Connor Reinman took the top spot in the first event when crokinole returned from covid-19 to win the NCA Players Championship in June of 2022, in what was the beginning of a dream season for Reinman that included the NCA Tour Championship and a discussion that he may have supplanted Justin Slater as the best in the current edition of the game. All that remained was an elusive World Championship title, and Reinman earned that final jewel after a thrilling pair of playoff victories.
Planning for the 2023 World Crokinole Championship began as early as 2019, with the organizational committee meeting, as is tradition, 9 months prior to the next event. Registrations poured in for the 2020 tournament that looked set to be a third-straight year of the World Championships pushing the limits on the number of accepted entrants. When the pandemic led to the cancellation of the events from 2020-2022, many participants happily deferred their registrations, and when the 2023 tournament was officially announced yet more registrations piled in, ultimately leading to the tournament setting up a record 127 crokinole boards for the day. Among the registrants included four dedicated crokinole players/promoters:
- Ian Witt from the Crokinole UK group, which is on the verge of creating its own tour
- Antonio Cuaresma from Spain, who has managed to promote crokinole on Spanish television and be part of several tournaments happening in Spain
- Magnus Rundström, who has created the first crokinole club in Sweden
- Árpád Lonsták, a top contender in the Hungarian Crokinole Federation who has started playing crokinole in the last few years
The Competitive Doubles category had 54 teams in competition, the highest number since the Recreational Doubles division was added to the tournament, and it led to the cutoff to make the top 6 for the playoffs being extremely difficult. The preliminary round has consisted of 8 games since 2015 and the cutoff has ranged between 46 and 49 points each year, but this year 50 points was only enough ensure a 20s tiebreak for the final playoff spot.
The first time pairing of Connor Reinman and Jeremy Tracey didn’t have to worry about tiebreakers, as they finished first in the preliminary round with 56 points, and a tournament-preliminary-round-record of 123 20s. It was Reinman’s third doubles playoff appearance, and Tracey’s second. The 3-time World Champions of Justin and Fred Slater scored 52 points for the third seed, and 109 20s to be the only other team to score a century in the tournament. The Slaters entered the playoffs as the most accomplished team, with 8 prior playoff appearances.
The father-son team of Andrew Hartung, and 2005 World Champion Bruce Hartung, scored 55 points for the second seed, making the playoffs for the first time. The grandfather-grandson team of Josh Bechtel and Ray Kappes finished fourth in the preliminary round with 51 points. It was Ray Kappes’ ninth playoff, and Bechtel’s first, as all eight previous playoffs from Kappes came alongside Kevin Bechtel, with two third place finishes being their best showings.
The final playoff spots went to a pair of teams scoring 50 points and advancing via a 20s-tiebreak. Reid and Nolan Tracey made the playoffs for the second-time in a row, previously finishing in second in 2019, scoring 82 20s. 2017 champions, Clare Kuepfer and Nathan Walsh, nabbed the final playoff spot with 76 20s, making the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven events; a feat only matched by the Beierlings.
Missing out on their first chance to make the top 6 playoffs were Dale Henry and Eric Miltenburg, who scored 50 points, but only managed 58 20s. They would ultimately finish 10th in the tournament, equaling their best ever World Championship finish. The defending champions, Jason and Ray Beierling missed by one point and a few 20s after scoring 49 points and 74 20s. This snapped a tournament record 7-year playoff streak and ended the Beierlings’ hopes of winning 3-straight World titles.
Also narrowly missing the playoffs were Jeff McKeen and Ron Reesor, who scored 48 points. Three first-time pairing cross-national teams, Jeremy Herrmann (USA) and Tyson Kuepfer (CAN), Garrett Tracey (CAN) and Magnus Rundström (SWE), and Ian Witt (UK) and Mark McCleary (USA) scored 47, 47 and 46 points respectively. Rundström and Witt just missed a chance to be the first European to make the playoffs at the World Championships. Cathy Kuepfer and Bev Vaillancourt also got quite close to the playoffs, scoring 46 points and ultimately finishing 12th for their best ever World Championship result.
The Doubles playoff format at the World Championships has remained unchanged since 2001, and consists of a 5-game round robin among the top 6 teams. Often the margin to become World Champion is a small one. The Slaters and Traceys got out to an early lead, both having registered 12 points after two games to sit tied for first, with a three point gap back to Kuepfer/Walsh, six points to the Hartungs, and seven and eight points to Reinman/Tracey and Bechtel/Kappes.
The Slaters and Traceys met for a first place battle in game three. The Slaters were better on open 20s during the game and it was only a last shot ricochet-20 by Reid Tracey that salvaged a tie in one of the first three rounds to give the Slaters a 5-1 lead. The nerves of the championship stage began to show in a wild fourth round in which the Slaters almost managed a big comeback before the Traceys clinched it. However it was the Slaters moving into a sole first place position with the 5-3 win.
Kuepfer and Walsh weren’t able to make up ground, only managing two ties and 6-2 loss in their final games to finish with 19 points for fourth place. After game three the Traceys also couldn’t collect enough points to challenge for the title, tying Kuepfer/Walsh and losing 6-2 to Bechtel/Kappes to finish third with 21 points.
In the third game Reinman and Tracey mounted a charge with an 8-0 win over the Hartungs to move four points back of the Slaters, just ahead of their fourth game matchup with the Slaters. In that game Reinman/Tracey had a comfortable two 20 lead in round one evaporate and the Slaters had a tough hanger-20 chance to win the round, but it was missed for 2-0 for Reinman/Tracey. Nearly the same happened in the second round where a three 20 advantage for Reinman/Tracey was lost, and only salvaged by a double-takeout-20 by Reinman to lead 4-0.
The third round came down to a pair of hanger-20 chances. Tracey missed his chance, and Justin Slater followed up to make his to get the Slaters on the board at 4-2. The fourth round was won on the stoicism of Fred Slater, who went 4-for-4 on open 20s, and with it the Slaters maintained a four point advantage going into the final playoff game.
Reinman and Tracey won their last game 6-2 to finish with 23 points and second place, as the Slaters’ 4-4 tie against the Hartungs was enough for 25 points and the 2023 World Crokinole Championship.
It was the sixth time since 2011 that 25 points was the winning score of the doubles playoffs (the lowest ever recorded), and it was the third time that the Slaters managed to win with 25 points. They were the only team in the playoffs to not lose a game, managing three ties with wins of 8-0 against the Hartungs and 5-3 against the Traceys.
This is the fourth World Championship for the Slaters (their previous wins coming in 2013, 2014 and 2016), and it moves them into a tie with Jon Conrad for the third-most doubles victories at the Worlds, only trailing the Beierlings.
100 players entered the competitive division, the most since 2010. The preliminary round decides the 20s champion along with the top 16 players advancing to the playoffs. The points cutoff to make the playoffs ended up being the highest in a decade as 57 points were needed to make the top 16. Only from 2008-2010 has such a score been required, when 58, 57 and 58 points were the cutoffs respectively in those years. That was bad news for Nolan Tracey, who scored 57 but lost out on a 20s tiebreak, and for Mike McTague, Clare Kuepfer and Eric Miltenburg, who just missed out by a couple of points. Andrew Hartung and Fred Slater ended up three points out, with Reuben Jongsma and Philip Ware four points out.
The battle for the 20s was pretty interesting, with five players meeting or exceeding 100 in the 20 count (the most players who have ever done this at the World Championships). James Medway and Ray Kappes scored 100 each for their first ever centuries at the Worlds. Ron Langill scored 110, which is the eighth-most 20s ever scored in the preliminary round at the Worlds, but it was only enough for third on the day. Ray Beierling scored 114 (fifth-best preliminary score) but it was also not enough, as Connor Reinman racked up 127 for the 20s crown. The win is Reinman’s first 20s title, and the first time since 2008 that someone other than Ray Beierling and Justin Slater won the crown. The mark of 127 is the third-best preliminary round score in the tournament, behind Beierling’s 131 in 2014, and Slater’s 142 in 2012.
This was the composition of the pools for the playoffs. Pool A:
- Justin Slater (11th straight top-16 appearance, 5-time and defending champion, 7-time finalist, preliminary round top scorer for fifth time)
- Jeremy Tracey (3rd top-16 appearance in 4 attempts, previous best finish: 9th in 2018)
- Reid Tracey (3rd top-16 appearance in 3 attempts, previous best: 6th in 2019)
- Matt Brown (5th top-16 after making the cut from 2012-2015, one top 4 finish in 2014)
- Bruce Hartung (2005 world champion, 4th top-16 appearance in 6 attempts, two top-4 finishes)
- Tom Johnston (8th top-16 appearance, previous best: 4th in 2011 and 2013)
- Simon Dowrick (1st top-16 appearance in first attempt)
- James Medway (1st top-16 appearance in first attempt)
- Connor Reinman (3rd top-16 appearance in 4 attempts, two top-4 finishes)
- Jon Conrad (15th top-16 appearance and 12th in a row, 2-time champion, 6-time top-4 finisher)
- Andrew Hutchinson (4th top-16 appearance in 4 attempts, previous best: 5th in 2018)
- Ray Kappes (13th top-16 appearance and 6th in a row, 2003 champion, 3-time top-4 finisher)
- Ray Beierling (20th top-16 appearance and 19th in a row, 2011 champion, 10 top 4 finishes)
- Ron Langill (1st top-16 appearance in second attempt)
- Travis Keener (1st top-16 appearance in first attempt)
- Roy Campbell (5th top-16 appearance in 9 attempts, previous best: 3rd in 2015 and 2019)
In Pool A action, Justin Slater moved into a solid position to make the playoffs when he scored an 8-0 win against the only other previous world champion in the group. The 2005 champion, and 2007 runner-up, Bruce Hartung managed a very respectable showing in his first crokinole tournament since 2009, finishing fourth in the pool with 27 points. Reid Tracey was in the hunt for the final four, but lost each of his last three games against Jeremy Tracey, Justin Slater and Matt Brown to ultimately miss out.
The critical matchup occurred in game 6 when Matt Brown played Jeremy Tracey, with the two of them sitting 2nd and 3rd at the time. Matt Brown won the matchup 6-2 and won his final game 8-0 to seal the deal. With it, Brown scored 39 points to nab first place in the pool, with Justin Slater at 38 points for second. Jeremy Tracey gave Slater his only defeat in the pool with a 6-2 win in the last game, but his 32 points was only enough for third in the pool, outside of the playoff cutoff.
In Pool B Connor Reinman was a runaway freight train. Already in first place he scored an 8-0 win over Ray Beierling in game four, which relegated Beierling from third to fifth in the group. At that point it seemed the battle for the second playoff spot would come down to Andrew Hutchinson and Jon Conrad, but Ron Langill put on an incredible late charge. Langill only had 10 points after four games, but racked up wins of 6-2, 8-0 and 6-2 to triple his score, and end up at 30 points.
Meanwhile, Conrad and Hutchinson drew the game against each other 4-4, and then both only managed a 3-5 loss to Reinman, and a 4-4 tie to Ray Kappes in their final two games. The end result would be 30 points for Conrad, tying him with Langill, and 32 points for Hutchinson who got the final playoff spot.
Looking at the playoff cutoffs is always interesting, especially when a score of 32 is good enough for one player (Andrew Hutchinson), and not enough for another (Jeremy Tracey). Historically, 32 points has only been enough to qualify for the playoffs about 20% of the time at the World Championships. Although there could be some karma at play, as Hutchinson still holds the record for the highest ever round of 16 score that did not result in a playoff spot, when he scored 36 points in 2018.
Connor Reinman finished miles ahead in Pool B, with 43 points; tied for the 3rd-highest round of 16 score at the Worlds with Justin Slater’s 2012 and Joe Fulop’s 2001 score, only behind Slater’s 2014 score of 44 and Nathan Walsh’s 2014 score of 45. Reinman did set a round of 16 record by scoring 104 20s, beating Justin Slater’s old record of 94 in 2014.
So the stage was set for the semifinals. Justin Slater was the only prior champion who advanced to the final 4, marking the 19th straight year that the final 4 would be contested with at least one prior winner. For Slater it was his 8th trip to the top 4, and he had made the finals in all previous 7 appearances. Connor Reinman was the next most experienced player, with this being his 3rd final 4, but he had not made the finals in either previous appearance. After Matt Brown’s 4th place in 2014 this was his second trip to the final 4, and he was looking to make his first World and NCA final, while for Andrew Hutchinson it was his first final 4 appearance.
With Brown having surpassed Slater for top spot in Pool A, the semifinals were set with Andrew Hutchinson playing Matt Brown, and the two pre-tournament favourites, Connor Reinman and Justin Slater, playing in the other semifinal.
It was Brown and Hutchinson’s first elimination game meeting, and neither looked too comfortable as both struggled to score open 20s, and missed a few hanger-20 or short ricochet-20 chances. In the first game Hutchinson was leading 4-2 and had the lead in the round until Brown’s follow-through-20 attempt got knocked into the 20 hole thanks to the actions of a damaged disc. Hutchinson looked calm when it happened, but did take an extra pause before his next shot, and recouped to score back-to-back open 20s to tie the round and win the first game 5-3.
Play in game two was much improved, with both players scoring open 20s in succession and the game was tied at 2-2. In the third round Hutchinson had the hammer but Brown managed to keep two discs on in the 15 without allowing a double opportunity for six straight shots. Hutchison played patiently and ultimately settled for a tie to make it 3-3. Hutchinson won the fourth round when he made a touch-20 and Brown hogged his next open-20 shot, giving Hutchinson a 5-3, 5-3 semifinal victory.
Connor Reinman and Justin Slater were meeting for the third time, having previously traded victories with Slater winning in the 2018 Ontario finals, and Reinman winning at the 2023 Elmira semifinals. While touted as a 20-scorer Slater’s key to success for the last several years has been superior board-play, even when matched or surpassed in open-20 shooting. The first game saw the opposite of that with Slater stronger on open-20s, but Reinman more than made up for it. Reinman scored a couple of follow-through 20s to draw level, and then in the fourth round he forced Slater into going for a double-takeout that resulted in Slater scoring a 20 for Reinman, and Reinman taking the first game 5-3.
In game two Slater had a 3-1 lead, and the advantage early in the third round to threaten to win the game. Slater missed a heavy-hanger-20, which Reinman then converted, and then the two players traded 5 open-20s each to tie the round for 4-2. Slater had one follow-through-20 chance to win the game in the fourth round, but missed it and it was tied 4-4 with Slater to have the hammer in the fifth round. Reinman won the 20-race to open the round, and Slater patiently traded takeouts looking for an opening, but none came. Slater was forced to go for a takeout-20 that might have been impossible to extend the match, but missed and Reinman had won the match 5-3, 6-4.
In the 3rd place match, Slater won game one 6-2 after forcing Brown into attempting a triple on this final shot to keep the game alive. In the second game Slater continued to be better on open-20s, but Brown put him under some pressure by never erroring on a takeout and frequently getting multiple discs on the board, but Slater was up to the task, winning the second game 5-1 and taking 3rd place.
That setup a championship match between Connor Reinman and Andrew Hutchinson. It was the first time the championship had been contested by two players who had never previously been to the finals since 2005, and only the fourth time ever with the other two occurrences being in the first two years of the tournament’s history.
Reinman had won all three previous meetings, 11-5 in the 2019 Turtle Island final, 9-1 in the 2022 NCA Players semifinal, and 10-0 in the 2022 Owen Sound final. The most memorable match of the three being Reinman’s 20-barrage at the Players Championship when he made 23 of 24 open-20s.
But it was Hutchinson who was stronger on the open-20s, and Reinman was under pressure. Thankfully Reinman was already stuffing the highlight-reel of the match in game one, when he made a follow-through-20 and a long ricochet-20 on back-to-back shots. The first game went to the fifth round tiebreaker, where Hutchinson was still better on open-20s, going 4-for-4 to win the first game 6-4.
Hutchinson threatened to put the match on its last legs early, using a bounce-back-20 for a 2-0 lead, and winning a 20-race in the following round. But Reinman made a tight ricochet-20 to level the 20-count and Hutchinson finally missed an open 20 on his last shot to make it 2-2. The pressure of the match was relieved briefly when Hutchinson left a hanger-20 that was converted on the opening shot of the third round and Reinman led 4-2. And then Reinman caught a 20s hot streak, going 6-for-6 in the next round to win the second game 6-2.
That pushed the match into a decisive third game, the 5th time in a row, and 9th time in the last 12 years, that the World Championship would need a third game. The shooting in the third game was marvellous. Hutchinson stretch to his right to manufacture a takeout-20 where most players would think only a follow-through was possible, and led 2-0. Reinman then made what can be described as a hybrid follow-through-rebound-20 in the second round, in what was the most technically difficult shot of the match, to tie things at 2-2.
A keen eye would observe a tactic from Reinman in the third round. Hutchinson missed long on the opening 20, leaving a shot in which most top players would attempt a roll-away-takeout when they had the lead. Reinman, as he had in some games earlier in the day, took on additional risk and went for the follow-through-20, making it and moving ahead 4-2, to move one point away from the world title.
Reinman was first to miss in the fourth round, but almost immediately made a long rebound 20 to draw even, leaving his disc hanging heavily over the 20-hole as the crowd audibly gasped. Hutchinson made his most iconic and under-stated shot, leaning to his right to make the roll-away-takeout. Hutchinson then successfully maneuvered the play to the outside of the board. Reinman attempted a couple shots to come back into the middle but finally surrendered by peeling on his second-last shot. The 20 count was tied with Reinman having one disc left, and Hutchinson having two, but disastrously Hutchinson’s open-20 was left short as a heavy-hanger.
The crowd was gripped in silence, and Hutchinson stared at the ceiling, as Reinman tried to steady himself for a hanger-20 that would make him World Champion. He took the shot, made the takeout and the 20, and fist pumped as his dream had been realized.
The crowd applauded handily as the two combatants embraced, and Connor Reinman became 12th different person to win the World Crokinole Championships, and the first to carry a non-Canadian citizenship.
Connor Reinman’s crokinole story dates backs many years; he first played cues at the 2010 World Championships, and can even be seen in the background of some CrokinoleCentre footage from matches in those years. He first became known on the crokinole scene as a commentator on CrokinoleCentre, and then later emerged as a top player in 2017; as his surprise 3rd place finish at the 2017 World Championships was over-shadowed by Bonnett’s victory that year. Even though his tournament attendance was sporadic due simply to location, it was clear quickly that he was rising the ranks.
But before victory came disappointment, and his biggest was the 2019 World Championship semifinal thriller that he lost to Darren Carr, when many would have expected that year’s playoffs to come down to a Reinman v Slater final. Along with that he had the earlier disappointment in the day, finishing second by a mere two points in the doubles competition, while having had a similar fate befall him in 2019.
But when crokinole returned from covid, Reinman would not be denied. Victories at the NCA Players Championship, Owen Sound and Elmira. His first NCA Tour championship for 2022-2023, now backed his first World Championship in 2023.