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!