At the occasion of Roland Forthomme's formidable 28 run

And then there were three… 

By Bert van Manen 

Broadway tickets to a show like "Chaplin” or "The Lion King” will cost you 70 – 100 dollars. A good seat in the Metropolitan opera to watch and listen to "Aida”, 400 dollars, easily. With all due respect to these talented and dedicated performers: they did the same thing yesterday, they will do it again tomorrow. The lucky eighty-or-so people who walked into billiard room "Den Hoek” in Zundert (Netherlands) last sunday, did not pay a penny for admission, and they were witness to an event seen less often than men setting foot on the moon.  

The astronaut of the day was Roland Forthomme, he is from Liege, in the French-speaking half of Belgium. Big guy, but not the scary type: more like Roald Dahl’s BFG. He was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth and knows what it’s like to struggle. Having made a name for himself – and a life – through billiards, he wants to get along with the world around him, to seize the day in a jovial atmosphere. A well-liked figure in the billiard rooms of Belgium, Holland and France, with an average of 1.5 – 1.6. He has bad days though, a bit more often than his A-list colleagues. He can let himself down at times. But his best days make up for that in spectacular fashion. RF can find spells where he plays the game with concentration so intense and willpower so strong that he simply refuses to miss, and lifts himself up to the level of the Blomdahls and Caudrons. And beats them. 



A few highlights from Roland’s career: he won two World Cup tournaments (Hurghada 2005 and Volos 2006), four Belgian Cups (2000, 2002, 2005 and 2006), he beat Blomdahl in 2004, an amazing 50 pts to 6 in 11 innings, probably the biggest margin by which the Swedish maestro has ever been beaten, and he won the prestigious Sang Lee Memorial in 2008. That last one, I would say, was the most formidable achievement in the list. The field in NY that year was strong, the best Koreans were there, Blomdahl, Ceulemans, Horn, Bury and Sayginer, and he had to beat Caudron in the final. I was lucky enough to be present, and it was a match I’ll always remember.  
As you all know by now, Forthomme played Merckx on 2 December 2012 in Zundert, AND RAN A 28, equalling the world record by Komori (Zundert, 1993) and Ceulemans (Waalwijk, 1998). That’s not a  statistic tidbit. That is sports history.  

Let’s not discuss the world record (for the umpteenth time). Yes, people have made – or claim to have made – more points than 28. Wikipedia says the high run is 31, they are wrong. I know all the examples, ranging from perfectly-true-with-witnesses to fisherman’s Latin, and they are NOT the world record. 
Official match. Referee. Score sheet. 
 
The one exception I will make (not the world record, but a special mention), is Dick Jaspers’ continued run in the final of the 2008 European Championship in Florange. In his match against Blomdahl, Dick ran a 13 to end the 1st set, finished the 2nd set in a single inning, and ran 6 to start the 3d set. Those 34 points without a miss (but with the benefit of a break-off) is certainly a rival to the three 28’s.

Very high runs in 3-cushion are freaks of nature. A player can never produce them at will. They HAPPEN TO YOU. You cannot predict where lightning will strike, all you know for sure is, that two ingredients are necessary: electricity in the sky and something on the ground to suck it up. For high runs, those two ingredients are: a top class, steely nerved player, and a little luck. Sometimes, a run of 15 consists of two "normal” sevens, glued together by an unusual point in the middle. That point does not have to be a fluke, it can be pure quality: a difficult position solved, allowing you to continue a run where it would normally end, and hopefully find another stretch of regular positions. 
What are, from a psychological viewpoint, the best places to be in, if you want to make a high run? Obviously: 

- The break-off. You are not confused in any way, you are purposeful and focussed. You’ve made 5, 6 or 7 points already and your judgment has been spot-on every time. Your confidence is growing with each shot. You are writing on a pristine sheet of paper, you’ve not smudged it with a miss yet. You are enjoying yourself, and most of all: you are not yet in doubt. 

- You are way behind without having done anything wrong. Things just went your opponents way, it was all red, red, red on the roulette table. Now it’s come up black, and you are going to make the most of that. It’s as if you’ve had all the bad run of the ball so far, and you are now entitled to good fortune, and good positions. There is a sense of urgency also, you MUST do well now. 

-The equalizing inning. All the tension of the match just falls off.  It does not matter anymore, you cannot lose anything now, you can only win. You can stop playing the occasion, and start playing the game. The shoulders open up, the stroke is free, you think less and play more.   

So many high runs have been made from the spots: both Forton and Pijl have equalized with a 13, Caudron lost 40 – 21 to Merckx and ran 18, Tasdemir lost 50 – 26 to Tijssens and ran 21! Carlsen made his 27 from the break. Last sunday, Forthomme topped them all, and he was the only one who had the decency to do it with a camera rolling! 
Thx for that, Roland (and Didier, of course, Merci!).
 
Here’s the top 9, as of December 2012: 
28 – Komori – (van Kuijk) - Zundert – 1993 
28 – Ceulemans – (van Camp) - Waalwijk – 1998 
28 – Forthomme – (Merckx) - Zundert – 2012 
27 – van Kuijk – (Brants) - Turnhout – 2010 
27 – Carlsen – (Jaspers) - Sprundel – 2006 
27 – Caudron – (de Backer) - Geraardsbergen – 2006 
26 – Merckx – (In Won Kang) - Fehrbach – 2011 
26 – Merckx – (Hendrickx) – Merksem – 2012 
26 – Jaspers – (Caudron) – Haarlem – 2001.    

If any of you happen to run a 20+ (match, referee, scoresheet!), be sure to let me know. If I happen to run one of those, I will certainly let YOU know. But don’t hold your breath.