Monday, December 27, 2010

Why Do I Miss?

I'm at the stage of my game that I'm really trying to work on my consistency. I can make shots. I can (and have) made extremely difficult shots like razor-thin cuts from the length of the table and so on... shots that usually prompt TV commentators to predict an upcoming safety. If I'm focusing well, I can sink corner-to-corner-dead-straight-object-ball-in-the-middle-of-the-table shots with high regularity. But yet, I miss shots that I shouldn't more often than I'd like to. So, like many other pool players out there, I'm making a concerted effort to to improve my percentages on 'basic' shots. By 'basic' I mean shots where the cue ball and/or object ball do not hit a rail or another ball. I'm talking about straight-in shots or varying degrees of cut shots. No banks, kicks, caroms, billiards, etc... just the basics.

So, back the original question - why do I miss? Simple question, amazingly complex answer. Any number of things can result in missing a given shot. Unless you know exactly which factor caused you to miss, it's pretty much impossible to correct the problem directly... so the general approach to improving at shot making usually focuses on improving upon the factors most likely associated with inconsistent play and missed shots. For purposes of simplification, I've decided to group the various 'miss factors' into three categories:

Stroke. With little doubt, a smooth consistent stroke is the primary foundation to excelling at pool. You can be a genius at angles, theory, and strategy; but if you can't hit the cue ball consistently, your play will most likely plateau at some level (actual level may vary, but probably below where you'd like). In my attempt at simplified categorization, I consider the stroke to be comprised of several elements including stance, bridge, grip, arm position, follow-through, and so on. In other words, I consider the stroke to be pretty much everything leading up to and including consistently hitting a cue ball exactly where you want to hit it. I've put quite a bit of time into working on my stroke and while there's always room for improvement, I think I've got it to a level that it's usually not a significant factor in my misses (or if it is, I usually know because the shot felt wrong). Because the stroke is so important, it's discussed at length in numerous books, DVDs and other resources. One of my favorite DVDs on the subject is in the set I recommended earlier this month. As I mentioned in my recommendation, the entire first DVD of the set is dedicated to a "perfect stroke." Another DVD that does a good job of discussing stroke fundamentals is Max Eberle's Powerful Pool.

Aim. For my purposes, I consider 'aim' as being the process or act of determining where the cue ball needs to go in order to make a given shot. To me, successfully delivering the cue ball to the point of aim is more a function of the 'stoke' category discussed above... but I certainly agree there's overlap between the two. Aim influences proper body alignment for a successful shot, for example. What I'm really trying to isolate in this category is what many people call "aiming systems" which is one of the current areas of focus in my own game. Improving my stroke definitely improved my game, but I still have some unexplained misses that I can't attribute to stroke problems (or other problems, below), so I'm not entirely certain I'm aiming properly on all shots. Therefore, I've decided to embark on a review of the various aiming systems out there to see if there's something useful that I'm not currently using.

And just what am I using? Good question. I more or less started out with the ghost ball system as I imagine most people did. Through practice, drills, and experience I've developed more of a 'feel' system that a lot of more experienced players develop over time. Yes, I've been able to walk up to a table and pound a long back-cut into a blind pocket without even thinking about it, so I know I have some amount of 'feel' aiming brewing inside me... but the whole 'feel' thing is against my nature... I'm an engineer and therefore tend to seek out something more quantifiable; something I can actively troubleshoot and improve rather than something I just put faith into automatically improving though hours and hours of practice. The problem is, when a 'feel' shot goes wrong I have no quantifiable way of determining why... and that bothers me.

Although I've looked at many of these aiming systems before, I can't say that I've really done a deep dive to figure them out and perhaps more importantly try them out. That's going to be my project for the next few weeks or so. I expect it to keep me busy for awhile. There is some discussion of aiming systems in books and DVDs I already have, and there's also a wealth of information online. Dr. Dave has a page dedicated to aiming, and several of Bob Jewett's Billiards Digest articles discuss aiming systems as well. While reading one of the articles, I ran across a reference to a book entitled "The Secret of Aiming" by Randy Kukla. I wasn't able to find the book searching online, but I just happen to know a Randy Kukla who plays pool (quite well, by the way). The one I know doesn't live in Essexville, MI as Jewett's article stated, but I figured my odds were pretty good it was the same person. A quick email confirmed, and I should have a copy of his book in my hands soon. I'll ask him if he's willing and able to sell it to others as well in case anyone else is interested - please let me know if you are.

Beyond commercially available books and videos and/or Internet resources, there are several folks who advertise some sort of "secret aiming system training" in with fundamentals of pool classes that they offer. By no means a comprehensive list, a few such programs (in no particular order) are: Tom Simpson's "Beat People with a Stick" course, Stan Shuffett's PRO ONE, and Gene Albrecht's Perfect Aim. While I would absolutely love to attend one or more of these courses, it's probably not going to happen anytime in the near future due to higher priority things competing for my $$. I believe a couple of the programs offer or will offer DVDs showing their aiming systems, so I may look into those at some point.

If anyone has input regarding resources I should look into in the area of aiming, by all means drop me a comment!

Other. To be honest, I mainly tacked this category on as a catch all for the time being. I recognize that there are some other factors that can contribute to a miss. Equipment, table conditions, nerves, distractions, as well as quantifiable factors such as squirt, deflection, throw, and so on. I realize some of these factors (such as the last few) can and ideally should be factored into aiming systems, or at least considered during the aiming process... but for now I decided to keep them separate in order to simply things a bit. I'll revisit and expand upon many of these factors at some point in the future. [update] p00lriah made a huge point in a comment that I should have covered better in this section, and that is that you need to keep an even keel and treat every shot the same! Don't get tense on a money ball - and at the other end of the spectrum, treat every shot with respect... even the little simple plinkers. Thanks p00lriah!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

13 Hours of Efren vs. Earl

In-laws visiting and you need to sneak off to the back room now and then to unwind? Kids banging mercilessly on their new toys in a sugar-induced frenzy? Wife still giving you crap about the raw turkey because you thought you set the timer for three hours to remind you to baste it but instead you set the timer to turn ON the oven in three hours?

Go ahead, lock the door and relax. Here's 13 hours of Efren Reyes vs. Earl Strickland at Ridgway's in Hong Kong (1996). Bite-sized 10 minute segments. 9-ball. Winner breaks. Race to 120. $100,000 winner take all.

Happy Holidays. Enjoy.

Above is the first segment to get you going. The full playlist of all 87 clips is here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I got together with a few friends and cut a quick video card for all of you - enjoy!

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

First. Ever. Double. Carom!

League night last night; week #2 of playoffs for my Wednesday night APA 8-ball team.

As you may recall, my Wednesday night team is the one I took over as captain early in the season after the  previous captain had a bit of a falling out with the rest of the team. We rolled to a strong 3-0 victory in the first week of playoffs, so this week would determine first place in the division. Our opponents were a strong, balanced team and I heard they came back from a 0-2 deficit in the previous week to win 3-2, so I definitely wasn't going to take them for granted.

Earlier in the week I was doing a little pre-match 'homework' on our upcoming opponents, and couldn't shake my curiosity about their comeback upset victory (in my opinion, anyway, having played each team at least a couple of times during the season). I wanted to know what happened! So... I picked up the phone and made a call to someone on the team they played the previous week. I didn't know this person extremely well, but I hoping well enough that they'd be open to having a bit of a chat. I figured "what was the worse that could happen" right? Anyway, my instincts were right, and we had a very pleasant conversation. I found out how the individual match ups went and so on... and I got a critical nugget of information about a new player on the team we hadn't seen before. "The kid's rated SL 5 but played like a 7" was the comment that grabbed my attention. "I don't think he missed a single shot, and beat one of our 6's pretty badly." Bingo. I was suddenly very glad I made that phone call.

Walking into the host bar prior to the match, it was pretty easy to spot the new guy. I've seen everyone else on the team before, so he was a new face obviously. But it was more than that. It actually reminded me of a typical bar scene from "Color of Money". Young, cocky, strutting around, obnoxious. Wonderful. I'll refer to our star as Wonderboy.

I lost the coin toss, and the other captain deferred to me to put up first. Having already anticipated this possibility, I had a good idea who I was going to put up - myself, or our strongest female player. After some further thought and a quick discussion with her, I decided to put myself up. The other team matched me up for an even race. I shot quite well overall. I had a couple pocket rattlers here and there, and blew position badly on my key ball once... but other than that, I must say it was a very solid match for me. While I was shooting, Wonderboy was all over the place... checking the line on numerous shots, making loud comments here and there... fidgeting back and forth at the edge of my peripheral vision while I was down on shots, loudly cheering my opponent on, and generally being far more obnoxious than the average (or even above average) league player. I'm not sure if he was trying to shark on purpose, or if that's just the way he was. It didn't matter. I won my first two games quickly and never really felt threatened throughout the match. In the third game, I missed a tough shot on the 8-ball and my opponent was able to run out. We jockeyed back and forth a bit, but I ended up on top in the end. One down.

An observation about Wonderboy. He was the one doing the coaching during timeouts. He was new to the team and a SL 5, yet he gave all the advice while the captain of the team, a very capable SL 6 who did the coaching in the past, looked on. Interesting.

Another observation about Wonderboy... he was drinking... a lot. Both beer and shots. Interesting.

After my match, we were up 1-0 and it was the other team's put up. I already decided I'd throw off with a SL 3 if they put up Wonderboy. They didn't. They put up their captain, a SL 6, so I put our SL 7 against him. A few games later, we were up 2-0.

Wonderboy was still drinking heavily. It was our put up, but Wonderboy was up at the table already thinking he was going to play. I put up a SL 2. Their captain freaked out for a second, then realized it was our put up and he could choose someone else... so he threw up a SL 3. Our SL 2 is a methodical player and she played very well. The match went hill-hill and she narrowly missed a shot on the winning 8-ball. Slow play and a hill-hill match gave Wonderboy plenty of time to down a couple more drinks. We were up 2-1 at this point, and very much in command.

It was their put up, and Wonderboy finally got the call. Much to his chagrin, I didn't throw up a SL 6 like he was expecting. I instead threw up our strongest SL 3 (the female I considered starting the night off with). Wonderboy was not happy about that and actually more or less called me a chicken (I don't remember the exact words he used, but they were slurred in any case). Of course, I could care less. All I knew is that we had to win one more match to take first place in the division... and although I actually liked the odds of our SL 3 beating him given the handicap advantage (and his condition), I was fine with saving our SL 6 for the last match (likely against an average SL 3, which was pretty much the best they had left in the house).

Our SL 3 played extremely well. Wonderboy played surprisingly well too, it was obvious that he had skills... but as expected, his brief periods of brilliant play were peppered with careless mistakes. The match went hill-hill and down to the 8-ball for both of them. Well, almost. Wonderboy scratched sinking his last ball to give our player ball in hand on the 8-ball and the victory. We won 3-1 with a well warmed up SL 6 in ready five for the last match if necessary. It was a sweet and solid win. It was especially satisfying to take out Wonderboy with a female SL 3.

Oh, the double carom thing. Midway through one of my games, I was trying to figure out how to deal with a semi-problem ball near a corner pocket more or less blocked by a couple of my opponent's balls. I studied the layout shown... (the balls aren't perfectly positioned, just trying to give you an idea of the layout). The 6-ball could not go directly in to the pocket and there were no caroms available off of either of the blocker balls into the pocket. But then it suddenly jumped out at me that a double carom off of both balls would not only go, it seemed like it'd go pretty darn easily as long as I hit it right. I'm fairly comfortable with caroms these days and won't hesitate to use them if it's the right shot to take. But a double carom? I've maybe slopped something like that in before, but never intentionally lined up for such a shot in a match. I did a quick ego-check just to make sure I wasn't getting too cocky or something, and my brain kept telling me that it was not only the best shot, it seemed to be a fairly high percentage shot with the blocking balls perfectly positioned. So I stroked and shot it. And my ball dropped beautifully center pocket. I heard Wonderboy  mumble "not much you can do about luck like that" to my opponent... and I just smiled internally and lined up for my next shot. Life is good.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pool Synergy: 'Tis the Season

Happy Holidays everyone, and welcome to the special holiday edition of...
This month, our lovely hostess Melinda asked that we write about our favorite pool related book and DVD with the thinking that they'd make good Christmas gifts (or gifts for any other occasion in the near future, for that matter).

As you may already know, I'm an avid reader and have accumulated a large library of books on various pocket billiard subjects including general technique as well as specific strategies for games such as 8-ball, 9-ball, etc. It's frankly very difficult to pick a single favorite book because there are so many good ones. If someone asked me for a suggestion, I'd probably dig a bit deeper about what they were looking for in order to narrow the field a bit before making a suggestion.

In thinking about what I was going to cover for this article, though, one book stood out for me in many ways - it's broadly applicable to pretty much anyone playing pocket billiards so you don't have to worry about knowing whether the person you're getting a gift for plays 8-ball, 9-ball, one-pocket, straight pool, or whatever... and, in my opinion, it won't be one of the first books a billiards player will buy themselves, so the odds are fairly good they won't already have it early in their billiards book collection process. It's also fairly inexpensive, so it makes a good stocking stuffer or something you can give to numerous people (like every member of your team if you're into that kind of thing). For the above reasons and others, I've already given it as a gift to more than one of my pool-playing friends.

For the reasons stated above and others, Pleasures of Small Motions is always one of the first pool-related books that comes to mind when someone asks me for recommendations. Few people will argue that there's a large mental component to the game of pool, and this book definitely helped me sort that out. Written by an avid pool player who also happens to be a psychotherapist with a Ph.D in philosophy, this book is obviously a labor of love by someone who knows what they're talking about (re: both pool and psychology). After seeing the subtitle "Mastering the Mental Game of Pocket Billiards," I expected it to cover things like attitude, confidence, focus, concentration, and so on... and indeed it does. In fact, it gave me a whole new understanding and appreciation for the word concentration. The book goes well beyond the obvious topics though, covering various aspects of the inner workings of the mind and body and how thoughts are translated into the mechanics of playing pool including what can go wrong and why. It also covers some things that I hadn't really considered, such as the importance of rhythm and proper separation of conscious and unconscious control. In my opinion, this book is an absolute must-read for any competitive pool player. And it shouldn't just be read once, it should be reviewed on a regular basis.

Like many others, I've discovered that DVDs are incredibly useful training aids in the sport as well. Pool is a sport of physical action, obviously, and you can't fully appreciate the various techniques from printed word alone, even with the accompanying drawings and photos. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be hundreds of thousands. It really helps to see things play out in video. There are several good videos out there, but I was asked to pick just one...

First off, I wish to acknowledge that my DVD selection might raise a few eyebrows given that it's produced by IPT and Kevin Trudeau. Yeah, yeah, I'm sure you're wondering what could possibly be wrong with a DVD produced by an ex-car salesman, doctor-posing convicted felon who founded the International Pool Tour only to skip town without paying winners after a tournament in 2006 thereby landing a big sucker punch to the sport of pocket billiards that we still haven't recovered from? Maybe I just like living on the edge. Sifting through some of the background material on Kevin, I kept thinking to myself that there must be another side to these stories... until I ran across his clean desk policy and realized he's simply from some sort of alternate universe. Seriously? A company policy that requires everyone's desk to be perfectly clean at all times? How the heck do you get anything done with a perfectly clean desk? By the way, Kevin, your memos need some cleaning - I noticed several spelling and grammatical errors. You might consider consulting that dictionary you recommend in Policy #8.

Anyway, this isn't about Kevin Trudeau trying to peddle some sort of miracle cure, it's about learning how to shoot perfect pool from Mike Sigel... and in that context it's a great video in my opinion. It's also a heck of a steal (no pun intended) right now on sale for $11.95 at Seybert's Billiard Supply.

Several things impress me about this DVD set. It's very well organized into a series of progressive drills intended to perfect your stroke and shot making ability from the ground up... the entire first DVD is dedicated to perfecting the stroke. You don't even get to hit an object ball! These drills epitomize the myelin-producing deep practice discussed in The Talent Code. The second DVD focuses on shot making, and the third focuses on other aspects of the game. Also included is a set of cards summarizing the drills that you can stuff away in your cue case for reference at the pool hall. The first DVD alone is easily worth the sale price at Seybert's.

Sigel discusses a couple of things that some folks don't agree with (such as using outside English on every single cut shot) but he explains his reasoning and it's certainly up to the viewer to balance Sigel's methods and advice against that of others to find what works for them. One thing you'll discover about Sigel is that he really strives for consistency - not just in the usual things like stance and stroke and so on, but in other areas such as cue ball speed and English applied for given shots. Indeed, one of the drills is dedicated to developing a consistent 'default' cue ball speed. Siegel's approach is one of simplification - if you use an ingrained 'default' speed the vast majority of the time or if you always use the same English for every single cut shot (as examples), the amount of complexity that your brain must process to get an imprint of shot and cue ball behavior is significantly reduced.

Contrast that with players who are constantly varying the speed of their stroke, the amount of English applied, etc, etc. Their brains have to figure out how all of those different variables combine to produce varying degrees of squirt, throw, deflection, curve, etc. And if multiple variables change from shot-to-shot, it's nearly impossible to match up the change in behavior to the individual variables in a cause-and-effect basis. Even if you're not trying to figure it out consciously, your brain is trying to sort it out subconsciously.

With my background in software engineering, this focus on simplification really struck a chord with me. I know from experience that by far the most software bugs reside in the most complicated, mangled code. For that reason, the best programmers go out of their way to produce simple, clean, elegant code for a given solution. In the software world, simple is genius. This focus on simplification is clearly Sigel's key to consistent play. This DVD set is a good value all the way up to the list price of $59.95... and it's a complete no-brainer at Seybert's sale price.

Be sure to check out all the other great December PoolSynergy articles!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Quick Update

I know all four of you have been sitting on the edge of your seats wanting to know how the APA season is wrapping up for me *cough* *cough* so I thought I'd give you a really quick update anyway.

Monday night is my 9-ball night and last night was our last night of the season. We were in first by a comfortable margin going into the night and had a decent (66-34) win, so I dare say we'll stay in first. I led off the night for us with a 14-6 win. 9-ball's been really good to me this season - not really sure why I'm doing significantly (and consistently) better in 9-ball than 8-ball, but I'm not going to complain. I lost only one match all season, and ended up #2 on the top shooter's list behind the guy who squeaked out a victory against me. He was undefeated going into this week (haven't heard how he did this week).

Wednesday night (8-ball) we won, but didn't win by enough to lift us out of the tie for third place. Unfortunately, we were tied with a team (I believe the only team in the division) that comes out ahead of us in a tiebreaker situation, so that dropped us out of the playoffs. In a somewhat odd twist of fate, we won the wildcard berth... so we're back IN the playoffs. Yes, pool gods exist, and they like fucking with us. We play this week against the first place team who we seem to have a handle on (we're undefeated against them, beating them in one of the matches 5-0). Hopefully the second place team (who we also do well against) will take out the third place team (who we struggle against). If things don't go to plan, we'll just have to cope... and we will!

Last Friday night (8-ball) we had a bye for the first round of playoffs since we were in first and it's a small division (only 4 teams). I guess some people actually do other things on Friday night? WTF? Anyway, I haven't heard who we play this Friday... but it's one team or the other. LOL

Sunday (Masters) we lost badly enough to cement our position in last place. What do they say? Oh yeah, it was a rebuilding season, that's it! We have some solid players, things just didn't go our way this time around.

There you have it. Back to regularly scheduled programming.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hammer Week Wrap-Up

Quick update from my last post. The week was a mixed bag. Monday night I won but the team as a whole struggled... we lost, and dropped to second place. With one more week to go, I think we're solidly in the playoffs though... and it's very possible that we could regain first place with a decent win this week.

Wednesday night, we all struggled. Most matches (mine included) went down to the wire in hill-hill races... but the pool gods just weren't on our side and our highly motivated opponents pulled out the majority of wins to tie us in third place in the overall standings. We're going to need a big win against the first place team just to stay alive. We are capable of a big win against these guys... we beat them 5-0 last time we went up against them.

Friday night, I won and we won. I actually played really well Friday night, sweeping my opponent in straight games. I was a little worried in the first game, because I broke dry and then watched as she nearly ran the table... missing position on the 8-ball by just a couple of inches (why couldn't I have that kind of luck on Wednesday night!!??) I took advantage and ran out, then managed to stay ahead of her in the subsequent racks as well.

The biggest news of the week is... I got a new computer! Yay me! I got tired of begging and borrowing my daughter's computer and/or surviving on my iPhone and grabbed a new desktop at Costco on Black Friday to replace my still ailing laptop. I've been poking at that darn laptop for over a month now, and tried just about everything I could short of a destructive tear down and rebuild. I saw a decent deal on a desktop and figured that was the best way to support the pending destructive tear down and rebuild. Now all I have to do is suck the data off the laptop's hard drive and I'm golden even if I'm never able to resurrect the darn thing. I'm actually in good shape anyway, all of my really important stuff is backed up.

I hope everyone (in the US) had a great Thanksgiving... and now it's on to double hammer time for the last week before playoffs!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hammer Time!

Another APA season is coming to a close, and of course that means playoffs and tournaments. All of my teams are in line for both at this point - at the beginning of the week my Monday night 9-ball team was in first place in their division, my Wednesday night 8-ball team is currently in second place, my Friday night 8-ball is in first, and my Sunday Master's team is in second place.

The races in some divisions are tighter than others... I feel pretty good about the Monday and Friday teams; a bit nervous about my Wednesday team because it's my baby - I took over as captain earlier in the season. It's a very solid team, but the race between the top five teams is extremely close and we're wrapping up the season against two very good teams. This week, we play a team that managed to sweep us 5-0 earlier in the season. I wouldn't say they're better than us overall, just got the right match ups and got the rolls, etc. It was one of those nights. Tonight is our chance to respond!

Next week, we play the team that's currently in first place in the division. Coincidentally, we managed to sweep them 5-0 earlier in the season, so I'm sure they're thinking the same things about us that we're thinking about tonight's team!

Good luck to everyone else out there wrapping up their season(s) as well - finish strong!

Also, to my US readers - I hope you have a very happy (and safe) Thanksgiving. And if you happen to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade... I feel the need to have a quick "proud parent moment" and point out that my son will be in it this year, marching and playing the euphonium in the Green Valley High School Marching Band.

He claims he'll be the one that trips and falls in front of 50 million TV viewers - LOL. I'm sure he'll do fine, but if someone does trip, I'll state for the record now that it wasn't him (even if it was).

Monday, November 15, 2010

PoolSynergy: Three Handy Shots

Wow, it's been two whole weeks since my last post. It's amazing how quickly time flies when you're sick and your computer is dead. But it would take more than that for me to miss the special first anniversary edition of PoolSynergy, so I loaded up with a triple dose of Nyquil, booted my daughter off her computer and here I am! Her YouTube, Daily What, and U.S. Government homework can wait... it's MY turn damn it, and I built this computer in the first place - so HAH!

Now I have to hurry up and madly hammer this out before the Nyquil kicks in and I ZzzzZzzzzzz.
For this month's edition of PoolSynergy, John chose to go with the theme of "Three Tips" and after he very nicely explained to me that he was talking about three hints and not three tips such as the Moori, Tiger Sniper (my old favorite), and Tiger Onyx (my new favorite) I wandered off into my corner to figure out what I could possibly write about. Something GOOD. I mean "don't miss your shots," "don't scratch," and "don't hook yourself" seem kind of obvious (and short).

OK, I admit those were my backup plan in case I had to do the whole article from my iPhone. But I've commandeered a real computer so I'm going to do three real tips! And since I also listed my emergency backup tips, you get a sweet 2-for-1 deal on tips today and it's not even Black Friday yet!

Alright, the Nyquil is starting to kick in (which will be my excuse for any lame humor that appears in this post) so I need to get back on track. It actually took me awhile to come up with the three tips I was going to cover. Most of the other authors jumped on good ones before I could stake my claim (be sure to check the others out) so I had to dig a little deeper. I pondered some about what made me ME... and realized that I tend to use unique, creative shots more often than a lot of others do. While others get perfect shape shot after shot and sink everything (yawn), I'm the one who screws up shape just so I can pull some jaw-dropping crazy shot out of my ass. And then, of course, while the thrill is still fresh in the crowd's mind I miss an easy straight-in shot on the money ball and slink away to my chair. Or at least that's the way it seems during some matches.

But it is true that I use unique shots at times. Most of them aren't rocket science but as I mentioned, I often don't see them used when the opportunities present themselves to other players. Of course... once you know a shot and have practiced it a bit, it's easier to recognize the opportunities when they come up. It's like the old adage "when you have a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail."

I'm of the opinion that having as many tools available as possible is a Good Thing (tm). I mainly get ideas for shots from books like 99 Critical Shots in Pool and Byrne's Complete Book of Pool Shots. Another good resource for different types of shots is Dr. Dave's excellent Video Encyclopedia of Pool Shots (VEPS).

So without further ado, here are the three shots I've selected as being not quite so typical but definitely handy when the situations arise.

The first seems like a no-brainer but I'm amazed at the number of people who will gladly trade off an easier straight-on shot on the current shot for much poorer position on the following shot. Take a bit of time to practice off the rail shots, they're not that tough!

Slightly less obvious, but very handy nonetheless is the Ticky shot. Again, it really isn't a very difficult shot to do with just a little bit of practice.

Being able to roll a ball in after another ball can be extremely handy! I've used it numerous times to drop my ball in after an opponent's blocker ball, or dropping in two of my balls in one shot, or even in game winning situations. Again, this really isn't a tough shot once you get a feel for it with a little bit of practice.

A slightly different approach is required when your object ball is close to the blocker ball.

And there you have it, three handy shots to add to your repertoire if they're not already there. Shoot straight, and kick some butt out there people!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Things have been crazy for me the last week or two, sorry I haven't posted. First off, my computer is currently ailing... immediate blue screen on startup... not sure what's going on with THAT. I haven't had a chance to diagnose/fix yet, but my guess is one of the ever-so-helpful automatic updates killed it. Hopefully I'll get it fixed soon, but it'll have to wait until after my trip to Disneyland over the next few days.

I'm looking forward to the break, actually... and I think it might even do me some good to take a break from pool for a couple of days. I've been pushing it pretty hard lately, with a lot of (deep) practice and a lot of playing as well. Friday night was one of my APA league nights (8-ball)... and before that, I put in over an hour of working on my break. After my league match (which I won), I held the practice table for three hours. Unfortunately, with all that playing and practicing... in particular the break practicing... I woke up Saturday morning with a very stiff/sore upper back and right shoulder. Even more unfortunately, I had a tournament to play on Saturday!

The tourney was an "end of tour" 8-ball tournament for a local tour. Only people who had acquired enough points were able to participate. In the first round, I drew one of the best players on the board. Even though this was a handicapped event, he didn't have much problem beating me. His race was to five, and he had two break-and-runs on his breaks. Fortunately, the format was alternating break so I was able to get to the table a few times. My breaks were working well, dropping two and three balls each time until the last break... which gave me a very good spread all the way back to the head of the table but came up dry. Yeah, you know where this is headed, right? He ran out to finish off the match.

For my next match, I drew another very good player... rated the same as the first and playing well, but maybe not quite as well as the first. He had the first break... broke dry, and this time *I* nearly ran out. The Diamond pockets tightened up a bit on me for my long shot on the 8-ball and left it in the jaws. I was able to get it in the next inning. We went hill-hill, and had to break up a spot cluster off of a shot into the side pocket. I nailed the shot and nailed the cluster break... but unfortunately the 8-ball got deflected into the corner pocket as a result of the cluster break for the loss. Tough 'break' so to speak. I had checked the cluster prior to the shot and verified that it wasn't going to go directly in, but can't anticipate deflections like that. Overall, I was very happy with my play even though they were losses... considering I was playing two of the best players in Vegas, and with a sore back to boot!

I'll be back after I get back from Disney! Happy trick-or-treating everyone!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Rise... and Fall!

Ugh - t'was an awesome week last week and a lousy week this week. I'm still trying to figure out why but no obvious answers come to mind, so I think I'm just going to chalk it up to "one of those things" and move on.

Anyway - last Monday, my APA 9-ball team shot lights-out and swept our opponents 5-0 and point-wise 70 to 30. My match was actually the closest one of the night, with me winning by a single ball for a 12-8 win. That win propelled us from 5th place in the division standings to 1st. My Monday night team is a solid team - we've been together for over a year now and are gelling very well. Being in 5th place in the division was  unusual for us; we finished last season in 1st and generally hang out in the top three spots.

Then... Wednesday... my APA 8-ball team (the one in which I recently took over as captain), ALSO won 5-0! Prior to the match, we were in 2nd place in the division by a couple of points and the team we were up against was the 1st place team... so the win gave us the lead in the division by a decent margin. It was a fantastic night - we all shot incredibly well - there was just no touching us. It was our put up for the fourth match and I put up our best player, a SL 7, more-or-less expecting them to match their best player up with him. They didn't. Being down 3-0 at that point, I guess they decided to mix things up a bit and put up a very solid (probably somewhat underrated) SL 4 hoping he could manage to pick off two games in the resulting 5-2 race. It was actually a smart move, but it didn't work out for them. Our 7 shut him down with solid play (with a heavy dose of defense) and won in 5 straight games.

The second part of their mismatch strategy meant that I'd be matched up against their best player. He was undefeated so far in the season... solidly in first place in the division's "Top Gun" rankings... and really a good shooter overall. Prior to that night, I'd never played him head-to-head but watched him play several times (obviously, the same went for him). He won the lag and broke dry. It was a so-so break - not really open, but not too bad. I nearly ran out. Getting shape on my last ball was a significant challenge, there was a fairly small window that I had to get to, but I nailed the position with a decent angle to break out 8-ball. Then... I missed the shot on the 6... rattled it in the corner pocket. I lost focus, probably thinking too much about the breakout (which I nailed) and not enough about the shot itself. Luckily, I got the table back before too much damage was done and was able to finish it off for the win... starting things off 1-0 with a decent "yeah, I'm here to play" statement. We then traded some games back and forth and I ended up winning before he could get to the hill. Very nice way to cap off a great night!

Then... THIS week. My Monday night team had a bye, so nothing to report there. Then, absolute disaster struck on Wednesday night, and we lost 0-5! WTF!? Our opponents were a solid team, but I wouldn't say any better than the team we played the previous week. It just seemed nothing was working for any of us. Yuck. Luckily, we were in first by a decent margin and the team that beat us was down far enough in the standings that they couldn't overtake us. Depending on how the other teams did, we might still be in first... or at least not too far out. A good wakeup call, and it came at a relatively harmless time... it wasn't during playoffs or a tournament or anything, and there's plenty of season left in which to recover.

I'm wondering if the Monday night bye was a factor? There's a lot of player overlap between the Monday night and Wednesday night teams. Maybe that broke our stride a bit.

On to next week!

Friday, October 15, 2010

PoolSynergy: Pool Channel Anyone?

Twenty years ago, a cable TV entrepreneur named Joseph E. Gibbs began to pursue his vision of launching a 24-hour network channel dedicated solely to the game of golf. He teamed up with golf legend Arnold Palmer and a few years later, The Golf Channel was launched.

Today, Golf Channel continues to thrive... carried on numerous cable and satellite networks around the world. In subsequent years, other single-sport niche channels such as Tennis Channel and Speed joined the fray and seem to be doing OK as well. For this month's PoolSynergy post, I pose the question: "Would it make sense to create a cable/satellite channel dedicated to various billiards sports now or at some point in the future?"

Before I get started, I feel the need to give a disclaimer on this subject because I don't consider myself an authority by any stretch of the imagination. I'm not a cable exec, never have been, and never will be (unless someone wants to commission me to pursue this project). As such, you'll find far more questions than answers in this post. My only hope is that I'm able to stir the creative juices of someone in a position to nudge the idea along and make it a reality someday... or maybe someone who knows someone who can do that... or whatever.

Expanding on the previous paragraph, I'll further confess that I haven't been watching the business of billiards closely. I get a sense that it's struggling a bit as a whole (or at least I'm hearing that perception from others). I've heard about various problems with pro tournaments and tours and that Johnny Archer recently championed a new organization, the Association of Billiard Professionals, to address some of these issues. I've also noticed fewer and fewer billiards matches available on TV and have heard talk about contract(s) with ESPN either being lost or perhaps hanging by a thread.

So with all these problems or supposed problems, why do I think there might be a business case for a Billiards Channel? Good question. I freely admit that I'm applying more of a seat-of-the-pants or finger-in-the-wind feel for it, but I sense that a compelling case could be made. Billiards currently gets buried in the vast wilderness of ESPN, and historic matches are buried even further in the obscure ESPN Classic channel that I don't even receive (even though I get hundreds of channels and certainly don't have the cheapest package DirecTV offers... unfortunately, ESPN Classic is only offered on their most expensive 'everything' package - BOO, HISS!).

I believe a dedicated channel would go a long way towards giving the sport the coverage it deserves. I'm aware that there are some sources streaming on the Internet, and that's better than nothing... but really, I want to watch billiards on a big screen from a comfy couch.

Of course, any potential investor would want more than just my hunch to go on. Gibbs commissioned a Gallup Poll as part of his groundwork before diving too deeply into the Golf Channel, and I would expect anyone pursuing a Billiards Channel to do similar due diligence.

Again, not speaking as an authority, I see some basic needs that would have to be met to successfully sustain a niche network channel. First of all, is there an audience? I think so. There are certainly millions of billiards players out there and it's safe to say a good percentage of those players would be attracted to billiards-specific programming on a dedicated channel. It's more difficult to guess how many non-players would be attracted, but I'm sure there would be some. In this part of the analysis, it would be good to compare the number of active players to other sports already served by dedicated channels - are there as many billiards players as, say, tennis players? I think so. Golfers? Not sure, but possibly.

Is there enough content available to keep a channel rolling 24/7? Personally, I think this one is a resounding "yes." There are matches going on at various levels all the time worldwide - pro matches as well as certain amateur events would be fair game. Slices of the schedule could be dedicated to lesser-known billiard sports such as one pocket or three cushion... or even new ones like bonus ball. There's plenty of opportunity for regular shows (weekly or monthly, for example) focusing on various topics like technique, equipment, rules, etc. Shows like this, if done properly, could really help drive interest in the sport... which in turn would increase interest in the channel... which in turn, well, you get the picture (I hope). Additionally, there is a ton of historical footage available from various sources. Folks like Accu-Stats and TAR could certainly pitch their hats into the ring, offering up regular content supported by sponsors rather than (or in addition to) their current pay-per-view models. And yes, there can even be some trick shot coverage sprinkled in here and there (exhibitions as well as instruction).

Is billiards an interesting enough subject to support a 24/7 channel? For this one, I would draw a comparison to other niche sports channels. I like golf and have dabbled in it. I enjoy tennis and was on the high school tennis team. I've watched both of those sports on TV at one time or another. I personally think billiards is infinitely more interesting to watch than either golf or tennis. I can watch billiards for hours... I personally can't do that with golf or tennis. Am I the only one that feels this way? I doubt it. There once was a Fishing Channel, for crying out loud (I think it's morphed into a more generic Outdoors Channel). Is someone out there going to tell me it's more interesting watching a couple dudes sitting in a boat fishing than a couple of top competitors dueling it out on felt? Seriously?

Would there be enough sponsor support? I don't see this being a problem assuming the audience is there. There are several potential sponsors in the industry like equipment manufacturers and vendors, leagues, schools and so on but we need to keep in mind that the sponsors certainly don't all have to be in the industry. Pool is played (and watched) by human beings. Human beings consume food and beverages, watch movies, go on vacations, take medications, etc, etc, etc. In other words, most of the stuff advertised on other channels would apply to the people watching the billiards channel as well.

What type of infrastructure would have to be put in place? I'm not 100% sure on this one, to be honest. Again, drawing a comparison with the other niche sports channels, I think it's fair to say that it wouldn't be more complex than them. Hopefully it could be bootstrapped on a reasonable budget in the early going. I bet there's an opportunity out there to collaborate with an existing entity that already has something in place for another purpose (perhaps timeshare with another niche channel, or piggyback with a larger general purpose sports/news company). Logistics-wise, I don't think decent quality coverage of a pool match would be nearly as complicated as most other sports... it's not like you need twenty camera crews scattered all over a golf course or anything... all you really need to cover the basics is stationary cameras (unmanned, even) covering a few angles on the table and some decent lighting.

There are certainly other hurdles that would need to be cleared, but I think getting a handle on the audience, content, sponsors, and infrastructure are the biggest priorities. So who's up for it? Anyone?

Be sure to check out the other October PoolSynergy postings.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bridge to Nowhere

An opponent asked me how tall I was at a recent qualifier tournament. If I recall correctly, it was between shots while I was at the table... probably while I was chalking my stick. This opponent was someone I knew, but not extremely well - we don't play together on a team or even in the same league division or anything, but I do bump into him on occasion. He seems like a great guy, and a solid shooter - we've traded matches back and forth.

Anyway, it seemed like a pretty random but harmless question, so I just answered it factually and moved on to the next shot (or two). I knew he was asking me for a reason though, so curiosity eventually got the better of me and I asked him why he wanted to know. He explained that he noticed I gripped the butt of the cue further back than many of the better players he's observed... and suggested I check it out. I took the comment on board, thanked him, and continued on with the match.

My biggest initial concern was that my forearm may not be 90 degrees (or so) to the cue when I hit the cue ball, so I video taped myself shooting a few shots and concluded I was doing OK in that department.

I then decided to review the discussions of related fundamentals in some of my favorite 'basics' books. Capelle's Play Your Best Pool confirmed the 90 degree rule, Dr. Dave's The Illustrated Principles of Pool and Billiards stated that the forearm should be vertical upon contact with the cue ball (pretty much equivalent to the 90 degree rule), Martin & Reeves' The 99 Critical Shots in Pool talked about grip position in relation to the balance point of the stick (suggesting 4 to 7 inches behind the balance point). I recalled my opponent also making a reference to balance point... and I was indeed gripping past the 4 to 7 inch point, but I was reluctant to move my grip solely on this recommendation knowing that it would affect the 90 degree angle (which I felt was more important). Koehler's The Science of Pocket Billiards also talked about vertical arm, and then went on to say this about balance point: "Many instructors start by advising the student where to hold the stick in relation to the balance point. This means that the entire stance must accommodate this grip position. A better technique is to assume proper stance then grip the stick wherever the stance dictates." Since this statement was after the vertical arm discussion, I assumed the vertical arm was included as part of the 'proper stance' and this was more or less in agreement with what I saw in the videos of my shooting.

My opponent's observation was correct, nonetheless... the fact remained that I did tend to grip further back than many of the better players that were more or less my size, so I decided to dig a little deeper. Another factor that could affect my grip position (all other factors remaining equal) was bridge length. Think of it this way - if someone came up behind you while you were in your stance and slid your stick backwards or forwards through your fingers without moving any part of your body, it would change your bridge length and grip position by the same amount. Again, I went to the table and took a few shots... stopping periodically to measure my bridge length. Of course, it varied somewhat from shot to shot based on various factors... but I found that my bridge was consistently on the long side of the recommendation scale... it was generally in the range of 12" to 14".

This was not the first time I'd run across the "long bridge" observation. Back in the spring prior to participating in the APA Singles Nationals, I had a mentoring session with my league operator and he commented that my bridge length was longer than his. He didn't really press me to change it or anything, it was mostly just an observation at the time. I inherently knew from basic math/physics that a shorter bridge would give me better accuracy, so I made an effort to shorten it after hearing his comment.

In the booklet included with his E-Z Shot Cueball, Tom Simpson discusses bridge length as related to accuracy on the cue ball hit... stating that a 3/4" wobble at the back of the stick could cause a 1/4" error at the tip with a 14" bridge. He goes on to point out that an 8" bridge reduces the tip error by half, or 1/8", for the same amount of rear stick wobble. Based on this, he recommends the use of an 8" bridge unless some other factor in the shot dictates the use of a longer one.

Somewhat annoyed by my previous (failed) attempt at shortening my bridge length, I decided to be a bit more aggressive this time. I grabbed a ruler and Sharpie marker, measured 8" back from the tip of my shaft and marked it with the Sharpie. Now I have a good reminder that's "in my face" every time I get down on a shot. I made a dashed line rather than a solid thick line so it's not horribly obtrusive and/or distracting when I need to use a longer bridge... but it's definitely caught me a few times with 'normal' shots.

Friday, October 8, 2010

When NOT to ask about someone's equipment

Being proud pool athletes, most of us like to talk about our equipment... but, yes, there are times when it's just plain not appropriate to ask!

This is a true story from earlier today! I was playing at a large tournament at the Riviera in Las Vegas (APA 9-ball Southwest Challenge). After a decisive win in the first round, I went to the restroom to ummm... well... do restroom stuff.

As I stood at a urinal with my cue case slung over my shoulder, an older gentlemen walked up to the urinal right next to me and proceeded to ask me what kind of stick I had.

That. Is. So. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

Never mind that he violated the first cardinal rule of urinal etiquette "Thou shalt not occupy a urinal immediately adjacent to an occupied urinal if space allows" as well as the second cardinal rule of urinal etiquette "Thou shalt not strike up a conversation with another urinal user especially if he is unknown to you."

I hereby nominate this incident for entry into Samm's next volume of You Might Be a D Player If (along with the camera dude incident from last weekend).

Thursday, October 7, 2010

8-ball endgame

Here's a situation I ran into about a month ago in league play, and I ended up blowing it. It was one of those times where a good solution just didn't come to me in the heat of the moment. I made what I thought might be a reasonable play and it turned out not to be - I left my opponent an open shot on his ball and as a result, I lost the game.

Interestingly, I saw someone else get handed pretty much the same exact situation at the APA Regionals in Phoenix last weekend... and he, like me, seemed to struggle a bit coming up with a good play. To his credit, he did better than I originally did and won the game.

An alterior motive for this entry is for me to go through the paces of recording & uploading a video from a new camera I got recently. It's one of those simple "shoot and share" type cameras that I mainly got so I could use it to evaluate myself during practice... but I think it'll also come in handy when I want to show a quick clip like I'm doing here.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pardon me, sir... would you like to eat that camera?

I hate to admit this, but I lost my cool during a match at Regionals over the weekend. Big time. Very possibly the most pissed-off I've ever been during a match.

After taking a loss earlier in the tournament, I battled my way up through the West side of the board and back over to the winner's bracket to find myself up against the guy that eliminated the person who sent me to the West side in the first place. He was a very tough competitor, probably the best I faced during the whole tournament.

Anyway, I got off to a good start and built up a decent lead. I was at the table with a fairly easy shot on the 7-ball, pretty much straight across the table into the side pocket... but it wasn't completely a walk in the park since the cue ball was on the rail forcing me to jack up a bit to get some stop for better shape on the 8. Other than that, it looked like I'd have a fairly easy run out.

I lined up, did a couple practice strokes... then, as I started my final stroke, I saw a bright orange flash out of the corner of my eye! I felt my body react - flinching mid-stroke, and I missed the shot. I looked over to find out what the source of the light was and saw that it came from some dude taking a picture with a camera phone. I don't think the light was supposed to be a flash per se, it wasn't a super-bright white flash... the geeky side of me thinks the light helps the camera focus in low-light situations, but the bottom line is it was directed right at me, bright enough to cause a distraction, and couldn't have come at a worse time!

I was absolutely livid, but fought back the urge to crack his skull with the butt of my cue (didn't want to take a chance at damaging the cue in the middle of an important tournament). I walked over to him and in a very reasonable tone said "that orange flash from your camera distracted me and very likely made me miss my shot."

And that's when I realized his clue train left the station some time ago. Instead of apologizing and immediately turning it off and putting it away like most sane human beings would do... he offered no apology whatsoever, made no motion to put it away and/or turn it off, and simply agreed with me that it could be annoying but he didn't know how to turn it off. He then proceeded to make some sort of "geeze buddy, it was only one shot" kind of remark and told me I'd probably still win. That's when I decided I needed to take a more direct approach.

I said, "No, you're not getting it. Put that camera away NOW. I don't want to see it again. Do not take any more pictures of me, period!" He reluctantly put it away, as if my request/demand was unreasonable. Meanwhile, my opponent was busy running out the remaining balls in that rack, so I also told camera-dude "that one missed shot cost me four points so far" and went to the table to rack the balls. My opponent broke, sinking a ball and ran two more before turning the table back to me. I felt compelled to give camera-dude an update "seven points now... but since those are points I should have had INSTEAD of him, it's really more like giving up double that, or fourteen points!"

Thankfully, I was able to get my head back in the game enough to win by a small margin. I went on to win the finals match as well... so I'm going to Vegas baby! OK, OK, I live in Vegas... but still, I'm headed to the APA 9-ball Shootout at the 2011 Singles Nationals!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Off to Arizona!

I'm packing my bags to head down to the Phoenix area tomorrow where I'll be participating in an APA Regional tournament at Bullshooters over the weekend. The APA uses regional tournaments each Fall and Spring to feed into their annual National Championships. The winners of each tier at this tournament advance to the 2011 APA National Singles Championships next spring.

I was fortunate enough to participate in the 8-ball Classic at the 2010 APA Nationals earlier this year and would definitely love to repeat again next year (and the next year...). I'll be playing 9-ball this weekend; I unfortunately didn't qualify for 8-ball in the Fall Regionals. I've already qualified for both 8-ball and 9-ball in the Regionals next Spring, giving me a couple more chances to make the Nationals.

I just noticed fellow blogger Samm Diep rolled through Bullshooters last weekend with a victory, so I'm going to do my best to follow in her footsteps. Thanks for warming up the tables Samm! Her comments about Bullshooters posted earlier today couldn't have had better timing - I'm now looking forward to trying out the homemade beef jerky for sure... and probably the sliders... and the gyros. Mmmm, it doesn't sound like I'll go hungry!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Caroming to Regionals

I qualified for the APA 8-ball Classic Spring Regionals today, after losing in the finals in previous qualifiers more times than I would have liked. The final match was a tough one - I wasn't shooting particularly well, and my opponent was a worthy one. I survived mostly on strategy and some reasonable safety play... but nevertheless, he was on the hill and I was playing catch up.

I don't think it was an intentional safety play, but my opponent left me in the position shown (layout is approximate - I doubt I have the angles right, just trying to get the general point across). We both had two balls remaining, his were in better position, I didn't have any decent offensive shots available and didn't really see any great defensive possibilities either (my best thought was to thin the 13-ball and leave the cue ball down on the end rail).

Anyway, given the overall situation, I decided to carom the 13 off the 7 and into the corner. I figured best case I'd make the 13 and worse case there was a decent chance the 13 would at least block the pocket... and the 7-ball would end up at the other end of the table. The complication with this carom (as if caroms aren't complicated in the first place) was that the 13 would have to make a fairly full hit on the 7 to get the proper angle which means most of its energy would be transferred to the 7. The 13 had a reasonable distance to go after the carom, so I knew I'd have to hit it firmly for the 13 to have enough energy to get to the pocket.

Well, I'm happy to say I ended up with the best case scenario. The 13 dropped, the 7 cleared, I was left with good shape on the 10, and had a fairly easy run out to get on the hill.

The final game was even uglier... lousy layout from the start, a massive cluster of stripes (my balls) along the long rail, and rolls simply weren't going my way. I was frustrated for sure, but stayed patient. My opponent put together a good run or two and before I knew it he was on the 8-ball and I still had all my balls on the table. Of course, that's not always a bad thing! I slowly but surely kept improving my position while waiting for a good run out opportunity. I hooked him very effectively at least three times on the 8, forcing him to kick at it and never really gave him a good shot. There was actually a point in the game that I wondered if I could win without sinking a single ball! Not wanting to push my luck, I finally started sinking some balls and ran all but two out and left him with yet another hook, forcing him to kick the length of the table (his 8-ball was on the short rail about a half-diamond away from the corner pocket).

He came up short on the kick, the cue ball rebounded off the near end rail and headed back towards the far corner with plenty of steam to get there on the fairly fast table. Then, he did something I doubt he'll ever do again. He scooped up the rolling cue ball and gave it to me. I looked at him in disbelief, and the referee (rightly) gave me the game. If a player is on the 8-ball and disturbs the path of the cue ball or the 8-ball in a losing situation, it's a loss of game.

To be honest, it was a lousy way to end an otherwise great match... but as I mentioned to the referee, the lesson at this level was far less costly than it would have been at regionals or even nationals. There are several qualifiers left, and I'm fairly sure my opponent will qualify in another one.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Aye Aye Captain

Tomorrow night will be my first night as the captain of an APA 8-ball team. This Wednesday night team is the one I started with when I joined APA nearly two years ago now. We've had the same captain all along... but she and the team drifted apart over the past year or so, and last week she made the decision to pursue other opportunities. We had a short team meeting after the match, and I was elected captain. It's something new for me... so we begin another chapter in the pool 'career.'

I look forward to it, actually. I've played a lot of team sports over the years, so I'm very familiar with various team dynamics. We've got a really solid team that I think can be molded into a 'contender'. The evolution actually started awhile ago, and I think that's part of what caused some of the recent tension with the former captain. We took 3rd place in our division last session, and are currently in 1st place this session. In our recent tri-annual tournament, we lost a very close match to the team that went on to win the tournament.

My first order of business with the team was to find a couple more players to round out the roster since we only had six players after the captain left, and we're now into the fourth week of the session which is generally the last week players can be added to the roster. For that very reason, every other team in the city seemed to be scrambling for good players as well!

I managed to find a couple players that round out the roster very well, so I'm excited about the possibilities! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

PoolSynergy: What's Inside My Case and Why

So I got home on a Friday night (after starting off the Fall APA season on a new 8-ball team with a nice win over a higher SL player, thankyouverymuch) to find a message in Facebook from some chic in Denver who wanted to check out my equipment...? I didn't even know her! Not only that, she wanted me to put it on display for the whole world - photographs, descriptions, the works!

Needless to say, I was thrilled and honored to get a note from Samm Diep @ The Tip Jar inviting me to join this month's PoolSynergy. I've long enjoyed PoolSynergy articles and look forward to reading them every month. It's a great way to bring the community of very talented pool bloggers together, and I'm happy to now be a part of it!
I must say our dear Samm picked one heck of a topic for my maiden voyage. With dozens of photographs to take and lots of writing to do, I knew I'd have my hands full to get it done on time. It's always fun to talk about your equipment though - and as usual, I did my best to weave in some nuggets of info I've picked up along the way. Be sure to check out all of the other authors contributing to this topic! Keep in mind you can click on any of the below images to get a closer look.

The Case
My case is pretty much your run-of-the-mill production case. I was running lean in the discretionary funds department when I bought it, so decent functionality on a budget was my primary concern. I chose a fairly basic 2x4 (two butts / four shafts) Joe Porper case that has a decent amount of additional storage, so it gets the job done nicely for me for now. By the way, I chose the green felt of my pool table as the background for this picture because I'm green with envy after seeing and hearing about Samm's new case. I'm predicting a Murnak outbreak after hearing some comments from other PoolSynergy bloggers.

The Cue
Like a master chef's knives or a samurai warrior's sword, a serious pool player's most prized possession is usually his cue; and so it is with mine. I'm not the type to go for a lot of 'flash' in my cue; I've chosen to spend my money on function and a solid balanced feel rather than fancy inlays and such so far. For my current cue, I had the opportunity to "try before buying" at the 2010 BCA Nationals. I'm very fortunate to live in the Las Vegas area, so it's easy for me to drop in on the major tournaments to watch the action and check out the exhibitors when they're in town even if I'm not directly involved. Being on a fairly tight budget, my ORIGINAL plan was to buy a low-deflection shaft for my existing cue, but I think we all know how original plans tend to work out. After trying several shafts and cues from different suppliers I ended up at the demo table in the Tiger booth. After shooting a rack or two with some Tiger cues, I came to the very logical and sane conclusion that I needed a new cue more than my kids needed back-to-school clothes. I settled on a limited edition model (TPC6) from the Tiger Professional Series. It had their X-Ultra shaft (which is what I mainly wanted to check out in the first place) and the Tiger Sniper tip, which I'd already been using for some time on previous cues. The cue also featured their Stack leather wrap - I really REALLY liked the feel of it, and still do. Sometimes the cue just seems like it's on autopilot, sinking ball after ball on its own.

Of course, solving one 'problem' sometimes creates another and so it was with my new cue purchase. I no longer had a spare shaft! Yeah, yeah, I know a lot of players out there survive just fine without a spare shaft, but I had grown accustomed to having one available with previous cues and my background in submarines and nuclear power firmly ingrained the value of redundant systems into my head. I honestly felt a little naked without it, and knew if I let it fester long enough I would have woken up in the middle of the night from some nightmare about having to finish a hill-hill finals match of some huge tournament with a wobbly bar cue because something went wrong with my tip or ferrule or shaft. I immediately checked my budget, and worked out how many lunches my kids would have to skip in order to pay for it... and at the last minute my girlfriend swooped in, wiped tears from their eyes, and offered to buy me a spare shaft for my birthday - yeah!

She said I'd have to help her with the details and that it obviously wouldn't be a surprise and so on, and of course I agreed to all of that. I gave her the relevant specs and told her who to call and so on. A couple of days later, she called me to explain that it wasn't so simple. She had talked to Tiger's President, Tony Kalamdaryan, and he explained to her that Tiger would be releasing brand new shafts and a new type of tip a week before my birthday - so I had more choices to make! After some discussion with the folks at Tiger, I decided to go with the new X-Pro shaft (fitted with their new Onyx tip). In my pictures, the X-Pro is shown on the left and the original X-Ultra with a Sniper tip is shown on the right. What really stood out to me on the X-Pro was the size of the ferrule - it's only 1/4" long! The X-Pro is also tapered differently, is thinner and therefore lighter than the X-Ultra. My cue weighs in at 18.2 oz. with the X-Pro shaft and 18.8 oz. with the original X-Ultra shaft. I've been using the X-Pro shaft as my primary shaft ever since I got it, and love it!

My girlfriend lied to me about the "it won't be a surprise" detail. I unwrapped it and went through all of the obligatory "thank-you-even-though-I-knew-what-it-was" motions... and proceeded to check it out as she smiled at me... I marveled at the tiny ferrule, checked out the new Onyx tip, the joint, the X-Pro logo engraved at the base... then rotated it to see "G-Shark" engraved on the side opposite the X-Pro logo! She had somehow convinced the awesome folks at Tiger to custom engrave the shaft with the nickname she had coined for me a few months prior. To be honest, I was a little amazed that she pulled that off!

And it gets better. A couple of months later, I again visited the Tiger booth (this time during the ACS Nationals) in search of a few minor odds and ends (mainly a joint protector for my new shaft). I was chatting casually with Tony, and happened to ask him if they had or were going to come out with joint protectors with the X-Pro logo on them. He began to explain to me that they decided to use a generic Tiger logo on all joint protectors because they were getting too many different shafts in their product line and it just wasn't cost effective to have so many logos... which made sense, of course. And then he shocked the heck out of me, stopping in mid-sentence to exclaim "hey, I know you... you're G-Shark!" and that's exactly what he wrote on my invoice when he filled it out.

To be honest, I tend to be pretty humble and I'm not entirely comfortable with the nickname at this point in my pool "career" but I'm warming up to it and it definitely gives me incentive to continue to improve my game as quickly as possible to grow into it. I admit it's a cute nickname, and I think I'm just going to have to get used to it... I get the feeling it's going to stick.

Break/Jump Cue
I played for several months before getting a break stick. Initially I used my regular cue for breaking, then decided that wasn't such a good idea so I borrowed break cues from teammates and/or used a house cue for breaking. This gave me the chance to experiment with a few different cues, but all of my friends and teammates subscribed to the heavy break cue school of thought and after reading various articles I discovered that there was an alternate school of thought for break cues.

This other school of thought, I discovered, was the use of a lightweight cue for breaking - the theory behind this is that you can accelerate the cue faster since it is lighter. I was intrigued by this approach, it seemed to make sense, and it also seemed to be fairly popular amongst the pros. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find anyone who had this type of break cue, and also wasn't able to find it in a physical store here in the Las Vegas area, and i didn't want to wait several months for the next major pool even to come to town.

After doing some brand research online, I took a leap of faith and ordered a Fury Jump/Break stick with a phenolic tip. It definitely took some getting used to - but once I got it dialed in I've been very happy with it. I'm generally able to get a lot of action on the break, dropping a ball (or often multiple balls) the majority of the time (I haven't tracked exact percentages - but as I write this, I'm thinking that would be a good thing to do). In the year or so that I've had this cue, I've sunk five balls on a 9-ball break on at least three occasions that I can recall (twice on a 7' Diamond table) and once at home on my oversize-8 table. I've dropped the 9-ball on the break numerous times, and have even managed to string together multiple 9-ball snappers on successive breaks on more than one occasion (as you can imagine, that can and has turned around a match in a hurry). As I mentioned earlier, my break stick is a light one, it's 17.7 oz. configured as a break cue and 8.7 oz. configured as a jump cue.

Jump cues are not allowed in APA play other than Masters so I don't use the cue as a jump cue very often, but I've practiced enough to be reasonably dangerous with it and have used it a few times in competition (with reasonable success, by the way). I personally don't think jump cues are a magic bullet and would rather spend much more practice time working on my kicking game... but on the other hand, I've noticed opponents treat you a little differently once they find out you have a jump cue and know how to use it.

I recall one recent handicapped tournament in particular where I was on the hill against a very good opponent (much better than me) and he was obviously frustrated with my level of play. I heard a friend tell him to play more safeties against me, and he did. I kicked my way out of a couple of them, but he persisted for a few innings and finally hooked me really well (for kick shots, anyway). I'm guessing his satisfaction turned into surprise when I, without hesitation or comment, configured my break stick for jumping and proceeded to make a nice jump, nearly sinking the object ball (rattled it in the pocket). I will now state for the record that I probably couldn't have shot it that well more than maybe two or three times out of ten... but he certainly didn't know that. I don't think anyone at that tournament had ever seen me jump or even knew that I had a jump cue... but there is no doubt in my mind that one shot changed his strategy for the rest of the match. It probably affected the strategy of some of my subsequent opponents in that tournament as well - word tends to get around. And yes, I beat him ;)

Tip Tools
Proper care of your cue tip is incredibly important - and like most serious players, I keep several tools dedicated to that purpose handy. Think of it, your cue's tip is what transfers everything you do to the cue ball. If your tip is screwed up, it really doesn't matter how beautiful your stroke is because it's not going to get properly transferred to the ball. Referring back to my master chef and his knives, I'll further point out that the best chefs are absolute fanatics about the quality of the edge on their knifes. Similarly, a top pool player (or one who wants to be) should be a fanatic about the shape and condition of their tip.

I've tried a few different tip shapers but the ones I've settled on is Willard's, which are the metal disks shown in the upper right and left of the picture. These come in different sizes for nickel and dime radius tips, and I have both sizes in my bag. I use the nickel shape on my break cue and the dime shape on X-Pro shaft.

While the Willard shaper also does a pretty good job of roughing up the tip (enabling it to hold chalk better), I also carry another popular tool called a Tip-Pik (shown in the picture below the shapers). As you can see, the Tip-Pik is a cylindrical tool with numerous sharp points at one end. Luckily, it comes with a cap to cover the points (I've got the tool propped up on the cap in the picture). Poking my cue tip with the Tip-Pik makes me think of aerating my lawn... again, the effect is that the tip is roughed up a bit and able to hold more chalk.

Shaft Smoother & Burnisher
A smooth shaft goes a long way towards a smooth stroke, improving both your accuracy and speed control. This Tiger Shaft Smoother and Burnisher is the handiest tool I've found for putting the final touches on my shafts and/or addressing rough spots as you feel them in a game. It's got two sides, the red side is coarser and the white side is for the final finish. I tend to touch up the finish on my shaft regularly, every few matches or so. Of course, it should go without saying to be nice to your shaft in the first place! Tapping your shaft on the edge of the table after a bad shot or knocking your cue over is a good way to put a dent or nick on it, yet I see people doing it all the time.

Talc Bag
No, this did not fall out of a blond celebrity's Coach purse on the Las Vegas Strip... it's a talc bag, and although I don't need to use it very often in the dry air of Vegas, it's handy to have "just in case." I prefer a bag like this over the bottle of powder I used to carry in my bag. The bottles tend to be messy... leaking in the bag as well as spilling all over the place when applying the powder. With one of these bags, all you do is rub it on your hand a bit to apply the powder. It comes in a zip lock bag, so no mess in your gear bag.

Shooting Glove
As you can see in my picture and may have read in previous posts, I used to use a shooting glove. As mentioned more recently, I've reverted back to my wild commando ways of shooting without a glove. So far I'm liking it, but I still keep a glove in my bag for the time being just in case. As recently as a week or two ago I had two gloves in my bag, so progress is definitely being made.

Extra Chalk
You can't see it in the picture, but I swear these little cubes of chalk have feet on them! I'm constantly replenishing my supply. At least chalk is cheap. Related, I've cycled through a couple different types of chalk holders but haven't really found one I like. I normally use whatever is available on the table if it's decent, but always have some available in my bag as well just in case there isn't any on the table or I don't like what's there (I really dislike it when the hole gets too deep).

Pocket Marker
In the APA league, 8-ball rules require that you physically mark the pocket with something rather than just call it. Obviously, that's not such a bad idea as it reduces the chance of contention over whether the pocket was called or which pocket was called and so on. I've seen a lot of different things used for pocket markers - small toy figurines, patches, cell phones, cigarette packs, lighters, keys, it often tends to be whatever is in a person's pocket. I even saw a guy use a condom once (unused and still in the wrapper, thank goodness). I tended to be the "whatever is in my pocket" type, but was pleased to find a nice commemorative coin in my goody bag at the APA Singles Nationals and have been using that as a marker ever since (unless I forget to dig it out of my bag before my match).

Mechanical Bridge
I'm tall enough that I don't have to use a bridge very often on bar-sized tables, but the occasion rises at times and I'm not the type to shy away from using one if I need it. I've seen pros use them, and I figure if it's good enough for them it's good enough for me. Unfortunately some bars don't have bridges available, so I've found that it's a good idea to have a bridge head like this tucked away in your bag. It fits over the tip of another cue such as your break cue if you have one or a house cue. The one shown here is called a Moosehead for obvious reasons. I chose it because it has a lot of different options for cue placement that should handle just about any situation.

Cue Stick Holder
Many bars and even some pool halls do not have good places to put your pool cues, which results in sticks getting knocked over and so on. Referring back to my "fine instrument" comparison earlier in this article, bad things can happen when a cue gets knocked over - the shaft can get dinged, ferrule broken, whatever. To minimize this possibility and to present a bit more of a professional appearance, I pack a Q-Claw cue stick holder. I've seen and checked out several different styles of holders before settling on the Q-Claw and feel this one is one of the more versatile designs. It's heavily weighted and simply sits on top of the edge of the table, which to me is an advantage over the clamp types because there's so many different types of tables out there, The tops of some are too thick or otherwise shaped in such a way as to thwart clamping efforts. I've run into very few situations where the Q-Claw didn't work.

Rule Book
People never argue about rules, do they? Hard to believe I know, but I've run across a player or two who just doesn't quite have a handle on the way things are laid out in the rule book so I bring an abbreviated version along to help them out. I've considered bringing the full sized one, and may end up doing that one of these days, but the coverage in this one has been sufficient for most situations that have come up.

The Cry Towel
Useful for many, many things - sometimes for me to cry in after a match... hopefully more often to offer to my opponent after a match. Sometimes my hands or brow need to be wiped, sometimes the restroom is out of paper towels, who knows? I even used it as the background for the majority of pictures in this post. A towel is always a good thing to have.

For Emergency Use Only
When dealing with a really tough situation, it's nice to have my trusty pitching wedge handy. Settling into a good stance on the table can be a challenge though. It might seem easier after several drinks - but trust me, it's not. Beware of low hanging lights and ceiling fans. Most bars frown on the use of golf shoes on the tables, and be sure to replace all divots.