Monthly Archives: September 2011

APA National Singles Championships

This coming weekend I will be playing in the regionals of the APA National Singles Championships. I will be competing in the 8 ball division.  This year the regional tournament will be hosted by California Billiard Club, my home room, so I can save a little money by avoiding all the expenses involved with traveling. There are 30 players scheduled to compete at the 6-7 level, with the top two competitors advancing to the National Singles Championships, which will be held  April 26 – 28, 2012 at the Riviera Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. At the national level, there will be over $280,000 in cash and prizes awarded, with $15,000 awarded to the 8 ball champion.  This tournament will be a special challenge for me as I normally play on 9 foot tables, but this tournament will be held on 6 foot bar boxes.  I guess we’ll see how well a 9 foot game works on a 6 foot table.  September through November is turning out to be a very busy pool time for me!

Watch Your Mouth!

There’s an old saying which goes something like this:  “If you are going to twist a tiger’s tail, you’d better have a plan for dealing with his teeth.”  I was reminded of this saying last weekend during the U.S. Amateur Championship tournament.  I started out the tournament very cold and seriously thought I was going to pull a two and out.  In my first match I got lucky and escaped with a 7-6 victory on a position error and missed shot by my opponent.  I felt like I didn’t deserve the win, but hey, that’s the way it goes sometimes!  My frosty condition continued through the second match and I was quickly dispatched to the left side by a competitor from San Diego.  Then I got to my third match.

During the third match I continued to make unforced error after unforced error.  I was running the cue ball too long on most shots and literally could not put together more than a two ball run.  At that point I was convinced my exit from the tournament was imminent.  But I was okay with that… I already had a great excuse for my bad performance…  other than my Wednesday night APA team play and an occasional 14.1 league match, I had not put in any serious practice in the two months leading up to the tournament.  I was just too busy doing some other things.  Oh well.  The only thing going in my favor was the fact that my third round opponent had a bad habit of playing perfect position for five or six balls, then would miss a shot and leave the cue ball in great position for me to run two balls and out.  Yes, it was Christmas in September!  Although I was playing horrifically, I somehow managed to win two of the first four games in our race to seven match.  And then it happened – my opponent said something to me very loudly and full of genuine spite…

“GEEZE!  I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU ARE HANGING WITH ME!  I’M A MUCH BETTER PLAYER!  I SHOULD BE KILLING YOU!”

Huh?!!

I stood at the head of the table and said nothing as I watched him hurriedly throw balls in the rack and line them up.  Did I hear that correctly?  Did he really just say that?!!  I was so stunned at his lack of discretion I couldn’t even get mad.  Hey, I’ve lost many matches even when I thought I was the better player, but I never said anything out loud…especially not right in my opponent’s face!  Was he genuinely that upset and just lost his ability to contain his frustration?  Or maybe he was simply trying to shark me?  In retrospect, I really don’t know what his intentions were.  Regardless, the result was the same: he opened his mouth and out came the garbage.  Did it upset me?  Did it hurt my feelings?  Did it intimidate me? 

Come on…are you kidding me?

I would like to dedicate my tournament victory this weekend to that competitor who shall remain nameless.  If not for his severe lack of discretion, I probably would have lost my match to him.  The percentages eventually would have caught up with me and I undoubtedly would have lost if he had said nothing, but he had inadvertently tapped into a dark place… that little ‘underdog should win good guys shouldn’t finish last don’t try to bully me or I’ll kick your ass’ part of my psyche that absolutely will not tolerate a loss.  I mentally flogged myself with a cat of nine tails, forcing my mind to turn inward and develop a thousand yard stare…that state of mind where even an attack by a dozen nunchaku wielding pointed star throwing teenage mutant ninja turtles couldn’t have broken my concentration.  From that point on, I treated every single shot like it was the game winning shot.  He went down 7-4.  For the remainder of the tournament, my focus just got tighter and tighter and tighter.  My remaining match scores (as best I can remember) were 7-3, 7-4, 7-1, 7-4, and I concluded with an 11-3 victory in the title match.

What’s the moral of this story?  This will undoubtedly sound cliché, but control your emotions – don’t let them control you.  And don’t try to shark your opponents – it may have the unintended effect of motivating them to take their game to a whole new level…at your expense.

VICTORY!!!

Twenty years of struggle.  Two years of serious dedication.  Finally…VICTORY!  Last night I won at the northern California preliminary round of the U.S. Amateur Championship tournament.  I’ll be headed to Florida the weekend of November 4 to compete with 128 of the top amateur players in the U.S. for a chance to claim the title of U.S. Amateur Champion.  Yipee!!  This is a major positive step in my journey to get to the point where I can compete at a professional level.  I’ve been on this path for almost two years now…let’s see where it leads!

FINALLY!!!

The Bare Naked Truth: What Worked And What Didn’t

No corporate sponsors, no dependents, and no financial strings attached.  That’s me.  Since I’m not beholden to any external influences, I can afford to tell the bare naked truth about my pool experiences – what’s worked for me and what hasn’t.  Returning visitors to this blog know that I established this blog to document my journey (and hold myself accountable) as I strived to improve my game.  If you are a first time visitor, be warned that you are about to receive an honest no holds barred review of my pool life.  So buckle your seatbelts, keep your kids safely off the streets, and get ready for a rare glimpse into my private pool life.

This article is part of the 23rd edition of PoolSynergy, hosted by PoolSynergy founder John Biddle.  This month John asked the PoolSynergy writers to tell the world what has worked or not worked for us personally.  Before I get started, I’ll present this public service announcement:  Please keep in mind these are just my personal experiences, and since all players have different skills and different needs, your experiences will almost certainly vary from mine.  With that said, let’s get started.

The following nine items have had a positive influence on my development as a pool player and/or have helped to greatly improve my game:

  1. The APA Pool League – Why not start at the beginning?  Yes, I grew up with a pool table in my house, but no one in my family actually knew how to play.  I developed many bad habits in my youth that plagued me for years.  When I got to college, I saw the game played correctly for the first time in my life, and quickly joined an APA pool league so I could learn more.  The APA provided a structure for me to practice and play on a consistent basis, allowed me to experience a little success, and kept my interest in the game alive for many years.  If not for the APA, I would not be playing pool today.
  2. Books (the early years) – Immediately after I started playing in the APA and losing my first two or three matches, I decided to start studying the game to improve my performance.  There weren’t that many books on the market (careful – I’m about to date myself!) and the concept of the internet had not yet formed in anyone’s mind over at DARPA.  The only books I could find on the subject were Ray Martin’s 99 Critical Shots in Pool and Robert Byrne’s Standard Book of Pool and Billiards.  In my pool infancy I remember reading Byrne’s book and thinking, “Why the hell would anyone want to play pool on a pool table that didn’t have any pockets?”  I still laugh when I think about that.  These two books were critical to me because they laid down a foundation of knowledge from which I could later grow.
  3. Books (the later years) – In subsequent years I expanded my pool education and added many more titles to my collection, but the tomes that really stand out in addition to the books by Martin and Byrne include The Pro Book and The Advanced Pro Book by Bob Henning, Phillip Capelle’s entire series of books: Play your best Pool, Play your best (insert game here: 8 ball, 9 ball, Straight Pool, etc.), and most recently I’ve added two fantastic quasi-rare One Pocket books written by Eddie Robin titled Winning One Pocket and Shots, Moves, and Strategies.  All of these books have added greatly to my pool education and have also provided a structure to help guide me in my improvement journey.
  4. 1 on 1 personal instruction – If I had to pick one item as being the most impactful element in my entire pool journey, it would be this.  The small amount of time and money I’ve invested in personal instruction has paid for itself hundreds of times over.  No matter how many times you read a book or watch a DVD, until you get out there and do it yourself… and do it correctly with instant feedback… you will hit a wall and not improve further.  Most touring pros today, when asked how they got so good, tell stories of how someone took them under their wing when they were first starting out.  I never had this benefit as a young player, but in the last couple of years I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with some very talented and knowledgeable folks in the industry.  The time and money I spent on personal instruction was well worth it.  I want to thank the following people who have each contributed personally to my improvement as a player:  Chris Lynch in New York City, Bob and Linda Radford in Rockford, Illinois, Samm Vidal Claramunt in the Boulder, Colorado area, and Bob Jewett in the San Francisco Bay area.
  5. Video Recording – This item scores a very close second to personal instruction.  I was introduced to video recording when I visited Bob and Linda Radford at Cue-U about two years ago.  During two days of one on one instruction, they recorded me on several occasions as I shot a predetermined set of drills.  When we sat down together to watch the video and review my technique, I was flabbergasted!  Up to that point I thought my mechanics were pretty solid (after all, I’d been playing for many years!).  Holy cow!  My mechanics were terrible!  With the visual feedback and personal instruction Bob and Linda provided, they were able to quickly identify and cut out several bad habits that were holding me back.  They also made several adjustments to my mechanics and warned me that my ‘new improved mechanics’ would feel unnatural at first.  Diligence would be required to avoid falling back into my old habits.  I didn’t have a personal mentor, so how did I hold myself accountable?  VIDEO!  When I returned home from my travels, I bought a video camera and took it with me to the pool hall every day for many months.  This was the tool is used to ensure I didn’t give up my gains.  I recorded myself and studied my tapes and made corrections until my ‘new mechanics’ became second nature.
  6. Solitary Practice – I’ve written about the importance of solitary practice many times before, but it bears repeating.  Identify the most glaring deficiency in your game and work on it by yourself with no distractions.  Set up the same shots or situations and shoot them over and over and over again until you master them (or until you lose focus), then move to the next area of weakness.  In my opinion, serious focused practice is where the real improvement comes from.  There’s a lot of great research available on this subject, and I highly recommend you read Daniel Coyle’s great book The Talent Code.  It’s very interesting and a pretty quick read…especially if you can’t put it down once you start reading.
  7. Matching up – I’ve learned a lot by matching up against other players.  Matching up with players who are better than me is a great learning experience because I pay attention when my opponent is shooting.  What I do is observe how my opponent approaches shots, how they play position, what types of safeties they play, how they do their pre-shot routines, what their mechanics look like, etc.  In short: I’m carefully watching.  I also get benefit from playing against opponents who are not as skilled as I am.  It’s important to have someone you can beat so you can recharge your emotional batteries and give yourself hope to come back to the table again.
  8. Tournaments – Tournament play, whether handicapped or open, has been great for helping me learn to deal with nervousness and also learn that there’s no shame in losing.  Each match lost is an opportunity to learn: I’ve lost an awful lot of matches, but I’ve also learned a lot in doing so.  I keep notes during tournaments when I miss shots or put myself into bad situations, then work on these issues at future practice sessions.
  9. Straight Pool – I started playing straight pool earlier this year and have developed a love for the game.  Straight pool requires you to develop a soft touch, learn to run simple routes to clear balls from the table, and develop the ability to break open clusters.  Two things I LOVE about straight pool: (1) the personal high run statistic gives you a quantitative way to directly measure your progress, and (2) the skills you develop in straight pool have a direct positive impact on your 8 ball game.  In 8 ball, I now automatically see cluster breaking opportunities several shots ahead; whereas in the past, tough clusters nearly always stopped by 8 ball run outs.

The following six items have had very little positive impact on my development as a pool player or have had a detrimental impact on my game:

  1. High tech pool cues – I wish there was a magic pill I could take to improve my game, but I don’t believe in magic, so I guess technology will have to suffice.  There are so many choices: solid wood, spliced wood, radially spliced wood, wood covered with a sheath of fiberglass, X shafts, Z shafts, 314 shafts, OB1, brass joints, steel joints, wooden joints, ivory ferrules, phenolic ferrules, Triangle tips,  Moori, Le Pro, Tiger, Elk Master, Kamui… aaaarrrghhhhhh!  Too many choices!  I don’t want to tell you how much money I’ve spent over the last twenty years on sexy new cue technology, but here’s the god awful truth:  the cue I’m shooting with today is the very first cue I ever bought…a straight off the shelf factory standard McDermott.  Twenty years old and purchased brand new for just $85.  Since then I’ve purchased and played with cues that cost well over $2,000, and I loved them, but in the end I always returned to my good ole $85 McDermott.  Why?  I really don’t know.  I just play best with it.  Period.  The only exception to this is my current breaking cue.  For 9 ball I now break with a Samsara cue fitted with an OB1 break shaft.  Oh yeah, baby…I like the way it breaks.  Thanks Mr. Fieldhammer!
  2. Personal pool mentor – I think having a personal coach or mentor is a fantastic idea and I fully encourage you to find one.  Unfortunately, I’ve never really had the opportunity to work extensively with a coach, so for me personally I give this a ‘no positive impact on me’ rating.
  3. Playing for money (a.k.a Gambling) – If I had a nickel for every time someone told me I couldn’t improve unless I gamble, I’d be a very rich man.  What’s the fascination with pool and gambling?  I just don’t get it.  To be fair, I think most people have a scarcity or fear mentality when it comes to money, so if they play for money, this forces them to ‘get serious’ and play for the dough.  Sorry, it just doesn’t work for me.  It’s possible that I’m the strange one here…okay, maybe it’s LIKELY that I’m the strange one here… but when I play a ‘serious match’ I play for pride.  That’s it, I just don’t like losing.  Nope, not one bit.  So when I ‘play serious’ I’m gonna do my best to pound you into the ground.  Sorry, it’s not personal!  I do, however, love to play for ‘fun’ and I play for fun with my friends all the time, but if we decide to play a serious match I play serious… AND I DO NOT LIKE TO LOSE WHEN I PLAY SERIOUS!  I don’t need an external motivator to get me going.  But again, I’m sure I’m the strange one.  If you want to gamble and think it will improve your game, great.  It just doesn’t work for me.
  4. Jump shots – Let’s face it, jump shots are sexy, right?  After all, Tom Cruise hit a key jump shot in The Color of Money to beat Fast Eddie Felson, so wouldn’t it be cool if I hit a jump shot too?  Yeah, right.  When you are in a match and think you need to hit a jump shot, please, just look for the one rail kick or jack up and hit a masse shot.  Either one is likely to give you a better result.
  5. Bank shots – Bank shots are usually the first ‘trick’ shots we learn, and they are fun to shoot aren’t they?  Yes, I love them to, but in real competitive situations I almost never shoot banks.  If you really want to take your game to the next level, work on getting the cue ball where it needs to go in the first place.  That way, you don’t need to attempt a bank.  In my earlier pool years, I wasted a LOT of time working on bank shots.  My time would have been much better spent working on safeties, kicks, and cue ball distance control instead.
  6. Masse shots – Okay, okay, maybe I’m a hypocrite.  Earlier I told you to forgo the jump shot and instead try a masse.  Well, now I’m telling you to forgo the masse and instead try the one or two rail kick.  There are those rare exceptions when a masse shot is the better choice and I do shoot them occasionally, but I would prefer not to.  The key here is to practice jumps and masse A LOT if you ever plan to use them in competition.  Otherwise, don’t bother.  Your time will be much better spent, and you will receive a much better return on your investment, if instead you spend your time practicing your one and two rail kicks, safeties, and distance control.

Well, I think I’ve blabbered enough on this subject.  Once I get started talking about pool it’s very hard for me to stop.  I hope you’ve learned something here today that will aid you in your journey to improve.  Please visit John Biddle’s website to see articles written by the other PoolSynergy authors.  Best wishes!

An Evening With John Schmidt

I decided to take it easy tonight as I’m recovering from a very mild case of the flu, so I drove straight home from work to rest.  As I was sitting in my recliner and trying to decide how to occupy my brain, I glanced over to my bookshelf and noticed several straight pool DVDs.  I thought to myself, Ah hah!  This is the perfect evening for a straight pool education!  I grabbed a drink, a can of mixed nuts (pistachios and almonds), and a box of Rocher chocolates.  Ready!

The first video I watched was John’s “Run of 245” video.  The first thing that struck me was how young he looked when he shot the video.  Yikes!  Also, he ran balls with amazing speed.  When John recorded the run, he used a video camcorder, then came back later and over dubbed some comments for the viewers.  The primary reason I enjoyed the video was because I enjoyed observing his shooting style and watching the long run, but from an educational perspective, I was underwhelmed.

The second video was an amazing video.  In “Exactly How I Run 100’s,” John talks to the viewers (the camera) through every single shot all the way through the 164 ball run, and he does this while he is shooting!  I found this video to be most helpful from an educational standpoint, as you have the opportunity to think through the patterns with him, and you get to see how he constantly reconsiders risk and how his shot selections change as he progresses through the racks.

The third video was an Accu-stats video “112 Ball Run with Player Commentary.”  The video was recorded during a straight pool exhibition at the Derby City Classic in 2006.  The video was recorded, then later John and Pat Fleming come back and dubbed player commentary over the video.  This video is very professionally produced, and is good from both an entertainment and educational standpoint.

In my opinion, the Accu-stats video is not nearly as good as the “Exactly” video.  The reason is because in the Accu-stats video John and Pat discuss the shots that he makes, but there is almost no discussion about risk assessment and alternative shot options.  From an entertainment perspective, the Accu-stats video may be the best, but if you are an aspiring pool player and want to master the game of 14.1, I highly recommend “Exactly How I Run 100’s.”  It presents the game from the player’s perspective and makes you think through real world situations.

Well, that’s my evening with Mr. 400.  It’s after 10pm and the biggest issue I have right now is… I really want to go shoot pool right now!  Thankfully, this weekend is a long weekend so I’ll have plenty of time to play.  Wahoo!