Monthly Archives: July 2011

WorldPPA Tournament Results

103 players showed up last weekend at the California Billiard Club to play in the semiannual WorldPPA 9 ball tournament. Mary Rakin showed no fear as she blasted her way through a tough field to reach the hot seat undefeated. In the finals, she lost the first set to Michael Stansbury. In the second set the match went hill-hill (7-7), but Mary was able to take advantage of a missed shot to run the last three balls out for the victory. For additional details on the tournament, you can read a writeup on AZBilliards.

Here’s a picture of Mary Rakin and Michael Stanbury taken after the tournament ended around 2:00am Monday morning:

Hey, wait a minute. Who’s that guy on the right side of the picture? Yep, that’s me! I had a blast helping Chris run the tournament. It was fun meeting all the players and finally being able to put names with faces. If you ever have the opportunity to help run a tournament, I highly recommend it. It gives you an appreciation for all the hard work that goes into planning and executing a successful event. Lots of FUN!


The Best 14.1 Match Ever

I play in a handicapped straight pool league on Tuesday nights at Lucky Shot Billiards in Sunnyvale, CA.  Last night I played a match that was by far the most exciting match I’ve ever played.  I was playing a quickly improving but lower ranked player in a 100-50 race.  I had to score 100 points before he scored 50.  The match started out really slow for me with my opponent scoring 15 points to my -1 on the first rack!  He wasn’t leaving me any shots and he wasn’t missing very much.  The next several racks weren’t much better, and I quickly found myself trailing by a score of 30-30.  He needed only 20 points to win and I needed 70.  Yikes!

My opponent was making every available cut shot, some of which were absolutely incredible table length cut shots.  In a desperate attempt to keep myself in the game, I started turning the table into my version of a World War I era battle of attrition.  I’d pocket a few loose balls, leave the pack tight, play the tightest safety I could find, wait for his kick or feather shot, then pocket a few more.  Fast forward an hour.  The score was now 57-42.  My opponent needed only 8 points and I needed 43.   I just couldn’t seem to catch a gear and get any runs going, but finally my opponent missed a shot… and there was an object ball near the pack… and the cue ball rolled out to the middle of the table and stopped.   It was in perfect position.  WHACK!!!  Balls started raining in.  WHACK, WHACK!!  The balls finally started running into the holes where they belonged.

Ten minutes later, the score was 86-42.  My opponent needed only 8 points and I needed 14.  On my next shot I was forced to play a safe…and it was a damn good safe I might add.  “Take THAT!” I thought.  My opponent didn’t give up.  He just focused intensely on the only object ball he could see, then made an unbelievable 8 foot 80 degree cut shot to the corner pocket.  “WOW!!!!”  He ran a total of 6 balls and then missed another tough cut.

Score:  86-48.  He needed 2 points for the win.  I needed 14.

I ran two balls then decided to play another damn good safe.  The only shot I left him was another very difficult table length cut.  He seemed unfazed.  He blasted the ball into the far corner AND got position on his last ball.  Note to self:  Never leave this guy ANY cut shots!

Score:  88-49.  He needed 1 point for the win and had position.  I needed 12.

There were only three object balls left on the table.  The best shot he could take was a 4 foot shot with about a 45 degree cut angle.  He got into his stance.  Pressure!  He got up and looked at the shot again.  It was the game winning shot – had to make sure it went in!  Satisfied, he got into his stance.  Stroke, stroke, stroke… and then he fired his last ball into the pocket for the victory!  Wahoo!  50 POINTS FOR THE WIN!!!!

But…wait a minute!  WHERE’S THAT CUE BALL GOING??!!!!  Whitey had ricocheted off his last ball and was headed directly toward the opposite corner pocket.  It inched closer and closer and closer… “No…  No…  Noooooooooo!”  A scratch in the corner!  Unbelievable!

Score:  88-48.  He now needed 2 points for the win.  I needed 12.

I got ball in hand behind the head string.  There are only three object balls on the table and two of them are tied up.  I tried to sink the ball on the foot spot and it rattled in the corner pocket!  “Arrgggghhhh!”   My opponent scored the hanging point and managed to break open the 2 ball cluster but didn’t have a makeable shot.  I was able to sink the next to the last ball and run the cue ball two rails to get perfect position for a break shot.  WHACK!!  A solid hit!  The balls spread nicely and all I needed was 10 balls for the win!

Score:  90-49.  He needed just 1 point for the win.  I needed 10.  PRESSURE!

Although the rack spread nicely I had only one shot available to me and it was not an easy one.  I put all my concentration into it and made it.  Whew!!!  I paused to study the lay of the table.  It seemed the universe was playing some sort of trick on me as I could only see a 6 ball pattern.  I knew at some point I’d need to take a high risk shot to open up some balls.  I made 3 more loose balls and accidently left myself with a bad angle on my next shot. 

Score:  94-49.  He needed just 1 point.  I needed 6.  PRESSURE!

This was it.  If I made this shot, I’d open up the remaining balls for an easy win.  If I missed it, my opponent needed only 1 ball and I would certainly lose.  It was a tough cut, but I wanted to make sure I got position on the next shot.  I took the shot and got perfect position on the next ball, but the cut shot didn’t drop.  Boo Hoo!  My opponent made the last shot for the win:  94-50.  Yeah, I lost, but it was the most fun I’ve ever had playing 14.1!

Can Tournament Victories Pay The Rent?

I have recently decided to ‘hit the road’ and get some seasoning by competing in tournaments located in other cities.  Last weekend I traveled to San Francisco with a couple pool buddies and competed in a 3 man team 8 ball tournament at Jillian’s Billiards Club.  There were 16 teams in the tournament and the competition was pretty strong.  The good news: We won the tournament!  The bad news?  After covering all of our mandatory expenses there was almost no money left.  This experience really hammered home one of the biggest problems facing professional pool players today.  There’s not a whole lot of money in the big tournaments, especially when compared to other professional sports.  I know this will come as no surprise to many, but it’s tough out there!

We are certainly not professional players; we were just three decent amateurs trying to have fun.  On the fun front, the event was a HUGE success.  On the financial front…well, here’s how our financials worked out:

    Tournament Prize Money = $300

   Entry Fees = $50
   Parking Fees = (2 cars) = $64
   Gasoline (2 cars) = $31
   Practice table time = $20
   Food = $85
      Total Expenses = $250

 Net profit = $300 – $250 = $50
 Net profit/player = $50/3 players = $16.67 per player
Tournament time: 10am – 11pm = 13 hours

Hourly wage rate per player:  $1.28/hr for each of us

Huummmmmm….not quitting my day job anytime soon!

PoolSynergy Advice For Older Players

For this month’s PoolSynergy topic, Poolbum wants to know what advice we would give to an older player who is taking up the game or coming back to it after a long hiatus.  This is a rather timely topic for me because not only have I met an older gentleman who is just getting back into the game, but also I’ve begun mentoring a younger player who is very new to the game.  I thought about these recent experiences and came up with some advice primarily intended for an older player who is taking up the game, but these items could also prove useful for an over-zealous younger player:

1.  Do some simple stretching before you start shooting.  This simple activity can help prevent tightness and aches and pains later.  Occasionally I do some very simple exercise before I shoot, such as arm circles, shoulder stretches, torso twists, and back bends.  Stretching increases blood flow to the body’s extremities, and prepares your brain and limbs for the activity to come.

Suggested Light Stretching Before Shooting

2. Practice alone to make fast improvements, but keep it simple.  Don’t try to tackle too much too fast.  Just throw some balls out on the table and start pocketing them in any order you choose.  When you find a shot that gives you trouble, just set it up and shoot it 10-15 times in a row, then move on and continue with your random ball pocketing.  Making mistakes is okay, in fact, mistakes are required in order for you to learn and improve.  Slow, thoughtful, purposeful practice is much more efficient in developing your skills than simply knocking balls into pockets willy nilly.

Vertical Axis

3. Keep your style of play simple.  When you hit the cue ball, just make contact on its vertical axis.  In other words, just hit the ball in the center for stop shots, slightly above center for follow shots, and slight below center for draw shots.  Avoid hitting the cue ball on the left or right side.  This puts spin on the cue ball and drastically affects the accuracy of your shots.  Don’t try to get fancy, you can do almost everything you need to do just by stroking through the vertical axis of the cue ball and using good speed control.

The Cure All

4. Take Motrin for aches and pains in the back, neck, shoulders, and arms.  Let’s face it – we’re not getting any younger, and I’m finding that I can’t shoot pool for hours and hours continuously like I used to.  Playing a game that requires you to hold your body in certain positions for extended periods of time will eventually take its toll.  Use Motrin as needed.

Have FUN!

5. Most importantly, HAVE FUN!  The pool hall is a great societal melting pot.  Use this time to meet new people who share your passion for the game.  You could also meet up with your non-pool playing friends and introduce them to the game that you are beginning to love.  Pool can be a great social activity if you are in the right frame of mind.

Happy shooting!  To read articles written by other PoolSynergy bloggers, visit Poolbum’s website here.

You Never Forget Your First!

Yipee!  I feel sooooooo special!  🙂

Am I Nuts?

Maybe so.  Over the last six months, I’ve been spending a lot of time really thinking about what I want to do…what I want to accomplish in life.  I’ve been reevaluating my personal goals, deleting some, adding others, and modifying my day-to-day routine to try to increase the probability of achieving the goals that I create for myself.  This is a work in progress, and of course, pool is going to be a big part of the final solution, but I just wanted to share a few things that I’ve thought about or changed in my life recently:

No TV.  For the last six months, I’ve watched no TV.  None.  What?!!  Am I nuts?  I didn’t really decide one day not to.  It just happened.  I got busy, moved to a new place, and never took time to setup the cable service.  “One less bill to pay”, I told myself.  I kept putting it off, and voila, 6 months later, I don’t miss it at all!  I recently read that the average American adult male spends about 29 hours per week in front of the TV.  Really?  That’s almost like a full time job.  I am choosing to spend that extra time at the pool table.

Dancing.  I’ve started taking ballroom dancing classes.  Yes, you read that correctly.  And why not?  With all the extra time that I’m gaining, there’s plenty of room for an extra activity or two.  Anyway, could I really spend the entire extra 29 hours per week bent over a pool table?  Even I would probably balk at that.  I’m very much a beginner in the dance arena, but I’ve found that ballroom dancing is a lot of fun and a great way to meet new people.

Moving.  Yep, it turns out, the pool hall that I frequent is only about a mile from my office, so why not just move closer and drastically cut down on travel time to both work and play?  Done.  Now, instead of fighting interstate rush hour traffic for an hour and a half daily, my commute looks like this:  2 miles to get to work, 1 mile to the pool hall after work, then 1.5 miles to home again, all on nearly deserted surface streets.  Much less gas, less stress, and more time to spend doing other things, like shooting pool!  The much shorter commute also helps in the event that I oversleep, which seems to be a chronic pool player malady.

Making a List.  No, I’m not Santa Claus.  I’ve decided to put together a list of things that I want to accomplish.  You know, before I die.  Wait, that’s sounds a little dark.  Scratch that.  Let’s call this list the “Things that I’ve always wanted to do, but I never did, so I’m gonna do it now” list.  Yeah, that’s better.  I’ll publish my list at some point in the future, but for now, here are some of the items that I’ve already put on my list: (1) learn to dance (doing it), (2) become a professional level pool player (working on it, but it’s a tough one!), (3) participate in a week long paleontological dig in Montana, and (4) watch a manned rocket launch from Cape Canaveral.

Ooops, there goes the 5 o’clock whistle.  Time for my straight pool league match at Lucky Shot Billiards.  More on this later!

Weekend Tournament Action

My laziest post ever.  I’m playing pool this weekend.  Yeah, I know… a shocking revelation, huh?  It’s my birthday tomorrow, and I’ll play pool if I want to.  🙂

Jillians Invitational 8 Ball Individuals Tournament - San Francisco

The Looney Tunes Hustle

Just when you think you've seen it all...

Author’s note:  What follows is my account of a hustle I witnessed a few months ago.  At first I thought it was funny (for reasons explained herein), but as I watched I found it deeply saddening as it provides a glimpse into what is wrong with pool today.

A few months ago I watched a hustler in action at California Billiards in Mountain View, California.  I was doing my daily practice routine on one of the Gold Crowns in the back, when a friend approached me and told me there was a guy up front who was “stalling” and looking for action.  In pool room parlance, when someone intentionally plays below his or her actual skill level, we call this “stalling.”  I was tired of hitting balls, so I decided to go up front and watch the show.

When I arrived, the guy whom I shall refer to as “Mr. Stall” was claiming he was pretty new to pool and was just trying to learn.  Then he said something that was shockingly stupid:  “Anybody want to play some One Pocket for a little money?”  LOL! Are you kidding me??!!  Did he really just say that?

Hint #1: ONLY a pool hustler would first claim to know nothing about pool, then turn around and ask you to gamble in One Pocket.

Any chance he had of luring a big fish was just completely destroyed.  99.9% of all beginning pool players have never even heard of One Pocket, much less have any interest in playing it.  If you are an aspiring pool hustler, and I hope you are not, please please please never ask anyone to play One Pocket!  It means you know a whole lot more about pool than you are letting on.  Eventually, he managed to get a One Pocket game with a local player for about $20 a game.

A typical One Pocket break

If you are not familiar with One Pocket, you can read about the game here.  One Pocket is a deceptively difficult game which requires a player to be skilled in many areas of pool: long distance shots, extreme cuts, combos, caroms, 1-rail 2-rail and 3-rail banks, extreme cue ball control, and most importantly, KNOWLEDGE.  The rules of the game are very simple.  You are assigned one pocket at the foot of the table and your opponent is assigned the other pocket at the foot of the table.  You must make 8 balls in your assigned pocket before your opponent makes 8 balls into his assigned pocket.  Hidden within this very simple concept lies a multiverse of complexity.  Because the game is so cerebral, it’s easy for a skilled player to hide his or her true capabilities.  A highly skilled player can keep the score close when playing a lesser player, then suddenly get “lucky” and win without the lesser player realizing he never really had a chance to win.  The game is tailor made for the con artist.

As the One Pocket game progressed, on several occasions “Mr. Stall” attempted a tough bank or high risk combo, “missed” the shot, and left the cue ball out in the open.  A rookie mistake, unless of course, he were doing it on purpose.  His misses were often accompanied by comments such as, “Awwww… I dogged it again! I guess I’ve been drinking too much beer!”, or “Dang, I never can hit those shots!” 

Hint #2: Never judge a player’s ability by whether or not he makes shots.  If you want to clock a player’s true speed, watch his fundamentals.  Very good players may attempt to deceive you by missing shots…it’s much more difficult for them to hide their mechanics.

Eventually the local player won, or rather, it would be more accurate to say that “Mr. Stall” lost on purpose.  The local player immediately began breaking down his stick.  Mr. Stall retorted, “Hey, you’re not leaving are you?  Let’s play some more, I don’t mind losing money to you.”  The local player explained that he had to go to work and was almost late.  Now, here’s where the funny (or rather sad) part begins.  Mr. Stall’s road partner was sitting next to me. I’ll refer to him as “Mr. Chester” because he reminded me so much of the Looney Tunes character “Chester the Terrier.”

Pardon me while I digress…

"Beat 'em up Spike! Beat 'em up Spike!"

There’s a 1952 Looney Tunes short called “Tree for Two” which stars Spike the Bulldog and Chester the Terrier.  As documented in Wikipedia:  “Spike is a burly, gray bulldog who wears a red sweater, a brown bowler hat, and a perpetual scowl. Chester is just the opposite, small and jumpy with yellow fur and brown, perky ears…  In it, Chester tells his idol Spike that he knows of a cat that they can beat up.”  Chester keeps prodding and urging Spike to fight the cat (Sylvester) with statements like, “Come on, you can do it Spike!  Beat up the cat!” and “Show ’em who’s da boss!”

And now, back to my story…

It’s obvious that the local player wants to leave, so Mr. Chester gets jumpy and starts throwing out advice for Mr. Stall:

“Hey Mr. Stall, he’s knows you’ve been drinking too much.  He doesn’t want to take your money.”
“Hey Mr. Stall, he’s gonna leave.  Why don’t you play for more money?  Maybe he’ll stay then.”
“Go ahead, bump the bet! How about offer him just one game for a $100?  See if he’ll play you then.”
“You gotta bump the bet.  Make it worth it.  Otherwise, all these other good players here aren’t going to be interested.”

I laughed out loud as my brain instantly recalled the image of Chester the Terrier, hoping and jumping around Spike the Bulldog, trying his best to pick a fight.  I was a witness to the personification of a cartoon character. 

Hint #3: If a gambler is losing money, but he keeps insisting on raising the bet, there’s about a 98% chance he’s trying to hustle you.

On one hand, I found the whole experience to be entertaining, but on a deeper level, I was saddened by the whole affair – primarily because these guys were very serious with their antics.  Some thoughts that saddened me:

  1. Did these guys REALLY think this approach would work?  Did they really think we were that stupid?
  2. Where did they learn their technique?  From a comic book?
  3. It should have been obvious to anyone watching Mr. Stall’s mechanics that he was actually a VERY good player, regardless of the outcome of the first game
  4. Where did Mr. Chester get his lines…from a D budget pool movie?
  5. Why did such a telented player feel the need to hustle?
  6. What did he expect to gain?  A couple hundred bucks?

In the end, no one took the bait, and the hustler left California Billiards $20 poorer.  The kicker was that we all knew who he was from the instant he walked in the front door.  At one time, he was one of the most feared player/hustlers on the west coast.  In his teenage years, no one would play him for money.  No one.  Now, decades later, he is relegated to a life of visiting pool halls and trying to swindle kids out of their lunch money?  This whole affair actually made me ponder: What must it feel like to work really really hard and reach the pinnacle of your sport, only to find it’s tough to make $40k-$50k a year in “legitimate” tournament money, while comparable athletes in other major sports make millions a year for sitting on the bench?  As I think back to this incident, it actually makes me sad.  It’s a good thing that my journey in pool is motivated solely by my sincere love for the game and not by any aspirations to make money at it.