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:

usam-shot-2a

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:

usam-shot-2b

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!

us-ams-prelim-norcal

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!

One Pocket Improves 9Ball?

…and so the pendulum swings…

Over the last year or so I haven’t had much time to play, so I’ve focused exclusively on One Pocket because I’m fascinated (addicted) to the strategies and mental exercise involved. Now that I’ve got a little extra time to get to the table (twice a week vs. once), I’ve decided to add 9Ball back into the mix. When I first got back into 9Ball a few weeks ago, it seemed that I’d completely lost my ability to run balls. I’d developed more of a ‘pokey / pushy’ short stroke from One Pocket, and was struggling to run more than 3-4 balls. After 2-3 weeks of getting back into a rotation game, I’ve discovered that my ball running ability has gotten much better.

I’ve always heard that playing multiple types of pool games is good for improving your overall playing ability, and I can attest that this is true. After playing One Pocket almost exclusively for a year and a half, my 9Ball game is now much better. I’ve actually changed my stroke (in a good way) when it comes to playing rotation games. I’m now moving the cue ball MUCH better and with more “touch”. It’s hard for me to describe exactly what I’ve changed from a technical point of view, but I guess the best way to describe the change is that I’m no longer “hitting” or “shooting” through the cue ball; rather, now I am “thoughtfully pushing” or “thoughtfully focusing on the rotation that I’m imparting to the cue ball” when I stroke. This is a huge mental change from my former thought process of “how hard do I have to hit this shot to get the resulting position I want” approach. As a result, the object balls are traveling much slower, I’m getting more “bite” on draws and spins, and the cue ball position results are much more accurate. I want to play around with this for a few weeks and see where it takes me.

 

2014 US Open One Pocket Championship

I got to Reno late Sunday night and hit balls for a couple hours to adjust to the 9′ Diamond tables.  The rails on a Diamond play differently than the Gold Crowns I am accustomed to.  I got a few hours sleep and was up early Monday hitting balls again.   My first round match was scheduled for 7:00pm, so I was able spend a good bit of time hitting balls and relaxing.  In the first round I drew Brandon Shuff, a pro from Virgina.  I played pretty well (for me), but it wasn’t enough.  Shuff dispensed me pretty quickly with scores of  8-1, 8-3, 8-5, 8-2.  To be honest, I was pretty happy to play him that close.  My next match is later this afternoon.  I drew a second round Bye so I still don’t know who my next opponent will be.  It’s amazing to see how well these guys play.  Having a blast.  Later.

My Match with Orcollo – Part 2

The Third Rack – Dennis broke and left a spread nearly identical to his break in the first rack. Although I was in a tough position, the up side was that I had seen it before and could learn from my earlier mistake. I shot a ticky and got the cue ball directly in front of his hole. He didn’t have a shot, so he came off the long rail on my side of the table and put me back against the stack. At that point I started my new strategy: Look for a stop shot anywhere on the table that would allow me to leave the cue ball up against another ball. For the next 7 or 8 innings, that’s all I did: Stop-Kiss. Stop-Kiss. Stop-Kiss. I was trying any trick possible to not allow Orcollo to get a clean shot. Then, Orcollo made a mistake and left me in the following position (my pocket is the one on the lower left):

Orcollo Match D1

I saw the bank shot immediately, but knew it was a risky proposition. If I missed, Orcollo would run out for sure. If I made it, I would get my one ball. Was it worth the risk? I stood in-line with the shot for a minute debating the merits of taking the shot and quickly realized my decision boiled down to three key facts: (1) Orcollo was the best player in the world, (2) there’s no way I could out-shoot him or out-maneuver him in the long run, and (3) in three matches, this was the very first time I had had any chance to make a ball. If I was ever going to take the risk, now was the time.

I studied the shot, got into position, stroked three or four times, then ‘felt the magic’ and let the shot go. “Click.” I stroked the cue ball with a little low right, stopped it about 10 inches off the rail, and the object ball rolled perfectly into my corner pocket; nothing but net! Yipee! I had made my first ball, but better yet, had position on several others. I forced myself to slow down and think (and breath) before each shot, fighting my natural tendency to rush. When I was done, I had pocketed 6 balls and had left Orcollo frozen again against another ball. I sat down and realized I was up 6-0 in game 3. Mission accomplished!

Orcollo Match D2

3 innings and 3 safeties later, Orcollo left me in this position:

Orcollo Match D3

I know this sounds crazy, but when stood up behind the cue ball and looked at my position, I immediately saw a reverse bank shot off the ball near the side pocket. Not makeable, you say? A risky shot only a fool would take? I wasn’t sure about the shot either, but I had already accomplished my goal of making one ball, had already lasted much longer than in my first two games, and now I was free-wheeling. Sure, why NOT go for it?

A couple months prior to the tournament, I had developed an analytical method for calculating reverse bank shots. I’ll explain the methodology in a future post, but suffice it to say, here’s what I had to do (according to my algorithm) in order to make the shot: I had to stroke the cue ball with about 3 tips of right (basically as far as you can go without miscueing), the cue stick slightly elevated, and about a 1/6th fraction hit on the object ball. Yes…crazy! But here’s the craziest part…IT ACTUALLY WORKED!

Orcollo Match D4

The object ball came off the long rail with pocket speed and didn’t even hit the jaws of my pocket as it made its way in. The cue ball wasn’t moving that fast but was spinning like crazy when it came off the long rail. The cue ball went two rails and came back across the table for perfect position on my final ball. (Ok, to be honest, I didn’t plan that one). I walked down table to take my final shot, but Orcollo waved me off and conceded the game. VICTORY!!!!!

I honestly don’t remember any details from the rest of the match. I think Orcollo got spooked (who is this unknown guy?) and he completely changed his playing style. Over the next hour or so in racks 4 and 5, I never saw another makeable shot. I tried to stretch the match as long as I could, but it was no contest. Afterwards, he complemented me on my play, and that by itself was worth the price of admission. Yes, now I’m hooked on One Pocket!

My Match with Dennis Orcollo

“Hey Reddick, you drew a monster in the first round!” a friend yelled as I worked my way through the crowd.  I was headed to the US Open One Pocket Championship tournament board to verify my start time and find out whom I was playing.  “Michael Reddick vs. Dennis Orcollo – 1:00 PM.”  Yikes!  Dennis Orcollo, the #1 rated player in the world and widely known as the top money player on the planet.  A monster indeed!

Dennis PosterThis being my first pro One Pocket tournament, my strategy was very simple:  JUST MAKE ONE BALL.  I kid you not.  Yes, it sounds like an artificially low goal, but hey, One Pocket is a very tough game, especially when played against the best players in the world.  At the time I had no idea how tough it would be for me to make one ball against a top rated player, but I was about to find out the hard way.  I got to the match table at 12:55 and Dennis was already warming up.  Talk about intimidation!  I tried to play it off like I was cucumber cool, walking slowly to my chair, yawning, screwing my cue together, yawning again…like it was just another day’s work for me; but inside I was experiencing a firestorm of emotion.  I kept repeating a mantra in my head to calm myself: “Relax, Breath Deep, Just one ball.  Relax, Breath Deep, Just one ball.  Relax, Breath Deep, Just one ball.”

Dennis approached and asked if I wanted to warm up.  “Yeah, sure,” I deadpanned.  I stepped to the table praying my hands weren’t shaking so badly he would notice.  I decided against hitting any practice shots for fear that my nervousness would cause me to miss even the simple setups and thereby reveal to Dennis just how outclassed I was.  Instead, I set the cue ball near the long rail and hit a couple lag shots to see how straight the ball would roll.  Next, I set the cue ball in front of one corner pocket and sent whitey 3 cushions to the adjacent corner pocket to see if the table was playing short or long.  The ball went in on the first try and with pocket speed to boot.  I shrugged my shoulders as if this was normal for me (it certainly was NOT) and told Dennis I was ready.

THE LAG – We walked to the table and shook hands.  Click / Click.  Our lags were nearly simultaneous.  You know that feeling you get when you KNOW you hit a good lag?  I got that feeling as soon the cue ball left my tip.  I celebrated quietly in my head as my ball rebounded from the head rail, made its way back down, and slowly rolled to a stop within an inch and a half of the bottom rail.  Damn good shot if I do say so myself!  I glanced up to see where Orcollo’s shot had landed: Half an inch from the rail.  WHAT??!!!

THE FIRST RACK – The break is a huge advantage in One Pocket.  Giving up the break to the #1 player in the world takes that concept to a whole new level.  Dennis broke and the results were nearly perfect:  I was frozen to the side rail, there were 4 or 5 balls near his hole, and I had no possible cuts or banks available.  In my inexperienced eyes, I couldn’t even find a good safety.  I fell back to my most basic One Pocket strategy:  Try to put the cue ball directly in front of his hole.  I tried to get whitey there safely but there was a lot of traffic and I held back a little too much on the speed and left him a makeable cut shot.  DOOM!  Dennis is widely regarded as the best ball runner on the planet, and he quickly showed me why:  1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 and out!  So there I was: 1 shot, one loss, and I hadn’t even made a single ball!

THE SECOND RACK – Now it was my break.  I would have the advantage.  Yeah, right.  I broke with mediocre results.  I accidentally knocked the corner ball from the rack into the vicinity of his pocket and didn’t leave him tight on the side rail.  He decided not to take the hard cut and instead we exchanged a couple safeties.  Then he left me frozen against a ball with very few offensive options except for a kick shot at a ball that was very near my hole.  I calculated my probability of success at 85-90% and took my chances with the kick.  Bad choice.  The object ball rattled and didn’t drop.  Worse yet, Dennis had a cut shot available and a natural angle for another ball.  POW!  1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 and out!  At this point I had taken a total of only 5 shots over a span of 18 minutes, was already behind 2-0 in a race to 4, and I hadn’t even made one ball!

This match was quickly turning into a slaughter.  I then experienced a bout of extreme embarrassment along with a modest dose of anger.  I had never entertained the thought of beating Dennis, but I certainly had no intention of setting the world record for the shortest One Pocket match ever!  TIME FOR A NEW STRATEGY!  From now on, my only objective was to stall the match as long as possible.   FORGET OFFENSE!  Every single time I approached the table I was going to be looking for the best safety possible, preferably a frozen ball safety.  Little did I know, this change in strategy would have a profound effect on the outcome of the third rack…  (to be continued in my next post).