As pool icon Efren “Bata” Reyes wrapped up what could be his last tour of duty for flag and country in the recently-concluded 2019 Southeast Asian Games, the search for his successor has already commenced. While it remains uncertain as to when Reyes will call it a day, one Filipina cue artist believes that billiards prodigy Chezka Centeno deserves to be the rightful heir to his throne.
Rubilen Amit, the first Filipina pool athlete to ever win a world championship, is fully convinced that the 20-year-old from Zamboanga City has what it takes to be the next face of the well-entrenched Philippine billiards scene.
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“At a young age, she is such a talented pool player. She has achieved so much, but you will notice that she is still shy and very humble,” says the two-time 10-ball world champion of her young rival. “If someone will follow in the footsteps of our greatest pool players, it’s her.”
Centeno started playing billiards at the age of five before being discovered at eight years old when she competed in local tournaments in her hometown. Her reputation is beginning to grow internationally, and Amit is no stranger to her pool exploits.
Centeno first made headlines when she defeated Amit for the women’s 9-ball gold medal in the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore. Since that loss, a top-podium finish eluded Amit, dropping two more championship matches to the younger star. This included their face-off for the women’s 10-ball title in this year’s SEAG, which went 7-3 in favor of the upstart.
A day after, Amit finally caught a break against Centeno, scoring a 7-3 win over her compatriot in the women's 9-ball finals. Revenge was not in the mind of Amit as she used her match against Centeno as part of her preparations for the World Women 9-Ball Championship in Hainan, China.
“I never treated it as a regular game. It’s the SEA Games, but it had a Filipino-versus-Filipino in the finals. Since I am preparing for the world championship as well, I have to sharpen my killer instinct,” she states. “I am very happy with my performance."
Amit shot down speculations that she and Centeno agreed to split the outcomes of both contests. But Amit says they have respect for the game. "Once you retire, you have an incentive based on your achievements. So I don't want to take it away from her. If she could win three gold medals, then she wins three,” she explains.
She lauded Centeno’s aggressiveness, particularly her pocketing and breaking skills on the pool table. “Any time of the day, I won’t win against her pocketing. Her confidence was there. I am impressed, especially her break-and-run style,” she shares. The two did team up for the women’s 9-ball doubles, proving to be a lethal combination as they shut out the Indonesian tandem of Fathrah Masum and Nony Andilah in the finals, 7-0.
As Centeno is slowly climbing her way up the ladder to reach the upper echelon of the billiards world, it gives Amit plenty of hope for the local sport, which has lost some of its luster in the past decade.
“She’s only 20 years old. If I were 20 years old again, I don’t think I would win a game against her. Chezka is amazing," Amit says. "The sport needs her. She will win a world championship someday, and she won’t win just one world title. She's going to win a lot."