Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Billiard Traveler visits California Billiards

Last week I was on my iPhone checking Facebook, when I saw the following update from a friend of mine Gabriel O Josset, a.k.a. the “BilliardTraveler” on Twitter, stating he would be traveling to California for the first time:

I wrote back and told him I lived in California, and if he was coming to the San Francisco area we should meet up and shoot some pool.  Well, it turns out he was headed to Santa Cruz and San Francisco, and San Jose is halfway between the two…Bingo!  We made arrangements to meet at the California Billiard Club in Mountain View, CA last night.  I thought it would be a good idea for me to get there a little early so that I could welcome him when he arrived.  When I walked through the front door a little after 6pm, guess who was already there?  That’s right.  There he was at table 10, already locked in a battle with a local player.  We talked briefly, then I grabbed another table to wait for him to finish his match.

The view inside California Billiards

I was enjoying a drink and a light snack when Gabriel (Gabe) came over.  We talked pool for a little while, then decided it was time to play.  Little did I know I was in for a real treat, more like a veritable billiard education.  We wanted to start on the three cushion table to play some arcane game called ‘Five Pin’, but someone got to the 3 cushion table before us, so we decided to start the evening on a pool table instead.

The first game we played was 10 ball, but we changed the rules a little.  Usually when I play 10 ball, I play using standard 9 ball rules.  Not last night!  We played 10 ball with every shot being a called shot, but if you failed to make your called shot, your opponent had the option to take his normal turn or he could opt to make you take the shot.  That made the game a lot more interesting, and greatly reduced the ‘luck’ factor.  The only downside is that you couldn’t play ‘two way’ shots for fear the other player would make you shoot out of the safe.  We played a few games of 10 ball, then switched to One Pocket.  I’ve only played One Pocket once or twice in my life, but it’s a fascinating game and I wanted to learn it.  Gabe explained the rules and provided some guidance on the best strategies for success, and then we were off. 

Playing Five Pin with the Billiard Traveler

After a few games of One Pocket, the billiard table opened up, and we quickly moved over to secure our place at the table.  Gabe whipped out a plastic bag filled with goodies and informed me that he would teach me a new game…Five Pin.  Five Pin is played on a three cushion billiard table.  The object is, of course, to score points.  One player has the white ball, the other the yellow ball.  In the middle of the table are 5 pins: 1 red pin surrounded by 4 white pins.  The pins look like miniature bowling pins.  On each shot you must send your cue ball into your opponent’s ball first to make a legal hit.  After making a legal hit, here’s how you can score points (if I remember this correctly):

  • If you can knock down the red pin by itself with your opponent’s ball, and you leave the four white pins undisturbed, you get 8 points. 
  • If you knock down the red pin and at least one white pin with your opponent’s ball, the red pin is worth only 4 points. 
  • Each white pin knocked down with your opponent’s ball counts as two points.
  • If your opponent’s ball collides with the red ball, you get 3 points
  • If your cue ball collides with the red ball, your get 4 points
  • If your cue ball collides with any of the five pins, all points scored in that shot are awarded to your opponent.

We played several games of five pin.  At first I was confused, but hey, that’s nothing new!  Oh, by the way, in our very first game Gabe took the opening shot…it was a 1 rail kick shot into my cue ball.  My ball then bounced off another rail, passed directly through the cluster of pins in the middle of the table, and knocked down the red pin while leaving all 4 white pins undisturbed!  8 points!  Holy Cow!  I eventually got the hang of it and really enjoyed the game even though Gabe was obviously much more talented and experienced than me.  He took pity on me and let me win the final game…what a great guest!  😉   I was amazed at some of the position play and 3 cushion shots that he made.  “Oh, that’s nothing,” he said.  “You should see Jan play!”  I think I can safely say that I’m the only regular at California Billiards who has ever played Five Pin at California Billiards.

After Five Pin, we played three cushion billiards.  Three cushion is another game I want to learn, and Gabe was willing to teach me a few things.  Gabe thoroughly dominated, but with his guidance I was FINALLY able to score a point.  In fact, I ALMOST made two in a row.  😉  Nope, I’m no Sang Lee.  Here’s Gabe contemplating his next move on the billiard table.

The Billiard Traveler contemplates a 3 rail carom

To wrap up the evening, we played a few more games of One Pocket.  I’m definitely going to stick with One Pocket.  It’s a fascinating game that really makes you think.  Here’s a final picture of Gabe pondering his options in one of our One Pocket games.  We had a great time shooting pool.  What a cool job he has – being able to travel around the world and play all of the many variations of pool that exist.  You can follow his latest adventures on his website and on twitter.

The Billiard Traveler plays One Pocket too!


Pool, Chocolate, and Soiled Underwear: Part 3

I arrived at The Pig & Whistle, ready for a little savory to offset the chocolate I’d been enjoying all afternoon. I ordered a Hefeweizen, grabbed a corner table, and debated between the Sheppard’s pie and fish & chips. The fish and chips sounded great, but in the pantheon of culinary options available to me, probably not the healthiest choice in the world. I decided to go “healthy” and selected the Sheppard’s pie with a side of vegetables.

The Pig & Whistle. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . My Dinner!

While I sat at the Pig & Whistle waiting for my order, I pulled out my iPhone and started reviewing match notes I had taken at the Billiard Palacade. Anytime I play a “serious” match, I always take game by game notes then review them later so I can identify opportunities for improvement. After I reviewed all the notes, the thought occurred to me that I might want to write a blog post about the match and provide a narrative of each game. With that in mind, I went back and numbered each game, all 17 of them. Hey, wait a minute, we tied 8-8, there should be only 16 games…I must have made a numbering mistake. I double checked my typing.  Nope, no error, we really played 17 games.  Sh*t!  Who won?  I tallied the games and discovered that I actually beat him 9-8 and didn’t know it! At some point I must have forgotten to move my coin up the rail. Crap! I got no credit for the win and he got to keep the cash! Oh well, at least I know who really won! I guess my biggest lesson learned is to get better at keeping score!
Note:  poolriah pointed out that I left without paying my table time.  Ooops!

I finished up my meal and walked next door to Family Billiards. I was quickly reminded of pool rule number one – if you’re hustling pool (which I’m not), never walk into a pool room carrying a custom cue case. Why? Well, as soon as I walked through the door, a rail bird glanced at me nonchalantly, then did a double take when he noticed my cue case. His eyes darted from cue case to my face to cue case to face, trying to figure out if he knew who I was. Nope, I guess he didn’t, but he kept an eye on me pretty much the whole time I was there. I think he was sweating a match at the front table, otherwise he probably would have followed me around the room. The only table available for play was in the back, so off into the underground jungle I went. After spreading the balls and completing my warm up routine, I stopped to take a picture of the place and realized the rail bird was trying to clock my game from across the room. Rail birds, always looking for new action to bet on!

Family Billiards...a view from the front.....and from the back

I only stayed 45 minutes at Family. The room was hot and humid, the tables were cramped, and the kids at the table next to me always seemed to be shooting from the same spot: right in my way. Uggghh! I’d had enough. I left the heat, humidity, and rail bird behind, and headed for home.

As I drove home, I was reminded of a car accident I had passed earlier in the morning while headed north to San Francisco.  The wreck had happened on the south bound lane over a bridge that spans a ravine that’s at least 150 feet deep. I had originally passed the wreck just a few minutes after it happened. Based on the skid marks that were decorating the pavement, the two cars had collided and at least one of the cars had crashed into the rail on the edge of the bridge, spun around, then somehow hit the side rail again fifty feet further down the road. Thankfully, the rail held tight…that’s a looong way down! Without a doubt, at least one of those drivers had soiled underwear!  You could still see a few car parts on the side of the road as I flew by.

A very deep ravine . . . . . . . . . Leftover car debries

I finished the evening at California Billiards, had a couple drinks, enjoyed a fried shrimp basket with french fries (so much for the healthy eating!), and spent a couple hours discussing pool improvement strategies with a friend. What a great way to spend a Saturday!

Pool, Chocolate, and Soiled Underwear: Part 2

I had stayed at the Billiard Palacade 30 minutes longer than intended. The chocolate factory tour on Pier 17 was scheduled to start at 2:00. I looked at my watch. 1:30. Considering the estimated travel time was about 30 minutes, I needed to hurry. I stepped on the gas. Traffic on the Embarcadero was horrendous, but somehow I managed to get a parking spot right in front of Pier 17 at 2:01pm. Clean living I guess!

I walked through the front door at 2:03 and the tour was just starting. Monica provided some history of the company, how they work with the farmers who plant and harvest the cocoa beans, the drying, roasting, grinding, conching, and other manufacturing processes. If you’re a chocolate aficionado, you’ve got to try Tcho chocolate. They don’t use any flavorings or additives. All of the flavors are coaxed from the bean by finely controlling every aspect of the sourcing and manufacturing processes. Really amazing stuff!

TCHO Chocolate Company, Pier 17. . . . Monica waxes philosophical on chocolate!

After touring the facility we got several free chocolate samples. Wahoo! I even got a 10% discount card for any purchases at the company store. Whata bargin! (what a sucker!). The company store was wall to wall chocolate. If you visit, you’ve gotta try the “chocolate shot.” They take some of their drinking chocolate powder, heat it up, then hit it with a very small amount of very hot water or steam to liquefy it. Heaven in a shot glass! It was unbelievable!! The hot chocolate was pretty good too. Yeah, they got me. I left with a bag full of chocolate. They somehow even managed to wrestle my email address from me. Humph!

TCHO company store. . . *Chocolate Shot* . . . and Hot Chocolate!

After Tcho, I headed to the Ferry Building to search for another famous chocolate destination: Recchiuti Confections. Michael Recchiuti’s chocolates have won numerous awards. His S’mores kits are carried by the Ritz Carlton and his burnt caramels are always in high demand.  Again, I’m a sucker for chocolate, so I couldn’t leave without a hand-picked variety box filled with S’mores, burnt caramels, candied orange peel, peanut butter pucks, honeycomb malts, and fleur de sels.  Here’s a view of their storefront:

The Ferry Building...home to Recchiuti Confections!

After Recchiuti, I headed for my final chocolate destination, Fog City News. I had read about Fog City in a chocolate blog several months ago, and figured it was worth a visit. I wasn’t disappointed. They carried an eclectic selection of chocolates from several boutique makers. I grabbed a couple handmade bars, then headed back to my car. I was getting hungry from walking all over the city and was ready for more pool. Now, on to Family Billiards and the pub next door to it, The Pig & Whistle….

Home to a variety of boutique chocolate products

Pool, Chocolate, and Soiled Underwear: Part 1

Yesterday I decided to make a trip to San Francisco to visit pool halls in the area and see what kind of action I could find.  I’ve played pool pretty much everywhere in the San Jose area, but never in SF, so I figured my visit was overdue.  I drove an hour north on I-280 headed toward my first destination in South San Francisco, the Billiard Palacade.  I found a parking space on the street about a block away and walked to the entrance.  Check out the cool billiard graffiti on the side of the building.

Graffiti on the wall outside the Billiard Palacade

The place was actually much nicer than I expected.  It was pretty clean and the tables were okay.  There was plenty of room between the tables so you could move around without interfering with other player’s games… or more importantly, they wouldn’t interfere with yours.  Here’s some pictures of the place.

Outside View . . . . . . . Left Side . . . . . . . . Right Side

I was hungry (what a surprise!), so I ordered the Salvadoran chicken tamale and a Salvadoran pork and cheese pupusa with Cole slaw.  I sat at the small counter to enjoy my meal while a group of four guys hacked at the middle table.  I was almost finished eating when in walks a Filipino player whom a week earlier I had watched beat Colin Maziaka, a AA player, in a tournament at California Billiards.  I thought to myself, “He’s a great player, but here I am ‘on the road’ and it’s time to step up and see what I’ve got.”  I quickly finished my meal then walked up and asked him if he wanted to play a cheap set just for practice.  We decided on a 9 ball race to 9 for $20, and scored the match using coins under the rail (a scoring technique that I never use). We started playing and began trading games back and forth.  A bunch of safeties, kicks, and runs later, he got to the hill two games ahead of me.  I was happy just to be able to hang with him, but didn’t give up…I bore down, make a couple tough safes, then ran out the last two racks to tie the match at 8-8.

Palacade Tamale and Pupusa . . . . A Picture From My Match

I said “Hill-Hill!” and racked the final set of balls.  I went to the head of the table to break the final rack and glanced at my watch (it was 1:20pm).  I put the cue ball down, looked down table, and got ready to get into my breaking stance.  Meanwhile, a 9 ball tournament had started about 20 minutes earlier, and just then the tournament director came over and said he needed to use our table for the 9 ball tournament.  “Oh, come on man, you gotta be kidding me.  Just one more game!”  “No, you have to leave, we need the table for the tournament, now.”  Crap!  And I was breaking on the case game!  Oh well, I did much better than expected, so I’ll chalk this one up as a victory.  My opponent asked if I was staying for the tournament.  I said no, I had a previously planned engagement to attend, and I was almost late.  I was heading out to attend a factory tour at a San Francisco chocolate company…

Have Cue Case, Will Travel

I’m headed to San Francisco today with a pool cue case strapped to my back.  Gotta see what’s shakin in the city.  I’ll definitely visit Family Billiards and Palacade Billiards, and maybe a few other places of dubious reputation.  I know I’m not OMGWTF, but if anything interesting happens to me, I’ll let you know.

PoolSynergy: My Favorite Games

PoolSynergy is a monthly collection of some of the best writing in pool.  The host of this month’s PoolSynergy topic is Johnny, a pool player who lives in St. Louis, MO.  This month he asked each of the PoolSynergy writers to discuss the game that we like the most.  I decided to write about playing against the ghost.  If you want to read articles from the other PoolSynergy authors, visit Johnny’s blog here.  Hope you enjoy!

Playing Against the Ghost

“I have met the enemy, and the enemy is me!” – Walt Kelly (paraphrased)

To improve your game, you need some competitive experience… you need to find someone who can challenge you, someone who can push you to the edge of your abilities, expose your weaknesses, and make you yearn to improve.  I’ve found that player…and it is me.  When I get serious about working on my game, I often get a table in a quiet corner of the pool room, and play against myself… and take notes.  Playing against yourself is often referred to as “playing the ghost.”  There are many ways to play the ghost.  The most extreme version goes like this:  you choose a game to play, like 8 Ball or 9 Ball, and play against yourself in a race to 7.  Typically, you break the rack, take ball in hand after the break, and try to run the table out.  If you run out successfully in your first turn, you win.  If you don’t run out for any reason, the ghost wins.  You can take notes on why you lost position during the run, or what shots you missed, and work on these aspects of the game in a later practice session.

That is the traditional view of “playing the ghost,” but that version is only successful as a training and motivational tool if you already have the capability of running racks.  What if you don’t yet have the skills needed to run the whole table?  There are other versions of “playing the ghost” that ARE within your reach, regardless of your skill level, and I present two versions here.  Each of these games does not require any specific skill level, and can be enjoyed by all players.  An added benefit of these games is that they can be used to measure your current playing ability and monitor your progress as you continue to improve your game.  I’ve also provided a scale for each so that you can compare your scores with other players whom have played these games.  This can help you get a sense of where you are today, and where your performance could be in the future.  I hope you enjoy! 

Game:  “Equal Offense”

Rack all 15 balls and break from anywhere in the kitchen.  After the break, spot any balls that are pocketed.  Take ball in hand in the kitchen on your first shot and pocket balls in any order you choose.  This is a call shot game, slop doesn’t count, and each ball pocketed earns you 1 point.  Assuming you don’t scratch or miss a shot, keep shooting until you get to the last ball, then stop and rack the 14 balls already pocketed.  Now try to continue your run by pocketing the 15th ball and simultaneously using the cue ball to break open the rack, just like in 14.1 straight pool.  If you manage to pocket the 20th ball, the inning is over.  If you miss a shot or scratch at any time, the inning is over. 

After 10 innings, add up your scores and compare your performance with the following chart provided by Tarl Roger Kudrick at the Internet Equal Offense site.  You can use this chart to get a general idea of how you stack up against the rest of the pool world.  Good luck, and have fun!

If your typical score is You’re probably better than THIS percentage of pool players      If your typical score is You’re probably better than THIS percentage of pool players   
25 5%   76 55%
35 10%   80 60%
41 15%   85 65%
47 20%   91 70%
51 25%   98 75%
55 30%   106 80%
59 35%   114 85%
64 40%   125 90%
68 45%   136 95%
71 50%   160 99%


Game: “10 Ball Rating Game”

Rack up 10 balls and break from anywhere in the kitchen.  Any balls made on the break count as one point.  If you scratch on the break, pocketed balls are spotted.  After the break, start with ball in hand anywhere on the table on your first shot, and run the balls in rotation.  All balls made are one point.  If you miss a shot, the rack is over.  Shoot 10 racks and count the total number of balls made. After 10 racks, take your total and compare it to the chart below.  This is a good game because it takes several skills into account (shotmaking, position play, cluster breaking, break shot skills, etc.)  The only downside is that it doesn’t cover safety play, which is a critical in the upper echelons of play. 

Rating Scores
30-35       D+
36-40       C
41-45       C+
46-50       B
51-55       B+
56-60       A
61-65       A+
66-70      A++
71-up       Pro

So, those are my favorite two games.   If you want to read articles from the other PoolSynergy authors, visit Johnny’s blog here.  Good luck, and happy shooting!

Serious Practice Again!

I’m getting very close to *knock on wood* full recovery from my recent neck and back problems.  Last night I went to California Billiards to loosen up a little and put in some practice.  I wanted to focus on two primary skills: (1) cue ball control, and (2) route planning.  After my normal warm up routine, I started a new practice game.  Here are the rules of the game:

Yeah, ok, I like to make charts.  Sorry!  Bascially, you start with 3 balls and try to run the table.  If you can run the table twice in a row, you add a ball, so then you’ll be playing with 4 balls.  If you can run the table twice in a row again, add another ball, and now you are playing with 5 balls, etc.  If at any point you fail twice in a row, you remove a ball (to make it easier).   If you run a table, then fail, then run, then fail, you could theoretically stay at the same level indefinately.  I think you get the point.

Try this game out and see what level you tend to stay at.  This is a good game for identifying areas for improvement with cue ball control and route planning.  Enjoy!

Playing second fiddle…AGAIN!

Over the weekend I competed in the third and final installment of a US Amateur Warm Up League.  The league was organized by our APA league operator, Doug Coleman, with the objective of preparing us for the upcoming 2011 US Amateur tournament.  Doug organized the league to have play dates one weekend a month over a three month period.  The league was organized in a round robin format so that theoretically each participant had the opportunity to play every other participant.  The individual matches were structured just like the US Amateur tournament, with players competing in a race to 7 format of up to 5 games of 8 ball and 8 games of 9 ball.  The league drew a total of 22 participants, men and women, which I thought was pretty good.  For the competition, each player was awarded one point for every game won, with points tallied up over all three play dates to determine an overall winner.

Going into the final play date, I was in third place.  We were scheduled to play 3 matches this Saturday, and the overall point leader was 6 points ahead of me.  It would take a miracle for me to catch him.  In my first match I didn’t play very well, kept losing control of whitey, and quickly got behind 1-5.  Not looking good!  Then I caught a gear, fought back to hill-hill, but lost the case game to finish my first match 6-7.  Although I didn’t win, at least I got six points for my effort.  The point leader was playing at the table next to me, and he was getting thrashed!  He ended up losing 1-7 to earn only 1 point!  A MIRACLE!  Now I was only one point out of first place!

Here was my chance to steal the title.  In my second match I was facing a guy who in my opinion is one of the strongest players in the league.  The point leader was playing another very strong player on the table next to me.  This would be interesting!  I came out swinging, my opponent got a couple bad rolls, I locked up the table a few times, and then started running out.  When the smoke cleared I had won my match 7-0, earning myself 7 points…the best I could possibly do!  Once again, the point leader (by only one measly point!) was playing on the table next to me.  He initially got behind in his match and I thought I might be able to take the point lead, but he dug deep, roared back, and ended up winning his match to also earn 7 points for his round two effort.  CRAP!  I was still behind the point leader by 1 lousy point!

In the third round, I found out I was playing yet another strong player…a guy whom I’ve never beaten.  Isn’t it funny how there are some people you just can’t seem to beat?  I’ve bar-b-qued other players who have beaten this guy, but for some reason, he just has my number…I can’t do anything with him.  CRAP!  The point leader’s match was not going to be nearly as difficult.  I tilted my head back to look at the ceiling; my hands clasped together angelically.  I needed yet another miracle.

In the third round, the point leader had some troubles with his opponent, but ended up winning his match 7-3 to earn 7 points and lock up first place.  Me?  Oh, I got my rear end handed to me on a silver platter!  Lost 1-7.  Painful.  Very painful.  For my effort I was awarded 1 tiny lousy stinking point.  The only good news?  That one point allowed me to hold on to second place…barely.  Well, in retrospect, even if I had won my last match and earned 7 points, the overall result would still have been the same…2nd place.

So, why did I title this blog post “Second Fiddle….Again?”  You see, last fall when I competed in the preliminary round of the actual 2010 US Amateur Tournament, I ended up winning the tournament hot seat with almost no problem at all, then choked in the title match to finish in 2nd place.  Now in the US Amateur Warm Up tournament, I once again had a good shot at winning, but ended up in 2nd place.  Hmmm…I’m starting to see a pattern here.