Sunday, September 5, 2010

8-ball Follow-in for the Win!

I try to go to local bar tournaments when I can find the time. It's an excellent way to practice in a competitive environment against players I wouldn't ordinarily come up against in league play. Until last night, I normally ended up at my original league home bar The Brewery on Saturday nights (7PM) for their tournament when I had time available.

Unfortunately, during this time of year, The Brewery hosts Fantasy Football draft parties that preempt their regular pool tournament. As you can imagine, it's a big disappointment to show up at the scheduled time, pool gear in hand, to see the tables covered and a bunch of Fantasy Football paraphernalia scattered about. In fairness to The Brewery, they sent out an email about the tournament being canceled... but the email looked a lot like the usual email I get every week about the tournament so I didn't look at it closely enough.

Anyway, as I was standing there looking at the covered tables with tears welling up in my eyes (not really), I got a text message from my friend Jim that said "looks like the Brewery tournament is a no-go tonight"... and I actually glanced around the bar to see if he was standing there laughing at me. He wasn't, but I guess we just missed each other because he had been there a few minutes before. He was headed over to another nearby pool hall Mickey's Cues & Brews to see if anything was going on over there. In the midst of a flurry of texts back and forth I remembered that another nearby bar, The Gin Mill, had a Saturday night tournament (not sure if they have a website, Google just sent me to, and I'm not going to use that link).

I've actually never been to The Gin Mill even though it's in my part of town. I see the name of the bar coming up time and time again as the sponsor for some very successful local teams so I knew I'd be up against good players, which is exactly what I wanted. The regular players there strike me as a very tight knit group of people. I've even been told in the past not to bother trying to go to their tournament because they were cliquey and didn't welcome 'outsiders.' Whatever. I just wanted to play pool. Although I wouldn't say that I'm really good friends with any of the regulars there, I knew several of them and they knew me so I figured I'd be fine and was actually looking forward to something new.

The Gin Mill's Saturday tournament starts at 8PM and is a full double-elimination bracket. They play unhandicapped 8-ball following TAP rules. Each match is a do or die race to one, which keeps things rolling quickly and you get to watch a good variety of players in a short period of time. I shot fairly well in the early going, working my way up through the winner's bracket for a few games... then lost a tough one when the table layout was very much in the other player's favor... and then my aim decided to go to bed for the last match - I missed a couple fairly easy shots that I simply shouldn't have missed and given that I was up against a very good player by that point in the bracket, the mistakes were fatal. I ended up in the 5th/6th position - one level out of the money, which I was pleased with, given the quality of players in the board. It was a good night, and I imagine I'll be back from time-to-time.

By now, I'm sure you're all wondering about the title of this post - it relates to one of my earlier victories in the tournament. I didn't get the shape on the 8-ball I had hoped for, and was faced with a dilemma. My best available shot was a cut shot into a corner pocket. The problem, as you can see in the diagram, was that my opponent's last ball also occupied the same corner pocket. I considered the long bank, but the angle was a tough one and it seemed like a double-kiss was likely. I felt any other shot would have had even lower odds.

My shot on the 8-ball, more or less (click to enlarge)

So I lined up for a cut shot into the occupied corner and called that pocket. My opponent's ball was slightly off to the side in the pocket, but not far enough that I could have made it cleanly past the ball even if I had the luxury of being able to line up and aim a straight-in shot so I knew her ball would likely drop first... then if all went well, the 8-ball would follow it in. If things didn't work as planned, my opponent would almost surely be left with an easy shot on the 8-ball for the win. No pressure there, eh?

For those of you who have tried this type of shot, you know it's a finicky finesse shot. There's a lot that can go wrong - the aim and speed have to be just right. The physics behind the shot relies on the forward momentum of a rolling ball to carry it into the pocket after the initial impact with the blocking ball. If the aim is off, the rolling follow may take your ball into the rail rather than the pocket. If your ball is skidding instead of rolling, it won't follow. I had enough distance between my object ball and the pocket to know that I'd have a rolling ball unless I did something really stupid. Beyond the basic rolling ball requirement, speed in general is fairly critical too - if you don't have enough speed, you won't have enough forward momentum to carry the ball into the pocket. If you have too much speed, your object ball will bounce back slightly upon impact... which means your object ball would have to roll forward even further to make the pocket. This initial 'bounce' also tends to further complicate any errors in aim. In sum, it's a difficult shot to reliably pull off even if you're shooting it straight in... and I was going to attempt it with about a 50 degree cut shot.

Yeah, pretty much everything in the previous paragraph was going through my head prior to the shot - over and over. Damn brain is noisy sometimes. I've gotten better about turning off the conscious chatter and letting the sub-conscious take over once I'm down on the shot though. I took aim, stroked, and watched as my opponent's ball dropped... then after a very slight dramatic pause, my 8-ball dropped for the win. What happened next was, frankly, a surprise to me... the vast majority of the crowd at the bar erupted in cheer. I had no idea that many people were watching the shot or even cared that much, but it always feels good to get such an acknowledgment when a difficult shot goes according to plan. That's one thing I learned about The Gin Mill crowd that night, they were there to play for sure... but like me, they were there to watch good pool as well... even if it's an "outsider" making the shot against one of the local favorites.

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