Wednesday, February 15, 2012

PoolSynergy: A Handful of Random Tips

Welcome to the February 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 John Biddle the Pool Student, who happens to be the person responsible for wrangling together a band of pool bloggers a couple of years ago to kick off PoolSynergy in the first place. John left his topic wide open for us... anything under the broad category of "Tips". Seems easy, right? Just pick anything.


Seriously... anything, just pick it.

Just... pick... anything.

So there I was staring at the vast buffet called 'anything' and you know what? Sometimes having too many choices can be overwhelming. My mind wandered through obvious choices like bridges, stroke mechanics, and other elements in the ever-so-important fundamentals; practice routines; gear; and so on... and quickly concluded there are a TON of great tips covering most of those areas already floating around.

I didn't want to simply rehash; I wanted to come up with something possibly a bit different. So I started thinking in new directions and did my best to narrow my focus to these areas: Things that people commonly screw up and live to regret... and things that may be fairly well known to those who have been around pool for awhile, but possibly not known until they ran across the situation and had an "ah-ha" moment.

In other words, things people generally learn... for better or worse... through experience. This might sound a little backwards, but I actually consider myself uniquely qualified on this topic because I haven't been around pool as long as many others have been. In other words, I can still remember having the "ah-ha" moments because they weren't ten or twenty years ago (or more) for me... they were more like two or three years ago because I haven't been playing that long.

I've managed to come up with a list of ten here, but I'm sure there are many more that fit into this loose category I'm trying to invent here. Feel free to share some of yours in the comments section below if you'd like... I'd love to hear them!

Lest anyone wonders, I'm mainly concerned with serious or at least reasonably serious competition here - maybe a sizable tournament, or money is on the line or something. If you want to treat casual games with friends differently, that's a personal choice of course.

Be prepared
This is admittedly a pretty broad "catch all" tip to lead off with, but it never ceases to amaze me how many people screw this one up... even at major national tournaments. By "be prepared" I mean in all respects - make sure you have the equipment you need for the match and that it's in good working order. Make sure you're in good working order as well. Make sure you're not hungry, thirsty, hungover, etc. I live in Las Vegas, and have seen many people blow matches at major tournaments because they got too caught up in the "Vegas experience". Sure, enjoy yourself... but remember why you're there in the first place! I can only guess that the plane ride home would be a long one if you dropped out of the tourney due to a forfeit because you were passed out in your room. Face it, precious few people are capable of showing up just a minute or two before the forfeit deadline with disheveled hair and dried drool caked to our cheek; borrow a cue from someone in the audience and put the smack down on Earl Strickland.

Ensure you know the rules... and/or discuss and settle on the rules ahead of time.
If the match is a league match or part of a tournament, make sure you take the time to thoroughly familiarize yourself with the rules. Again, I see people unprepared in this area with mind-boggling regularity. No one is going to look out for you better than... you. If the match in question is some sort of serious individual match (perhaps some action with someone you haven't played before) make sure you discuss and agree upon the rules before the match begins. Pay attention to the game and your opponent... again, I simply cannot count how many times I've seen someone commit a foul or improperly rack while their opponent is simply not paying attention. I don't think the actions were intentional in most cases, but it happens!

Check out the table!
Again touching on the "be prepared" item, take some time to check out the table if at all possible. Obviously not all tables play the same... and sure, you'll both be playing on the same table so things will be "equal" in that respect... but the more you learn about the table and the quicker you can adapt, the better off you'll be. And any advantage over the competition is a good thing. Shooting a few balls to warm up a bit is one thing, but I suggest you dig deeper and work up a routine that quickly gives you an idea of the table's speed, rails, and identifies any oddities such as roll-off. Some good tips are given on Disc V of Dr. Dave's new Video Encyclopedia of Pool Practice (VEPP) (not to be confused with his older but equally informative VEP series of videos).

Cue cases under the table
Often tournament rooms are crowded and busy with people bustling about. Far too often, there simply isn't enough room to put things like your cue case, extra cues, etc, etc. Mileage may vary of course, but some folks easily have hundreds or even thousands of dollars sitting there, and all too often it's piled on or next to a side table or chair or whatever is halfway convenient. During your match, your back is often turned on that gear and you certainly aren't paying attention to it... you're completely focused on the table layout in front of you, right? I've known things to get snatched, and it isn't pretty on many levels. Certainly the monetary and/or sentimental loss can be significant... but also think of the distraction/disruption an incident like that can cause to your game or even the rest of the tournament! One of the safest places to stash this stuff is under the pool table itself. You're almost always facing it, making things really tough to snatch which is worth a lot in the "peace of mind" category.

Be conservative about close hits
I've seen and experienced enough controversy in this area to overcome my "shyness" about getting a referee or other appropriate person to watch a close hit. Eff it. Be reasonable about it of course, but you flat need to cover your butt on this one. If you wait until after your opponent's hit, it's too late. This, of course, is a two-way street. When I'm shooting and know I'm going to do something that might be questionable, I often point it out to my opponent and suggest we get someone to watch the hit - that way, I know it's coming and I'm (hopefully) not interrupted mid-stroke by an opponent jumping up and calling for a hit watch.

Always post money if gambling
Always. Ensure. The. Money. Is. Posted. Period. Of course I'm talking about any significant stake that you care about losing (which is a relative value from person to person of course). The plain truth is people gamble with money they don't have all the time. Often the people doing this are skilled at side-stepping your attempts at trying to get them to post. They prey on the human nature of wanting to trust someone and not wanting to "make waves". Don't fall into the trap.

Pay attention to the score
Admittedly, this is a pretty general comment because there's so many different ways to score, depending on the format being played... but I've seen problems in this area more than once and have become sensitized to it as a result. I've seen people advance the score using the "ball-knockers" over the table right after sinking the money ball, rack the next rack, then reach up and advance the score again (hopefully an honest mistake, but who knows?). The key is, pay attention to this kind of thing! Above all, don't rely on memory for the score. If there isn't some sort of score sheet or built-in scoring device on or above the table, a common technique is to use pennies or other similar coins on the table under the rails - start with two coins together at the middle diamond on the foot rail, then advance the coins to the next diamond around the table (in opposite directions) with each win.

Even better, make sure someone else is paying attention to the score if appropriate so it's not an issue and/or distraction to you and your game. Some league scoring systems are more complicated than others, and in the more complicated scoring situations it really helps to have a dedicated scorekeeper to you can keep your focus on the game itself and not the intricacies of individual ball counts and so on. Just make sure the scorekeeper knows what they're doing.

Thin racks for straight pool
This may seem out of place when compared to previous tips... but it was an "ah-ha" moment for me at one point, so I'm throwing it in here. There are lots of different types of racks out there - some made with wood, some made with plastic or metal. Some of the old wooden ones (like the ones at one of my favorite bars) tend to be quite thick. This extra thickness can cause problems every once in a while if you're playing 14.1 straight pool, so you might consider bringing along a thinner rack if you have one.

Keep your cool
I admit it, I've lost my cool a few times... I think just about anyone who's halfway competitive has. Even though I feel I was pretty justified in most if not all of the situations, I can't think of many times where I actually benefited from losing my cool. It rarely if ever changed the outcome of the situation, and it sometimes screwed up my game. OK, maybe it screwed up my opponent's game too, but I wouldn't say that's something you can count on. Do your best to anticipate and avoid problem situations... and when they come up (and they will) do your best to deal with the situation in as reasonable a manner as possible. Get it behind you, get your head back in the game, and kick his (or her) butt on the table.

Bar fight situation, grab the balls!
OK, I just couldn't pass this one up although I've never had personal experience in the area. If you're playing pool (or near a pool table) and people don't follow the previous "keep your cool" tip and a bar brawl breaks out... apparently the weapon of choice is as many billiard balls as you can grab. Who knew?? I would have guessed pool cues would be better, but not according to the book "Playing Off The Rail". If you've got a good arm (and I do... I was a quarterback in football and a pitcher in baseball) throwing balls are apparently pretty darn effective in such a situation - an "ah-ha" moment I had while reading the book.

Be sure to check out the other PoolSynergy articles linked from John's Pool Student blog.