Called “The Magician” for His Great Shots
The toothless pool player who came all the way from the Philippines has caught his opponents off-guard when he began a winning streak hustling in the United States disguised as Cesar Morales. His autograph eventually gave his identity away and from then on, he became an authority in the world of pool. Efren added a new dimension to what was once considered an American game. With his uncanny ability to pull off impossible shots, Efren has easily dominated the sports, frustrating even the most renowned billiard players.
A decade after his arrival in the United States, the table has been turned 190 degrees in favor of Efren as the Billiards Digest Magazine named him Player of the Year after he became the first non-American winner of the US Open Nine Ball Championship. As if that weren’t enough, he took home the largest single-winning purse in a pool event after defeating Earl Strickland in a three-day game scoring 120-117. One more title was then added to him as the Billiards Digest Magazine named him the best one-pocket player of all time. He also had the privilege to win the first televised WPA World 9-ball Championship. Unassuming and humble almost to a fault, Efren was a reluctant celebrity. He has graced covers of the most prestigious magazines and even made it to the list of TIME magazine’s 60 Asian Heroes along with late Philippine and Singapore presidents Corazon “Cory” Aquino and Lee Kwan Yew, respectively.
Efren earned his moniker, “The Magician,” because of his incredible ability to control the cue ball using unprecedented tricks and stunts. Watching Efren play is like watching a magician perform magic tricks, only that his audiences are grown men and large money is at stake. He wasn’t named player of the decade for nothing. Pool legends had no choice but to respect Efren and fear him despite his inconspicuous presence in the arena. Those who have seen him play know better not to fall for his beguiling meekness. Hard to believe but Efren is not doing it for show. Described by his opponents as the “humblest” player they have known, Efren is more than just an athlete. He is a role model for sportsmen and sportswomen of any discipline. For Efren who was once motivated to play by money, he’s seen enough fame and glory not to let fortune get the better of him.
The Making of a World-Class Pool Icon
Not unknown to many is Efren’s humble beginnings. Everyone sees it in the way he conducts himself—without an iota of bragging even after a magical shot. Efren is naturally a well-grounded person mainly due to the way he was brought up.
He was born in Mexico, Pampanga on 26 August 1954—the middle child among a brood of nine. His parents have four more daughters and four sons, making it impossible for his barber father to fend for the family. Since his parents had no way of sustaining all their children, Efren was taken by his father to Manila, the capital of the Philippines. He was only five years old when he was left to the care of an uncle who owned a pool hall named Lucky 13.
Efren literally grew up in the pool hall and slept on pool tables. Initially, billiards did not strike him as something interesting. However, upon observing that playing pool involves money, Efren began closely studying the game. Even before he began physically playing, Efren has mastered the game in his young mind. At night, he would sleep on his “pool” bed dreaming of endless moves and tricks he had seen other players do. When he turned eight, he began messing with the cue stick. His uncle wasn’t very happy about his interest in pool as it distracted him from school and his duties in the hall. But Efren was unstoppable. He would play in the morning before everyone else is up and at night just before he goes to bed.
Too small to reach the table, Efren would play standing atop empty Coca-Cola crates. He used to stand on two crates when he began playing. But what he lacked in height, he compensated with audacity and determination. Efren was an eager student and he took every opportunity to play even if that meant having to skip school. This became the bone of contention in his uncle’s home. They were not so keen on having Efren play because they wanted him to focus on his studies. As there was another Efren who played in Lucky 13, Efren was called “Bata” to tell them apart. From then on, he would be known to every Filipino as Efren “Bata” Reyes even though he is now a man nearing his sixties.
There, however, wasn’t any money at school so Efren, with his troops, would go from one pool hall to another challenging anyone for a game. Sometimes they’d win big time and other times, they’d pick a fight instead because their opponents wouldn’t want to release the money, furious at being beaten by a teenager. It came to a point when Efren became too distracted by pool to focus on his studies. He then decided to just quit school altogether so he could play full time and send money back home.
Efren beat one player after another and soon ran out of opponents. Not being able to earn out of hustling anymore, he decided to work for a comic printing press. He earned a meager salary of 90 pesos a month, which was hardly enough to support his family back in Pampanga. After working there for a year, Efren decided to go back to pool, thinking there’s no other way for him to earn money apart from hustling.
It did not take long before his reputation as the best player in the world spread in Manila. When a book author came to the Philippines scouting for the best player around, he was led by fate to Efren. That did not thrill Efren though as it spoiled his plans of going to the United States as an amateur player. No longer an unknown personality in pool, Efren still pushed through with his plan of going to the US and play albeit not as Efren Reyes but as Cesar Morales. Cesar Morales is actually one of his friends back home. Unaware that they were playing against the most distinguished pool player in the Philippines, his opponents got defeated one by one.
His first agent then was a Filipino businessman named Nonie Ortega. It was believed that Efren earned over 10,000 dollars in his first US hustling adventure. Unfortunately, Nonie took off with his winnings and accused Efren of still owing him some money for food and other expenses he incurred during his stay in the US.
He went back home but did not lose heart. Efren has seen how other pool athletes have played and he knew that he stood a chance. He was confident that he’d be able to beat them. Another Filipino agent duped Efren before he found a decent one who is ironically American.
The First non-American winner of the US Open Nine Ball Championship
It was his victory over Nick Varner that solidified his world-class status as an athlete. Due to his growing popularity, Puyat Sports decided to sponsor his games. Arsiteo “Putch” Puyat feels a special kind of affinity to Efren, saying that their now bankable empire was built by their grandfather from scratch. Helping Efren was like honoring their grandfather. Call it fate or destiny, but many believe that Efren was simply rewarded for his hard work and humble heart.
Putch says of his relationship with Efren:
"My association with Efren is special... It is very meaningful to me. Like Efren, my grandfather is from Pampanga. Like Efren, my grandfather started out as a billiard attendant. I would like to think I was a big help in his success. But there's nothing we want in a commercial way. We don't ask him to help us sell tables. It's the relationship. I can feel he likes to do well for his country. It makes me feel that I'm helping a friend, that I'm honoring my family's roots and tradition, that I'm doing something for my country. It's a great privilege and it gives me great pride and pleasure to be associated with him." (Source: Margarita Station)
Defeating Earl Strickland and becoming the Best One-Pocket Player of All Time
One of his most memorable performances was against Earl Strickland, his favorite opponent. The event was called “Color of Money” and was inspired by the movie of the same title. He was challenged to play 120 matches of 9-ball. The match was held in Hong Kong and 100,000 dollars was at stake. It was a heart-stopping event with Efren tipping onto the losing end on the second day of the match. On the third day, however, he was back with a vengeance. He regaled the audience with his unbelievable tricks, earning him the moniker, “The Magician.” Needless to say, Efren won the match 120-117. It wasn’t only the 100,000 dollars he took home, but also the respect of other pool players.
Way back, pool was purely a game of gambling. But after Efren displayed incredible stunts for the world to see, it gained a whole new reputation. Since Efren’s legendary winning, more Filipinos became interested in pool and pool halls began to mushroom.
More Winnings and Accolades
In 1999, Efren became the first winner of the televised match of WPA World 9-ball Championship. When he came back to the Philippines, the whole nation was waiting to welcome their new hero. He was teary-eyed when he was interviewed upon his return, overwhelmed by the attention he was getting. Efren found a new inspiration in playing. Realizing that he no longer plays only for the money but also for the glory of his country, Efren became more determined to win every match he joins.
Efren was awarded the Presidential League of Honor in 2000 and eventually accorded the Philippine Order of Lakandula "Champion for Life Award."
His next overseas game was in Tokyo where he beat Niels Feijen and took home 850,000 dollars along with the International Billiard Tournament trophy. It was considered the biggest first prize in a pool tournament back then. But it was only the beginning of his long running winning streak. The following year, he went on to beat Mika Immonen, one of the most distinguished players, in the winner-take-all International Challenge of Champions. He was awarded 50,000 dollars and topped the AZ Billiards Money List for the second time. That same year, he was named the Philippine Sportswriters Association Sportsman of the Year.
Mainly due to his unbelievable skill in controlling the cue ball, he became the first Asian to be inducted into the Billiard Congress of America's Hall of Fame in 2003, the same year he became the Mid-Atlantic 9-Ball Open Champion. In 2004, he defeated Marlon Manalo and was declared the first-ever WPA World Eight Ball Champion, making him the first player in WPA history to win both 9 and 8-ball World championships. He was inducted into the One Pocket Hall of Fame and again topped the AZ Billiards Money List for the third time. He would top it for the fourth time after winning the IPT King of the Hill 8-Ball Shootout when he took home 200,000 dollars after defeating Mike "the Mouth" Sigel. His home country then appointed him Philippine Sports Ambassador of the South East Asian Games.
Pairing with Francisco “Django” Bustamante
Efren and Earl Strickland would meet again during the World Cup of Pool in 2006. Having Francisco "Django" Bustamante for a partner resulted in a win. The two conquered the title and defeated Team USA composed of Earl Strickland and Rodney Morris. More than the winnings, it was forming a friendship with a fellow Filipino that made it more fun for Efren.
Efren would again be pitted against Rodney Morris in the IPT World Open Eight-ball Championship that year where he won and was supposed to receive 500,000 dollars, earning him his fifth year as top pool player in the AZ Billiards Money List. In spite of not being able to be paid in full right away, Efren did not sue the promoter, saying that he understands that they are in trouble.
Compassion and Humility
Efren married his wife, Susan, after ten years of co-habiting. Susan was a waitress in an eatery where Lucky 13 was located. They started out as friends and Susan encouraged Efren to bank his money in order to set aside some for himself. According to Susan, she was concerned about how Efren handled his finances, being the laid-back guy that he is. She has two children from a past relationship and was not expecting Efren to marry her especially when he began accumulating fame and money.
But she underestimated Efren’s love for her. After yet another successful overseas tour, Efren got back to the Philippines. After a few days of just resting at home, he had Susan dress for a special occasion. He told Susan that they were going to attend a christening ceremony. Totally unaware of what’s in store for her, Susan tagged along only to end up exchanging vows with Efren after a decade of going steady.
Not only is Efren romantic, he is also known to many as a very generous and compassionate relative and neighbor. His success doesn’t seem to get into his head in any way. Even though he was already a celebrity—endorsing products and gracing the covers of the most popular magazines—Efren’s feet remained firmly grounded.
According to Mike LeBron, one of Efren's friends:
"Not only is he the best player in the world... but he's a good person with a great heart. The others all look up to him. He never argues. He never fights. He never talks bad about anyone. And he's one of the most generous people I know. The maid will come in to clean our room, and Efren will just hand her $10 or $20. He doesn't do it for show. He probably wouldn't even want me telling someone he did that. But that's just the way he is." (Source: Google Groups)
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Billiards Managers and Players Association of the Philippines
Awards and Achievements
- 1994: First non-American winner of the US Open Nine Ball Championship
- 1995: Named Reyes the Player of the Year by the Billiards Digest Magazine
- 1996: Won the largest single-winning purse in a pool event after defeating Earl Strickland
- 1996: Named the best one-pocket player of all time by the Billiards Digest Magazine
- 1999: Won the first televised WPA World 9-ball Championship
- 1999: Named the Philippine Sportswriters Association Sportsman of the Year
- 1999: Named Player of the Year
- 2000: Called by Billy Incardona as the "best player in the world"
- 2000: Awarded the Presidential League of Honor
- 2001: Won the International Billiard Tournament in Tokyo, earning the biggest first prize in a pool tournament
- 2001: Topped the AZ Billiards Money List
- 2001: Named the Philippine Sportswriters Association Sportsman of the Year
- 2002: Won the winner-take-all International Challenge of Champions
- 2002: Topped the AZ Billiards Money List
- 2003: Became the first Asian to be inducted into the Billiard Congress of America's Hall of Fame
- 2003: Became the Mid-Atlantic 9-Ball Open Champion
- 2004: Became the first-ever WPA World Eight Ball Champion
- 2004: Became the first player in WPA history to win world championships in two different disciplines
- 2004: Topped the AZ Billiards Money List
- 2004: Inducted into the One Pocket Hall of Fame
- 2004: Became the champion in the Derby City Classic
- 2005: Won the IPT King of the Hill 8-Ball Shootout
- 2005: Topped the AZ Billiards Money List
- 2005: Appointed Philippine Sports Ambassador of the South East Asian Games
- 2005: Became the champion in the Derby City Classic
- 2006: Won the inaugural World Cup of Pool with Francisco Bustamante
- 2006: Won the IPT World Open Eight-ball Championship, earning the largest prize money tournament in the history of pocket billiards
- 2006: Topped the AZ Billiards Money List
- 2006: Earned a record-breaking 646,000 dollars in one year
- 2006: Named the Philippine Sportswriters Association Sportsman of the Year
- 2006: Named by TIME as one of 60 Asian Heroes
- 2007: Ranked #2 in Pool & Billiard Magazine's "Fans' Top 20 Favorite Players" poll
- 2007: Became the champion in the Derby City Classic
- 2009: Tandem with Francisco Bustamante and finish of Ronato Alcano and Dennis Orcollo named the best performance by a host nation in the tournament's history
- 2010: Became the 12th annual Derby City Classic overall Champion
- Received the Philippine Order of Lakandula "Champion for Life Award"
- Received the Outstanding Filipino Awardee of the Jaycees
- Named by the United States Billiards Media Association’s (USBMA) best player of the decade
- Named the pool player with the most overall championship wins at the Derby City Classic
- Recorded in the AZ Billiards Money list for five times as the Most Profitable Billiards Player since 2001
Wikipedia (Efren Reyes)
Celebrity Networth (Efren "Bata" Reyes)
Billiards Digest (Transcript from the the Live Chat Session at the 1997 WPA World 9-Ball Championships.)
AZ Billiards (Efren Reyes)
GMA Network (Ang 'Tunay Na Buhay' ni Efren 'Bata' Reyes at Jojo 'Jolas' Lastimosa)
Margarita Station (Efren Reyes)
NYC Grind (The Top Ten Most Influential People In Billiards)
The Atlantic (The Magician)
National Public Radio (Billiards Star Reyes Gets Everyone Into the Pool)
FHM (Efren Bata Reyes is the Best Pool Player!)
GMA Network (US media names Bata Reyes best pool player)
Examiner.com (Efren 'Bata' Reyes is still 'magical' at 55; wins 5th Master of the Table crown in Indiana)
Inside Pool Magazine via Google Site (Efren Reyes)
Filipino Achievers (Efren “Bata” Reyes: US Billiard Player of the Decade)
Billiards Digest (Filipino Idol)
Google Groups (Efren Reyes: Billiards Digest Player of the Year)