Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rewriting my list....

Last week, my team was playing our rival in the division. We usually duke it out for 1st & 2nd. I like playing this team, although I'm pretty much guaranteed to play one of two people, and I'd really prefer to mix it up a bit. But so it goes back in the small pond of a tiny league....

Anyway, one of my usual opponents shows up and says "Hi, Pool Minnow....So how's your game?" "Uh, okay, I guess." "Well, I'm glad to see you here cuz I was hoping for a rematch."

Hmmm....I already knew this, but apparently, I'm on his "list." In the end, I did end up playing him, although mostly to accommodate the schedules of our other players. After the match, he said, "I think we've got a nice little rivalry going here." I just smiled and nodded, because I didn't have the heart to tell him that he wasn't on my list.

I mean no disrespect to him. He's a nice person and an excellent shooter, and from time to time can pull out a spectacular cut shot worthy of applause. But he's also one of those players, that as long as he doesn't get too far ahead, you just wait for him to do something like shoot down to his last ball and then predictably sink it in a way that would guarantee absolutely no shot on the 8. You get ball in hand, and control the table until you win. And although, he can get the best of me from time to time, I feel that in a few months, if I continue to improve at the same rate (knock wood), I think I'll have an advantage. While I'd rather win, losing will not carry the sting of a lost opportunity and I won't wait for my next chance to regain my honor. Nope. Not on the list.

I guess its time to rewrite the list. I need to find those other 4s that I can go head to head with and start gaining some credibility at my new level. My list usually consists of those players at my speed or the one's at the top of the food chain (and those who act like idiots and deserve to get their asses kicked), but my speed has changed, so I need to upgrade who I consider my peers to be. (Most of the idiots will remain on the list, although not as peers I hope.)

I also realized that I have another list. A list that keeps track of each and every loss I experience in league. Not a list of opponents, but a list of self-butt-kicking shots that I miss. My game losers. The dawgs. I need to own these dawgs. And once they go on the list, I commit to never, ever let them get the better of me again. Once on the list, I practice them until I know, that when they come up in a game, I am not facing a shot that once kicked my ass, but one of MY shots. One of my winning shots. A shot I can count on. So, on the days when none of my matches are with people on the first list, maybe I can find a little excitement about being watchful for shots on my second list.

Anyway, stay tuned, I'm going to see if I can figure out how to use Cue Table so I can start posting my shots from the List.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Flipping the switch

Exhaustion. Bad equipment. Lower level player. Last match of the night. This is a dangerous combination that leads to uninspired pool.

How is it that last week, I played a six, and I played like a monster (well,for me anyway). The next night, my play was a little less monstrous, but when I wasn't quite as in stroke I started playing smart and had a strong win.

Last night, I must have been brain dead. A year ago I probably would have been really happy with the way I shot, but now it was not up to par. Its great to play under ideal conditions: good equipment, an opponent that inspires me, fresh, relaxed and having fun. Unfortunately, sometimes I need to play a late night or an opponent that may not bring out the best of my game. None of that is an excuse for not focusing.

So here's what I see when I think about last night:

* Tiredness really affects my approach to the ball and my eye pattern. I wasn't focusing in on the object ball when stepping into the shot or before shooting. My whole rhythm was off.

* I should have gone for ball in hand when I had the chance, even if I had open shots and a possible out.

* When I play on slow cloth & with a heavy cue ball, I have trouble getting the feel of the table and it throws off my stroke somehow. Last night, I was playing really tentatively, when under those conditions I probably should be hitting my balls with some confidence.

*I don't really like how my cue plays with a heavy cue ball--there's a little too much vibration. If the house cues are any good (which last night they weren't), I sometimes switch because it just feels like a more solid hit. (But maybe I'm just making excuses there. I've never heard of anyone switching cues because of the cue ball).

*Chewing gum helps.

But all that aside, none of those things really matter if I'm "on." And by that I don't mean "in the zone" or "in stroke." If I'm on, I'm hungry for the win. I can adjust to my weaknesses and conditions. I can find a way to win, even if I'm not shooting up to par. I can be sleep-deprived, on anti-histamines after having just lost my wallet and my boyfriend has shown up right before I start playing so he can break up with me and then sits down at the bar and makes out with his new girlfriend.

Yep, if I'm "on", who cares about the cue ball, the time, the ex-boyfriend....I'll find a way to dig deep and find something extra to hang tough until I put the money ball away....I just need to find a way to flip the switch, even in those moments when I'd rather be in bed.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Three, Four, whatever.....

I know that I've written in the past how I try not to put a lot of stock in my APA handicap, but still, just thought I should mention that I went up to a 4 this week.

I try to win every game, no matter what the race is, or who I'm playing, so it shouldn't matter whether I'm a 3 or 4. (Although I'm sure my captains feel differently). I'm looking forward to the challenge and hope that I can maintain the rating. I will now have to win a minimum of three games, so I should, in theory, get to play more pool--and that's a good thing. (Unless I'm playing one of those sandbagging 2's or 3's,the lowly bastards,or my captains decide that a newbie 4 is less desirable to play than a strong 3).

Anyway, it is kind of nice to see a new number next to my name on the roster.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The shooter always knows best, afterall they're the one with the gun....

My opponent was on the 8. The cue was almost dead straight with my last ball facing the side rail. A bank was possible but not easy. Scratching was a possibility on the cut & missing/making the bank would most likely leave a decent shot on the 8.

A teammate called a time out and coached me to play a safety by hitting straight into my ball, and follow the cue ball to the side rail. That would have left a long, but makable cut on the eight. If I was lucky the object ball would get in the way. I didn't like this shot. To get a good safety, I would have to control both the object ball and the cue ball. If I couldn't get the snooker, the advantaged gained, seemed pretty minimal. The shot on the 8 is the kind of shot that I've seen my opponent make under pressure many times. In fact, the difficulty seems to focus him. Basically, my gut said, he's making the shot.

I tried my best, but wasn't able to follow the cue to rail and did not get the snooker. I didn't leave an easy shot for my opponent, but he nailed it, just like I predicted.

In retrospect, I should have done a stop shot to try to leave the cue on same line as the eight. I think it would have left a harder shot and I would have only been trying to control the cue ball. The real key though is what I was most comfortable with, which is something that my coach wouldn't necessarily know. Most people are more comfortable with follow and feel its more reliable. For some reason, I have trouble putting a lot of top spin on the ball (I must be angling down on my shot or not following through). I'm much more comfortable with stop and draw.

Coaching is a give and take process. Over time, ideally, teammates who coach will learn a player's strengths and weaknesses. But it works the other way, too. As the shooter, you need to learn a coaches weaknesses, too. Some teammates will always coach from their own play book. Give you shots that are too complicated. Fail to give you critical elements of the shot (more often than not, speed). With coaches I know, I'm comfortable challenging their assumptions ("So, if I take that shot, you're assuming that I'm going to be able to run the next 4? I appreciate the confidence, but the way I'm shooting tonight, that's not going to happen.") Its the players job to let the coach know what feels right and to make the final decision of what to do.

But I also wonder, if I shouldn't have just gone for the bank. Unless my option is a really good safety, isn't it better to just go for the win?
Above is a draft post that never quite made it to prime time last year. I came back to it after a conversation this week with a teammate, who was unhappy with the coaching she received to play safe instead of going for a bank. I was familiar with her frustration, but what struck me is how much happier and confident I am since I decided to shoot the shot and not the coach. At some point I stopped blaming my coaches when their advice didn't work and decided to own my shot, and my decision to take or not take the coaching. Writing this post was a bit of a turning point in that direction.

Reading it now I can see how far I've come in my shooting, too. Now, I think I could probably leave the cue on the rail, and even try to get the speed right to get the snooker, instead of just hitting it and hoping to get a good roll. But even better, now, I would know to hit the ball with spin to leave the cue on the center of the end rail...a much better safety. More evidence of sucking less at pool (aka progress).

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Let the games begin

I'm having a great time playing on my new Wednesday team. The division is much more competitive and its fulfilling my need for some more hard core pool that I whined about in my blog last fall. And, it has offered the opportunity for a rematch from my David & Goliath win in the Top Shooter Tournament (See Karma is a Bitch and Saturday she was my patron saint). Good times!

The match yesterday confirmed the need for a new word to be added to the English language: lagorrhea. From the greek-rooted word LOGOrrhea, which means an excessive flow of words. LAGorrhea means an excessive flow of words while lagging. Had this been and isolated incident at the tournament last month, a new word would be indulgent and uncalled for. Fortunately, this behavior repeated itself, and hence I feel the justification of an entirely new word. You may recall that last time, just as we were lagging, my opponent decided to ask me if I was feeling tired. Yesterday, as we were lagging, he was really rambling on, and then just as I was taking my warm up strokes asked me if I had been nervous at the Top Shooter tournament. To which I replied "Nah, I was just having fun." So, either he is reading this blog, and is just taking the piss (which I would actually admire) or this is some standard strategy he uses.

I lost the lag, but not by much. I proceeded to chase him on every game shooting on the 8 or close each time. Played some good safes and generally was shooting well-enough to make him sweat. I slopped the 8 in once to get on the hill. In the case game, he dogs his next to last shot, and leaves me an easy 8, which I then dog! Ha! I lost in the end, but it was a fun match. He knows that my beating him in the tournament wasn't entirely an accident.

There were more shenanigans in addition to the lagorrhea that I won't go into, but they are so absurd, I just think they're funny. I believe they are attempts at sharking, but they're really more like....clowning. Clowning (n): a feeble, laughable attempt at sharking that some may find irritating, but in general will provide entertainment for opponents and spectators. Keep it up big boy, you're very good at what you do.

All snarkiness aside:
There was one more incident of note last night. I was shooting at one of my balls that was frozen to the eight. I was trying to shoot straight into my ball with extreme right to throw the ball and get a good hit. I miscued badly and my cue deflected quite a bit to the side. Someone from the other team who was apparently asked to watch the hit, called a foul, saying I had hit a stripe first--which was completely bizarre, because there wasn't a stripe even near the the balls I was aiming at. At first I couldn't even make a case for not hitting a stripe, because the stripe had moved, but I couldn't imagine a scenario for where I could have even hit the ball. The cue ball would have had to masse backwards and then caromed off several balls and a cushion to end up in its final position. (Maybe he had been watching this guy.)

I finally realized I must have knocked it with my stick. Then he asked, "Well, did your ball hit a rail" which I believe it did. As the shot watcher, he must have been so concerned with the stripe he hadn't followed my ball. Anyway, to my opponent's credit, he deferred to the shooter (me), as I had done in the tournament, thus ending the twilight zone moment. His sportsmanship in this matter was appreciated.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Sound of Second Loss Slapping

My first, and only match on the one loss side. The case game started off with me breaking and coming heartbreakingly close to an 8 on the break and finishing with me playing safe with both of us with two balls left. My opponent didn't have a makable shot, so she just whacked at it....and slopped something in and ran out. Ugh.

This was especially painful because I should have won the first game as well, but scratched on the 8. I knew that the cue ball was headed to the side pocket, but didn't hit it hard enough to actually get there. All the spectators were kind of amazed that the cue ball just kept rolling. But I should have known better because, that had been happening the whole game. Yesterday's table was like shooting on astroturf and today's was like an ice rink. I should have made more adjustments to my game, start hitting a little below center.

I was nervous, but my stroke was pretty smooth and consistent. My only aargh! moments were when the cue ball didn't stop when it should have. So, I feel okay about today.

Its a little maddening to watch the final round of a tournament and think, a ball here a ball there, a little less follow, a little more speed and I could have won this thing. I should have won this thing. My opponent from the first day went all the way, and I so had her, but I dawged it. Twice. She managed to have the luck and the cool to win under pressure. This weekend, I didn't. But with my first "big" tournament under my belt, I still believe that I suck a little less at pool each and every day.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Sound of One Loss Clapping

I'm at the APA Singles Regionals right now. After a 4 plus hour drive and a BIG hassle with our hotel rooms (our hotel was overbooked, and our prepaid, confirmed reservations turned out to be worthless, so the morning of our departure we made desperate calls to find the last rooms at various hotels competing with regional soccer, wrestling, and paintball tournaments), we arrived at our lovely Regionals Venue, centrally located about 20 miles south of the middle of nowhere.

With an 8:00 am start, I warmed up well, and then proceeded to wait until about 12:00. My first two matches were no shows, and so I didn't play until about mid-day. I was really nervous, but shot fairly well, winning my first game, and had more chances than I care to admit to win both the next two games, but it was not meant to be. Fortunately, its modified single elimination, so I can work my way through the one-loss side. Despite my loss, I am shooting well, and having a great time, so I can't complain.

Some brief lessons from today:
1) Breathe
2) Ask one of my friends to sit in my corner. I wasn't sure if it would make me self-conscious, but I think its reassuring.
3) Remember that the cue ball is going to travel on thin cuts.
4) Don't pull my stroke.
5) Don't be to clever with my safeties. That is, always consider leaving them long, or just not leaving a good shot. Its not worth making an unnatural shot to try to get ball and hand--cuz if you screw up, you might sell out.
6) Never pull the trigger too soon on the 8.

But I made some excellent shots today and played well....I'm learning and really enjoying this. I want more. Win or lose tomorrow, I can't wait for the next one.