Tag Archives: California Billiards

TAR28: Deuel vs. Schmidt

TAR28: Deuel vs. Schmidt

Corey Deuel and John Schmidt will be battling it out in 8Ball, 10Ball, and OnePocket this weekend for a $6,000 prize purse.  Catch all the action for free at your local pool hall, or pay a nominal fee on pay per view to catch it at home!

Click the image to visit the NYC Grind website for more details.  If you are in the south bay area of Northern California, stop by Shoreline Billiards or California Billiards to catch the action for free, and also get in some table time while there.



I stopped by California Billiards last night to hit a few balls and start the process of re-immersing myself into the pool world.  My four month sabbatical has not been kind to me…I could definitely see the difference in my playing ability.  My pre-shot routine was inconsistent, my distance control was lax (hitting too hard, of course), some of my cut shots were not dropping, and my mental focus was intermittent at best.  All that bad news aside, I STILL HAD A GREAT TIME!  Now that my personal life and work life are beginning to take on some semblance of normality, it’s time to shake off the rust, dust off the ole stick, and hit the table with a vengeance.  Starting next week I plan to conduct four lunch break practice sessions during the work week and also three or four evening sessions to work on specific parts of my game that need improvement.  Yeah, I’ve got that hunger again.

I’m Back!

Well, up until last week I hadn’t shot pool since November 6.  I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed my three month vacation away from pool.  But alas, there’s only so much time I can stay away before the pool bug starts to bite and I have to indulge my insatiable pool cravings.  Last Tuesday night I played a 14.1 match at Lucky Shot Billiards in Sunnyvale…and what a way to get your feet wet again!  Then last Friday night I played 8ball on a 6 foot bar box at a local dive bar for a couple hours…not the toughest competition I’ve faced, but it was loads of fun and I met some great people!  On Monday night I stopped by California Billiards to hit balls for a couple hours.  It was great to see my friends at Cal and start working out on the table again.  My recent sabbatical from the game gave me a chance to recharge my batteries and now I think I’m ready for the next step in my journey towards pool excellence.

Why Do You Miss?

A couple weeks ago I was enjoying a glass of wine with a friend I had not seen in a few months, and our conversation eventually turned to pool.  Imagine that!  He had been following my pool progress over the last couple of years, and he asked me the following question: “Why do you miss?”  I immediately gave him the following canned answers: “Because I don’t concentrate, because I don’t think three shots ahead, because I make bad decisions when choosing between an aggressive shot versus a safety, because I get in a hurry and I sacrifice my fundamentals, because I hit the balls too hard, because… because… because…”

After satisfying him with my supposedly well thought out answers, our conversation went on to other topics; however, my analytical mind was stuck in an infinite loop: was my response really accurate?  Sure, all of my responses were valid responses, but I didn’t feel like I was being honest with him and telling him the truth.  WHY DO I MISS?  REALLY?

If I’m on a mission to transform myself and my game, shouldn’t I know the answer?  Shouldn’t I be confident in my response?  You would think so; however, I wasn’t really sure why I missed shots.  In my response to him, I had merely taken some facts that I knew to be true and in one broad stroke painted the best possible answer I could come up with.  I was being intellectually dishonest.  The truth is, I don’t know why I miss. 

It’s time to change that.  I’ve designated today as an official “pool day” for me.  I’ll be practicing at California Billiards most of the day with one primary goal in my mind: I need to figure out why I miss shots.  It’s time to take some of my own advice: (1) practice thoughtfully (with purpose) and (2) take notes.  My plan for the day is to take notes every time I miss a shot to document why I missed the shot.  With my background in statistics and process improvement, I’m quite certain my post practice analysis will identify trends and factors that are contributing to my goofs.  I’ll use that knowledge to plan future practice sessions to focus exclusively on those items and try to reduce or eliminate them entirely.  Because I’m such a data analysis geek, I’ll be happy to share the results with you…I might even provide a graph or two!  I’m sure you can’t wait.  Ha!

The Looney Tunes Hustle

Just when you think you've seen it all...

Author’s note:  What follows is my account of a hustle I witnessed a few months ago.  At first I thought it was funny (for reasons explained herein), but as I watched I found it deeply saddening as it provides a glimpse into what is wrong with pool today.

A few months ago I watched a hustler in action at California Billiards in Mountain View, California.  I was doing my daily practice routine on one of the Gold Crowns in the back, when a friend approached me and told me there was a guy up front who was “stalling” and looking for action.  In pool room parlance, when someone intentionally plays below his or her actual skill level, we call this “stalling.”  I was tired of hitting balls, so I decided to go up front and watch the show.

When I arrived, the guy whom I shall refer to as “Mr. Stall” was claiming he was pretty new to pool and was just trying to learn.  Then he said something that was shockingly stupid:  “Anybody want to play some One Pocket for a little money?”  LOL! Are you kidding me??!!  Did he really just say that?

Hint #1: ONLY a pool hustler would first claim to know nothing about pool, then turn around and ask you to gamble in One Pocket.

Any chance he had of luring a big fish was just completely destroyed.  99.9% of all beginning pool players have never even heard of One Pocket, much less have any interest in playing it.  If you are an aspiring pool hustler, and I hope you are not, please please please never ask anyone to play One Pocket!  It means you know a whole lot more about pool than you are letting on.  Eventually, he managed to get a One Pocket game with a local player for about $20 a game.

A typical One Pocket break

If you are not familiar with One Pocket, you can read about the game here.  One Pocket is a deceptively difficult game which requires a player to be skilled in many areas of pool: long distance shots, extreme cuts, combos, caroms, 1-rail 2-rail and 3-rail banks, extreme cue ball control, and most importantly, KNOWLEDGE.  The rules of the game are very simple.  You are assigned one pocket at the foot of the table and your opponent is assigned the other pocket at the foot of the table.  You must make 8 balls in your assigned pocket before your opponent makes 8 balls into his assigned pocket.  Hidden within this very simple concept lies a multiverse of complexity.  Because the game is so cerebral, it’s easy for a skilled player to hide his or her true capabilities.  A highly skilled player can keep the score close when playing a lesser player, then suddenly get “lucky” and win without the lesser player realizing he never really had a chance to win.  The game is tailor made for the con artist.

As the One Pocket game progressed, on several occasions “Mr. Stall” attempted a tough bank or high risk combo, “missed” the shot, and left the cue ball out in the open.  A rookie mistake, unless of course, he were doing it on purpose.  His misses were often accompanied by comments such as, “Awwww… I dogged it again! I guess I’ve been drinking too much beer!”, or “Dang, I never can hit those shots!” 

Hint #2: Never judge a player’s ability by whether or not he makes shots.  If you want to clock a player’s true speed, watch his fundamentals.  Very good players may attempt to deceive you by missing shots…it’s much more difficult for them to hide their mechanics.

Eventually the local player won, or rather, it would be more accurate to say that “Mr. Stall” lost on purpose.  The local player immediately began breaking down his stick.  Mr. Stall retorted, “Hey, you’re not leaving are you?  Let’s play some more, I don’t mind losing money to you.”  The local player explained that he had to go to work and was almost late.  Now, here’s where the funny (or rather sad) part begins.  Mr. Stall’s road partner was sitting next to me. I’ll refer to him as “Mr. Chester” because he reminded me so much of the Looney Tunes character “Chester the Terrier.”

Pardon me while I digress…

"Beat 'em up Spike! Beat 'em up Spike!"

There’s a 1952 Looney Tunes short called “Tree for Two” which stars Spike the Bulldog and Chester the Terrier.  As documented in Wikipedia:  “Spike is a burly, gray bulldog who wears a red sweater, a brown bowler hat, and a perpetual scowl. Chester is just the opposite, small and jumpy with yellow fur and brown, perky ears…  In it, Chester tells his idol Spike that he knows of a cat that they can beat up.”  Chester keeps prodding and urging Spike to fight the cat (Sylvester) with statements like, “Come on, you can do it Spike!  Beat up the cat!” and “Show ’em who’s da boss!”

And now, back to my story…

It’s obvious that the local player wants to leave, so Mr. Chester gets jumpy and starts throwing out advice for Mr. Stall:

“Hey Mr. Stall, he’s knows you’ve been drinking too much.  He doesn’t want to take your money.”
“Hey Mr. Stall, he’s gonna leave.  Why don’t you play for more money?  Maybe he’ll stay then.”
“Go ahead, bump the bet! How about offer him just one game for a $100?  See if he’ll play you then.”
“You gotta bump the bet.  Make it worth it.  Otherwise, all these other good players here aren’t going to be interested.”

I laughed out loud as my brain instantly recalled the image of Chester the Terrier, hoping and jumping around Spike the Bulldog, trying his best to pick a fight.  I was a witness to the personification of a cartoon character. 

Hint #3: If a gambler is losing money, but he keeps insisting on raising the bet, there’s about a 98% chance he’s trying to hustle you.

On one hand, I found the whole experience to be entertaining, but on a deeper level, I was saddened by the whole affair – primarily because these guys were very serious with their antics.  Some thoughts that saddened me:

  1. Did these guys REALLY think this approach would work?  Did they really think we were that stupid?
  2. Where did they learn their technique?  From a comic book?
  3. It should have been obvious to anyone watching Mr. Stall’s mechanics that he was actually a VERY good player, regardless of the outcome of the first game
  4. Where did Mr. Chester get his lines…from a D budget pool movie?
  5. Why did such a telented player feel the need to hustle?
  6. What did he expect to gain?  A couple hundred bucks?

In the end, no one took the bait, and the hustler left California Billiards $20 poorer.  The kicker was that we all knew who he was from the instant he walked in the front door.  At one time, he was one of the most feared player/hustlers on the west coast.  In his teenage years, no one would play him for money.  No one.  Now, decades later, he is relegated to a life of visiting pool halls and trying to swindle kids out of their lunch money?  This whole affair actually made me ponder: What must it feel like to work really really hard and reach the pinnacle of your sport, only to find it’s tough to make $40k-$50k a year in “legitimate” tournament money, while comparable athletes in other major sports make millions a year for sitting on the bench?  As I think back to this incident, it actually makes me sad.  It’s a good thing that my journey in pool is motivated solely by my sincere love for the game and not by any aspirations to make money at it.

A Witness to Excellence

It’s 4:30 in the morning and I can’t sleep.  Last night I witnessed something that really shocked me.  I almost never name names in my blog, because the purpose of my blog is not to be a news source for the pool industry, nor is it to call out any player’s performance (either good or bad) that I happen to see while attending tournaments or otherwise.  However, there are those rare occasions when rules must be broken, or maybe bent just a little bit.  This is one of those occasions.

Yesterday I attended the first stop of the Tiger West Coast Women’s Tour at California Billiards.  I showed up at the start of the first day to be supportive of the tour and to cheer for several of my friends who are competing in the tournament.  Because I’m such a pool nut, and a big proponent of excellence and self-improvement, I often watch tournament matches and take notes on player performances.  My goal with the note taking is three-fold: (1) it allows me to practice analyzing another person’s game to identify areas of strengths and weaknesses, (2) it forces me to think about and analyze my own game to identify things that I need to work on, and (3) in the event that I am able to strike up a conversation with the player after the match, it gives me the opportunity to provide the player with constructive criticism to help them improve their overall performance.

Yesterday I watched a few matches and took notes just like always.  For each player I diligently recorded areas of strengths and areas that needed work.  Then, late Saturday afternoon, I sat down to watch a particular match, and my note taking stopped.  Completely.  Whereas for most players I immediately identify items that need work (stance, stroke mechanics, shot pattern selection, safety play, etc.), in this case, I sat watching for over 30 minutes…and I saw nothing that needed to be improved.  Nothing.  I was mesmerized.  After 30 minutes of watching the match, I turned my head to a friend sitting next to me who prides himself in his ability to clock other peoples’ games.  With a look of shock on his face, he just returned my stare.  He saw it too.  No words were exchanged.  No words were needed.  We both knew we were witnessing something extraordinary… EXCELLENCE.  Excellence personified.  Excellence personified in the body of a young woman from Iowa named Rachel Byrket.  Her stroke mechanics were nearly flawless.  The smoothest I’ve ever seen.  Her safety play was superior to any man I’ve seen recently, and she almost never missed a shot.  And she’s only 21.  The feeling that I got watching Rachel play was reminiscent of the feeling I got the first time I saw Jesse Engel play..pure joy and amazement.  What impressed me the most was her mental prowess.  She seemed completely oblivious to the pressure of the match.  I had the opportunity to speak with her after one of her matches, and it turns out that she is quite an extraordinary young woman…very down to earth, very approachable, very intelligent, and very driven.  I’ll bet you’ve never heard of her, but you will soon.  I am going on the record now with my prediction that in a few short years Rachel will be the new face of women’s pool.  She has the talent, she has full support from her family, and she has the desire to compete and win.  So, step aside Black Widow and step aside Duchess of Doom.  There’s a new young gun rising up behind you, and one day soon, Rachel is going to be THE very best.

The Billiard Traveler visits California Billiards

Last week I was on my iPhone checking Facebook, when I saw the following update from a friend of mine Gabriel O Josset, a.k.a. the “BilliardTraveler” on Twitter, stating he would be traveling to California for the first time:

I wrote back and told him I lived in California, and if he was coming to the San Francisco area we should meet up and shoot some pool.  Well, it turns out he was headed to Santa Cruz and San Francisco, and San Jose is halfway between the two…Bingo!  We made arrangements to meet at the California Billiard Club in Mountain View, CA last night.  I thought it would be a good idea for me to get there a little early so that I could welcome him when he arrived.  When I walked through the front door a little after 6pm, guess who was already there?  That’s right.  There he was at table 10, already locked in a battle with a local player.  We talked briefly, then I grabbed another table to wait for him to finish his match.

The view inside California Billiards

I was enjoying a drink and a light snack when Gabriel (Gabe) came over.  We talked pool for a little while, then decided it was time to play.  Little did I know I was in for a real treat, more like a veritable billiard education.  We wanted to start on the three cushion table to play some arcane game called ‘Five Pin’, but someone got to the 3 cushion table before us, so we decided to start the evening on a pool table instead.

The first game we played was 10 ball, but we changed the rules a little.  Usually when I play 10 ball, I play using standard 9 ball rules.  Not last night!  We played 10 ball with every shot being a called shot, but if you failed to make your called shot, your opponent had the option to take his normal turn or he could opt to make you take the shot.  That made the game a lot more interesting, and greatly reduced the ‘luck’ factor.  The only downside is that you couldn’t play ‘two way’ shots for fear the other player would make you shoot out of the safe.  We played a few games of 10 ball, then switched to One Pocket.  I’ve only played One Pocket once or twice in my life, but it’s a fascinating game and I wanted to learn it.  Gabe explained the rules and provided some guidance on the best strategies for success, and then we were off. 

Playing Five Pin with the Billiard Traveler

After a few games of One Pocket, the billiard table opened up, and we quickly moved over to secure our place at the table.  Gabe whipped out a plastic bag filled with goodies and informed me that he would teach me a new game…Five Pin.  Five Pin is played on a three cushion billiard table.  The object is, of course, to score points.  One player has the white ball, the other the yellow ball.  In the middle of the table are 5 pins: 1 red pin surrounded by 4 white pins.  The pins look like miniature bowling pins.  On each shot you must send your cue ball into your opponent’s ball first to make a legal hit.  After making a legal hit, here’s how you can score points (if I remember this correctly):

  • If you can knock down the red pin by itself with your opponent’s ball, and you leave the four white pins undisturbed, you get 8 points. 
  • If you knock down the red pin and at least one white pin with your opponent’s ball, the red pin is worth only 4 points. 
  • Each white pin knocked down with your opponent’s ball counts as two points.
  • If your opponent’s ball collides with the red ball, you get 3 points
  • If your cue ball collides with the red ball, your get 4 points
  • If your cue ball collides with any of the five pins, all points scored in that shot are awarded to your opponent.

We played several games of five pin.  At first I was confused, but hey, that’s nothing new!  Oh, by the way, in our very first game Gabe took the opening shot…it was a 1 rail kick shot into my cue ball.  My ball then bounced off another rail, passed directly through the cluster of pins in the middle of the table, and knocked down the red pin while leaving all 4 white pins undisturbed!  8 points!  Holy Cow!  I eventually got the hang of it and really enjoyed the game even though Gabe was obviously much more talented and experienced than me.  He took pity on me and let me win the final game…what a great guest!  😉   I was amazed at some of the position play and 3 cushion shots that he made.  “Oh, that’s nothing,” he said.  “You should see Jan play!”  I think I can safely say that I’m the only regular at California Billiards who has ever played Five Pin at California Billiards.

After Five Pin, we played three cushion billiards.  Three cushion is another game I want to learn, and Gabe was willing to teach me a few things.  Gabe thoroughly dominated, but with his guidance I was FINALLY able to score a point.  In fact, I ALMOST made two in a row.  😉  Nope, I’m no Sang Lee.  Here’s Gabe contemplating his next move on the billiard table.

The Billiard Traveler contemplates a 3 rail carom

To wrap up the evening, we played a few more games of One Pocket.  I’m definitely going to stick with One Pocket.  It’s a fascinating game that really makes you think.  Here’s a final picture of Gabe pondering his options in one of our One Pocket games.  We had a great time shooting pool.  What a cool job he has – being able to travel around the world and play all of the many variations of pool that exist.  You can follow his latest adventures on his website and on twitter.

The Billiard Traveler plays One Pocket too!

Pool, Chocolate, and Soiled Underwear: Part 3

I arrived at The Pig & Whistle, ready for a little savory to offset the chocolate I’d been enjoying all afternoon. I ordered a Hefeweizen, grabbed a corner table, and debated between the Sheppard’s pie and fish & chips. The fish and chips sounded great, but in the pantheon of culinary options available to me, probably not the healthiest choice in the world. I decided to go “healthy” and selected the Sheppard’s pie with a side of vegetables.

The Pig & Whistle. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . My Dinner!

While I sat at the Pig & Whistle waiting for my order, I pulled out my iPhone and started reviewing match notes I had taken at the Billiard Palacade. Anytime I play a “serious” match, I always take game by game notes then review them later so I can identify opportunities for improvement. After I reviewed all the notes, the thought occurred to me that I might want to write a blog post about the match and provide a narrative of each game. With that in mind, I went back and numbered each game, all 17 of them. Hey, wait a minute, we tied 8-8, there should be only 16 games…I must have made a numbering mistake. I double checked my typing.  Nope, no error, we really played 17 games.  Sh*t!  Who won?  I tallied the games and discovered that I actually beat him 9-8 and didn’t know it! At some point I must have forgotten to move my coin up the rail. Crap! I got no credit for the win and he got to keep the cash! Oh well, at least I know who really won! I guess my biggest lesson learned is to get better at keeping score!
Note:  poolriah pointed out that I left without paying my table time.  Ooops!

I finished up my meal and walked next door to Family Billiards. I was quickly reminded of pool rule number one – if you’re hustling pool (which I’m not), never walk into a pool room carrying a custom cue case. Why? Well, as soon as I walked through the door, a rail bird glanced at me nonchalantly, then did a double take when he noticed my cue case. His eyes darted from cue case to my face to cue case to face, trying to figure out if he knew who I was. Nope, I guess he didn’t, but he kept an eye on me pretty much the whole time I was there. I think he was sweating a match at the front table, otherwise he probably would have followed me around the room. The only table available for play was in the back, so off into the underground jungle I went. After spreading the balls and completing my warm up routine, I stopped to take a picture of the place and realized the rail bird was trying to clock my game from across the room. Rail birds, always looking for new action to bet on!

Family Billiards...a view from the front.....and from the back

I only stayed 45 minutes at Family. The room was hot and humid, the tables were cramped, and the kids at the table next to me always seemed to be shooting from the same spot: right in my way. Uggghh! I’d had enough. I left the heat, humidity, and rail bird behind, and headed for home.

As I drove home, I was reminded of a car accident I had passed earlier in the morning while headed north to San Francisco.  The wreck had happened on the south bound lane over a bridge that spans a ravine that’s at least 150 feet deep. I had originally passed the wreck just a few minutes after it happened. Based on the skid marks that were decorating the pavement, the two cars had collided and at least one of the cars had crashed into the rail on the edge of the bridge, spun around, then somehow hit the side rail again fifty feet further down the road. Thankfully, the rail held tight…that’s a looong way down! Without a doubt, at least one of those drivers had soiled underwear!  You could still see a few car parts on the side of the road as I flew by.

A very deep ravine . . . . . . . . . Leftover car debries

I finished the evening at California Billiards, had a couple drinks, enjoyed a fried shrimp basket with french fries (so much for the healthy eating!), and spent a couple hours discussing pool improvement strategies with a friend. What a great way to spend a Saturday!