Now for the good news! Saturday night (at midnight), Ride the Rail held a small 9-ball tournament. $10 entry, $0.50 a game/split quarters double elimination tournament. I sat on the couch most of Saturday, and was quite content watching Cobra again when I noticed it was getting close to 10pm. I was txting with my girl to see what her thoughts were. I had planned on playing in this for weeks, but now that I was comfy at home – going to play now seemed less than interesting. But, I decided I really wanted the experience and the challenge. So, I got ready and headed out there.
I got there around 11pm, grabbed an open bar table and hit a few racks just trying to get familiar with the barbox again. I hadn’t played on one since I quit the 8ball league a few months ago. Things were… not that great. Corner pockets can’t be cheated down the rail, banking angles were very short, etc – the usual list of complaints. I decided to sit for a while and just relax. I talked with some friends until it was time for sign-ups.
My first match was on the same table I warmed up on, against a girl who had never played in a tournament before. We’ve all been there. I explained some of the general rules, close hits, counting games on the diamonds, who racks, etc. On one hand, I felt kind of bad for her since she was clearly not prepared to play in this, and was only doing so because it was free and her boyfriend was playing in it. On the other hand, I have to say it was kind of nice getting to essentially warm up on an easy opponent. I won the match 5-1 because I missed an 8ball trying to let my stroke out a bit instead playing easy position. I know I shouldn’t have, because it meant I was letting up on match-focus, but I did and it cost me a game.
The next match was against a guy I sort of know from the now closed SportsCenter. He has a checkered past there and has air-barreled a number of my friends over the last several months. He’s a pretty good shot-maker, but doesn’t control the cue ball very well. But, because he can make shots really well, he doesn’t really need to worry about position as much. I got to the hill first, while he was still at 2, so the score was at 4-2. I was feeling pretty confident because he was missing some shots I didn’t expect him to miss and he was getting frustrated. However, I let my emotion get into the game when he would continually rest his cues against mine in the slots. There are 4 slots, we have 4 cues between us. No reason to rest his cues against mine when there are open rests. It’s such a small thing, but still I felt disrespected by this. Combined with my desire to send him to the loser’s side, I found myself getting more and more determined and frustrated at the same time. When I got to the table, I was so intent on running out, I forgot to keep my head in the game – to make the shot first. So, he got another game. Then I missed a kick on the 2 ball in the next rack, and he ran out. Now it’s hill-hill. And then he breaks and runs out! With the help of some lucky bounces and bumps. I was furious. I stormed out of the hall and paced the smoking area trying to just let it go. I got outplayed, fair and simple. Doesn’t matter that I don’t like him, that doesn’t make me win games. I think there was some extra pressure there because my step-daughter and her boyfriend, who is a guy I shoot with regularly, and another friend was all there watching – hoping I’d knock this guy to the west side. I wasn’t really aware of the extra pressue until after the match when I was so completely angry and disappointed. I had to think about why I was so angry. Aside from losing, which is frustrating enough, there was a sense of pride that was damaged – I felt like I had let down my “team”. When I recognized that “team” feeling, I realized I wasn’t playing for me as much as I was playing for my supporters. Which is the exact opposite of what I should be doing.
I finally calmed down and came back in to see what my next match was. I had a fairly easy run on the 1-loss side and won my next 3 matches. Incidentally, I knocked out the boyfriend of the girl I played in the 1st round. Then I had to play this kid named Colby. I’ve seen him shoot before, and I watched with an evil delight as he totally slopped his way out of a hill-hill match against the guy that sent me to the 1-loss side (described above). I was half relieved, but also half disappointed that I wasn’t going to get to play Joe again. Relieved because I was worried I’d again let my emotions get in the way, disappointed because I really wanted to play him again – it was something of a grudge match at that point. But, the fates said I would play Colby. So I did. I took control of the match early and I stayed focused, playing a little more conservatively than before. I should say, playing smarter, because I know the guy can shoot pretty well. I left him long, I played a lot of safes if the shot and position weren’t mostly natural. It was during this match that I had my only break and run in the tournament. I did make 3 balls on the break that rack, which really helped. It all counts though. I won the match 5-3. That win guaranteed me 3rd place and forced Colby into 4th.
At this point, I couldn’t believe I had made it this far. My only goal for this tournament was NOT to go 2 and out, as I had in so many others. Once, while outside smoking, the owner, Larry, said that I should make it to the final 4 with this bracket. This was after my first win on the 1-loss side, still 3 matches from the final four. He was exactly right.
Then I had to play this kid named James. I knew nothing of James, other than he had been waiting for this match a while. I knew he must play well to make it this far. It’s now 4:30 in the morning and there’s about 10 people left in the whole place. The lights are all off, except for this table. If I win this match, I play Steve in the finals. I don’t know if it was the hour, the long line of the other 8 spectators all watching, or just my exhaustion, but I couldn’t play at all. I missed almost every shot I looked at. If I made the ball, I lost position. I was losing mental focus, and lost nearly all of any emotional control I had left. Self-talking, getting frustrated, the wheels really came off. It was embarassing to say the least. I felt like I had earned this spot and I was there to show that I belonged there… yet I played like someone who was supposed to go 2 and out. I lost the match 0-5. I was far more embarassed than angry, but anger is easier to show, so I went outside and smoked and bitched and complained to the now-blue sky.
I watched the finals and was shocked to something similar happening to Steve, who had won the hotseat nearly 2.5 hours earlier. As such, James double-dipped Steve to win the tournament at 6 in the morning.
Overall, I am extremely happy with the tournament – especially considering I hadn’t played on a barbox in months, and had just spent 8 hours the night prior playing on nice 9-foot tables. After my loss to Joe, I kept my head in check. And even when I missed an easy shot, I talked myself calm, did some breathing to focus and relax, I was in control. I played confidently and smart. I let my 8-ball league experience work for me on the table. I used my past mistakes to solve identical solutions on the table. I played really well and my reward was placing in the money for the first time in a tournament. But, the terribly sour note on which I finished is just as strong as the overall experience. I need to reflect on that, to pin-point exactly what happened and fix it. Some early observations are: I didn’t drink enough water through the night. I nursed a single Mountain Dew nearly all night. I only ate once, and that was a small granola bar a little before my match with James. So, on top of being up late (which isn’t really a problem for me – I’m quite the night-owl), I was at that point malnurished. I had failed to bring a number of my Cliff bars to keep my energy levels up through the evening. I mistake I won’t make again.
There’s another tournament in a few weeks, but this one is 8-ball on the big tables. I’m definitely going to play in it. I like the big tables, the balls, the space. While I’m not a huge fan of 8-ball, I do enjoy it on the big tables. Guess I need to start practicing 8-ball strategies again. heh