Belleville Crokinole Challenge, welcoming 22 players from Stratford, Toronto, Dobbington, Peterborough, Ottawa, and of course, Belleville. The preliminary round split players into two groups of 11, and coming out it was Belleville’s own Louis Gauthier coming out on top with 60pts and 60 20’s through 10 games. Joining Gauthier in the top group from the Belleville area were Matt Brown, Dave Brown, and Lawrence Wicks. Newcomer to the NCA Tour, Ryan Rogers played some fantastic crokinole in the early rounds and was able to grab the last spot for the A group for the second round of play. Also making the top group was Fred Slater, Nathan Walsh, Jon Conrad, Brian Cook, Clare Kuepfer and Eric Miltenburg.

Through the second round the level of play began to pick up and the top players found their form. With the top 4 advancing to the playoffs it was Brian Cook coming out well on top to grap the 1st seed, followed by Nathan Walsh, Fred Slater and Jon Conrad. The playoffs were a semifinals and finals format, pitting 1 vs 4 and 2 vs 3, while enacting a never before seen Quinte Convention.

The Quinte Convention is a brand new format for head-to-head playoff matches. The format stages a best 2 of 3 games style, but each game only plays 4 rounds regardless of score, meaning a game could end in a tie. If after the conclusion of the 3 games the players are tied (either by tying all three games, or tying one game and splitting the others) then a tiebreaker is used. In the tiebreaker only 2 rounds are played, where if one player leads 3-1 or 4-0 after the two rounds, then the match is complete. Otherwise, another 2 rounds are played as the match continues.

It was in fact the semifinal of Brian Cook and Jon Conrad that would first utilize the Quinte Convention as they were tied after the first 3 games. Their deadlock would continue through the first 4 rounds of tiebreak crokinole, until Brian Cook finally took the match to advance to the final.

The semifinal of Fred Slater and Nathan Walsh would also need tiebreaker rounds after they drew the first game and split 6-2 wins in the second and third games. They would also be deadlocked through the first 4 rounds in the tiebreaker, until Nathan Walsh took the match with a win and a draw in the final tiebreak round.

That left the final to be a rematch of the 2009 World Championship final. Game one of the final was all even until Walsh came up with a circus shot, getting a 20 off 4 pegs to grab control of game 1, before taking it 6-2. Game 2 would see a display of 20’s shooting, with each player sinking 3, 4, or 5 20’s in each round. Cook was able to win each hammer game and then steal the final round to take the second game 6-2. In the third the 20’s shooting continued. Walsh and Cook split the first 2 rounds, before Cook’s consistency took the match with a decisive 6-2 win in the third game, to defend his Belleville title.

Brian Cook (left) receives the top prize from Belleville Tournament Organizer, Dave Brown at the Avaya Centre in Belleville.

The NCA Tour now turns to Brucefield for the Ontario Doubles Championships on October 26th, 2012.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

2012 Belleville Crokinole Challenge

The logo of the Quinte Region Crokinole Club.

There was a time when competitive crokinole was only played in the Spring, but now with crokinole expanding, a Fall crokinole season has become habitual, forcing players into a shorter off-season. Not that anyone’s complaining, considering the crokinole season isn’t exactly physically draining. So it’s nice to see crokinole tournaments in the Fall.

Last year the Quinte Region Crokinole Club held their first NCA sanctioned tournament in Belleville. For the first time the players from Southwestern Ontario returned the favour to the Belleville group, who are always willing to make the trip to distant crokinole tournaments. Coming out of the off-season not many players had lost their stride. In fact, only three months after their meeting in the 2011 World Championship Finals, Brian Cook and Ray Beierling would meet again. It was Cook who would take the 2012 Belleville title, beginning a rather impressive 2011-2012 NCA season that included 6 straight tournament wins, book-ended by 2nd place finished at the World and NCA Championships. Meanwhile, Ray Beierling’s second place set the path for his 3rd place finish on the Tour last season. And if you are looking for a good omen, try finishing 4th or 7th. It was Jon Conrad who would finish 4th, only to now be the reigning Doubles and Singles World Champion. And Fred Slater finished 7th, on his way to a career-high 2nd place finish on the Tour.

The first Fall tournament is usually looked at as the start of the NCA season, seeing as the real start is the World Championships, which players do look at as the culmination of all the work they put in throughout the season. However, an even earlier indicator of current crokinole prowess was given as the first ever Turtle Island Crokinole Tournament took place just south of Canada-USA border. Four Toronto Crokinole Club players were very successful at the tournament with Justin Slater and Brian Cook showing their fine form in making the finals of the event. For the first time ever the “Wimbledon rule” was put to use as Slater defeated Cook 8-4 in the third game which required 6 rounds after being tied 4-4 through 4 rounds. Despite Cook’s loss in the finals, his play is quite high as he was the top finisher in first and seconds rounds of play. He and Jon Conrad will be looked at as favourites for the Belleville tournament.

This tournament will also be very crucial in the NCA Tour Rankings. While the 2011-2012 season only had Ray Beierling and Fred Slater able to challenge Brian Cook for the Tour victory, the 2012-2013 Tour could be decided quickly. Jon Conrad’s double victory at the World Championships gives him 110 points as both events were majors. Already well in the lead, a tournament victory in the Fall would, very early, set Conrad up for the Tour victory as only the top 4 tournament results count. It’s nice to see someone new challenging for the top spot in the rankings, an early win would put this year’s Tour out of reach before it even started.

This year’s tournament should bring in a high-calibre field, along with a hometown group as prepared as they have ever been to perform well in their own tournament. The date is set for September 15th for the crokinole elite to show how well the off-season has gone, and what they’ve got for the 2012-2013 crokinole season.

Tournament details can be found here.

See you in Belleville.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Crokinole Rankings

One of the most exciting things to come from the NCA Tour are the rankings. Before 2009 many were looking for a way rank players against each other, but the problem that always existed was players would not attend enough of the same tournaments to really get a feeling for who the best players were. The only true tournament that could be used was the World Championships.

Joe Fulop has made several attempts at ranking players, but as he outlined in his book "It's Only Crokinole but I Like It" the only fair way was to use the historical results from the WCC. He even developed a small point system for those finishing in the top 4 of any doubles or singles event. He has mentioned that he would have liked to expand these rankings by including those who made the top 16, and even those who competed at all, but since those results are not available to the general public he was unable to do so.

And that's what has made the NCA Tour so interesting. Ranking players tournament by tournament, ultimately makes competing in tournaments about more than winning, but improving your ranking among other players. However, being a tennis fan and a big follower of the ATP and WTA tours (the professional men's and women's tennis tours) I've had further ideas about ranking systems in crokinole.

The ATP tour uses two ranking systems. One they call the ATP Points Race, which only accumulates points for players from January 1st to the Tour Finals in December. This is similar to how the NCA Tour operates, in that a brand new season erases all of the previous points.
However, they also offer a more traditional model which they use to seed and rank players in tournaments throughout the year. That system keeps track of points for players results in the past 52 weeks. This way each player always has a year's worth of tournaments to contribute to their rankings.

This idea of applying this to crokinole intrigues me, and may offer a consistent way to rank the calibre of player's throughout the entire year, rather than just the accurate standings that exist at the end of the season.

As stated, tennis uses this type of point system, with similar point systems being used in golf and by the IIHF to rank hockey nations for the Olympics.

So with this type of logic and precedence in other sports, I present the CrokinoleCentre Rankings format.
1. Points are awarded in the same way as the NCA Tour, with one exception. The St. Jacob's tournament will award bonus points being that it is one of the most elite tournaments on the Tour with almost every top ranked player in attendance. The WCC Doubles and Singles will award 55 points for the top prize, just like the NCA. 
2. Just like the NCA, only the top 4 tournament scores, from each year, will count towards a players ranking. However, ranking points from 2 years ago will only count for half the points to put a greater emphasis on a player’s current level of skill.
3. The rankings will be updated after each tournament, making it a perpetual point system. For example, once the 2012 Stratford tournament is complete, the points from the 2010 Stratford tournament will be removed, and the 2011 Stratford points will be cut in half, as the next 2012 points are placed in to reach the current ranking points.

So after some frustrating computer programming, and going through the results of the past 2 years, I have the most accurate rankings I can get based on the given results. As it was a difficult task to get it all set up, and will be much easier to maintain now that the most difficult work is out of the way, I was only able to track about 50 players, to which I will only release the top 30. Beyond that, the chance for a miscalculation is much greater.

Brian Cook
Jon Conrad
Fred Slater
Ray Beierling
Jason Beierling
Eric Miltenburg
Joe Arnup
Nathan Walsh
Clare Kuepfer
Ron Haymes
Paul Brubacher
Louis Gauthier
Justin Slater
Howard Martin
Dave Brown
Matt Brown
Rex Johnston
Greg Matthison
Chris Gosline
Ray Haymes
Jason Carter
Kent Robinson
Rob Mader
Brian Miltenburg
Wilfred Smith
Quinn Erzinger
Lawson Lea
Bob Mader
Ed Ripley
Linda Irvine

I’m quite satisfied with how the rankings turned out. The fact that Brian Cook still sits in the top spot shows that these rankings reward consistency. While Jon Conrad’s accomplishments on the 2012 World Championships rightfully boost his ranking, I think it is fitting that they do not yet surpass Cook’s strong play of the last two years. I think that each ranking beyond that is quite consistent with where it should be with only a few exceptions.

I did not find a way to give Justin Slater an appropriate ranking, as he sits 13th while only playing 3 tournaments in each of the past two years. His playing in his last 6 tournaments probably puts him in the top 3. Similarly, I am not satisfied with where some of the players from BC and PEI turned out. After going to PEI, I believe that if they played regularly in our Ontario tournaments, players like Wilfred Smith, Lawson Lea and George Doughart could crack our top 10. And although I cannot be completely certain in saying this, I trust the word of those who have been to BC, and believe that Quinn Erzinger, Julian Chalmers and Adrian Conradi could also challenge for our top spots. Yet without more tournaments for them to play in, and more competition with Ontario, it is impossible to give them a fair ranking. Even if they could attend Tavistock to get a full slate of ranking points, it would not be fair due to the highly competitive nature of the World Championships and the provincial championships.

However, for now I will stick with this and bring updates throughout the season as we now have the CrokinoleCentre Rankings.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Before we look Forward, One Last Look Back

The 2012 World Crokinole Championships are gone, but they have left a lasting impression. Every year since I first attended the tournament in 2005 I have taken something special away. Usually, it’s the story of the champion.

In 2005 it was all about Bruce Hartung winning it all in his first ever trip to the World Championship. In 2006 it was Jason Beierling becoming the youngest ever singles winner, and the first to have ever been crowned as a doubles world champion and a singles world champion throughout the history of the tournament. 2007 was all about Brian Cook righting the ship in his fourth trip to the World Championship finals, finally claiming the elusive title. 2008 saw Cook win again, becoming the first to repeat as world champ since Joe Fulop in 2001 and 2002, but it also saw the Beierling brothers win the doubles title for the fourth time, surpassing every other individual in number of doubles titles and putting Jason and Ray, first and second for overall number of world titles (not including 20's). 2009 had Brian Cook tie Joe Fulop’s all-time record of 3 world singles titles (albeit at my expense). 2010 had Justin Slater dash Cook’s hopes of overtaking Fulop in the record books, while he became the youngest singles champion at 17, and the Beierling brothers won the doubles title for an unprecedented 4th straight time. In 2011 it was all about Ray Beierling winning the singles title in his 13th attempt, silencing anyone who used to refer to him as “the best player in the game never to win the singles world championship.”
But 2012 is different. Many years from now the story won’t just be about Jon Conrad becoming the first man ever to win the doubles and singles events in the same day (making the day about 14 hours long). And it won’t just be about Justin Slater scoring 142 20's in the preliminary round, while finishing in second place behind Conrad in both the doubles and singles events. And it also won’t solely be about Brian Cook’s ridiculous streak of 8 straight trips to the world finals coming to an end (maybe he should be nicknamed the "Great 8"). There were several fantastic performances, not to mention the Cues division where Lorraine Proud cleaned up once again.
But the 2012 WCC will be remembered for pushing the envelope, and extending the game into unchartered territories. For a long time the 108 20's scored by Jarmo Puiras in 2004 stood alone, only to be challenged by the very best players from BC and PEI during their provincial championships. People often wondered when the height of 108 20's would be reached again at the WCC. Then Justin Slater obliterated the record with 142, and now people wonder if anything close to 142 will be reached again.
When Joe Fulop’s health became an issue in 2003, many wondered who would step up to dominate the WCC, and take the place of the 3-time finalist and 2-time champion. But in 2004 he triumphantly returned to the winners circle for the third time, rather fittingly, against Brian Cook. What followed was Cook’s dominance of the world championship, claiming one of the two spots in the singles finals for 8 years. At some points it seemed as though the streak would never end for Cook, but now that it has, it’s hard not to see this streak lasting well into the future.
And the fact that it took 14 years of the World Championships for a man to win the doubles and singles titles on the same day is kind of surprising, considering many of the best singles players also enjoy great doubles success. But when you have experienced the feeling of going through the playoff rounds in both the doubles and singles categories, you realize how grueling of a day it can be. To date, only 3 men hold singles and doubles world championship titles (Jon Conrad, Jason Beierling, and Ray Beierling), and that is because there is a big difference between making the playoffs and winning the world title. At these World Championships, Jon Conrad would have played about 8 hours of crokinole, through a 14 hour day. The mental strength required to pull off such a feat is astonishing. Even more than that, Jon Conrad almost won the “Triple Crown” as he finished 2nd in the 20’s category. So for players that wanted to be the first to win the “Crokinole Double” they still have the opportunity to be the first winner of the “Crokinole Triple Crown”.
A monumental year at the 2012 World Championships that sets the stage for the remainder of the 2012-2013 National Crokinole Association Tour.

But if you want to relive the 2012 World Crokinole Championships, visit CrokinoleCentre’s YouTube page for playoff action from the Doubles and Singles competition.
Doubles Playoffs:
Top 4 Singles:
Recap Video