Monthly Archives: October 2011

Abandon All Hope

Michael’s pool school is now is session.  9:30 am.  3.8 inch pockets.  Dry erase board.  Video camera.  Working on my errors from the tournament last night.  I finally got the hunger again, and just in time… only two weeks to Florida.  Now it’s time to get serious and take my game to a new level.  Yes, I have a disease… the relentless pursuit of perfection on the felt… and there is no cure. 


A Dream Come True!

My very own table!

Introducing my very own brand new Brunswick Gold Crown III!  Wahooo!   Ok, so the table is not new, but it’s new to me.  Last week Ernesto Dominguez and Oscar Dominguez stopped by my house on their way home from the annual Chuck Markulas Memorial tournament in Sacramento to set up the table in my garage.  Talk about two amazing guys!  It took them almost four hours of hard labor and an unbelievable amount of patience to get the table leveled correctly, but they did a fantastic job.  Below I’ve included some photos from this historic event.  Can you tell I’m excited? 

Is this tight enough?

A few weeks ago I told Ernesto that I wanted tight pockets, but I didn’t really specify exactly what I meant when I said tight.  No worries, he had a solution in mind.  He took the rails from my recently purchased table to his shop in L.A., reworked the wood and cut new cushions, then came back with a product that was much better than I had dared to ask for.  When he first put the rails on, I looked and almost choked!  Take a look at this tight pocket!  He laughed and told me that wasn’t the final resting spot for the rails, and I sighed in relief, wheewww! 

Final pocket - 3.8 inches!

He adjusted the rails to the correct spot, and they were still pretty tight!  How tight are they?   Well, let’s first consider what it means to have normal pockets.  The standard pocket for home recreation is about 5 inches wide, which is good for the casual player.  In most pool halls, the serious players like to play on tables with “tight” pockets.  In general, any table with pockets that are 4.5 inches or less are considered “tight.”  When you get any tighter, let’s say around 4.25 inches, this is considered “super tight.”  The pockets on my table?  3.81 inches!  What is THAT?  Super-duper extra tight?!!  I must admit I was somewhat intimidated at first, but deep down I was excited… excited about the challenge the super duper tight pockets would present, and the possibilities for improvement that they represented.  Now I’ve got to really focus on every single shot.  I’ve got to eliminate that crazy English I tend to over use because tight pockets are very unforgiving, demand extreme accuracy, and also require you to slow the cue ball down (which incidentally is a good thing).  So I’ll need to ditch most of the extreme English and use speed and angles of approach to get proper position.  With a great table at home, I can now hit California Billiards between 5:00pm and 2:00 am, then train at home from 2:00am to 8:00am.  Who needs sleep anyway?  Oh, yeah!  I can feel my game getting better already!  The next step will be to actually clean up the garage so that it’s presentable.  Nah, that can wait!

Ernesto and Oscar Constructing And Finishing My Gold Crown III

Shark Attack!

For this month’s PoolSynergy topic, Gary wanted each of the PoolSynergy writers to share experiences we’ve had with sharking and offer some ideas on how to deal with it.  First things first:  What is sharking?  A quick look at the glossary of cue sports provides the following definitions: 


  1. Verb: To perform some act or make some utterance with the intent to distract, irritate or intimidate the opponent so that they do not perform well, miss a shot, etc.  Most league and tournament rules forbid blatant sharking, as a form of unsportsmanlike conduct, but it is very common in bar pool.
  2. Noun: Another term for hustler.
  3. Noun: A very good player. This usage is common among non-players who often intend it as a compliment and are not aware of its derogatory senses (above).

Through the years I have had several experiences with players who attempted to shark me.  In almost all cases, the sharking incidences took place in a local bar, not a pool hall.  I’m not exactly sure why this is the case, but in my experience, players who frequent pool halls tend to be more highly skilled and respectful of the game than players who shoot pool in local bars.  What follows is a short list of sharking incidences that I’ve personally experienced. 

  • The Hot Head – I was recently playing a guy in a large tournament who had a bit of a temper problem and a somewhat overinflated opinion of his skills.  After I tied the match at 2-2, my opponent blew his top and yelled in my direction, “I can’t believe you are hanging with me.  I’m a much better player than you.”  Wow.  Really?   
  • The Talker – I was watching a match once, and every time one player left the table, he would sit in his chair and strike up a conversation with folks standing nearby.  It was very disrespectful and distracting for the other player, and quite frankly, to many of the other observers. 
  • The Bag of Nerves – I once played a guy who was super twitchy.  Every time he sat down between innings, he would fiddle with his fingers, pop his knuckles, clear his throat, and pick at his fingernails.  Was he sharking?  Who knows?  I actually don’t think he was; I think he was just a very nervous guy, but geeze, he was distracting!
  • The Classless Coach – A dozen years ago I was playing a guy in a bar league, and several times when my opponent missed a shot, the opposing team’s coach would attempt to console my opponent by telling him loudly, “Don’t worry, he’s not very good.  You’ll get another chance to shoot.”  Talk about no class!

How should you deal with sharks?  Here are some common techniques that can be used effectively, depending on your personality and how you like to handle adversity:

  • Ignore it:  If your opponent is trying to shark you, they must feel it necessary to shark you, and that’s a compliment.
  • Take the high road:  If your opponent is intentionally sharking you, that means they are exhibiting bad behavior and trying to gain an unfair advantage.  Make him/her pay by slowing down, focusing and concentrating more than you were before, and make the shot.
  • Openly discuss the sharking:  Stop your play and calmly and nicely explain to the offender that their behavior is bothering you.  Ask them to stop and/or move away from your line of sight.  If someone is doing something that really bothers you and is distracting, it could be an innocent error.  Just explain the situation to your opponent.
  • Quit:  When I’m practicing with friends, we jokingly shark each other just for fun.  However, if I am playing a serious match and someone starts sharking me and refuses to stop, I may just stop shooting and walk away.  In my opinion, life is too short to deal with this type of juvenile behavior.   Just move on.
  • No matter what you do, don’t lose your cool.  If you get upset, the shark has won the battle, you will not play well, and most likely you will not have a good time.

Well, that about summarizes my experiences with sharking.  To read other articles written about sharking, visit Gary’s website here.

The Doldrums

Talk about ups and downs!  After shooting some of the best pool in my life a couple weeks ago, I seem to have completely fallen off the cart.  I’m beginning to wonder if there is a phenomenon called “post goal achievement depression.”  Since my victory at the U.S. Amateur preliminary tournament (a tournament I’ve wanted to win for over 10 years), I seem to have lost my desire to compete in pool.  Very very strange!  Maybe I just need a break to recharge my batteries?  The final round of the U.S. Amateurs will be held the first weekend of November, so if I plan to be competitive in Florida, I’ll need to figure out where my motivation went.  Sigh!

The Safety Game

Hiding the cue ball

Prior to the US Amateur Championship preliminary round tournament, which is structured as a combination of eight ball and nine ball, I thought of ways to prepare for it.  Since I consider eight ball to be my strongest game, I wanted to spend time thinking about nine ball.  I asked myself many questions.  What do I need to work on?  What are my weakest points?  I thought through some nine ball matches I’ve played (and lost) to better players in the last few months.  If my memory and match notes serve me correctly, the two biggest factors leading to my loses were (1) my opponents’ ability to recognize good safeties and make the decision to play them instead of going for an easy shot that might lead to a tough out, and (2) my opponents’ ability to execute safeties very well, leaving me no shot at all and getting ball in hand which virtually guaranteed themselves a victory.  Of course there were other factors which contributed to my losses, like getting on the wrong side of a ball, failing to execute a recovery shot, or just plain missing a shot, but I thought the biggest opportunity for improvement would come from improved safety play and better decisions to play safes.

This quick analysis led me to some important considerations:  Why don’t I see the great opportunities to play safeties, and if I do see them, why do I not choose the safe and instead go for the improbable run out?  My conclusion?  It all comes down to two things:  (1) knowledge,  and (2) confidence.  If I’m not aware of a safety opportunity, I can’t decide to shoot it, and if I see the safe but I don’t have confidence to execute it, I will not make the decision to shoot the safe and will instead turn to my offensive game and hope for the best.

But how do I work on safety knowledge and confidence?  To help me both learn new safeties and develop my confidence in executing them, I invented a new game:  The Safety Game.  I only had one opportunity to play The Safety Game prior to the US Amateur Championship preliminary tournament, but I believe that one practice session had a huge positive impact on the strength of my nine ball game.  I believe The Safety Game was so effective in preparing me for the tournament, I’ve decided to keep it a secret so that my future opponents can’t use it against me.  However, if you lean in close, I’ll whisper in your ear and tell you all about it…

The Break Shot: Cue ball on the head spot, object ball 2.25 inches off the bottom rail

The Safety Game

Find a training partner.  Yeah, you can actually play this game by yourself, but I’m trying to improve your social life as well as improve your game, so find a training partner!  Also, for this game I highly recommend playing against another person as opposed to playing by yourself  because the other person will think differently than you and will make different decisions than you.  Based on your partner’s experience, you partner almost certainly will come up with solutions to safety and kicking problems that will differ from your own.  These differences will expand your knowledge base and teach you additional ways to escape from tough situations.  When you play this game, play it as a race to 10 or 20 games.

The Rules:

  • You must lag to determine who will break the first rack.  If you’re lazy, you can just flip a coin, but you’re not lazy, are you?
  • The winner of the lag can choose to break or defer the break
  • After the initial rack, the winner of a game must break the next rack
  • On the break shot, the breaker MUST play a safe
  • The break shot must always start EXACTLY as diagrammed above

To win a game:

  • You must legally pocket the object ball in a called pocket

The following situations are an immediate loss of game:

  • Pocketing the object ball on the break is a loss of game, even if you call it.
  • Pocketing the object ball in any pocket other than a called pocket is a loss of game
  • A scratch at any time is a loss of game

All other general pocket billiards rules apply.

Try out The Safety Game.  I absolutely guarantee your performance in nine ball will skyrocket.  What you will learn is that if you continually try to attempt difficult shots, you might win a game or two out of pure shooting ability, but in the long run you will lose the match.  This is because the probability of winning any one game goes up slightly if you execute a good safety, but if you look at a series of games, the probablity of winning the entire match goes up dramatically with proper safety play (Trust me…it’s a math thing!)  As you work with The Safety Game, you will start to see safeties and develop a feel for hitting them.  You will also learn by watching how your opponent reacts to your safeties.  You will begin to hone your ability to answer that super critical question we always ask ourselves in tough situations:  “Do I play a safe here, or do I go for the shot?”  Try The Safety Game out for at least three practice sessions, then write me back and tell me what you learned.  This is the only game for which I’m willing to offer a complete money back guarantee.