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Old 03-02-2004, 05:41 PM
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Default The case of Jose "Amang" Parica

What About Parica?

He led the Philippine invasion until rival Efren Reyes stole his thunder. He's a world-class talent and a threat to win any event he enters. So, why is Jose Parica still in Reyes' shadow?

Jose Parica has this thing about Efren Reyes. He has it bad. Real bad. And he has it whether Reyes is right there in front of him - especially if he's playing against him ("We are enemies on the table," he says) - or even, like now, if he's far, far away.

Emblematic of his finishes in 2004, Parica took second place at the U.S. Open, winning him a hand from champion Jeremy Jones (left) and a handshake from promoter Barry Behrman. (Photo: Mark Whiteside)
This particular week back in October, in the midst of his finest year since being the Camel Tour's Player of the Year in 1997, Parica is competing in an event in New York City. Reyes, on the other hand, is virtually on the other side of the world, playing in, of all places, the Middle East, in an exclusive invitation-only tournament in the princely land of the United Arab Emirates. By the time they're both done, Reyes snaps off his event like a twig; Parica finishes runner-up. It's been Parica's fate for years - no matter what he does, living in the looming shadows of his fellow Filipino countryman, a man for whom he paved the way in the U.S., who, in most pool circles, is so highly revered he seems to be approaching nothing less than sainthood.

Their images have been painted distinctly opposite, in black and white, hero and villain. While a huge entourage constantly surrounds Reyes, Parica runs by himself. While Reyes is viewed as warm and gregarious and charitable, Parica is seen as a standoffish compulsive gambler. While Reyes is his country's favorite son, a Michael Jordan-like celebrity who continues to make his home in the Philippines, the Manila-born Parica left for the U.S. years ago. While Reyes wears the crown of being a great tournament champion, Parica has been mostly an action player, his greatest victories never chronicled, never awarded with a trophy, some never even seen, coming in the wee small hours in a murky poolroom or behind closed doors in a private club. Stories of him offering considerable weight to major players in gambling sessions, then proceeding to beat up on them time after time, are legendary. "Yes, I've beaten many champions," Parica says with a wink without saying more. Buddy Hall once asked him: "Jose, which ball is harder to give up to good players - the six or the seven?" To which Parica responded: "Makes no difference, because I run out every time." And that wasn't false bravado.

"I think I'm the best money player ever," he says today without hesitation. "And I think I proved it. When I play 15 ahead, nobody beats me. I give world champions the 8 ball and nobody gets near me." Maybe his greatest match: In the late 1980s, he gave Mexican champ Ismael "Morro" Paez the 8 ball playing 13 ahead in 9-ball, and after losing the first game, Parica ran out the set - 14 straight racks! - to win $7,000. "Because I run out the easy way all the time," he says, "I never get tired. And once I get in stroke, I never miss a ball."

No one will argue that Parica, dubbed "The Leader of the Philippine Invasion," which changed the face of the American 9-ball scene forever, is one of the greatest ever to play the game, especially for the cold hard cash. But Reyes, for most people, is much more than that. He's been placed one gigantic level higher into an exalted realm unto himself, floating in the rarified air of being "the most special player of his time."

It drives Parica mad. Puzzles him to no end. Ticks him off, though he often refuses to admit it. He doesn't want to give Reyes, or any of his cronies, the satisfaction. At the moment, however, drinking black coffee at a Burger King on Manhattan's Upper East Side, he's finding it impossible to completely restrain his disdain for the whole Efren-the-Magnificent thing. The best he can do is adopt this odd-looking smirk. Not quite a hard grin, not quite a soft grimace, but something definitely in between.

For the life of him, he just doesn't get it. He doesn't understand why people rate him so much lower than Reyes. He swears the numbers tell a different story.

"Efren and I, we play so many times," he says in that unusual high-pitched voice, cradling his coffee with both hands. "We maybe play more than a hundred times gambling. And I win most of the time. Probably around 70 percent of the time. I think I'm a better player than Efren when it comes to playing for money. I mean, he's a great player and he's tough to beat, but he beats me only when I'm not ready. When I'm ready, I always beat him. People just like his game, because he's so creative. He likes going for shots where the cue ball goes three and four rails." He chuckles, takes a couple of quick sips of his coffee, then smiles thinly before taking a not-so-concealed swipe at Reyes' magical style. "My game isn't a carnival," he adds. "I am simple and consistent - but dangerous."

He remembers a time when he was the No. 1 player in the Philippines, and Reyes was just a teenage kid. The strong rivalry was there back then too, from the get-go. "At first, I gave him big handicaps playing rotation," he says. "And I beat him and beat him and beat him. I beat him in his hometown, all through Manila, and around the provinces. Then one day, I was at a place in the Philippines where there was a poolroom on the second floor and a bar on the third floor and I went drinking that night. He asked to play, said he would play me even for the first time, and we played and he beat me. I made him a big guy in one night. But that was one of those times where I wasn't ready."

Last year, the rivalry between them took on a heightened, more frustrating dimension for Parica, when Reyes was voted into the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame. Parica, 54, has not only never even been on the ballot, but there doesn't seem to be a clamor to nominate him any time soon. In addition, Parica nearly won his first U.S. Open 9-Ball title, an event Reyes captured in 1994, but finished runner-up to Jeremy Jones, who beat him in the finals, 11-4. Parica says Jones kept him from reaching his dream by putting him on tilt with slow play. "He shoots the ball, wipes his hand on a towel, powders his fingers, drinks some water, chalks his stick," Parica says, twisting his expression. "Every shot - towel, powder, water, chalk. What happened to the time clock?" This double whammy of last year - Reyes' Hall of Fame induction combined with falling just short of winning the prestigious Open - sticks with him. He hates Reyes' having anything over on him. Not so coincidentally, he says: "I've done everything I've wanted to do except two things. The only goals I have left are winning the U.S. Open and getting into the Hall of Fame. After I have those, I'll be happy."

Johnny Archer can sense the animosity between the two countrymen. "Every time Jose and Efren play each other, you can feel the tension," Archer says. "I think Jose is a little jealous of Efren. But I also think Efren is a little jealous of Jose, especially because Jose has always beaten him so much. And Jose likes to talk about beating him. And Efren can't stand it. In my opinion, Efren is a better all-around player, but if they go head-to-head, my money goes on Jose. He really performs against Efren. I think Efren has a harder time playing against Jose than any other player."

"Jose may not be as flashy as Efren but he's still one of the great money players of all time," says Allen Hopkins, a great money player himself. "He stands up well, a real road warrior, and I think he deserves more credit than he's gotten. He's always been somebody to deal with. Ask any of the top players. They don't want to play him even-up, and that tells you a lot. The players know the players to watch out for, and if the players voted for the Hall of Fame, Jose would be an automatic."

"I know I would vote for him," Archer says. "He comes from the old school of scuffling around small tournaments trying to make money, and that hardens you up. He's seen it all. And players like that are so difficult to beat. They've had everything thrown at them and they've still come out on top. I've always loved watching him play. When he's playing a match, I like to get in the stands and just sit there. He never makes a wrong decision. If he had a big break, there's no telling how many more 9-ball events he would've won."

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Old 03-02-2004, 05:42 PM
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Indeed, Parica has one of the weakest 9-ball breaks among top players. He's tried everything over the years to improve, but nothing has worked. The most balls he ever sank: three. "I don't know why I can't get a break," he says, shaking his head. "They say I hit the balls 28-29 miles per hour, but that I don't hit the 1 ball full. They say I hit the top of it. It really bothers me sometimes, especially when I'm playing against big breakers. All I try to do now is make the corner ball and keep the cue ball in the center." He grins. "Maybe if God gave me a break, it might be too much on everybody. I'd have everything."

While others of his generation are fading fast, reduced to being only threats on the senior circuit, Parica is still a threat, period, knocking off young hotshots as well as oldtimers left and right. "He's not only a threat, he's one of the favorites every time he tees it up," corrects Archer. In 2003, focusing almost entirely on tournaments for the first time in his career, he reached the final day of nearly every event he entered. He won the Derby City Classic one-pocket division and the Great Seminole Senior Open and placed in the Top 5 in around 20 events overall, earning upwards of a not-to-be-sneezed-at $70,000.

"I still feel strong and I still like to play, and my game is still there," he says. "I think the important thing is, I keep myself in good shape. I got sick maybe one time in the last five years. Back in 1998, the year after I was the Player of the Year on Camel, I went brain-dead. I neglected myself, and my health went way down. I was all screwed up. I ended up making only $5,700 in tournaments that year. It was ridiculous. I was very depressed. I was so out of shape, so dead tired all the time, I didn't even want to walk around the table during the matches. I couldn't play, and my attitude was bad. Then one day, a friend told me to take vitamins and minerals and eat better. And I did. I started to take vitamin C and K, and potassium, and ate mostly vegetables. My secret now is tofu and vegetable soup. It's brain soup. In fact, Cory Deuel came to me recently for advice. He was struggling. I told him that he looked brain-dead, that he needed to eat my soup. I think a lot of players come and go because they don't take good care of themselves and they don't practice hard."

He says adjusting to full-time tournament life has been the hardest transition. "It's funny; when I was a money player, I couldn't play well in tournaments. Now that I'm a tournament player, I can't play for money anymore. I get confused playing for money now. I don't know what to do. I'm really a money player. I'm a slow starter. That's why I win a lot of sets from behind." He altered his game slightly according to his age as well. "When I was young," says the man who makes most players' lists for best all-time shotmakers, "I went for the tough shots, no matter where they were. Now, if I could play a good safe, I play safe." Archer concurs: "He's not quite as aggressive as he used to be, can't cut the ball across the back rail like he once did. When I played him for the first time 15 years ago, he shot at everything - and he made everything too."

Growing up in two downtown Manila poolrooms owned by his father, Parica was already a decent player by 9. At 17, he was the best in the country. Going by the alias "J.R.," he entered his first-ever U.S. event in 1978, the World Open Straight Pool Championship, and with few having a clue who he was, he placed a respectable 9th-through-12th. But it's what he did afterwards that got everybody's attention. He beat Mike Sigel for $12,000 playing rotation even and, getting a 50-ball spot playing straight pool to 150, beat Steve Mizerak out of $5,000 more. "He beat Sigel easily, made it look like a joke," Allen Hopkins remembers. "I mean, Jose out-moved him, out-everythinged him. I bet on the match and bet on Sigel. I couldn't imagine anyone beating Sigel back then. He was playing better than anyone. In fact, I thought there might've been some business going on until I found how good Parica really played."

A couple of years later, Parica swept through Texas and defeated the likes of Earl Strickland, Kim Davenport, David Howard and Louis Roberts. He won his first U.S. title by beating Nick Varner, 11-10, at the Clyde Childress Open in Lexington, Ky., in 1986, and in the time since has won over 100 big, small, and middling events.

Parica briefly retired from tournaments in the early 1990s, a period that coincided with one of the toughest episodes of his life. After assaulting a man in a nightclub, he faced a handful of years in prison if convicted. A rumor had passed around that Parica killed the man. Not true. "I hurt him badly, though," he admits. "I broke a lot of bones, but he was only hospitalized for a couple of months. What started it was he was bothering my wife [Aurora]. I went crazy. I ended up going to jail for a day. My wife bailed me out. He told his lawyer that I took his money, wallet, Rolex, and jewelry. My lawyer and I tried to make a deal with the guy. We offered him $25,000, but he wanted $50,000. We went to trial and I even testified on the stand. It was very scary. I was spending a lot of money in lawyer's fees and I was afraid of going to jail for a long time. I won the case after almost three years. But if somebody harasses my wife I'd do it again."

The story of what prompted his return is this: One day, while Parica and Aurora were in Las Vegas, Aurora overheard a Filipino say that Reyes was the best Filipino player ever, that he could beat any Filipino, including Parica. Aurora told her husband what she'd heard, and convinced him to play competitively again, just to prove he wasn't yet over the hill. Parica took it as a challenge and resumed playing on the circuit by 1996.

The next year, he won two Camel Pro Billiards events and was the tour's Player of the Year. The year-end points title, and the $50,000 bonus awarded to the top player, came down to a semifinal match against Buddy Hall, who led the points race by a hair. With the score tied 5-5, Parica missed a straight-in shot on the 5 and figured he'd blown the match and the $50,000. But he hung on and beat Hall 9-7. "That was the highlight of my career," he says. "That was a lot of pressure. Who-ever won that match would be the Player of the Year. But I was cool and I played my game." And, maybe just as importantly, Parica beat Reyes several times in a row that year.

Coolness in the face of extreme pressure is the hallmark of Parica's game. "I have great concentration and a big heart," he says. "I forget about all my problems when I get to tournaments. I don't think about anything but the game. And my heart, I think, comes from my [late] father [who died of a heart attack in 1996]. He was a policeman and a soldier. I rarely ever get nervous. And if I do, I just bite my lip a little and I'm over it."

His favorite way to get away from the game is spending a day at the racetrack. "I've lost a lot of money there," he says, "but I forget about the game. My wife keeps saying, 'Why don't you focus on something that doesn't have to do with gambling?' It's too much. She doesn't want me to gamble. It's tough. I'm a gambler. In fact, I used to have a lot of money. A fortune. But I lost all my money playing cards and dice in the casinos." At tournaments, he relaxes before matches by staying in his hotel room and watching game shows on TV. "I especially love 'The Wheel of Fortune,'" he says with a laugh. "It takes my mind off the game. I go to the tournament room about 20 minutes before the match. I don't like to practice too much. You can burn out that way."

He says he has no plans to hang up his cue in the near future. "If I'm not making any money anymore in pool, I'll retire. I'll either work with my wife [in home healthcare] or do my own thing by opening a pool hall or a billiard supply store."

In the meantime, while he's still a force to contend with, he'll continue to chase the legacy of his arch rival Efren Reyes, looking to knock him down a notch every chance he gets - even though he knows neither he nor Reyes is the best Filipino player anymore. They handed it down to yet another. "It's Francisco Bustamante," Parica says. "He's the best 9-ball and 10-ball player. He's better than me and Efren now. With his big break, he's playing 6-ball all the time. Me and Efren always have at least eight balls on the table. How can we beat him?"


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Old 03-09-2004, 12:01 PM
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Jose Parica is a very good player. Saw many of his games personally. Problem is, he's a real "Money Man". He lost favor from his sponsors and benefactors because of suspicious loses. In other words, "ang lakas maghulog ng laro"!

Soon people were always doubting if he's playing to win or to lose.

Just a note. Amang Parica is known for his skills in 8-balls. There were no 9-ball tourneys at that time. Somebody please correct me if I'm wrong.

Thanks.
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Old 03-10-2004, 01:59 AM
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bluez, pards, tThanks for this comprehensive "report" on Parica. Truly an eye-opener, as far as I'm concerned. I'm starved on dossiers about our famed billiard boys.

More, dude. This time on Efren Bata Reyes.
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Old 03-10-2004, 02:01 AM
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If what you guys said about Parica is true, well, mehopes this serves as a lesson to our sporting (and non-sporting) kids and adults back home and elsewhere: dishonesty, like crime, does not pay..
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Old 03-30-2004, 10:06 AM
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Parica is a very good player and if he puts his heart into his game, he might still become the greatest Filipino billiard player of all time.

Parica's nemesis is his casual drinking and gambling which has brought his emotions to tempestuous levels. He can't put his life in order because of that. He has the propensity to bet on almost everything, even to the point of fixing his game to have fun and a lots of money that he will eventually lose to gambling. That's the reason why sponsors and promoters shy away from him. He's difficult to deal with.

There's no question as to his talent and inner fire. It's his attitude that he has to change for him to come back bigtime and stay on the top. He needs to "re-package" himself and improve his human relations in order to bring back the glory days that he once lorded over.



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