Insomnia.  Not something I experience often.  Ask anyone who knows me.  I’m usually in bed around 9 or 10 and up the next day by 4:30 or 5.  Once my head hits the pillow, I’m usually out before the filament stops glowing.  Not tonight.  After laying in bed for quite some time I flipped on the night light, grabbed Steven King’s book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and started reading.  After making it about half way through (I’ve already read this book 5 or 6 times) and realizing I was no closer to sleepdom, I decided to switch to something a little more heady and tiring:  John Derbyshire’s book Prime Obsession.  This is a surprisingly interesting book (if you are a math geek) about the Riemann Hypothesis and the search for a mathematical function that can deliver the prime numbers, or at least estimate how many prime numbers can be expected to occur between 0 and any number X.  Yeah, that didn’t work either.

Hence, here I sit at 2 in the morning writing an entry for my blog.  Well, look on the bright side, at least I’m posting again!  So, what’s keeping me up tonight?  I’m not sure…I’m not particularly stressed about anything, on the contrary, things are going quite well.  Maybe that’s it.  Maybe it’s the anticipation of new and exciting things that’s keeping me up?  So, what’s going on?  Well, I’m leaving my day job in less than a month.  Something I’ve known about and have been anticipating for about two years now, so I’m looking forward to that change.  The best part is….the day after I walk out of the job I’ll be catching a flight to Florida to play in the APA US Amateur Championship.  This time I will arrive in Tampa 2-3 days before the tournament begins so I can relax, take in the sights, and just hang out at Stroker’s and be a pool bum for a few days.

Oh, by the way, if you are reading this and you are located in the US, WordPress just asked me to “Encourage your US-based visitors to register to vote by adding a subtle prompt to your site.”  So here goes…..PLEASE VOTE!  How’s that for subtle?

Anyhoo, the trip to Florida should be a nice relaxing ‘pool vacation’.  In all honesty, I don’t really compete much anymore.  I play league a couple nights a week, but never really practice.  I decided today to start practicing again in preparation for Florida, so this afternoon I worked on two drills for a couple hours.  First I worked on “Classic Drill # 1“.  For this drill, I just set up and played the first 6 balls, again and again and again and again.  When I got tired of the repetition, I switched to a game I call “Throw out 5 or 6 balls, take ball in hand on the first shot, and run them out in order.”  Yeah, that’s a long title, but the exercise is a good one if you are focused and try your best to play perfect position on each shot.  I started getting a little sloppy at the two hour mark, so I quit.  My philosophy is: You compete like you practice.  If you allow yourself to get sloppy in practice, that sloppiness will creep into your actual game.

Okay, sleepiness check!   ……nope, still not sleepy.  Uh oh!  Sounds like the cat has discovered that I’m not in bed.  Guess I’d better go take care of that little noisemaker or no one in the house will get any sleep!

Ok, I’m back.  Hands and arms a little sore from performing my cat scratching duties, but still not sleepy.  Ok, a random thought…have you seen the performance of Nvidia stock over the last year?  Google “Nvidia stock” and look at the “1 Year” chart.  Pretty amazing.   And no, I do not own any Nvidia.

Tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock.  Ok, I guess I’ll bring this post to a close.  Still not sleepy but sitting here typing doesn’t seem to be helping either.  Hopefully I’ll be hitting balls daily now until the beginning of November.  Looking forward to meeting the other competitors at the US Ams in Tampa.  Later!

US Amateurs – How I Played Shot 2

Times up!   As a reminder, here’s the layout I was presented with in ‘shot 2’ from my last post:


My thoughts on this situation:

  1. Thinking ahead to the eight ball, the eight ball is blocked from both the left and right upper corner pockets, so it can only realistically be pocketed into the upper side pocket via a cut shot or the lower side pocket via a bank shot.  Obviously, I’d prefer to take the higher percentage cut shot, but if forced, the bank is an option.
  2. The solid ball (yellow) is easily makeable in the upper left corner, but I won’t have a shot on the eight ball from there.
  3. My opponent’s balls (blue) are everywhere, and they are not clustered, so my opponent has a pretty good chance of running the table if (or when) I miss.
  4. …UNLESS I CAN PLAY A REALLY GOOD SAFETY!  But how can I play a safe here???

I considered the safety shot diagrammed below, but decided against it given the extreme level of speed control required, not to mention the precise thin cut needed.  I thought my probability of success on this shot was next to zero; maybe 5-10% at best:


Well, when all else fails, I fall back to an old mantra….”When all rational shots have been considered and discarded, whatever shot remains, no matter how irrational, must be the right shot!”  …lol…

Since I’m pretty good at draw shots (it helps to know thyself!), I thought I might be able to pull off the shot diagrammed below and then finish off the rack with a sharp cut or bank on the eight ball.  Here’s the shot I planned:


I took a few practice strokes, focusing on body position, arm mechanics, and wrist snap, then uncorked a break shot speed stroke, hit the cue ball extremely low, applied maximum wrist snap, and as much follow through as I could manage.  The resulting shot is diagrammed below:


Without a doubt the best draw shot I’ve ever executed!  I easily pocketed the eight ball on my next shot to win the rack.



US Amateurs – How to Play Shot 2?

Here’s the second shot that really stood out in my memory.  I was competing in the US Amateur Preliminary round last weekend, and at one point I was presented with this shot in 8 Ball:


Here’s the situation:  I broke the rack, reviewed the initial table layout, and decided that I could run all the solids on the table, so I tried….and failed!  I had lost cue ball position on a previous shot which got me out of line and caused me to miss my final ball (yellow).  In response, my opponent decided to break up a cluster of his stripes so that he could go for a run out on his next turn, and left the cue ball safe for me at the far end of the table.

So here’s the question, oh wise reader…..WHAT’S THE RIGHT STRATEGY FOR ME?  BETTER YET, HOW WOULD YOU PLAY THIS?  Tomorrow, I’ll tell you what I tried.

US Amateurs – How I Played Shot 1

As a reminder, in my last post I described a shot that I encountered during the US Amateur Preliminary round where I was playing 8 Ball and was presented with the following layout:


Here are the shots I considered:

  1. My very first thought was to cut the closest solid ball to the lower right corner pocket, and in fact I moved over to take that shot…only to realize the 8-ball was directly in the path of the shot and there was no way around it.
  2. My second thought was to cut a solid ball to the upper left corner, but that’s a very thin cut and I’d likely lose control of the cue ball and possibly rearrange the positions of other balls on the table (an action I always try to avoid since it introduces a luck factor into the game).
  3. Next I considered a one-rail bank to the upper right corner pocket (a relatively high probability shot for me since I play a good bit of One Pocket); however, THAT solid ball had my opponent’s stripe ball nearly kissing it, and I was afraid that I would accidentally touch the stripe before the solid (foul) and give my opponent ball in hand (another HUGE no-no in my book).
  4. I very (emphasis on very) briefly considered cutting one of the two solids just above the cue ball to the far upper right corner, but that would be a difficult cut shot and I’d definitely lose cue ball control on that shot.
  5. When presented with a low probability shot and especially given a loss of cue ball control, I always fall back to a safety shot.  I looked for a good safety (as they say, ‘when you leave the table, leave on YOUR terms’) and saw a pretty high percentage safety.

Here’s how I planned the shot:  I wanted to make a very thin soft cut on the solid with a lot of left spin and with speed to put it close to the bottom rail next to the other solid.  I didn’t care where the first solid went; in fact, I was praying that it would NOT make it to the upper left corner pocket.  Here’s the diagram of the shot as I planned it:


Here’s a picture of the final result, which I took before my opponent could figure out how he wanted to respond:


The result was mostly due to good planning, with a little luck on the speed and position, but my opponent had absolutely nothing he could do to make a legal hit.  The cue ball was essentially frozen between the rail and my solid.  He subsequently fouled (and didn’t mess up the table layout) and with ball in hand I was able to run out from here.

Tomorrow, I’ll share another very interesting shot, a shot that I consider to be . . . . . well, you’ll just have to see it to believe it.

US Amateurs – How to Play Shot 1?

Pool is such a fascinating sport because no two racks are ever alike.  You must think and plan how you are going to attach each rack.  Constant problem solving.  There were a couple shots I encountered last weekend during the US Amateur Preliminaries that I wanted to share with you.  Why?  Because there are many ways to solve the same problem, and different people have different perspectives.  I’ve posted shots that I’ve made before, thinking that I made the best decision, only to have another player offer a better solution.  Pool is a learning environment, and I’m always looking for input.

Here’s the first shot…we are playing 8-Ball:


I’m solids (yellow) and I’m in a bit of a predicament.  I’ve got 5 solids on the table; my opponent only has 3 stripes (blue).  I don’t have an easy shot, but I initially figure I have two likely offensive shots as indicated in the diagram below:


I can take shot # 1 and make a very thin cut to the upper left corner, or shot # 2 and try a one-rail bank to the far right corner.  Alternatively, maybe I could do something else?  Is there a third shot?

WHAT DO YOU THINK?  What would you do?  When presented with this situation I stood over the cue ball and pondered my options for a minute, then a light went off and I quickly made my decision knowing exactly what I wanted to do.  I’ll share my decision in my next post, but first I want to see if anyone has any input.

US Amateur Championship

A couple days ago I won a spot in the Northern California preliminary and will be headed to Tampa, Florida to compete in the final round of the 2016 U.S. Amateur Championship tournament.  This tournament is an annual event created and promoted by the APA, and typically features the best of the best APA players in the country.  To win the spot I had to compete against several good players, all friends of mine, and this year I was the one who got a few rolls and got lucky.  This will be my second trip to Florida, so I know what to expect in terms of hotel accommodations, host location, and most importantly, the competition.  I plan to get there a few days early to get comfortable with the location, learn the tables, and also just to relax and enjoy the experience.  My first trip to the finals was in 2011, and at that time I was practicing a lot and put a lot of pressure on myself.  This time, I’m a different player.  I’ve improved my 8-ball and 9-ball games by adding a few tricks/skills from One Pocket, but I have to admit that I don’t practice much anymore.  Just been too busy.  Oh well.  I feel I have a responsibility to represent NorCal to the best of my ability, so I’ll be hitting the practice table pretty intensely over the next month.  See ya in Florida!


Billiards in Berlin Germany!

It’s been almost 2 years since my last post?!  Shocking how time flies!

I’m traveling to Berlin, Germany next week on a business trip. I know that my days will be spent in corporate meetings, but at night I will be looking to relax and hit some balls with the locals. In preparation for my trip, I Googled pool halls in Berlin and to my surprise found over 20 legit pool rooms. The most shocking discovery was that these were real pool rooms, not just bars that have pool tables! Obviously, pool is alive and well in Germany!

Since my time in Berlin will be very limited, I’ve developed a ‘pool room tour’ agenda for rooms that are located near central Berlin where I’m staying. I hope to find a tournament or two, and look forward to meeting some of the locals. Here’s my tour list, in no particular order:

  1. Bata Bar & Billiards, Tiergarten, Berlin
  2. Billardsalon Poolparadies, Lichtenberg, Berlin
  3. Billard House Friedrichshain, Friedrichshain, Berlin
  4. Billardsalon Köh, Mitte, Berlin
  5. Pool & Cigars, Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin

Should be a great trip and pool room tour. I’ll take pictures as I go.   Later!