The Asia Expat Pool Challenge appeared from almost out of the blue, and quickly grew beyond what anyone expected.
2011 Brian Piggott, an Australian national who lives in Jakarta and plays in one of the pool leagues there, comes to Bangkok fairly often on business. While navigating his way through Bangkok’s nightlife, he noticed that we had a pretty vibrant pool scene here and felt that the level of play he saw was fairly consistent with what he saw in Jakarta. He made some inquiries, and learned that there was a Bangkok Pool League. Someone gave him my number. When he returned to Jakarta, he gave me a call. After introducing himself, he dropped something of a gauntlet. He challenged me to come up with a small contingent of players from the Bangkok Pool League (5-8) that would be interested in traveling to Jakarta to take them on in a challenge match. I liked the idea, but also had my reservations.
Finding 5-8 people who could afford a trip to Jakarta to take them on was not going to be too hard. Finding 5-8 people who could go that had the skill level to have a chance of coming away with a win was a different story. I knew that whoever went would most likely find themselves up against the best players in their league, and I did not want Bangkok or The Bangkok Pool League embarrassed in a lopsided loss. The only way I would accept would be if I had the people to make it a competitively fair event. That meant finding some financial support and/or event sponsors. I told Brian that I would get back to him within a week or 2. I began making the rounds in an effort to drum up some support and see how people felt about it. I spoke to the other members of the league governing committee, some of the better players in the league, and a number of bar owners that had teams playing in the league. Almost everyone liked the idea, some quite enthusiastically, but most felt it was not likely to come about. I was close to giving up on the idea when, quite unexpectedly, I got very lucky.
I was at Queens Park Plaza, making the rounds at some of the bars there that play in the league, and stopped in to Moonshine Bar. Glen Bullard was there with a few of his mates playing pool. I knew Glen only by reputation, as we had never formally met. His reputation was that of a big spender, party animal and bell-ringer who made a lot of bar owners very happy on pool nights with some pretty hefty bar tabs. He played for The Jersey Pub team. I asked for a few minutes of his time to pitch the concept to him. It turns out he did indeed know who I was. After he finished playing pool, we sat down and talked. I explained what I was trying to do, and asked him if he could give me some help or advice in targeting sponsorship for the event. After listening rather quietly, he responded with “I absolutely love the idea! No need to look for sponsors. I’ll sponsor the Bangkok team myself.” Glen loved playing in the Bangkok Pool League, and felt it was great for the bars, the players, the staff, the sport and the city. The only strings attached to his offer was that the event remain non-profit, as is the league, and that all of the money coming in would be spent on the costs involved in putting it together and getting a team from Bangkok to Jakarta. He handed me some money on the spot (no receipt), and his parting words to me on the night were “Make it happen.” I left Moonshine knowing the game was now on.
Before getting back to Brian, I gave it a bit more thought. I had a few options. I now had the money to pay all of the costs for 8 people (with some overage), the lions share of the hotel and airfare costs for as many as 15-20 people, or provide at least partial subsidy for an even larger contingent. I ran it by Neil Pawsey & Henning Nilsen, who were on the Bangkok Pool League committee, and a few others that were immediately on board with the event. I opted to throw caution to the wind and go with the latter option. Before putting a post up on the website about throwing the participation out to anyone in the league that was interested in going, I figured it was time to call Brian.
I think I really caught Brian off guard when I got back to him. While I could only estimate the numbers that would be coming to Jakarta from Bangkok. I told him that I would likely be bringing somewhere between 50 – 75 people to take them on. I also added that playing 5-8 people would not be a fair way of handling the event, and that we should broaden the playing field to accommodate as many people as we could to more accurately represent the level of play in both leagues. Brian loved the idea of taking the event to a broader level, but then it was his turn to have to get back to me. Jakarta, it turns out, had 3 pool leagues. They were a bit adversarial, and had never seen the need to come together. A common enemy in the form of a Bangkok “Invasion” just might do the trick, though, and they would actually need to cooperate with each other in an effort to come up with the numbers to match ours. He was excited that his gauntlet had been accepted to a higher degree than he had anticipated, and felt he now could make a better case for finding sponsorship.
He got back to me soon afterwards, and everything was a go. Jakarta would merge their leagues for this event, and call themselves the “All Stars.” As the dimensions of the event had now increased considerably, he was able to find an event sponsor. Steel Blue stepped forward as event sponsor, and threw some prize money into the mix to help relieve some of the costs and insure that it would be a quality event. Brian and I worked out all of the parameters and rules over the phone with little disagreement and a bit of fair compromise for both of us. Rules, format, and player eligibility were agreed to, as well as a schedule of events, a playing date for October, and an agreement for Bangkok to host the event the following year. We opted to bring the playing field up to 20 people from each side. We both kept in mind the possibility that this might catch on, and lead to other cities participating in the future. We also agreed to keep it as an expat event, as to do otherwise would give the host city a huge advantage.
With everything now set, I made an announcement on the website and began spreading the word. I opened participation up to anyone playing in the league that felt that they wanted to either play or simply be a part of the event. The excitement kept growing, but it was impossible to know who would actually show up in Jakarta until the match was underway.
Choosing a game roster was futile until I knew who we would have in Jakarta. I was also not able to let people know how much of their expenses I could subsidize. I was still looking for as much sponsorship money I could get, there was now prize money involved which would depend on whether we won or not, and, and whatever the bottom line was would simply be divided evenly amongst those that opted to go.
As we were going to play 20 people, I selected 4 team Captains (Rob Smith, Henning Nilsen, Neil Pawsey and Joe Veriato) for each of our 4 5-man teams. The 5 of us would pick the team from the ranks of those that were in Jakarta.
As the time of the event approached, the forces of nature chose to play havoc with Bangkok’s participation. Bangkok was under a serious flood alert. Parts of the city were already flooded, and there was a lot of talk of it getting much worse. People along Sukhumvit were all building barriers. The result was that those that had property, businesses and families to protect opted to stay in Bangkok and prepare. Those without families or property were a bit more interested in getting away, though.
In the end, 58 people from Bangkok showed up in Jakarta for the event.
Continued on AEPC YEAR 1