Monthly Archives: April 2010

Just Showing Off

When I was playing in a 9 ball tournament two weeks ago, I made a couple shots that I thought were pretty tough and improbable.  It got me thinking…why not put together a collection of the most improbable shots that I have made or I have personally witnessed, and share them with the world?  Making a shot that elicits cheers or positive comments from spectators is one of the magical things that keeps me and others addicted to the game of pool.  What could be more satisfying and motivating than planning a shot in your head that no one else sees, getting down to shoot the shot knowing that most of the spectators have no clue what you are about to attempt, then pulling off the seemingly impossible? Pulling off a miracle shot can make you feel like Tiger Woods felt a few years back when he was stuck behind a tree.  He didn’t give up, he just hit the golf ball off the side of an adjacent tree and it ricocheted up on the green, setting up an easy birdie putt.  But hey, I’m no Tiger Woods, nor do I play golf, but I do occasionally get lucky.  So here goes the first installment in what I will call my pool shot hall of fame.  How is it that I can remember this shot, even though I shot it over twenty years ago?  Keep reading, and you’ll understand why it has been burned into my memory forever.

Hall of Fame Shot # 1
Date:  Spring, 1988
Location: Dunwoody, Georgia
The Game: Eight Ball
The Shot:  A kick combo rail first carom rail carom shot
The Layout:

The Layout - I'm Stripes

The Story:  I was playing in a pool tournament at a sports bar that had just opened in Dunwoody, Georgia.  The game was 8 ball, and I had just committed the cardinal sin that most beginning and intermediate 8 ball players make:  I had attempted to run the table even though two of my balls were tied up, effectively preventing my run out.  If I didn’t figure out a way to complete my run, my opponent would very likely run the table and I would be eliminated from the tournament.  At this point in my pool playing career, I didn’t even know what a safe shot was, but in this case it probably wouldn’t have mattered.  It’s tough to play a good safe when you only have one or two balls on the table and your opponent has seven.  At first I thought my only option was to load up on adrenaline, blast the balls open, and hope for the best.  But was that the best option?  Hummm.  I studied the table, acknowledging the fact that my last two balls were almost kissing.  They were separated by about a millimeter.  Suddenly, I noticed that the line of centers of the two balls was pointed at an angle to the rail such that if the second stripe hit the rail, it would come off and collide with one of his solids.  The line perpendicular to the estimated collision point between the stripe and the solid was pointed to the tip of the long rail a couple inches in front of the pocket.  This meant that the second stripe, after colliding with the solid, would probably hit the rail very close to the pocket and either go directly into the pocket or collide with the 8 ball and carom back into the corner pocket.  The serendipitous arrangement of the balls had in effect created a massively large corner pocket.  I couldn’t believe my luck.  For some unknown reason, the pool gods had smiled on me:  there was a slight chance that I could make the second stripe in the corner pocket!  I had only one problem:  I couldn’t hit the second stripe directly because the first stripe was in the way, and I couldn’t hit the first stripe at the correct contact point because the angle from the cue ball to the first stripe hid the contact point and there was a solid ball in the way.  I had to figure out a way to hit the two stripe combination shot straight on in order to have a chance to make the shot.  The solution?  Just kick the cue ball off the opposite rail to get access to the correct contact point.  I pondered how much energy would be required in order to complete the entire shot, and I came up with a massive estimate.  I knew that a lot of energy was going to be lost on the collision between the second stripe and the solid due to the very very small component of force vector involved.  I studied and studied and studied the shot.  My opponent finally couldn’t take it any longer and exclaimed, “What the fuck are you looking at?  Stop stalling and shoot!”  He was pissed.  A couple of his friends snickered.  I turned, “What did you say?”  “You heard me, just shoot something.  There’s no way you can make any of your balls so just shoot something!” 

We weren’t playing call shot 8 ball, so technically I didn’t need to explain the shot ahead of time.  In this tournament anything counted as long as you hit one of your balls first.  I couldn’t resist.  I knew it was very unlikely I’d actually make the shot, but I put on an air of confidence: “OK, here’s what I’m about to shoot.  I’m going to hit the cue ball off the opposite rail and make it bounce back and hit the first stripe.  The first stripe will combo the second stripe.  The second stripe will hit the rail, bounce off, and collide with your solid.  After it hits your solid, my stripe will go sideways, hit the same rail again here (I pointed), come off and hit the 8 ball, then carom into the corner pocket.”  He could barely contain his laughter and gave me the “you’re a stupid idiot” look.  One of his friends rolled his eyes and said, “Jeeze!”  Now I was pissed.  I spent the next 20 seconds in my stance just stroking and stroking, studying the opposite rail, and making absolutely certain that I didn’t screw up the kick.  All I had to do was hit the kick shot correctly, and the pool gods would take over from there.  I took one last stroke, then hit the shot with as much force as I could muster.  Here’s how it played out:

The Shot

The cue ball came off the opposite rail and hit the first stripe straight on.  The two stripes collided, and the second stripe came off the rail and collided with his solid, bounced back to the first rail exactly where I had pointed, brushed up against the 8 ball with a gentle click, then rolled VERY slowly to the edge of the pocket, teetered briefly, then dropped.  The crowd went wild.  My opponent’s face turned blood red and one of his friends yelled, “HOLY SHIT!”  What a rush!  I had an easy out from there, and finished off the rack.  I didn’t win the tournament, but it didn’t matter.  I had made the shot of a lifetime.


Happy Anniversary!

I got up at 5 am this morning and made these cupcakes for my wife.  Somehow, she’s managed to put up  with me for 16 years.  Yipeeee!  As you can see from the picture, I had to sample one before applying the chocolate icing.  And yes, there’s butter in these, not oil.  If you’re going to be bad, might as well go all the way! 

Happy Anniversary Sweetie!!  And thanks for encouraging me to pursue this pool thing!

Mysterious Stranger Banking Secret Revealed

In my post from April 8, I told the story of a mysterious stranger who made an incredible number of bank shots.  In fact, he never missed.  How did he make all the bank shots?  Was he cheating?  No, he wasn’t cheating.  He was using a diamond based aiming system.  Remember his final words when I asked him for his secret?  “Point three point eight one point three one point seven two point oh two point seven three point two five four point oh four point five five point oh six point oh.”  Let me rewrite his final words in a different format:  “.3, .8, 1.3, 1.7, 2.0, 2.7, 3.25, 4.0, 4.5, 5.0, 6.0”.  These numbers establish the foundation for an aiming system that tells you how to bank balls into the corner pocket.  Here’s how it works.  Start at any corner pocket and move down the long rail.  Each time you pass a diamond, assign the next number in the sequence to the diamond.  When you reach the second corner pocket, assign the next number to it, turn, and keep moving up the short rail.  Once you assign all the numbers to diamonds, you will have a complete map for the entire table: a map that tells you exactly where to aim a shot in order to bank an object ball into the starting corner pocket.  Below, I’ve included a diagram to help you understand the system.

In this example, suppose you are trying to bank the object ball into the corner pocket.  Notice where the object ball is sitting on the table.  It is sitting on an imaginary line that connects the diamond labeled 2.0 on the bottom rail to a point on the opposite rail with the value of 2.0 diamonds.  How convenient!  All you have to do is hit the object ball so that it is rolling with a natural roll and traveling directly towards diamond 2.0 on the opposite rail.  The object ball will bank off the opposite rail and roll into the corner pocket.  With this system, you completely ignore the cushions – you are only concentrating on the diamonds.  This same technique can be applied from ANY point on the table.  If the object ball is not sitting directly on one of the imaginary lines, that’s no problem.  Just interpolate between the lines and adjust your aiming point on the opposite rail accordingly.  Is it really that simple?  Yes!  Well, almost.  Of course, you must minimize other sources of variation: speed of the shot, aiming variance, and cue ball spin, but knowing the exact aiming point will get you 85% there.  Now you know the secret to banking to the corner.  Good luck, and Happy Banking!

Hell Week!

What did this week look like for me?  Lots of federal taxes, state taxes, and loads of unpaid overtime at work.  But hey, that was the GOOD part of this week.  The BAD part?  Not a single day of pool practice!!  I did, however, play in a 9 ball tournament on Wednesday night.  I didn’t win the tournament, but I did play pretty well.  On Thursday, I spent a little time collecting some thoughts about my performance, and put together a list of what’s working and not working.  Here’s the list:

What was working well:
 – Shooting natural routes and staying in line on most shots
 – Mid and long range kicks
 – Mid and long range banks
 – Mid and short range very tough cut shots (near 90 degrees)
 – Long and Mid distance safeties
 – Combinations (2 for 2)
 – Break shots (Made the 9 on the break 3/13 breaks!)

What was not working well:
 – Short (acute angle) kicks
 – Short (acute angle) banks
 – Long range reverse cuts ~ half ball hits (CB hits the right side of the OB)
 – Very long range tough cuts (~80 degrees: missed 3 of 4 shots)
 – Scratched the cue ball in the side pocket 4 innings in a row! (I bet I couldn’t do that again if I tried!)

Tournament Summary: Most games started with safety battles to get control of the table.  Due to all the practice I put in over the last couple of weeks on banks and kicks (mostly kicks), I was able to play this part of the game pretty effectively.  I still missed some small angle kicks, but I was pretty pleased with my mid and long distance kicks. 

In my first match, I somehow managed to scratch in the same side pocket 4 innings in a row.  That was pretty unbelieveable.  Eventually, my opponent got to the hill 3 games before me.  On the hill, he broke and didn’t make anything.  I hit a table length 1-9 bank combo for the win.  (I’ll diagram that one tomorrow!)  On the next rack, I broke and made the 9 on the break.  Then we were hill-hill.  On my next break, I made a ball, could see the 1 ball, and ran the table for the win.  Wahoooo!

What’s next?  Overall, I was very happy with my progress on banks and kicks.  It made my early game play much stronger, but I still have a lot of work to do.  I’m planning to spend the next two weeks working on nothing but kicks, banks, and safeties.  These are the tools that allow you to fight through the initial battles to control the table, and can earn you ball in hand, which often leads to wins.

The Most Important Thing

This article is the second post that I’ve written in coordination with other pool bloggers.  On the 15th of each month, we write articles based on a common theme.  This month’s theme is “The Most Important Thing.”  To see articles written by my fellow bloggers this month, visit Mike McCafferty’s host page.

I died at 2:30 in the afternoon.  That much I know for sure.  It may have been a week ago, a month ago, or even a year ago.  I’m not quite sure since there are no mechanisms here to track the passage of time.  When I arrived at the pearly gates, I was told to stand in a special line: the line for those souls who were granted the privilege of sharing one last message with the world before passing away.  No one in Sunday school told me that Saint Peter would ask me one final question before making a decision on my passage through the gates. 

Saint Peter had asked each of us in line the same question: “What did you communicate with your last words?”  The gentleman in front of me had visited his family and encouraged them to set aside their differences and work together in harmony.  A woman told of communicating with missionaries to save lost souls in a far region of the world.  Both of them were granted passage to the promised land.  Me?  Well, when I told Saint Peter what I had said with my last few words, he shook his head and told me to wait here with rest of the pool players.

I still remember my last few minutes on Earth.  The Doctor had given me only a few hours to live.  “You should go home and rest,” he said.  Instead, I went to the pool hall.  My nephew was shooting in a tournament and I wasn’t going to miss it.  When I arrived, he was practicing at a table in the corner.  After rolling up in my wheelchair, an Angel of the Lord appeared to me and whispered in my ear that it was my turn to climb Jacob’s ladder, but the Big Man upstairs had granted me the privilege of sharing one last piece of wisdom with the world before I expired.  The only catch?  My message had to be conveyed in 20 words or less.

The clock was ticking.  What words of wisdom should I share?  To whom should I share them?  I watched as my nephew struggled at the table, trying in vain to make improvements to his game.  Hummmm.  What could I share with him?  What was the most important thing?  What could I convey that would radically change his game for the better?  I considered the options.  I could tell him to work on fundamentals such as developing a balanced stance, creating a solid immovable bridge hand, shooting with a level cue, or using a smooth stroke, but there were plenty of books on the market that covered these topics.  Maybe I should tell him to just relax, enjoy the game more, be more social.  Or better yet, I could recommend that he hook up with a professional and take some lessons.  As I pondered the last words that I would deliver, I watched him bang balls around.  He hit shots with amazing force, sending object balls flying around the table at high speeds.  Bank shots were coming up short, object balls were rattling in the jaws of pockets, and he was working up a sweat with his frenetic pace.  As I sat and watched, I got more and more irritated and could no longer contain myself.  I blurted out, “Stop hitting the balls so damn hard!  Ninety percent of your shots should be characterized by very gentle clicking sounds… ahhccckkkk!”  And that was it – I had used up my twenty words and kicked the bucket.  Was it the best use of my final words?  Maybe so…maybe not.  Oh well, what’s done is done.

Now I sit with the other misfits, waiting for the Big Man upstairs to make a final decision on my fate.  No one seems to be in any hurry, which suits me just fine.  Three or four thousand fellow miscreants are gathered around that old pool table in the sky, watching Mosconi and Greenleaf play one final match of 14.1 continuous in a race to 1,000,000.  Greenleaf is ahead 834,766 to 831,995, but Mosconi is on a high run of 2,645 points and shows no sign of slowing down.  I guess there are worse ways to spend eternity.

A Banking and Kicking Fool

Filed my taxes yesterday and it looks like I’m getting some money back.  Wahooo!  After filing my return, a friend of mine called and wanted to play a quick match during lunch, so we met at California Billiards and shot a few games of eight ball and nine ball.  The focused practice on kicks and banks paid off big time.  On bank shots, I made 3 out of 4, which is a huge improvement from historical levels.  For kick shots, I hit 100% of all kicks, and even make a kick shot for the win in 8 ball.   Just for fun, I diagrammed the 8 ball kick shot.  In the previous inning, I had started to run the table, but lost position on the 8 ball and had to turn control of the table over to my opponent.  Instead of attempting a runout, my opponent played the safety as diagrammed in the figure above.  My only option was to try a one-rail kick (or two rail kick) off the long rail with left spin to stretch the angle out.  Both the one-rail and two-rail shots would have worked since the object ball (8 ball) was so close to the short rail.   The actual kick ended up being a two rail kick, and the 8 ball went down for the win.

Tomorrow, I will be posting my article for the April installment of PoolSynergy.  Hope to see you again tomorrow!

A week in review

Well, it’s Monday, so I guess I should at least provide an update on what I’ve been doing over the last several days.  It turns out, I was a little bit ahead of schedule on my plan to master all of the shots from The Pro Book by August 31st, so I decided to take a week off from my training schedule and focus exclusively on Kicks and Banks.  I felt this was needed given the obvious lack of skills I had displayed in some recent matches.   I think I’ve made pretty good progress on both.  I’ve now researched, developed, and memorized a map of the exact aiming points for any one-rail kick or one-rail bank to any pocket from any location on the table.  Now that I have these maps in my head, I figure even with my worst effort, I’ll at least get the object ball (banking) or cue ball (kicking) within an inch or two of the intended pocket.  The good news is that the routes I’ve memorized are applicable even if the final target is not a pocket, so theoretically I can bank or kick to any final destination on the table.  Memorizing the maps was the “easy” part; now I need to continue focusing on shot execution to refine these techniques and improve accuracy.  In a future post, I’ll share the aiming systems with you, and also provide the answer to the riddle from last Thursday’s post titled, “The Hustler and the Mysterious Stranger.”

The Hustler and the Mysterious Stranger

On a warm stormy evening,
In a pool room up to no good,
I met up with a Hustler,
We were both too tired to shoot,
So we took turns a starin’,
Through the pool room in the darkness,
The boredom overtook us,
And he began to speak.
He said, “Michael, I’ve made a life,
Out of reading players’ faces,
Knowing what their speed was,
By the way they held their cues,
So if you don’t mind my sayin’…. 

The corny monologue was cut short by a blinding flash of light and we were shaken by a sonic boom.  KA BOOOM!  As the echoes of thunder faded, the hustler exclaimed, “WOW!  That was a close one!”  I turned to look at the hustler seated next to me.  Years of living on the road had not been kind to him.  His faded and torn blue jeans and the worn soles of his shoes were subtle reminders of the tough existence he had carved out for himself.  The shiny faux-platinum watch on his wrist and the large gold nugget ring on his left pinky failed to hide the truth of his station in life.  I turned my attention back to the empty tables in front of me.  As my eyes readjusted to the darkness, I suddenly realized there was a guy standing next to table number eight that I had not noticed a moment before.  He was rather tall, maybe six foot three, and wore a tattered oil cloth jacket that shimmered slightly when he moved.  I could never get a good look at his face, but had the distinct impression that he was old…very old.  I leaned over and nudged the hustler, “Hey, check out that guy.  Where did he come from?”  The hustler turned his head and grunted, “Hummph.  I never saw him come in…never seen him in here before.” 

We watched as the stranger moved silently around the table, setting up a string of fifteen balls right down the middle of the table, each separated by a few inches.  I leaned closer to the Hustler, “What’s he up to?”  The Hustler grunted noncommittally and shrugged his shoulders, never taking his eyes off the stranger.  The stranger was standing a few feet away from the table.  He slowly chalked the tip of his cue; his eyes sharp and focused intensely on the balls.  After a few seconds he approached the table, moving with the eerie smoothness of a cat sneaking up on a mouse.  When he reached the table, he bent at the waist and placed his bridge hand on the cloth.  In one smooth motion, he pulled his shooting arm back then stroked through the first ball.  The ball hit the far rail and rebounded cleanly into the corner pocket…a perfect kick.  He stood, repositioned himself a couple inches down the table, and fired again.  The object ball ricocheted off the far rail and landed squarely in the corner pocket…another perfect kick.  He continued down the table: stand, move, set, fire, stand, move, set, fire.  He worked his way down the line like a well oiled machine, all fifteen shots a work of perfection.

I glanced to the hustler sitting next to me.  As our eyes met, he raised an eyebrow, shrugged his shoulders, and turned back to watch the stranger.  Again, the odd guy was setting up a line of fifteen balls down the middle of the table, each a couple inches apart.  Then he produced a cue ball from his jacket pocket and placed it next to the line.  The hustler leaned over and whispered in my ear, “He’s gonna try to bank them all in the same corner pocket.  He’ll never do it.  Kicks and banks require slightly different aiming points…most people don’t know that.”  The stranger studied the table for a few moments, got into his shooting stance behind the cue ball, and fired the first shot.  The object ball banked off the far rail and obediently rolled into the corner pocket.  Simultaneously, the cue ball reversed direction, rebounded off the near rail, and rolled perfectly in line for the second shot.  The stranger stood, chalked his cue tip again, and got into position for the next shot.  I glanced over to the hustler to get his take on the situation, but he didn’t return my look.  A bead of sweat rolled down his temple and he tapped his fingers nervously as he stared at the table.  The stranger was at it again.  He worked his way down the line like a Gatlin gun firing in slow motion, all fifteen bank shots perfectly executed with the cue ball obediently moving into perfect position for the next shot as if controlled by an invisible string.

The stranger placed another set of fifteen balls on the table and started again.  After a couple minutes of flawless shooting, the hustler stood.  I turned my head, “Hey, you don’t want to watch this?”  He shook his head and studdered, “N-Nah, I gotta go…gotta go see somebody.”  He turned and quickly exited out the side door.  I stayed and watched for another fifteen minutes as the stranger cleared table after table, each shot a perfectly executed bank.  KA BOOM!  Another crack of lightning, this time REALLY close.  The building shook with thunder.  I glanced over my shoulder to the bar to ask Dave if we should kill the lights.  Dave wave waved off my concerns.  When I turned my head back, I realized the stranger was no longer at the table.  He was standing at the front door, cue case on his back, staring out into the torrential rain.  “Wow, that’s odd,” I thought to myself.  Not wanting to miss the opportunity to pick up some pointers from him, I called out, “Hey, Mister!”  He didn’t acknowledge my call, and continued to stare through the glass door.  I raised my voice, “Hey Mister!  How did you make all those bank shots?  What’s your system?”  No response.

I stood from my chair and began moving across the room toward him.  “Excuse me, Sir.  Could you tell me the secret to your banking…”  CRAAACK!  A bolt of lightning hit VERY close and the power went out.  The entire room was plunged into darkness.  I could still make out the stranger’s silhouette against the front doorway.  He turned his head slightly toward me and opened his mouth, emitting a weak raspy sound not unlike the sound of a crypt being opened for the first time in a thousand years.  His voice was watery, as if he were speaking from the bottom of a well.  “My secret?” he hissed.  I stood in silence, unsure of myself and too afraid to respond.  He lowered his head for a moment, then delivered the following words with a slow robotic cadence, “Point three point eight one point three one point seven two point oh two point seven three point two five four point oh four point five five point oh six point oh.”   CRAAACK!  The lightning temporarily blinded me and my hair stood on end.  When my eyes readjusted to the darkness, I realized the stranger was gone.  I dashed through the front door, hoping to catch him in the parking lot and ask him to explain what he meant by his words.  I looked up and down the street, but he was nowhere to be seen.  “What the heck?  Where did he go?”

I walked back inside, drenched from the rain.  “Hey Dave!  Did you hear what that spooky ole guy said?”  “Yeah, I heard it…what did you make of it?”  “I have no clue.” Dave responded, “Yeah, and he slipped out without paying his table time.”

I thought about his cryptic words and tried to make sense of them.  After a few moments of reflection, a light went off in my head, and a broad grin slowly spread across my face.  “Hey Dave, I’ll pay for his table time.”  Dave looked surprised.  “Why would you do that?”  I could barely contain my excitement and beamed, “Because, in his final words I found an ace that I could keep.”

What was it that I had figured out?