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Itabashi, Compton vie for Top 500 title

In one of the most lively contests in recent years, two of ACBL’s top professional players are racing to the finish line in the 2013 Barry Crane Top 500 contest. With two days to go, the outcome is too close to call.

Through Sunday’s events, Mark Itabashi has an unofficial total of 2718.30 masterpoints for the year, 34.36 ahead of Chris Compton’s 2683.94. Totals are unofficial because some results are unreported.

Itabashi and Compton are waging their masterpoint war from opposite ends of the country. Itabashi, of Murrieta CA, is playing at the Reno Holiday Regional. Compton, of Dallas, is playing in the Myrtle Beach MABC New Year’s Regional, where he may have an advantage because of the schedule.

In Reno, the final day of the tournament is Dec. 31. The Myrtle Beach tournament continues on Jan. 1 with several events, including a bracketed KO that started on Dec. 31 and thus would pay masterpoints counted for 2013 if Compton plays in the event and his team makes it to the semifinal round.

The contest has been frantic since the conclusion of the 2013 Fall NABC in Phoenix, where Itabashi completed his second straight outstanding NABC.

Before the Summer NABC in Atlanta, Itabashi was well off the pace set by 10-time winner Jeff Meckstroth. In Atlanta, however, Itabashi won the von Zedtwitz Life Master Pairs and the Truscott USPC Senior Swiss Teams, leaving the tournament with a total of 326.70 points. In Phoenix, Itabashi scored 215.68 points. Compton earned 86.61 points in Atlanta and 65.09 in Phoenix.

It has been non-stop play for both since the end of the Fall NABC, and going into Monday’s play, Itabashi held the lead, having scored 60.77 points in Reno to 39.49 for Compton.

Both players competed in the seven-day Western Conference Holiday Sectional Tournament at Clubs, Itabashi coming away with 51.97 points to 49.22 for Compton.

Mike Passell, at one time contending for the title, played in a regional in mid-December but has no recorded masterpoints since. Meckstroth had, for him, a disappointing Fall NABC, scoring “only” 135.51 points.

The Barry Crane Top 500 contest has a colorful history, especially during the time when Crane, considered the top matchpoint player of all time, ruled the roost. Before Crane was slain in 1985 in a still-unsolved murder, the contest was for the McKenney Trophy (named after William McKenney, who devised the masterpoint plan).

Before Crane’s death, it was customary for a player who wanted to claim the masterpoint crown to seek Crane’s blessing. After the late Hermine Baron, a friend, sought and claimed the title without Crane’s “permission,” he didn’t speak to her again for years.

In another year, Crane’s principal opponent is reported to have hired top pros to play in the same events as Crane to decrease his chances for success. The plan worked.

Many of the winners, including Mark Lair and Zeke Jabbour, declared after their year-long campaigns that they would never go after the title again. The late Richard Hunt, 1994 winner, revealed that the title had cost him more than $400,000.

Jim Barrow earned a record 3594 masterpoints in 1999 to win the title. He detailed the grueling schedule and all his ups and downs during the year in a book, “Record Run,” that should give anyone second thoughts about undertaking the quest.