Category Archives: Pool Synergy

A collection of my Pool Synergy posts.

PoolSynergy December 2011

How do you recharge your batteries?

Welcome to the 26th edition of PoolSynergy, a collection of some of the best writing the pool world has to offer.  For the December edition of PoolSynergy, it was my privilege to select a topic for discussion, and with the holiday season approaching I knew exactly what I wanted to write about.  It is well known that playing great pool requires a lot of time and dedication.  I absolutely love the game; however, based on my personal experience I know there are times when I overload on pool and need to take a break from the table.

This is especially true during the holiday season.  This is the time of year when we serious pool junkies begin to notice the non-pool playing parts of our lives are jockeying for our attention and we lose mental focus.  There are holiday parties with friends that we are expected to attend, work related gatherings that we need to survive, family reunions we need to endure (and enjoy), holiday shopping to be done, religious celebrations to attend, etc.  With the holiday season approaching, I began to wonder:  (1) what should I do with my time if I take a break from the table, (2) what do other pool players do when they are away from the table, and (3) how do we recharge our emotional and/or physical batteries so that we can come back to the table feeling physically and mentally refreshed and ready to play?  This month, the PoolSynergy writers accepted the arduous task of addressing the topic: How do you recharge your batteries? 

Our first contributor is John Risner.  John is a first time contributor to PoolSynergy and we are very happy to welcome him to the community.  John is a pool player and blogger from Tennessee who has challenged himself to train for and win the Men’s U.S. Amateur Championship Title.  John’s article first provides a humorous yet frighteningly accurate description of how otherwise ordinary human beings get hooked on the game, then he provides some insight into how he handles himself in situations where most players get discouraged and get burned out.  Check out John’s article here.

Next up is Suzanne Smith, a pool player and blogger from Washington.  Suzanne is now a two time contributor to PoolSynergy and we are very happy to have her back.  You may recognize her name…she is the 2011 U.S. Amateur Women’s Champion!!!  This month, Suzanne gives us a look at some of her off season activities, which includes spending time with her family, taking lessons, watching live streaming matches, and planning her pool tournament schedule for the upcoming year.  Check out Suzanne’s article here.

Melinda, aka Trigger, is an avid pool player and award winning blogger who hails from the great state of Texas.  Melinda provides us with some very sound advice: when life throws us curveballs and we get mentally derailed from our game, one method for getting back on track is to set goals and hold ourselves accountable.  You can read Melinda’s article here.

Mike Fieldhammer is a professional pool player and frequent blogger from Minnesota.  This month Mike provides us with some fantastic advice on how to avoid burnout.  Playing pool is Mike’s full time job, so he certainly has a vested interest in making sure he keeps his game sharp.  Whether he’s involved in summertime activities, traveling on the road to big tournaments, or enduring the normal day to day pool grind, Mike has lots of experience and advice on keeping your mental game up and avoiding burnout.  Read Mike’s article here.

John Biddle is a dedicated player from Florida who is also the father of the entire PoolSynergy effort.  John decided to turn this month’s PoolSynergy topic on its head and describe how he uses the game of pool itself as a tool to recharge his batteries so he can deal with life away from the table.  You can read all about John’s thoughts here.

Our 6th PoolSynergy contributor for the month of December is Johnny, a dedicated pool player and blogger from Missouri.  This month, Johnny provides some insight and advice on how to handle ourselves “when the balls seem to blur and the cue seems infinitely curved… ”.  You can check out Johnny’s article here.

And rounding out this month’s collection of articles is my very own contribution.  I have decided to take a few months off from pool.  Unfortunately, I’ve reached that burnout point and now I need some time away from the table to rebalance my life and try to rediscover that inner fire that has fueled the last two years of my pool journey.  Fear not, my pool playing days are not over…I just need a break.  I expect to return to the table in April of 2012.  Until then, you will continue to see periodic updates and musings on my blog.  You can read more about my vacation from pool in my article here.


Taking a Break to Recharge

As the host of this month’s pool synergy forum, I wanted to write about a topic that I was familiar with and was also relevant for me.  Over the last two years, I’ve been laser focused on improving my pool game and I believe the prolonged intensity caught up with me this fall about a month before the preliminary round of the 2011 U.S. Amateur Championships.  I was beginning to lose my desire to compete and was mentally exhausted.  In October I somehow managed to pull myself together and was able to win the preliminary round of the U.S. Amateur Championships held in Northern California, but then I immediately reverted back to my mental/emotional slump and couldn’t motivate myself to do any additional training.  After traveling to Florida in November and competing in the finals of the U.S. Amateur Championships, I finally admitted to myself that I was having trouble focusing and I needed to take a break from the game. 

For the entire month of December and probably the first three months of 2012, I’ve decided to take a break from playing pool.  I just need some time to recharge my batteries, reorganize my life, and get refocused on what my goals are in pool and life.  For the time being, here’s my plan for refreshing and recharging myself:

(1) I’m totally revamping my diet.  I’ve gotten rid of all of my junk food, kicked my diet coke addiction, started eating more raw vegetables like carrots, celery, broccoli, etc., drastically reduced my intake of useless starchy carbs and began eating only when hungry, not when the clock tells me it’s time to eat.

(2) I’ve transitioned from being a semi-professional couch potato to adopting a new (and sustainable) exercise program which includes 3 or 4 days of running per week, plus 3 or 4 days of gym work.  The exercise is making a big difference in my energy level and is also a good stress reliever and mental gunk cleanser.

(3) I’m spending a lot of time with friends and family.  I’m flying back east to see my family during the holidays and also plan to take a trip to see some snow in late December.  I think spending a few days at Lake Tahoe or Yosemite will do wonders for me.  My main focus will be resting and relaxation, and maybe I’ll enjoy a little hot cocoa while snuggling up to a cozy fire.  🙂

My intention in making these changes is to be a healthier person both physically and mentally, allow myself to get some rest, rebalance my life, and come back to the pool world next year with a fresh new focus and attitude.  So that’s about it for me.  I plan to periodically provide updates to this blog on my thoughts and musings on pool, so stay tuned.  After all, although I’m taking a short break from the table, I’m still an incorrigible pool player at heart.

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!

10 Quick Tips to Improve Your Game

For this month’s PoolSynergy topic, Samm wanted each of the PoolSynergy writers to come up with a list of 10 things related to pool.  I immediately thought about making a list of the 10 most important things to remember when trying to improve your game.  At first I thought this would be an easy topic to write about, but unfortunately when I brainstormed the topic I came up with many more than 10 ideas.  Ugggghhh!  After considerable reflection, and a little bit of hand wringing, I was finally able to prune my list down to ten thoughts.  I hope you find these tips helpful and wish you the best of luck in your game!

  1.  Practice Alone – Solo practice should be the heart of your improvement program.  Spend at least an hour per week focusing on your weaknesses.  Are there certain types of shots that give you trouble?  Set up a troublesome shot and shoot it 20 times in a row.  If you can maintain your focus, shoot it even more.  Once you master that shot, work on the next most troublesome shot.

  2.  Take Notes – Keep a small notepad or use a smart phone to take notes during your practice sessions or during matches.  Make notes on what shots you miss and why you miss them.  This will provide you with a list of things you need to work on during your next solo practice session.

  3. Work on Fundamentals – It may sound like a cliché, but you should always work on fundamentals.  Your stance, bridge, and stroke influence every single shot you make.  Most players don’t work on fundamentals, although they should.  If you do, you will improve faster.

  4.  Find a playing partner you can beat – You can’t practice solo all the time.  Find someone who is slightly less skilled than you and play them often.  This will give you confidence in your ability to play and win.  It will also give your partner some good practice playing a better player.

  5.  Find a playing partner you can’t beat – Find someone who is slightly more skilled than you and play them often.  If you are not getting blown away, this will motivate you if you occasionally can pull off an upset, it will push you to improve your game, and will give you a chance to learn from a better player. 

  6.  Play in handicapped tournaments – Handicapped tournaments allow you to experience the pressure of playing in a tournament and at the same time gives you a fair chance to win or finish in the money.  Handicapped tournaments also tend to be a little less competitive and more friendly, so it’s a great way to get your feet wet.

  7.  Play in Open tournaments – Playing in an open tournament requires you to really pick up your game.   Open tournaments are usually more competitive, and allow you to see where your game really stands in the pantheon of pool players.  If you don’t want to play in an open, at least make an effort to attend one and watch how the players handle themselves and the pressure.

  8.  Try to eliminate English – Keep it simple.  Using English reduces the accuracy of your shots, so try to use just center ball, follow, and draw.  If you make an effort to plan ahead properly (three shots ahead), you can drastically reduce the need for English.  Give it a try in one of your solo practice sessions.  Slow things down and think before each shot.  I bet you’ll be surprised at how well you can play without English.

  9.  Work on speed control (a.k.a. distance control) and play for longer shape – Proper use of cue ball speed can make up for many other weaknesses in your game.  Not sure exactly how the cue ball will come off the object ball, or exactly how the cue ball will come off that rail?  Good speed control can allow you to run the cue ball farther around the table and land in the ‘fatter’ and more forgiving part of the landing zone for your next shot.  Your next shot might be a little farther away than you want, but at least you’ll have a makeable shot.

10.  Get some quality one on one instruction – Arguably the most important tip.  If you want to improve fast, there’s no substitute for working with a knowledgeable instructor.  Unfortunately, there’s no quick and easy way to identify a great instructor.  If a person is a great player, it does not qualify them to be a great instructor.  I’ve taken lessons from professionals that were worthless, and I’ve taken lessons from amateurs that were priceless.  I’ve also taken lessons from amateurs that were worthless and lessons from professionals that were priceless.  Coaching is a skill, just like any other skill.  I recommend finding 3 or 4 different instructors and paying for one hour of instruction from each.  Afterwards, evaluate each and see which one was the best fit for you, then get more instruction from that person.

I hope these tips help you improve your game.  To read articles written by the other PoolSynergy writers, visit Samm’s website.

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.

PoolSynergy: What Makes A Great Tournament?

For this month’s PoolSynergy topic, Mike Fieldhammer wants our opinion on what makes a pool tournament experience great.  I’m sure some people will say it’s the size of the tournament, the venue itself, or the amount of money paid out.  Not me.  What I find most interesting and enjoyable is being a witness to the human element – the interactions between the personalities involved.  Have you ever seen Alex Pagulayan in person?  How did God fit so much personality into such a small frame?  Looking for a truck load of witticisms and one-liners?  Sit next to Earl Strickland while he’s shooting in a match and you’ll get all you can handle.

You don’t have to be at a national class tournament to have a great time.  You can have some really great experiences in smaller local tournaments.  Smaller tournaments tend to give you more opportunities to meet really interesting people.  For example, last weekend I played in the Chico Chaisson Memorial tournament at the Broken Rack in Emeryville, California.  It was a relatively small One Pocket tournament (about 30 players) held in honor of a Chico Chaisson, a gentleman who practically lived at the Broken Rack for years and who recently passed away.  Although the tournament was small, it drew some high caliber players, including Rafael Martinez, George Michaels, Baby Frank, and Billy Palmer.  Being brand new to the One Pocket scene, and since this was my first entry into a One Pocket tournament ever, I was just there to learn the game.  The players that I spoke to were very helpful and willing to give me some pointers before the tournament started.  I continue to be amazed at how open and friendly most pool players are.  In my first match, I played a guy named John Henderson.  Being new to One Pocket, I’d never heard of him.  He introduced himself and we shook hands.  I immediately apologized to him because I didn’t know all the rules, but John said that was fine and he was willing to answer any questions that I had.  I asked a couple clarifying questions about scoring and what to do on scratches, and then we started our match.  My approach to the game was very simple:  I just shot safeties every chance I got, and then tried my best to bank any ball I could see.  When the smoke finally cleared, I had somehow managed to score more points than John, and win my very first One Pocket match.  John was a very gracious opponent, and I wished him the best of luck in the rest of the tournament.  I ended up with a 2-2 record and I was very happy with that result.  It wasn’t until two hours AFTER leaving the tournament and driving home that I discovered that John Henderson was a world class One Pocket player who placed 7th in the US Open One Pocket tournament in May 2011!  And I had no idea who he was!  I guess ignorance is bliss.

The highlight of the tournament, in my opinion, came later that night after I had left.  Richard Cook, a.k.a. Bucktooth, had been watching One Pocket matches all day long, and finally had to get in on some of the action himself.  He negotiated a One Pocket match with Hugo, a local player, with the following restriction: if Hugo would play one-handed, Bucktooth would play him using a broom stick.  I don’t know what the bet was, or who won the match, but that’s not really important to me.  I just hate that I missed such a classic matchup.  Here’s a picture of the match taken by a friend of mine Reid Stensrud.

So, to sum it up:  What makes a great tournament experience?  Meeting interesting people and watching their personalities interact.  It’s almost like reality TV, except, it really IS real!  To read articles from the other PoolSynergy authors, visit Mike Fieldhammer’s blog here.

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!

Three Tips For Your Defense

November 2010 is the one year anniversary of PoolSynergy, and founder John Biddle is the host of this month’s PoolSynergy topic.  This month, John asked the following question to the poolsynergy authors: “If you could share only 3 tips related to pool, what 3 tips would you share?”  I’ve been working a lot on my defensive game lately, so I decided to write about three simple but devastating safeties that any beginning, intermediate, or advanced player can use to win more games.  The three safeties are: (1) The half ball hit safety, (2) the one ball safety, and (3) the stop shot safety.  If you want to see tips shared by other PoolSynergy authors, visit John’s blog here.  Hope you enjoy!

(1) The Half Ball Hit Safety
The situation: The game is 9 ball. You broke and ran, but lost cue ball position on the 9.  Now what?  Do you play for a tough bank shot to the corner pocket and hope for the best?  Are you kidding me?  Just play a half ball safe and let your opponent take the risky shot.  To make the shot, just aim the center of the cue ball at the right most edge of the 9 ball.  You may even put a half tip of right spin on the cue ball.  Hit the shot with speed to put the object ball in the center of the left side rail.  Now your opponent has to make a very tough shot.  Sure, he MIGHT make the bank, but 80% or more of the time he will sell out and give you the win.  Those are pretty good odds in your favor!

The Half Ball Hit Safety

(2) The One Ball Safety
The situation: The game is 8ball. Your opponent broke and ran but jawed the 8 in the corner. You ran down to your last solid but lost cue ball position.  Now what? Do you play a tough bank shot to the side pocket and hope for the best?  Don’t take a risk like that!  Just play a one ball safe and get ball in hand for an easy win!  To make the shot, just stroke the cue ball gently with center follow and hit the object ball so that it comes softly off the rail and the cue ball does the same.  Now the object ball is between the cue ball and the 8.  Your opponent will be required to hit a tough 1 or 2 rail kick.  If he misses, you get ball in hand and an easy win!   

The One Ball Safety

(3) The stop shot safety
The situation: The game is 8ball. Your opponent broke and ran but jawed the 8 in the corner. You ran down to your last two solids, but can’t figure out how to run the last two balls.  Now what? Do you play the seven ball in the side pocket and hope for position on the 1 ball?  Why take that chance?  Just play a stop shot safe and get ball in hand for an easy run out!  To make the shot, just stroke the cue ball gently into the one ball by hitting the cue ball a half tip below center.  The one ball will bounce off the rail and stop in front of the corner pocket.  The cue ball will now be hiding directly behind the 7 ball.  Now  it’s your opponent’s turn, but he must attempt a tough 1 or 2 rail kick.  If he misses, you get ball in hand for an easy run out and the win!   

The Stop Shot Safety