Darren Appleton goes all in with the World Pool Series, his new professional 8-ball tour he hopes will catch the fancy of millions of players and fans around the globe.
By Ted Lerner
With multiple world championships and a slew of titles in his pocket, and a well-deserved reputation as one of pool’s hardest working pros, England’s Darren Appleton is the embodiment of that old phrase, “hard work has its just rewards.”
Which is why the world’s best pool players, and pool fans across the globe, are quietly optimistic about Appleton’s newest venture into pool; as a promoter of the newly formed World Pool Series, which kicks off in mid-January in New York City.
The World Pool Series(WPS) consists of four separate 8-ball events to be played throughout the course of 2017. The WPS is organized as a tour, with rankings points from earlier events carrying over to later events and determining entrants and seeding’s, and even who qualifies for the following year’s tour. It’s named the World Pool Series Appleton said, so as to leave open the possibility of making some events 9-ball, straight pool, etc.
8-ball, however, will be the meat and potatoes of this tour for now. The first event, named The Molinari Players Championship, runs from January 14-17th at Steinway Billiards in Astoria, Queens and carries a $20,000 first prize. The next three events, The Aramith Masters Championship, The RYO Rack Classic Championship, and the Predator World Series Championship, tentatively also scheduled to be held at Steinway, will be held in April, July and September respectively, with the final event being billed as the Grand Finale.
The total prize fund for the four events will be around $425,000 with $85,000 of that being added money.
With the talented and popular Yorkshire native leading the charge, it should be no surprise that the world’s best players have taken up Appleton’s call to support his new league. The Molinari Players Championship has already attracted the top pros from 35 countries across the globe to help fill the 128 spots available.
It should also come as no surprise that a tournament organized by a hardcore player like Appleton will be set up with some of the most difficult conditions possible. With a sanction by the World Pool Billiard Association(WPA) all WPS events will be played using the official rules of 8-ball, albeit with several tweaks. Players will not be allowed to break from inside the center box, thus forcing them to break from the side. Players will be required to hit the top ball in the rack, and have to “take what they make” on the break, whether it be stripes or solids. Pockets will be a tight 4.25 inches and there will be a 3-foul rule in effect, to make players think twice about tying up their opponent.
Also expected to add pressure to each shot is the fact that all matches will be single elimination. However, those players who lose prior to the Final 16 will have the chance to enter a separate Challenge event that will offer $5000 to the winner.
Another unique feature will be the shootout. Matches that end in a double hill-hill tie will go to a shootout where each player plays 5 different shots on the 8-ball behind the line. If there is a tie in the shootout, the match heads to a “sudden death” shootout.
Appleton, who has partnered with Steinway owner Manny Stamatakis to produce the tour, came to this ambitious venture not so much out of a desire to make money, but to bring pool to the level he feels the game rarely reaches, especially in his adopted country, America.
“I was getting really frustrated with the way some of the tournaments were being organized and how the direction of the game was going in America,” Appleton said. “There’s all these bar table tournaments, no organization, no vision, tournaments getting worse and worse, the organizers aren’t doing it for the players or for the love of the game, they are doing it for themselves.”
Appleton had recently dabbled in promoting, putting on the successful Dynamite Open in Romania in 2015.
“Everyone absolutely loved it, we put on a show,” he said. “But last year the owner couldn’t do the tournament because he was having personal problems. Then I was going to do the tournament in Greece, but because the economy is so bad there now I couldn’t get any sponsorship.
“So then I spoke to Manny at Steinway Billiards and he said I could have it there. Originally I was going to just have the Dynamite Open at Steinway. It started out as one tournament. Then I got to speaking to Mick Hill(fellow English player and friend) and he said, “I think it’s about time that you start thinking about doing a proper tour, because you’re the man to do it.”
“I’m thinking if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it properly. I did a lot of writing for two weeks, spending 15 hours a day for two weeks just writing ideas down and then I started pitching them to the sponsors, like Predator, Molinari, Aramith, Kamui, Chequio. I started speaking to Manny a lot more. We were spending two to three hours together on the phone. It just kept getting bigger and bigger. We realized we needed to make it at least 4 events, to make it a tour, like in snooker, darts, golf and tennis. Our idea is to do one every quarter.”
With the plan set down, Appleton set about putting together his team, the four events, and courting the always hard to please sponsors. He was pleasantly surprised at the response.
“The sponsors said ‘This is what we have been waiting for for a long time. This is why we don’t really get involved financially as big as we used to, because there’s no vision in pool.’ In 90% of the events they are sponsoring, there is no vision, there’s no growth, there’s no advertising, no marketing, there’s nobody doing their job properly, they just want to get a couple of thousand dollars, a couple of cues and they are happy.
“We have a goal. We want to expand. We want to build a brand. But also making the sponsors feel good. Our sponsors see the vision and they think I’m the right guy to do it. I’m very honored that they think that I’m the right guy with the vision and the passion for the game. I’m not in it to make a load of money. Obviously I want to make a wage and me and Manny are going to make a wage. But we are working our bullocks off. The good thing with us, whatever comes in from the players, and the sponsors, it all goes into the prize money.”
Appleton said he and his team are pulling out all the stops on the first event. They are building a slick TV arena inside Steinway with tiered and VIP seating. There will be a well-appointed players lounge. And fans will have a chance to get involved by attending player autograph sessions and free clinics with the pros inside the club. There will also be live streaming online throughout the event.
Appleton has already had tremendous interest in the event from around the world. Players have to be invited and approved by the organizers and he has commitments from many of the games top stars. And 24 separate qualifiers have been held in various locales around the world such as Australia, Thailand, Finland, Norway, UK, Scotland, the Middle East, and in America to fill in the extra spots.
Players will be rewarded in future events with how they play in the early events. The last 32 in the first event will get a guaranteed spot in the second event. After the second event, the top 64 in the rankings will be guaranteed a spot in the third event. As a proper tour, there will be ranking points awarded. Top 64 at the end of the year will automatically gain a pro card for the next year. Everybody else has to go to qualifying school.
Appleton has secured the sanction of the WPA, which means ranking points will be awarded for the world rankings as well.
Appleton and his team are already looking beyond 2017.
“Hopefully in 2018 we’ll expand to having six tournaments a year,” he said. “If that’s a success we’ll add even more tournaments. Our goal is to make it like snooker where they have 15 to 20 tournaments a year.”
Perhaps, but for now, however, Appleton is up to his ears in work to get this first event off the ground. He’s so busy, in fact, that he is skipping the first tourmanent as a player to oversee the entire operations. He plans on jumping back in for the second event in April.
As his vision for a successful player centered pool tour takes shape, Appleton is banking on 8-ball’s popularity worldwide to draw in fans. In fact, he says, building bridges to the amateur game is one of the keys to the WPS’ future success.
“8-ball is the most recognizable game, the most global game. It’s bigger than snooker,” Appleton said. “It’s what the amateurs play. Everyone all over the world plays 8-ball. But they don’t have a tour to look up to, to follow. We want to tap into that and be that brand. They are going to be able to learn more, watch the best players. Maybe some of them can even qualify for the tour.”
It’s no secret also that Appleton did not have his best year in 2016, saying he had lost some of the hunger that had brought him to the top of the game in a few short years. But now, he says, being involved in building the World Pool Series has given him a new lease on his professional life.
“I never thought I’d get involved in something like this,” he said. “But now that I’m involved, I’m very motivated to do it. It’s sort of given me a new lease on life because I was losing my motivation for pool in general. My results this past year have been terrible. I haven’t been practicing enough. I haven’t been playing in enough tournaments. I was just losing that hunger. But now I’m sort of rejuvenated to get the hunger for pool.”
*The first event of the World Pool Series, The Molinari Players Championship, takes place at Steinway Billiards in Astoria, Queens, New York City from January 14-17, 2017. The World Pool Series is sponsored by Molinari, Predator, Cheqio, RYO Rack, Aramith, Iwan Simonis, Kamui, Billiards Digest, Ultimate Team Gear, and High Rock.
For more information on the live stream, please visit the official website of the World Pool Series at http://www.worldpoolseries.com/
The World Pool Series is on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/worldpoolseries/
*Ted Lerner is the author of the classic book “Hey,Joe—a slice of the city, an American in Manila,” as well as the book of Asian travel essays, “The Traveler and the Gate Checkers.” Both books are available in hard cover and e-book on Amazon.com. He also works in professional boxing as a writer and ring announcer, and professional pool and billiards as a writer and TV commentator. He has lived in the Philippines for 22 years.