The Ellusive 8-Ball Part 2 - Found It! Then Lost It.

Whether it was the alignment of the planets at precisely 9:04pm last night or that blood sacrifice last week, but I finally did it... I FINALLY BROKE AND RAN A RACK OF 8-BALL!!

Here's the weird thing.  It was my first game of the night.  I came in, unpacked my cues, broke, made 2 solids and proceeded to run the the rack.  Smart patterns, minimal cue ball movement and 1 part of a beneficial roll later, I was on the 8.  I was (and still am) pretty f'n excited about it!

I continued playing with the guy the entire night and it started off in my favor going up 5-1 then 6-2.  Then... something happened.  I dont know what, but it was tied at 6.  Then tied at 7, then he got up on me 9-7, then it was tied at 9, then he got up again to 13-10. I had to call it a night just after midnight, since I did still have to get up at 6am, with a score of 14-13 him.

I've been replaying the set all morning and the thing that changed, I think, was that I stopped being light about it.  On the table next to us was my league team captian and co-captain playing a race to 7 for $ and in the beginning we were all joking and talking and whatnot, and it was no big deal.  Then when I got up on my opponent 5-1, they started commenting on our match and I started to think more about the game on our table, trying so hard to get out when there's a slight opportunity.  I realize now that I wasn't playing smart.  I was playing to always get out - which is just a stupid mistake.  I handed my opponent 4 games by trying too hard to get out, get the break-out, take a risky shot, etc. and each time I scratched, fouled or just plain missed and left him perfect.  When he missed, I was always hooked.  He was definitely getting the rolls in the middle part of the set, but I'm becoming a much smarter player - but I forgot my head last night apparently. I finally decided to take a quick break, go wash my hands and just do a little reset.  It worked, but I did it way too late.  I took my break down 13-9 and won the next 2, lost 1 and won the following 2 to get it back to 14-13, but had to go (see above).  We didn't play for money and I'm kind of glad, only because I'm not sure how it would've worked out.  In a race to 7, which is what is kinda standard there.  I would've won the first set hill-hill, but he would've won the 2nd set 7-4. Which is brutal, considering the most recent 9-ball tournament we were both scheduled to play in, I would've had to give him 2 games on the wire in a race to 6.  To be fair, he's an 8-ball bar-box player, whereas I'm a 9-ball bigboy table player, but still. *shrug*

Oh well. Another game, another lesson. Sunday night I'm supposed to meet up with the co-captain and we're gonna play as many games as we can fit into the time as sort of an all-day test for me.  I don't think there'll be any action on it, at least, I hope not.  On the other hand, I've watched this guy play really well the first set, then lose it the 2nd set and just not come back.  Maybe if I can keep my calm longer than him (which based on my observations, I can) I can take advantage of the frustration. lol

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Filed Under: 8-Ball

No More Spam!!

After receiving 37 spam comment emails in one night yesterday, I went looking for a better auto-comment anti-spamming solution. Turns out, the good folks over at BlogEngine.net have already taken care of it.  With the newest update that came out just last week there's now a captcha system in place.  BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE! This particular captcha system actually does something productive! Bounce on over to http://recaptcha.net/ and read about what they are doing.  All those annoying word-images you retype are actually part of a global digitization project.  When books are scanned for digital versions sometimes the computer can't figure them out, due to age or wear etc, this system takes those words that a computer can't read and lets people enter them.  So, the user gets authenticated and the book getting its problems solved! What a wonderful use of what is otherwise a pain in the ass. :)  In a single day, across the world wide web around 150,000 man-hours worth of words are typed out through this project. :)

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New Toys. Thanks PoolDawg!

I received my order from PoolDawg yesterday. :) I got tired of always keeping my chalk in my pocket, so I finally got a pocket-chalker.  It was either that one or the bone one. I figured this one would a little more durable in the long run. I also decided to go ahead and get my own moose-head bridge so I never have to worry about finding a quality bridge. :)  Next up will be a cue-claw or clip or something like that. I like the idea of that one skeleton hand, but I can't tell if the fingers are rubber-lined or not. If they're not, I can't get it because the plastic edges might, somehow, scratch the shafts.

Looking forward to this weekend to get some good table-time.  I have a stack of to-do's I've been putting off.  An entire drill-training system to get through and get back to the author asap is first on the list. Secondly, or perhaps in between drills, I really wanna get back to trying some more straight-pool.  I haven't played it since I discovered my new preshot routine, and I'm curious to see if I can break my high run with the ease I expect/hope to. ;)

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Filed Under: 14.1 · Gear · General · Training

Getting Stronger

While I actually did none of the things I had hoped to this weekend, it was still a pretty good weekend.  Friday night was the only time I had to play and I had initially planned on going early, bringing the video camera and working on a variety of drills.  As it turned out, I did no drills at all.  Instead, I played 9-ball for about 9 hours against a slew of other random regulars at the pool hall.  Normally, I'd be kind of upset by this, but considering the outcome, I was pretty pleased.  Again, I was able to really work on my new stance and stay focused on my preshot routine.  I won probably 90% of the games I played (which I should considering the level of players)... but more importantly, to me anyway, is that not once did I feel nervous about shooting the 9.  Not once, all night.  Sure I missed it a couple of times, but oh well.  I missed position a number of times, but again, oh well.  I took my time and really looked at the layout.  My position play is getting much better, because my speed control is getting better.  Which means I can more accurately predict my end-points, which means I can play smaller and smarter patterns to get out.  As such, I'll have to actually count it up on the video, but from memory, I'd feel safe in saying that in 70-80% of the games I played, I got out in 2 innings.  I'm breaking good, controlling the cue-ball and generally making the wing ball.  I run about 5 balls before I miss a break-out or just plain dog it.  If my opponent is good, their out, if they miss, I generall get out.  I dont think I ever didn't get out with 3 balls left on the table.  Similarly, if they broke and ran 4 balls then missed I generally got out, provided they left a shot of some sort.  I've watched the video from the first 3.5 hours already and while nothing is "OMG AWESOME", there are plenty of good angles for me to look over my form.  OH! I did have two golden breaks in a row though!! haha I told the guy racking how to help avoid that and he didn't listen cuz on the 3rd break, the 9 hung in the jaws.

I'm feeling really good about my game lately, very positive.  It just so happens that this week I'm in training every night from 5-9pm which doesn't leave any time to play until next Saturday!! That is going to really suck.  Just when I'm feeling great too. *sigh*  At least I'll get to miss league this week - which is good cuz we're giving our team 16-5.  Seriously.  We're giving them 11 games. *blink blink*  I still expect us to win 16-3 though (They do have a couple of guys that are decent, but I mean solid 4's and maybe a 5).

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Filed Under: 9-Ball · General · Training

Marked Progress

As I noted in my twitter feed the other day, I was loaned a copy of the 8-Ball Bible and only started reading it Monday evening.  My 8-ball league is Tuesday night and the last few hours of the day, I watched some online pool matches.  During the drive home and for a while after, I tried to focus on the tips I read the previous evening.  Most notably is the small section about mental preparedness and interuption.  Without exactly duplicating the section, I'll just say that I can't believe I never put 2 and 2 together to realize the reasons WHY it's important to visualize the shot.  Everyone says you should visualize the shot, but they never explain why it's important.  Once I was smacked in the brain with the information I made it a strict point to visualize my shots, purposefully and exactly.  That one act alone was a huge benefit to my game in just the first time at the table.  The other thing that was of great help was that I combined the information from my previous post (The Science of Choking) with the other brain-related tip from the book involving verbal checklists for phyiscal movements, thoughts etc.  Essentially, whenever I felt myself trying to talk my way through the shot - while down on the shot - I'd stand up and just say "Shut Up!".  The analytical part of the brain can not communicate with the performance part of the brain, so trying to use your brain to talk yourself through your stroke is actually doing a huge disservice to your game.  When I'm looking at the table, that's the ONLY time to be calculating... position, routes, etc. As soon as I bend over for the shot, the left side of the brain needs to shut up and just let the right side of the brain perform the actions I've sent to it while I was standing up.

I only got to play 1 league match, but that's where I normally get pretty nervous; especially when there's a bit of a battle on the table.  Without going into a long description of the game, I'll summarize by saying that it was one of the best games I've played yet.  I made only one position error and I missed only one shot due to hitting an extremely thin slice too softly.  The object ball hung dead center in the jaws, but I got my exact desired position. *sigh*  At the end of the game, I sank the 8, and as I walked away, I realized that I was calm.  I wasn't anxious, I wasn't adrenaline-pumped, I was for the most part, pretty darn relaxed! That was a huge realization for me as whenever I get down on the 8 I can feel myself usually getting tight, nervous.  It wasn't like that last night at all.

I got another chance to try out my new mental game with a short scotch doubles 8-ball match with 2 people from our opposing team and my teammate. The strange and annoying lead-up to the match isn't really worth mentioning.  What is worth it, is that our opponents are rated a 7 and a 6, while my partner is rated a 5 and I'm a 4 (non-rated 4, to be exact since this is my first time).  Now, honestly, my partner will be moved to a 6 for next session most likely and I'll probably finish out the season as a 4 or 5, depending on the last few games' outcomes.  The other team wanted us to give them a game on the wire in a race to 4. Seriously?! Yeah.  That didn't happen.  We ended up playing them even at $5/rack/person.  Mike and I took some time to get a feel for how each other places, since we've never done a scotch doubles match together before, so we started off down a bit, but a few games later, we made a strong comeback to pull within 1 game.  Well, the bar closed and we can had call it a night.  We left down only $5 each, so it wasn't a total disaster, but I learned a number of things.  1) I spotted 2 new hustling moves (one that cost us a game actually) 2) The shots I missed, or left my partner in poor position were always the shots I failed to be precise with my visualization of the shot thinking "I know this one, just shoot it."

Overall, it was an extremely valuable night and I was pretty damn happy with my performance.  I found some new aspects of my pre-shot routine that have proven absolutely necessary. I've ironed out a new stance/grip that both gets me lower and provides a consistently straighter stroke. I've found/tested several new mental aspects that worked in my favor.  And lastly, I think I have finally found a good way to get my cue-ball speed under control.  Nights like last night make me love pool and learning!

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Filed Under: 8-Ball · Training

The Science of Choking

We've all done it.  Finally made it through the field of players to at last face your own personal quest opponent.  This opponent is stronger than you, wiser than you and the well known favorite to win by a landslide.  You talk yourself up to the table for the first break. Focus on the break, you want to deliver a thunderbolt, letting your opponent know you're there for a reason and that they should be scared.  You pull back and fire off your canon.... *tink* the cue ball goes flying across the entire pool arena and everyone is now staring, snickering and shaking their heads all wondering just how in the world you ended up in the finals.

Okay, so maybe we all haven't done that, but the story is the same: we find ourselves in a high-pressure situation and as we focus on every little thing to ensure our game is at it's absolute best, we produce some of the lowest quality playing we've ever seen.

"We call such failures 'choking', if only because a person frayed by pressure might as well not have oxygen."1

I stumbled across a group of three articles this morning all of which reference the same study and each has its own extra little input which makes reading all of them that much more valuable.

1) How Science Can Save You From Choking

2) The SuperStar Effect

3) How to Think Under Pressure

The bottom line that is most important is that pressure will natually force us to focus on the small details during our performance, which in turn will degrade our performance.  It's contradictory actually.  One would think that focusing on the small details that make a perfect stroke (pool or golf) would enhance our performance.  And in beginners, it does, but in advanced players, such detail-oriented thinking interrupts our own muscle memory and derails our body's now-natural performance; thereby causing a slice or miscue upon stroke delivery.

The answer: don't focus on mechanics, instead use a key word.

Remember the movie Tin Cup? Kevin Costner's character actually did this.  Just before his swing he said "Dolla Bills".  That was his brain's keyword to start the muscle sequence he had ingrained into his body for all the years of his training. 

There's a semi-regular at one of the halls I frequent that also has an audible keyword.  Upon every stroke of every ball this man makes a kissing/sucking noise, as if he's working on a lemon-drop candy.  He's a very good shooter, but I would imagine his method would drive some of opponents crazy.

I have a tournament in 10 days and I'm very happy to have found this article as I was beginning to worry about how I would handle these situations, since I can feel my brain start to focus on mechanics under pressure, which leads to missed shots (see my previous entry The Elusive 8-Ball for a perfect example of this).

I've heard time and time again that when things aren't going right, "focus on your fundamentals" - but this article suggests that's the wrong thing to do.  I'm hoping that during the next week I can sort out when to go back to basics and when to ignore them.  I also need to come up with a 'cue word'.

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Filed Under: General · Tournaments · Training

League Night Update

Last night was my 8-ball bar-box league night.  I got there a few hours early to get warmed up, since I hadn't played in nearly a week.  I felt pretty good after I ran a number of drills and exercises on the table.  I decided to have dinner while I waited the last hour for the rest of my team to show up.  They did, as did everyone else, and the first draw happened, and I wasn't in the line-up.  We swept the first round 5-0 and in the 2nd draw, I was last.  By that time, I had been sitting for nearly 3 hours, so it's no surprise I played poorly during my match.  I missed a fairly standard combination, but even worse, I was gifted another chance to get back on the table and I overran position, leaving pretty backtough cut on the 8 that is almost always a scratch in in the diagonal opposite corner.  I knew it, I shot it kill english, but still that cueball went dead-straight into the corner pocket, giving our team the only loss for the night.  Oh well. Two games later we won the match.

Afterwards, a few of us stayed and shot around for a bit.  As it figured, the first game was interesting... my opponent ran 6 balls and came up snookered, missing the kick shot gave me ball in hand with 2 different 2-ball clusters.  Without any pressure, I decided on a route and went at it.  I ran the rack. I was pretty happy, afterwall it was an 8-ball run-out, but to be fair it was an open table and I did start with ball in hand. Anyway, a few games later we were playing some of the team members and the table control went back and forth a bit.  I made some really bad shots, but I also made some good ones.  My "Super Shot of the Night" was this one:

The two opponents watching were sure to remark with ooh's and ahh's and we laughed at the dancing cue ball.  It's a shot I practice every time I'm at the hall, but usually it's a back-cut not a stun-over.  The CB mosied on over towards the side rail, but thankfully that spin kicked in and it picked up some juice.  I was afraid it was going to get too close to the 4 ball when it started that way, luckily the cloth is slow.  Of course, if it wasn't, I probably would've went 2 more rails in the wrong direction. heh

All in all, it was a decent night, but I'm still unhappy with my match play.

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Filed Under: 8-Ball · Stroke

The Elusive 8-Ball

I have found what will be my next "white whale".  The 8-Ball run-out.  I've ran out in 9-ball, I've ran out in 10-ball, I've ran a full rack in 14.1 but I have yet to run-out in 8-ball.  It's driving me insane, to be quite honest.  There are, however, two major differences here: 1) I only play 8-ball once a week. 2) And that is on a bar-table.

I play in a local 8-ball bar league and last week we were not doing too well.  No one was shooting well, and our usual 'guaranteed win' players weren't even getting out.  During my first match, I lost the lag and my opponent (who for his last match broke and ran out) broke and started his run.  I honestly don't remember what he did to get out of position, but he did and as such he let me to come to the table.  He had 2 balls left, and I had all 7, which included a small cluster.  So, I survey the table, I analyze the cluster and I decide which ball I have to use to break it out and where I have to be on that ball to break it out. 

I begin my run. I make the first, then the second.  Now I'm on my cluster break-out ball and I'm very happy with where I'm at.  However, I had a creeping thought: "Every time I break out a cluster, I miss the shot... Make the shot first!"  I took my time, some deep breaths, and pulled the trigger.  I made the shot AND I broke the cluster.  I was very, very happy (and a bit fortunate that the cluster broke in a good way, leaving me a good next shot). I shoot it and come over a little further than I had wanted, but as it turns out, it was even better.

Here's the layout of the table at this point:

Now, at this point, I see it. I see the out - it's about as easy a layout as ever.  Stop-shot, stop-shot, forward-roll, stop-shot.  Done.  Our top player comes over at this point and asks if I want to talk, knowing he always has good ideas, I said sure.  He looks over the table, and says the same thing I was already thinking.  I was happy with that too.  So, I shoot the 11, stop.  Good.  I buckle down for the 14, because I have to jack up to stop the CB.  I take a few pauses, stand up, breathe, and get back down. Shoot it, stop it! YES!  I'm just where I want/need to be.  Now I'm really getting nervous, way too nervous in fact.  I can feel my heart racing, the adrenaline is pumping as I am getting closer and closer to running this rack - any rack of 8-ball - for the first time - and in a league match - and during a time when we really need a win!  I stand up on the 9 THREE times to try and calm myself.  I take deep, slow breaths, inhale through the nose, out through the mouth.  Everytime I get down on the ball, my grip hand starts to shake a little.  I finally decide I have to shoot this ball, I just have to.  I get down and focus on the contact point, I try and steady my hand and during the backswing/pause I say to myself "straight" and stroke through.  I watch the 9 roll up the table... it's short... it's gonna hit the rail... maybe it'll bobble in... bounce... bounce... sit.  The 9 was jarred.  The CB sat nearly dead straight in on the 8, but it wasn't my shot anymore. 

And then my opponent cleared his last two balls and won the game.

I took the loss pretty hard actually, we, as a team, NEEDED that game, and personally, I NEEDED to run-out. I've been thinking about it since it happened Tuesday night.  I know the reason I missed it, I know how it happened, and I know what I have to do... but this isn't new.  I've known for some time what I have to do to play better in those situations.  I posted about it just a week or so ago (More Tournaments), but obviously that hasn't happened yet.

Although, it's not an entirely negative situation... I did notice that I am doing a few things better.  For one: when it's not my turn, I don't focus on the opponent's actions.  I tried to really study the table from my chair and look for patterns I could play.  I figured out what ball I HAD to use to break out the cluster before I even came to the table.  I had a few ball options for my last ball to get position on the 8 figured out.  Each time my opponent shot, I tried to quickly form a plan from where he'd leave the CB if he missed and I came to the table there.  I was able to maintain my calm a little longer than the last time I came to the table needing a run-out.  It's not much, but it's there. The biggest 'positive' I think is that after sitting for nearly an hour and a half when it was my turn to come to the table, I was able to "switch on".  While I was racking the balls, I put on my game face, serious, stern almost pissed-off looking.  I've noticed I get that face when I really serious about the game. (think Jeanette Lee in full force) I think it really helped me get as far into the rack as I did.  I just plain a simply dogged the last shot.  I hit my contact point, but I didn't account for the contact-induced throw, which drove it into the rail.

There are improvements to be seen, but it took me almost a week to see them.

The bottom line is that I have to start putting more pressure on my games - and that means I'm going to have to start playing people for more than just fun.  Short races to 3 or 5 for 5 or 10 bucks should be enough.  Maybe even a few bucks a rack would be enough to force me into that mindset.

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Filed Under: 8-Ball

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