O’Fallon, Missouri, isn’t a well-known destination for pool players, but on April 7-8, 2015, it was the focus of attention in the St. Louis area thanks to a challenge match played by former Mosconi Cup players Justin Bergman (2014) and Oscar Dominguez (2009) at ABC Billiards.
The match format was a total of four sets over two days: two 10-ball sets (race to 21) and two 8-ball sets (race to 13). The Players Club, a new billiard company based in St. Louis, provided the live stream for pool fans who weren’t local to the area.
Day 1: Justin jumped out to an early 2-0 lead and looked to be in decent form. Oscar replied with superior safety play against Justin in sequential racks to tie up the score; he then broke and ran to take the lead 3-2.
As the evening progressed, it became clear the players hadn’t quite figured out the break on this table and each of them tried different things with little success. Both players were struggling through each rack and the set turned into a grinding, cerebral game. While this highlighted both players’ great safeties, kicks and jump shots it was only necessary due an unusually high number of unforced errors.
The match entered its fifth hour with Oscar needing two games and Justin needing a lot more. Justin tried to mount a comeback and got a couple of games, but his break continued to work against him--he broke dry after making it to 15, allowing Oscar get to the hill. A couple of safeties later, Oscar ran out to win the 10-ball set.
After a short break, the 8-ball set began with Justin winning the first game, but failing to get out in the second rack. Oscar quickly took advantage and cleaned up the second rack, then broke and ran two racks to lead 3-1. However, he missed a shot mid-rack and Justin cleaned that rack up, then took the next to tie it at three. From there Justin put on a mini 8-ball clinic and ran the next 3 racks to double-up Oscar at 6-3. The next rack gave Oscar his first look at a ball in some time, but he tried to force a shot for position and jarred the ball, letting Justin back to the table. Justin pushed the score to 7-3 in his favor.
At this point in the set both players were breaking very well, but it seemed that Justin’s break gave him more chances. Oscar would get a game here and there, but Justin’s cue ball control was just too good for Oscar to go any further. Justin broke and ran two racks to get to the hill while Oscar was still at 7, when a cluster-filled table demanded some creative play. Oscar won a safety battle and had one last chance to look at the finish line, but he was only able to get one rack before Justin decisively won the 8-ball set 13-7 in just under 3 hours.
Day 2: After splitting sets the first day, both players were in good spirits and both Justin and Oscar delighted the early crowd with their friendly manner and entertaining tales from the road.
Oscar won the flip and began the match with a break and run. He missed the 6 ball in the next rack, letting Justin out. Justin took the next rack, then broke and ran to extend the lead to 3-1. A dry break brought Oscar back; he took that rack and the next to tie it at 3. They continued to trade racks, usually in sets of two, with both players’ break-and-run counts climbing.
Justin pulled ahead with the help of a couple two-packs to go four games ahead of Oscar at 12-8. However a missed safe opens the door for Oscar who played tight and clawed his way to tie it at 12. But the end of that comeback came as a dry break again from Oscar let Justin back in, who cleaned up and got the next two racks to regain the lead by three. At 15-12, a safety by Oscar on the 3 forced Justin to kick, which left an open look for Oscar who shot a great cross-side bank on the 5 through a narrow window to take the rack. The next rack was full of safety play, including the 2 and 5 ball. It looked like Oscar was going to run out, but then landed frozen on the 9 and is forced to play an outstanding safe by freezing the cueball to 10-ball, blocking the 9. He’s rewarded for that shot and is then within one game of Justin. Oscar played another sequence of great safeties in the next rack and was again rewarded.
The players traded racks and were tied at 16 when Oscar put together his biggest 10-ball package of the event by breaking and running three racks to take his first lead since the early stages of the match. Oscar got to the hill first after a series of safety battles and missed balls. The next two racks were filled with more accidental safeties and missed shots, but Justin fought hard and took them both to pull within two of Oscar at 18-20.
As the match entered the sixth hour, Justin again made a ball on the break and has a shot at the 1, which he fired to come around the table for the 2 ball. He looked to be in good shape, but overran position on the 6, forcing a bank, which just missed. Oscar sliced the 6 down the rail, and ran into the 8/9 to break them up. Oscar’s reward was a great shot on the 8, with the 9 nearby and natural position on the 10. Justin conceded the game and Oscar won the 10-ball set.
They wasted no time in starting the 8-ball set and were quickly tied at two games. The match continued with the players trading racks in sets of two. At 8-6 in Justin’s favor, he missed his object ball by focusing on the breakout of two other balls, but Oscar then missed his key ball. Justin returned the favor by also missing his key ball, Oscar pulled to within one.
A dry break from Oscar let Justin get another game and then he followed that with another break and run to make it 10-7, but broke dry in the next, which Oscar cleaned up. The next rack, after some excellent shots, Justin missed the 8-ball, which allowed Oscar to get another game. At 10-9, Oscar broke dry again and Justin ran out, then again broke and ran out to get to the hill. Justin broke the rack wide open and ran out skillfully, including a thin back-cut on the 8 ball, which trickled in to win the 8-ball set.
This challenge match was professional, exciting, on-the-edge-of-your-seat pool for every minute of the very long two days Justin and Oscar faced each other at the table. Although (or because) it ended in a draw, both players have expressed a desire to arrange another game in the future. We will be anxiously waiting.
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