Friday, November 30, 2007

A minnow never sleeps

You know that sharks never stop moving even when they sleep? They have to keep a constant flow of water through their gills to stay alive. But they do sleep. I feel like I know people who must know how to do this. In the meantime, just a little minnow, I feel like I'm doing the opposite. I stop moving, but never actually get any rest. This, apparently, makes me tired.

I won my league match this week. I played okay. But, I never got in the groove. Again. I was a little disappointed. I know that its normal for competition performance to lag behind practice, but some days, it just feels like its an unreasonable difference. Plus, I know that I can play better in competition.

I know I shouldn't be so hard on myself. The winning ball was a bank, that looked impressive, elicited several compliments, but I couldn't own it. It just felt like luck. The 8 was frozen to one of my opponent's balls. It had only one pocket. A table-length bank. Fortunately, it was a dead bank. When I hit it, the angle looked wrong, and I was sure I had missed, but it went in dead center pocket. Maybe its because I hit it with a little draw to stop the cue ball frozen (because I didn't think it was a high percentage shot and was worried about the leave). Maybe my "inner pool player" took over, and instinctively knew the right way to hit it, but left my analytical brain in the dark. I tried the same shot in practice tonight, and came very, very close to making it, so maybe it wasn't just luck. Dunno.

It makes me sad that I can't really enjoy that success. So, I'm going to just chalk it up to being tired, for now. And go to bed.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Week 1: Pre-shot and shot routine

Today is monday, the beginning of my implementation of the Best Laid and Laughable Plan. I have yet to map out my full schedule, but I know that for this week and probably next week I'm going to be working on my Pre-Shot routine and separating my thinking from my actual shooting.

My first attempt to implement my new practice regimen was on Thursday, after Thanksgiving dinner. Apparently, lonely pool players need to seek company on holidays and so my attempt to practice solo was less than successful. First I was approached by a college student/beginner who said "They say the best way to get better is to play other people." Yes, "they" say a lot of things, but I'm not sure anyone said that the best way for me to get better is to play you. So, I said that I really wanted to do some drills, but we could play 2 out 3. I won all three games (yes, I played the third one) and then he took off.

Then I was getting down to working on the safety drill I had selected and I was approached by an older guy who said that he could tell from across the room, that I had "played some pool." He proceeded to kick my butt. After a few games, I said, "You're kicking my butt, and unfortunately, that's not very good practice for me unless I enter a racking tournament." He convinced me to play two more games and then I insisted on doing some drills. And while he was a nice guy, he talked a lot in between shots, which meant neither of us was getting in a lot of pool.

I probably spent (and paid for) 3 hours playing pool, but only got in maybe 20-30 minutes of actual practice time. I'm wondering if I should incorporate being less friendly into my pre-shot routine, at least for the next few months.

Today I managed to squeeze in some Pre-shot routine practice at lunch. Its kind of embarrassing, but I think I may have to start talking to myself as I go through the steps. I successfully go through the routine, ususally with good results on the shot and position, and then I start missing and I realize that I've jettisoned the very things that were working for me.
Being human is probably more interesting than being a robot, but it is not better for certain aspects of pool. But since, robot isn't an option, I'll have to imitate a crazy person. Or maybe I should get a blue tooth head set, so people will think I'm just on the phone. Nah, I think appearing to be insane is better....

Friday, November 23, 2007

Plans: Best laid or otherwise laughable, but mine nonetheless

So, the regional tournament is in March. That gives me about 3 months to bring out the best in my game. While it would be exciting to do well in the actual tournament, the real goal is to use the event as a motivator to bring my game to a new level.

So, there from what I can tell, I have two major weaknesses to my basic game I can work on:
-My pre-shot routine is not consistent, and I don't make a firm shot decision that I stick to when I go down for the shot.
-I've gotten lazy about my stroke fundamentals. This time last year, my stroke was smooth and had a consistent rhythm. Now, I've started pulling up and poking at the ball as I focus more on other shot elements.
-Of course, my patterns have a lot of room for improvement, but that will just take time, so I'm not going to focus on that in practice in the short-term.

Besides fundamentals, there are a host of specialty shots that would really give me an edge: Safeties, Kick shots, Bank shots, Jacked up shots, Rail-bridge shots...and then maybe Carom and Combinations.

I'm looking at Mark Wilson's Billiard Bootcamp (thanks to Liz Ford's recommendation in her WPBA profile) as inspiration for putting together a routine. I'd like to put together a mix of my ususal fundamental exercises from my instructor (from the SPF school), with a series of week by week rotation working on the specialty shots, but adding Safety drills (from Steve Capelle's Practicing Pool) & Jacked up shots (after reading Samm Diep's blog) which aren't included in the Bootcamp.

And then the last piece, I need to add some kind of mental preparation that I haven't decided on.

Anyway, stay tuned....I will keep you posted on my progress.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Better to be lucky than good

I'm almost ashamed of the title of this post. It is such a cliche, and used a little too often around the pool table. But, I figure I am allowed to use it once and once only, so here it is.

As luck would have it, I am now qualified for the APA regional singles tournament. In an attempt to turn around the low number of qualifiers from our area, the league operator ran 4-person boards all Saturday. Win two matches and you had a slot in the Regional tournament. Assuming I stay a SL 3, I will be playing on the "Blue Tier" for levels 2-3. Last year there were only 30 players in the finals in Vegas, so if I can win in the regional, placing is not quite the outrageous proposition it might be. Although, I won't be placing any side bets.

Both my matches were against SL-5's, which means they had to spot me two games. Or more importantly, I had to win only two games, which really puts luck into play. One accidental loss by my opponent, and I'm on the hill. In most cases, though, the SL 5 will still prevail.

My first match I won 2-1 and the second 2-2. Each match included an 8-ball-foul loss (an eight sunk in the wrong pocket and an early 8) by my opponent. So, that means I sunk the 8 only twice, and out of those 2 games, there's only one game that I feel really good about.

But, after the cloud of shame clears, I am quite excited to have the opportunity, and it inspires me to go back to a more clean practice routine to keep my fundamentals sharp, which I've been wanting to do, but just haven't had the motivation. I want to be focused, but not TOO serious about this. I usually play better, but I definitely seem to be luckier when I'm having fun. (Repeat refrain from title of post)
Post script:
Since this is my blog, I do have to celebrate the one game. It's probably one of my best outs ever in a match. I had 3 balls left, none too challenging, but the 8 was burried close to the end rail surround by my opponents balls, near corner pockets blocked. I had to find a way to get through the maze and squeeze in between the 8 and the end rail, to cut it into the side or the far corner. I managed to get just the right angle and find a way through and bump into the eight. I didn't have a great shot, but there was a tight cut into the side. Usually at this point, my heart starts to race, my brain gets fuzzy, and I start doubting myself. This time, I just made sure the ball could make it past the point, visualized the shot going in, and didn't second guess myself once I got into position. It felt easy, and it rolled right in. Several people came up and complimented me on the cut. I was happy with the cut shot, but it was the shot before that was the winner for me. I'm sure that most people thought I just got lucky....but that one was actually properly planned and executed. Sometimes it helps to be a little good, too!)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Playing tired...

Note to self. Too much pool is not good for my game. Too little sleep is not good for my game.

Yes. I lost tonight.

First game, played okay, but missed a critical safety, and sold out. Then a drunken teammate came by and told me that if I needed a timeout that I should call one. And I said, yes, when I think I need a timeout I call one. Its not that I didn't know what to do. Its that I missed the shot. And thank you for coming up to me in the middle of my match and implying that my skill was lacking. If you want to call a time out, please call one. I don't mind. Oh, but you want the player to call the time out. Okay, right. Because you don't want to offer unsolicited advice....Got it.

I recovered from my inner "aaargh" after teammate consultation to win the second game, with some good strategy, and some damn good positions for me (if I do say so myself.). I really find it very satisfying that I can now use the full table to move the cue ball around to get on the right side of a ball. Especially because it freaks people out.....(Although I have to confess the reason I had to move the cue ball so much, is I screwed up my leaves in the first place!)

Third game, I was "pants" as my British friends would say. I won't drag either of us through a recap. Actually, I had my chances, but it was not meant to be...

I left right after my match, which I never do. But as I walked out into the street I realized how tired I was. And how I was not sad to be leaving my team, or to not be playing anymore pool. I actually could have skipped it tonight. In fact, I could skip pool all weekend (What's wrong with me). Too much practice is not a good thing. If I want my best game on Thursdays, I have to remember that I need to be hungry for it.....

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Its not all in my head

Last week was a big pool week. Its ashame I didn't blog, but I will have to catch up later. With the time change and the short, suddenly cold, winter days setting in, I'm getting sluggish and sleepy. Soon as the sun goes down, I pretty much want to curl up in bed. I am dog tired this week. I guess there's a reason this sleep thing is so popular...I will have to give it another chance....

Anyway, I've had lots of things keeping me up at night, and I find that a good hour or two of pool after work sometimes helps clear my head. Earlier this week I stopped by my local pool hall, only to find all the tables full. I recognized a guy at one of the tables as someone who I'd played with before. I had been practicing by myself and he asked me to play a few games. He later gave me a couple of pointers (but managed to be not too obnoxious about it). Anyway, I don't normally do this, but I was itching to play, so I went up to him and asked if he wanted to play a couple games. We ended up splitting four games, 2 and 2. I mentioned that he had given me some good advice about my bridge hand the last time we played. He actually remembered and had been watching for that this time. He said that my bridge hand was better and that I looked much more stable over the table in general...and that I had improved A LOT in a short amount of time. (Yay, me!)

I know that it should be enough that I notice my own improvement. Alas, most pool players that I've encountered are just not that generous with praise. Its funny, when I sucked beyond imagination, people were much more liberal with the compliments. Of course, I still get the "Nice Shot" comments and tap, tap, taps, but it is especially gratifying for someone to notice that my overall level of play has improved (even though my handicap has not changed).

The table does feel different to me now. I'm amazed at how much my position play has improved. Sometimes I get it completely, and I mean completely, wrong, (as in the cue ball heads completely the opposite direction), but more and more of the time I am able to move the cue ball to the zone I want, am making good decisions about English and speed, avoiding a scratch or obstacles and just seeing the angles as they are, instead of how I want them to be.

About a month ago, I pulled out Steve Capelle's "Play Your Best Pool" and re-read the section on position play. I spent only one practice session working on picking a rail target for both 1 & 2 rail position shots--and it seems to have really changed my ability to accurately predict the cue ball path.

League is tonight. I hope all this self-congratulatory pep talk doesn't go to my head.....