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Last night was league night and I’d like to report that we did awesomely and ran out the night for the win, but I can’t.  I guess we were still under the weather from the poor showing we had on Sunday at the championships.  But, the real point of this post is two-fold. 1) I played perhaps one of the smartest games of 8-ball in league to date. 2) I overheard a great compliment regarding me from the league’s top-shooter.

My first match was … well, it wasn’t really my fault.  My opponent broke dry on a miscue of sorts, scratched and left a jumble of balls on the spot.  I make a stripe and try to break out some stuff, doesn’t really happen.  I try it again, but overcut the ball and break everything open.  She runs out, with a bit slop, but whatever.  My 2nd match however, was quite excellent, if I do say so myself.  At this point, the other team needs only 1 game to win, we need 5 games.  I draw an older guy, Jerry (bar owner).  (2) As I’m preparing for the match, I hear Mark O’Brian (league’s top shooter 3 sessions in a row: currently, he’s about 82 and 6 over the last 2 sessions and the first week of this session) say to Jerry: “Be careful, John’s a smart player.”  I wasn’t sure I heard that right, but I played it in my head a few times and it had to be right.  Mark and I were talking most of the night about table strategies for the other matches and we’ve played together in other pool halls randomly.  He has a decent knowledge of my game and my desire to learn and improve.

I win the lag and smash ’em open pretty good, leaving only a single cluster of solids sandwiching the 8 ball, but don’t make a ball.  Jerry comes to the table and misses a shot at a stripe.  I try a long cut shot on a stripe but miss as well.  After sitting for 2 hours, I let that miss go pretty quickly and chalk it up to not being in stroke.  Jerry starts sinking balls, stripes, and I’m quickly realizing he doesn’t have a plan for breaking out the 8.  I stare at the table intently, figuring out what my problem balls will be and how to deal with them when I get back to the table. He was able to break out the 8, but he missed the object ball.  He now has 2 balls left and I have all of them. From where he left me, I could only make one ball with hopes to possibly get on another one.  I make the 1st, but come a little short on the next one.  Rather than fire at and turn the cue ball lose, I play to miss it and lay it in front of the 8 ball along the long rail.  He makes one of his balls, then tries to play his last ball off my blocker, but fires at it and knocks my blocker into the open while leaving his last ball middle diamond on the head rail.  (1) Then he leaves the CB in the best place for me to get another problem ball out of the way. I take down the 4, then the 5 in the side.  Now I have the 1 by the corner pocket on the short foot rail and the 6/7 tied up around the footspot.  Without hesitation my brain sees this lovely opportunity and I bank the 1 up to 2nd diamond and the cb drifts beautifully to FREEZE on the 6/7 blocking his 15 up-table.  He tries a semi-standard 4-rail kick but the CB died off the 3rd rail and comes up short.  I take BIH and sink the 6, end up too straight on the 7 so I try to draw it 1 rail back out for the 1, but the draw didn’t take (my fault).  I look at the layout and realize I have another perfect opportunity here. (1) Bank the 1 cross-side play the cueball 3-rails for a standard cut-shot on the 8.  If I miss, the 1 might lay dead in-between the CB and his 15.  Well, I shoot it, get nice position on the 15, but I do miss the bank.  The 1 drifts just a bit too far past the side pocket and leaves him a free bank on the 15.  He fires at his, misses, but the CB is now heading straight toward the side pocket.  It would’ve scratched has the 15 not 2 railed to intercept it.  Neither his CB or 15 fell in the pocket and now I’m left with a delicate cut-shot.  I slice the 1 with as much “pocket speed” as I can muster without sending the CB straight to the opposite side pocket.  I missed the corner by less than an inch, and leave myself dead straight on the 8.  I call the corner pocket and sink it with a stop shot.

Afterwards, I’m talking with my teammates and they all congratulate me on playing a nice rack – despite the missed shots.  They agreed I played the right shots, the right safety and good patterns (or intentions anyway).  Although we lost our next game, I felt like a winner that night.  I played well, I played smart, I didn’t get anxious, I kept my head.  I also didn’t overthink things.  I calculated quickly and kept my rhythm when at the table.

I was also able to, I think, “force” myself into the mental game by focusing on the table as if he wasn’t playing and I was just looking at the table objectively; looking for patterns, break-balls, etc.  Once I had all that figured out, if/when I got to the table, all the questions were answered which allowed me to focus on making the shots.

We have a BYE next week, but I’ll be working in those types of things in the meantime.