Thursday, March 24, 2011

2011 APA 8-ball Southwest Challenge Day One

The APA Southwest Challenge is a fun annual tournament that draws folks from all over the southwestern states. There are actually two of these tournaments per year: 8-ball in the Spring and 9-ball in the Fall. Teams of three with a skill level limit of 14 (15 for 9-ball) compete with a pre-set and continuously rotating roster order. This makes things interesting, because you're not able to control the match-ups... they're already determined for you based on how the roster rotates. This means the weakest player on your team may end up playing the strongest player on the other team (or vice-versa). Since they're all handicapped matches, everyone's got a chance... at least in theory.

The first day of the tourney is pretty laid back... registration, practice, and mini-tournaments. One of my teammates and I headed to the Riviera about 7:30 PM to get our team registered, check out the tables, and get some practice in.

When we got there, the conference room was pretty darn packed. There were somewhere around sixty tables and all of them were in use. We made our way to the registration desk and got registered... found out our team number (Las Vegas #12) and checked out the brackets. First round bye... yippee-skippy.

We saw a couple guys packing up their cues at Table #29 and jumped right on it before it had a chance to cool off. We were both shooting pretty darn well... trading games back and forth and finishing most of the games off in one or two innings.

And then, it happened. My break. A good solid break, nice even spread of the balls all the way back to the head rail, and a couple balls dropped. The cue ball planted fairly well near mid-table initially, but then got deflected slightly towards one of the side pockets. Still not bad though, and potentially runnable. Except for one thing.

I broke the frigging cue ball! I couldn't believe it. To borrow a phrase from a fellow blogger, OMGWTF!

In case you've never seen a broken cue ball, they don't roll very well. My hopes of a break-and-run quickly faded as we both stared in amazement at the broken cue ball. It was a decent quality ball too, a Magnetic Aramith like they normally have at APA tournaments at the Riviera (and like the one I tried to run through my dishwasher).

I guess I need to dial back a bit on the Wheaties or something.

I took the ball up to the registration desk and asked if they had another one. They didn't. Believe it or not, they actually wanted me to give them the broken one. Nice try, registration desk people. It's going to end up in a plexiglass box on my trophy shelf. Or something. It's not going to end up in their trash can.

So there you have it... day one of the 2011 Southwest Challenge, and I'm starting off with a bang (and a souvenir).

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dishwasher - Fail

I have a confession to make: I have dirty balls. Mine are nowhere near the worst case I've seen or heard of, mind you... but they're dirty nonetheless and I'm looking for a good solution.

Surfing around the Internet a bit, I ran across some promising home-built contraptions like this one and added building such a thing to my "to-do" list:

The problem is, my "to-do" list is huge and growing... and with various other things on the near horizon for me, I don't see it getting much smaller anytime soon. I needed an interim solution. So I pondered and pondered... and the thought of putting my balls in the dishwasher kept coming to mind.

I didn't act on that thought right away. I asked a few friends if they ever tried putting their balls in the dishwasher. I got some strange looks and wisecracks from that question, but the answer was generally the same - that they hadn't and they never heard of anyone attempting to do it.

I searched a bit on the Internet, but didn't really find anything on the subject. I admit I didn't dig really deep -  mainly because some of the links that were coming up were a bit disturbing, to be honest.

So I thought about it a little more - what's the best case scenario? Well, my balls could come out nice and shiny clean and I'd be all happy that I found an easy, readily available way to clean my balls for years to come.

Less than best case? Well, I suppose it just wouldn't work. Dirty balls in, dirty balls out. Back to waiting for the YouTube solution to bubble up to the top of the "to-do" list.

Worst case? I figured worst case would be something like my balls exploding in the dishwasher or something, I dunno. That was the best I could come up with anyway. Now, I honestly didn't think exploding balls was a likely scenario, but it's not like the balls are stamped "dishwasher safe" yanno? Even if they didn't explode, I figured there might some possibility of them warping or the core shifting in some way or something. All of my balls (at least the ones I'd consider putting in the dishwasher) are good quality Aramith balls, so I had more confidence in them surviving the process than I would have if they were made out of other materials like polymer or polyester.

After the APA Regionals in Phoenix, I had a test subject. I bought a magnetic Aramith cue ball some time ago so I could spend some time practicing with it prior to competing in tournaments that would use that type of ball (like APA Nationals, or in this case Regionals, based on my previous experience at the same venue). Practicing with the ball prior to Regionals, I discovered that it seems to have a higher affinity for chalk than the other cue balls I normally use (Aramith Pro Cup and Aramith Red Circle). With the cue balls I usually use, it's pretty easy to wipe the chalk off with a towel or whatever. With the magnetic version, not so much. At least that's been my experience. I'm not sure why... the balls are made by the same company and supposedly out of similar materials... maybe the surface treatment is slightly different.

Anyway, after a couple of weeks practicing with the magnetic ball before Regionals, I ended up with a thoroughly spotted ball desperately needing a good cleaning.

I loaded it into the dishwasher (top rack) and ran it through a normal cycle. I'm happy to say it didn't explode, warp, or anything like that. Unfortunately, it didn't get clean either. Some of the surface grime might have washed off... but as you can see, there are plenty of chalk marks left on it.

I wish I had taken a 'before picture' for comparison purposes, but I honestly don't think the 'before' and 'after' pictures would have been very different. Both pictures here are 'after' pictures taken from slightly different angles.

I'm not sure if you'll be able to tell from the pictures, but there are spots from at least three different types of chalk on the ball. The bright blue spot near the top of the ball on the upper picture as well as the bright blue spots at the 11 o'clock and 5 o'clock positions in the lower picture are from NIR Super Professional Chalk. The black spots near the 1 and 2 o'clock positions are from Black Master Chalk. I use the black Master Chalk when I'm breaking with one of my standard 'house' cues (as I often do when I'm too lazy to pull my break cue out of my bag). If I'm using my regular break cue, I normally use NIR on it as well. Most of the lighter blue spots are probably NIR too, although there might be some Blue Diamond mixed in here and there.

So there you have it. If you ever wondered whether your dishwasher might solve your dirty ball woes... chances are it won't.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

PoolSynergy: Pre-Tournament Rituals

Wow, it's the 15th of March already... and that means it's time for another episode of:
PoolSynergy is a blog carnival where several pool bloggers conspire together each month to write about a common topic. Charles Eames is this month's host and he suggested we discuss tips for tournament preparation.

Thinking through my preparation for major tournaments made me realize that even though I haven't been competing all that long, I've already developed several consistent rituals... and that in turn made me think about the value of rituals in general.

Unless you don't follow sports at all, you've undoubtedly heard of or even witnessed some of the pre-competition rituals that athletes have to 'prepare' themselves for the upcoming battle: some wear special clothes under their uniforms - Michael Jordan, for example, always wore his Tar Heels shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform.

Countless athletes don 'lucky' underwear or socks under their uniform (the scary part is that many of these lucky garments are never washed... ever!)

Similarly, some athletes always wear the same or similar clothes on the way to a game. Marshall Faulk, for example, always wore black. Some wear special jewelry. Women athletes may do their makeup a certain way prior to competition which I suppose could be considered a matter of practicality in some cases, but probably goes beyond that for some. I've noticed that a friend polishes her nails in an unusual way prior to a big tournament, for example.

Many pro hockey players let their beards grow during playoffs.

Some athletes have been known to sleep in uniform items from the opposing team.

Some athletes get a little more physical: UFC fighter Georges St-Pierre tweaks his nipples shortly after he enters the ring. NFL player John Henderson elicits a slap from his trainer just before each game:

Athletes often eat a certain meal prior to competition. Chicken is popular (Wade Boggs and others). Various forms of pasta also seems to be popular. My high school football coach often organized spaghetti or lasagna dinners for the team the night before an important game.

The question is: do these rituals serve a useful purpose or are they just silly superstitions? Many would be hard pressed to find purpose behind the above examples. Sure, some might be justified one way or another - nutritional benefits of certain meals, for example... but ritual meals are rarely considered to be optimum sports nutrition.

There are rituals that have more readily identified purpose, of course. I always put extra care into preparing my equipment before a major competition, for example... making sure I have enough chalk, my tips are in good shape, shafts smooth, etc. In my football days, I was a ball handler and therefore always got my ankles taped before games to prevent ankle injuries and so on. These rituals obviously have more identifiable purpose, but I intentionally avoided such rituals in the examples above.

The question is: What benefit, if any, do we derive from rituals that seemingly do not have a direct, concrete purpose?

Having competed in numerous sports over the years, I'm very familiar with pre-competition rituals... but I'll admit I never put much thought into potential 'real' benefits even though I took (and thoroughly enjoyed) a couple of psychology courses in college.

That is, until I ran across a discussion on the subject it in Jack Koehler's Upscale Nine-Ball. It hit me like a ton of bricks, actually.

Made. Perfect. Sense.

I'll assume most of us are at least reasonably familiar with the differences between left-brain and right-brain processing. If not, check out one or more of the previously discussed 'mental' books on pool.

Understanding these differences is key to knowing the principles behind teachings such as being completely settled on how your shot will play out before getting down into the shooting stance, for example. Your conscious 'thinking' about the shot should then ideally yield to the subconscious routine of executing the shot.

Anyway, let me get to the point here. It's generally agreed that pool is mostly a mental sport. It therefore makes sense that you want your brain prepared and engaged to the greatest extent possible - particularly prior to an important match or tournament.

The left brain understands and processes language. It 'gets it' whenever you read a tournament flyer or an entry in your calendar... or talk to someone about an upcoming tournament. The right brain doesn't pick it up so easily, though. Since the right brain is attuned to sensory inputs - audible, visual, taste, etc... it gets its cues from things you're actually doing and experiencing and therefore rituals can give your right brain that 'heads up' that an important competition is on the horizon.

So bring on the rituals! (as long as no humans or animals are injured in the process)

Be sure to check out tournament prep tips from all the other PoolSynergy Blogologists.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Return to BullShooters

I just got back from Phoenix where I competed in an APA Regional Qualifier for Singles Nationals, held at my previously disclosed favorite pool hall.

Overall, it was a great weekend. No, I didn't qualify for Nationals in 8-ball this year. I won several matches against some very good opponents and made to the semi-finals, then simply didn't play as well as I should have and lost.

I didn't play horribly, mind you. I made some very tough shots and even had some decent safeties but I made a couple of errors at key moments and my opponent was more than competent enough to take advantage.

After the match, she remarked "I made her think far too much for the first match of the morning."

I'm glad my strategy and safety play was appreciated.

Overall, I have mixed thoughts about the loss. Sure, I wanted to win... I pretty much always want to win. But since I'm already qualified for Nationals in 9-ball, I didn't have to win. And, I'll admit that I was wondering what it'd be like to juggle both 8-ball and 9-ball at Nationals. Sure, people do it... but I don't know how effectively.

In the end I think I'll probably be better off putting 110% into 9-ball at Nationals than 80% into both 8-ball and 9-ball. And that's the plan.