The cue master: Vinh's unexpected path to success

September 24, 2023 - 08:14
Cueist Bao Phương Vinh's triumph marked the first-ever world championship victory for the country in this highly competitive sport, catapulting Vinh and Việt Nam into the international spotlight.
Bao Phương Vinh (left) and his father Bao Thanh Phương at the 2023 World Championship Three-Cushion. — Photo courtesy of Vinh

By Thanh Nga

Little-known cueist Bao Phương Vinh has etched his name in Vietnamese history, achieving an extraordinary feat.

Vinh defied the odds by triumphing over the world's top stars in the 2023 World Championship Three-Cushion event held in Ankara, Turkey. This momentous victory showcased his exceptional skills and represented a significant milestone for Việt Nam. It marked the first-ever world championship victory for the country in this highly competitive sport, catapulting Vinh and Việt Nam into the international spotlight.

“I didn't think I could win this world tournament because I wasn't seeded. But I played with complete confidence and was never nervous or stressed,” Vinh told Việt Nam News. "I am truly ecstatic that glory has come to me so quickly. This title will be a great driving force for me in the next events."

Vinh was not even ranked among the top 3,000 players by the World Union of Billiards (UMB) at the beginning of 2022. However, just 20 months later, he climbed into the UMB’s top 10.

The ascent of this 28-year-old is a rarity in the world of sports, going from being unknown to reaching the pinnacle of the sport in under two years.

To claim the world title, Vinh subjected himself to an intense training regime.

"For a month, I dedicated most of my time to practising at home, from morning until night. I pushed myself to practise until exhaustion, then rested, and resumed practising again. That's why I consider this championship a well-deserved reward for my dedication and seriousness towards the game," Vinh said.

"I still find it hard to believe that I have become the world champion. My emotions intensified upon receiving a warm and enthusiastic welcome from everyone on my return home."

From left to right: Nguyễn Việt Hòa, manager of Vietnamese billiards team, Trần Quyết Chiến, Bao Phương Vinh and Vinh's father, Bao Thanh Phương, celebrate Việt Nam's wins at the 2023 World Championship Three-Cushion. — Photo courtesy of Vinh

Vinh's miracle

Vinh and Trần Quyết Chiến created history for Vietnamese billiards by reaching the internal final of the World Championship Three-Cushion 2023.

In the 95-year history of the World Championship Three-Cushion, there have been only two instances where the final featured two players from the same country: Argentina in 1938 and Belgium in 2017.

Việt Nam became the third country to achieve this remarkable feat. Both Chiến and Vinh secured thrilling victories, displaying great courage to reach the finals.

Vinh was ranked lower than Chiến, who has won many World Cup titles. However, a surprise unfolded when Vinh defeated his senior counterpart with a score of 50-34 after 33 moves, securing the championship.

In the UMB competition system, the World Cup and World Championship bring together the top players. The World Cup is held frequently, with six to seven tournaments per year, while the World Championship takes place once a year and is considered the most prestigious event in the Three-Cushion category.

"Domestically, Chiến and I may be opponents, representing different teams. But when we compete on the world stage, we are teammates, both representing Việt Nam. So, for me, it's not so important to win in the final. However, winning the World Championship still holds significant meaning. I played with utmost focus and gave it my best," Vinh said.

Bao Phương Vinh has become one of the rare players to win the world championship in his first participation in the event. — Photo courtesy of Vinh


Vinh has become one of the rare players to win the world championship at his first attempt, despite not even being on the list of best players of the UMB before the tournament began.

However, what surprised people most was that Vinh's billiards career had only recently begun.

He started playing professionally early last year, making his World Cup debut in HCM City, where he was eliminated in the preliminary round.

Vinh's success is said to stem from his exceptional academic performance. Unlike many athletes who overcome difficulties and poverty to rise, Vinh grew up in a well-off family.

During his childhood, his focus was solely on studying, and he graduated from the Foreign Trade University. Later, he pursued further studies in Australia, specialising in business administration and economics, where he once again made his family proud by obtaining an MA with outstanding grades.

In 2019, Vinh returned to his hometown in Bình Dương Province and received attractive job offers from prominent companies, but he refused to pursue his true passion, three-cushion billiards.

While Vinh gained fame for his incredible skills in billiards, he knew that he still had much to learn to become a professional player. Unfortunately, the pandemic disrupted his plans to systematically study three-cushion billiards, delaying his progress until the end of 2021.

Winners at the 2023 World Championship Three-Cushion. — Photo courtesy of Vinh

Researching the intricacies of three-cushion billiards requires a high level of mathematical and geometric thinking, which happens to be one of Vinh's strengths. Thanks to this, he has made surprising and rapid advancements. In addition to employing scientific calculations, he actively seeks to score points in the most challenging ball positions.

“Everyone thinks I play superficially, but actually I think very quickly, so I play very fast. With the remaining time, I can solve all possible situations for the next move," Vinh said.

Before winning the world championship, Vinh defeated the Netherlands' Dick Jaspers, then the world's number one, at the World Cup in Las Vegas in March.

Impressed by Vinh's performance, Jaspers commented: "I am impressed with the young player Vinh, who defeated me in the US tournament. Although he has only recently participated in international events, he has shown bravery and a strong competitive spirit. Whenever he approaches the ball, his eyes widen with a desire to win. With proper investment, I believe he will become a highly skilled player in the world."

Vinh's success promises to inspire those who love three-cushion billiards in Việt Nam. — Photo courtesy of Vinh

Vinh's success promises to inspire three-cushion billiards players in Việt Nam, especially those with excellent mathematical backgrounds. The miracle he created in Turkey showcased the fantastic potential of Vietnamese billiards.

Vinh is scheduled to participate in the World Cup in the Netherlands next month, with the aim of winning the title. His main opponent will be his teammate and defending champion, Chiến. VNS