Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Random Snootiness

So earlier this month I flew to St. Louis, MO.

It was a hastily put together trip. Given the time constraints, I actually had to buy plane tickets before I knew for sure I'd have a reason to fly out there. Things worked out as hoped, however, and I did indeed have a reason for the trip.

I've never been to St. Louis. Even though my ancestral family first settled in Missouri in the mid-1800's and still predominantly lives in the area, I have to admit that I know very little about the regional culture and so on.

Regional culture can encompass many things, of course - music, entertainment, customs, etc. But when I travel, I primarily zero in on the food aspect. Why? Well, mostly I like food. I like a wide variety of food, and generally make a point of sampling the local fare whenever I travel. If I have time, I try to check out other forms of local culture as well, but I don't always have time in my schedule for those types of things... especially if I'm travelling for business.

I always have time for food. Always. And I usually do my best to try some food specific to the region - especially if I've never tried it before. I'm a pretty good sport about trying anything once, and I've had some pretty exotic things. I've had kangaroo and Vegemite in Australia (no, not together in the same dish), balut in the Philippines, something I watched being made but still have no clue what all was in it in Singapore, alligator in Florida, some pretty crazy things in S. Korea, king crab in Alaska, crab cakes in Maryland, friggin drop dead awesome beef brisket in Austin, cioppino in San Francisco, pizza in New York (and Chicago) and, well, you get the point.

Given the short notice for this particular trip (as well as the duration of the trip; only two days), I had precious little time to do food research. Nearly zero time, actually. It was all done via Google on my iPhone while waiting at the gate for my outbound flight. I tried to think of what St. Louis might be famous for... BBQ? Hmm, not really... that seemed like more of a Kansas City kind of thing. But wait a minute, isn't there such a thing as St. Louis-style ribs? It's one of the cuts offered in restaurants across the country. Surely if they earned the namesake, there must me something to the ribs in St. Louis... so ribs was quickly adopted as the target for the trip.

A couple quick Internet searches while groups prior to mine were boarding... ribs... good ratings on said ribs... appearing on the map as being between the St. Louis airport and my destination... no? Damn. Well, how about at least not too far out of the way and easy access to the freeway that goes to my destination? Bingo. Roper's Ribs. I'd have to head away from my destination on the freeway for a few miles to get there but not too far, and the access to the freeway looked good.

Roper's Ribs it is.
Images of Roper's Ribs, Saint Louis
This photo of Roper's Ribs is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Other than its location on a map and the fact that I saw a few good ratings, I knew absolutely nothing about Roper's Ribs... but that's OK, that's how I roll sometimes.

I had no idea how small it was. Turns out that it's mainly a take-out place. The 'dining room' is probably about the size of one of my kid's bedrooms and only has four small tables (one of the tables is pictured here). It reminded me of a similarly small BBQ place in Colorado Springs, except none of the tables (or chairs for that matter) matched in the Colorado Springs restaurant.

The BBQ in Colorado Springs hole-in-the-wall was outstanding, though, and I hoped for more of the same here.

I placed my order - a ribs and shrimp combo - and sat at the table by the front window. While I waited, a steady stream of customers came in to either pick up orders that they had called in or place orders for pickup. In all, I probably heard at least a dozen orders being placed... and every single order... and I mean EVERY... single... order... had a common item in it. Snoots. Ribs & Snoots. Shrimp & Snoots. Rib Tips & Snoots. Snoots by themselves. Snoots, Snoots, Snoots. I found myself wondering... "WTF are Snoots?" "This place ain't called 'Roper's Snoots' dammit... are you people insane?" I didn't see any awards for Snoots on the website (or on the walls in the dining room for that matter).

I wondered if there was some secret unadvertised cheap special for these things called Snoots, but there wasn't.

I wondered if I should change my order to include Snoots.

I wondered if I should order Snoots-to-go after eating my meal.

I wondered if some random person sitting in the dining room would take offense if my fork accidentally stabbed one of the Snoots on their plate. I thought better of it after reminding myself that I may very well be the only white person in a one mile radius (nothing wrong with that at all in my opinion... but I was obviously a guest in the neighborhood and should act accordingly).

I mostly wondered what I was missing out on.

Before long, they called my number to let me know my order was ready and I went to the window to retrieve my Snoot-less styrofoam container. The ribs were very good, although not the absolute best I've ever had (granted, I've been to the famous Memphis-in-May national rib competition, so I've had some damn good ribs). The shrimp actually stunned me. They were excellent. Big, firm, juicy, excellent batter... that was the shocker for me. I expected the ribs to be great and the shrimp to be passable like they are in far too many restaurants across the country. These shrimp, in my opinion, would justify changing the name of the restaurant to "Roper's Shrimp"... but I guess that wouldn't have the same ring to it.

I left Snootless, but I'll be back.

I see several trips to St. Louis in my future... another one is already booked in September.

The folks at Roper's - the staff as well as the random customers I chatted with - were all super friendly people. Big smiles, great food, and friendly conversation - what more can you ask for?

I can ask for Snoots, that's what. Next time I drop in, it'll be a Shrimp & Snoots combo, please.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Scorching Hot Summer Fun Edition

Yikes, I skipped a month... haven't done that in awhile.

Before I let another month slip by I wanted to check in, say "hi," and catch up on a couple of things.

First newsflash:


I took this shot with my iPhone while running some errands around town in my Jeep-mobile last week. In case you're wondering... no, I didn't take the picture while driving.

This is the time of year in Las Vegas I don't particularly like, to be honest. Yeah, yeah, it's a dry heat - LOL. Having lived on the east coast (Orlando, FL), I'll admit there *is* something to the whole dry heat / humid heat thing... and I much prefer the dry heat... but 115F is friggin' hot no matter what. I'm the type of person who'd much rather be cold than hot.

During the summer here, it's not unheard of to have temperatures above 100F well into the night, even after midnight! I generally find myself running from air-conditioned space to air-conditioned space.

Second newsflash:

I'm currently jobless.

Back on July 6th, my VP called me into a conference room to inform me that the company was eliminating my position as part of some cost-saving measures they were taking. My duties were going to be 'absorbed' by other people.

And that was that.

I've been on both sides of that conference room table, and I know from experience he wasn't enjoying the conversation any more than I was... so I kept things short, and went on my way. It's a tough business climate out there, and sometimes tough decisions need to be made. I get it. I was with the company for over 17 years (including acquisitions of subsidiaries)... and, I must say it was a good run overall. It's a company full of good people, and I wish them well.

Of course, any "life event" like this is reason for reflection. Where I am in life, how I got here, and where I want to head next. I'm considering many different options, including finding a similar job elsewhere... but I'm also checking into some new and exciting possibilities - some of which may be pool-related (in case you're wondering, it's safe to say I'm not going to be a pro anytime soon).

Interestingly, the seed for one of these possibilities got planted around two years ago when a guy named Kevin strolled into my Wednesday night team's home bar and caught me practicing a bit after league play. We shot a few racks and casually chatted. He explained what he did for a living and I found it to be very interesting. I told him I could see myself joining him some day. He gave me his card and told me to give him a call when I wanted to look into it further.

I kept that card, and knew exactly where it was last Tuesday when I decided to make that call.

Amazingly, Kevin remembered me. He remembered the bar (which sadly shut its doors as yet another victim of the economy a couple of months ago). He remembered our conversation. We chatted on the phone for probably around an hour about all sorts of things... and most importantly, we talked about the possibility of me joining him.

It's much too early to talk details, but I have to say I'm taking a hard look at the opportunity and pretty excited about the possibilities.

And with that, I share my fortune from the fortune cookie I had about an hour ago with lunch today (picture taken against a backdrop of emerald green Simonis 860 cloth peppered with marks from jump shot practice):

Friday, May 25, 2012

I don't just shoot pool...

I shoot other things too.

Photography has been a life-long hobby for me, dating way back to my early years - long before I picked up a pool cue.

Some of my shooting involves lead and ear protection and well, but we'll write about that another day... today is about photography.

My first camera was a Kodak Brownie Holiday. And no, I'm not that old, this particular model was discontinued before I was born. Like many things back then, that camera was a hand-me-down... and it was pretty sturdy so it held up to the abuse that it invariably received from me being a young kid.

I had two jobs growing up - a paper route for the Sacramento Bee, and an after-school job at a local drug store doing odd things like receiving and pricing products, stocking shelves, and so on. I remember saving money for quite awhile for a better camera (along with a flash and additional lens or two) as well as my dad driving me all the way down to San Francisco (about a four or five hour drive) to buy my first 35mm SLR, a Minolta XD-5. Definitely money well spent.

That camera was a huge leap forward for me and really helped kick things off in my hobby. I was on the high school yearbook staff and took (and developed, using the school's darkroom) numerous pictures around campus. I took sports pictures that were published in the local newspaper. My classmates voted me "most likely to become a Playboy photographer" senior year. I didn't become one (yet?), but I have done a good bit of model photography and have always felt some form of photography is something I could "fall back on" someday.

I also dabbled in other interesting areas during high school: holography, and high speed photography. I successfully built apparatuses (apparati?) for physics projects to experiment in both of these areas. To this date, my mom has a picture on her wall that I took of a shattering light bulb, frozen in time after being hit with a hammer. Harold Edgerton was one of my heroes back then, and it felt great to be able to pull off something on par with his work!

WTF does this have to do with pool, you say? Well, I'm still taking pictures these days... and pool happens to be one of the many subjects I enjoy shooting.

I've had people tell me that "all pool shots look pretty much the same" but I wholeheartedly disagree. Besides the variations in stances, bridges, etc. there is a ton of emotion in the game (duh?) and that's always something I try to capture when I can. Darren Appleton is fun to shoot for example because of all the crazy faces he makes while he's deep in thought. They're sometimes a challenge to catch... they're often fleeting glimpses, and you need to be zoomed in well enough to catch the expressions. You obviously can't use flash and the lighting often isn't very good when they're standing up away from the table lights.

I also take the opportunity to study good form. This shot of Hunter Lombardo is an example of good stance and alignment. His left forearm is dead spot-on vertical as it should be (and so is his thumb, actually). It looks like he's gripping fairly tightly which is a little surprising - but it probably isn't as tight as it looks, and I don't know where exactly he is in his shot routine either. He's got a fairly level stick, and is down about as far as he can get (heck, it actually looks like he's worn a groove in his chin).

PBIA Master Instructor Tom Simpson used Hunter as an example of someone with good mechanics, and I can definitely see why! Tom also made a point of saying that you don't necessarily have to be a "chin dragger" like Hunter to get good results. There are pros and cons for being down so low as well as being up a bit higher, and being so low isn't ideal for everyone.

While watching the match between Darren and Hunter (US Open 10-ball), my mind wandered back to my "junior Harold Edgerton" days and I decided to take a stab at shooting some break shots. The lighting was good (they were on the TV table) so I was able to use a reasonable shutter speed to capture the action. Back in the day, Harold (and I) used a triggered strobe light in a dark room for the exposure because, with the right equipment, the flash of light was far quicker than virtually any mechanical shutter could be. The goal with those shots was to completely freeze something that was happening in a split second (like a light bulb exploding). Again, I couldn't use a flash, but in this case I wanted to see some motion!

As luck would have it, my very first attempt turned out to be one of my favorite shots! Check it out - the cue ball hasn't hit the rack yet, but the blurred image of it is actually overlapping the 1-ball. Hunter broke from the right side of what would be "the box" if they had a box (they didn't) so the cue ball was coming from that side of the table. If it's not in contact with the 1-ball, it's damn close.

It didn't take long for the engineer in me to realize that I could theoretically measure the speed of the break shot... based on knowing the diameter of the cue ball, length of blur, and shutter speed. I'm not sure how calibrated the shutter speed is on my camera, but it was supposedly 1/50th of a second for this shot. Using that, I came up with something in the neighborhood of 18 mph, which I think is a reasonable number - not blistering fast, but respectable for a well controlled break like Hunter was doing.

If you try to run the figures yourself, remember you should be measuring the distance from the center of the cue ball at the beginning of the blur to the center of the cue ball at the end of the blur because you're trying to figure out how far it traveled in 1/50th of a second. Or measure the entire blur and subtract out one cue ball diameter. Measuring the entire blur would be incorrect.

The second shot I have here is slightly after impact, showing the relative energy imparted on all the balls. The cue ball and 1-ball are in the air, the 2-ball and 3-ball have the most energy and are quickly speeding away (they were on the corners per a proper 10-ball rack). The 4-ball and 9-balls were between the 2&3 and also have a lot of energy, although not as much as the 2&3. Note that this was not the same break as above, so some of the initial ball positions were different. I believe this one was an Appleton break. If I remember right, Darren usually broke from nearly the same spot that Hunter used.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Spot on the Wall... for the Win

Yesterday I was in a 10-ball tournament, a monthly "tour" tournament hosted by the local Vegas Billiards Buzz. I drew a very solid competitor in the first round, the winner of the previous month's tour event, so I knew I'd have my hands full. In one of the early games of the match he didn't have a very good shot on the 8-ball so he banked the 8 around the 9, freezing the cue ball to the back of the 9-ball. A damn nice lock-up safety, leaving me with the approximate layout shown:

Obviously no direct shot at the 8-ball. The 10-ball took away the natural one-rail kick and even minor variations that might have been available with English (and of course being frozen to the 9-ball complicates the whole English proposition in the first place). I considered a two-rail kick off the head rail, but awkwardly bridging over the frozen 9-ball? Ummm... no. I considered a two-rail kick just past the 10-ball, but I wasn't crazy about that option because it was one of those just get a good hit and hope for the best options... and my opponent was very capable of running the remaining three balls unless I got really lucky with the final positions after the shot. The natural angle for that two-railer was flirting with the point of the corner pocket as well.

I didn't see any reasonable options for tying up balls with an intentional foul.


I did NOT want to give this one up without a fight.

At some point I noticed that even though the 8-ball was a fair distance from the corner pocket, it was either on or near the natural three-rail kick line... so I started to consider a three-rail kick. Like many people, I've played with three-rail kicks from time-to-time, so I had a reasonable feel for them - especially on tables like the Diamond bar-box I was playing on. I don't recall ever trying one from this shallow of an angle before, though.

Enter the "spot on the wall" or "distant point" method. I have no idea who first came up with this, but it's been discussed by numerous people including Dr. Dave Alciatore, Bob Jewett, Robert Byrne, and others. One of Dr. Dave's write ups on the technique can be found here.

I've only casually experimented with the technique, but I knew this was a golden opportunity to try it out for real. I called the 8-ball in the corner (due to the handicap against this opponent, the called 8 was a money ball for me). I picked a line that I felt was a good "known" three-rail line for me... looked up to find a spot on the line (the edge of a chair back on an empty ball stool by the bar). I side-stepped over to lock in on the line-of-aim through the center of the cue ball, approached the table and got into my stance on that line. I stroked through the cue ball with slight running English and watched as it came around three rails to hit the 8-ball perfectly, dropping it near center-pocket below me. For the win. Booyah!

As you might imagine, this generated quite a buzz from the bystanders... I was able to pull out isolated comments like "wow, did you just see that?" One person I didn't know even came up to me after the end of the match (several racks later) to tell me it was the best shot he's seen in a long time.

It always feels good to hear comments like that of course, and I suppose that's why some people watch pool - to catch the occasional thriller; somewhat like watching hours of cars going around a track waiting for an occasional exciting wreck.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!

So last month I talked about a new league that I joined - mainly hoping to get some experience against better players and so on...

My voodoo dolls must have worked, because enough people weren't available that I finally got the call and played last week.

Headed over to the bar (on the other side of town, so it was a bit of a drive), I put some thought into what I was hoping to get out of the match. It's a round-robin format with five players per team - so I'd be playing one game of 9-ball against each of the opponents. Not thinking negatively but rather realistically against this caliber of player, I realized that I could very well go down in flames 0-5 in my debut.

I hoped I'd pull out at least one game for a 1-4.

I was pleasantly surprised to go 2-3, even though I didn't get to break at all! Yeah!!! With this format, the initial break is determined by a coin toss, then each successive break is determined by the preceding game - so if your teammate playing before you wins, you break... if he (or she) loses, you rack.

That was last week. This week, my voodoo dolls came through for me once again and a couple of the usual players on my team weren't able to make it.

This week, the friggin planets were aligned for me or something because I pulled off a 4-1!! Woohoo!

This week, I got to break several times and my break was working fairly well so that definitely helped. In fact, I almost dropped the nine in one of the top corner pockets on one break (the 2 and 9 intercepted the cue mid-table and tried to herd it into the same corner as well... but it ended up being the 9 that rattled the pocket after being hit by the 2). The balls ended up in the position shown in the diagram (there were other balls on the table, but I'm omitting them because I only know generally where they were and these are the important ones... the 1-ball dropped in the side on the break).

I was thinking to myself, WTF do I do with this??? I didn't really see any decent safeties, and obviously the semi-hanger 9 was a concern if I turned the table over.

I elected to go for the 4 by making about a 1/8 hit on the 2. I knew that would at least ensure a good hit on the 2 and that it would clear the 2 away from the 9... hopefully putting the 2 in a tough spot. I narrowly missed the 4, but the cue came back and dropped the 9! Yah!! During the flurry of high-fives and fist-bumps back at our table, our captain asked me if I actually played that shot (he obviously doesn't know me that well yet)... and I didn't even attempt to fake it, I just responded with an authoritative "F*CK no!"

But wait, there's more...

Remember I mentioned there were pros and ex-pros like Max Eberle in this league? Well, I found out that our team is getting a pro too - how cool is that?? One of my teammates is a friend and snatched him up. My understanding is he'll be living in town for awhile in support of something big coming up with Bonus Ball. They haven't announced it yet, but they have hinted at an upcoming announcement on their Facebook page.

Since the Bonus Ball people haven't announced anything yet, I feel like maybe I shouldn't mention any names. I wouldn't want all ten of my readers blabbing about unsubstantiated rumors, right?

Anyway, hey, check out this cool shot I got of someone at the Andy Mercer tourney a couple of weeks ago... ;)

Friday, March 30, 2012

March Catch Up

No, I'm not talking about a condiment. It's unfortunately been a recurring theme lately... I've noticed that once again I haven't posted in a while, so I figured I'd address that with a big heaping buffet-o-topics covering what I've been doing and/or working on lately (instead of posting to my blog). I've been busy on several fronts.

Eye update
My eyes have been through a lot in the last year or so. You may recall me mentioning in December that some sagebrush attacked my right eye. What wasn't mentioned in that post was... a few days later, just as I was regaining sight in the eye (I still didn't feel I could see well enough to drive)... a baby attacked the same eye! WTF? I had a 9-month old sitting sideways on the table in front of me at Joe's Crab Shack in Phoenix, and she suddenly spread her arms in reaction to someone else at the table trying to get her to clap - and jabbed my open right eye again with one of her sharp little fingernails. A slobber and food covered fingernail, of course. She's lucky she's so cute.

I'm happy to report that my eyes are doing pretty well now, but I still haven't gotten the post-LASIK touch up to correct the less-than-stellar correction that the first round of LASIK gave me. They wanted to wait until my eyes stabilized, and that sounded like a great plan to me... I'm a "don't rush, get it right" kind of guy, especially when it comes to something like my eyes. My eyes were stable in December until some sagebrush and a baby's finger destabilized them again, so now we're rolling up to my one-year anniversary of the original surgery (I distinctly remember getting it on March 31st last year because I considered waking up the next morning (April 1st) screaming that I couldn't see.

I've been hitting tournaments fairly hard lately, at least every single weekend at a bare minimum over the last couple of months. I once managed to squeeze in four tournaments in a single weekend - three of them in a single day! The dirty little secret here is that I got knocked out of some of them fast enough to get to the next one(s) but shhh!

One of the tournaments was the APA Regionals at Main Street Billiards in Mesa, AZ. I won some and lost some there, didn't qualify for Singles Nationals, unfortunately (which was the whole point of going). The loss that knocked me out was a stupid one - we were hill-hill, my opponent broke and was left a tough shot which he missed. I went to the table and worked my way through a not-so-straightforward run-out... got decent shape but a fairly long shot on the 8-ball. After such a nice run, I confidently fired it in instead of shooting it nice and easy, and it rattled out! Dumb! Dumb! Dumb!

I was happy with my performance overall, though. The losses were close, and the wins were solid. A referee made a point of coming over and giving me kudos on my play after a match, and an opponent made a point of dropping by to tell me "good luck" again before he left the pool hall for home after I knocked him out. Overall, I've been shooting well and definitely improving.

I'm sad to report that PoolSynergy seems to be on hiatus for the foreseeable future. Although a few of us are interested in keeping it going, several of the past regular writers have either dropped out completely or have simply been too busy to contribute lately. You may have noticed that we didn't do it this month (March) for the first time in something like two and a half years. We're taking a breather and haven't decided if we should try to regroup in the future or not.

New League
As another part of my self-imposed "self improvement" program, I've thrown myself into the fire by getting into another league... this one being BCA-sanctioned (which has been my goal for awhile). I started out with APA a few years ago, and I think I'll continue with it for a bit longer... still have a few unfulfilled goals... but I'm wanting to get my foot in the door elsewhere.

I say "thrown into the fire" because it's a non-handicapped league and I chose the toughest division available. While I chose the division partly because of my schedule (it's a good night for me)... I mainly chose it because many, if not all of the best players in town are in the division. Take last week, for example: one of the players on the opposing team was Max Eberle. Enough said?

Max missed a tough cut on the 1-ball in one of his games allowing his opponent to run out. Max then did something that impressed me: He set up the same shot and tried it over and over again until he started making it consistently. He probably missed it 10-15 times in a row while everyone looked on until he had it nailed.

Pool legend Jimmy Mataya is also in the league. I don't expect to kick butt anytime soon, but I know I'll get some great experience and I'm sure I'll have my moments. I was in a similar situation the first time I played in the Masters division of APA, and surprised everyone by ending up with the best point average on my team!

When describing this new league to my girlfriend I jokingly said, "I'm not even sure if I qualify to be their water boy to be honest, I'm just thankful they let me on the team and I'll be happy to play every now and then." As she often does, she came up with the perfect analogy, "so you're like Rudy, huh?" I laughed and said, "Yep - exactly!"

VBB Scene
Probably the biggest drain on my "spare time" over the last month or so was the creation of a new online discussion forum for the Las Vegas pool community. This is something that I've felt we needed for some time now so I recently teamed up with Amy Encinias, president of Vegas Billiards Buzz, to bring it to fruition. It's similar in function to the bulletin boards hosted by AZ Billiards and Billiards Digest, but we're focusing on pool in the Las Vegas area. You don't have to be a Las Vegas resident to participate - anyone traveling to or having an interest in billiards/pool in Las Vegas area is more than welcome to register and join the action, so drop by and check out the VBB Scene!

New Pool Adventure
If all of this isn't enough, I'm headed across the country to Baltimore in a couple of weeks for a brand new pool adventure. I'm really excited about it; anxiously hopeful that it works out well. I'll most likely write about it in an upcoming post, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

PoolSynergy: A Handful of Random Tips

Welcome to the February edition of:
PoolSynergy is a blog carnival where several pool bloggers collaborate each month to write about a common topic.

This month is hosted by John Biddle the Pool Student, who happens to be the person responsible for wrangling together a band of pool bloggers a couple of years ago to kick off PoolSynergy in the first place. John left his topic wide open for us... anything under the broad category of "Tips". Seems easy, right? Just pick anything.


Seriously... anything, just pick it.

Just... pick... anything.

So there I was staring at the vast buffet called 'anything' and you know what? Sometimes having too many choices can be overwhelming. My mind wandered through obvious choices like bridges, stroke mechanics, and other elements in the ever-so-important fundamentals; practice routines; gear; and so on... and quickly concluded there are a TON of great tips covering most of those areas already floating around.

I didn't want to simply rehash; I wanted to come up with something possibly a bit different. So I started thinking in new directions and did my best to narrow my focus to these areas: Things that people commonly screw up and live to regret... and things that may be fairly well known to those who have been around pool for awhile, but possibly not known until they ran across the situation and had an "ah-ha" moment.

In other words, things people generally learn... for better or worse... through experience. This might sound a little backwards, but I actually consider myself uniquely qualified on this topic because I haven't been around pool as long as many others have been. In other words, I can still remember having the "ah-ha" moments because they weren't ten or twenty years ago (or more) for me... they were more like two or three years ago because I haven't been playing that long.

I've managed to come up with a list of ten here, but I'm sure there are many more that fit into this loose category I'm trying to invent here. Feel free to share some of yours in the comments section below if you'd like... I'd love to hear them!

Lest anyone wonders, I'm mainly concerned with serious or at least reasonably serious competition here - maybe a sizable tournament, or money is on the line or something. If you want to treat casual games with friends differently, that's a personal choice of course.

Be prepared
This is admittedly a pretty broad "catch all" tip to lead off with, but it never ceases to amaze me how many people screw this one up... even at major national tournaments. By "be prepared" I mean in all respects - make sure you have the equipment you need for the match and that it's in good working order. Make sure you're in good working order as well. Make sure you're not hungry, thirsty, hungover, etc. I live in Las Vegas, and have seen many people blow matches at major tournaments because they got too caught up in the "Vegas experience". Sure, enjoy yourself... but remember why you're there in the first place! I can only guess that the plane ride home would be a long one if you dropped out of the tourney due to a forfeit because you were passed out in your room. Face it, precious few people are capable of showing up just a minute or two before the forfeit deadline with disheveled hair and dried drool caked to our cheek; borrow a cue from someone in the audience and put the smack down on Earl Strickland.

Ensure you know the rules... and/or discuss and settle on the rules ahead of time.
If the match is a league match or part of a tournament, make sure you take the time to thoroughly familiarize yourself with the rules. Again, I see people unprepared in this area with mind-boggling regularity. No one is going to look out for you better than... you. If the match in question is some sort of serious individual match (perhaps some action with someone you haven't played before) make sure you discuss and agree upon the rules before the match begins. Pay attention to the game and your opponent... again, I simply cannot count how many times I've seen someone commit a foul or improperly rack while their opponent is simply not paying attention. I don't think the actions were intentional in most cases, but it happens!

Check out the table!
Again touching on the "be prepared" item, take some time to check out the table if at all possible. Obviously not all tables play the same... and sure, you'll both be playing on the same table so things will be "equal" in that respect... but the more you learn about the table and the quicker you can adapt, the better off you'll be. And any advantage over the competition is a good thing. Shooting a few balls to warm up a bit is one thing, but I suggest you dig deeper and work up a routine that quickly gives you an idea of the table's speed, rails, and identifies any oddities such as roll-off. Some good tips are given on Disc V of Dr. Dave's new Video Encyclopedia of Pool Practice (VEPP) (not to be confused with his older but equally informative VEP series of videos).

Cue cases under the table
Often tournament rooms are crowded and busy with people bustling about. Far too often, there simply isn't enough room to put things like your cue case, extra cues, etc, etc. Mileage may vary of course, but some folks easily have hundreds or even thousands of dollars sitting there, and all too often it's piled on or next to a side table or chair or whatever is halfway convenient. During your match, your back is often turned on that gear and you certainly aren't paying attention to it... you're completely focused on the table layout in front of you, right? I've known things to get snatched, and it isn't pretty on many levels. Certainly the monetary and/or sentimental loss can be significant... but also think of the distraction/disruption an incident like that can cause to your game or even the rest of the tournament! One of the safest places to stash this stuff is under the pool table itself. You're almost always facing it, making things really tough to snatch which is worth a lot in the "peace of mind" category.

Be conservative about close hits
I've seen and experienced enough controversy in this area to overcome my "shyness" about getting a referee or other appropriate person to watch a close hit. Eff it. Be reasonable about it of course, but you flat need to cover your butt on this one. If you wait until after your opponent's hit, it's too late. This, of course, is a two-way street. When I'm shooting and know I'm going to do something that might be questionable, I often point it out to my opponent and suggest we get someone to watch the hit - that way, I know it's coming and I'm (hopefully) not interrupted mid-stroke by an opponent jumping up and calling for a hit watch.

Always post money if gambling
Always. Ensure. The. Money. Is. Posted. Period. Of course I'm talking about any significant stake that you care about losing (which is a relative value from person to person of course). The plain truth is people gamble with money they don't have all the time. Often the people doing this are skilled at side-stepping your attempts at trying to get them to post. They prey on the human nature of wanting to trust someone and not wanting to "make waves". Don't fall into the trap.

Pay attention to the score
Admittedly, this is a pretty general comment because there's so many different ways to score, depending on the format being played... but I've seen problems in this area more than once and have become sensitized to it as a result. I've seen people advance the score using the "ball-knockers" over the table right after sinking the money ball, rack the next rack, then reach up and advance the score again (hopefully an honest mistake, but who knows?). The key is, pay attention to this kind of thing! Above all, don't rely on memory for the score. If there isn't some sort of score sheet or built-in scoring device on or above the table, a common technique is to use pennies or other similar coins on the table under the rails - start with two coins together at the middle diamond on the foot rail, then advance the coins to the next diamond around the table (in opposite directions) with each win.

Even better, make sure someone else is paying attention to the score if appropriate so it's not an issue and/or distraction to you and your game. Some league scoring systems are more complicated than others, and in the more complicated scoring situations it really helps to have a dedicated scorekeeper to you can keep your focus on the game itself and not the intricacies of individual ball counts and so on. Just make sure the scorekeeper knows what they're doing.

Thin racks for straight pool
This may seem out of place when compared to previous tips... but it was an "ah-ha" moment for me at one point, so I'm throwing it in here. There are lots of different types of racks out there - some made with wood, some made with plastic or metal. Some of the old wooden ones (like the ones at one of my favorite bars) tend to be quite thick. This extra thickness can cause problems every once in a while if you're playing 14.1 straight pool, so you might consider bringing along a thinner rack if you have one.

Keep your cool
I admit it, I've lost my cool a few times... I think just about anyone who's halfway competitive has. Even though I feel I was pretty justified in most if not all of the situations, I can't think of many times where I actually benefited from losing my cool. It rarely if ever changed the outcome of the situation, and it sometimes screwed up my game. OK, maybe it screwed up my opponent's game too, but I wouldn't say that's something you can count on. Do your best to anticipate and avoid problem situations... and when they come up (and they will) do your best to deal with the situation in as reasonable a manner as possible. Get it behind you, get your head back in the game, and kick his (or her) butt on the table.

Bar fight situation, grab the balls!
OK, I just couldn't pass this one up although I've never had personal experience in the area. If you're playing pool (or near a pool table) and people don't follow the previous "keep your cool" tip and a bar brawl breaks out... apparently the weapon of choice is as many billiard balls as you can grab. Who knew?? I would have guessed pool cues would be better, but not according to the book "Playing Off The Rail". If you've got a good arm (and I do... I was a quarterback in football and a pitcher in baseball) throwing balls are apparently pretty darn effective in such a situation - an "ah-ha" moment I had while reading the book.

Be sure to check out the other PoolSynergy articles linked from John's Pool Student blog.