Gone were the days when Filipino cue artist Efren “Bata” Reyes weaved magic in the billiards table with his impeccable shotmaking skill that has either made us gushing over his mastery of the game or left us in good spirit when victories also meant an image of his contagious smile.
Reyes was a trailblazer, a national icon on his heyday, and an inspiration for the dreamers.
But as the chapter closes on his storied career, the Philippines does not lack the talent, the charm, nor the makings of an eventual torchbearer of the sport that has high respect for Filipino players.
A few days ago, Carlo Biado made it to the headlines after ruling the prestigious US Open Pool Championship. He beat Singaporean Aloysius Yapp in the finals, 13-8, to earn $50,000 (₱2.5 million) and take home the coveted trophy and green jacket.
The son of La Union averted disaster after inching his way from a 3-8 deficit, winning the next 10 racks to become the second Filipino winner of the tournament since Reyes topped the event in 1994. Alex Pagulayan was the 2005 winner, but he represented Canada during that time.
The 37-year-old Biado isn’t new to the spotlight as he also won the WPA World 9-ball Championship in Doha and the World Games in Poland both 2017. He is also a two-time Southeast Asian Games champion — doubles in 2015 Singapore and singles two years after in Kuala Lumpur.
From golf to billiards
The journey to the top isn’t a strange one just like the tales of other local sports heroes who have made the country proud in recent memory. It was hard but Biado persevered.
He made little fortune when he was a caddie at the Villamor Air Base golf course. Then a 14-year-old kid, Biado tried billiards after seeing his father play the game that he would soon master. As a young player, he saw Reyes as his ultimate childhood idol and worked his way to become a version of the pool great.
He joined several local tournaments and eventually caught the eyes of national coaches. His first taste of victory came in 2013 Naypyidaw Games where he took silver in singles.
Pandemic and the billiard scene
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the billiard scene hard in the country, Biado and his wife Niecky decided to fly to the US and try if luck would turn to their favor.
The move was a gamble, he admitted, but Biado’s wife put her entire trust on his shoulders.
It proved worthy after all, with Niecky on the sidelines of the billiards hall and her other half basking in glory with the US Open trophy.
The next ‘Bata’ Reyes?
For sure, there will only be one “Magician,” and no other Filipino player could duplicate the impact he had gifted us with his God-sent talent.
But as his magical touch of the cue stick slowly fades and the legacy only remembered through old tapes, what Reyes would want to see is a next pool legend from the roots, a Filipino with deep love for the game and dedication to represent the national colors in every way possible.
(Ramon Rafael C. Bonilla is the head of Sports section of Manila Bulletin.)