Never has a man dominated his sport the way Raymond Ceulemans did between 1962 and 1987.Once veteran billiard watcher who has seen the old time greats perform says that the stocky Belgian is not the greatest three cushion player in history,he is the greatest in every phase of the game,the best shotmaker,the best banker,the best defensive player,the best position player,he has the widest knowledge,the deepest concentration,the strongest will to win.
Pool champion Lou Butera,who saw him play for the first time at the world tournament in Las Vegas in May 1978,said he has never seen such phenomenal precision in his life.”The man is a legend”,he said,shaking his head,”and he deserves to be.”
The tournament win in Las Vegas gave him his 100th major title in the various forms of billiards.The man is also one of history’s gratest player in balkline,one cushion and straight billiards.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Raymond Ceulemans is that 25 years of world wide acclaim,have not ruined his personality.Here is a man who is practically a national hero in Belgium,yet is not a braggart,not a poser.He does not ask for special treatment and he will play anyone for the fun of it.
I first met him in 1966 when i helped manage the invitational world tournament in San Francisco in which he made his United States debut.Halfway through the tournament when he was in first place,the job fell to me to ask him if he had any objection to our replacing the three Italian tables.I thought i might have a fight on my hands,but he disarmed me by saying
that whatever the committe wanted to do was perfectly all right with him.
Once during a European vacation i spent a night in the Belgian town of Grobbendonk,where Ceulemans owned a four-table billiard room-cafe.He had sensed,correctly that i lacked the audacity to ask him to play.As luck would have it,i got a run of eight at the start and took an early lead.Ceulemans laughed and said”I know this guy!He can play!”Well,yes,i can play,but not at his cosmic level.I hardly play well enough to qualify for Belgian citizenship!!!!The point of the story is not that Ceulemans won another international billiard match,but during the brief time i was ahead was genuinely excited for me.
After the 1978 Las Vegas tournament,Ceulemans came to San Francisco for a vacation with his wife,Angela and his two boys,Koen 17 and Kurt 15.Bob Bills,owner of Palace Billiards,got the idea of inviting the boys to play in the weekly rapid-fire handicap tournament.It was close to midnight when the tournament ended,but since there were three balls resting on a nearby table he couldn’t resist borrowing a cue and running 100 points in straight rail.Someone asked his opinion of another cue,he took it and used it to run another 100 points in straight rail.His wife laughed with a wave of her hand.”It’s the same way in Belgium.He just loves to play.”
If you saw Ceulemans walking down the street you would never guess that he was the greatest billiard artist the world has ever seen.He looks like more a football player or a nightclub bouncer,a man in the same general mold as Rocky Marciano.We can be thankful for those friends who persuaded him to give up soccer as a youth and concetrate on billiards.The precocious student won his first Belgian tournament when he was 18.I asked him if it was in three cushion.”Of course not.First i had to learn how to play billiards”.By that he meant that mastery of straight billiards and balkline are essential for anyone who wants to be top in three cushion.He makes the point repeatedly.America will never be a threat in international competition,he feels,until its best players add the “small” games to their repertoires.It is the only way to learn subtle nuances in speed and English(spin),to refine your judgment on carom angles and to accustom yourself to positioning the first object ball.
He won his first world crown in 1963,averanging 1,302.With only one exception in the next 20 years,he was the official world champion,getting stronger and stronger as the years went by.The lone exception was in 1974 and occured strangely in front of his hometown fans in Antwerp.Nobuaky Kobayashi playig by far the best billiard of his career,nipped the champion by a  single point.The victory by Kobayashi was a bit unsettling to the Belgians.Was the long reign of Ceulemans over at last?We know the answers.Ceulemans reasserted himself and won the world title the next five years in a row.
I once took Ceulemans to a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco.In his fortune cookie was a slip of paper reading:”You are confident of your abilities.”He signed it and i put it in a scrapbook.
Raymond Ceulemans-Nobuaki Kobayashi:40-29,Korea 1995?
Αφιέρωμα στον Raymond Ceulemans από το βιβλίο “Advanced technique in pool and Billiards” του Robert Byrne.Ceulemans Profile