Saturday, February 26, 2011

Two Balls One Hole

Wow - this is only my third post this month, and the month is almost over. Sigh. Been busy, been a little sick, had sick kids... stuff happens. Mostly good stuff, though. Part of my busy-ness has been gearing up for upcoming tournaments as I mentioned in a previous post. As promised, I have a couple of follow-up posts to that one coming up soon.

What else? Let's see... I'm working towards LASIK surgery in the near future (specifically iLASIK). Yes, I believe the time has come. I've been watching the state-of-the-art in eye surgery evolve for decades now. My mom was an office manager for two of the leading eye surgeons in Reno back in the 80's and 90's so that was a good opportunity for me and we did in fact discuss it, but I didn't pull the trigger for various reasons. The technology has advanced significantly since then, enough so that the procedure I'm looking at is the first to be approved by the military and NASA for pilots and astronauts.

I've also been following the OMGWTF vs. Asia Cycak saga with moderate interest and amusement. If you have no clue what I'm talking about and feel left out, a couple initial posts about it are here and here. The drama is real and sad in many ways, but it serves as a good reminder that you need to watch your back with some of the folks out there. The whole thing also reminded me of a recent article in the Vegas Billiards Buzz. Kudos to OMGWTF for her usual journalistic excellence on the subject. By the way, am I the only one thinking this might be an opportunity for a streamed grudge match in another medium... like Jello, mud, or oil? I'm sure I could come up with a venue for that here in Vegas. (did I just type that out loud?)

Anyway, back to the subject at hand... sometime last fall, shortly after I took over as captain of my Wednesday night 8-ball team, I sat down and read the APA Official Team Manual cover to cover. I didn't really expect to retain it all, but wanted to have a good idea of what was in there so I could refer to it when situations arise. I remember in particular a passage at the top of page 48 (part of the 'Pocketed Balls' section that began on the previous page): "It occasionally happens on tables with small pockets that two balls become jammed in a pocket and are leaning over the edge of the slate to some degree..."

Now, this is a cruel thing to slip into a book I'm reading. Why? Well, maybe it'd be helpful to know a couple of things about me: I currently work at a casino gaming machine manufacturer. We develop slot machines, slot accounting systems, player tracking systems, and so on. In other words, my current life is filled with probability and statistics math. As I read, part of my brain spun off a background process to calculate the odds of such an event happening.

Prior to getting into my current line of work, I was a nuclear reactor operator. Consequently, I'm very familiar with and even taught nuclear physics at a college level (at a Navy training facility). As you might guess, another part of my brain spun off a background process to figure out the physics involved in getting two balls jammed in a pocket during normal play. At some point, I believe one or both of those background processes attempted to divide by zero and my head about exploded.

Suffice it to say the odds are huge. Most people won't see it in their lifetime.

Well, it happened to one of the players on my Wednesday night team (Ron Worley) when he broke during his league match last Wednesday night, coincidentally at a bar I've blogged about before. Never a dull moment there I guess.

Several people witnessed it - players as well as onlookers with accumulated pool shooting experience totaling well into hundreds of years, and no one had seen it happen before.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

PoolSynergy: Fav Pool Hall

Hello everyone, and welcome to the February 2011 edition of...
PoolSynergy is a blog carnival where several pool bloggers join together and write about a common topic on the 15th of every month.

This month, our host... the most awesome G² asked us to write about our favorite pool hall, and I'll admit that I struggled a bit trying to decide what I'd consider to be my 'favorite' pool hall. There are hundreds of pool tables scattered throughout Las Vegas, but most of them are located in what I would consider to be bars more than pool halls. We do have a few halls, though.

The Las Vegas Cue Club is, as far as I know, the largest pool hall in Las Vegas. I haven't counted the tables there, but their website says they have 39 tables so I'll run with that number. They have a decent mix of Valley type bar boxes, Diamond bar boxes, several nine footers, a full size Snooker table, and even a funny-looking table that doesn't have any pockets.

This is the place we usually end up for larger tournaments due to the number of available tables, and I can't say that I mind playing there but I won't say I'm crazy about it either. The tables are fairly well maintained for the most part... although I've noticed some problems here and there. The overall room is pretty dark in places - enough so that many of the regulars have gotten in the habit of bringing lighted pens, flashlights, or clipboard lights for keeping score.

There is a small 'attached' snack bar that serves things like wings and sandwiches. The attached or adjacent grill/snack bar phenomenon is common amongst the bars in Vegas due to smoking laws that were passed a few years ago. I don't claim to be an authority on the law... but my understanding is that if a place sells food, it's supposed to be smoke free. Most if not all bars continue to cater to smokers, however, so they deal with the law by having a separate eating area. There are also a couple good restaurants within easy walking distance of the Cue Club (Mexican and Thai are two examples).

Mickey's Brews and Cues is one of the better halls in town... they have 24 tables total: ten 7' Diamonds, five 9' Diamonds and nine Gold Crowns. All tables are covered with Simonis cloth, use Aramith balls, and are well maintained. This is the largest pool hall near my house, so I've been there many times. Downsides here are they don't serve any food and the bar is limited to beer and wine. When hunger strikes, there is a pizza place and a couple other fast-food type joints within easy walking distance.

Pool Sharks is over on the west side of town - a bit more of a drive for me, so I don't get over there unless there's a tournament or other reason to go. I'm not sure how many tables they have, but I'm guessing it's similar in size to Mickey's. Last time I was there for a tournament, I did run into some issues with the tables - bad rails, and so on (others have noted problems as well). They don't offer much in the way of food there, but have several menus on hand from local eateries that deliver. Last time I was there, I walked to a nearby Asian Market to grab some lunch in between matches. [2/19 update - I just had a tournament here today, and there are 27 tables (maybe 28). I didn't do a careful survey, but I believe they had seven bar boxes (two of them were Diamonds)... I saw at least two 9' Diamonds, and the rest looked like 9' Brunswicks.]

As far as I know, that's about it for the "pool hall" category in Las Vegas. There are several bars that land in the 'in between' category because they have fewer tables than what I would call a 'pool hall,' but more than one or two... and it's clear that they're serious about pool and cater to more than just drunk ball bangers by the way they maintain their tables and support the league players.

Putter's Eastern has four well-maintained bar-sized Diamond tables, decent food available from the adjacent Angelina's Pizzeria (a waitress gladly comes over when requested to take your order and deliver your food). I've played league as well as tournaments there, and it's definitely one of my preferred locations in this category (this was the location I chose for the interview I did last monthy).

Rum Runner's hosts a number of local tournaments, has a dozen or so well maintained tables, and has some pretty darn good food available from an 'attached grill.' I've always had a good experience playing there. Their website lists more than one location, but the one I'm referring to is the Tropicana Avenue location.

Dealer's Choice has five tables, and I have to admit I haven't been there yet - I'm only listing it because it seems to be a popular place in town that hosts some decent teams.

Aces and Ales is another place I've heard good things about but haven't been to yet. I'm including it to round out the map of Las Vegas with some coverage up on the Northeast part of town.

While all of these are decent places, I couldn't single any of them out as being my favorite. Instead, I found myself comparing each of them to another hall I played at on the road a few months ago... and while the ones listed above definitely have their good points, they fell short of this one in one way or another. I found myself repeatedly saying "gee, I wish we had something like that one in town."

And so, I reveal my pick for favorite pool hall:

My first experience at Bullshooters was at an APA Regional Qualifier last fall. At 19,000 square feet, it's a bit bigger than The Cue Club. It has 45 tables: thirteen 8 footers, sixteen 9 footers, and sixteen 7 foot bar boxes.

I played on several of the tables (of all sizes) and found all of them to be well maintained. But running a great pool hall takes more than just throwing a bunch of well maintained pool tables into a big room and I get the feeling the owners (Mike & Julie Bates and Leonard Orlando) understand that. The tables were spaced well enough that I didn't feel overly crowded. The lighting was good. Smoking was confined to a patio area near the front of the hall. Music was good. There was a reasonable amount of seating (chairs and tables) scattered amongst the pool tables to give players, scorekeepers, and onlookers a place to sit, drink and eat.

Beyond just playing pool, I enjoyed the atmosphere there because I didn't feel packed in like I've felt many times in tournaments here in Las Vegas. The food was great and the service was genuinely friendly - they made me feel like family. Beyond the regular menu, there were a few nice 'extra touches' available on the counter such as homemade beef jerky and rice crispy treats.

As my tournament played into the later hours in the semi-final and final rounds, a very sizable crowd started filtering in. Again comparing to Vegas halls, I was a little surprised to see such a crowd! But it became apparent that they weren't just coming for pool, because Bullshooters isn't just another pool hall. It's a place to hang out, have food and drinks, play darts, pool, karaoke, and more. They've really found a good mix and it shows.

I recently found out that I'll be returning to Bullshooters for another APA Regional Qualifier in a couple of weeks and I'm really looking forward to it. I'm hoping I do as well in 8-ball as I did in 9-ball last fall!

Be sure to check out the other PoolSynergy postings.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Going Mental

I've got a few largish tournaments in the near future: first up is the APA 8-ball Classic Singles Regional Finals in Phoenix the first week of March. This tournament is a qualifier for the APA 8-ball Classic Singles National Championships, which I competed in last year.

Next up is the Southwest Challenge (8-ball) here in Las Vegas at The Riviera. The Southwest Challenge is a fun format - teams of three with a total skill level cap of 14 (the 9-ball version of the tournament, played in the fall, has a skill level cap of 15). For this tournament, you have to declare the roster order when entering so there isn't any control over individual player match ups during the tournament. As a result, it's not uncommon to see top rated players playing against beginners - and with the APA handicapping system, the beginners can be a challenge to anyone.

At the end of April is the APA Singles National Championships. I'm already qualified for the 9-ball Shootout at this event after winning the Regional Finals last fall. A win (or even second place) next month in Phoenix would qualify me to compete in the 8-ball Classic as well. Since the 8-ball and 9-ball events run pretty much concurrently at Nationals, I have mixed feelings about taking both on. I'll be well warmed up, that's for sure!

There are a couple local annual tournaments coming up that I'm also considering entering, so needless to say I'm going to get my fill of higher level tournament action over the next few months!

My plan of attack in preparing for these tournaments is to focus primarily in three areas: the mental game, simplification, and safeties. To start things off, I'm making another pass through my 'mental' books.

As I mentioned in my December PoolSynergy post, Pleasures of Small Motions is one of my top gift recommendations - it's well written, a fairly quick read, and ideal for an occasional mental tune up. Of course I wouldn't be giving the book for gifts unless I found it useful myself. I've already read this book cover to cover a couple of times, and it's back in my queue for another pass as soon as I finish what I'm currently reading... A Mind for Pool.

In this book, well-known pool author Phil Capelle covers the mental aspects of pool from just about every angle imaginable. It's a very thorough book, covering everything from getting started to dealing with the pressure of competition.

Of course there's much more to pool than simply dealing with the pressure of competition, so Phil makes many stops along the way to discuss things such as: being a good student of the game, self evaluation, breaking bad habits, keys to consistency, dealing with distractions, learning from losing, and enjoying the game.

I'm truly amazed at the number of people I see on a regular basis that get so incredibly wound up during a match. I can't help but think it hurts their game more than it helps. Sure, there are a few examples of pro hot-heads out there, but even then I dare say they're probably more controlled when it counts than they appear to be. They might spout off in between shots, but they're usually able to quickly turn it off and refocus when they're down on the next shot. If they weren't able to do that, they probably wouldn't have achieved the level of success that they have.

But on the other hand, it's entirely possible that they could have achieved even greater success if they were able to keep things under control a bit better. Consider The Color of Money (the match, not the movie) - a long, grueling, high stakes race to 120. Two incredibly gifted shooters... but the winner in the end was the one who did a better job keeping it together mentally, erasing a 15 game deficit for the come-from-behind win.

I'll be discussing my other two areas of focus - simplification and safeties in future posts... stay tuned.