Monthly Archives: January 2010

Mad Max

Picture 1

On the second day of the tournament, I played Max Eberle.  As I’ve already shared with you, I ended up losing my match to Max 7-8, but I wanted to tell you about the last rack that we played.  With the score tied 7-7, Max broke the rack and began running the table.  After he made three balls, he did something that really surprised me…he scratched.  So there I sat, looking at the table, and realizing that I was only six balls away from beating Max, a

Picture 2

 professional player.  The layout of the balls did not appear to be that difficult.  I thought to myself, all I have to do is remain cool, carefully plan each shot, and I could win this!  I stood with cue ball in hand and surveyed the table.  I put the cue ball down behind the 4 ball as shown in Picture 1.  In Pictures 2 – 4, I capture the result of each shot and my plan for each subsequent shot.  I executed the first four shots nearly perfectly.  On the eight ball shot as indicated in Picture 5, I had three options: (1) hit the cue ball very softly with extreme left spin and place it on the upper side rail so I could make the nine in the bottom left

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corner; (2) hit the cue ball with slight left spin and place it on the lower side rail so I could make the nine in the upper left corner; (3) hit the cue ball a little harder with a tiny bit of left spin and bounce the cue ball off the bottom rail and come back up for the nine in the upper left corner.  My analysis on these options: (shot 1) too risky because I might fail to pocket the eight ball and also might not be able to get back to the upper left rail; (shot 2) risky, because I could scratch in the side pocket; (shot 3) too much distance to travel, and if I misjudge the spin, I might scratch in the lower left corner pocket.

Picture 4

  After careful consideration, I decided that shot 2 was the least risky off all the options, but I was still a little worried about the possible scratch in the side pocket.  In retrospect, I believe this fear was the primary factor contributing to my poor execution of the shot.  When I hit the eight ball I played the spin perfectly, but I didn’t hit the shot hard enough, and the cue ball stopped about 1.5 feet short of my planned landing zone, resulting in the position shown in Picture 6.

Picture 5

The view of my last shot from the shooter’s perspective is shown in Picture 7.  My options were to play a safe or try for the bank.  I decided that a safe was too risky because if I did not execute perfectly, Max would most likely be able to make any shot that I left him.  I decided that attempting the bank shot was the best bet, given that I’ve made this shot many times before in practice.  My plan was to bank the ball into the side pocket as indicated by the black line.  I looked at the shot for a couple of minutes, then executed the shot.  Instead of

Picture 6

following the black line, the nine ball followed the blue line, hit the edge of the rail next to the side pocket, and bounced out.  (Awwww!)  Max let out a sigh of relief, then walked up and pocketed the sitting duck.  We shook hands and went our separate ways.  Sure, I would have loved to have made the shot and beaten him, but on the other hand, I think I played him pretty tough and learned a great deal from the match.  The biggest lesson learned was that professional players are not superheros; they make mistakes.  Regardless of a player’s skill level you will eventually get a chance at the table, and when you do, approach the shot with a clear objective in mind. 

Picture 7

Getting frustrated with the shot that you are given will only hurt your chances of successfully executing the shot.  I also learned that Max didn’t do anything extraordinary.  Every shot he attempted and every route he selected to move around the table was logical.  I anticipated every single move that he made; there were no surprises to me.  The only difference between me (the amateur) and him (the professional) was solid consistent execution.  That’s encouraging because I now realize that playing at that level is possible, not that it will be easy to get there, but achievable with the necessary application of hard work.  In my next post, I’ll review my overall analysis of where I’m at today, what is working, what is not, and what my next plans are.

The Hunt for Max

On Saturday morning, I had the opportunity to speak to Max Eberle, the top ranked player in the tournament.  Just before the tournament started, I looked over the brackets and realized that Max and I were in the same bracket.  My first reaction was, “Crap!  What bad luck!”  An instant later, I realized it was actually a blessing in disguise.  In order for us to play in a match, I would have to win my first three matches; certainly not an easy task given the caliber of players in the tournament.  My draw in the bracket did give me a very specific goal to work towards.  Screw the tournament!  My mission now was just to win every match until I got to Max!  I figured this would be my best chance to get into the ring with a professional.  Before the tournament started, I spoke with him a few minutes, and told him that if I got lucky, we would meet again near the end of our bracket.

In my first match, I faced a relatively young local player named Jay.   Of course I was a little nervous at the start of the match, but I think I did a pretty good job of hiding it.  He did not hide it as well. To start the match, it is customary for players to “lag for the break” to determine who gets the honors of breaking the first rack.  Getting the first break is advantageous, as the winner of each game gets to break again on the next rack.  The person who breaks has the option of running the table, or controlling the table by playing safeties.  Before the tournament began, most players were practicing shot making and stringing runs together.  Not me.  I was practicing lags!  Come to think of it, I believe I was the only player practicing lags!  When Jay and I lined up to shoot the lag shot, I wished him luck, then hit my shot.  My ball rolled up the table, bounced off the far rail, and then headed back to me.  The ball approached the near rail, rolling slower and slower, then gently touched the rail and stopped about an inch off the rail.  A nearly perfect lag.  Jay’s ball stopped about 2 ½ feet shy of the rail.  His only comment to me was, “Wow.”  I just shrugged my shoulders and acted like the shot was no big deal, but inside I was jumping up and down!  I breathed deeply to try to calm my heart rate and continued my cucumber cool act, running a few balls then playing safe.  He would have no clear shot and would usually miss.  Then I’d run a few more balls and play safe.  As I continued implementing my game strategy, Jay slowly succumbed to his nerves.  I eventually won fairly easily with a final score of 8-3.

In my second match, I was scheduled to play a woman from San Francisco named Eleanor.  I had never seen her before and had no idea what type of player she was, so I asked a friend for a scouting report.  “She’s pretty good!”  Still, I wasn’t too worried, as my first match had given me some confidence.  As I left the observation deck to walk to my table, my friend called out to me, “Hey, just make sure you don’t lose to a girl!”   Great, thanks for the pressure!   When I got to the table, Eleanor and I shook hands and shared a little small talk.  I was feeling pretty smug.  We wished each other luck, then lined up and hit our lag shots.  My ball came back nearly perfectly, stopping about an inch off the bottom rail.  The macho part of my ego grinned.  I think I even puffed my chest out a little and held my shoulders back, chin high.  I thought to myself, “It’s a man’s world baby!”  Unfortunately, when her ball returned, it stuck to the bottom rail like a fly on glue paper, an absolutely perfect shot!  She picked up the cue ball, shrugged her shoulders and shot me a dismissive glance, then walked to the front of the table to get ready for the break.  Uh-oh! Not a good sign!  She then delivered a sledgehammer break and made a ball, but didn’t have a good shot on the one ball, so she played a safe.  After her safe, I didn’t have a direct line of sight on the one ball, so I had to attempt a rail first bank just to try to make legal contact.  I successfully hit the one, but didn’t make a ball.  She sat in her chair for a moment in deep reflection, then smiled, got up, and ran the whole table.  Double Uh-Oh!!  I looked up, and my friend in the bar area was grinning from ear to ear.  He mouthed across the room, “Don’t lose to a girl!”  Great.  In game two, she didn’t make a ball on the break.  I ran three balls, and decided to play safe.  I shot an almost perfect safe.  She could not “see” the four ball at all.  Evidently, that was no problem for her.  She just bounced the cue ball off two rails and smashed the four into the corner pocket.  She paused briefly to put a little chalk on her cue tip, then promptly ran the rest of the table.  The score: Eleanor 2, Me 0.  Triple Uh-Oh!!  In my peripheral vision, I could tell someone at the bar was bent over from laughter.  I refused to look.  From that point on, my strategy changed: I was to avoid her offensive game at all costs.  My new strategy was not to run out.  To borrow a term from football, every time I approached the table, I was looking to punt.  Yes, my strategy was to wear her out and try to put a little chink in her confidence armor.  From then on, every time I got to the table, I played through the entire rack in my head, trying to identify the best opportunity to play a rock solid safe.  It seemed unlikely that I’d beat her in a pure offensive shootout, so my only option was to try to beat her with a good defense.  Then the safety battles began.  She’d shoot a safe, I’d return a safe, she’d shoot another safe, I’d return another safe.  In safety battles, eventually someone fails to make a legal hit, or aggression gets the better of a player, and you attempt a risky shot.  We traded games back and forth, but I eventually prevailed 8-6.  Whew!  Very scary match!

In my third match, I played someone who was a little younger than me, but we played very similar styles.  He won the first game, then I rattled off 4 wins in a row.  I eventually held a pretty comfortable lead at 6-2, but he battled back and tied it at 6-6.  Finally, I got a break and won the last two games to take the match 8-6.  Another win but another match that was closer than the score indicates!  I was very very excited with this win, as I now had the opportunity to play Max Eberle, the top rated player in the tournament.  I’ll tell you about that match tomorrow.

Tournament Results Day Two

The Chet Ito Memorial Tournament ended at 5:00 am this morning.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The last 4 matches lasted almost 8 hours.  Not that I was there to see it, mind you; I was eliminated from the tournament about 4:00 pm Sunday afternoon.  What a great learning experience!  While still in the winner’s bracket I faced Max Eberle, a professional player, in a race to 8.  I ended up losing to Max by a final score of 7-8.  After that match, I went to the loser’s bracket and promptly lost again 4-8.  Even so, I still finished in the money, which was my actual goal for this tournament.  I ended up placing 33rd out of 156 players, winning $75.  Certainly the toughest $75 I’ve ever earned, but probably also the most fun.  The winner, no other than Max Eberle, ended up walking away with the top prize: $3,000.  The total prize purse was well over $13,000.

Tomorrow, I’ll share a lot of details with you regarding my match with Max.  Being able to play a professional was a fantastic experience.  Later this week, I’ll also share an evaluation of my training program; what’s working, what’s not, and changes I need to make to take my game to the next level.  I’ll also share  some interesting bits of information that I gleaned from some of the players…some little nuggets of information that could help you win a game or two, or rather, prevent your opponent from doing so.  (Heh, heh, heh!)

Tournament Results Day One

I’m playing in the Chet Ito Memorial Tournament this weekend at California Billiard Club in Mountain View, California.  The two day  tournament drew 156 of the top players from Northern California, and a few players from L.A. and Reno.  In the first day of play, I went undefeated!  I played some really tough players, but kept my calm and went throught my fundamentals checklist on every shot.  I guess you could call my current playing style very methodical and plodding.  That’s fine, as long as it’s producing results.  Today’s post will be very short, as I need to get ready for day two.  My first match today will be against Max Eberle, a professional player.  Tomorrow, I’ll let you know the results.  Here’s the good news: no matter what happens today, I’m guaranteed to finish in the money!  Yipee!  Wish me luck!!