In 2011 during the World Ten Ball Championship at the World Trade Center in Pasay, I interviewed local legend Rodolfo “Boy Samson” Luat, who was competing in one of his last major tournaments before calling it a career.
I asked Luat which among the young up-and-comers impressed him the most, and without hesitating he replied, “Carlo”.
That would be Carlo Biado, who at the time was turning heads with his Efren Reyes-like table vision and approach, his Django-esque potting, and his, well, typical Pinoy billiards player composure and expressionless face. He was clearly a star on the rise – he reached the semifinals of that particular World Ten Ball Championship – and it seemed like just a matter of time before he would break through and claim his spot in the pantheon of Filipino billiards greats.
What always struck me about Biado was his demeanor. If he wasn’t a champion pool player he’d probably meet the same success in poker because he has that perfect poker face. During the few times he’s not on the table and waiting for his turn to shoot, he can be seen watching a match on a nearby table, as if he’s not concerned with what his opponent is doing.
But don’t confuse casualness with indifference. Make no mistake, Biado had long been seeking validation before his breakthrough World 9 Ball Championship win earlier this month in Doha. I interviewed him shortly after he easily won the 29th Southeast Asian Games 9 ball gold in Kuala Lumpur last August, asking him what’s next. He mentioned the AIMAG (Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games), where he would make a run up to the quarterfinals in the 10 ball event, but then, his tone and look suddenly turning serious, he remarked, “But what I really want to win is the World 10 Ball in Manila in November.”
Unfortunately, that major tournament didn’t push through this year, and from what I’ve heard will now take place in the first quarter of 2018. But Biado didn’t have to wait long for his next shot at the Big One, for along came the World 9 Ball Championship, a tournament won in the past by Pinoy greats such as Bata, Django, and Alcano. If there ever was a tournament that would give a Filipino cue artist a fast track to the pantheon, this was it.
It had been a productive year for the 34-year-old former golf caddie even before he headed to Doha in pursuit of that elusive major title. In July, he won the 9 ball gold medal at the World Games in Poland, a remarkable feat considering it was the first-ever gold for the Philippines in this quadrennial meet. Four weeks later, he mowed down the regional opposition in KL to bag his first-ever SEA Games gold medal in 9 ball singles. It felt like the stars were finally aligning.
He had come tantalizingly close several times. There was the runner-up finish in the World 10 Ball Championship in 2015, the year he was briefly ranked no. 1 in the world, and the semifinal finish in the World 9 Ball Championship in 2013. He was always knocking on the door. Now he was he was ready to kick it down.
The 128-man field in Doha may have been missing a few North American and European stars, having been scheduled just two days after the conclusion of the Mosconi Cup; only Germany’s Ralf Souquet decided to play in both tournaments. But it still had star power: former champions Mika Immonen, Thorsten Hohmann, Wu Jiaqing, Ko Pin-Yi and Albin Ouschan were in the mix, along with the usual suspects Ko Pin Chung, Jeff De Luna and Neils Feijen. All in all, nine of the top ten players in the world were converging in the Qatari capital in pursuit of glory and the $30,000 top prize.
But in the end, none of them stood a chance against Biado, who displayed such a good rhythm that he breezed through the tournament unbeaten and was never seriously challenged in any of his eight matches, his closest margin of victory being three racks. Supremely confident, he cruised through the group stages with routine wins over Xu Xiacong (9-6) and Richard Halliday (9-4) to qualify for the last 64 knockout stages. He quickly booked a spot in the sweet sixteen by dispatching Daniel Tangudd (11-6) and Tomas Kaplan (11-8) in the first two rounds.
After seeing off countryman Jeffrey Ignacio, 11-7, in the round of 16, Biado got an unexpected lift in the quarterfinals after his opponent, Liu Haitao, overslept in his hotel room and arrived 15 minutes after the grace period, forcing him to default and handing the Filipino a free pass to the semifinals. Better lucky than good? Biado was both. Tough combination to beat.
The semifinals saw little resistance from world no. 14 Wu Kun-lin, who meekly surrendered 6-11 to the rampaging Biado. That set up the first-ever all-Filipino world 9 ball final, as little-known Roland Garcia emerged on top of the other half of the bracket in a stirring run. But there would be no Cinderella finish for Garcia as destiny sided with Biado, handing him his long-overdue first major pool crown and a place among his country’s hallowed list of pool greats.
True to his form all year long, Biado won the first seven racks of the championship match and turned the whole affair into an anticlimactic rout. The final score was 13-5 and was less a duel for the crown than it was a coronation, as King Carlo finally ascended to the throne.
May he rule for a long time.
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