Monthly Archives: November 2009

Georgia Tech

…lost to the University (sic) of Georgia yesterday, and quite frankly, I don’t want to talk about it.  😉

Deep practice

Santa Clara Billiards

Today I headed out to Santa Clara Billiards (SCB) for a couple hours to work on a Deep Practice session.  The SCB is only two miles from my home, so it’s a convenient location to get away for short practice sessions on the weekends.  They have 30 nine foot tables, four of which are shimmed up for tournament play.  One table is nuts: Table 2.  It’s triple shimmed, so the pockets are very tight.  Guess which one I’m going to practice on?

Side Pocket off the rail

As I stated in my post yesterday, there were two off the rail shots that I wanted to work on during my deep practice session:  a shot off the rail to the center pocket and a shot off the rail to the corner pocket.  These types of shots are problematic because it’s hard to form a proper bridge, and it’s much more likely that you will miscue since most of the cue ball is unavailable due to its close proximity to the rail.  To warm up for my practice session, I got into my shooting stance with the cue ball at the head spot, and practiced hitting the cue ball to the end rail, and having the ball return back to the tip of my cue.  I did this several times, getting a feel for the ball and becoming more aware of my stance and the mechanics involved.  After I felt confident that I was ready, I set up the two shots that I wanted to work on.

Corner Pocket off the rail

I shot these shots for about 30 minutes, taking my time between shots to think about my approach to the table, looking down the shot line, getting into my shooting stance, setting up a solid open bridge on the rail, softly stroking with a level cue, controlling my eye movement, and then pulling the trigger, feeling the cue tip contact and push the cue ball.  I didn’t count the actual number of shots that I made, but it was probably 50 or 60 shots.  I didn’t miss any balls, but more importantly, I didn’t miscue at all.  Most of my focus was on the “pre-shot” routine.  Pulling the trigger and making the shot was only a very small portion of the effort.  I am now much more confident that if these shots come up again in a match, I will recognize them as “friends” and will have no trouble making them.

Rail to far corner

After the deep practice session, just for fun, I set up a similar shot using the entire length of the table.  I placed the cue ball just off the bottom rail, and attempted to make the object ball in the far corner pocket.  Remember, this is a triple shimmed table…very difficult to make long close to the rail shots.  I applied the same level of concentration as I had on the other two shots, and was able to make three out of five.  It would have been four out of five, but my second shot ran out of gas right in front of the pocket.  Overall, I’d say this session was a great success.  Not because I made such a high percentage of balls, but because I was able to maintain a very high level of focus and discipline.  In the next few weeks, as I match up with other players or as I work in my solo practice sessions, if I find other shots that cause me problems, I’ll single them out and work on them in deep practice sessions.


Black Friday

The day after Thanksgiving is Black Friday, the big shopping day!  I live in a small condo in a residential /retail community named Santana Row, located in San Jose, California.  There are many benefits to living in a planned community.  Within a five minute walk of my front door, there are over one hundred restaurants and retain shops, and there’s rarely a need for me to drive my car.  There is one drawback however: Traffic.  Holiday traffic to be exact.  This morning, cars and trucks started arriving between 5:00 or 5:30 as bargain hunters descended upon our little neighborhood looking for big discounts on electronics and other household items.  I’m happy to see that shoppers are out and about, which of course is good for the economy and our community, but between the shoppers, the spotty California rain that arrived earlier today, and the traffic I would have to fight to drive anywhere, I think I may just stay in.  No problem for me; I’m still recovering from yesterday’s gluttony and I’ve got plenty of work to do here at home.

As I sit here at my kitchen table with a pot of hot coffee brewing, I’ve been thinking a lot about my match with Octavio on Wednesday at the California Billiard club.  There were two shots off the rail that came up at least twice during our match.  In all four instances, I missed the shot, and as a result, Octavio ran out.  See Figures 1 and 2 below.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Borrowing from Daniel Coyle’s concept of Deep Practice, I’m going to dedicate my next practice session to these two shots.  I will set them up and shoot them over and over again until I own them.  I will shoot them until they don’t present me with any fear or trepidation.  I will shoot them and shoot them and shoot them until I can make them in my sleep.

My concern with this type of repetitive practice is that there is a danger that the monotony could lead to laziness and a lack of concentration.  How do I address that?  Maybe I will imagine there are two or three people watching my practice sessions closely, judging me on my performance.  Maybe I will enforce a thirty second wait period between each shot.  This will force me to slow down and take time to think before each shot.  Yes, that’s the plan.  A thirty second wait period to force me to evaluate my stance, bridge, and stroke between each shot.

So that’s it.  Tomorrow I will travel down Stevens Creek Boulevard to Santa Clara Billiards.  It’s a great place to go if you want some quality solitary practice time at a table.  The pockets on table number two are triple shimmed to make the pockets extra tight.  This forces you to be more precise in your aiming and helps to increase your accuracy.  After shooting on a triple shimmed table, the pockets on a regular table look like bushel baskets.  I’ll work on these two shots, focusing my efforts on stance and stroke, and also do some work on my bridges.  I’ll give you a report tomorrow.

On the road to Recovery

California Billiard Club

Yesterday after work, I had the opportunity to drive over to Mountain View and visit one of my favorite places in the world: The California Billiard Club (CBC).  Located on El Camino Real near I-85, the CBC is only about a ten minute drive from my home.  When I moved to California ten years ago, this was one of the first places that I visited.  It received an award in 1998 from Billiard Digest Magazine as one of the top pool rooms in America.  The room has 30 nine foot Brunswick Gold Crown III tables, eight of which are configured for tournament play.

Yesterday I rolled in having had no breakfast or lunch, so I was hungry.  Being the foodie that I am, I’ve always been impressed with their culinary offerings.  Most pool rooms only serve drinks, chips, and candy; if you’re lucky, maybe a hot dog or hamburger.  Not the CBC!  They have an extensive menu.  Not only do they serve a variety of hotdogs and hamburgers, but they also serve Philly Cheese steaks, teriyaki chicken rice bowls, vegetarian hamburgers, sausage links, tri-tip sandwiches, salads, and over 40 other mouthwatering temptations.  They also serve a variety of soft drinks, beer, and wine.  But wait, there’s more!  They even serve breakfast!  If I didn’t have to work for a living, I would probably just roll in early every morning and shoot pool all day, while at the same time enjoying some great food.

Octavio Shooting

When I walked into the room, I saw that Eddie and Charles were in the middle of what was probably their five-thousandth one-pocket match.  Octavio and one of the owners of the room were sitting in the restaurant area watching the duel.  I asked the gentleman at the bar for his culinary recommendation: the hot pastrami or the Philly cheese steak sandwich?  “Definitely the Philly.”  I ordered the Philly and a Sam Adams, then joined Octavio to watch the match.  Great sandwich by the way!  After finishing off the sandwich, Octavio asked if I wanted to shoot some.  “Sure!”  We ended up playing three sets of eight ball, each a race to five.  Octavio is a pretty good player, and I thought this would be a good test for me as it would require that I get into the zone and really focus in order to have any chance to win.  Over the next two and a half hours, we played several racks of eight ball, and we both played relatively well.  I ended up winning the first two sets, then lost the third.  For me, it was a great mental and emotional victory, as it validated the progress that I’ve made over the last couple of months.  I was able to stay in “the zone” for the first hour and a half before I started to fatigue a little mentally.  In the first twelve games, I think I only missed about three or four shots.  If I wasn’t running the table, I was playing into tight safeties, not leaving my opponent any easily makeable shots.  In the latter half of our contest, I starting making some mental and physical execution mistakes, but that’s ok.  I’ve captured the issues in my notes (yes, I take notes) so that I can work on them in future practice sessions.  I’m coming out of my slump, but I need to be careful not to celebrate too much.  The path ahead of me is filled with potholes, and I need to maintain my focus.

And now, it’s time for some Turkey…I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving!!

My name is Michael, and I have a problem…

Pity Party

It has been said that the road to recovery begins when a person is willing to admit that they have a problem.  If that is true, then I guess I’d better get started.  Here goes:  “Hello, my name is Michael, and I have a problem.” You see, I recently decided to throw myself a party…a pity party.  Let’s start at the beginning.

Over the years my friends have often referred to me as “The Million Hobby Man.” It’s a moniker rightfully earned, I must admit, due to my incessant habit of starting and subsequently discarding a new hobby every six months or so.  Since my hobbies have such a short half life, over the years I have participated in literally dozens of hobbies.   Recently, just for fun, I decided to make a list of all the hobbies that I’ve started and subsequently discarded since I was a child.  Fear not dear reader, I’m not going to share the list with you, but trust me when I tell you that the resulting list was truly frightening.  After reviewing the list I realized (not surprisingly) that in almost all cases once a hobby gets discarded, it just sits and gathers dust, never again to see the light of day.  But there was one exception to this rule:  Billiards.  For some reason, the game formerly reserved only for Royalty seems to have staying power with me.

About a month ago I picked up a copy of Daniel Coyle’s book The Talent Code, and I was so mesmerized by the concepts Daniel presented that I couldn’t put the book down.  Many of the concepts presented in the book rang true to me, and I couldn’t put the book down until I had read it cover to cover.  It inspired me to set out on a new journey.  I tossed the book aside and ran to my proverbial closet of forgotten hobbies.  I yanked the door open and stood on my tip toes, craning my neck searching through the pile of dusty discarded hobbies in an attempt to locate one that I could use as a test bed for Daniel’s concepts.  Out popped the game of pool.  After many years of tinkering with the game, studying books and VHS tapes (Yikes! Am I dating myself?), I finally made the decision to stick with something.  I want to become a professional pool player.

If you review my posts from the last thirty days, you will see that the first month of my new journey has been filled with energy and excitement.  Then I had one bad day and the train derailed (see my last post).  I’ve been licking my wounds and sulking for a week.  Why do I do this?  Why is it that we (you see, I’m trying to include you as part of my problem too!) tend to be our own greatest critics?  Yes, the doubters, including myself, are legion.  As I sit here sipping my early morning coffee and eating a piece of pecan pie for breakfast, I’m starting to feel a little better.  They say that time heals, and I guess a week of sulking should be enough for me.  It’s time to recharge the batteries, as I have a long journey ahead.  So my plan for today is to not play any pool.  I’m going to sneak into Edgie’s Billiards during my lunch break, grab a table in the corner, and focus on my fundamentals: Stance, Bridge, and Stroke.  It’s time to get serious, start building myelin, and make sure I build it in the right places.  The honeymoon is over, and I’ve got serious work to do.

Eating humble pie

Guess what I ate today?  This afternoon I went over to Edgie’s Billiards in Milpitas, California, to shoot a little pool and I saw a guy that I had seen there many times before, but had never played.  I walked up to the table next to him, and he turned and said, “Hey, would you like to shoot a few games today?  I see you in here all the time, but we’ve never played.”  I reply, “Sure!”  We meet, and he tells me his name is Mike.  “My name is Mike also.”  Ironically, there’s only one other customer in the entire place, and I know the guy.  Guess what his name is?  Mike!  (What are the odds?!)  Tony, the guy who owns the place, noticed the oddity, and leaned over the counter and yelled to no one in particular, “Hey Mike!  I wouldn’t play Mike.  He’s the best player here!”  We all three respond simultaneously, “Thanks Tony!”

I must admit, lately I’ve been doing a lot more writing about pool than practicing, but I was pretty confident in my game, so I figured I’d take it easy on the guy.  We’d just play for fun, nothing serious.  I’d seen the guy play some months before, and knew that he was relatively new to the game.  It really shouldn’t be much of a contest, but what the heck, sometimes I need to pad my ego.  I figured I’d just play around with him, try to take some risky but cool looking shots, showboat a little, etc.

Flash forward one hour:  I was doing a LOT of sitting, and I was already trailing the guy 7 to 4.  To make matters worse, I found that he’d only been playing about two years.  TWO YEARS?!!   #*$%&@*%&!!!  I unscrewed my pool stick, flipped the guy a ten to cover the table time, and headed for the door.

What’s to be learned?  First:  never take any player for granted.  Second:  always play to win; act like the county or city tournament is on the line.  Third:  theory is great, and practice is great, but there’s nothing like playing a live breathing human.  In practice if you miss a shot, you just take another shot.  In competition when you miss a shot, it could be your last.

What’s the next step?  Go back tomorrow, and play him again.  And again.  And again.

The Seven Day Miracle: Part 7 of 7

Pulling it together

Part 7 Full Table Fig 1

Figure 1

This is the final post of my seven part series to improve your game.  Today I will pull together all the pieces we have studied and show you how to apply what we learned to play the perfect game of pool.  As a review, here are the individual components that we worked on:

1.  Aiming shots with the Ghost Ball method

2.  Calibrating our arm to control the speed of a shot

3.  Predicting the cue ball deflection angle after collision with an object ball

4.  Predicting the cue ball rebound angle after it hits a rail cushion

5.  Adjusting the speed of a shot to compensate for energy lost in the cue ball / object ball collision.

Part 7 Full Table Fig 2

Figure 2

Now, let’s get down to business!  Take a look at the table layout in Figure 1.   This is a game of eight ball, we are stripes, and we have only one stripe ball left to pocket.  What we want to do is pocket the fifteen ball, then make the cue ball travel around the table to get into position for the final shot, which is the eight ball.  That looks like a pretty hard shot doesn’t it?  How do we make it happen?  Should we just hit it hard and hope for the best?  Heck no!  With the knowledge that you now have, and with the countless hours you spent calibrating your arm in part 3 of this series, you should be confident and totally in control!

Let’s analyze the shot.    First, we need to figure out how to make the fifteen ball go into the pocket.  We will use the Ghost Ball aiming method.  See Figure 2, where we have imagined the Ghost Ball, and determined the aiming point.  Notice the aiming line that extends through the ghost ball.  The aiming line just barely touches the edge of the object ball.  If you refer to the Angle of Deflection chart in part 4 of this series, you will see that this is a half ball hit.  According to the Deflection chart, the Angle of Deflection will be about 30 degrees, so in your mind’s eye, see the “Peace Sign” to determine the initial direction of the cue ball after collision.

Part 7 Full Table Fig 3

Figure 3

In Figure 3, we utilize the Angle of Reflection from part 5 of this series to estimate the path of the cue ball after collision with the first rail and subsequent rails.  Based on the extension of this “natural” path, we should check to see if any of the solid balls are going to get in the way.  Fortunately, in this case, none of the balls are in our way.  Yippeee!  This means there’s no need for us to use extra cue ball spin to avoid unwanted collisions!  Now we can just hit the ball and try to make it land it somewhere near the spot marked “X”.  But wait a minute.  Do we really need to be that exact?  Take a look at Figure 4, and notice the position of the eight ball and the blue line that I drew on the table which outlines a “safe” zone highlighted in yellow?  As long as the cue ball lands anywhere in this yellow zone, you should be able to make the final shot and win the game fairly easily; therefore, there’s actually a pretty large margin for error on this shot.

Part 7 Full Table Fig 4

Figure 4

Now the question is: “How hard do I need to hit the cue ball in order to make sure it stops in the yellow zone?” If we extend the cue ball path through the yellow zone, we can put limits on how soft and how hard you can hit the cue ball.  See Figure 5.  The point marked “A” is the softest you can hit, and point B is the hardest you can hit.   But wait, we get a bonus!  If the cue ball makes it all the way to point B, it will collide with the green ball and come to a stop.  The green ball will act as a stopper to keep the cue ball safely within the yellow zone.  As such, we can actually hit the cue ball even harder, and still be able to keep the cue ball in the yellow zone.  We could probably hit the cue ball hard enough to theoretically make it to point “C” (if the green ball were not in the way).  Now, let’s calculate the distances the cue ball would have to travel to get from its starting point to points “A” and “C”.  The distance to point “A” is ~10 diamonds.  The distance to point “C” is ~16 diamonds.  If you refer back to the exercise from part 3 of this series, this translates into an arm stroke with a speed between 3 and 6.

Part 7 Full Table Fig 5

Figure 5

So we want to hit the cue ball with an arm speed between 3 and 6, but remember, today we are also hitting an object ball with a ½ ball hit.  As such, the object ball will be ‘stealing’ some energy from us, so we need to make an adjustment for that.  According to the “Speed after Collision” chart from part 6 of this series, the object ball will take 4 parts of the cue ball’s energy, and the cue ball will retain about 3 parts of its energy.  Just to make the math easy, let’s assume the energy split is 50/50, even though it’s really about 57/43.  This means that the cue ball will only retain about half its energy after it hits the object ball.  In order for the cue ball to end up with enough speed to get into the yellow zone, we will need to multiply our calculated speed range by two, since object ball will steal about half of the cue ball’s energy.  So the modified distances are 20 diamonds for point “A” (10 x 2) and 32 diamonds for point “C” (16 x 2).   This translates into newly calculated arm speeds of 8 (minimum) and 14 (maximum).

After you’ve done all the thinking and calculating, let’s review the final answer:  In order to hit the perfect shot, you will need to do the following:

  1. Use a half ball hit on the object ball
  2. Hit the cue ball with normal ‘running’ English
  3. Hit the cue ball with an arm speed between 8 and 14.

That’s it!  At this point, there’s nothing else to worry about.  Just get into your stance, use proper fundamentals, and execute the shot with the proper speed.  If you take your time and go through this type of analysis on every single shot, you should be running tables in no time.  Nothing to it!

The Seven Day Miracle: Part 6 of 7

Speed after collision

Remember in part 3 of this series we discussed the importance of being able to control the speed of your shooting arm?  In today’s post we take what you learned in part 3 and add a slight complicating factor to the equation: the object ball.  Remember, the ultimate goal in this game is to be able to control the final resting spot of the cue ball, and parts 3 and 6 of this series both deal with the speed of the cue ball.

For today’s post, I will first present some theory about energy transfer between cue ball and object ball.  Next, I will tell you how to make adjustments to your arm speed to compensate for the energy loss that occurs when the cue ball collides with the object ball.  Armed with this new information, you will have all the information necessary to make the object ball in a pocket, and subsequently move the cue ball around the table for a specific distance.

Okay, here’s the theory part.  When the cue ball strikes an object ball, a certain amount of the energy contained in the cue ball is transferred to the object ball.  For the purposes of this discussion, we will assume the cue ball is a naturally rolling ball with no English.  Depending on the angle of the collision, the amount of energy transferred between the two balls changes.  Pool players often have limited control over the angle of the shot they are taking (i.e. they have to play what the table gives them or their opponent gives them); therefore, it is important to know for a variety of angles (or ball hit fractions) how much energy will be contained in the two balls after impact.  Once again, thanks to our mechanical engineering friends at Colorado State University, we don’t have to derive any of the math; we can just review the answer and implement the information learned.  See the graph in Figure 1.

Speed After Collision

Figure 1

Here’s how you read the graph.  The bottom row of numbers is the ball hit fraction, which tells you how “Full” the cue ball hits the object ball.  The top row of numbers tells you the ratio of energy contained in each ball after the collision.  All of these calculations assume a normally rolling cue ball (no English).  Let me walk you through a few examples:

(1) If you aim the cue ball directly at the center of the object ball (a full hit), the ball hit fraction will be “1” and after collision the object ball (OB) will travel seven times further than the cue ball (CB)

(2) If you aim the cue ball directly at the outer edge of the object ball (a half ball hit), the ball hit fraction will be ½ and the object ball (OB) will travel 4 units of distance for every 3 units traveled by the cue ball (CB)

(3) If you aim the cue ball directly at the ¼ fraction hit mark, the cue ball (CB) will travel twice as far as the object ball (OB).

How is this information useful to us?  By knowing how much energy is lost in the collision, we can make adjustments to our arm speed (increase it) to compensate for the loss of energy, and still be able to place the cue ball exactly where we want it after the shot.  If you remember back to part 3 of this series, we were hitting the cue ball directly up and down the table without any interfering balls, and we were able to make the cue ball stop within certain zones of the table.  In my final post of this series, we will repeat the exercise from post 3, but add an object ball to make it a little more interesting.  In order to control the cue ball and make it come to rest in the appropriate zone of the table, we will be forced to make adjustments for the energy lost in collision.  In the next post, I’ll pull together all that we’ve learned in this series, and show you how to make a shot, then control the final resting spot of the cue ball.