MANILA,  August 5, 2004
SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - World pool champion Alex Pagulayanís best friend Greg Debora said the other day there are more Filipino cue artists heating up billiard halls in Canada.

Debora, who met Pagulayan in a Toronto pool hall five years ago, singled out Raymond Cruz as another Canada-based Filipino ready to wield a big stick in the global stage. He said Cruz wouldíve competed in the recent World Pool Championships in Taipei but couldnít leave his job for the nine-day joust.

According to Debora, Cruz used to do odd jobs in a Toronto pool joint and eventually became the hallís manager.

"Heís in his late 20s or early 30s," said Debora who accompanied Pagulayan in Taipei then flew to Manila with the world titlist. "Cruz is a competitive player and gives Alex a good game. He decided not to play in Taipei because he wouldíve spent his own money in the trip without knowing for sure how much heíd win, if at all."

Debora, a Canadian, said pool isnít as popular in North America as in the Philippines. Poker, which he plays to make a living, is more popular.

"Poker is to North America what pool is to the Philippines," said the 21-year-old Debora. "In the last World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, there were 2,700 players paying an entry fee of $10,000 each. The total pot money was $27 Million. Next year, organizers are thinking of raising the pot to $50 Million because they expect about 5,000 entries. Throughout the year, there are million dollar tournaments being held every week."

Debora said he makes more money in side games at casino tables than in poker tournaments.

"Iím not a tournament player yet," said Debora who finished in the top half of the last World Series. "Playing in a tournament requires a different style. Iím slowly working on crossing over to becoming a tournament player. I love poker. I wouldnít make it my living if I didnít love it. I play about 80 hours a week. Before the World Series, some players who canít afford the $10,000 fee play in satellite games. For example, 10 players paying $1,000 each get together and the winner takes the pot of $10,000 which he uses as his entry fee to the World Series. If you make it to the final table in the World Series, you could get offers to wear a T-shirt showing a product logo and earn $50,000 to $100,000 for an eight-hour game. Thatís how big poker is in North America."

Debora said actors Ben Affleck and Matt Damon and Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss were among the entries in the last World Series. In Las Vegas casinos, Debora has engaged actors Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio and Toby Maguire at side games.

If Pagulayan is a pool hustler, Debora is a card shark.

Debora said big-money poker players Johnny Chan and Daniel Negriano easily pocket earnings in the millions each year. His dream is to someday crash the ranks of pokerís elite million-dollar earning players.

Debora said heís been invited by English promoter Barry Hearn to compete in European poker tournaments where billiards stars like Steve Davis often play. He met Hearn during the World Pool Championships in Taipei. Hearn heads Matchroom Sports which has the rights to stage the annual tournament and is a leading boxing organizer in the United Kingdom.

As for Pagulayan, Debora said heís slowly getting the hang of poker. "Alex could be a great poker player because heís very smart," said Debora. "We play sometimes but only for fun. If he puts his mind to it, he could play top-class poker. But Alex loves billiardsĖthatís the only game for him. What makes Alex different from the rest is he never gives up. Heís got a big heart. In Taipei, he was down 8-2 and 10-4 in the finals but he never gave up. When he was down, he told me donít worry. Heís the kind of guy who fights to the end. He doesnít care about the odds. He believes in himself. Thatís why heís a great champion."

Debora said he hopes sooner than later, a billiards boom will shake up the world so talented players like Pagulayan get the chance to earn big money like basketball, football and baseball stars. At the moment, some players like Cruz hesitate to invest in a tournament because the probability of winning a relatively small purse doesnít warrant foregoing a weekís wages in a regular job.

Debora said heís fallen in love with the Philippines and the friendly Filipino people. He was here for about three weeks before accompanying Pagulayan in Taipei then came back. Debora said his vacation in Manila is a break from the grueling mental grind of poker.

Debora, whoís staying at the Century Park Hotel, leaves Manila on Sunday. Heíll be back in November for the Philippine 9-ball Open, not to play but to cheer for his best friend.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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