Friday, July 30, 2010

Know Thy Opponent

Quick question: How many of you keep notes on your opponents? I mean, actual no-kidding written notes that are reasonably detailed? I'm guessing most of you haven't even considered it. If so, you're missing out on what could be a huge advantage. You probably run into the same players on a fairly regular basis in local league and tournament play, right?

Pro athletes in several sport disciplines have access to and take full advantage of extensive notes about their opponents. Granted, in those arenas the notes are likely compiled by someone else - a coach or other designated person. You can bet that every serious football team knows the tendencies of their opposing teams in various situations - what play they're likely to run, who will most likely carry the ball, who will most likely get a pass thrown to them, what defense they'll line up with in a given situation, and so on. This is common even at the high school level and lower. In baseball, particularly pro baseball, a batter likely has access to the entire history of pitches thrown to him by any given pitcher. The history is done in agonizing detail... pitch-by-pitch; the type of pitch, the speed, position in the strike zone (or out of the zone), and ultimate result of each at bat.

Why is this done? For competitive advantage, of course. Knowing the strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies of your opponent will undoubtedly give you an advantage if you're able to exploit them. Would you play a particular person differently if you knew that they weren't very good at kick shots or bank shots for example? Would you approach safeties or push outs against a given opponent if you knew they had an effective jump shot? Of course you would. Would you rack the first 9-ball rack differently if you already knew your opponent tended to break from the left side? Yep.

About a month ago, I was talking casually to a strong player between matches at a tournament. He pointed to a woman across the room and asked if I had ever played her, and I replied that I had seen her play but hadn't actually played against her yet. He then told me that he had a league match against her a couple nights prior and that she was a fairly strong player... but a couple of games into the match he discovered that she was uncharacteristically weak at bank shots (given her skill level) and he used that knowledge to beat her. As luck would have it, I found myself matched up against her in a tournament less than a week later - and that same nugget of information helped me beat her as well!

That was the 'tipping point' for me. I realized how valuable such information would be if I kept track of it in an organized manner rather than trying to rely on memory. Although I see the same players on a fairly regular basis around Las Vegas, I typically won't play most of them more often than once a month or at least every few weeks due to normal rotation. Consequently, I didn't really remember useful details. Sure, I might remember the basics such as whether I beat them or whether they're a strong player or whatever. But useful details that I could exploit? Nope. Poof, gone from memory. So now I'm writing them down and you should too. The more info the better. The date, the time, the occasion, your skill level and their skill level at the time, the outcome of the match (actual score, number of innings, number of defensive shots, etc, etc) as well as any perceived strengths and weaknesses. Do they have a strong break? Where do they break from? Do they avoid side pockets more than they should? Do they tend to get rattled if they're behind? If you think it might be useful, write it down. Even if you don't, and it's a legitimate data point, write it down anyway because trends are important and you might discover something important about those data points down the road.

Keep the notes in a format and medium that makes sense to you. A small notepad might work, for example. I use my smart phone (an iPhone). If you feel really ambitious, it doesn't hurt to keep notes on other players you watch as well even if you aren't playing them... because you might play them at some point in the future.

The important thing is to get started. Make it a habit, and it'll become second nature before you know it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Happy Birthday!

I haven't posted in a few days so I wanted to get a quick note in here to outline what I've been up to since the 4th. It's amazing how time flies when you get busy, and I've certainly been that.

7/11 is my birthday - so part of the reason I've been AWOL was centered around that. I had some company in from out of town, and spent some quality time with them. Sunday morning, they dropped by to see me play my APA Masters match. I set their expectations a bit during dinner the night before, explaining that the Masters format was not handicapped, and that pretty much everyone in the Masters league had a higher skill level than I did, and that I was mainly there to learn and any games I won were icing on the cake... yada, yada.

We started with 8-ball, and after a few very close games I found myself down 4-1. You may recall that I've been in this exact same situation before, so it was familiar territory. I fared even better than last time though, and swept six straight 9-ball games to win the match 7-4! I won two of the games (in a row) by sinking the 9-ball on the break, so needless to say my opponent was a bit stunned by the time the dust settled.

Monday night was my normal (APA handicapped) 9-ball night, and I had a severe case of "aim-itis" where I was missing shots, even easy shots, by just a little bit. It was ugly, and it's extremely frustrating when it happens. Figuring this out and improving my consistency is top priority for me. When I figure it out, I'll share for sure! My leading theory at the moment is that it could be vision-related. I usually wear glasses during matches because the smoke in the bars irritates my eyes too much when I wear contacts. With glasses, I believe, there is better potential for parallax errors to be introduced into the aiming equation. I've been thinking more and more about getting lasik surgery lately, and the more I run into problems with my glasses, the sooner it's going to happen I think.

Wednesday night is my normal APA 8-ball night. I was put up against our division's "Top Gun". The Top Gun listing keeps track of the number of victories as well as the aggregated skill levels of the defeated opponents, so the person with the highest score typically has several victories against higher skill level opponents. This gentleman leads the category in our division by a comfortable margin; he's only lost one match all session. Well, after last night, he's lost two matches. After starting the match off with one of my worst lags ever, I buckled down to business to sweep him in straight games.

Wednesday night was the first I used my birthday present (a new Tiger X-Pro shaft with their new Onyx tip), and it definitely came through for me! I'll write more about it in the near future when I get a few more matches with it under my belt.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy 4th!

Happy Fourth of July everyone! For the folks outside of the USA, the 4th of July is the day we celebrate our independence... the birth of our country. Sadly, it seems like we're losing a lot of that celebrated freedom these days - but this is a pool blog, not a political blog, so I'll stick to the subject at hand.

I haven't posted in a few days, and for good reason. I've been busy with a few personal things, but also received a package in the mail on Friday that also managed to eat up several hours of my time (in a good way!) The Video Encyclopedia of Pool Shots (VEPS) landed in my mailbox Friday afternoon! I got the full set of five DVDs and plan to write about individual DVDs in more detail in future posts, but the first step for me was to power my way through the whole set to get an overview of the content, and here are my initial impressions:

- Seeing the shots on video really adds a lot of value. Being an avid reader, I have to say I've already run across most of the information presented on these videos in excellent books like Byrne's Complete Book of Pool Shots: 350 Moves Every Player Should Know, The 99 Critical Shots in Pool: Everything You Need to Know to Learn and Master the Game (Other), and of course Dr. Dave's own The Illustrated Principles of Pool and Billiards - but seeing the shots actually play out on video adds a new dimension to learning that books simply can't provide.

- There is a TON of information packed into these DVDs. Not only does it add up to nearly 8 hours of video in itself, it's intentionally produced in a high density format designed to be paused, rewound, and replayed (over and over and over again!). It's like having your own personal pool instructor on call 24/7.

- I've seen and/or heard comments from others that they were skipping ahead over Disc I and/or Disc II to purchase Disc III+ presumably because they felt they had a handle on everything covered by Disc I (Basic Shot Making and Position). I'm guessing a good percentage of those folks are underestimating Disc I. The last few sections of that volume cover more advanced topics like combinations, caroms, and billiard shots... and I'll have to say I haven't run across many players particularly skilled in the carom and billiard departments, so those sections alone would probably be worth the price of admission for most people.

- The info can be put to immediate use. I was in an 8-ball tournament at an Independence Day party at a local bar and successfully executed a Ticky Shot (Disc 4, shot 553). I believe I was first introduced to Ticky shots in the Byrne book mentioned above and I've tried them with varying degrees of success in the past... but after recently seeing it on video, I feel I recognized the shot quicker and approached it with more confidence than in the past. I shot it as if it was no big deal, and nailed it. Later in another game, I managed to hook myself behind the opponent's ball along the long rail while trying to get position on the 8-ball. I was left with almost the EXACT situation covered by "The Plus System" (Disc 4, shot 507). The 8-ball was two diamonds from the corner pocket so I really didn't expect to sink it... but I decided to give the Plus System a go even though I had never practiced it and had only seen it twice on video (once while watching the DVD itself and once while watching the preview here). I lined up without hesitation, took the shot, and felt like a friggin' Efren genius getting a good hit on the ball from two rails - knowing that probably 99% of the folks in that room would have opted for a single rail kick with much less chance of sinking the 8-ball (we'll overlook the minor detail that 90% of the folks in the room wouldn't have gotten themselves hooked in the first place!). I didn't win the game... but it was a nice shot for sure and recognized as such by several of the seasoned spectators in attendance.

Now I need to squeeze some time into my schedule to go through these DVDs in more detail!