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!
Wow! I haven’t posted in my blog since October 2012! Have I taken a sabbatical from the sport, lost the desire to complete, or put away my cues for good? On the contrary! I’ve been so busy in the last few months that I haven’t had time to shoot pool at all, much less write about it. What have I been up to over the last several months, you ask? Well, let me tell you…
After many years of contemplating the sport and trying to make decisions about what my future might look like, I’ve finally taken some concrete steps to make my pool dreams a reality. At the stroke of midnight this New Year’s Eve, I launched a new pool organization called California Cue Sports, Inc. The purpose of California Cue Sports is to promote the game (all cue sports) by establishing leagues that are built for the players and are responsive to player input, and also work with other businesses to help promote the game and build a solid foundation that will allow aspiring players to develop and flourish. For more information about the league, you can visit here:
This February we will launch our first league; a handicapped One Pocket league that will be the first One Pocket league in California and possibly the first in the nation. The league is already generating a lot of buzz because we will be sending three players on an all-expense paid trip to compete in the 14th Annual US Open One Pocket Championship this July in Las Vegas!
In addition to the One Pocket league, we will also be launching a handicapped Scotch Doubles 9 Ball league in February. The Scotch Doubles league should also be a lot of fun for all players involved. So 2013 promises to be a very very busy year for me. Hopefully I’ll be able to carve out a few minutes here and there to hit some balls and I certainly will make an effort to post here on a more regular basis. So here’s to a great 2013, and may all your New Year’s wishes come true! Cheers!
Today I’m driving to the Chuck Markulas Memorial tournament being held at Hard Times in Sacramento, CA. The One Pocket portion of the tournament is already under way, but the 9 Ball tournament that I’m competing in starts Saturday morning. Who’s going to be there? Efren Reyes, Francisco Bustamante, Santos Sambijan, Ernesto Dominguez, Oscar Dominguez, and many other national class players. Should be fun!
This Sunday I turned in one of the worst performances in league history and got absolutely slaughtered in an APA 9 Ball match. It’s no secret 9 Ball is my weakest game, so I decided to join an APA 9 ball team this session for the first time to get some experience playing in the APA format in preparation for the upcoming US Amateur Qualifiers.
I’m rated ‘9’ in the APA format and I was playing a guy who is rated ‘8’, so our race would be 65 to 75. To win, I would need to score 75 points before my opponent scored 65. For the most part, APA 9 Ball rules are similar to standard 9 ball rules except for the fact that the match is actually a point race instead of a game race. Each ball pocketed is worth one point, and the 9 Ball counts as two points. (Also, there is no ‘push out’ on the break.) Each player plays up to a certain number of points based upon his or her player rating.
The first rack we played set the tone for the entire match. In the first rack alone, I scratched three times and also played a perfect safe on myself during an easy run out. Four ball in hands for my opponent in just the first rack! It was all downhill from there. I could do absolutely nothing right. I didn’t actually keep count, but over the course of the match I’m pretty sure I scratched at least eight times and shot myself into perfect safes at least 6 times. That’s more than fourteen ball in hands for my opponent. Wow.
It quickly turned into a slaughter. I don’t even know what the final score was, but it was probably something like 25-65. Nasty! Oh well, experiences like this keep us modest. I sulked for a couple days, but now it’s time to get back to practicing on a regular basis, work on my fundamentals, and start rebuilding my game.
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.
On Thursday night I was playing in a cheap $20 race to seven 9 ball match. I lost the first two games, then bore down and won five straight racks to take a 5-2 lead. I was well on my way to winning the next rack, having run balls 1 through 8, but I missed the 9 ball shot as illustrated below. The miss proved to be a huge turning point in the match, and I subsequently lost 6-7.
Later that night as I replayed the match in my head, I kept asking myself why I missed the shot. I thought about possible explanations. I thought about factors that contributed to the miss, the thoughts that were in my head when I took the shot, my lack of focus, my lack of adherence to my normal pre-shot routine, etc. I identified several things I had done wrong, and promised myself I would work on them in future practice sessions.
This morning as I was lying in bed, still thinking about (brooding over?) the lost match, I suddenly realized I was asking myself the wrong questions. Sure, figuring out why I missed the tough shot and improving upon those parts of my game is a valid path to getting better, but was that really the most important question for me to be pondering? As I reflected on this, it became apparent to me that the most important question was really this: “How did I get myself into a situation that required me to attempt such a difficult shot?” Of all the items that may have contributed to the missed shot, the most glaring factor was poor execution of my PREVIOUS shot which directly led to the subsequent abhorrent position that I found myself in.
Given that there are a limited number of hours in a day, how should I allocate my practice time? In other words, how do I get the most bang for my practice buck? Should I spend time trying to refine my shooting and aiming techniques to an extreme level of precision, or should I simply work on improving my ability to move the cue ball from one simple shot to the next? The answer for me was glaringly obvious… work on my cue ball control. A couple hours working on cue ball routes will yield quicker and better results for my overall game than the same amount of time spent refining my already pretty good shooting and aiming skills.
The next time you miss a shot, ask yourself this question: “Did I miss the shot because of a simple execution error, OR did i miss the shot because I had to take a difficult shot which resulted from poor cue ball control from a previous shot?” If you are an APA level 2-4 player, it’s likely your miss was the result of an execution error. APA level 5-7 players primarily miss shots due to cue ball position errors which lead the shooter to progressively more difficult shots until a miss is inevitable. Think about it, then use your practice time wisely!
As you know from my last post, my neck issues have prevented me from playing much over the last week. I’m happy to report that I’ve gotten about 90% of my range of motion back, but now my back is so sore I can’t bend over to shoot. Getting old I guess! I got to the CBC around 7 PM with a heating pad around my midsection and popped several Motrin with the intent of warming up so I could play in the Saturday night tournament. Didn’t work.
So here I am, my butt glued to a wooden chair while the Saturday night 9ball tournament rages around me. On the bright side, this is a great opportunity for me to watch other players and analyze their games. How do they form a bridge, how loosely do they hold the cue, how do they address the cue ball, what routes do they select to get from ball A to ball B, how low do they get over the cue, what is their prestroke routine, how smooth is their stroke. A great learning experience.
I’ve also come to a realization. There are some players who, a year ago, would routinely beat the living snot out of me. Now we play even. Additionally, there is one particular Filipino player whom I used to believe shot like a God. Now I can see chinks in his armor. He gets a little sloppy against inferior players, but tends to pick his game up against stronger opponents. I’m pretty sure if I had been able to play tonight, I could have taken him. Arrogance you say? No, I just know that I’ve been shooting really good lately, and tonight his game is off…. he’s committed several errors already that normally would cost a player the match.
Well, as I was typing this, he ended up winning the match, then shot lights out to plaster his next two opponents and clinch the tournament. Oh well, so much for my theory.
In my last post I mentioned that my 1.5 hour practice session on Sunday was my best practice session ever. Why? The first reason, as mentioned in my last post, is that I found a way to drastically improve my 9 Ball break. I virtually eliminated scratching, and improved the probability of making a ball on the break from ~40% to ~87%. That’s a huge difference…and with just one hour of work! The second reason? I made huge improvements in my kicking game.
Several months ago I published a banking map which showed how to bank balls into the corner pocket from anywhere on the table. The system usually worked well for my banking game, and I utilized the same map to guide my kicking game. I noted over time that although the system worked well for shorter kicks to the corner, table length kicks were somewhat unreliable. I had a couple matches last week in which my opponent played some long distance safeties on me. Even though I really focused and tried my best to use the system to hit the required kicks, some of them missed, and a couple missed badly. That was it. Something had to change. Here’s my original banking map:
Original Corner Banking System
On Sunday, prior to my 9 Ball breaking efforts, I worked on my kicks. I got all the balls out and started working on short kicks to the corner, utilizing the banking map previously mentioned. The system worked pretty well once I remembered that I was supposed to hit the cue ball with a normal follow stroke, not center ball, and not running English. As I worked my way down the length of the table, the system worked well until I made the turn at the far corner and started up the short rail. If have no idea why…I have no idea what changed…but my short rail numbers were WAY off. Below you will see my new kicking map, which gave me very reliable kicks. Although I don’t understand why the numbers changed, I don’t really care. All I know is that I can now hit the corner pocket reliably from anywhere. Actually, I can theoretically hit any spot on the table from anywhere. The beauty of this system is that it can be used regardless of what your final target point is. I should point out that systems like this are highly individualized. The numbers in my kicking map were empirically derived from data gathered during my practice session. Your numbers may be a little different because of differences between you and I (i.e. stroke mechanics, cue ball cueing location, eyesight, speed of stroke, etc.), but my numbers should provide you with a great starting point. So get out there are practice your kicks!
New Corner Kicking System