Great pool experience

Tony Chong, 32, pitted skills against the best from Asia last year at the International Guinness Black Challenge in Bali held in conjunction with the Grand Finals of the Guinness 9 Ball Tour, Asia’s most prestigious pool championship.

For him, it was truly an unforgettable moment especially after having just emerged from nowhere in 2007 to grab the Malaysian Guinness Black Challenge title.

Little earthquakes: Tony Chong in action (above) at theInternational Guinness Black Challenge in Bali, and withYang Ching Shun (below), a Taiwan top player.

When did you first playing pool?

I took my first steps towards playing pool in 2000. It was at Iowa State University in the US that I begin playing with my university mates. I owe a debt of gratitude to my mate from Hong Kong for introducing me to the game.

How did you find out about the Guinness Black Challenge ’07? Can you tell us about the standard of play in Kota Kinabalu?

Back in Kota Kinabalu, I played pool quite regularly. I found out about the Guinness Black Challenge by chance when I saw an advertisement in a pub. It was an impulsive decision to participate. All I needed to do was to buy my favourite pint of beer – Guinness!

Pool is now a very popular game in Kota Kinabalu. I would attribute this to the TV coverage of pool games by ESPN Star Sports.

At the end of last year, I opened a pool club with three close friends and I can see an increasing number of local pool players coming to my club to play. As for the standard of play here, I am quite confident of giving them a rating of 8 out of 10.

How did you feel when you won the regional final in KK? How did you prepare for KL?

In this amazing journey, I had to play and beat more than 2,000 worthy opponents to reach the Grand Final in Genting Highlands Resort. It was an honour to play with the crème de le crème of Malaysia’s speed pool maestros at an incredible showcase of pool – the Guinness 9 Ball Tour.

The fact that we were sharing the limelight with these international pool icons was almost surreal. There I was, a local pool player from Kota Kinabalu, playing on the same stage as Ronnie Alcano, (World 9-Ball Pool Champion 2007), Wu Chia Ching (World 9-Ball Pool Champion 2005) and Ibrahim Amir (Malaysia’s No.1 ranked pool player).

No amount of money can buy such moments!

Surprisingly, I was very relaxed in the final. In semifinal 1st round, I was behind by 14 seconds. Luckily in the 2nd round, I raced back ahead by eight seconds. It was a truly emotional moment when I won. I just kept on screaming. It was worth all the training as every day I took one to three hours to practice.

Were you nervous about playing with other faster speed pool players in Genting?

Honestly, I was not. I was more frightened by the two ESPN Star Sports cameras facing me!

However, halfway through the competition, I managed to ignore it, largely due to the fact I was concentrating on playing pool.

What was your strategy facing these players?

My strategy was to make sure my white ball was not running. If the white runs too much it takes five to eight seconds for it to stop. It is very important to be focused. A couple of years back in Sri Hartamas KL, I lost in the quarterfinal of a local pool competition because I was listening to the DJ announcing the times of other players. That made me increasingly nervous, and in the end, I lost in the quarterfinal.

The experience of playing with friends and strangers who have become friends was phenomenal.

Did you expect to win the grand final in Genting?

In Genting, when the top two players lost, I remember thinking that I had a great chance of winning. As the emcee called my name, the first thing that came to mind was to get the ball in as fast as I could. It paid off handsomely. This was the most exciting tournament I have played in. I won’t forget winning the semifinal match even though I was trailing.

How did you prepare for Bali?

After that win, my preparation for Bali was rather relaxed. I did not want to get overawed thinking about these other great champions from around the region. Just thinking that I was the Malaysian Guinness Black Challenge Champion, going to Asia’s most prestigious pool tournament Grand Finals in idyllic Bali was enough for me to think I was a very lucky man.

I was actually not anxious at all in Bali, maybe because I had had some experience playing in Genting Highlands Resort. I concentrated purely on winning the competition. I had two friends there who gave me strong support and encouragement. Unfortunately, my girlfriend had to work, so she couldn’t be there to support me. I am sure she was there in spirit though!

What was your most memorable moment in Bali?

The most memorable moment in Bali was when I was partnered with Yang Ching Shun, one of Taiwan’s top players who won two legs in the Guinness 9 Ball Tour last year against the Indonesian Guinness Black Challenge winner and Ricky Yang, Indonesia’s No.1 ranked player in the International Guinness Black Challenge shoot–out. I managed to finish third. The international crowd and the atmosphere was fantastic and something I will cherish for a long time.

How was it like playing in the Guinness Black Challenge ‘07?

At last year’s event, I wanted to be the best and pursue greatness in this competition. It’s different now – I guess you could say that good things come to those who wait. I was a very aggressive competitor before. You know what’s interesting? I learnt this saying from a Taiwanese pool player, “You can play well, but that doesn’t mean you will win, and even if you play poorly, it’s not a guarantee you will lose.”

That’s great advice. The camaraderie and friendship that developed amongst us was very good.

Who do you look up?

I look up to Yang Ching Shun as my inspiration, as I admire his pool skills such as the jump shot (no one better than him) and safety shot. I first began following his game during 2004 on TV. He was playing in the Asian 9 Ball tour.

Your advice to aspiring speed pool players this year?

Speed pool is all about precision, accuracy and, of course, speed. My fastest time ever was 27.72 second. You need to be good at controlling your emotions. My advice to aspiring players is don’t be nervous, if the first ball doesn’t go in. Always take a breather and relax for a short while before continuing because most players will pass the turn back to you soon enough.

Always play at a pace you can manage and don’t let the other players affect you.

o For more information and to find out how to participate in this prestigious pool competition and win the grand prize of representing Malaysia with an all-expense paid trip to Jakarta, log on Reach for Greatness and you can be sure of achieving it. Cheers!

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