Watermark

Posted: May 15, 2012 in Uncategorized
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When all of us pool players started playing it is likely we identified one person who was our “watermark,” so to speak.  We admired their pool game or their stroke or their gamesmanship and wanted it to be our own.  We loved the way they moved around the table with grace or style, pocketing balls seemingly at will.  It’s wasn’t necessary to move them to “idol” status, because they were real people whom we talked with and who we knew had their own lives with their own challenges.  But when they were at the pool table, we were entranced.  We wondered how long it would take to have whatever it was that we saw in that person.  My watermark is Don.

Years ago, I was playing in a lunch pool league that met once a week.  Most of us were hacks, bashing balls around with friends.  Everyone had a good time.  Everyone improved a little.

I hired Don out ofAlaska.  He was aNorth Dakotanative who’d gone up to Haines for a little adventure, but he was ready to come back and make a living in the big city.  When he heard about our lunch league, he said in his calm, humble way, “I play a little pool.”  I didn’t learn until much later he was aNorth Dakotapool champion in some big tournament way back when.

You couldn’t really say Don had style and grace, but he had a smooth stroke and a simple game.  He never played any side English, but because of that he always knew where his cue ball would end up.  Because he consistently struck the white ball on dead center he never had to guess where whitey would end up. And he was deadly when he had a shot at the object.  I mean deadly!  Center of the hole every time. 

 And then there was his humility.  Always gracious in win or loss.  Not very sparkly, but always pleasant, always ready to laugh at your lame joke.  His character, simplicity in his approach, and rock solid dead aim were what elevated him to my measure of what a good pool player should be like.  Don was my watermark.

A few years ago Don and I started our own business.  The business was legitimately our bread and butter, but we also built in a tradition centered around pool.  Square in our office sits a 9-foot pool table.  Now we play twice a day.  We are careful to play fair and let our skills dictate outcomes.  Sharking has no place in our game and we play all ball fouls.

We bet $5 per set, with various other incentives; a break and run out in 8- or 9-Ball was worth another fiver, high run for the week in 14-1 was worth $5.  We kept a tally of amounts owed, but the deal was that at the $100 mark, payment had to be made and we’d start a new tally. 

To be honest, Don was better than me.  I knew that, but I figured I could hold my own for a short time and delay the inevitable payout.  I figured if I could win a few matches I’d only have to pay out about one every few months or so.  For whatever reason, I was OK with that.  Maybe I figured I was getting a lesson, or some other ridiculous justification.  I was happy watching him shoot balls and I was playing pool while I was at work!  How awesome is that?

I actually did better than I expected, but over time, the beating was getting old.  Several hundred dollars changed hands before I was able to stifle the outflow.  At some point I realized that if I got a few chances I could beat him.  And once in awhile he’d lose something off his stroke or eye for a week or so at a time and I’d be able to make a run on him.  But he always got his pure stroke back and put me right back where I started.  Only once did he get cold and I got hot long enough to reach that magic threshold, and I relished his payment to me.  I imagined the tide had changed, but it wasn’t much later that things went back to normal and I had to relinquish the treasure.

About two years ago I started playing in the Behind The Rock Tour’s weekly nationwide tournament.  They use a scored game called “211” which is basically 10-Ball against the Ghost.  It is a game of pure offense.  You shoot at what you leave yourself.  You only score when you put balls in holes, and you are done when you miss.  It’s pretty basic, but oh, the lessons you learn!  You learn to control your speed.  You learn to control the white ball.  You learn that EVERY shot is important.  You learn about planning ahead.  And you learn your limitations.  That last one is shoved in your face every time you miss.  Regardless, 211 has changed how I play.  My pool skills have improved significantly as a result of playing the weekly tournaments on the Behind The Rock Tour. 

After a decade or so, Don is still my watermark, but with my improving pool skills, I know he is human.  He has weaknesses, and because of that I can beat him.  But to beat him, two things have to be very keenly in place: 1. I have to be on top of my game, and 2. I have to be smart.  To be on top of my game I have to concentrate on my stroke.  I can’t think about anything else.  Being smart means knowing my limitations and playing to his.  I have to put ego aside.  I have to consider consequences.  I have to be alert to everything on the pool table.  Anything less than perfect will unravel my chances, and then I have to hope he blows up somehow.

Lately, things are improving for me on the pool table.  I’m making it tougher on him.  I run out more frequently.  I’m calming my thoughts for longer periods.  I’m playing smarter.  I’m learning more.  I imagine myself as a better player.  The result is there hasn’t been a payout for quite some time.  I’m still not quite as good as he is in terms of accuracy and touch, but someday I’ll get there.  Behind The Rock Tour will help me.

The reality is that what has always made Don good was his composure, his pure stroke, his simple approach, and his love of the game.  We should all take a lesson there.  He will always be my “watermark”, and the occasions that I beat him are a demonstration of my mental maturity and proof of growing pool skills.  If I can compose my mind and play a smart pool game that stays within my limitations, I can beat Don.  And if I can beat Don consistently, I should be pretty successful in the pool room.

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