“Hey Reddick, you drew a monster in the first round!” a friend yelled as I worked my way through the crowd. I was headed to the US Open One Pocket Championship tournament board to verify my start time and find out whom I was playing. “Michael Reddick vs. Dennis Orcollo – 1:00 PM.” Yikes! Dennis Orcollo, the #1 rated player in the world and widely known as the top money player on the planet. A monster indeed!
This being my first pro One Pocket tournament, my strategy was very simple: JUST MAKE ONE BALL. I kid you not. Yes, it sounds like an artificially low goal, but hey, One Pocket is a very tough game, especially when played against the best players in the world. At the time I had no idea how tough it would be for me to make one ball against a top rated player, but I was about to find out the hard way. I got to the match table at 12:55 and Dennis was already warming up. Talk about intimidation! I tried to play it off like I was cucumber cool, walking slowly to my chair, yawning, screwing my cue together, yawning again…like it was just another day’s work for me; but inside I was experiencing a firestorm of emotion. I kept repeating a mantra in my head to calm myself: “Relax, Breath Deep, Just one ball. Relax, Breath Deep, Just one ball. Relax, Breath Deep, Just one ball.”
Dennis approached and asked if I wanted to warm up. “Yeah, sure,” I deadpanned. I stepped to the table praying my hands weren’t shaking so badly he would notice. I decided against hitting any practice shots for fear that my nervousness would cause me to miss even the simple setups and thereby reveal to Dennis just how outclassed I was. Instead, I set the cue ball near the long rail and hit a couple lag shots to see how straight the ball would roll. Next, I set the cue ball in front of one corner pocket and sent whitey 3 cushions to the adjacent corner pocket to see if the table was playing short or long. The ball went in on the first try and with pocket speed to boot. I shrugged my shoulders as if this was normal for me (it certainly was NOT) and told Dennis I was ready.
THE LAG – We walked to the table and shook hands. Click / Click. Our lags were nearly simultaneous. You know that feeling you get when you KNOW you hit a good lag? I got that feeling as soon the cue ball left my tip. I celebrated quietly in my head as my ball rebounded from the head rail, made its way back down, and slowly rolled to a stop within an inch and a half of the bottom rail. Damn good shot if I do say so myself! I glanced up to see where Orcollo’s shot had landed: Half an inch from the rail. WHAT??!!!
THE FIRST RACK – The break is a huge advantage in One Pocket. Giving up the break to the #1 player in the world takes that concept to a whole new level. Dennis broke and the results were nearly perfect: I was frozen to the side rail, there were 4 or 5 balls near his hole, and I had no possible cuts or banks available. In my inexperienced eyes, I couldn’t even find a good safety. I fell back to my most basic One Pocket strategy: Try to put the cue ball directly in front of his hole. I tried to get whitey there safely but there was a lot of traffic and I held back a little too much on the speed and left him a makeable cut shot. DOOM! Dennis is widely regarded as the best ball runner on the planet, and he quickly showed me why: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 and out! So there I was: 1 shot, one loss, and I hadn’t even made a single ball!
THE SECOND RACK – Now it was my break. I would have the advantage. Yeah, right. I broke with mediocre results. I accidentally knocked the corner ball from the rack into the vicinity of his pocket and didn’t leave him tight on the side rail. He decided not to take the hard cut and instead we exchanged a couple safeties. Then he left me frozen against a ball with very few offensive options except for a kick shot at a ball that was very near my hole. I calculated my probability of success at 85-90% and took my chances with the kick. Bad choice. The object ball rattled and didn’t drop. Worse yet, Dennis had a cut shot available and a natural angle for another ball. POW! 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 and out! At this point I had taken a total of only 5 shots over a span of 18 minutes, was already behind 2-0 in a race to 4, and I hadn’t even made one ball!
This match was quickly turning into a slaughter. I then experienced a bout of extreme embarrassment along with a modest dose of anger. I had never entertained the thought of beating Dennis, but I certainly had no intention of setting the world record for the shortest One Pocket match ever! TIME FOR A NEW STRATEGY! From now on, my only objective was to stall the match as long as possible. FORGET OFFENSE! Every single time I approached the table I was going to be looking for the best safety possible, preferably a frozen ball safety. Little did I know, this change in strategy would have a profound effect on the outcome of the third rack… (to be continued in my next post).