Pool Synergy

This month’s Pool Synergy is about the team aspect of pool.  The majority of pool players, at least in the United States, play in some form of team-based pool league.  Click the header image to get to the main index of this month’s issue and to read a bunch of great team insights!

For me, I was hesitant to play in a league because of the negative stigma associated with league play.  The APA (and other formats) are riddled with players who are notorious for playing the system, as opposed to playing the game.  However, leagues offer a lot of benefits, especially to newer players. One of the goals of this month’s Pool Synergy to talk about how to keep a team alive and doing well.  I have no team captain experience, and can only comment on what I would like to see, as league n00b.  But first, a bit of league and background information.

I play in a locally ran league, called Missouri-8.  It has a handicapping system which tries to even the playing field for all teams, and although there are those who purposefully lose games once in a while to keep their handicap low, I haven’t seen as much evidence of that as I first expected.  Teams are comprised of between 5 and 10 players.  Each player is rated a number between 2 (weakest) and 8 (strongest).  When 2 teams match up, the race is to 11 games (typically, although some handicaps require more games which I’ll mention later).  Each round is made up 5 games, 1 player from each team to a game.  Teams can not play a group of 5 members who’s ratings sum is more than 32.  Before the match begins, each team decides what the maximum round number will be.  For example, our team has two 7s, two 6s, two 5s and one 4 (me).  So, the highest we could possibly play is a 31.  The lowest would be 26. At no time can a team submit 5 players with a total rating sum higher than the pre-determined round number. This round number is also used to determine the handicap between the teams, and the length of the race of the match. Assuming the other team picks 24 for their round number, if we chose 26 to be our round number, we would not have to spot the other team more than 1 game, but the 7’s would never get to play.  If, on the other hand, we chose to play 31, everyone could play, but because it’s such a high number, we would have to spot the other team 5 or 6 games. Once the round cap is determined, the captain picks 5 players for the (first) round.  Then the *other* team’s captain draws the order of our players, then we draw the order for the opposing team.  Draw 1 for us plays draw 1 for them, and so on.  This creates the randomization so that no team can try and stack the deck, so to speak.

My first session, the captain kind of let me loose, just to see how I’d adjust to the game.  As such, I got a decent number of games and finished the season just shy of .500 winning 10 of 22 games.  It wasn’t bad for my first session, with all the adjusting I had to do. The 2nd session, I went a little crazy trying to over-analyze the table, trying to think “what would [insert name of teammate] do?”… I totally lost my rhythm and ended with a horrible record of 9 wins and 14 losses. Unfortunately that poor performance has stuck with my captain, and the 3rd session has had me sitting on the bench most of the time.  He once said to me that it was safer for him to assume a loss when he played me, so if the score was close, I wouldn’t get chosen for the next round if we couldn’t afford to lose a game. That was pretty harsh, but at the time, I understood; eventually. We’ve just finished our fall session, my 3rd session with the team, and I ended with a record of 10 wins and 7 losses during the regular schedule. We had to play a playoff round and I went 2-0 for that round, but those games don’t count towards our overall score.  As such, I expect to be moved to a 5 at the start of next session.

I’ve ranted in this blog before about the experiences I’ve had in league.  Just last week, I posted one actually.  The point of all this is what I would like to see happen for leagues.  Captains, especially those who are competitive, should be keenly aware of each and every game being played. They should know which suit the player is (solids, stripes), they should know how many coaches the players have available (both their own player as well as the opponent).  They should be able to recognize that the player is confused and/or needs a coach.  And most importantly, they should offer positive reinforcement.  New players will screw up, at some point, maybe more than once in a single game even, but in order to keep the spirit of the player on the positive side of things, it’s essential that they aren’t barked at or put down.  There are plenty of ways to inform someone they messed up that don’t involve negative attitudes.  I’m not suggesting treating people with kid gloves, of course these are adults we’re talking about; they don’t need coddling.  They just need information and direction.  They need to feel they’re contributing to the team, and not inhibiting it.  They need to feel a part of it, not an awkward, broken appendage.  A team is only going to do as well as the overall attitude of the team.

In short, take a note from Dalton, not Shannon Dalton, THE Dalton.  (Warning: contains strong adult language) Three simple rules.

I will say this: playing in a league, specifically a bar-table 8-ball league, has really taught me a lot of things; especially humility.  The first thing I learned was there is a serious difference in strategy on the table when playing a small table with more balls.  All the 9-ball routes I had worked so hard on are essentially unavailable on a barbox with 15balls.  Having a good stroke is rarely required, and most of the intermediate players (4’s and 5’s) have poor fundamentals and would die playing on a 9′ table.  Yet, those players are so used to the minimum effort required to play pool and are so used to the awkward conditions of bartables that it’s all natural to them; as such they tend to do better than me.  It took me a long time to realize what the problem was.  I started as a big-table 9-ball player.  Big stroke, multi-rail position play was mandatory.  I had studied the game of 9-ball, strategic routes, shot choices, shot-making, stroke drills, stroke improvements, etc.  It was my dedication to those goals that caught the attention of the team captain who eventually recruited me into the league.  However, I went in thinking I would win lots of games, afterall – every shot is easy on a smaller table, right? There’s less distance between the balls, less distance the balls have to travel, and the biggest difference is the amount of clutter that exists on a bartable.  I fully expected to quickly rise through the ranks – I’m a dedicated pool player when I’m on the table.

As I write that, I can only sit back and laugh at my naivety. 

In the end though, after all the emotions are settled, I’m very thankful to be a part of one of the best teams in the area.  We frequently win our division and commonly place in the top 8 from the state team championships.

If you’re thinking about joining a league, I’d suggest asking your local pool room for information about the leagues available in your area.  Or, ask around. Chances are, there’s a player in the room with you that knows of a league.  If not, check the APA or BCA websites.  Lastly, if you want to play in a league, but don’t want to deal with teammates, then I’d suggest joining a new virtual league that’s just starting.  It’s called Behind the Rock; and it’s a national league/tournament that pays weekly.  The best thing is – you play the 10-ball ghost, for 11 racks, once a week, submit your scores and that’s it!  There are some stipulations, like you need at least 4 or 6 players locally (you can not mark your own scoresheet) and you need a room to host the event (they will submit the scores to the tour manager).  Read up on their website about how this new tour works and then start practicing your 10-ball ghost game!