The 2009 World Professional Billiards Championship commenced Wednesday morning at the Northern Snooker Centre here in Leeds.

The event, which features seven Indians is being played initially in a two-hour league format with 4 groups. Two players from each group will go through to the quarterfinals. An explosive start from defending champion Mike Russell saw him score an emphatic 945-211 victory over India’s Rupesh Shah. In other league matches, Dhruv Sitwala carved a praiseworthy 629-383 win over me whilst Sourav Kothari was edged out 413-394 by England’s Martin Goodwill.

Russell, nine times winner of the world professional billiards title has dominated the sport specially in the last 10 years like no other cueist. He now lives in Qatar where he is the national coach for the cuesports team. But neither the good life in Qatar nor the apparent lack of quality opponents there has blunted his desire to win or his huge breakbuilding capacity.

Hampered by flu

Rupesh Shah has been suffering from flu for the last two days and failed to offer much resistance. Had the 2007 IBSF World billiards champion (point format) not been ill, he may have put up some fight but he would not have been able to upset Russell’s fluency and rhythm with which he constructed breaks of 139, 116 and 386.

Oddly Russell scored his first century only in the 14th visit but still managed to average 35 thanks to that very well crafted 386 which he effected on his 19th visit. With the 386, he had amassed 700 points in six visits, more than making up for his poor start.

In another group match Dhruv Sitwala, who has matured into an accomplished cueist with sterling performances in the last two years, kept his composure to uncork a match-winning 183 against me in our two-hour opening league contest. With Pankaj Advani, the current IBSF World billiards champion also in the same group, Sitwala will rest easy tonight with this vital victory.

Sitwals’s 186 was the only century break in a match which never rose to any heights with both cueists tense throughout the contest. I had edged out Sitwala just last week in Bangalore to qualify for the Indoor Asian Games and so further credit must be given to him for having so quickly forgotten the recent reversal. He remains according to me the most improved player in the Indian circuit and someone who will convert his 2007 IBSF World billiards runners-up slot into a winner’s position in the not-so-distant future.

For 25 years old Sourav Kothari the terrible slice of luck continues. Having showed so much promise early in his career, he has just failed to convert his potential into rock solid victories. And against Martin Goodwill, a very seasoned cueist who has just joined the pro-Tour, he enjoyed a 392-363 advantage with five minutes to go but had to suffer excruciating frustration as Goodwill occupied the table to compile a 50 break in those last five minutes.

Peter Gilchrist, who now lives in and represents Singapore cruised to a 555-174 win over England’s Bem French.

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