A couple days ago I won a spot in the Northern California preliminary and will be headed to Tampa, Florida to compete in the final round of the 2016 U.S. Amateur Championship tournament. This tournament is an annual event created and promoted by the APA, and typically features the best of the best APA players in the country. To win the spot I had to compete against several good players, all friends of mine, and this year I was the one who got a few rolls and got lucky. This will be my second trip to Florida, so I know what to expect in terms of hotel accommodations, host location, and most importantly, the competition. I plan to get there a few days early to get comfortable with the location, learn the tables, and also just to relax and enjoy the experience. My first trip to the finals was in 2011, and at that time I was practicing a lot and put a lot of pressure on myself. This time, I’m a different player. I’ve improved my 8-ball and 9-ball games by adding a few tricks/skills from One Pocket, but I have to admit that I don’t practice much anymore. Just been too busy. Oh well. I feel I have a responsibility to represent NorCal to the best of my ability, so I’ll be hitting the practice table pretty intensely over the next month. See ya in Florida!
Just when I thought I’d seen it all… a couple weeks ago I played in an 8-ball tournament at Cuetopia using a format that was completely new to me. The format is called a “Line Tournament.” I thought it was a very interesting format as there was no handicapping involved, yet, it provided a reasonable opportunity for lesser players to finish in the money. Here’s how the format works….
Suppose 8 players show up for the tournament. The tournament director ranks the players 1-8 based on his/her knowledge or best guess of each player’s skill. To start the tournament, the 1st and 2nd ranked players match up on table 1, the 3rd and 4th ranked players start on table 2, etc. The players lag (or flip) for the break, and each match is really just a race to one. Yes… one game. After each match (or game), the winner moves up one table (closer to table 1), and the loser moves down one table (closer to table 4). If you win at table 1 you stay at table 1, and if you lose at table 4, you stay at table 4. That’s it. You run the tournament for a set amount of time (for instance, two hours), and the tournament winner is the person with the best win/loss record when time runs out.
There are many benefits to this format, two of which are of key interest to me: (1) the tournament has a set time limit….no staying up until 2:00 in the morning, and (2) I get some practice playing against a few higher skilled players in a series of sudden death matches…. PRESSURE! I really like this format. It is fun, provides good match pressure, and still gets you home at a reasonable time.
This weekend I competed in the BCAPL Southwest Regional Championships in Scottsdale, AZ. I played okay, certainly not my best, but pulled a two and out. Before I left the tournament area for the long hot drive across the desert, I scribbled a few notes that should help me improve prior to entering my next big tournament. Here are some of my lessons learned:
- I normally practice and compete on tight pocket nine foot Brunswick Gold Crowns. If I plan to enter in a highly competitive bar box tournament that will be using seven foot Diamond tables, it’s probably a good idea for me to practice a little on bar boxes. (Duhh!)
- I don’t have to play close shape on bar box tables because there are no long shots on a bar box. I should keep the cue ball away from the object balls so that I don’t kiss safe myself. (Three times I ended a 6 ball run with a kiss on my 7th ball.)
- I should play stop shot routes as much as possible to eliminate the need to figure out table speed. The speed of the cloth and the action of the rails become irrelevant if I can plan and execute a series of stop shots. (On several occasions I overran my landing zones while still adjusting to the table speed.)
- I must pull up and chalk if I have any mind chatter. I must not shoot unless I have a very specific landing spot identified for the cue ball. (Twice I messed up on the key ball shot because of mind chatter: one voice in my head was telling me to hurry up and shoot the shot because the subsequent position was so easy there was no need to think about it, while another voice in my head was screaming, “NO! NO! Stand up!”
Maybe the most important lesson learned: No player that I watched did anything extraordinary. These guys were playing right at my skill level. I gave up games (and matches) on silly mental mistakes. I believe the biggest things I need to work on are my mental focus and pre-shot routines, both of which should easily be within my control. Next time, I will be ready.
I’m flying to Scottsdale, Arizona tonight for the BCAPL Southwest Regional Championships. Since I don’t play in the BCA league, I had to purchase a BCA Player Membership and will be entering the tournament in the Advanced/Masters category. Out of the hundreds of players expected to show up for the tournament, only fifteen of us fall within this group. I did a little research on the other fourteen players and get the feeling I’ve got a very tough row to hoe. Some of them placed high in the US Bar Box Championship Open 8-Ball, and some have finished in the money at various other open events. Oh well, enough whining, I just need to suck it up and play my game.
Wish me luck!
I haven’t been online for several days, so I thought I’d give a quick update. Here’s what I’ve been working on over the last week or so:
One rail kicks – I haven’t practiced kicks in several months and this deficiency is starting to show in my 9 Ball game. I think I committed six or seven ball in hand fouls a couple weeks ago during a league match, and as a result, I almost lost. Frightening.
Super thin cuts – This is a pretty useful skill in 9 Ball, but an absolutely essential skill in 14.1. You can play some devastating safeties in 14.1 with a super thin cut and a frozen rack. Learn how to do it and use this skill to your advantage. Don’t know how to practice this? Stay tuned.
Lag shots – Who practices these? Lag shots have the power to earn you the first break in 8 Ball and 9 Ball and help you avoid the first break in 14.1. Don’t you think it’s a good idea to practice them?
Banks – I stopped working on my banks several months ago and I can tell I’ve lost my touch. Although I do my best to avoid bank shots whenever I’m competing, if I do get out of line (which is often), banks can be a very useful tool to get out of a jam.
Shooting off the rail – I often find myself shooting off the rail in 14.1 matches. It’s a good idea to master this shot so you don’t miscue and choke during a match.
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
I hate losing. Well, maybe that statement is not completely accurate. I guess it’s not the losing that I hate, as there have been many matches where I’ve lost but felt good about it because I knew that I had played to the best of my ability. Last night was not one of those cases. I played in an 8 ball tournament Friday night at Lucky Shot Billiards. I think there were about 20 people in the tournament, and I ended up with 4th place, but I was very disappointed with my performance. Even in the matches that I won, I never really felt in control of my game. Nothing ever “felt right”. In my final match I played a guy whom I know to be a better player than me, and I was hoping to give him a tough match. Alas, I stunk! I had several opportunities during the match to take control of the table due to some weak safeties that he played, but in almost every instance I failed to capitalize on the opportunities and left him with runnable tables.
They say a lot of this game is in your head, and to a large extent that is true, but when you are given opportunities to make a shot and take control of the table, you must be able to make the shot! Ugggh! Enough of my whining. I contemplated playing in the 9 ball tournament tonight at California Billiards, but I still don’t feel mentally with it, so I think instead I’ll just take the day off and rest. I’ll also spend some time thinking about my performance to identify aspects of my game that I need to work on. After all, there’s always another tournament!