This past weekend I played in a local qualifier for the APA US Amateur tournament. While I don’t have a lot of interest in going to the regional qualifier or the national event, I did want to play in this event because I liked the format and it’s another chance to get some seasoning. I had decided before I entered that if I found myself in a position where I was in danger of winning a qualification I’d work it out with my opponent who actually does want to go. Knowing the field of players, I didn’t expect to have to worry about that; and it turns out I was right.
The format is an APA Masters “style” – no handicaps, race to 7, potentially playing both 8-ball and 9-ball. Winner of the lag determines the format to be played first and gives up the 1st break in the match. If 8-ball is chosen, then 5 racks of 8-ball is played, then 9-Ball is played until someone gets a total of 7 wins. If 9-ball is chosen first, then up to 8 games of 9-ball is played, then 8-ball until someone gets to 7 total wins.
Tournament started at 10am and I was the first match called. I lost the lag and my opponent choose 8-ball first. Which, considering I don’t feel anything close to awake yet is fine with me. Plus, it means that I get to “warm up” both mentally and physically with a game that generally don’t require a lot of stroke shots. (Barbox 8-ball rarely requires a lot of CB movement.) Nothing terribly exciting happening during this match, other than I let some racks slip away, but it goes hill-hill and I snap the 9 on the break. Win my first round!
I only had to wait about 30 minutes for my 2nd match against another unknown player. But, this guy beat a known favorite in the first round so I knew not to mess around. I win the lag and choose 9-ball, to try and get some quick games in, maybe to help get me in stroke, maybe to put a little fear into my opponent as I generally play 9-ball fairly aggressively, with good success. It has certainly happened before. I don’t think I put any fear into him, but I could tell he was off his game a little. Not sure if he was rattled being down 5-3 going into 8-ball, or if he just don’t play good 9-ball.
I tried to keep up with my aggressive style of play, but I quickly discovered (realized) that was a mistake. He played much better 8-ball, so for each aggressive shot that didn’t work, he won that rack and I soon found myself hill-hill again. The rack before this was where I also realized that I can outsmart him. I was able to adopt a more strategic style of play – something more like one pocket than 8-ball. I looked a lot longer at the table and found the best way to break out my problem balls and play a great safe, forcing him to play off a specific ball (or leaving just 2 options, both of which were beneficial to me). The rack was a mess with clusters all over the place. After several walks around the table, I saw it. I could shoot a stop-shot on my solid, which would break up that cluster and both balls would bank away and open up – while also freezing him to his own ball, and anywhere his pushed to would leave me a shot to get out. He kicked at one of his balls on the foot rail, made a good hit, but left me several choices. I run out to get to the hill.
On the hill, I break and make some balls, but the table is not a run-out table. I start playing smart safes and he’s now shooting aggressively trying to get the win. Towards the end of the rack, he tried a difficult combo on the 13 into the side while also playing shape for his key ball. He missed and left his 13 frozen to my 7 ball. My first thought was to bank my 7 long-rail and play shape on the 8. But I wasn’t sure if I could hold the cue ball. I also knew that if I missed the bank, I’d lose the game and the match. Instead I re-evaluated the layout and finally saw it. Make his 13 with my 7 and hide the cueball behind the 8 – blocking him from seeing his last ball.
It worked out better than I expected! I actually got the cueball FROZEN to the 8-ball and in such a way that any 1-rail kick would be very difficult. He missed the kick, giving me ball in hand on an easy 2 ball layout. I win my 2nd match!
From this point on in the tournament, it’s now single-elimination (the format is known as “Single-Modified”, meaning that players have 2 chances to lose within the 1st two rounds before being knocked out. As I had won both of my first 2 matches, I was now in the 3rd round, and have no 2nd-chance opportunities.)
A few minutes later I play again, and again I win the lag and choose 9-ball. I manage to get a quick 2-0 lead, but then I missed a safe and gave up a rack, and later I again got too aggressive, which left him with a chance to fire at the 9- which he did and made. At the end of the 9-ball section it was tied at 4 apiece; much to my dismay. 8-ball was a series of tough layouts and basically we each tried to wait for our chance to get out – then we did. Most racks were 1 or 2 innings. But, I made 2 mistakes, missed a crossbank, which lost me that rack and rolled an inch too far on a tight-position shot on the 8, which also cost me the rack. He’s now on the hill and he came a very tough (and/or dirty) break and run to win the match. I lost 5-7 and I was out of the tournament.
The “highlight” of the match, for me, was my only rack of 8-ball win where my opponent had jarred his keyball and scratched somehow. I was left a full table of balls to run. The layout of the balls were pretty wide open, but the ball only had 1 pocket, so I had to be sure to end the pattern correctly. I took a long time looking over the table. I knew what my key ball options were easy enough, but getting there with the least amount of risk too a few extra minutes of analysis. I walked around the table several times.
Then it hit me, literally. It was like a switch flipped and the pattern was glowing my brain. 6 in the side, 4 in the corner, get an angle on the 3 in the corner to get back to center table, for the 5, then 7 in the same corner, 2 then 1 then 8. Once I saw it, I quickly went to work. 6, then 4, but got a little straighter on the 3. I drew it back, but not quite enough. I ended up straight on the 5. Normally I’d be upset by this since my plan was now forced to change. But, As soon as I realized I was straight, I also realized that I could float forward 4 inches and use the 2 to get back on the 7, then the 1 then 8. And I executed that plan flawlessly. I “stunned-through” the 5, leaving me with a simple small-draw on the 2 for the 7 in the side, which got me naturally to the 1 in the corner, which left me straight in on the 8 ball.
This was the first time I have ever, without setting the cue-ball down, formulated a plan for the entire rack. It was exactly as how the books suggest: Run the rack backwards. I chose the 1 as my key ball. I knew I needed to be straight in on the 2 to get good on the 1 and I worked it backwards. Even though I had to change my plan, I feel like my initial plan was good enough to allow for slight variation as I had also done exactly what 8-ball players suggest: Work one area of the table at a time.
Typically in a situation like this, I’d look for my “problem ball” and just start running balls, focusing on the next group of 3, but this time I didn’t. I waited until I had a plan every ball. A target position for every ball. I saw the rack play out in my mind before I set the CB down. This is a milestone for me, personally. I’ve always relied on my gut and shotmaking to get out on racks like these. After all, there’s only 8 balls on the table, they’re open and it’s a barbox. Should be an easy out, no matter how I go about it – right? WRONG. I have dogged a number of these “open table” layouts (as any pool player has) and I was not about dog this one.
Here’s the final runout diagram:
Even though I lost that match and was out of the tournament, I wasn’t upset about it as I had already played decently throughout the day. I was also, despite being a little tired, in great control of myself. During every match there was a point where I’d normally start to get negative, frustrated and harbor feelings of defeat – but each time that happened I was able to push them aside and get back into the match. After each rack, no matter the outcome, I told myself it does no good to get upset about [whatever happened]. Actually saying it – out loud (under my breath mostly) did wonders for my mental state. Thinking it is one thing, but hearing it seemed to actually have an affect. Not just hearing it – but also LISTENING to it.
Overall, I feel like it was a good day for me, personally and I hope to continue down this path of strengthening my mental game. My arm will pick up glitches and they’ll go away and I’m starting to just accept those days; though it’s not always easy when I’m losing more matches than I should (especially lately). But, these are all the normal growing pains of being a pool player. I’ve been fighting that acceptance for a long time, but I think (hope) that maybe this acceptance is exactly what I need to get over this little slump I’ve been in the last month or so.