forthomme2Forthomme Joins Elite Group

In today’s world, news travels fast, and when there is news about a three-cushion billiard accomplishment, it travels even faster, at least in the world of billiards, which is what the sports entertainment business labels a “fanatical niche” market. Within hours of Roland Forthomme’s remarkable world-record-tying run of 28 in a Dutch League game on December 2, Bert van Manen, a Dutch player, made a post on the carom forum of AZ Billiards, an internet site dedicated to billiards.

A post by another devotee followed within minutes: “WOW! Very Nice Roland,” which was then followed by another post asking about whether the game had been taped. “Alas. No video” was the sad reply. For the next few hours, comments and posts gushed about The Run, Forthomme’s cue, the table and other high runs, and then van Manen made the most important post: “There IS video of this match (and the world record run). I only learned about that today. You can watch it on Youtube.”  Another forum user provided a great hint for the impatient viewer: “The run starts at 44 minutes into the video.”

It is sometimes hard to think back a few years, before the internet and such gems as Google, Wikipedia, and, of course, YouTube. How did the world survive? For billiard lovers, YouTube proves to be a cornucopia overflowing with videos of all types of carom games, and the Forthomme run of twenty-eight is must-see TV (or really, must see YouTube). The video, entitled “Billard 3 bandes Forthomme Merckx,” was posted by Didier Tromas. It is 1:14:08 in length, and is worth watching from start to finish (but most viewers will probably follow the hint posted on AZ Billiards and fast forward to the start of The Run). The game pits Forthomme, a large, hulking Belgian with a shaved pate, against countryman Eddie Merckx (named after the famous Belgian bicyclist of the 1970s). For the Dutch League aficionados, Forthomme plays for Snellen Recycling and Merckx for TOVV.nl/mrc. The game is at a room called Den Hoek (The Corner) in Zundert, a small town outside of Breda and not too far from Antwerp over the border. The two Belgians are accomplished, highly-ranked players. Forthomme has won two World Cup tournaments and four Belgian Cups, while Merckx is a two-time UMB World Champion. No stranger to long runs, Merckx earlier this year made a run of 26 when he scored 50 in 6 innings (a world record). The dress code is relaxed: the players have vests but aren’t wearing bow ties. There’s a game going on the adjacent table, the corner of which is visible in the upper left of the screen. It appears to be just another ordinary day in Division 1 of the Dutch League.

Forthomme wins the lag and scores off the break, then follows with another point. The players trade billiards, and the score is 19-17 in Forthomme’s favor. Merckx makes a nice five cushion shot, then misses a plus two to make it 19-18 after 11 innings. At 43:51 into the tape, Forthomme rises from his chair to survey the leave. He bends his large frame over the table to stroke a cross table shot. In describing a long run in three cushion, rarely is the first point mentioned, even if it is a difficult shot. Of course, without the first point, there is no run at all. What is the joke?  My long run ended when I missed the first shot! And whether the first shot has any more significance than any other point is debatable. Each builds upon the prior. Without one, there could be no two. Forthomme makes the cross table, but ball no. 1 lands too close to ball no. 2, and he is not left with many options. After deliberate consideration, he plays a masterful drop in with reverse off the third rail (L L S). The crowd roars, but the balls are not kind. Forthomme solves the difficult position with another delicate L L S. “Bravo!” someone shouts.  And this time Forthomme is rewarded with position and an easy four cushion shot.

As Forthomme scores, the referee, decked out in a tuxedo, counts out each point in Dutch with a firm tone. VIER…Vijf…Zes. The crowd quiets down as the big Belgian extends his time at the table. The game on the adjacent table continues unaware of the history that is being made. For his seventh shot, Forthomme makes a L S L by catching the edge of ball no. 3. Zeven, the referee intones. Forthomme eyes a short angle—yellow, three cushions and then red. He hits it a little flat but the cue ball has a lot of spin and opens after the third rail. The cue skirts by the red, and the crowd begins a groan thinking it did not score, but the groan turns instantly into a cheer when the red rocks slightly but does not move from its place. Acht, the referee says. The ninth point is hard, involving a six cushion shot that Forthomme must stretch across the table to execute. He hesitates, takes off his glasses for a second, then addresses the cue ball again and makes the point.

Forthomme waves his hand in apology to Merckx after making his tenth point when ball no. 2 comes too close to ball no. 3. TIEN, the referee says. Forthomme is 7 minutes into the run and has broken into double digits, but the crowd seems largely indifferent. Forthomme makes two L S Ls, then a double the rail with a backup.  The referee continues the count. ELF…TWAALF…DERTIEN. A five cushion shot off a fine hit on ball no. 2 is followed by another five cushion shot, with resulting position, and then a third five-cushion shot. Veertien…Vijftien…Zestien. The referee’s voice is still strong, and the crowd is now concentrating. A L S L short angle with spin is bettered by a four-cushion shot. The referee’s count of ACHTTIEN is drowned out by the crowd’s applause.

When Forthomme scores his twentieth point, the referee’s count is smothered by the cheers. The next point, a L S L with a lot of spin, is met with shouts of “Bravo” and loud applause. The 23rd point is the hardest leave. Forthomme’s cue nestles in the corner, with the yellow astride the long rail on the same side of the table and the red nine feet away in the opposite corner. Forthomme sets upon a solution—a six cushion shot with a fine hit off the yellow to keep in from kissing the cue. And he hits it perfectly. The crowd follows the path: S L S L S L. The crowd erupts and the referee’s DRIEENTWINTIG is barely decipherable. The crowd is silent as Forthomme plots a solution for his next point. Play on the adjacent table appears to have stopped, perhaps because of the mid-game break, perhaps because the players have stepped back to watch the Belgian Giant. Music—American Rock—can be heard faintly in the background as Forthomme makes a short angle for 24, then a six cushion for his 25. Cheers, applause and even foot stomping follow each score.

The room becomes noticeably tense. The referee is obviously nervous. With each call, the volume of his

voice decreases: VIERENTWINTIG….….VijfentwintigAnd nerves have gotten to Forthomme. He gets down on a shot. Gets up. Hesitates. Asks for a Time Out. Gets down again and makes the point. Zesentwintig, the referee whispers. Zevenentwintig follows with rousing applause and foot stomping. And position. Forthomme scores again, L S L. achtentwintig, the referee says, swallowing the count. The crowd shuffles nervously, and the video picks up every sound in the room. The balls are corralled in the short end of the table at the top of the screen. The video distorts the position of the balls, but it’s obviously a very tough short angle, with a slight bit of reverse. The room quiets as Forthomme eyes the position. The video clock reads 1:06:00. He’s been at the table for 22 minutes. At 1:06:04 he strokes the cue ball but hits it fat off ball no. 2. He knows he has hit it badly and rises. The cue goes the desired three rails but misses, by a ball’s width, perhaps more. The crowd groans. AY AY YI someone shouts in disbelief. Forthomme shakes his cue. It is unclear whether he is frustrated at missing the twenty-ninth point or is elated at his accomplishment.

With the score now 47 to 18, the mid-game break is taken. The rest is coda. Merckx misses. Forthomme scores another three to reach 50, scratching the last point. The crowd cheers. Forthomme shrugs his shoulders and waves apologetically to Merckx over the last shot. The balls are set for the break, and Merckx breaks and starts a run. The referee has regained his voice, and he counts in a clear loud voice. EEN…TWEE…DRIE…VIER…VIJF…ZES. Merckx misses. The final is 50 to 24 in 13 innings. The players shake hands. The referee picks up the balls. As Forthomme is putting away his cue, another player comes up to him and kisses him on the cheek. The video fades out. Just another great day in the Dutch League, brought to you by the internet. GEWELDIG!

For the video, go to YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wcbN1M3L8E. Thank you, Bert. Thank you, Didier. Thank you, YouTube.

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