Earl "The Pearl" Strickland proved to be the only obstacle for Taiwan as 13 players breezed through the first four days of group play in the 2006 World Pool Championships in Manila.
Top-ranked players Wu Chia-ching (吳珈慶), Kuo Pou-cheng (郭柏成), Yang Ching-shun (楊清順) and Chao Fong-pang (趙豐邦) were nearly perfect in qualifying play.
In total, 13 Taiwanese players breezed through group play, positioning themselves perfectly in the 64-player single elimination tournament, which will culminate on Sunday.
In group play, Strickland proved to be a major foe for Taiwan, as this three-time World Pool Champion used questionable tactics to intimidate and disrupt the play of Chen Ying-chieh (陳英傑) in a tightly contested Day 2 match.
To many, Strickland crossed the line in a sport usually known for gentlemanly manners. His antics included repeatedly throwing his cue stick, swearing at the audience and issuing a verbal threat to Chen after he refused to shake Strickland's hand after losing the match.
Strickland's actions did not go unnoticed, and shortly thereafter a written complaint was lodged by the Chinese Taipei Billiards Federation over Strickland's boorish behavior.
The following day, Strickland was summoned to a meeting with tournament organizers where, facing the possibility of banishment from the tournament, he admitted in a press statement that his behavior had been "completely unacceptable."
The temporary reprieve meant Strickland was allowed to play in a do-or-die match against yet another Taiwanese competitor, Chien Ching-ju (
This time, Strickland was mostly somber, keeping his comments largely to himself, and allowing his pool play to do much of the talking as he raced out to a huge lead before his Taiwanese opponent mounted a modest challenge.
Billed by TV commentators as the "McEnroe of the pool world," it was virtually impossible for Strickland to go the whole match without incident or comment, and halfway through the match he complained to referee Nigel Rees that Chien was wiggling in his seat, creating a purposeful distraction.
Strickland has made similar complaints against other Taiwanese competitors, and was warned of infractions which included fiddling with is pool case by Rees in a Day 1 match against Frenchman Vincent Facquet.
In his final group play match, Strickland's irascible temper may been blunted by physical discomfort, as he grimaced at times, leading commentators to speculate he may be experiencing pain from a recurring problem with kidney stones.
To date, Strickland has easily defeated two Taiwanese players in his group, but he will certainly encounter more difficult competition from Taiwan in later rounds.
So far, the most surprising pool play has come from local Lee Kun-fang (李昆芳), who put an early end to last year's US Open champion and hometown hero Alex Pagulayan.
Pagulayan was just one of many Filipino players who struggled as others such as Efren Reyes and Francisco Bustamante appeared to have difficulty living up to the expectations of the local crowd.
Many have been surprised by Reyes poor play, exemplified by a number of missed shots on the 9-ball, and on one occasion, even after Indonesian Roy Apancho had conceded the match through a handshake.
For the rest of the week, the tournament moves to a single elimination format culminating in a championship match on Sunday evening.