In compiling this list of the greatest pool players, our staff considered these two factors -- a player's accomplishments and his or her lasting impact on the game. Only achievements from 1980 and on are counted for this list. The five finalists were Efren Reyes, Allison Fisher, Earl Strickland, Chao Fong-pang and Shin Mei Liu.
1. Efren Reyes
The man from the Philippines is undoubtedly the most complete pool player in history. Efren Reyes plays many different pool formats and has achieved success in all of them. The variety of his achievements is impressive -- two WPA world 8-ball championships (plus three PBT world titles), a 9-ball world championship and many one-pocket wins. He is also an accomplished carom and straight pool player. Reyes is perhaps best known for winning many big-money events. In 1996, the Filipino legend defeated Earl Strickland in a 3-day winner-takes-all event called The Color of Money to win $100,000, which was then the sport's biggest prize. Considering the winner's check for the world championship at that time was less than $40000, this was a big deal. In 2001, Reyes won the first place prize at the International Billiard Tournament in Tokyo earning more than $160,000, which was also the biggest purse at the time. Reyes' biggest money win came in 2006, when he beat Rodney Morris at the IPT 8-ball World Open to capture the biggest first-place prize ($500,000) in history.
His biggest legacy in the sport was blazing a trail for fellow Filipino players. Reyes' success helped raise the game's profile in his homeland, making pool one of the country's most popular sports. Countless young Filipino players have credited him as the inspiration that led them to professional pool, and he is seen as a hero in the Philippines.
2. Allison Fisher
Achieving stardom in a niche sport like women's billiards is a near-impossible feat. You could win many pool tournaments and reach many milestones, and still would not be recognizable to the general public. Fisher is one of the very few exceptions, mostly due to her absolute dominance in the sport. Before she turned to pool, she was a force in women's snooker winning 11 world championships (7 singles and 4 doubles) and over 80 titles. The Duchess of Doom moved to women's 9-ball pool in the early 1990s and achieved even greater successes. She captured four world championships, eight U.S. Open titles, eight U.S. national championships, five Tournament of Champions titles, a World Games gold medal and at least 50 titles on the prestigious WPBA Tour. No male pool player was able to achieve a comparable feat in the same period. Considering how few women's pool events are on the schedule, her prodigious winning output is simply incredible.
While her popularity in the U.S. and Europe is only average, Fisher is a household name in many Asian countries including China, Taiwan, the Phillipines and South Korea. She is frequently featured as the headliner at major pool tournaments and many young Asian players emulate her style.
3. Earl Strickland
Since 1980, no male player has achieved more in 9-ball pool than Strickland. Nicknamed The Pearl, the North Carolina native won three WPA world championships, five U.S. Open titles (this is the second most important event after the world championships) and numerous other 9-ball titles. He also helped the U.S. win many Mosconi Cup including six straight from 1996 to 2001. Strickland is one of the most popular pool players of all time, racking up major endorsements and headlining many events. His legacy, however, is somewhat tarnished by his frequent boorish behavior during matches and at tournaments. Some major event promoters had considered banning him from their tournaments.
4. Chao Fong-pang
Billiards is among the most popular sports in Taiwan, and Chao Fong-pang was a major contributor to the popularity. Before the Taiwanese became the first Asian to win a world championship in 1993, pool was perceived by the island's general public as a recreational activity for juveniles and criminals. Chao's famous victory changed the perception of prideful Taiwanese, and pool quickly became a mainstream sport. The game's popularity reached its peak in 1998 when Chao, Yang Ching-shun and the Chinese Taipei billiards team took home three gold medals from the Asian Games. This feat was televised live on TV and watched by millions of jubilant Taiwanese. Chao became a national icon and one of the country's biggest celebrities. He would add another world championship (2000) and three Tournament of Champions titles to his stellar resume.
No other pool player has had a greater impact on his or her country than Fong-pang. His successes elevated pool in his homeland from a condemned activity to a legitimate sport. Pool is now so popular there that its tournaments are televised live on TV and its players are celebrities. Chao also helped to spur a whole generation of great Taiwanese pool players - Chang Jung-lin, Kuo Po-cheng and Ko Pin-yi just to name a few.
5. Shin-Mei Liu (or Hsin Mei Liu)
Pool fans in the U.S. and Europe may not know her name, but Shin Mei Liu's impact on women's pool was extraordinary and perhaps even surpassed that of the great Allison Fisher. Although the successes of Chao Fong-pang and Efren Reyes made pool a popular game in the Asia Pacific, women's pool in Asia remained marginalized due to a lack of a role model. When cue sports made its historic debut at the 1998 Asian Games (the sport's first inclusion to a major pan-continental sporting event), there were no women's events. That would change, however, when Shin Mei Liu became the first Asian female player to win a world title in 1999.
The Queen of Taiwanese pool accomplished this feat in an emphatic fashion, beating three-time defending champion Allison Fisher in the finals. Her famous victory helped validate women's pool in Taiwan as well as in the rest of Asia. Before her victory in 1999, there was no Asian female world champion. After her first world title, players from Taiwan, China and South Korea won 8 of the next 11 world championships including eight in a row at one point. Liu won a second world title in 2002, beating another great pool player in Karen Corr in the finals. She also has two runner-up finishes at the world championships.
When women's pool finally made its debut at the Asian Games in 2006, Liu made history again by winning the 9-ball gold medal. She achieved this feat against a field that included 2-time world champion Ga Young Kim of Korea, Pan Xiaoting of China (2007 world champion) and Cha Yu Ram.