Monthly Archives: March 2011

A Real Pain In The Neck!

It started four days ago.  I’m not sure exactly what I did, but I woke up Sunday morning with a pain in my neck.  It wasn’t too bad at first, just a small pain that I could power through.  It eventually went away, and I had a fantastic practice session at California Billiards.   Then Monday hit, and the pain was back… with a vengeance.  No practice for me that day!  On Tuesday morning it was worse – my neck was so stiff I couldn’t turn my head at all.  I knew there was no way I would be able to play that day, so I called ahead and took the night off from my Tuesday night APA team.  By Wednesday afternoon things weren’t much better, so I didn’t play for my own APA team.  This really sucks!  No pool for four days?

Tonight, I decided I couldn’t take it anymore.  I had to go to California Billiards.  I grabbed my pool cue case and my laptop bag and headed out.  I had some work to do (it’s performance review time kiddos!), so I figured I’d connect to work from the pool hall (free internet access!) and once my neck loosened up I’d shoot a few games.  Well, I got lots of work done, but my stinkin neck wouldn’t let me get to the table.  Aarrrggghhh!

I gave up hope, grabbed my goodies, threw them in the truck, and headed toward home.  I struggled to vanquish an onslaught of negative thoughts…players practicing and laughing at me because I could no longer keep up with them… me losing my touch and regressing back to where I was six months ago… visiting my doctor and discovering that I have a rare case of neck-stiffyitis which is incurable, and I’ll never be able to play again…and on and on and on.  I glance at my clock…9:38pm.  Suddenly, I see a red flash of light out of the corner of my eye…….

WHOAH!   I SLAM ON THE BREAKS!

EEeeeerrrrrrrrggggghhHHHHH!

 THE HOT DOUGHNUT SIGN IS ON!

I whip my truck around and stand on the gas pedal.  The engine screams and claws for oxygen as I careen through the median.  OH HELL YES, THERE’S HOPE!  Within 45 seconds I pull up to the front of Krispy Kreme, engine still gasping for air.  I leap from the driver’s seat with my iPhone in hand… and I’ve got the whole place to myself!!

Krispy Kreme! And I've Got The Whole Place To Myself!

I notice that the hot doughnut sign is now turned off, so I quickly head inside to secure the goods.  What I find is nothing short of a miracle…thousands of super-hot melt in your mouth doughnut holes are cascading from the doughnut machinery.  WHAAAHOOOOO!  Twenty-four hot doughnut holes later, I’m starting to feel pretty good again.  There’s not much a hot doughnut can’t fix! Maybe I’ll get back to the table tomorrow…oh yeah, I’m sure of it!

Heaven on Earth: Hot Krispy Kreme Doughnuts!

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The Best Practice Session Ever – Part II

In my last post I mentioned that my 1.5 hour practice session on Sunday was my best practice session ever.  Why?  The first reason, as mentioned in my last post, is that I found a way to drastically improve my 9 Ball break.  I virtually eliminated scratching, and improved the probability of making a ball on the break from ~40% to ~87%.  That’s a huge difference…and with just one hour of work!  The second reason?  I made huge improvements in my kicking game.

Several months ago I published a banking map which showed how to bank balls into the corner pocket from anywhere on the table.  The system usually worked well for my banking game, and I utilized the same map to guide my kicking game.  I noted over time that although the system worked well for shorter kicks to the corner, table length kicks were somewhat unreliable.  I had a couple matches last week in which my opponent played some long distance safeties on me.  Even though I really focused and tried my best to use the system to hit the required kicks, some of them missed, and a couple missed badly.  That was it.  Something had to change.  Here’s my original banking map:

Original Corner Banking System

On Sunday, prior to my 9 Ball breaking efforts, I worked on my kicks.  I got all the balls out and started working on short kicks to the corner, utilizing the banking map previously mentioned.  The system worked pretty well once I remembered that I was supposed to hit the cue ball with a normal follow stroke, not center ball, and not running English.  As I worked my way down the length of the table, the system worked well until I made the turn at the far corner and started up the short rail.  If have no idea why…I have no idea what changed…but my short rail numbers were WAY off.  Below you will see my new kicking map, which gave me very reliable kicks.  Although I don’t understand why the numbers changed, I don’t really care.  All I know is that I can now hit the corner pocket reliably from anywhere.  Actually, I can theoretically hit any spot on the table from anywhere.  The beauty of this system is that it can be used regardless of what your final target point is.  I should point out that systems like this are highly individualized.  The numbers in my kicking map were empirically derived from data gathered during my practice session.  Your numbers may be a little different because of differences between you and I (i.e. stroke mechanics, cue ball cueing location, eyesight, speed of stroke, etc.), but my numbers should provide you with a great starting point.  So get out there are practice your kicks!

New Corner Kicking System

The Best Practice Session Ever!

I only had one and a half hours today to squeeze in a short practice session and I wanted to make the most of it, so prior to arriving at the California Billiard Club (CBC) I made a short list of things I wanted to work on.  This was my list:
 1. The corner pocket drill (Classic 1) – to work on my short game
 2. Kicks to the corner pocket – a lot of my kicks have been off recently
 3. One-rail kicks – ditto above
 4. 9 Ball break shots – I’ve been scratching a lot lately (~40%)

The first lesson I learned today was the power of making a list and sticking to the plan.  Today’s practice session was probably my most valuable practice session ever.  Ever!  I learned so much that I started typing notes into my iPhone to make sure I captured it all.   I think I have enough new information to fill a week’s worth of blog posts, but I’m going to cover just one item today:  The 9 Ball break shot.

Traditionally I’ve always broken 9 Ball racks from a location about six inches to the right of the head spot.  Why?  I don’t know.  That’s the same location from which I normally shoot 8 Ball break shots, so I guess I just adopted the same location for 9 Ball.  Over the last several months I’ve been very disappointed with the number of times I’ve scratched on the break (~40%), and also the number of dry breaks that I’ve gotten.  I decided to move my break location today after remembering my experiences playing against Jeff Gregory a couple months ago.  Jeff has one of the best 9 Ball break shots I’ve ever seen, and today I started experimenting with variations of his technique.  I’ll shorten the story now and just get right to the point:  I made drastic changes to my technique, and here’s the data on my new 9 Ball break shot (data from 30 breaks after I honed my new technique):
 1.  P(sink some ball somewhere on the break) = ~ 86.6%
 2.  P(sink the 5 ball into pocket 6 on the break) = ~ 73.3%
 3.  P(sink the 1 ball into pocket 3 on the break) = ~ 36.7%
 4.  P(sink the 2 ball into pocket 4 on the break) = ~ 20.0%
 5.  P(sink the 8 ball into pocket 2 on the break) = ~ 10.0%
 6.  P(sink the 4 ball into pocket 1 on the break) = ~ 10.0%
 7.  P(sink the cue ball somewhere on the break) = ~ 3.3% 

Here’s how I was racking the balls to make it easier to track them:

Cue Ball Location, Pocket Designation, & Rack Configuration

 Here’s my technique (I’m right handed):
 1. I leave 3 3/8” between the cue ball and the left side rail on the head string (i.e. the left edge of the cue ball is 1.5 ball spaces from the left side rail)
 2. I hit the cue ball about ½ tip below center (no spin)
 3. I aim directly at the center of the head ball (actually, just a very slight hair to the left of center)
 4. When I stroke, I don’t use ANY body motion AT ALL.  I just stroke the shot from the elbow down!  Yes, I know it sounds strange…I’ll explain later.
 5. I make sure I’ve chalked the tip, and bridge off the side rail.
 6. I make sure I think about fundamentals…technique here is much more important than speed.

That’s it!

The stroke that I learned today (not moving any part of my body) is probably unique.  It is significantly different from what all other players do, at least that I’m aware of.  Why did I adopt this approach?  I made the decision to give up a lot of speed to make sure that I hit my stroke with the least amount of variation possible.  (My breaking speed decreased from ~23.5mph to ~19.5 mph)  The biggest shocker was the unbelievable consistency in the ball pocketing results.  On every break, the same balls were taking almost EXACTLY the same path every single time!  Even when I didn’t pocket a ball as I explained above, the balls were still very close.  It was a little spooky!

I hope this information helps you with your break shots.  My plan is to work on this breaking technique, change some of the variables slightly, and see if I can improve upon the results.  With a little practice you should be able to replicate this and improve upon it also.  Good luck!

Can I beat Efren Reyes?

I will be playing in the Seminole Pro Tour 10 Ball Event at California Billiards on April 29.  Since I don’t play very much 10 Ball, I figured it would be a good idea to practice the game.  Last night at the CBC I practiced my 10 Ball break to see if I could run a rack.  Well, I’m happy to report that miracles do happen.  On my very first break, I pocketed two balls, ran three balls, and then was able to make a fairly routine 5-10 combination shot for a run out.  On my second break, I got lucky again, made one ball, and was able to run the whole table out.  From that point on, it was all downhill.  I stopped the exercise after 12 racks, so my final tally was 2 break and runs in 12 attempts.  Not too bad for me.

I was feeling pretty good about my run out percentage, so I began wondering…suppose I get lucky and draw Efren Reyes in the first round of the tournament.  What are the chances that I could beat him?  On any given day, it’s possible that one player can get really hot and run some tables.  If the other player is really cold, it could be a rout.  Ok, let’s be honest – anyone who thinks they can actually beat Efren in a race to 9 format is either insane or at best delusional, but the mental exercise can still be fun.  What would it take for me to be able to beat Efren?  I decided to do a little analysis to figure out the answer.  Here are my assumptions:

  1. Efren is a better shot maker than me. (No, really?!)
  2. Efren is the better safety player than me.  (Duh!!)
  3. Efren’s lag shot and break are better than mine.
  4. Every component of Efren’s game is much better than mine.
  5. I completed 2 break and runs in a row last night (incidentally, my first in 10 Ball!)
  6. I have occasionally hit a perfect lag shot.
  7. I’m in trouble!

Well, so far, it’s not looking very good…but let’s not give up hope yet.  As Jim Carrey’s character Lloyd said in the movie, Dumb and Dumber, “…there’s a chance!”  If you’re one of the five people on this planet who are not familiar with this quote, you must see the video below:

Efren is a very tough opponent because he’s not going to miss very many shots, and if he can’t make a shot, he’s going to play a hellacious safe and get ball in hand.  The way I figure it, the only way I can beat Efren is to never allow him to get to the table.  How could I do that?  First of all, I would have to win the lag.  Secondly, I could never let him get to the table.  What are the chances I can do that?  Let’s look at this situation from a probabilistic standpoint.  If I could maintain an average run out rate of 16.66% (very unlikely), and could somehow win the lag (I figure maybe a 15% chance since I have home field advantage), here’s the chance of me running 9 straight racks and defeating Efren:

P(Michael>Efren) = (0.15)(.16666)^9 = 1.4884E-8

In layman’s terms, the chance of me beating Efren is about 0.00000149%.  That’s a REALLY small number.  To help you understand just how small that number is, let’s compare it to the probability of some real world phenomena. 

  1. P(Struck by lightning this year) = 1.736E-7 = 0.00001736%
  2. P(Dating a Supermodel) = 1.136E-5 = 0.00114%
  3. P(Spotting a UFO today) = 3.333E-7  = .0000333%

Turns out, it’s more likely that I’ll date a Supermodel, spot a UFO, and get struck by lightning before I beat Efren.  Hummm…the odds are not that good, but hey, I’ve still got a chance!!!!

How I Played the Shot

In my last post, I presented a game situation and asked for ideas on how to handle the situation.  I really liked Gary’s first suggestion which was to take an intentional foul and just roll my last stripe up against my opponent’s solid to tie it up.  I never even thought about this option – in fact I rarely think about intentional foul options, but they come up quite often and can make a big difference in the outcome of a match.  Thanks Gary for opening my eyes to another strategic possibility!  😉

How did I play it?  My very first thought was to play a safe.  The only safe I could think of is depicted in the diagram below.  I could try to contact the stripe and draw the cue ball up against the rail and kiss his solid.  There were a couple problems with this thought…it’s a very difficult touch shot and I didn’t think I could see enough of the strip to pull off the draw.  I knew if I didn’t pull off a perfect safe my opponent would run out.  No doubt.  I immediately discarded the safety idea.  If I was going down, I wanted to go down swinging.

My initial thought...play a safety

I then considered the three offensive options depicted in the diagrams below:  (1) Maybe I could “throw” the stripe into the corner pocket by leveling my cue and softly applying hard right English.  If I could hit enough of the solid, the right spin from the cue ball would transfer into left spin on the stripe and spin it into the pocket.  (2) After much consideration, I didn’t think I could pull of #1 because I couldn’t see enough of the stripe, but MAYBE if I elevated my cue I could masse the cue ball around the solid and make contact with the stripe and cut it cleanly into the pocket.  (3) After elevating my cue and looking at the angle, I didn’t think I could masse precisely enough over such a short distance, so I then considered a jump shot.  I only needed to jump a sliver of the solid, but for some reason I just didn’t feel comfortable with the shot…and I didn’t want to risk the foul, ball in hand, and a certain loss.

Option 1: Throw the ball into the corner

Option 2: Masse the cueball and cut the stripe

Option 3: Jump the solid and cut the stripe

Suddenly I realized the cross corner bank path was open.  If I was going down, I didn’t want to lose on a ‘gimmick’ shot, much less on a miscue.  The cross corner shot was difficult but it was a ‘normal’ shot requiring proper aiming and a good stroke.  My only concern (besides simply missing the shot) was the potential cue ball kiss coming off the short rail.  At bit of good news:  the natural path of the cue ball off the short rail would take it down table for position on the eight…if I made the bank, and if I avoided the kiss.  Also, if I missed the bank shot, my opponent would probably have a long first shot.  At that point the decision was pretty easy.  The diagram below shows how the shot played out.  The angle of hit from the cue ball to the stripe was very slight, so I had to hit the cue ball pretty hard to impart enough energy to the stripe to allow it to make it to the cross corner.  The cue ball hit the stripe, rebounded off the short rail, and made it back to the potential kiss point just before the stripe arrived, missing the kiss.  The stripe miraculously went directly into the cross corner, and the cue ball ended up about 1 diamond from the eight for an easy win.  Congrats Gary on identifying the shot, and giving it a name!

The Solution: A cross corner bank with position on the Eight... a.k.a. the "cowboy-throw-caution-to-the-wind-damn-the-double-kiss-possibility shot"

How would you play this shot?

Last night was APA night for my 8-Ball team.  We met at California Billiards and started warming up in anticipation of playing one of the top teams in the league.  (My team is dead last in the league…Wahoo!)  When it was my turn to play, I knew I would be playing against one of the top players in the league in a race to 5 match.  I jumped out to a quick lead, but he caught me and tied the match at 4-4.  In the double-hill game, my opponent made a mistake and gave me a chance to clear my last 4 balls.  The layout was not that difficult to run, but I missed the position zone on my last shot.  The cue ball rolled just barely behind one of my opponent’s balls and I could not see enough of the stripe to make a clean cut into the corner pocket.  I thought to myself, “Great!  I just blew the match!  Now what do I do?”  I considered 3 different options for about a minute, knowing that if I missed the shot my opponent would be able run the table with no problems at all.  Suddenly, I had an epiphany, and realized there was a 4th option that I had not originally considered, which of course I immediately choose to attempt. 

Take a good look at the diagram below, and let me know (1) the different options you might consider, and (2) how would you ultimately play this shot?  Tomorrow, I’ll tell you the options I considered, what I decided to do, and what the outcome was.

You are stripes. What do you do?

Like a Lamb Led to the Slaughter

Is it worth $115 just to be able to say that you played…knowing that you will go two and out and probably not win a single game?