It’s easy to forget that while tournament reports, by their very nature, focus on a narrow band of tournament activity, there’s a lot more that goes on than just the matches that determine the hot seat match opponents, the hot seat match, the loss-side activity that leads to the finals and the finals themselves. There are pivotal, individual matchups, the results of which, unsure when they begin, prove to be significant to the way it all turned out.
That said, the hot seat and finals of the WPBA’s $15,000-added Fairfield Invitational, held this past weekend (March 16-19), was a highly anticipated pair of matches between the #1 and #2-ranked women in the WPBA, Kelly and Allison Fisher. Kelly went undefeated to claim the title in the event that drew 48 invited entrants to the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center in Fairfield, Iowa.
Kelly Fisher, played one example of a significant match when she faced 13-year-old Savannah Easton. It was Fisher’s first round (she’d been awarded an opening round bye) and Easton’s second. Quick side note about another ‘significant’ match; in the event’s opening round, Easton, the youngest player in the field, defeated the oldest player in the field, Jeri Engh 7-3.
Easton chalked up a single rack, early, in her match against Fisher, after which Fisher advanced to reach the hill first. At 7-1, Easton with the (alternate) break won her second and then, off Fisher’s break at 7-2, won another before Fisher finished it. Easton is, by accounts from a number of WPBA competitors, a solid player, not some cute junior who’s at the tables for the optics of embracing a younger generation. She earned and deserved her invitation to this professional event and throughout her match against Fisher, she demonstrated why; sound shot selection and execution, along with mind-boggling composure. Commentators on the live stream – Lonnie Fox-Raymond and Angela Janic – made note of the fact that while not specifically stated, it’s clear that at some point, sooner than one might imagine, Easton will be “coming for” Fisher to challenge her for the tour’s top spot.
Fisher followed her opening victory with an 8-3 defeat of Teruko Cucculelli and then, ran into Janet Atwell, on the opposite end of a set of pool-generation gaps (10 years+/-) that Fisher faced in the event. In what proved to be her second double-hill match, having just survived one against Monica Webb, Janet Atwell battled Fisher to double hill before once again, Fisher finished it and advanced to a winners’ side semifinal against Russia’s Kristina Tkach, who’s a pool generation just ahead of Savannah Easton.
Allison Fisher, in the meantime, who’d given up just two racks, total, to her first two opponents, one each to Laura Smith and Shanelle Lorraine, ran into her first double-hill battle, against Margaret Fefilova. Fisher won that younger pool-generation battle to draw another, in the person of Tzu-Chien Wei (known affectionately on the tour as “Wei-Wei”) in the other winners’ side semifinal.
Kelly sent Tkach to the loss side 8-4, while Allison advanced to join her in the hot seat match with an 8-3 victory over Tzu-Chien. There is a tendency to anticipate basically flawless pool when you have the top two players on the WPBA facing each other, along with an assumption that two players who know each other as well as the Fishers, and friends to boot, automatically set aside any ‘nerves’ that one might normally encounter in a pivotal match. Such did not appear to be the case in their first of two.
They both went through some tough ‘patches’ in the early going of their hot seat match. Kelly won the lag, but after some initial back-and-forth, turned the table over to Allison, who took aim at the match’s first 9-ball. It was what’s commonly known as a “duck,” but Allison missed it; nobody more surprised than she was. They traded racks through Allison’s first break and run and in rack #7, Kelly rattled a ball in a hole. After a bad nudge of an object ball turned the table back to Kelly, she rattled another one, allowing Allison to take her first lead at 4-3. She put herself in a tricky position shooting at the 9-ball in the following rack, but promptly banked it to go up by two.
Allison was up by three when she dropped two balls on her break and then scratched. Kelly ran the table and began a five-rack run that put her in the hot seat and Allison off for a rematch against Tzu-Chien in the semifinals.
On the loss side, the two who’d just arrived – Tkach and Tzu-Chien – got right back to work and advanced to the quarterfinals; Tkach over Fefilova 8-5, Tzu-Chien over Kristina Zlateva 8-3. Zlateva had previously stopped Savannah Easton’s five-match, against-older-competitors loss-side run.
With the three remaining competitors on the loss side, any of whom could and might challenge Kelly Fisher for the event title, the anticipation level started to mount, reflected in (among other things) the relative absence of any background noise during the live stream that accompanied the final three matches. The first of the two loss-side matches left came within a game of double hill. Tzu-Chien edged out in front to eliminate Tkach 8-6 in the quarterfinals, which meant that no matter who won the semifinals, Kelly Fisher, waiting in the hot seat for one of them, would be competing against a friend. Allison downed Tzu-Chien 8-3.
By the time the Fishers stepped to the table in the finals, they had played a combined total of 11 matches. They’d gotten used to a very fast table and had gone great lengths to eliminate the ‘unforced errors’ that had characterized portions of their early matches. The final match demonstrated some of the reasons that they were there (an incredible jump shot early in the 6th rack for Allison, as an example) and demonstrations that pool can be a ‘funny’ game (both of them missing relatively straight-forward shots at the 1-ball in rack #7).
They fought back and forth to a 2-2 tie, before Kelly made her move, winning the next five. Allison chalked up her third in rack #10, after which Kelly recorded her eighth. Allison then won three in a row, which had the present crowd, along with stream commentators and chat room visitors buzzing about a comeback. With Kelly ahead by two at 8-6, rack #15 became critical and their play showed it. It went back and forth in a tight, tight game until Kelly won it to reach the hill first.
The buzz was re-ignited when Allison won her 7th. Kelly, though, won the 17th rack to claim the event title.
The WPBA thanked the Fairfield Convention Center and its staff for their hospitality, along with sponsors the City of Fairfield, Midwest One Bank, Mad Hatter Billiards, Diveny Cues, Aramith Balls, Diamond Billiard Products, Outsville, Jam Up Apparel, Simonis Cloth, Iowa City Woman’s 8-Ball League, Vic’s Auto Body Repair, The Ottumwa Radio Group, NATEL (Southeast Iowa Broadband Internet) Holt Family Dental Care and Americus Diamond.
The next stop on the WPBA tour, scheduled for the weekend of July 12-16, will be the $40,000-added Soaring Eagle Masters (pending signed contract), to be hosted by the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Mount Pleasant, MI.