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2004 Copa Elitte, Mexico City Convention Center, Mexico City, Mexico

To best describe this tournament, the story requires some background information. Roberto Rojas is the greatest artistic billiard player in the world. That is usually a difficult claim to make, but consider that he has won the World Championship, has played in front of very large crowds all over the world (including Colombia where he commonly plays in front of 10,000 people), and is the inventor of dozens of shots that other artistic players now conveniently use in their exhibitions without giving him proper credit, it is by no means a stretch. After winning the World Championship, Rojas began making television appearances in Mexico on a weekly basis performing artistic billiard shots to millions of people. Concurrently he was building a company with his partner that makes high quality carom and pool tables. The name of his company is Billiard Project, and his tables are called Elitte Professional. While this all seems to have come about in a short amount of time, there is really a history of Roberto devoting decades to the game of billiards in Mexico.

It was in 1995 when I first became friends with Rojas. I had been assigned the task of finding an exhibition player of international caliber to play against me at a private club in Louisville, Ky. I first invited Sang Lee, but he wasn't interested to go to Louisville. At the time, I had heard of Rojas and the magic he performed on the table. I had even seen at one point a bootlegged copy of a tape someone made of him performing shots on someone's home table in Mexico. The tape was bad quality and I could barely see the shots. What I did see however impressed me very much, so I decided to contact him. When I finally reached him on the telephone, we had a difficult time communicating to each other because he spoke a little English and I only a little Spanish. It did not take long though to get him to understand that I was inviting him to perform his artistic billiard exhibition. In fact, I organized a multi-city mini tour that went to such places as Louisville, Milwaukee, Chicago (a few places), and Decatur IL. During this week, Roberto taught me much of the artistic program, and also made me explain the shots to the crowd because he couldn't. We quickly became friends and did and continue to do exhibitions like these throughout the years.

In 1997 Roberto invited me to Mexico City to play in an event that he was hosting at his billiard room. He had a great room in downtown Mexico City, or Centro Historico. That was not my first time in Mexico City, although it was the first time I had been there on billiard related business. I couldn't believe that in Mexico, billiards was popular like pool was here in the U.S. It is not uncommon to walk into a billiard room there and see 20 carom tables in nice condition, and one old beat up pool table with bad lighting and old cloth (like our carom tables here). I asked Roberto why that was in Mexico, and he stated that "The people know the game here well..." I was happy that there was a place where billiards was known well. It is largely a myth that billiards is so popular in Europe. The fact is that while it is more organized there, billiard players are not recognized on the street and are virtually never on television. In his room, each day drew about 500 spectators and the tournament was five days long. Being an American billiard player, this number of spectators was unbelievable to me. Rojas said that they had to be careful where to promote the tournament because if they had the room, they could draw 2000 people daily, and charge good money for tickets. I didn't really believe that at the time, but yet I didn't know Mexico.

After getting out of the billiard room business, Rojas started to make tables. Being a champion, he knew how tables were supposed to play and he strived to make the best table he could using the best materials available. It took him several years to come to where he is now as a table maker, and this is where the tournament comes in to the picture. A year ago Roberto told me that he wanted me to come to Mexico to play in a tournament. I said that I would surely go, and it would be an honor to accept an invitation from the World Champion. He told me that he was designing a new table that would play very exceptionally and look slick! He wanted to organize a tournament of some of the best players in Mexico and America that would showcase billiards and his new tables. I asked where he was going to host the event and he told me it would be in a convention center. I asked how many spectators he expected and he told me about 1000 per day. I was shocked that he thought so many would show up and pay for a ticket, but again coming from my perspective it was hard to imagine such a feat.

Roberto knew all of the American players but asked my help to choose three more players besides myself to represent the U.S. The final team was Pedro Piedrabuena (our National Champion), Mazin Shooni (nearly the champ several times now...I feel one coming for him soon), myself, and Ira Lee from New York. When we arrived in Mexico City, we went directly to the Dave and Buster's in the Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City for a press conference. In attendence were several members of the press in addition to many of the sponsors and organizers. One of our planes was late, so we arrived towards the end of the conference. Already we had an idea of what to expect and we were all excited. When our team walked into the arena area later that day for a practice session on the tables, we were all speechless and in awe of the scale of the venue. It was like nothing we had ever seen before, and each of us has played for several years and have played internationally several times. Even in Europe the venues weren't this large. I asked how many people the stands held and they told me 2000 people. I couldn't imagine the place filled up with people and feared that it would be empty. The venue was the convention center not far from Centro Historico, on the main street Paseo de la Reforma very close to a wonderfully huge race track. There were giant posters like this one annoucing the tournament hanging outside the convention center. Below the poster is a copy of the ticket stub issued. Each ticket was roughly $20 US, and women and children were free.

The tournament ran like a Swiss Watch. On each table there was a referee, and a score keeper. At the beginning of each round the players were given a new embroidered towel for their hands, bottled water, and there was also a small bowl of water in case a hand washing was needed during the games. Players were given three minutes each to warm up on the tables. All players lagged at the same time which looked really great. We all broke at roughly the same time as well. Games were to 30 points, but the match was on a time clock so there wasn't much stalling. There was a staff of about 30 people doing various things for the tournament. That staff included hostesses who would help people to their seats, security guards, etc. What us Americans thought was really cool is that everyone knew what they were supposed to be doing and nobody had to be told anything.

The Billiard Project Elitte Professional tournament tables were all any player could ever ask for. Steel frame construction, Kleber cushions, Granito cloth, Italian slates, and heated. This was this table model's first appearance anywhere. So at the beginning of the tournament the tables were covered. During the opening ceremony, the large black fabric covers were pulled from the tables in time with a classical music score. The crowd of nearly 2000 people liked the tables very much and showed their support with an extended applause. The tables played perfectly throughout the event and all practice sessions. One thing that resonated between us players throughout the event was the fact that the tables had no "surprises" in them and that once the shot was taken, the outcome was almost always predictable. In billiards or any table game table consistency is key. The guys at Billiard Project have done a fabulous job creating a table that plays as well as anything from Europe! They were a true pleasure to play on.

As far as our performance, I must admit that the Mexican team beat us up pretty good with the exception of Mazin Shooni, who took second in the event. Many of the games were close, and a few points here and there would have made the final standings look much different for many of us. All of the sponsors' representatives, staff, promoters, and the tournament director all made us feel very much at home. They delivered to the American team something which we have never before seen. I honestly believe that the spectacle of it all overwhelmed us on the American team in a positive way. The spectators were respectful and enthusiastic, and never before have I seen such well behaved spectators at a billiard event.

On behalf of the American team, and 3cushion.com, I thank Roberto Rojas, Pedro Vargas, Dino Faez, all the sponsors, staff, and spectators for inviting us to participate in what was easily the most spectacular event in which any of us has ever played. We look forward to representing our country again some time soon in Mexico!

Final Standings:

First : Luis Miguel Avila (Mexico)
Second: Mazin Shooni (USA)
Third: Roberto Rojas (Mexico)
Fourth: Guillermo Sosa (Mexico)
Fifht: Miguel Almaraz (Mexico)
Sixth: Pedro Piedrabuena (USA)
Seventh: Deno Andrews (USA)
Eighth: Ira Lee (USA)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

The tournament was an eight player round robin with four players from the U.S. and four from Mexico. Results from the tournament are listed below the event's pictures.

2004 Copa Elitte Championship, Mexico City, Mexico

From L to R: Ira Lee, Guillermo Sosa, Roberto Rojas, Deno Andrews, Pedro Vargas (tournament director), Luis Avila, Pedro Piedrabuena, Miguel Almaraz, Mazin Shooni.

Great table made in Mexico by Roberto Rojas

Great table made in Mexico by Roberto Rojas

Spectator Queue

Players entering arena

Spectators

More spectators

Even more spectators

And more spectators

The last of the spectators

Spectator queue area, sponsored by Mercedes

Playing arena

Playing arena

Television camera person

Deno J. Andrews (Chicago, IL, USA)

Dino Faez and Pedro Vargas, Tournament Promoters

Ira Lee (Queens, NY, USA)

Pedro Piedrabuena (Queens, NY, USA) and Ira Lee

Roberto Rojas (Mexico City, Mexico) & Ira Lee

Sosa (Mexico)

Roberto Rojas

Rojas with young player

Roberto Rojas

Between rounds

Autograph session between rounds

Promoting tables between rounds

The free Corona booth!

Avila between matches

C. Jose Lozano Plascencia, Presidente Fedacion Mexicaca de Billar

The free Don Pedro brandy booth!

Dino Faez & Pedro Vargas

Rojas after a tough match

Awaiting a match

The billiard playing robot

Deno Andrews & Mazin Shooni (Boston, MA, USA)

Avila accepting trophy cup

Luis Avila holding cup

Rojas & Don Pedro hostesses

Roberto Rojas & Nikita, Playboy's Playmate of the Year, Mexico

Rojas firing a masse

The free Playboy booth!

Roberto Rojas & Deno Andrews

Deno Andrews & Roberto Rojas during exhibition- shoot cue balls at each other, they kiss back three rails each and score the reds

Rojas about to jump the cue ball over Nikita

 
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