The Bitter Sweetness of Loss

Last week in APA Masters league, I played as good as I have in a while... until I got WAY ahead of my opponent.  I'll get to that later, first I wanna talk about an exciting break and run I had playing 9-ball:

I won the lag and chose to play 9-ball, even though I have a losing record against this opponent and she's a runout player.  She hadn't put her cues together and I'd been warming up for a good 30 minutes and felt comfortable at the table.  She broke and ran the first rack, but couldn't finish the 2nd rack, which I cleaned up from the 5-out.  Then I broke and found myself with a pretty good spread on the table, as long as I got the correct angle on the 3.  I did not get the correct angle unfortunately - just rolled a few inches too far.  So there I was staring at this layout:

 (the 4-9 was NOT on as it in this layout, see the result for the more accurate layout)

I wanted to play the smartest shot with the greatest reward that was the least risky.  But, considering the easiest shot also came with the most risk with minimal chances for a reward, I chose a different path.  A shot/route that I enjoy shooting and am confident on and I knew that even if I under hit it a little, I'd still be okay on the approaching line after the 3rd rail.  I had to convince myself this was the right shot and I once I did, I fully committed to it - mentally.  Down on the shot, my goal from here simply to "put a good stroke out there".  I threw the cue at the ball and stayed down till the 3 dropped (which didn't take long). Then I stood up and watched the cueball spin around the table fall nicely in dead straight line for the 4. :)

 

 (ignore the 7-ball here, it was made on the break. I just messed up the diagram)

From there I played a simple stop shot on the 5 and had a good angle on the 5.  But, another slight error left me too thin on the 6 and I was forced to come with another good stroke to maneuver around the 9:

 

From there I just rolled up on the 8 to be straight in on the 9.  It sunk in the hole and I felt on top of the world.  I can't remember the last time I broke and ran on the big tables - and I had just done it in an APA Masters match - against one of my toughest opponents!

The next rack I snapped the 9 which put me up 3-1 in a hurry.  We battled a few more racks, but I was continuously taking full advantage of her mistakes and found myself up 5-1.  Me needing 2 and her needing 6.  

That's the worse thing to ever realize.  It was my undoing.  I took the pressure off because "I could afford to make a few mistakes". Wrong. I gave away the next 2 9 ball games and now it's 5-3 going into the 8-ball session.  She broke and ran the 1st rack of 8-ball.  Now it's 5-4 and I'm getting really anxious.  But, she misses a safe in the next rack and I get out with nice bumps.  I break and start my run, but hang a ball.  She missed another safe but I hang the 8-ball for the win, she gets out. 6-5.  I need 1, she needs 2.  She breaks dry, we do some moving, I miss another 8-ball, she gets out. HILL HILL now!  Same as last rack, for the most part.  We're in a bit of a safety battle here and she left this:

I look around for a good safe that I felt confident I could execute, but nothing came to mind.  The only thing that did was to fire the 15 cross-side and get whitey to the center of the table.  It took a while for me to commit, but I did and then I sent it.

IT WORKED!! I was feeling pretty good from here.  I know I was much thinner than I drew it here, because I HAD to send the cue-ball back'n'forth across the table, it was a much thinner cut than shown above, but the point remains the same.  I cut in the 11 and bounced off the 2nd rail to be just a hair off dead-straight in on the 8, but the cueball had come down about the 1/2 diamond.  So, it's a 7-foot almost straight in shot to win the match.  I took a deep breath, committed to stopping the cue ball, which meant a little bit of elevation and swung through.  The cue-ball stopped... the 8 did not.  It doubled the points and ran out to center table, leaving her an easy 3-ball out, which she of course cleaned up.

Afterwards, she commented that it was the best she'd seen me play yet, despite my mental blunders towards the end of the match.  She gave me some more advice and we had some drinks afterwards.

What a swing.  I start off beating her 5-1, and she then beats me 1-6.  This is a strange and cruel game I've devoted myself to. 

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Filed Under: 8-Ball · 9-Ball · League · Stroke

New Seasons, New Shots, New Goals

I've been busy with a lot of new things lately. Chief among them is a new job. I haven't been practicing as much as I was a month ago, and it's showing. That will come around, as I'm still playing better than I was 3 months ago.  New sessions in the APA Masters, NAPA and in-house Cue & Cushion league have all begun. 

The big (sad) news is that I will not be going to Vegas this year with the APA.  We had our Masters LTC tournament last weekend and while I played pretty well, winning 2 out of 3 matches, we just couldn't muster up the rolls and consistency to make it to the top 2 teams after the round-robin was over. That was a little heart-breaking, especially considering how we lost the round.  But, the team we played should do well in Vegas and I'll be rooting for them.

The next day the C&C league began and I'm not sure what happened to me because I lost horribly.  I lost 7-2. I missed the 7-ball or later 5 times, and there were two different 1-9 combos for my opponent.  He might not be a great 9-ball player (I had to give him 2 on the wire to start with), but he's good enough to always get out with 3 balls on the table.  That was heart-breaking as well.

However, last night I sort of avenged myself.  I had to play another A player - even race to 9.  We traded the first 6 racks then he started to catch a gear and won the next 3.  However, I had one of my greatest kick shots in the middle there.

He had missed the 4-ball and rolled into an awkward position near the 5:

 

The 5 blocked my 1-rail kick (I might have draw this wrong, looking at it now), the 5 and 8 blocked the masse and jump, the 9 blocked the other long rail. The 8 blocked the long-rail-to-long-rail 2-rail kick. The 7 blocked the short-rail kick. I was kinda stuck for a minute.  Then I saw it: It's a goofy one-pocket shot: a 3-railer that reverses off the 3rd rail:

 

My kick went a little wide when it bent off the 3rd rail, but I had put enough juice on it to still hit the 4 and barely get a rail.  That kick put me back in the game as I won this rack and the next 2 to tie up at at 6.

Then we tied at 7.  After a mistake on the 2 from him, I ran the rack to get dead straight in on the 9, but the CB was frozen to the rail and I mis-hit it a bit and the 9 hung.  He's on the hill.  Then he makes another mistake on the 5 and I get the rack.  It's hill-hill and he's breaking.  He break dry, hangs the 1.  The 2-9 is available, but hard to get to.  I try it and overrun position, I play a good safe which forces him to kick, he moves the 9... into a better 2-9 location.  With ball in hand, I look at the table and think about running out, since it's a pretty open table, but I decide to shoot the combo.  The 9 drops and I win the match.

Afterwards we joked about how the last 4 racks were more of a contest of who wanted to lose more, since neither of us could run 4 balls if our life depended on it.  We had been playing 2 hours already and we were just fizzling out.

In other new things, this new job has an on-site gym and a health rewards program which I'm excited about starting.  I've gotten rid of Mountain Dew as my primary beverage and switched (back) to water.  I contribute just making that switch to helping me win last night.  Simply being properly hydrated improves brain function.  ;)

Lastly, I've decided to build a new website for all of the local pool scene.  I'm taking this opportunity as a way to upgrade my skillset while also solidifying the techniques I'm learning with the new job.  I've been thinking about it for a long time and now I'm done thinking.  I started coding on it this weekend and have put about 20 hours into it since Saturday already. I'm really excited to get this off the ground. :)

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Filed Under: 9-Ball · League

NAPA and APA Updates

A couple of quick things: 1) Below you will find my match played on the streaming table at NAPA Nationals.  I think my original review of the match is still pretty spot on.  I still can't believe some of my simple ... simple mistakes.  Like what the HELL was I thinking trying that 3-10 carom off the rail?!  I shouldn't even have shot the 2 before that, but once I did, I really needed to put my "smart" helmet on instead of the aggro one.  *sigh* Lessons learned. I'm just gonna chalk this whole trip up to getting my seasoning.

2) We started the next session of NAPA last week and the best thing I can say about last week is that we're now doing the online scoring found at NAPA Play.  It's a pretty cool system and makes it very easy to score the match.  Even though I won my match, the event was, overall a total bust.  The other team was in such disarray that only ONE person showed up.  Now, because of that, they should've forfeited the whole match, but the guy who was there decided to play it out, forcing FOUR match forfeits, meaning we got ALL THE POINTS!! hahaha.  So, what would've been something like a 60-40 split ended up being a 94-3 score in our favor.  I'm sure there'll be some push-back from the other team, but since the captain decided to not tell anyone what was going on, that's his punishment.

3) In the APA world, I'm still playing on a Masters team and have struggled a bit, with only a 40% win record so far.  It's coming around though.  In 2 weeks, we're playing for the trip to Vegas.  Like last year, I'm kinda torn on how excited I am about this.  If we go, it'll be a good time, but I know we aren't exactly "favorites" out there.  On the other hand, we all agreed that if we're going to stick with this league, then our goal would be do as good as we can, to win our prize (and that prize is Vegas).  So, in that regard, I hope we do really well in the round-robin event.  More on that later.

Here's the match if you wanna kill 45 minutes:

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Filed Under: 10-Ball · League

NAPA Nationals 2014 Review

After much deliberation I decided to try my hand at the NAPA National Championship for 10-Ball.  I had also qualified for 8-ball, but since that was a week before the 10-ball event, I decided to choose the format I liked better to cut down on travel costs.

After a 9 hour drive, we get checked in to the hotel and find our way to the tournament room.  It was spread out nicely, with tables in about 6 sections of the entire lower level of the hotel. 80 tables were available and all 80 were opened up (no coins).  Several familiar vendors were around: The Drill Instructor, Omega Billiards, Hustlin' and Dead Stroke and a cue technician booth that I never got to swing by.  However, there are no signs as to which tables are where.  I'd expect signs around the areas like "Tables 40-59" "Tables 1-19", etc.  Also, finding the tournament brackets required some meandering.  

After speaking with the people in front of the brackets, I learned that 10-ball would not, in fact, be starting at 9am the next morning, but instead at 5pm.  This meant that I had plenty of time to get some practice in and maybe jump in a mini event.

So, I again had to wander around until I found the mini-tournament desk (basically 3 people behind a folding table with notepads on it).  They have no schedules of minis, no limit of available minis and no particular format.  I liked how this was done though, because I could walk up and see there wasn't anything of my liking available and ask to start a sign-up board for a 10-ball A-class mini.  And that's exactly what I did.  Paid my $10 to enter and went to practice while I waited.

They announced the new mini option several times, which is great.  It filled up about an hour later (as in there were 8 people who signed up) and off I went.

I played pretty well, winning my first match 5-1.  Then I waited only about 10 minutes for my second match, in which I continued to get some good rolls and play well.  I won that match 5-0.  And just like that, I was in the finals!  I talked to my opponent and we decided to go ahead and split it since it was about 11:30 at night and he was scheduled to play early the next morning.

Later on I entered a Master-class 9-ball mini since it was having trouble filling and I didn't want to wait forever for another A-class event.  This was a straight race to 6, call the 9, slop everything else counted (10-ball was call-everything).  I was already nervous going into it, and I think I psyched myself out of stroke, cuz I played horribly.  It didn't help that the guy I was playing called the 9 every chance he got, but he always made sure to pocket the object ball then fly at the 9 (which even though it was a called shot, missing the call-shot, but pocketing the object ball allowed him to continue his inning).  He played well, and in fact he put a 4-pack on me, which included some early 9's, but still.  However, I lost 1-6 and was out. (single elim)

I played a few more practice racks then went to bed.

Friday, I let myself sleep late, got up and met up with my teammates for lunch.  We walked a few blocks around downtown to get to the food court where I had a pretty tasty chicken wrap.  Back to the hotel to grab sticks and my backpack (phone charger, energy snacks, and whatever else I might need).  The brackets hadn't yet been completed at 4:45 (some story about a computer virus problem).  Finally they get the bracket written up and posted.  I had a bye the first round and had to wait some more.  I went back to warming up on a practice table.  I wasn't played all that well, so decided to just rest while I waited.  Had some water and watched some of the other matches going on.  I purposefully did not watch the match I was waiting on so that I could not possibly form any opinions on my potential opponent.  I checked the board frequently to see if they were ready for my match and finally they were, around 6:30.

An important side-note: They were not announcing any matches.  Not a one. They didn't even announce that the next format tournament had begun.  They just assumed everyone knew and would come check the board for their match.  The only time they called a match was when one of the players was late to their table.  This caused no end of issues, especially when they moved the time of a match and told no one.

I start my match and it's clear we are both struggling a little bit: making silly errors both in position and shotmaking.  I was on my way to a break and run, but got horrible shape on the 9 ball (easy enough to make, but forcing a position on the 10). I missed the 9 and overran position on the 10, which lead to a scratch.  So, instead of grabbing the momentum for the match, I handed it over.  After that, my opponent snapped in a 10-ball, then had his own break and run.  After being up 2-0, in a 4-6 race, I was now down 3-2.  I get on the hill first with the next 2 racks, then he gets on the hill the next one.  It's now hill-hill and we're playing very defensively.  We trade a series of kick-safes until he forces me to leave him a shot on the 7, but he under-hit it and leaves himself tough on the 8, he plays a roll-up safe against the 8, at the middle diamond on the long rail.  I kiss off the 8 and the cue ball gets behind the 9 on the headspot for a snooker.  Now I'm really excited, thinking I've just played the safe that will win me the match.  He gets out the jump cue, and I'm still not worried, as it's a super tough jump/cut (essentially a spot-spot shot, jumping over the full 9 ball.  He jumps, gets a good hit, but the balls track around the table and he ends up getting a safe out of it.  I'm now forced to jump over the 10-ball and cut the 8 up the rail.  I over-cut the 8 and the balls again go running around the tracks and start to rotate around the 10-ball. But, I would not be as fortunate, and left him the only edge he needed to slice the 8 into the corner.  THEN HE DOGGED IT! He undercut it and left me a thin, but perfectly manageable cut into the same pocket.  I make it and am looking at a 3/4 ball hit on the 9, nearly straight into the corner.  I take a breath and pull back, swing through .. IT BOBBLES. Then stands up.  I just missed the 9-ball on double-hill hill and left him a perfect 2 ball out to win the match; which he does.

We shake on it and each mention how it was a good, tough match.  We joked about how neither of us really brought our A game for some reason. I wished him luck in the rest of the event and went to see when I played next.

The brackets said 9:15pm for my next match, so I went back to my room to try and reset.  I realized that I felt tired, heavy; and couldn't really figure out why.  My best guess was all the walking we did during lunch (in 90 degree sunny weather), then instead of resting the 30 mins prior to my match I meandered mostly.  Upstairs/outside for a smoke, downstairs to watch a match, walk around, check the brackets, upstairs for a bottle of water/soda, downstairs to check the brackets, etc... All while carrying my cues and my backpack.  I left my backpack in the room, since I wasn't snacking, wasn't charging; no reason to carry an extra 15 pounds around.

I grabbed my soda and just went to the patio to spend some time outside in the shade, relax a bit and chit-chat with other players.

At 9 I went to check the brackets to see if they had a table assignment; and they did - I was on the streaming table!!  Somehow, I just had a feeling I would end up there. :) I'm glad I did, it only adds to the experience (not to mention the ability to review my match later).

I will upload the video from my match to my YouTube channel later tonight, but in case you missed it, here's the summary:

I start off shooting pretty well and quickly find myself up 3-0.  Then I totally lose my mind and decide to be FAR too aggressive instead of playing a really simple safety; it costs me the entire match.  My guess is that the guy decided that if I wasn't going to play smart, neither would he. The problem was, he made his ridiculous shots, I missed the one I tried. The moment changed when I over-spun whitey and missed the ENTIRE 8-ball on a thin cut to the side.  Then later, the table stole my chance to steal a rack by rolling off more than 2 inches causing me to airball on hanging 7-ball.  I lost 3-5 and was out of the tournament.  

So much for my liking my chances at cashing because I was at the bottom of my player class bracket (meaning I play everyone even, or get weight).

I meander the rest of the night, waiting for a mini to play in, which never happens.  I close the night having some drinks with the mini-organizers and listening to ridiculous barking, and watching some ridiculous action.  I hit the sack around 5am.

In closing, I really don't think it was worth the money to go to this event; especially not for how poorly it was ran.  The tables did NOT have individual table lights, making the dark balls hard to see.  There were no match announcements, no communication with the players about what was going on and when.  There were no bracket updates online, hell the brackets for anything beyond the 8-ball event weren't posted at all.  Almost no action to be had after hours, save for the drunk guys looking for $100 racks of barbox 9-ball... no thanks.

However, I got the chance to talk with the organizers and people running the national office, and if they're able to do what they're trying to do in the next year... I will gladly eat these words, and do what I can to attend the event next year.  I really hope they take to heart all the lessons they learned by trying to run their own event this year (previously it was handled by Bad Dog Billiard Productions).

The next afternoon my road partner and I decided to see what else was around and during that conversation I realized that we were only 20 minutes from Johnny Archer's room, Marietta Billiard Club.  So, of course we had to go!  And I'm so glad we did.  Upon walking in, you're confronted with about 30 9-foot tables. 

As it turns out, they were having a weekly 9-ball handicapped tournament there, so of course we had to enter.  But, I continued my pattern of getting to the hill then stalling out, and again went 2 and out. :(  However, my 2nd match, the opponent was a real killer. Guy named Paul (of asian descent); plays about a good as Schutzius (for the locals).  He was a real pleasure to watch... just wish my chair wasn't the match chair. haha

I can't wait to get a chance to go back there.  The tables were fast, tight, but not overly tough, maybe 4 11/16 pockets? - red circle cue balls and really bouncy rails.  All Olhausen or Gold Crown tables, no Diamonds.  And the weirdest part - NO MOUNTAIN DEW!!  This place is owned by NOTORIOUS MD drinker, Johnny Archer!!  I'm really surprised by this.  But, Mello Yello is... well, it's almost close enough. haha

Overall it was a great trip, if for no other reason than the experience and the lessons I learned.  But it's taken me a few days of getting over the depression of performing so poorly to start to realize what I learned.

My next mission: Learn how to win.

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Filed Under: 10-Ball · Tournaments

Training Update: IPAT Drills

If you've been following my twitter feed, you'll know that I've been spending a lot of time at the table lately - and most of it has been alone and working on drills, really trying to hammer out this new adjustment to my stance and grip.  If you haven't been following, then just hit that button over there in the side bar. ;)

I've been working several drills lately, some of them have been successful, some of them haven't.  For example, I usually start off with this drill for a while:

And while I've completed it once, I didn't get it on video. Although I had to take the "easy" way out and allow myself to shoot any ball at any time. I think the strict rules say balls must be made sequentially across the table in their corresponding corner pocket.  I continually get close, but clearly need to work on my pattern and position for the last 3 balls.  I always seem to end up leaving myself with a really thin cut on the 3rd or 2nd ball.
 
It's an interesting experience shooting this a lot.  It seems that if you make it past the 4th ball (in any direction or combination of directions) you're likely to make it to the end of the drill (as in, get to the last 3).  I don't think there was ever an attempt where I missed halfway through.  It seemed it was either all or nothing.
 
I enjoy this drill because it really works you on getting back to the center of the table and/or the correct angle to get to the next ball.  Sometimes, straight in is okay, sometimes it's just plain death.  Additionally, it's really focusing my eyes on those slices down the rail.
 
The other drill I've been working a lot is the notorious "L-Drill":


It's such a pain in the ass, I can't even begin to describe it.  This is a great drill, because of it's variety of difficulty.  You can use as few as 5 balls around the 1st diamond square to as many as 15 balls around the 2nd diamond square.  I'm trying it with 10-balls these days.  However, I think I'm gonna have to drop the number to 8 just to get some confidence going for this drill.  It is a ridiculously tight area you must get to each and every shot, if you're planning on running out.  I've trying a myriad of ways to start off, 1 rail, no rail, 2 rails, punch stroke, finesse stroke, medium stroke... and for each of them, I get decent on the 2, some places let me get on the 3 better than others, but then the 4 is tough as by then I've usually worked myself up against the rail and can't really do much after that.  Sadly, I've been working at this drill, without having completed it, since 2009.
 
Which is what leads to things like this after shooting the 1, 2, 3 over and over and over and over for hours:
 
 
 
 
 
Not one of my best moments, but I had worked/drilled myself into exhaustion and frustration, as evident by this little anigif.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
However, there have been some really good things happening lately.  For example, just last night I went to go drill again and I was able to complete 5 different IPAT drills:
 

This one gave me the most trouble and took me about an hour to figure it out.  The 1 and 2 are no problem, but you have to get as close to straight on the 3, without actually being straight (unless you wanna cheat the pocket some) and without crossing the straight-in line, so you can get good on the 4 and then 5. Rules of this drill is that the CB can NOT touch any rail, and no bank shots, and for all of these IPAT drills, the CB can not any other ball during a shot.

This one has a much larger margin of error, so it only took me a few attempts to get through; though always room for improvement. I can play better shape and not have to rely on my thin-cut ability as much.  Run the balls in numerical order, odd's up the one half of the table, evens on the other half.  No banks, no contacts, all pockets available.

This one is fun - and it's an "infinite" drill.  You start with the 1, 2 and 3 in the marked positions and run the balls in order. Starting with BIH, make the 1 ball, place the 4 where the 1 was. Make the 2, place the 5 there, make the 3, play shape for the now-in place 4 ball. Place the 6 where the 3 was.  Repeat this processing replacing balls for however many rounds you like.  The IPAT documentation only has 3 rounds.  It's interesting to see how much you have to think about how to get around the balls when you get out of line.

This one was pretty easy, I did it on the 1st attempt.  Technically, you can shoot the balls in any order, but no banking.  But, I just ran them out in order, since it was the most natural (for me).

Lastly, I tried an 9-ball situation drill.  Once I got the setup correct, I was pleased with how quickly I saw the only (and best) path from the 1 to the 2.  The 2 to the 3 offers some variety, if you want it, but I found that simplicity is your friend with these layout drills.  I used primarily 2 shots from the 2 to the 3, depending on how straight I got on the 2.  The next "tricky" part is 3 - 4 - 5.  You need to get on the 3 suck that you can get just hair off-straight on the 4, so you can stun into the gap between the 5 and 6.  If you're close to straight on the 5, then the 6 - 7 is a no brainer.  And going from the 7 - 8 - 9 should be pretty automatic for most players by now.

You guys are lucky winners, as I was filming all of this!

Once I completed that layout, I decided to call it quits for drills and just relax by playing racks of 9-ball.  I did a couple of a good outs and a pretty solid break and run.

Now, upon watching all of the footage, I did notice some times where my stroke seemed incomplete, and most of the times, those were the shots I missed or fell short on position.  But, in general, I feel pretty good about having ingrained most of my new adjustments into the nearly-automatic category.  

I'll write about the scotch doubles tournament later.

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Filed Under: Stroke · Training

The Turnaround

A lot of things happened over the past couple weeks.  First off, my NAPA team finished in 1st place in 8-ball and 2nd place in 10-ball.  I had the pleasure of getting revenge on another player during the last week.  I played a guy who beat me in the 2nd week of the session and destroyed him in 10-ball.  I got to play him again in 8-ball and should've won that match. I was on the hill when he still needed 3 games, but it was late, I was rushing and not playing smart. I gave away the 3 racks he needed playing too loose. Oh well. However, my 10-ball win, and his loss, moved me above him in the rankings and I ended up taking 3rd in the individual point race for 10-ball.  

My in-house Cue & Cushion league also finished up last week, but that was a personal disaster for me.  I lost the last 6 weeks of matches and finished with a lousy record of 6 wins and 11 losses, putting me in 15th place (3rd to last). I'm not really worried about it anymore and I know why I lost every match: simple mistakes, stroke errors and mental distractions.  However, I feel extra embarrassed by my finish because I lobbied to get raised to an A this session.  I started off well, going 4 and 2, but then I'd only win 2 out of the next 9 matches.  While this really sucks to have suffer through it, I'm using it as fuel for the drive and dedication to never be at the bottom of the list again.  I will be in the top 5 next session. 

I've talked about being in some kind of slump lately and that I'm changing a lot of little things with my stance and eye position, which is all well and good but it wasn't really giving me any sort of stable improvements.  Partly due to lack of practice to rebuild my auto-mechanics, but I now know that it was because I was changing the wrong things.

About a year ago when I was playing my most consistent, this was my form:

 

Notice the perpendicular grip arm, a pretty textbook stance/form.  However, there's a bit of a gap between my tip and the cueball.  I had been trying to have a closer "Set" position lately, but what I didn't take into account in the closing of my arm to achieve this.  Here's a shot of my Set position from about a month ago:

Now my tip is right up on the cueball, but I had to close my arm to get there.  And since I had retrained my stroke arm to this Set position, I wasn't even aware I was doing it.

The times I actually got to practice, I noticed over and over and over that I had no follow-through after striking the cueball.  I mean, there was some, maybe an inch or two, but nothing closing to proper.  It never caused me too much concern because I was still making balls and getting shape on 80% of my shots.  But, when I needed a good stroke, I didn't have it, unless I over-extended the follow-through, total arm collapse and elbow drop.

Obviously, the answer is to keep my arm at the perfect 90 degrees, but how? I could shorten my bridge length, but that then causes my front arm to bend and I end up leaning forward into the shot in my Set position.  I widened my stance, effectively shortening my torso a bit and while that did allow me to see the shot better, it didn't really do much to fix my forward grip arm-line.

I talked to my cue maker (Josh Treadway) and he's building me a longer shaft, which I hope will give me the comfortable bridge length and thereby allow me to bring my arm back to straight.

The best fix though: A pool clinic with the legendary Mark Wilson. Over the weekend he gave a group clinic to about 16 people and I was one of them.  I was unsure if it was going to be really worth the price of the event, given the number of people and how individualized I felt my problem was.  Skipping all the clinic details I got some really valuable feedback with just a few minutes spent with him.  Most flattering was that he remarked I had the smoothest transition from backswing to forward motion of the day.  My stance was accurate and textbook.  The only thing he changed (which now in retrospect seems like the first thing I should've addressed) was my grip position on the cue.  I was forcing my grip to remain on the wrap instead of adjusting my grip to suit the shot.  The result is that I now grip the buttcap more often than I would personally prefer (though it works for Corey Deuel and Joey Gray quite well).  A secondary result is that now I feel like my arm is behind the line when in my Set position.  Right now, this is very good for me because I can immediately know if I'm in the right spot as it should feel awkward for a while.  This also means that I have to go back and rebuild my auto-mechanics, yet again.  I'm fine with that, if it means I'll get to where I want to be.

In discussing this with Mark it was presented as an option that I look into getting a longer cue/shaft; which was a nice little affirmation to my already placed order.  So... while I might have stumbled onto the answer by a different route, I'm extra pleased with my own self-analysis skills and for the wonderful opportunity to work with Mark, if only for a short while.

I should be getting my new shaft sometime this week, if everything goes well and along with only have one night of league, I'm hoping that I can get enough proper practice table-time to rebuild my mechanics to nearly fully auto before the start of the next league session.

I have answers. I have solutions. I know, without question, what to do with my game.  All of this knowledge replaces the myriad of questions I've been fruitlessly battling the last 6 months.  I am, once again, excited about and hopeful for the future of my pool game.

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Filed Under: Stroke · Training

Night at the Circus

I had NAPA league last night.  If you've been paying attention at all you'll know that I really do not like bartable pool.  However, I realize that in my area, to be any kind of pool player, one simply must be able to play well on the barbox.  All the tournaments around here are on barboxes and since I want to be a good tournament player, I figure forcing myself to play on them at least once a week is a good idea.

You might also know that I've been in something of a slump lately.  I haven't really felt good, truly good about my game for the several weeks (about 2 months overall, with some exceptions).  I had already told my teammates last week that I would likely not return for next session as am not happy with leagues, the tables or the time required.  Spending 5 hours in a bar to play pool on questionable equipment for only an hour is not my idea of a good time.  I don't really drink, so there's no backup plan.

There's only 2 weeks left of this session (going into last night) and I honestly just kinda gave up on the seriousness of it all.  I went home after work, stole a quick catnap unexpectedly, had dinner and headed out.  I didn't even hit a ball before it was my time to play.

I lagged directly at the 1st diamond, the ball swerved and curved into the corner pocket. I laughed it off, but knew it was a sign of things to come.  I was put up against a guy I've had trouble with the whole session. For no real reason other than I try to alter my game too much to fit the table and it costs me.  It cost me a rack this night too.  No more of that I said to myself.

It was a 5-5 race in 8-ball.  He got the first rack, I got the 2nd, he got the 3rd and I took the next FOUR to win the set!!!  I even had a break and run to win my 3rd game, and was well on my way to get another when I had to force a tough position and overcut the shot a bit.  I still got the rack, but how awesome would it have been to get two BnR's in a row, on a barbox, in 8-ball?!  Also, this breaks my break-n-run dry spell! It's been a month now since I broke and ran a rack of anything, in any game, in any format (practice or league or match).

Tonight would I would get to use every single trick in my bag.  Literally.  I used every piece of my equipment - the extention (which I've never used on the barbox),the jump cue (which I despise using on a barbox - heavy cueball and thin slate) and even did a half-ball jump with my playing cue.

To get my 1st 8-ball rack, he played a safe off his 2 ball and left me hidden behind the 8, so that I couldn't see even an edge of my last stripe.  I got out the jumper, lined it up and just hoped to get over the 8.  I fired it, and saw the 15 ball fly into the corner!!! I was worried I'd scratch, but whitey decided to dance around the table and roll up for a standard shot on the 8!  As I went back to put the jump cue away, I gave my teammates that look of "OMG DID YOU SEE THAT!!", took a few deep breaths as I walked back to the table and sank it.  Diagram here:

 

A few racks, after the break, I found myself looking at this table.  I really wanted stripes (it's open after the break, regardless of what you make) but didn't have a clear shot at any of them - save for the 12 up by the corner, blocked by the 3ball.  I thought about masseeing the ball, but that's a lot of distance to cover.  I thought about using my jump cue, but if I hit it just a hair off-center, it'll swerve out.  I decided to just use my playing cue and do a half-ball jump over the edge of the 3.  I lined up, elevated, adjusted my stance accordingly and sent it!  0.02 milliseconds after I pulled the trigger I knew it was good as there was NOT a big *THUD* of the cue into the ball, into the blocker.  I raised my head and saw the 12 ball drop and the cueball come around the angles.  I was super excited, but kept super calm about it until later.

 

I ended up winning the set 5-2, and it felt amazing.  It felt like justice, honestly.

Then playing 10-ball More...

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Filed Under: 10-Ball · 8-Ball · League

Facing a Mountain

On Monday I found myself on the short end of the pool gods' favor. Every shot was tough, every layout was tough, and every miss by my opponent seemed to exacerbate the situation.  My opponent was someone whom I've had trouble beating in the past, though we were (until this session) the same level.  Now I have to spot her 2 games on the wire (going to 9).  Every time we played even the match went hill-hill, so I was a little concerned how this might turn out, considering my ups'n'downs as of late.

I stole the first rack on her miss late in the rack, but then she got the next 2 and I finally got one, making it 2-4 in her favor.  Then I traded her 2 more games for one of mine, making it 3-6. 

I recognized I wasn't playing my "A" game early on so I opted to go for a more technical approach, rather than a fluid and natural style - but it seemed my mechanics were doing everything they could to betray me.  She gets another game, 3-7.  I start to feel those familiar feelings of inevitable defeat.

Then the greatest thing happened. I remembered watching an entire weekend of amazing alternate-break-9ball pool where several huge comebacks were staged. (The Smokin' Aces $32K barbox tournament.) I convinced myself I was not done yet.  I only had to wait for my opportunity to arrive.

We were playing very slow (averaging about 10 MINUTES per rack), lots of safety battles, giving me more time to prepare for the time when I could begin my assault.  As we continued to trade innings and balls I noticed that the rolls started to turn my way.  I wasn't getting hooked as often, and she was starting to get out of line more often.

I get a game, 4-7.  Then another .. and then I get a little over-confident in my come-back-ability and it costs me a game.  It's now 5-8, she's on the hill and I realize the pressure is now on HER to finish it off.  My only job was to keep her in high-pressure / low-percentage situations.  Lock balls up, play everything as a two-way shot.  "Don't be a hero." I told myself.  

I get another game... 10 minutes later I get one more.  It's now 7-8 and she's getting visibly frustrated being unable to finish it off.  I felt like I could steal this match.  I was excited and focused.

It was my break and I put down a decent one, but a bump of the 6 ball sent the cueball into the pocket ... and left a 3-9 combo wide open, with natural position from the 2.  She makes the combo and wins the match (a 2 1/4 hour ordeal).

Okay, so I lost.  While it was frustrating - and made a little moreso by the other league members that finished up and came over to watch (and commentate in a dead quiet room) our battle - I still feel like I did reasonably well. ... Tolerable, I'd say, with a few bonus points.

I maintained a (mostly) positive attitude while being down the entire match.  I kept optimism at the front of my mind.  I analyzed what was going on and took strategic steps to play the odds in my favor.  And best of all ... it worked!

When I think back to all the matches I've ever been down that much I can't think of a single time when I hadn't already given up.  This set was no exception to producing those thoughts.  I'd have that thought "just snap it on the break" and then immediately push that out of my mind.  "SCREW THAT! I'm gonna show anyone who's looking what a comeback is."  No lead is safe.  I ought to know... I was up 6-0 against this very same opponent last year and ended up losing the set 7-9. This was my "revenge" for that set (although I suppose since it was my own doing, it wouldn't be revenge as much as avenging myself).

Even though I didn't make it a winning comeback, I pulled myself out of the rut and staged a hell of a comeback against a lot of little roadblocks.  Racks won are also important in this league, so in that end I did pretty well.

As far as losses go, I don't think I've ever been happier with one.  I recognize this as a great stepping stone for my mental game - and I hope to build on it.  Almost every week I find some little thing to be happy about, and almost all of them are mental aspects.  I feel like I'm still struggling physically, but I'm betting that's just because my mind is in a transitional period lately and it's a symptom of mental distraction.

I'm anxious to see what the next 6 months brings my way.  I'm looking forward to sparring with more seasoned players, and letting my natural game come forward.

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Filed Under: 9-Ball · League

Perspective

I've been sparring with some new people lately they are perfect examples of how I want to play the game. Confident and consistent. They make the game look easy to me.  I enjoy watching them and I enjoy playing them.  I feel (perhaps erroneously)  like I should be able to hang with them though.  I don't make the mistake of thinking I should win a lot, but I absolutely believe I should be able to put up a good fight.  Sure, it would be nice to win once in a while, and the law of averages suggests that I should.  But I rarely do.  And when I do, it's because of their rare mistake rather than my own good play.  So, here we are 15 months after the first time I recall saying that I want to win because I won, rather than my opponent losing.  There was a point about 8 months ago where that was case. I simply out-played my opponents. People were scared to see me in the opponent spot.  This is no longer the case.  

Why? (Always with the why.)  It's not because my ability has decreased, though I feel like I'm in a huge rut right now.  It's not because I make a lot of poor decisions at the table, though it seems no matter what I do, it costs me the rack.  It's not because I'm getting unlucky, though it feels like my opponents are getting better rolls.

The truth is it's because I'm playing above my head.  8 months ago when I was winning a lot, I was playing people my skill level or lower for the most part.  I've changed my opponent pool to include much stronger players than myself (on average) and so it should be no surprise that I'm going to struggle to get wins in this higher bracket. 

My skill has actually gotten better, not worse. I'm more consistent with shots that gave me trouble 8 months ago.  My decisions are better, I play smarter than I did 8 months ago.  Luck comes and goes.

Why then do I feel like I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn these days?  Because mistakes cost more in this field.  I'm sparring with players who only need 1 chance at the table to get out.  It's a lot like playing the ghost.  One of my mistakes is all they need to win the rack/match.  8 months ago, if I made a mistake somewhere in the rack, I still had a chance to return to the table to make up for it.  That 2nd chance is now gone.

Unfortunately, my mindset is still waiting for that 2nd chance, so when it doesn't come, it hits me that much harder.  By the end of the night, I'm usually so afraid of making any mistake that I can't even put a good stroke on a simple shot.  Still, I fight (or try to) through it best I can.  Sometimes if I can fight long enough I'll wear them out and start clawing my way back, but more often the match doesn't (or can't) last that long.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and now, away from the table, I realize and understand and accept that this is all part of the growing pains required to becoming a better player.  These are my "dues".  This is my "seasoning". And this will continue for quite a while.  There is no magic pill, cue, chalk, book or video that will instantly make me the player I want to be.  Only time can do that. (assuming that time is filled with practice and learning and gaining experience)  This doesn't mean I don't want it all right now, but I desperately do, which sadly, only feeds the frustration meter when it all comes crumbling apart.  Here is precisely where I need to keep some perspective.

As much as I want to complain about how I play sometimes (in reference to how far I am from where I want to be), I really need to step back and look at how far I've come. I have to remind myself that I've only been playing seriously for 4.5 years. For all of my reading, writing, seeking understanding and analysis, I only have a tiny handful of actual experience from which to draw confidence. The people I'm playing against have been playing anywhere from 2 to 6 times that amount.  They have long forgotten what it's like to be here, except to say they once were. They have suffered the pressures, defeats and embarrassments of a thousand matches.  They have learned these roads and ingrained their twists, potholes and rickety bridges into the back of their memory.

And so I find myself at the start of a maze of roads unknown to me and must stumble my way through.  I must expect to fall into holes, stray off the path into ditches and unsteadily cross those bridges.  I must focus on the task at hand, ensure my footing and slowly push forward on steady ground.  "Eyes on the prize" does not apply to this part of my journey.  I need them singularly focused on the now.  

Only at times like these, where I find a small stable patch to rest, can I both reflect on my history and envision my future.  If I wish to make it out of this limbo I must dedicate myself to the task, as just listlessly wandering towards the apparent exit will never get me there.

Simply writing this entry gives me new inspiration, new motivation to prove that I can and do belong here.*  I will be a fierce competitor and not plainly "dead money".  I will be someone people don't want to see in the brackets.  I will be someone that "plays good" instead of "ok".  I will be a Pool Player.**

 

-----------------------

* - Currently my goal is to earn my entry into the local league of "upper echelon" players; as that is about as far as I'll likely be able to take it given my situation.  And I'm perfectly 100% fine with that goal.

** - To the best of my ability given that it is not a job for me, nor will it ever be a job.  I have a standard 40hr/week 9-5 job.  So my path will be longer than those who have a more flexible schedule, allowing them to practice 20-40 hours a week (whereas I'm lucky to get 5 hours of real practice in a single week).  

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Filed Under: General · Training

[Mike] On Shaft Maintenance

This will be a dual post on the topic of cue-care and shaft maintenance. Mike S has offered his opinions and following those I will add my thoughts.


Hustler walks over to the broom closet to pick out a twig to smack the balls with.  The old saying any one off the wall will do.  HAHA that’s far from the truth now.  What really is inside of that wood plank we protect with our lives and will reach out and fly to the floor clamoring to try to protect our baby from a ding or knick.  I know I have been the weird guy walking into work in the dead of winter or crazy heat of the summer with my cue case getting that, “What’s that?” look.  Some like maple, some love ebony, others pick any $100-200 colorful option at the local cue shop, or I even know a league player that uses a $40 Budweiser promo cue.  What’s the perfect combination for you? (This could be a very a long conversation because shafts, standard maple or low deflection, haven’t even been mentioned.  The reason this blog post is being written because cue maintenance seems to be a secret or underground process of taking care of easy things like getting a tip replaced, changing the wrap from linen to leather, fixing a shattered butt-cap or designing a cue from the ground up. We know who to call and will gladly share that information with you.)

Have you ever been down on the last ball to win your match and the shaft of your cue seems to be ungodly sticky or gummy.  There is a reason for that.  In my experiences so far 90-95% of cues off the shelf have a coating sprayed on them to seal the wood of the shaft for a longer shelf life.  This coating protects the wood from moisture and the outside elements but it also collects the dirt and grime from chalk and your hands.  NO matter how many times you wipe it down or wash your hands this feeling won’t go away.  In the heat of battle this stickiness intensifies tenfold and then comes the baby powder and FUCKING GLOVES.  (I hate gloves, I will gladly play just about anybody $20 against their glove) BUT, for a minimal cost, this coating can be sanded off and the wood resealed to a wonderful smooth as silk feeling you will fall in love with and become a more frequent visitor of the local cue makers we have in St. Louis, MO to keep your shaft ding-free and playing great.  Another point to be made about cues off the shelf either made here in the USA or abroad the tip that comes on them is a piece of shit, usually.  Again this is a simple $12-40 upgrade.  Right now I’m playing with a Zan tip from Japan, medium density.  It is a 8 layer tip and I really like how it plays and the funk it can put on the ball amazes me sometimes.  A quick shout out to Sharik Sayed for the access to these tips from his sponsorship and Dan Otto for hooking me up with the tip.  Layered tips are here to stay, some of the most popular are Kamui, Talisman, Moori, Onyx, Tiger, or Sniper. I have tried about half of these very popular brands and they are available in different hardness’s.  A layer tip is comprised of the best of the best of the pig hides laminated together and when shaved to a curve allows for a nice amount of surface area for gripping the cue ball and chalk to adhere to.  My favorite part about playing with a layered tip is the minimal maintenance or no maintenance at all.  All that is needed is a liberal application of chalk and don’t break with it hard.  Tip picks or tapping the tip with an abrasive tip tool is a no no and for a good reason.  The layers are glued together and scuffing or picking these layers apart drastically shortens the life of the tip or can completely compromise the tip.   Mushrooming of the tip is well-known from the tip being hit at a hard pace often and the only thing the leather can do is get out of the way and go to the sides, this I have not experienced with a layered tip in about 6 years, but that’s just me.  The local cue makers here in St. Louis have their preferences but usually have more then 2-3 options at a time that you can try on a cue not just look at.  Asking never hurt anybody.  Which leads me right to the elephant in the room.

How does the shaft feel in your hands?  Does it feel a little too big for your hands, meaning you can’t comfortably apply a closed bridge because of the diameter of the shaft?  Or do you love how your playing cue feels but the new or old break cue you have is like a red-headed step child and completely uncomfortable.  Let’s fix that.  Again for a minimal charge, starting around $15 the diameter and taper of the shaft can be adjusted to your liking My fellow teammate and long time league player just mentioned to me a few days ago after an initial adjustment that her break cue just wasn’t feeling like her playing cue and she switched back to breaking with her playing cue. This is death to a $35 tip.   I recommended she give our buddy a call and make a plan to take her playing shaft with her to have the shaft measured and the dimensions replicated on the break shaft.  These small changes are quick fixes and in a few days your investment is starting to feel more of an extension of your body then just a pool cue.  

Also a quick note about break cues, the Samsara break tip hits like a ton of bricks.  You might have an extra cue or recently upgraded your playing cue and adding one of these very hard break tips can save a little bit of money in the short term but also help decide if investing in a dedicated break cue is a necessity.  New players are quick to drop a hundred bucks on an Action or Players jump/break cue usually with a phenolic ferrule and tip and are quick to find out they are harder to control then they seem.  It’s very true but in my experience with the Samsara an 80% solid hit on the cue ball is more controllable and the ball flies off the table less frequently.  At this point you might have one of these cues in your bag, but don’t worry the “tip” or rounded nub on the end can be flattened on the lathe and one of these wonderful break tips can be installed.  I think they are around $25.  

The cue that I play with has seen better days but I love it and I plan on buying another from the same cue maker.  I love my cue because of how it feels when I strike the cue ball, the extra length of the shaft, ivory ferrule, and the magical Zan tip. This combination right now really leaves me with me a huge smile on my face when all is going well on the pool table.  And when it’s not I for surely know it’s not my equipment that is fucking up.  The cue that you play with is your choice and what it looks like doesn’t matter, how it plays and the control that can be applied to the cue ball is far more game changing.  Take a look at your equipment and assess where you stand with your game and if making one of these small adjustments could make a huge difference for you.  

On that I will leave you with the contact info of the three best local cue makers in no particular order and how weird is it they all start with the letter J.  

Josh Treadway www.treadwaycues.com 314-605-8935
Jerry Terbrock www.jerryterbrock.com 314-520-3221
Jim Buss www.jimbuss.com 314-423-6122

And here are my thoughts on the matter:

In addition to having your shaft professionally maintained, it's important that you do your part in keeping the shaft in good shape between services.  I have tried a variety of methods for this, including cue wax, shaft slickers, sandpaper, brown paperbags, dollar bills, magic erasers, strips of leather, alcohol wipes and q-whiz products.

All of them serve a purpose and most of them will do about the same quality of job.  However, each of them have side effects you might not be aware of.  The sandpaper, q-whiz and shaft slicker (which includes those plaid little sleeves with what feels like velcro inside, and those green-pads generally used for cleaning pots and pans) products do a great job at removing the outer layer of grease, funk, chalk, oil and other dirts from the shaft.  However, the price you pay is that you are actually sanding off the outer layer of your shaft.  So, in time you will shave your shaft down to 8mm (on a long enough timeline).  These products are some of the most common out there, so it's no surprise that people often complain about the size of new shaft.  By the time they need one, they've sanded off a few millimeters so they're used to a 12 or 11.5mm shaft and a brand new 13mm shaft feels like a baseball bat at that point.

Magic Erasers and alcohol cleaning products do a good job of removing the dirt while not sanding away at the shaft; but they introduce risk by way wetting the shaft, allowing the pores in the wood to open up enough to release the dirt particles.  If done in moderation and in a controlled manner this isn't too dangerous.  Also, this type of cleaning sets up a great base for the next type of protection: burnishers.

Leather strips, cue wax, dollar bills, paper bags and the leather side of q-whizs are all about sealing the shaft after it's been cleaned.  Cue wax works just like car wax (in fact, a lot of people use Turtle Car Wax on their shafts); rub it on a clean shaft, uniformly, allow it to "set", then buff it off.  The Q-whiz simplifies this by essentially combining the waxing and buffing into one step by having a wax-coated leather facing, which you then use to buff the shaft (as if you were cleaning it with a green pad).  The friction melts the wax just enough to allow it to transfer to the wood, while the leather beneath acts as the buffer and essentially seals the wax around the shaft. Simpler methods of burnishing the shaft which just heat the existing outer layer of whatever is there would be the leather strip, dollar bill and/or paper bag.  All of them create heat through friction, the motion then redistributes the oils/particles and then seals the outer layer.  These methods don't do much of anything for "cleaning" the shaft so much as just making it smooth feeling again.  Though the natural texture of the leather strip will naturally pull out some of the oils much better than any paper-based product.

There is one more method and it is quite possibly the simplest and most effective I know of: The damp paper towel. In the middle of any set there's a point during which you might use the restroom either for natural need or for a mental reset - and you will most always wash your hands.  Instead of tossing that damp collection of paper towels into the trash can, bring it back to the table and wrap it around the shaft as uniformly as possible. Then with a tight grip, in one smooth motion, wipe from the ferrule down to the joint.  Turn the cue 1/4 turn and reset the paper towel to a "clean" part and repeat.  You will see just how much chalk your shaft has picked up since the last time you wiped it down; instant results. This method both cleans and smooths the shaft immediately AND poses no threat to the integrity of the shaft as there's not enough moisture to open the wood pores, and not enough heat to warp the fibers and there's not enough friction to remove the outer layer.

I use the last method at least once per session (sometimes twice in dirtier or humid conditions).  You can also, should you like, use the burnisher-side of a q-whiz after this wipe-down to help keep chalk out of the shaft and prolong that silky-smooth feeling.  

And there's my 50 cents on shaft maintenance.  What about the ferrule you say? The magic eraser is the best at cleaning the chalk off of those, in my experience.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, suggestions and criticisms on the subject, if you have any.

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Filed Under: Gear

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