MANILA - The rising cost of joining tournaments, the sport's evolving playing style, and his age are making it easier for Efren "Bata" Reyes to walk away from billiards.
Reyes flew in recently from the US, where he was due to play in several competitions until August, but he cut his trip short saying he wanted to take a break.
"Kapag wala na talaga, magre-retire na ako. Ngayon nga gusto ko na mag-retire," Reyes told ABS-CBN News on Thursday after getting in a few rounds of English billiards at the Manila headquarters of the Billiards and Snookers Congress of the Philippines, the national governing body for cue sports.
"Wala na akong tatalunin ngayon. Sa tournament wala na akong tatalunin, 'saka magastos lumakad."
Reyes said US tournaments at one time didn't charge entrance fees, but now it's not unusual to require players to shell out $2,000 to be able to join events. Add $3,000 for airfare, accommodations and other basics, and that's a $5,000 tab.
"Ang premyo ng 3rd place $5,000, ibig sabihin break-even ka. Paano kung hindi ka 3rd place? Lugi ka," Reyes said, adding that there was a time when lucrative events offered a $100,000 prize for the champion. Now, it's down to just about $30,000.
If organizers invite him and agree to shoulder essential expenses, he won't hesitate to sign up and play; otherwise, he and long-time benefactor Puyat Sports pick and choose which competitions to go.
At 62 years old, streamlining his schedule is a smart strategy for Reyes. When he was in his mid-50s, he was still a force to reckon with. In 2009, at age 54, he and Django Bustamante won the World Cup of Pool. In 2010, his year-end earnings totaled $93,709, according to AZBilliards.com, his highest in the last 10 years.
But Reyes, who had his eyes operated on in 2005, acknowledged that Father Time has caught up with him. His eyesight isn't dependable anymore to the point that long-range shots are more difficult to convert now. His wrist isn't as steady as before, too.
Fatigue, Reyes said, was the reason he's suddenly back home from the US. "Umalis ako May 16, pero umuwi kaagad ako. Pagod na. Nahirapan na ako," he said.
Reyes said the game is different now. He currently plays one-pocket, not his signature 9-ball event, because the former is where the money is now.
He said the landscape in his sport is changing.
Jump cues, he said, are becoming more popular, a technique that Reyes said undermines safety play and defense, and takes away the thinking aspect of the game.
"Nagsimula nang mauso ang 10-ball. Pumasok na iyong mga break, mga jump cue," said Reyes, who rose to fame because of his ability to hide object balls and challenge defenses at the same time by playing unorthodox angles.
"Ang daming magagaling na shooter ngayon. Minsan hindi na kailangan mag-isip, kasi magaling ang break nila."
Since he returned from the US, Reyes said he has played in a small tournament in Metro Manila, "mga laban-laban," to which he was invited. He used to kick everyone's behinds in such contests, but not anymore.
"Medyo may takot pa sila, akala nila magaling pa ako," Reyes said. "May partida na nga ako sa kanila. Marami nang magaling ngayon. Ako na pinapatok ng mga kalaban."
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