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.


  1. I love the pitching wedge idea! I bet the rule book doesn't specifically prohibit the use of a wedge! Maybe I won't buy a jump cue after all!

  2. What a great 1st PoolSynergy post! Welcome aboard. May your pool game continue to get better and your interest in PoolSynergy stay strong.

  3. Thanks for the kind words. I'm very happy to be a part of PoolSynergy.

  4. Excellent site, Look forward to coming back often. Keep up the good work.