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?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cue Abuse

Wow, just wow.

Player, mentor, friend, and cue mechanic Ron Worley (to whom I've previously credited the name of this blog) passed along  a photo to me that's just hard to believe... so you're going to have to see it for yourself:

Behold the wonder tip!

I couldn't even imagine playing with this thing - surely just about anything other than a center-ball hit led to miscues? Hmmm... maybe it's a top secret training device for enforcing center-ball hits!!??

Anyway, I'm sure I'm stating the obvious when I say "don't do this!" Your equipment is a partner in many respects - it fearlessly goes into battle with you night after night... but if you let it down, it'll let you down. I can't imagine anyone being competitive with this stick in the condition shown. Not only is the tip obviously worn well beyond the point of needing replacement, but overzealous shaping (and chalking) damaged the ferrule on the tip as well as the side - leading to much more costly and time-consuming repairs.

Changing the subject now that I'm a little sick to my stomach, this week was the first week of playoffs for the local APA league. All three of my teams made the playoffs with the Monday night 9-ball team ending up in second place in the season's point race, while my Wednesday and Thursday night teams ended up in first place in their respective divisions. Unfortunately, we didn't fare so well this week. We lost Monday and Wednesday to tough teams. On Thursday, however, our opponents didn't even show up!!?? How weird is that? Since we were in first, we were supposed to play the wild card team. They didn't show, didn't call, nothing so we'll be playing for first place next week against the winner of the other playoff match... and playing for third place on Monday and Wednesday night.

Friday, April 15, 2011

PoolSynergy: Fav Game

Welcome to the April edition of:
PoolSynergy is a blog carnival where several pool bloggers collaborate each month to write about a common topic. For those of you in the United States, this time we're offering the additional service of giving you an excuse to procrastinate further on your taxes - at no extra charge!*

* Offer not available in all areas - certain fees and restrictions may apply.

St. Louis Johnny is this month's host and he suggested we write about our favorite cue sports game. I figured the chances were good that the more common games I play (8-ball, 9-ball & 10-ball) would be covered by others and/or pretty well known by the majority of the audience, so I decided to dig a little deeper to cover another game I play regularly for practice: Rotation Pool.

Depending on region or perhaps minor variations in rules, this game is also known by a number of different names including 61, Chicago, Boston, and others. With most of these, the general premise of the game is the same. Since my goal is to give a basic overview, I won't get too hung up on trying to sort out any minor rule differences. There are a couple of other interesting variations I'll highlight later in the article though.

First off, I want to point out that I've never played this game in 'serious' competition such as league or organized tournament. I have played it for money though. Perhaps more notably, I've played it for money in the Philippines! I lost. In fact, I lost a lot.

Luckily, losing a lot in the Philippines in the mid-80's didn't amount to a whole lot. It was probably probably cheaper than going out to a movie today in the U.S., but it was a lot to the guys beating my pants off. If I remember right, a frosty bottle of San Miguel beer was the equivalent of around five cents back then!

Now days, Rotation is one of my favorite games because I use it a lot for practice, and I think it's one of the best practice games going. If you happen to catch me banging around balls prior to a match, there's a fairly good chance it's Rotation.

I don't remember where I first saw the suggestion to use it for practice, but I'm guessing I can attribute it to Max Eberle in some way. The reason it's such a good practice game is that it really forces you to improve your position play while at the same time encouraging more complex combination shots as well as solid safety play. It's like 9 or 10-ball on steroids. As I hinted at above, this game is popular in the Philippines, and likely helps to explain the super human position and kicking skills of players like Efren Reyes.

In a nutshell, Rotation is played with all 15 balls racked as shown. For most minor variations, the important balls are the One, Two, and Three balls in the corners (1-ball at the apex, the other two balls in order clockwise as shown) and the 15-ball in the middle.

Some variations (such as Chicago) additionally require the 13-ball and 14-ball to be in the middle, but most variations do not. The 13-ball ended up in the middle for this picture by random chance.

In most minor variations, the play is as follows: as with other rotation games like 9-ball and 10-ball, the lowest numbered ball on the table must be hit by the cue ball first. Again as in 9 or 10-ball, the object ball can be pocketed directly or used indirectly to pocket other balls with combo, carom, or billiard shots. The scoring is a bit different than 9 and 10-ball... in those games, the ultimate goal is to sink the 9 or 10-ball. In Rotation, points are accumulated for each ball pocketed - one point for the 1-ball, nine points for the 9-ball, fifteen points for the 15-ball and so on. The goal is to reach 61 points (explaining one of the AKAs for the game listed above).

The value of 61 is simply the total number of points available (120) divided by two, plus one (or 120/2 + 1 for the mathematically inclined). It is possible to tie, with both players getting exactly 60. In the rare case of a tie, players generally start over again.

One handy thing about Rotation is that it can easily accommodate more than two players. For three players, the race would be to 41 (120/3 + 1) and for four players, the race would be to 31 (120/4 + 1).

As you get some experience with this game, you'll discover that the scoring can make the strategy interesting and maybe even a bit counter-intuitive. You can work your butt off and run the first ten balls through the heavy traffic of the early stages of the game, for example, and only accumulate 55 points. A miss on the 11-ball leaves five balls on a relatively open table to your opponent, which could very well result in a loss. Therefore, the scoring encourages using tougher shots to sink higher numbered balls when possible... and it also tends to encourage a lot of safety play in the early going as well. All of these factors push your skills to the limit - which is why it's such a good practice game.

If keeping a running total of points while shooting sounds more like work than play, there are at least two variations of the game that come to the rescue: Simple Rotation in which you merely count the number of balls pocketed (with the winner being the first person to sink more than half of the balls - eight). Or Eight-ball Rotation, which is played similarly to 8-ball... one player shoots the solid balls in order and the other player shoots the stripes in order. As in 8-ball, the goal is to sink the 8-ball after sinking all of your balls. For this variation, the 8-ball is racked in the middle instead of the 15-ball.

For your viewing pleasure, the below video is an exhibition match of Rotation between Efren Reyes and Ronnie Alcano (race to four). You may not have seen this match unless you've specifically searched for Rotation matches, but there's a good chance you've seen at least one shot from the match if you've searched for anything like "Efren amazing shots." There's a multi-rail kick shot around the 2:00 point of the second video that I've seen numerous times elsewhere.

For convenience, here are the other parts of the video: part two, part three, part four and part five.

Give Rotation (or one of its variations) a try sometime - it is definitely a pool muscle builder!

As always, be sure to check out the other great PoolSynergy articles written by my fellow bloggers.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

21st Andy Mercer Memorial

I apologize for being a little slow to press on this one, but the 21st Annual Andy Mercer 9-ball tournament was a couple weeks ago (Mar 25th-27th) and I've got some video that I'm finally getting around to uploading.

Why the delay? I'm glad you asked because it's a perfect lead-in to a brief rant about a total pile of crap video package - Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD. I bought it on a bit of a whim last fall thinking it'd help me with another video I was working on at the time. I've used other video packages over the years (Adobe Premiere, Adobe After Effects and Ulead (now Corel) Video Studio) and were generally happy with them... but this one was sitting there on the shelf at Best Buy, was inexpensive, and I recalled hearing a couple decent things about it so I grabbed it.

Worst software purchase in a long time. Maybe ever.

The things I tried to do with it should have been pretty darn simple. Import a video, drop it on the timeline, do a little minor editing, size it and format it for YouTube. Render. But nooOOOoOoooo... the brilliant Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD developers didn't think we wanted to hear the audio recorded by the camera by default (even though it shows an audio track being dragged to the timeline). Or maybe they couldn't figure out how to read the audio format from my camera or something. Either way, I don't care. I read the help file a bit. It said I might benefit from a separate audio editor and suggested another Sony package that magically integrates with this POS video package. F-that.

It also suggested some other audio editors that might work, some of which were downloadable, so I went that route with a freebie that I've used before. Even with the audio editor, it was a painful experience. I had to chop several segments out of my interview in order to get the time down to the 15 minute YouTube limit and somewhere along the line, this POS video package lost sync between video and audio so it looked like I was watching an old-school Godzilla flick. I was pissed beyond belief and rapidly running out of time against a hard PoolSynergy deadline.

Fast forward to last weekend. I had these videos on my camera, and knew I needed to get them posted. I was bored. I couldn't see very well due to recent LASIK. Trying to think of things I could do to be halfway productive while still halfway blind, I decided to try working through the step of chopping up the videos into YouTube-sized chunks. I mistakenly assumed the settings from the previous editing session of the interview would still be intact and I'd actually have audio included with my video. I rolled through all seven video segments (several hours of rendering time). Fail. They rendered without audio again. And my vision was bad enough that there was no frigging way I felt like digging through the help files to figure out how to fix it again. Fool me twice, F.U.

Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD is no longer on my computer or in my life.

Last night and today I did what I needed to do with relative ease using Windows Live Movie Maker (free).

On to the Andy Mercer tourney. This is an annual tournament here in Las Vegas intended for "A" players. I don't know off the top of my head what the precise definition of an "A" player is, but I know I'm not there yet... so this is a tournament I watch for now. There's a similar tournament for "B" players at the Rum Runner on the previous weekend - the Doc Hill memorial. I considered entering that one, but had other obligations this year. I plan to enter next year.

The field is limited to 64. Format is: 9-ball, full double elimination, unhandicapped, winner break, rack your own, race to six. The purse in this tournament is sizable, with $6,000 going to the winner this year.

The above frame grab from my video shows synchronized final four shooting by the father-son dynamic Dominguez duo... Oscar on the near table and his father Ernesto on the far table. Ernesto won the Andy Mercer in 2010. There was at least one other father-son duo in the tournament: Emroy and Ray Skenandore.

Anyway, on to the videos. First up is the hot seat match between Oscar Dominguez and Shane Van Boening that was already in progress by the time I got my domestic kid duties done and made my way over to the Rum Runner:

Second video is part two of the hot seat match. In the last game of the match, SVB gave Oscar not one... but the last three balls! Quite the touch of class and show of respect for Oscar if you ask me (or maybe SVB just wanted to get back to the practice table sooner than later). Either way, I thought it was cool.

Video three shows Shane Van Boening practicing on the near table while Ernesto Dominguez and Walter Glass play on the far table.

With video #4, we're down to a single table featuring Ernesto Dominguez duking it out with Shane Van Boening to see who earns the right to take on Oscar Dominguez in the final.

One of the more under-appreciated shots of the tournament (in my opinion, anyways) happens at 10:30. Ernesto sinks the 2-ball and draws the cue ball more than the length of the table off of the head rail and side rail to get perfect shape on the next ball (the 3-ball I think?).

Surprisingly, the very knowledgeable audience barely blinked. You can hear a single person clap, but that was about it. Yet of all the shots I saw at this tournament, this is the one that stood out to me as one I simply can't do at this point in time. I can do banks, kicks, jumps... sure, not as accurately or consistently as these guys do (or I'd be on the other side of the camera) but I can do them. I have a pretty darn deadly curve shot. I can draw that far... even farther. In fact, I've drawn two table lengths before (to scratch in the corner pocket, unfortunately... sigh).

But I doubt I'll be drawing that far left-handed as he did anytime soon. I bow to Ernesto for that one.

Video #5... part two of Ernesto vs. SVB.

Video #6... part three of Ernesto vs. SVB..

Video #7 is unfortunately a short one because the battery on my camera died... but it's the first few minutes of the first set of the finals - Oscar Dominguez vs. Shane Van Boening.

So there you have it... another year in the books. Shane Van Boening took first, Oscar Dominguez second, Ernesto Dominguez third, and Walter Glass fourth.

Full results can be found here.

Additional coverage of the 2011 Andy Mercer can be found here and here.

Friday, April 1, 2011

I Have a Vision...

Yesterday, I finally pulled the trigger on LASIK surgery. Today, things are still a little... ummm... cloudy would be the best term I think. Sometime next week I'm halfway expecting to log in and find that this entire article is gibberish.

I'll admit it was tough to resist the urge to wake up this morning screaming in a complete utter panic that I couldn't see at all - which would have been the coolest April Fool's joke of all time, but I decided it might traumatize my kids a bit too much. Not because I was blind, mind you, but because they'd realize I wouldn't be able to do important things like take them to the mall and movies and so on.

After dropping them off at school, I drove to the eye doctor for a follow-up eye appointment. My eye doctor is 8 miles away. Las Vegas traffic sucks. My vision is still a little... ummm... cloudy. Perfect! Then it hit me: other people were probably driving to the same destination with equally bad (or worse) eyesight... ugh!

Actually, the drive didn't go too badly. I took it easy and stayed on surface streets (the term local radio jocks use for non-highway streets even though it makes no sense to me because as far as I can tell highways are also on the surface... but I digress). [halfway expecting to log in next week and find that I wrote "I digest" but I do that too, so it's all good]

The procedure itself was... interesting. The doctor and his staff were good about keeping me apprised of important things during the procedure... things like "you're going to feel a little pressure" which roughly translates to "we're about to shove some sort of odd device into your eye socket and apply a suction so your eye damn near pops out of your head" and "things may go dim or dark, but that's normal." Things indeed went completely dark with my left eye, and given that my eye was wide open and even bulging out of its socket it didn't seem normal at all. In fact, none of this stuff seemed "normal." It didn't go dark with my right eye, so I was able to witness the Intralase light saber cutting a flap on my eye. Going dark might have been better, I haven't decided. Oh, and let's not forget the best line "when the laser is on, it may smell like something's burning... but don't worry, you're not on fire or anything."

Overall, it seems like the procedure went well. Time will tell.

I shot a few racks this morning and am pleased to report that I can shoot OK in a fog if there's ever a league of tournament that requires it. I was making balls reasonably well. At least it sounded like balls were going into pockets.