The Saratoga Sun -

Racking up some fun at the Wyoming Open

Wrapping up the ninth annual Saratoga billiards event


Max Miller

Women's division champ Jana Thompson calculates the angle she'll need to put a shot away in her championship match.

Late Saturday night, a young gentleman won nearly $2,000 betting $100 a throw on who could pitch quarters the closest to a spot on top of a pool table.

Railbirds are strange creatures. Whether they're flocking around a hold 'em game or pacing the perimeter of a pool hall, they always have fascinating conversations to listen to and peculiar practices to observe.

A colorful crowd of this breed descended on Saratoga over the weekend, bringing a carnival atmosphere to the Valley, and a formidable cash infusion to local business owners. Hundreds of people were in town for the ninth annual Andy Billiard Cloth Wyoming Open Pool Tournament, some coming from as far away as the United Kingdom to take part in the prestigious competition. With every bracket (not to mention hotel room) full to bursting, and some of the biggest names in the game duking it out on the felt, Saratoga was a billiards Mecca between Friday and Sunday.

The action was concentrated in the Platte Valley Community Center, where a main arena hosted up to 16 matches at once, with several other tables spread throughout the complex. Other match locales included the American Legion Hall, the Hotel Wolf and Duke's Bar and Grill, which received a special dispensation from the town council to stay open continuously from Friday afternoon to 2 a.m. Sunday morning.

Over 200 players competed in five different divisions: a women's division, a sportsman's division aimed at beginning players, a classic division for intermediate players, an expert division for higher level shooters, and a AAA master's division reserved for the best players in the world. There were also tables set aside on Sunday for junior pool sharks aged six to 18 years old, who played their own mini-tournament.

Watching play at the master level was mesmerizing. Several games between master players were won in one fell swoop, with one player never even getting an opportunity to take a shot as his opponent methodically cleared the table ball by ball.

Beside the players, there was a sizable entourage present as well. Ms. Wyoming 2016, Autumn Olson, gave out several awards over the course of the tournament. Also on hand was Samm Diep-Vidal, Executive Director of the Billiard Education Foundation. A former pro herself, Diep-Vidal made the trip up from Denver in order to promote the game among youth through her organization's advocacy.

Shannon Fisher, his friends call him "Fish," traveled to the Wyoming Open from Cheyenne. He set up a small booth at the community center, where he sold his handcrafted cues to devotees of the game. "It takes me a year to a year-and-a-half (to make a cue) if I start from scratch," the craftsman said. Fisher has been selling cues at various tournament venues for the last 15 years.

Friday night, attendees were bubbling over with anticipation of the weekend's fun, jocularly greeting old friends and trying to find the concentration they would need for the matches to come. Saturday was likewise festive. Though many players had been eliminated, attendees swapped stories and watched their friends who were still in contention. By Sunday, the community center's parking lot started to clear out, and the atmosphere turned more serious. Those still in contention were left more or less alone, as their friends gave them space to find the perfect stroke, the cleverest angle. A collective hush descended as the competitors retreated from the distractions of the outside world.

Max Miller

Craftsman Shannon Fisher of Cheyenne shows off his lathe and the delicate touch he uses in the production of his line of custom-cues. The slightest imperfection can mean months of wasted effort.

In the master's division, Shane Van Boening lived in that mental space. He took home Sunday's biggest prizes, capturing first place in the "Saratoga master's" competition as well as the 8 ball master's competition for a total winning of $3490. Rodney Morriss won the 10 ball master's competition for $1300, and Jana Thompson won the women's division, taking home $420. Derrick Pacheco took first in the expert division for $2200, Keith Pulley, won the classic for $1205, while Taylor Ruzicka took home $450 for winning the sportsman division.

The carnival moves on this week. Samm Diep-Vidal will soon be promoting youth billiards at a different pop-up pool city. Shannon Fisher will be hawking his wares in a new town, and pro Mike Massey will be performing trick shots at some distant bar or pool hall.

Most of the competitors will have fond memories of the Valley floating in their minds though, perhaps already contemplating their return next April.


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