Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy Holidays, and yes I'm still alive

I got a text from a friend today:

dude did you give up your blog or what?

Point taken.

No, I haven't given up my blog... just been dealing with a lot of sh!t happens outside of pool and busily trodding along on my treadmill hamster wheel trying to keep up with things.

I think someone turned up the speed on the treadmill a couple of months ago when I wasn't looking!

It hasn't been any one "thing"... but a whole raft of numerous "things" over the last several months. Most weren't horribly serious in the overall scheme of life, but required my attention and ate up time and resources nonetheless.

I did have one issue that rose to the level of "drop everything and give this 100% of your attention" but I'm happy to say, while still a work in progress, I think we're mostly out of the woods on that one.

I felt particularly bad about missing PoolSynergy earlier this month. I'd have to go back to verify, but I think that was the first one I missed in a looong time. Even in the months where I only managed to make a single blog post, that post was typically the PoolSynergy post.

So what happened this month? Too busy with the holidays?

Nope. Not a good enough excuse, unless I'm up until 3 or 4 in the morning doing something else... because I've stayed up that late to finish off PoolSynergy before.

Earlier this month I ran into something else that I simply couldn't overcome.

I ran into... a sagebrush branch.

It wasn't my finest moment. I was out hiking after dark and saw something at the base of some sagebrush. Curious, I bent over to pick it up. I had a strong flashlight, and the object was well illuminated.

Turns out, the branches of the bush were not so well illuminated.

One of those not-so-well-illuminated branches found its way into my open and unaware right eye. Luckily, the branch didn't completely penetrate the cornea, but it gave me a pretty nasty corneal abrasion that hurt like $%^&(*& and left me blind in that eye.

But wait, there's more... I got LASIK earlier this year, remember? They did what's called monovision, which means one eye is corrected for distance and the other is corrected for reading. That was the goal, anyway. Turns out, neither eye got corrected as well is it was supposed to (follow up surgery still pending, but that's yet another story).

To cut to the chase here, the right eye is my distance eye. It's also the eye that got somewhat closer to plan with my initial LASIK procedure. Losing my right eye made me effectively blind for a few days. Scary!

Luckily, it seems like it's healed fairly well in the last couple of weeks and I can see about as well as I could prior to the incident. I've got another eye doctor follow up next week, so we'll see.

Anyway, onward and upward into the next year!

I have two partially completed blog entries that are "on hold" for various reasons beyond my control. I should be able to publish those fairly soon once the holds clear.

I'm heading in a couple new directions with my pool game in the upcoming year, and I'm sure that will give me plenty to write about as well.

As I close... I leave you with some sage advice: protect your eyes!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

PoolSynergy: Thankfulness

Welcome to the November edition of:
PoolSynergy is a blog carnival where several pool bloggers collaborate each month to write about a common topic.

This month is hosted by Melinda AkaTrigger, and her chosen topic is "Thankfulness" which is certainly appropriate since the United States has a holiday towards the end of the month called Thanksgiving. While it seems many people associate Thanksgiving with football and food (often the overindulgence thereof), the holiday is really intended to be a time to reflect and "give thanks" for the many blessings in our lives.

I have to say this was one of the tougher PoolSynergy topics for me... not because I lack appreciation, but more because I had a hard time coming up with something that I felt might be halfway interesting and pool-related without sounding corny or something.

Sure, I'm thankful for my health... my family... the roof over my head... the fact that I'm able to support my family and so on - and I'm very aware that many people struggle with some or all of the above. I wanted to dig a bit deeper and come up with something that might be perhaps a little more unique. Something that I feel might give me a bit of an edge in pool and something and isn't related to the ability (or lack of ability) to pony up some $$ for better equipment or instruction or table time or whatever.

For me, it's a much higher than average level of Attention to Detail. What does this mean? Generally, I tend notice a lot more things in the environment around me than the Average Joe (or Josephine). Sometimes it's a little awkward, because I notice things that I shouldn't (or wish I didn't)... but I usually consider it a pretty useful superpower. How can it be awkward or annoying? Well, for instance, it sometimes turns me into a freakishly overactive proofreader. If I'm reading an article or book that contains a lot of errors, for example, the errors jump out at me so much that they become distracting and detract from the informational content of the article.

It's definitely a sub-conscious activity - I recall noticing some misspelled words in a marketing video a few years ago. I was amongst a few hundred people viewing the video as part of a "preview session" prior to a major trade show. Portions of the video had numerous words popping on and off the screen in rapid-fire fashion, rotating, moving, fading in and out and so on to a pounding dance beat. The individual words weren't really meant to be read... certainly not all of them. It was just an effect kind of thing.

Unfortunately, my spider-sense kicked in, and I felt compelled to go up to the VP of Marketing after the session to tell him that I was pretty sure there were a couple of misspelled words in the video. I was trying to be helpful, thinking there might be time to make corrections before showing the video at such an important show. The VP asked me which words were misspelled and the odd thing was, I couldn't tell him! I only knew that my brain 'triggered' on at least two. He rolled his eyes a bit and gave me a "this video was professionally developed and proofed by dozens of people, I'm sure you're mistaken" line. I persisted, and convinced him to play the video again in slow motion. I was right, two misspelled words.

Other things tend to jump out at me as well - something out of place in a room, or details about someone's clothing, or whatever. Details in general. And that's where the "thankfulness" comes in. Partly because some of this is undoubtedly innate ability, but also because I had a father that drilled it into me as a child. My father was a policeman you see - and as you might guess, attention to detail is huge with policemen. Failing to notice a weapon tucked under a shirt or someone laying down in the back seat of a car could mean the difference between life and death... or failing to notice something ever-so-slightly out of place at a crime scene could mean the difference between getting a conviction or watching someone walk.

So it turns out attention to detail was my father's life. He made it his mission to make it a part of my life as well. I didn't enjoy it at the time, but I now realize it's probably one of the best gifts he gave me.

His method was simple but effective: he'd randomly pepper me with odd questions about things going on around us - while driving, he'd ask questions about things we passed after we passed them... signs, for example - "what elevation are we at?" "how many miles is it to Reno?" "what mile marker did we just pass?" In other settings, just about anything else was fair game - "what color socks did that lady have?" "what was the name on our waitress' name tag?" and so on.

He had the advantage, of course, because he knew when he was going to ask a question and could actively look for something obscure to ask me. That drove me crazy! At first, I hardly ever got an answer right, and he'd act as if I was some sort of failure... but over time, the competitive part of me took on the challenge. I began to soak up minute details of pretty much everything around us, and even discovered patterns in his questions... tipping the advantage in my direction by being able to anticipate what he was going to ask before he even asked it. I eventually got to the point that he could rarely stump me.

So how does this relate to pool?

I believe it gives me an edge when "processing" table layouts. I tend to see things that others miss, even players with a lot more experience (remember I'm an average hack who really hasn't been playing all that long, relatively speaking). Similar to the way misspelled words jump out at me... so do angles, wired combinations, caroms, billiards and the like. Just last week an experienced player painstakingly studied the table and executed a safety exactly as he intended to. It was a good safety - I'm fairly sure it would have stumped most opponents, but I noticed something obscure with the table layout during a previous turn at the table that turned out to be the key to turning his safety into a very quick and easy run out for me. I knew the answer to his safety before he even conceived and executed it! He was dumbfounded with the speed of my response.

So... as muscle memory can be built through practice and repetition, so can perception and other related activities... and I'm thankful that I had a father who took the time to develop that within me (although I hated it at the time).

Be sure to check out all of this month's PoolSynergy articles as well!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

PoolSynergy: Volume 24 - When Sharks Attack!

Hi and welcome to Volume 24 of PoolSynergy!

With this issue of PoolSynergy, two full years of monthly article collections are now in the archives! Believe it or not, it was two full years ago when John Biddle and other billiard blog pioneers joined forces to kick off the inaugural issue of PoolSynergy with the topic of Strategy.

Since that initial volume, the online pool community has been blessed with a steady stream of monthly topics from a wide variety of contributors - over thirty people have written at one time or another!

As a relative newcomer, I didn't join the fray until about a year ago with the 11th edition: GEAR: What's in Your Case and Why? hosted by Samm Diep (now Samm Vidal Claramunt). Since then, I've done my best to contribute as often as possible. I don't think I succeeded in contributing every month, but came close!

This month, I hoped to stir up a feeding frenzy with the topic of "When Sharks Attack" but alas, many of the regular PoolSynergy contributors sent along their regrets as they were otherwise engaged fending off tsunamis, infestations, and other natural disasters in real life.

John Biddle has been with PoolSynergy since the beginning... in fact he was the beginning, pulling the initial batch of writers together and hosting the Strategy topic I mentioned above. John takes what I imagine will be considered a bit of a contrarian view that sharking is over-hyped and over-rated.

Melinda (AkaTrigger) has been with PoolSynergy from the beginning as well. She's one of the more prolific bloggers, and managed to pull together her article somewhere between touring pool halls of Europe and winning the Texas State ACS title. Melinda covers many aspects of sharking - from tactics admitted by a sharker, to sharking among the pros, to her own confession of sharking in the past (say it isn't so!!). Read all about it in her article When Sharks Attack.

Michael Reddick adds his wisdom on the subject with some examples as well as some advice on how to deal with such situations when they arise. Michael's Angle of Reflection blog took top honors this year from Billards Digest Magazine. Apparently feeling the need to prove he can perform as well as he can write, Michael also recently qualified for this year's US Amateur Championship. Check out Michael's thoughts here: Shark Attack.

I play cleanup with some of my thoughts, observations, and tips on the subject as well.

PoolSynergy: When Sharks Attack

Welcome to the October edition of:
PoolSynergy is a blog carnival where several pool bloggers collaborate each month to write about a common topic.

This month I'm your humble host, and I asked fellow contributors to discuss their thoughts, experiences, and/or advice on what is known in the world of billiards as 'sharking'.

Sharking, in a nutshell, covers a wide range of antics that may be employed to distract an opponent while they're shooting. Sometimes it's visual, such as motion in the line of sight or at the edge of the shooter's peripheral vision... sometimes it's audible, such as a well-timed comment or other sound such as a cough... and sometimes it's mental, such as a comment that's intended to provoke thought well after it's originally made (presumably while shooting).

Of course not every comment, cough, or movement is or should be considered to be sharking. This is an important point, and please take it on board. I've seen more than one person get so hung up on this kind of thing that they drive themselves batty just thinking they're being intentionally sharked when they're not. Pool halls and bars tend to be crowded, noisy, distracting places and you need to be able to cope with that or you'll find yourself limited as to how far you can progress in the sport.

The best pool players have honed their concentration skills to the point that they can tune just about anything out. Take, for example, this video of Efren playing in a noisy, crowded bar:

Or how about this one where Earl runs out while there's still commotion going on after a large bucket full of water fell from the ceiling into the stands:

I guess my overall initial point is that "stuff happens" and the better you can tune it out, the better off you'll be whether the stuff happening is being done to intentionally distract you or not.

On the other hand, I'm convinced that there are players out there with serious ethical and sportsmanship issues who feel somewhere deep inside that they can't beat you without resorting to sharking in some form or another. These are the folks that you need to arm yourself against... while still being mindful that the actions may indeed be innocent.

So what to do? It's a good question, and in my opinion there's no single 'right' answer that covers every situation.

One of the more common distractions I've seen is idle chatting, and more importantly trying to engage you in conversation while you're at the table. Seems innocent enough - after all, pool is often considered a social sport as it's usually done in a (supposedly) social setting such as a bar or pool hall. Intentional or not? It's tough to tell, and I'd tend to say it's usually unintentional... but I know that's not always the case. The best way to deal with this is to simply tune them out if you can. Simply do not allow them to engage you in conversation! Do not talk back to them! Ignore them and concentrate on your shooting.

Another distraction I've seen is the 'table hugger'... the guy who's up at the table chalking his cue or whatever while you're trying to shoot. Again, sometimes this is simply someone with a nervous habit or otherwise clueless about what he's doing. If he's truly clueless, asking him politely to step away from the table or out of your line of sight should do the trick.

Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a little more persuasion to deal with the situation. You might have to be a little firmer with your requests in order to get through. Do your best to keep your cool though! If you let it get to you, chances are it's having an increasing effect on your concentration (and game).

Another option that I've tried with known repeat offenders is to simply mirror them. Whatever they do at the table when you're shooting, do it right back when they're shooting. Don't exaggerate or "one up" them... just match them as closely as you possibly can - and do it in a casual manner too, rather that making a weird "see, I can do this too" expression on your face or something. I've found that one of two things will happen when you do this: (1) they'll say something to you about you doing it, which of course opens up a dialog in which you can politely request that they in turn refrain from doing the same thing... or (2) their sharky actions while you're at the table will magically 'disappear' without comment (and, of course, you should then do the same).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

PoolSynergy: My Practice Principles

Welcome to the September edition of:
PoolSynergy is a blog carnival where several pool bloggers collaborate each month to write about a common topic.

This month's topic, brought to you by the father of PoolSynergy John Biddle, is Practice: What Works For You.

This topic made me reflect on a few things: (a) do I practice? (b) does anything actually work for me? (c) is it worth writing about? I got a hat trick of yes's with the answers, but realized that my practice varies so much that I'd be better off writing about the underlying principles guiding my practice sessions rather than going in depth about any specific drills I do. Up until this point I haven't had a written list of these principles, but it didn't take long to pound out a quick dozen of them.

Schedule Your Practice
Regular practice is a great habit to be in, and the best way to develop and stick to this habit is to have set days and times during the week set aside for practice. Life happens, of course, and you have to be flexible... but don't flex too much! You'll likely find that you can keep on your schedule if it's realistic in the first place and you make it a priority in your life. It doesn't have to be the top priority (and probably shouldn't be), but it needs to be a genuine priority. Assuming you want to improve, that is. If you're satisfied with the level of suckage in your game, that's perfectly alright with me.

Keep a Record
The amount of detail will vary from person to person, but it's generally a good idea to keep track of what you're doing during your practice sessions. I know some people who like to record things in excruciating detail, and I know people who don't record anything at all. Since this post is about what works for me, I'll say that I fall somewhere near the middle of the two extremes. I keep general notes of what I'm practicing and what I want to practice in the near future. I track some types of drills in more detail so I can get an idea of progress I'm making, but I intentionally avoid overdoing it. My personal feeling is that I'm there to practice, not administrate. The paperwork shouldn't be so onerous that it's a distraction.

Mix it Up
Variety is the spice of life. Yes, you're going to be concentrating on certain things from time to time, and that's fine... but I always prefer to mix it up a bit to keep it interesting and also to exercise different parts of your game in a balanced manner.

Look Ahead in Your Calendar
When planning out my practice sessions, I generally look two or three months ahead on the calendar to help decide what I should be working on. If I know there's a 10-ball tournament coming up in a couple of months I'll make a point of spending some time on 10-ball breaks since that's not something I do on a regular basis, for example.

Work On Your Weaknesses
We all have them, some worse than others. And I've found that sometimes weaknesses come, go, and come back again! Shooting a ball down the rail is a common weakness for many newer players, for example. Or long straight in shots. Or draw. Be honest with yourself on these - identify and eliminate them! From time to time, ask others what they perceive your weaknesses to be, and listen with an open mind. Their answers might uncover something you haven't even considered!

Work On Things You Don't Like
Don't like shooting a cue ball that's close or frozen to the rail? Practice it! Don't like bridging over other balls? Practice it! Don't like using the mechanical bridge? Practice it! These are all common weaknesses in the average player's game that tend to be game changers - one way or the other. Avoiding these things in practice simply because you don't like doing them is a common (and deadly) mistake.

Work On Important Aspects of the Game
Most people practice shot making... and that's important of course, but beyond that there are some extremely important aspects of the game that often do not get the attention they deserve. Break shots, for example are huge and yet rarely get the attention they deserve (amongst amateurs, at least). I remember watching Shane Van Boening work his way through four or five straight racks in a local 9-ball tournament when a fellow railbird remarked "hell, he's getting really easy table layouts... even I could run the table with layouts like that" and yeah, that's exactly the point. He was getting good layouts because he's invested hundreds or thousands of hours on his break. A good break can keep you at the table more often than not... it can occasionally win the game outright for you... and it makes subsequent run outs much easier as well. Safeties are another aspect of the game that usually don't get the attention they deserve.

Use Proven Practice Methods and Drills
No need to reinvent the wheel - look to others for practice methods that might fill your needs. There are some incredibly effective drills floating around out there in books, videos, and other sources - take advantage of them! Many pool books have chapters or sections dedicated to practice drills. At least one book is completely dedicated to practice: Phil Cappelle's Practicing Pool. You'll find that some of the 'tried and true' practice drills are incredibly effective at working on common weaknesses... probably more so than the majority of things you'd come up with on your own.

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
Build that muscle memory! Studies have shown that practicing the same thing over and over again prompts biological changes that actually improve the body's ability to perform that action. It's more than just a matter of "the more you practice, the better you get"... you're actually programming your body to get better at the task. Therefore, it makes sense to dedicate at least a portion of your practice to highly repetitive tasks such as shooting the same exact shot over and over again. Mark the initial locations of the cue ball and object ball(s) so you can quickly set them up again and shoot 25 of them. Or 50. Or even 100.

Practice Under Realistic Game Conditions
Do you have some sort of fancy collared shirt from a sponsor that you only wear in tournaments? Wear it during practice at least a few times to make sure you're used to it and it doesn't cause any unforeseen problems. Sometimes the oddest things can cause a distraction, such as the way a shirt sleeve catches your elbow mid-stroke. Wear the shoes you normally compete in. Use the equipment you normally use (including chalk holders, etc).

Practice Alone
I've noticed many people get together with others and make it a bit of a social event to 'practice' and sure, there's something to be said for that... but I don't personally think that's the best way to practice. It generally turns into a string of casual games mixed in with a lot of chatting and drinking, etc. It's all good, of course, and probably helpful to some extent... but keep in mind it's not optimal practice. In my opinion, you really need to be alone in order to tune in and get the most out of your practice sessions. If you've got a friend or partner who really wants to be involved, put them to work setting up repetitious shots or something so they enhance your practice experience rather than distract from it. If your partner is also a pool player, rotate back and forth with them between shooting and setting.

Something is Better than Nothing
Yeah, I get it... most people lead busy lives and maybe they don't have a solid two hours to practice at a given time on a given day. Fine, at least try to squeeze in 10-15 minutes on your favorite drill or simply run a couple of racks or something. I often run a rack while commercials are on TV or I'm waiting for a delicious gourmet meal to finish in the microwave. Don't have a pool table at home? Fine. Practice your stroke and bridges on the kitchen table. It's not perfect, but at least it's something.

Happy practicing!

Be sure to check out all of the other great PoolSynergy articles posted here.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Chalk Up Another Trial

My daughter had a hair appointment today - way up on the other side of town at Platinum Hair Studio. Great place, friends with the owner, blah, blah... but it is a long drive! She had a ride up there, but the deal was I'd go pick her up.

No problem.

Let's see... between here and there happens to be The Riviera. At The Riviera happens to be the 2011 APA Team Nationals. At the 2011 APA Team Nationals happens to be several pool vendors selling cool pool gear.

Yes!!! I'll be happy to head up that way to pick her up!

Parking at The Riv was seriously weird because what used to be the entrance to the self park garage at The Riviera is now a wall. WTF? I've been parking there for years! It's gotten so automatic that I damn near turned and ran into the new wall! I'm halfway ashamed to say that I had to circle the building twice just to figure out what was going on and how to get in! The old exit is now the entrance. The old entrance is now a wall. The new exit is around the corner from the old entrance (the new wall). Whatever.

This is the second time in less than a week that my feeble brain has been messed with like this. Earlier in the week I had APA 8-ball league playoff matches at Blue Hawk Tavern. It's never been a 'home bar' for me, but I've had numerous matches there so it's a very familiar place. Got there Wednesday night early to warm up... reached down to get balls out of the table... and saw nothing but the side of the table. WTF? They turned the tables 180 degrees around!!

I thought to myself: OK, I guess they decided they preferred us breaking towards the stained glass windows over launching cue balls into the people space of the bar below (which made me recall an incident when yours truly hit a Blue Hawk waitress in the ankle with a cue ball last year). So it made sense... kind of. I reached for balls on the wrong side of the table several times that night, but it made sense.

But here's the kicker - the very next night, they turned the tables around again!!! Oy! And this time they (whomever 'they' are) were clearly conflicted. The tables were physically rotated 180 degrees back to the original direction they had been for years. But... it appeared that they still wanted us to break towards the stained glass windows, because they moved the spot to the head of the table - haha! Whatever. Anyone with a quarter of a brain would know that the simple act of moving the spot sticker is not going to change where we break on a ball return type table. Fail.

But it didn't fail to get me reaching down on the wrong side of the table again after finally getting myself adapted to the other orientation the previous night - LOL!

Their mind games didn't work. I won and we won both nights... taking first place in the division Wednesday night and third place in Thursday night's division.

Anyway, back to something more important - cool pool vendors at The Riv. My list was simple (but rarely stays that way). Joint protectors for my shiny new Venom VX Blackbelt Jump Cue was the #1 priority. If I happened to see it, I figured I'd grab a copy of the new Mastering the Jump Shot DVD that Bebob Publishing sent me an email about a few days ago. That was it. Honest!

The joint protectors were easy. I dropped by the Predator booth with sad puppy dog eyes and bam they hooked me up with freebie leftover Predator Air joint protectors. Check.

No luck with the DVD. Didn't see it at any of the general cue stuff peddlers like Pooldawg, Omega, Mueller... and didn't see a Bebob booth. OK, struck out on the DVD.

Then I found myself face-to-face with Kamui's John Bertone, who had set up a somewhat make-shift looking shop at the far corner of Lucasi's booth. Below the Kamui banner, he was armed with a lone display stand loaded with product and brochures and his iPad 2 point-of-sale device. Oh, and he was wearing an official looking Kamui shirt.

I thought to myself that I'd be doing the world an injustice if I didn't give him crap about the price of their chalk. But then I decided to ask if he had a way to let me compare the Kamui Black Soft tip (which I'm using) to the Black Super Soft. I wanted to get the more important question (to me) out of the way first. Unfortunately, he didn't have any cues or shafts set up with the different tips like I hoped he might.

So I gave him crap about the price of their chalk... and he took it in stride (gee, maybe he's heard that one before?) He asked me to get my cue out of the case and proceeded to give it the Gator Grip treatment. Then, he chalked it up and told me to go run a rack of balls without any more chalking.

And so I did. I actually ran two racks.

I had great cue ball control throughout the shooting, all the way to the end. Not a single miscue. In fact, I got more than table length of draw on the very last shot of those two racks. Looking at my tip, there was still chalk on it after running two full racks! And with me, that's more than 30 shots - ha! Actually, I only missed a couple shots out of the two racks, and I believe I can attribute that to having better control over the cue ball which gave me more confidence... which, well you know.

You probably know where this is headed, don't you?

Yeah, I ended up getting some Kamui chalk. I still don't like the price, but I'll give it a try for awhile. It's definitely different than any chalk I've used before, and I believe I've tried all of the others at one time or another.

I'll keep you posted!

Oh, and now for an exclusive KBCNC newsflash: If you want the ebony version of the Kamui Gator Grip, get one now from whatever source you can find. Supposedly the price of ebony has gone up dramatically, so I'm guessing Kamui will either raise the price or drop the item altogether. John was only selling the boxwood version. It looks like some online suppliers still have them in stock at this point.

Monday, August 15, 2011

PoolSynergy: 10 Ways to Quiet the Mind

Welcome to the August edition of:
PoolSynergy is a blog carnival where several pool bloggers collaborate each month to write about a common topic.

This month's topic, brought to you by Samm Vidal Claramunt (aka Samm Diep), is 10 Things. Umm, ten of what things you ask? Well, ten of anything pool related said Samm - so I chose to write about 10 Ways to Quiet the Mind... something I've personally been focusing on lately.

If you're not familiar with the term, perhaps you've heard similar terms such as "Zen State" or "Inner Peace" as described in this short clip from Kung Fu Panda 2:

In the movie, Master Shifu goes on to demonstrate what can be done when a state of Inner Peace has been achieved: he delicately catches a falling drop of water... but instead of it splashing on him, he's able to magically keep it intact as it rolls over his hand and arms until he deposits it on a flower while Po watches in amazement. Later in the movie, Po discovers inner peace... duplicating the exercise with a raindrop. Toward the end of the movie, Po harnesses this new-found mastery of Inner Peace to defeat the evil Lord Shen.

That was a fictional (and animated) dramatization, of course, but it's not all fiction. Top performing athletes and artists have discovered that they have to 'let go' of conscious thought controlling their actions in order to achieve their full potential. Consider a lead guitarist performing an intricate solo, for example:

Watch the quickness and accuracy of his fingering as he literally shreds through dozens if not hundreds of perfectly timed hammer-ons and pull-offs in rapid succession. Not a single "buzz" of a miss-fretted string, not a single missed note.

Would this be remotely possible if he was consciously thinking of each individual action he had to do? Of course not. He's on autopilot. He's disengaged his conscious thought from his actions, letting his subconscious mind and body perform.

Watch the expression on his face around the 1:33 mark in the video clip. That, my friends, is Inner Peace.

The same principles apply to many different sports, especially sports that require split-second reactions such as table tennis (aka ping pong):

OK, I slipped some more fiction in here from the movie Forrest Gump, but 'real' table tennis is similar - the mind has to react quickly to recognize the speed and direction of the opponent's volley, anticipate effects of spin on both the path of the ball in air and bounce on the table... then coordinate with the body to properly position the paddle to return the shot - taking into account all the factors such as speed, spin, angle of paddle and so on to get the ball back to the opponent's side of the table.

Again, this is not something that can be achieved with step-by-step instructions from the conscious brain.

Consider another high-speed sport such as tennis:

Here, Federer returns a 140 mph serve from Roddick with precision for an easy win. Those of you who have not played tennis may not fully appreciate what he accomplished. A tennis court is 78 feet long. A tennis ball going 140 mph covers that distance in slightly more than one-third of one second. That means Federer had that much time to recognize the shot, calculate its trajectory, where it would bounce, where it would be when it got to him, position his racket (and body) for a return... and not just any return, but one perfectly aimed at Roddick's feet for a win.

"Immortal" the announcer said... but no, it was very mortal... just Federer harnessing the power of the subconscious mind by quieting his conscious mind. Inner Peace. Zen State.

In the movie Top Gun, one of the many lines that made an impression on me occurred during a classroom review of the pilots' performance earlier in the day. Viper, the Zen-master of the Top Gun school was critical of Maverick's (Tom Cruise) choices during a dogfight. He turned the review over to Charlie (Kelly McGinnis), who continued to question his actions:

"Aircraft one performs a split S? That's the last thing you should do. The MiG has you in his gun sight, what were you thinking?"

Maverick replies "You don't have time to think up there. If you think, you're dead."

And he's right, of course. I can't say so from personal experience (unless you count computer simulators), but I can certainly appreciate the split-second reactions that would have to be made during a dogfight in which two or more jet fighters are performing intricate maneuvers at hundreds of miles per hour.

I can't relate to rolling raindrops down my arm or returning cannon balls like Po did in Kung Fu Panda either, but, being a musician and athlete, I can relate to some of the other examples given above. I lettered on the tennis team in high school, and engaged in rapid-fire net volley sessions on several occasions.

I've also played quite a bit of table-tennis, and even had the pleasure (if you can call it that) of playing against a nationally-ranked player on a fairly regular basis. He worked for me as a software engineer when I lived in Colorado Springs, and regularly hung out with some of the athletes a few blocks away at the U.S. Olympic Training Center during his free time. He kicked my butt 99.5% of the time, but I steadily improved and got to the point where I could return some of his hardest shots by pure reaction... again, by "letting go" and quieting my conscious mind.

Please understand I'm not relating these experiences to say "look at me"... but rather in an effort to endorse books and other materials that discuss this subject. I'm trying to say "I get it," "I've experienced it" and "there's really something to this."

One of my favorite books on the subject is The Inner Game of Tennis. In this book, the author talks about Self 1 and Self 2, with Self 2 being the subconscious part of the mind responsible for peak athletic performance. It's the brash, egotistical Self 1 that needs to be "quieted" in order to let Self 2 perform.

So what does all of this have to do with billiards, anyway? Pool is certainly not a game of quick reactions like most of my examples so far... but it turns out that the part of the brain responsible for peak high-speed athletic performance (Self 2) is the very same part of the brain that's ideally suited to handle the identification and calculation of the myriad of factors involved in shooting pool.

Applying the principles of "Quieting the Mind" will enable a pool player to achieve much higher levels of performance. Is it a magic bullet? No, not really... as with other sports the mechanics, knowledge, and strategy need to be sound - and the muscle memory needs to be put in place through hours and hours of practice... but once you have a handle on those things, successfully quieting the mind will raise your game to a whole new level.

Please understand that I'm not saying that only advanced players should work on this. It absolutely makes sense for beginners and/or intermediate players to be working on it as well. For one thing, it's not as easy as it sounds to master. It takes practice. If you begin working on it now, you'll have a better handle on it when your muscle memory catches up. Also, several of the tips result in an increased awareness... which in turn gives Self 2 more "inputs" related to each shot as your internal catalog and muscle memory is being built.

So... ten tips for quieting the mind...

1. Make final decisions on all aspects of the shot before getting down into your final shooting stance. You'll run across this nugget of advice often and for good reason. Once you're down in your shooting stance, you ideally need to completely surrender the completion of your shot to Self 2, the subconscious mind. Things that you consciously thought about before the shot: where you want the object ball to go, where you want the cue ball to end up, what path the cue ball needs to take, and so on, need to be settled.

2. Focus intently on the object ball as you make your final stroke. Most people go through some eye patterns during the practice strokes... shifting the eyes between the cue ball and the object ball. That's perfectly normal. When it's time to make the final stroke, however, you should be focused intently on the object ball. Exactly where on the object ball might vary a bit from person to person depending on how they aim and so on, but for purposes of quieting the mind, the key is to be focusing intently on the ball. Why? Frankly, part of the reason is it gives Self 1 something to do that's not destructive. It's like redirecting a child to another acceptable activity rather than simply telling them not to do something that's not acceptable.

3. If distracted while in your shooting stance, get back up and regroup. Do not continue with the shot. Get up, deal with the distraction, then go back through your pre-shot routine before getting back into your shooting stance. Perhaps stating the obvious, but it's a good idea to eliminate as many potential distractions as possible before even starting the match. Make sure you're not hungry, thirsty, or need to go to the bathroom. Wrap up text conversations, turn off your phone if possible and so on.

4. Let go of the ego. Remove all judgement from your shooting. All of it. Ego and judgement come from Self 1. If you make a bad shot, there's no need for Self 1 to reinforce that it was a bad shot by scolding yourself or trying to consciously analyze what you did wrong. There's equally no purpose in telling your opponent, your friends, or other rail birds what you did wrong. Self 2 already knows it was a bad shot and just as likely knows what you did wrong - probably better than you do. Perhaps surprisingly, the same advice applies to good shots. How many times have you seen someone fluff a simple shot right after dropping a really tough shot? It's a good bet Self 1 was still in the game doing high 5's, fist pumps, and chest bumps. Note that there's a fine line between judgement and simple acknowledgement. Acknowledgement is OK.

5. Increase awareness of your stroke. Heighten your senses of all aspects of your stroke in a non-judgmental way. This may at first seem counter-intuitive, but it can be done. Again, like #2 above, you're trying to engage Self 1 in helpful activities. Gathering more information for Self 2 is helpful. Trying to judge and/or consciously correct what's going on during the stroke is not helpful. Increase the awareness of your grip and how the butt of the cue stick pivots on your fingers with each practice stroke. Feel the shaft of your cue slide through your bridge. With most bridges, even a closed bridge, a V is formed. Focus on the weight of the shaft in that V... does the weight equally balance between each side of the V and stay balanced throughout your stroke? Yes, it sounds like I'm asking for a judgement here, but that's not the intent. I asked the question to indicate the level of awareness you should be trying to achieve. With the right amount of awareness, you should be able to answer that question, but don't do so in a judgmental way (again, simple acknowledgement is OK). Trust Self 2 to make the necessary course corrections. Similarly, you should be acutely aware of as many other aspects of your stroke as possible including what it felt like when the tip hit the cue ball all the way through your follow through.

6. Increase awareness of your stance. Repeat the previous exercise, only focusing on your stance. Feel the weight on your feet. Is your weight equally distributed between your feet? Your awareness should be such that you can answer that question. Is your stance relaxed and balanced? Is your whole body relaxed? While writing this step, I realized this is an area where conscious adjustment sometimes takes place when first getting into the shooting stance - you're down... you realize your aim is slightly off, so you shift a little bit... which in turn causes an imbalance on your feet. Go ahead and move your feet to correct this! I consider this adjustment to still be "getting into the shooting stance"... and therefore appropriate and necessary. Once you've made any such adjustments, lock them in, fade Self 1 out and let Self 2 take over.

7. Observe your stroke on a regular basis. This departs from some of the other steps in that it's not something you generally do while you're shooting. With some sports it may be possible to watch aspects of your motions in a mirror or something, but I've found that to be difficult to do with pool. The best thing to do is record yourself with a video camera. The most convenient time to do this, of course, is during practice sessions, but make an effort to record yourself during competition as well because you may find you do things differently! Again, the goal here is to observe in a non-judgmental way. Don't rip yourself up with negative declarations like "I've got horrible practice strokes." Observe, acknowledge, correct.

8. Trust Self 2. Once you're down in your stance and turned things over to Self 2, you absolutely must trust that Self 2 is going to come through for you and do the right thing. Any second-guessing or last minute corrections by Self 1 will likely screw things up. If you feel yourself doing this, stand back up and start over.

9. Let the shot happen. Don't make it happen, let it happen. Trying to make it happen is something Self 1 would do. You shouldn't be in conscious control at this point. Self 1 is the control freak. If it seems like Self 1 is still fighting for control (and it will, trust me) beat it back with a stick by keeping it busy doing other things like focusing even more intently on the object ball as previously mentioned. Be like Forrest Gump - "never, ever, take your eye off the ball."

10. Observe the results. Simple acknowledgments, non-judgmental. Did the object ball go where it was supposed to go? Did the cue ball go where it was supposed to go? This is an essential part of the process of feeding Self 2's data banks for future use. Self 2 took in all of the inputs you gave through increased awareness and if something was mechanically amiss, it probably caught it and stored that info away as well.

The Self 2 of an experienced player may very well be capable of resolving the reasons for any variances between actual and expected on its own in most cases. Keep in mind this might not be the case with a beginner because the beginner simply doesn't have the knowledge and experience necessary to explain an unexpected behavior... but that will improve over time as knowledge improves through experimentation.

Good luck beating Self 1 into submission!

Be sure to check out all of the other great PoolSynergy articles listed here.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

English as a Lifestyle

OK, I seem to be continuing this trend of getting fewer posts up than in the past, but I'm sure it's just a phase I'm going through - LOL.

Truth be told, I've been extremely busy and playing pool nearly every night of the week lately. It's been a good run - but during this burst of activity, other parts of my life have fallen behind a bit. I haven't been able to concentrate on focused practice and drills. I haven't been to the gym in who knows how long. Normal around-the-house 'stuff' is falling behind a bit. My kids don't recognize me anymore (unless they want money or food).

And so it goes in the life of a Pool Hall Junkie!

Truth be told, I've enjoyed this burst of activity, and I think it's done my game some good. I don't begrudge any of it, and I don't feel like I've 'lost control' or burnt myself out. In some ways, it reminds me of the Fartlek training I did back in my high school years (hey, I didn't name it, only did it... and no beans were harmed).

I picked up some new experiences, played in new leagues, and met new people. All good things for my game!

Starting next month, I've decided to consolidate my league play a bit to free up some nights for other things like deep practice (The Talent Code) to focus on improving specific areas of my game. I've identified several areas that need attention, and put together a plan that should address them quite nicely. I'll be discussing the elements of my plan in future posts over the next couple of months.

Back to my recent burst of pool hall activity - one of the "new" things I did was join a 10-ball league. I've played in a couple 10-ball tournaments before, so it's not a completely new game to me... but this is the first time I've played it in a league setting. I've noticed that 10-ball has improved my overall game a bit. The called-shot format has forced a bit more discipline upon me... especially since you can only call one ball and one pocket. While playing 9-ball, I occasionally take shots that involve two or more balls through caroms or billiards. Often, I'd take such shots knowing the odds were good that I'd sink one or the other, or maybe both and any of the possible outcomes were fine as long as I made a legal hit and pocketed a ball. When you have to call one and only one ball/pocket, you're forced to look at the shot more critically.

The break is a little different in 10-ball too, but I'm happy to report that I've done a pretty good job of sinking balls on the break more often than not.

There are only two weeks left in the season, and it's been a great experience. I really like my teammates, and it's given me exposure to players I've never played before as well.

One such player I played last week. I had to spot him a game on the wire, so he's somewhat less average on the average hack scale than I am.

Um... have you ever picked up on something with an opponent that made you simultaneously cock your head to the side in WTF-type amazement, try to keep a straight face, and get eye contact with teammates to see their reactions? Of course you have! Well, at least some of you have.

This opponent seemed to be seriously enamored with English. Overly enamored. Terribly, dreadfully enamored.

Prior to most shots he'd stand upright, studying the shot... then say something like "1.5 right" to himself... get down on the shot and shoot it. I must say I usually ignore what people are saying to themselves at the table, and so it took me a little bit to pick up on this... but once I did, I found myself being drawn in with serious jaw-dropping WTFifness!

He was using English on just about every shot. Worse, it became apparent that wasn't just using English for position on the next shot. After missing a not-too-difficult bank into the side pocket, for example, he made a remark to his teammates along the lines of "I didn't get enough English on that one, I needed one and three-quarters tips of right and just couldn't get it."

And his teammates nodded silently.


That shot in particular could have been made with a center ball hit... or pretty much anything in the vertical plane (draw/follow) and/or varying degrees of right or left English. Sure... some choices may have led to a scratch, but he wasn't explaining away a scratch... he was explaining away a miss! Bizarre. And even more bizarre that one of his better teammates didn't point that out to him at some point (he does have a couple of really good players on his team).

Numerous other thoughts came to mind: how was he "calculating" the needed amount of English for the shot in the first place? Was this method calibrated for his tip? His cue? The cue ball? His stroke? Was he even remotely aware of the numerous factors that affected the applied spin on the cue ball?

Anyway, it was entertaining.

Sure, there are differing opinions on the use of English, but personally I try to follow the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) as much as possible. I cue in the vertical plane of the cue ball whenever possible, and try to set up for natural position if I can. Of course that's not always possible. Yes, I use English here and there to get better position on the next shot. On occasion, I screw that up pretty badly which brings me back to Earth!**

The use of English for the sole purpose of sinking an object ball (via spin-induced throw or cue ball to object ball spin transfer) should be a very rare thing, in my opinion.

The bottom line is English introduces all sorts of additional variables into your game that can affect aim: throw, deflection, swerve, and squirt to name a few. Worse, some of these effects vary due to other factors such as ball cleanliness and so on... which introduces even more inconsistencies into your game as you travel from venue to venue!

** Ironically, I screwed up shape badly on the final 10-ball of this match with overzealous use of English... but managed to recover, thank goodness.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Continuing Adventures of LASIK

I believe this is the first weekend since the end of February that I haven't had a tournament!

I've also been buried with other things - daughter graduating from high school, family and other company in from out of town, etc, etc. As a result, I'm behind, plain and simple. This is only the second posting for June (lame). I only had two postings in May (lame)... and I didn't even do PoolSynergy this month (ultra lame).

I'm behind on numerous topics, so I'll try to chip away at them over the next week or so. First up is... LASIK.

As you may recall, I took the plunge and got LASIK surgery a few months ago on March 31st. For those of you sitting on the edge of your seats waiting to hear the good news about how that went... keep sitting. I wish I had better news to report, but unfortunately my vision is less than optimal.

This is extremely frustrating. I put off eye surgery for years and years. I kept an eye on the state-of-the-art. I battled internally whether I should take the plunge or not. I even resisted when my mom suggested getting it done by her employer (she was an office manager for an eye surgeon for several years). She obviously had inside knowledge of his success rate and so on, and no doubt I'd get a good discount... but still I opted to wait. The procedures at the time (late 80's, early 90's) seemed to be enjoying a good deal of success, but I knew they were still in their infancy for the most part... and really there was nothing pushing me to go for it. I was OK with glasses and also able to wear contacts on occasion when glasses didn't cut it.

Fast forward a couple of decades... once I got serious about playing pool, I found playing with glasses to be annoying. I also discovered that playing with contacts wasn't perfect either, especially in the smoke-filled bars and halls here in Las Vegas where I spent most of my pool playing hours. It wasn't so bad in the smoke-free bars when I traveled to California and Arizona, but even then I discovered that I couldn't keep score or look at things like my phone or menus while wearing contacts because presbyopia had crept in on me (I wore progressive lens glasses as a result).

So I revisited the possibility of corrective eye surgery. I have numerous friends who have done it and are happy with their results. I checked out some of the local doctors, and found at least a couple of them with clean records with the FDA and recommended by local ophthalmologists. It turned out that a couple of my friends had their surgeries done by one of them and were able to personally recommend him. Digging further, I discovered that he was known as a doctor who people often turned to in order to correct errors that other doctors made. This all sounded pretty promising.

Enough about the doctor. I looked into the available procedures and how those were coming along since the days of my mom being an office manager. It sounded like significant progress had indeed been made! One procedure in particular, iLASIK, was being touted as the first and still the only procedure approved by the military for pilots and even by NASA for astronauts. This caught my eye (no pun intended) for at least a couple of reasons - (1) I initially wanted to go to the Air Force Academy to be a pilot but couldn't because of my vision. I checked into eye surgery then and found out it wasn't an option. (2) Going through a stringent military program myself, I knew how conservative the military (and NASA) would be about people they dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars of training into. I knew they wouldn't approve a procedure on something as important as the eyes unless there was very minimal chance of screwing up their investment.

Well, I'm sorry to report that NASA would be pissed with my results so far if I was an astronaut. I've approximated what I see when I look at a stoplight in this Photoshopped image.

It's not only noticeably less than 20/20 (in my distance eye - I opted for monovision), I'm also seeing double images... even with one eye closed!

My eye doctor calls it astigmatism. I call it eff'd up. I didn't have significant astigmatism before, and now through the miracle of laser surgery I do. Actually, my understanding of astigmatism (at least regular astigmatism) is that images are distorted in some way - a circle can appear to be an oval, for example. I'm seeing distinctly separate images rather than distorted images, and it gets worse with distance. When I see an airplane flying across the sky, for example, I see two separate images.

Hopefully, this will have a happy ending. My doctor says he's committed to getting it right, and is currently monitoring my progress on a regular basis. A second "touch-up" procedure is likely at this point to get me dialed in better, and so far he's confident that he'll be able to fix it to my satisfaction. They say they need to let my eyes stabilize before doing a second procedure, and that makes perfect sense to me. I want them to do everything possible to get it right next time.

I'm being patient and hopeful... but can anyone blame me for being a little nervous about this whole thing? Yes, my 'uncorrected' eyes are much better than they were by most measures. I can function without glasses and/or contacts. I can drive, work, etc., but definitely not as well as I could before surgery with glasses. I struggle at times with certain things that were easy with glasses, and I think it all makes me tired earlier than usual.

So how does this affect my game you might ask? It's impossible to be sure, of course... and I'll admit I delayed writing about this for awhile because I thought fessing up about my vision woes might give my opponents some sort of advantage, but I have since decided to go ahead and get it out there. The LASIK commercials make it sound so nice and rosy... you wake up the next morning, able to see the birds chirping in high definition and all that. Well, maybe some people do... maybe even most people do - but I'm here to tell you that not everyone does - even if they researched the doctor and ponied up extra bucks for the best procedure currently available.

Back to my shooting... I actually am doing pretty darn well all things considered. I haven't won any tournaments, but have had several 2nd place finishes in difficult fields since my surgery. I've beaten people I don't always beat. I've even beaten a few people for the first time ever. I'm stringing together respectable runs including several break and runs in both 8 & 9-ball. I've also had typical periods of mediocre play as well, of course, but that's normal. Overall, I think the negatives of less-than-great visual acuity (and double vision) are being countered by the positives of being able to shoot with a better stance and not having to deal with glasses... so it's more or less a wash, as long as I pick the right object ball image to shoot at.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Physics Don't Lie...

... but sometimes people do. Or maybe they don't understand physics. Or maybe they're just delusional. Or in denial. Or maybe all of the above.

Yeah, we had a bit of controversy on a shot yesterday at the annual 8-ball "cities" tournament, which is the local team qualifier for APA Team Nationals in August. As expected in tournaments like this, it was an extremely competitive environment and tensions ran high from time to time.

The shot in question is approximated in the diagram below. The opposing team's player was shooting stripes, and his object ball was on or near the rail as shown. My player's 3-ball and the cue ball were more or less as shown. A key point was: the cue ball had to completely pass the 3-ball in order to hit the object ball. Due to the ball positions, there was no possibility of a simultaneous hit (which would have been a legal hit).

Anyway, the player on the opposing team took the shot... and my player said "That was a foul, right? You hit the three first."

The shooter denied it. "No, it was a good hit, I hit my ball first."

My player replied, "Then how did you move the three?"

"I put a lot of draw on the shot, and it came back and hit the three afterwards."

The opposing captain jumped in with a (very weak) argument "He made the shot, how could he have made the shot if he hit the three first?"

I jumped in with "look where the three ended up, how could it possibly get there if he drew back into it after a good hit??"

A neutral bystander (high SL player) from a team at an adjacent table jumped in, saying "I saw it, it was a bad hit."

General chaos broke out for a minute or two... but it was quickly apparent that the shooter and his captain were not going to budge from their completely delusional stand that it was a good hit. Given that we didn't get someone to watch the hit, we had to fall back on the 'unwatched disputes go to the shooter' rule. Interestingly enough, I heard this very same captain reminding his players about the rule during the previous round (they happened to be playing at the table next to us). Apparently, he's a big believer in the rule.

Don't get me wrong, it's a decent rule to settle things when all else fails... but I also believe in being honest about the hit in the first place. Or at least being open-minded about evidence that counters what you think you saw. There is NO frigging way that the 3-ball could have been deflected forward to the middle of the end rail with a legal hit. Period. End of story. I don't care how much draw or what kind of English was used.

In hindsight, sure, we should have gotten someone to watch the hit. But hindsight is 20/20. This was not exactly an immediately obvious "hit watch" situation where the balls were frozen together or something. The shooter was also in the middle of a run and shooting at a fairly good clip, so the decision to get a hit watch would have had to have been a quick one. And calling for a hit watch would have been disruptive to the shooter's rhythm which I hate to do unless necessary... but so be it.

Because of this incident and particularly due to the attitudes displayed during and even well after the incident, I'm going to be a lot more careful (and quicker) about calling for hit watches when dealing with this player and/or captain in the future.

And why not? It's what they want. It's what they demand. They were very clear to us that it was our fault for not calling a hit watch. And it's tough to dispute that, but there's also fine balance between calling a hit watch when necessary and overdoing it. For me, the fine balance has been permanently tipped towards the cautious side when dealing with either member of this duo in the future. Fool me once, shame on you... fool me twice, shame on me.

There's two sides to the "you should have called a hit watch" coin as well. The best sportsmen will suggest to their opponent that it might be a good idea to get a hit watch. Think about it - being the shooter, they're in the best position to make the suggestion anyway... they have the best picture of the shot, and they know how they intend to approach it. The opponent often doesn't know what the shooter is going to do until he's down on the shot. This is particularly true in a non-rotation type game such as 8-ball. So while it's the opponent's responsibility to get the hit watch, it behooves the shooter to approach the whole situation in a reasonable and sportsmanship-like manner unless he wants to get shocked out of his stance in the middle of his practice strokes by his opponent exclaiming that he wants a hit watch.

Given the nature of this particular situation, I wrestled in my mind whether I should name names. It's generally been my policy to avoid doing so, particularly when dealing with negative situations. The focus of this blog is more about situations, technique, equipment, rules, my experiences, etc... and not individual people (unless I'm giving them kudos or something)... so I decided to focus more on the situation than the actual people involved because I'm sure there are people like this in just about every league across the country (and beyond).

While thinking about this, however, I couldn't shake the feeling that I had seen one of the names (the shooter) mentioned somewhere before... and sure enough, it turns out that he's a blogosphere veteran. Figure the odds of that one, eh? Small world.

It also turns out that the team in question went on to qualify for Nationals, so I'll congratulate them on that. They are a decent team, and my only hope is that they represent Las Vegas well... both in performance and sportsmanship. I'll add that this particular situation was not the determining factor in the outcome of the match between our teams. Although the bad call enabled the shooter to win the game in question, he was already well behind in the match, clearly out-gunned, and lost his match in the end anyway.

Kudos goes to my player for putting the incident behind him and continuing to kick butt despite the BS and spot of an extra game.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

PoolSynergy: Pool Mecca

Welcome to the May edition of:
PoolSynergy is a blog carnival where several pool bloggers collaborate each month to write about a common topic.

This month's topic, brought to you by John Barton, is Pool Meccas. This was another topic I struggled a bit with, partly because I think I was being too narrow with my definition of the term "mecca" and partly because I am still fairly new (relatively speaking) to the world of pool and simply don't know everything that's available out there.

With the PoolSynergy deadline looming, I chose to write about a subject I'm familiar with: Las Vegas.

Why do I consider Las Vegas a pool mecca? Well, I can't say it's about the permanent facilities... it's more about the temporary ones that pop up on an annual basis that attract thousands of cue toting pool enthusiasts from across the country and even around the world... and to me, this was a perfect fit for the term "mecca" being used to describe a place many people flock to. I've got to say, walking into one of the big ballrooms to see literally hundreds of tables lined up is awe-inspiring!

Indeed, as I write this, thousands of players and dozens of vendors are in town at the Riviera for the BCAPL Nationals. This is a HUGE event held every year in the month of May. To clarify a bit, it's not really a single event... more of a gaggle of events held in close proximity both date-wise and location-wise for the convenience of the attending pool enthusiasts. There are numerous divisions of competition, and I'm not even going to attempt to list them all. Connected events also include the 2011 US Open One Pocket Championships (in progress as I write) with match-ups such as Cory Deuel taking on Efren Reyes (playing on Table 8 right now). Also in town this month is the 2011 US Open 10-ball Championships. Although I don't compete in the BCAPL events (yet), I always make an effort to spend some time there because there's a lot of great pool to watch and tons of vendors to check out.

Last week was the ACS Nationals. While I'm aware of this event, I have to admit that I haven't participated or even peeked in on it yet, so I don't know a whole lot about it. I do recall seeing that it generated some controversy in the last year in a couple of ways: they moved to the Tropicana this year (used to be at the Riviera) and the dates for this event overlapped somewhat with the BCAPL Nationals listed above. Apparently, there was potential for conflict if someone wanted to compete in both events. My understanding was that they were going to do their best to reduce/eliminate any conflict, so we'll have to see how things worked out.

Last month was the APA Singles National Championships. This is an event that I personally competed in both this year and last year. Like the events above, the APA Nationals is a huge event that draws thousands of players from all over the country. There were also some competitors from Canada as well as Japan. Getting to the APA Nationals is a bit of an accomplishment in itself since you have to qualify for it through local and regional qualifier tournaments. The APA Team National Championships are help later in the year around the August time frame.

Besides these major league championships, there are several other events that pop up in town from time to time, such as the Mosconi Cup. I missed it last time I was in town due to some other commitments I had, but I'm going to make every effort to make it this year.

Be sure to check out the Pool Mecca posts from other PoolSynergy authors as well!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

APA Singles Nationals n Stuff

Fairly short blurb to close out APA Singles Nationals last Thursday-Saturday...

As previously mentioned, I qualified for the APA 9-Ball Singles Nationals this year. Unlike some other national tournaments, it's not possible to buy in to this one... you have to earn it by winning a regional qualifier, so just making it is a pretty big deal. I've been very fortunate to qualify twice in my short pool playing career (last year I qualified in 8-ball).

Last year I was really happy just to be there and approached the whole thing as getting some much needed experience. I was extremely happy to do something better than two-and-out and knew I'd be back.

This year, as you might imagine, I had higher expectations. Now I was the one who had been there before and knew the ropes, etc, etc. Once again, I didn't go two-and-out which was good... but really I had hoped for much more. So I have to say I'm disappointed overall which in turn gives me additional incentive to work harder next time, be more prepared, learn from this year's mistakes, etc, etc. Once again, I'll be back!

Another bummer was that I got knocked out by a player from Las Vegas (ironically in the round after I knocked out another Las Vegas player). WTF? Here I am in a national tournament that drew hundreds of players from all over the country (and other countries, actually - there were players from Canada and Japan as well)... and I end up mostly playing local people I know? I've played the guy who knocked me out several times. He's not only in the same league, he's in the same division! He's a good shot, we've swapped games, etc... but it's pretty anti-climatic when in that sea of hundreds of pool tables the two of us don't even bother to put on our name tags or check IDs or chat about where we're from or whatever. Blah.

I left the Riviera on a high note though - after being eliminated, I headed over to the Mini-Mania tournament room to see what was available. Mixed scotch double 9-ball @ 1PM caught my eye - it was a 32-board; a sizable field for a Mini. A few possible partners immediately came to mind, so I figured I'd start with the one(s) most likely to be interested and in the building. I got an enthusiastically positive response to my text from Amy Encinias - bingo! She came over to the Mini registration desk within minutes and we signed up before she had to dash off to another match.

Amy and I have played against each other a couple of times and we've both seen each other play several times, but we've never played together as partners. I looked forward to the opportunity even though I knew we'd probably be up against some teams in town for the Jack & Jill competition (and therefore likely to have spent more time playing as partners). Since Mini-Mania tournaments are single elimination, each individual match was a do-or-die situation... so the pressure was on!

As with other APA 9-ball matches, this one was scored as a race to a final point count (the 1-8 balls each being worth one point while the 9-ball was worth two points). Based on our combined SLs, Amy and I had to race to 42. One of the teams we played against only had to race to 25 since they had a lower combined skill level - yikes! To make things worse, they won the lag and got a bit of a jump on us in the first rack! We managed to get our feet under us though and started piling up points and eventually prevailed.

We rolled through three other teams and ended up in the finals - yeah! The team we met in the finals was very good - we could not afford to make mistakes against them, but unfortunately we made a few. They took advantage, and defeated us. I was very happy with taking 2nd place in that field though! It put some cash in our pockets and a smile on our faces.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Reverse Angle Kick

In this game won and lost by fractions of an inch, I seem to be particularly adept at being on the wrong side of that inch fraction. Just last night, I blew an 8-ball break-and-run by over running position on the last ball by a half-inch. Ugh. Up 'til that point, the run was a nice challenging surgical cluster-busting run, not one of those magical ones where all of your opponent's balls line up neatly tucked away against the long rail while all of your balls end up hanging in open pockets (the remaining few that didn't drop on the break, of course). Oh, and the 8-ball sits there all by itself center-table.

No, it wasn't one of those. It was ducking in and out of traffic, making something runnable that wasn't really runnable in the first place. Then all I had to do was drift over near one of the opponent's balls for a simple stop shot on the key ball that would in turn leave me perfect shape on the 8-ball. Sigh. Whitey drifted ever so slightly too far. About a half an inch. Probably less. I could still hit my ball, but didn't have the angle I needed. Again.

The whole scenario got me thinking of some of the crazy stuff I've had to pull out of my butt (or at least attempt to) due to sloppiness in position play. I'm mumbling to myself, of course, because I'm sure none of you have this problem. ;)

It also reminded me of a game the previous week where I once again over ran position by about a half inch or less. The game was 9-ball that time, and I had a really delicate shot on the 1-ball in the corner pocket (next to the 5-ball as shown in the diagram). I obviously wanted to line up on the 2-ball which was a couple diamonds back up the rail. The 1-ball was far enough out from the corner that a stop shot wouldn't leave me the shape I needed, and I didn't want the cue left too far off the long rail or shape on the 4-ball would have been tougher. So I used a drag shot to slow the cue ball down but get just enough follow to put me near the pocket without scratching.

The good news is, I didn't scratch.

The bad news is, I followed it just enough to hook myself behind the corner of the pocket... unable to hit the 2-ball. Sooo frustrating. Worse, the 5-ball blocked just about every conceivable kick path I could think of (even a five-railer, Jeanette... sorry to report your ESPN "Tip of the Day" didn't help).

I sat there and scratched my head for a bit while my opponent chortled at my misfortune and I concluded it was Hail Mary time. I had a very narrow route to work with between the corner of the pocket and the 5-ball... heading pretty much towards the center diamond on the far rail. I first considered using right English to widen the angle off the foot rail and try to hit the 2-ball with a two-rail kick (in theory coming off the side rail between the 6 and 7-balls towards the 2-ball). I didn't have a good feel for the English required and angles involved, so I wasn't so crazy about that option.

I then considered another possibility. I wondered if I could load up on enough left English to reverse the kick angle and hit the 2-ball with a one-rail kick off the end rail? The 2-ball would be a bigger target from that angle (compared to above) and I also realized that if I wasn't able to reverse the angle that far, I might get it far enough to have a shot at hitting the 2-ball on the second pass after the cue ball came back off of the head rail.

Overall, I liked the odds a lot better, and was mainly just trying to get a good hit at this point (luckily, the 2-ball wasn't frozen to the side rail) but I honestly had no idea if I was going to be able to stroke the ball well enough in the vicinity of the pocket and the side rail and the 5-ball. And even if I managed to stroke it perfectly, I wasn't sure if I could bring it back that far. The chortling continued and perhaps even intensified.

I lined up... took a few practice strokes... took a couple extra... and unleashed my best effort.

The chortling halted abruptly and was replaced with "DUDE!!!"

I got the angle, made a good hit on the 2-ball... and... damn near made it! It rattled in the pocket next to the 5-ball. Yeah, a little luck was involved. But that's part of the game too, right?