Monthly Archives: October 2010

El Paso Trip – What a blast!

I returned from El Paso late last night.  What a trip!  Let’s start from the beginning.  First, I boarded a plane in San Jose and discovered that Southwest Airlines now serves airplane shaped crackers (cute!).  After a few minutes I started to get bored and began playing with my food.  First, I placed the crackers in a configuration like a set of billiard balls.  Suddenly I realized, “Hey, this isn’t a rack of balls at all, but rather, 15 very skilled pilots demonstrating their flying acumen.”  And speaking of flying skills, I began to wonder: “What would happen if you blindfolded these pilots and asked them to perform tight aerobatic maneuvers?”  I ran a quick simulation using my crackers and confirmed that a mid-air collision was probable.  

Airplanes in formation : Mid-Air Collision!

Then I wondered, “What would happen if a pilot encountered a tornado, and did not have adequate time to evade?”  Once again, a simulation yielded the answer.  After completing several additional simulations I realized a flight attendant had stopped in the aisle next to me, glaring at my handiwork.  She had a scowl on her face and gave me a look that said, “If you don’t eat those damn crackers, I’m gonna ring your neck!”  I quickly disposed of the evidence.

"Look out! There's a tornado ahead of...(ack!)"

On Tuesday night I met up with some friends from work and we headed out to a restaurant called Cattleman’s Steakhouse, located about 30 minutes east of El Paso, TX.  Basically, you drive east until you don’t see any civilization, then exit the interstate, turn north, and drive into the desert.  After another 5 or 10 minutes you come upon this restaurant…in the middle of the desert…in the middle of nowhere.  Unfortunately, the sun had already set so I couldn’t take pictures of the rattlesnake pit, the full sized lake (lined with cement), the herd of deer (in a gated pen), the flock of peacocks sitting on the roof of the restaurant, or the various wooden chuck wagons that littered the lawn.  I did manage, however, to get a picture of the restaurant entrance.

Welcome to the Promised Land!

Guess what this restaurant is famous for?  Steaks.  BIG STEAKS!  (We were in Texas, you know!)  Here’s a picture of my friend’s 3 pound T-bone.  Whaahoooo!  The off-the-menu special was smoked rattlesnake.  Of course…I had to try some!  What did it taste like?  Chicken of course!  (Note the bowl full of rattlesnake bones in the picture)    😉 

3 lb. T-Bone Steak and Smoked Rattlesnake (Yummy!)

The coolest part of the restaurant was the coyotes.  Yep, REAL coyotes.  At night they descend from the hills and come up to the restaurant looking for table scraps, varmits, deaf or blind peacocks, etc.  Occasionally the coyotes put on a show for the restaurant patrons, killing a local rat and tossing its bloody mangled body around, or just fighting with each other.  No such fun events that night, but I did get several pictures of the night creatures from my dining table.   This must be the REAL wild west!  Yaaaahoooooo!!!

Two Wile E. Coyotes arrive looking for dinner!

After finishing off my 2 pound steak, baked potato, and pecan pie, I headed off to Clicks Billiards in El Paso with the primary objective of moving the cue ball around a little.  My secondary objective was to stave off a meat and potato induced coma.  When I arrived at Clicks around 9 pm, the place was pretty deserted.  Only two 8 foot tables were occupied, and no one was playing on any of the 9 foot Gold Crowns.  I decided to shoot some practice drills on a 9 footer and work on my breaking technique.  As is often the case, I got so into the zone during my practice session that I totally forgot to take any pictures of the place, and I also forgot to use my iPhone break speed app.  Bummer!!!  I do have to say, though, that I shot fantastic with my backup backup cue.  Maybe I should make it my primary cue!  After about 1.5 hours of shooting drills, two guys walked up and started playing 9 ball a couple tables over from me.  I was tired of shooting drills, so I switched to playing a version of 8 ball where each inning I make a shot and then play into a safe.  After the safe, I try to make a good kick, make a shot, then play safe again, etc.  One of the guys must have been watching me for about 30 minutes and assumed I was missing lots of shots and therefore couldn’t really play.  He approached and asked if I wanted to play a little 9 ball.  I said sure.  He seemed happy.  Then he asked, “Hey, you want to make it a little interesting?  You know, play a cheap set?”  I grinned inwardly, then glanced at my watch.  It was 11:05 pm.  I declined and informed him that I had to leave at 11:30 pm, but I would be glad to play him to see who’s really the better player.  He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Sure, suit yourself.”  At 11:30 pm sharp, my ride to the hotel was standing at the front door, and I was on top 7-1 after running a two pack.  It’s little victories like these that keep me going.  Oh, by the way, remember I said I forgot to take any pictures at Clicks?  Well, here’s a picture I took the next afternoon through the car window on my way to the airport.  Yeah, it’s a terrible picture, but maybe it’s better than nothing.

Clicks Billiard's silhouette as I speed to the airport...

Headed to El Paso, Texas

I’m sitting in the San Jose airport right now, typing away on my iPhone. Technology!! I’m flying to El Paso, TX on a business trip. This is the first time since 9/11 that I’ll be flying with a pool cue. I knew that I would have to put it in the checked luggage, so I bought a really cheap 1/1 cue case a couple days ago and decided to bring my backup backup cue…just in case it doesn’t make it to my final destination. It’s a McDermott/Breedlove cue that plays very similarly to my primary McDermott. Immediately after booking my airline tickets, I contacted “BlackJack” David Sapolis to get a recommendation on places to play in the El Paso area that have Brunswick Gold Crowns. He suggested that I check out Clicks Billiards on Airway, right off I-10. If anyone happens to be in the El Paso area tonight, drop by Clicks and let’s hit a few. I’ll be there practicing for a few hours…

What to work on next?

After reviewing my performance this week and assessing strengths and weaknesses, I’ve come up with the following list of items that I need to work on next week.  They all can be found under The Drills tab:
 – Fundamentals 5 drill
 – Rolling safe drill
 – One ball safe drill
 – Corner banking system
 – Classic drill 1
 – Cut shot drill 3
 – Cut shot drill 4
 – Mind chatter (elimination thereof) – Ok, so this one is not in my drills section.  Maybe it should be.

The 95% Rule

I was at Lucky Shot Billiards in Sunnyvale last night for APA league night.  In the first game of my match, my opponent broke and didn’t make anything. I looked at the table, saw three sets of clusters that would prevent a run out, but I decided to go for it anyway (too aggressive!). I was able to navigate through the layout and break up the three clusters, but I lost position on the last ball and was forced to attempt a tough bank. I missed. With a wide open table, my opponent ran out.  In my second game, my opponent made a ball on the break but missed his first shot. I didn’t like the layout of my balls, so I played a shot/safe where I intended to open up a couple of my balls that were frozen together. I hit one ball out and tried to freeze the cue ball behind the other, but got a little sloppy and left my opponent a makeable ball. Two or three minutes later, I was down 0-2.

Shot Decision Process

Even though I was shooting pretty good and made just two mistakes, those two mistakes had resulted in two losses. I knew my opponent was capable of running out if I gave him the chance, so I had to change my strategy. For the remainder of the match, I decided to implement my “95% Rule.” The rule is as follows: “Before every single shot, assess the layout of the table. If I’m not at least 95% confident I can run the entire rack, look for the best safe and play into it.” For the remainder of the match I easily played 30-40 safes, trying my best to prevent my opponent from being able to see any of his balls. That proved to be the differentiator, and I eventually won the match 5-2. The only downside? The match took over two hours! (uuggggghh!)

There’s an app for that, Part II

In the “for what it’s worth” category, yesterday someone asked me about the weights of the cues that I used in the break speed study.  I honestly didn’t know, so today I snuck my cues into our laboratory and weighed them.  The results:
(1) Bautista:  19.097 ounces  (15.090 butt, 4.007 shaft)
(2) McDermott:  19.062 ounces (15.704 butt, 3.358 shaft)
Not much difference in weight (the Bautista was slightly heavier), but certainly a difference in breaking performance.  I suspected the Bautista cue would yield higher speeds as the shaft is much stiffer.  Here’s a little picture of the weigh in, if you like pictures…

There’s an app for that!

I recently downloaded the Break Speed app for my iPhone.  It’s very simple to use and is pretty nifty.  The application allows you to specify the size table you are playing on and requires that you specify (graphically) where you are placing the cue ball when you break.  I found the app to be very useful.  It provides quantitative feedback on your breaking speed as you experiment with the few variables that you can control in an effort to help you refine your breaking technique.  Recently, I tested my two primary playing cues to see if there was any difference in performance when used for the break shot: 
(1) My playing cue: A McDermott model D7
(2) My backup cue: A custom made Bautista

Here’s the raw data that I collected with the iPhone app:

Here’s a boxplot of the data:

Yep, the Bautista is a better breaking cue for me…if my criterion is breaking speed.  I’ll continue to work on my break to maximize speed while at the same making sure that I keep the cue ball under control.

No, I don’t want too…

My Feelings Today

I had a revelation last night as I was banging balls around at South First Billiards in San Jose, CA.  Ok, I guess it wasn’t really a ‘revelation,’ it was more like a re-reminder of what I already knew.  I should be allocating more of my practice time to working on my Fundamentals.  What made me realize this?  Well, I have been periodically checking in on the US Open and following Max Eberle’s progress in the tournament.  Max won his first and second round matches (congrats Max!), and will now face Mika Immonen in round three (My condolences Max!).  I had the opportunity to play against Max in a tournament in January of this year, and in talking to him after our match I will always remember how he preached the value of working on fundamentals.  I also preach the value of working on fundamentals, but sometimes, I just don’t want to.  Shooting some of the other drills that I have and running balls is much more fun.  Whaaaaaa!  “Ok,” I tell myself, “suck it up and get to work!”  Ok, ok.  Here’s my workout plan for the rest of this week.  All of these drills can be found under “The Drills” tab:

Tuesday
Fundamentals 1 – 5
Standard Routes Drill

Wednesday
Fundamentals 2 – 5
Standard Routes Drill
Rolling Safe Drill

Thursday
Fundamentals 3 – 5
Challenge Drills 1 – 4
One Ball Safe Drill
Rolling Safe Drill

Friday
Fundamentals 3 – 5
Standard Routes Drill