As predicted, my confidence hurt me last week. I arrived at Malarkey’s early and snagged a beer and a rack of balls and started warming up. The beer tasted good even though I knew it would not help my touch or accuracy. But coming off a great couple weeks, my confidence was high and I thought that a slight “softness” in my game should not hurt much because I was hot! I was wrong.

To be honest, when it comes to playing in my home pool room, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. Bars only make money when they are selling alcohol and food. At the rates they charge, I’d guess my pool room probably doesn’t make any money on table time. Players that hang out for hours on end drinking coffee and soda pop do not make money for the room. I feel that in order that the room might survive to support me, I need to support it in the basic manner which is its business by buying alcohol and meals. And there’s my struggle: both hurt my performance.

The effects of the alcohol are obvious, but the food is a little more subtle. I’ve talked with others about this and they feel the same as I do. When you eat just before a match, it is difficult to focus completely on the game and the result is a poor performance. There are probably physiological reasons, maybe subconscious reasons, but the bottom line is if I eat just before a match I can usually kiss that game away.

So what to do? I want to help the room survive, but I also want to improve my BTRT ranking and get into the money in the weekly tournaments, whether its “198” or “220” or any other game. Most weeks I just decide to suck it up and work one beer for hours, and then order a meal between matches, try not to eat all of it, and put off playing that next match as long a possible. It sort of works, but I know if I managed my food and alcohol intake a little better, not only would I save money, but my BTRT scores would improve – maybe make me a little more in winnings; but then maybe the room dies a slow, prolonged death. I suppose guilt has a lot to do with my decision-making, but that’s a whole different blog!

Well, back to this week. The first beer went down fast during “198”. Bad idea. Bad result. After that, I thought, “Screw it!” and ordered my big meal and another beer. Both delicious. Both disastrous for my score. OK, it was a bad week, but at least I know the reason and I know how to fix it. If I’m going to perform to the higher level I want so I can reach my goal, I need to be smarter and be able to control myself. Ugh!

Old “220” Average: 50.35
New “220” Average: 49.85
Goal “220” Average: 70

Old “198” Average: 84.33
New “198” Average: 70.80
Goal “198” Average: ??

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Boy it is a nice feeling!  After winning the Tri-Annual 220 Tournament a couple weekends ago, this last week I take first in “198” Scratch and second in “220” Open Division.  I’ve got a nice little streak going.

While the winning is nice, what really feels great is the confidence I have when lining up for a shot these days.  With all the things I’ve changed that I’ve mentioned in recent posts, I’ve got that sensation that I can put any ball in front of me in the hole, AND I have a pretty good idea of where “whitey” should land.  I’m feeling the angles, the speed, the spin, and the stroke I need.  I’m surprised when I miss, but my confidence is strong and so I try it again with little fear.

Long shots don’t scare me right now.  Hard draws don’t scare me right now.  I strike the cue ball with resolution and determination.  There are holes in my game, so I play around them; stay away from leaving the cue ball on the rail, focus hard on the break so I get the pattern that works for me, avoid bank shots and combos.  My confidence allows me step past these limitations, at least temporarily.

But I know this confidence is fleeting.  I “have it” now, but I’m just one overconfident day at table away from losing it.  So I need to stay humble, keep playing within my abilities, try not to over-stroke the ball, accept the failure when it happens and look for the reason it happens and learn from it.  The moment my expectations exceed my abilities is when this house of cards I call “confidence” will come tumbling down and I’ll be back to fighting in the last few games of a match just to get to my average score.

For now, though, I’m on a roll, and it feels awesome!

Old “220” Average:  50.45                 Old “198” Average:  79.50

New “220” Average:  50.35               New “198” Average:  84.33

Goal “220” Average:  70                    Goal “198” Average: ??

Boy! What a week! My list of Behind The Rock Tour scores this week has shown a marked improvement resulting in some valuable benefits. It reads like this:
Tuesday I shot a 105 in “198” taking first place and $23 for the week.
Next that day I shot 53 in “220” taking second place and $35 for the week.
Saturday I shot a 72 in the First Round of the BTRT Tri-annual Tourney.
That same day, I shot a 57 to sneak into the finals by just 0.15 points.
Then Sunday I shot a 71 to take first place and $298 in the BTRT Tri-annual Tourney.
Pretty proud of myself. AND it feels really good to be able to see improvement in my game.

I attribute this recent success to three changes I’ve made. First, my new shaft that I’ve mentioned before; it’s given me inspiration and stroke consistency. Second, the time I’ve invested in drills that I’ve also mentioned before. And last, my current mantra. It goes, “Table, Stroke, Hole.” It is a reminder of the things I need to do to succeed on the Behind The Rock Tour.

“Table” means “Focus on the table.” One thing I’ve determined is that I have the attention span of a 4-month old puppy. I’m scatter-brained and the slightest commotion is enough to pull my head away from the task at hand. Someone laughs across the room and I wonder what I missed. The crack of a rack breaking and I wonder how it turned out. A waitress walks by and I wonder what she’s carrying. It takes only the slightest noise or visual distraction and the conversations in my head take a different tack and I lose focus on playing the game that is in front of me. So “Table” is my key word that tells me to make the table my world and push everything else out.

“Stroke” means “Manage your stroke.” Through my drills, I’ve learned that sometimes I get lazy and let my stroke get sloppy. Other times, when I think I need to do something special with the cue ball, my stroke gets a little crazy or downright “Wild-West-out-of-control.” Elbows fly, wrists tweak, shoulders skew, and cue sticks twist. I know I don’t have to hit anything hard, but sometimes it’s hard to remember. To keep that from happening, I have to really concentrate on the stroke I want to produce and keeping the stick movement smooth and in alignment. It’s really hard for me, so “stroke” is my reminder to keep that stroke under control.

“Hole” means “Put the ball in the hole.” Obviously, this is what the BTRT is all about. If I miss, I’m done – so all my energies need to be concentrated on putting the ball in the hole. Sometimes I get so worried about the position of the cue ball after the shot that I forget I need to make the shot in front of me first. Next thing you know, the object ball is careening off a bumper corner and that game is over. “Hole” reminds me when I’m shooting that this is the most important thing I need to focus on. That ball must go down!

We all carry thoughts in our head. Like the boisterous knucklehead in a bar with a few too many drinks in him, I believe mine tends to talk more loudly than other peoples’. My mantra is just my way of simply and quietly asking the loudmouthed knucklehead to settle down and allow me to stay in the game and focus on what needs to be done. This week it worked. I’m hoping it keeps on working!

Old “220” Average: 45.45
New “220” Average: 50.45
Goal “220” Average: 70

Old “198” Average: 54.00
New “198” Average: 79.50
Goal “198” Average: ??

December 4, 2012

Posted: December 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

I’ve been having trouble controlling the white ball in “220” lately.  I figured that to fix that problem, get used to my new stick, and prep for a tournament coming up, I should work on some basic drills to sort things out.  Over the last week or so I’ve been working on one my mentor showed me a long time ago.  The drill and the time I invested paid off last night.

 

I started the evening off by playing “198” (9-Ball vs The Ghost on 7-foot tables).  The first half of the match was going OK.  Since this was only my second time playing this game, I don’t have an average or a sense of a score I should be expecting.  “L” on the next table came over after the sixth game, snuck a peek at my score sheet, and said, “Hey! We’ve got the same score!”  Since no one has a handicap yet, we are all playing straight up in the “Scratch Division.”  I knew I had to buckle down if I was going to get into the money.  So I stopped thinking about stuff, focused on ball control from my drills, and ripped off four snap games in a row to close out the match.  Result: 105!  YES!

 

The drill that made the difference on those tight, fast tables is to set up all fifteen balls in a straight line across the table at the second diamond off a short rail.  Equally spaced, the balls end up being about an inch apart.  Start with the cue ball another two diamonds back, near the middle of the table.  The object is to put all the balls consecutively into the two closest corner pockets.  Order doesn’t matter; just pot the balls.  Sounds easy, and mostly it is – at first.  You find out pretty quick that a draw stroke is handy to keep the cue ball on the right side of the line of balls to get them into those two corner pockets.  Alternatively, you can use the natural glancing angle off a ball to put the cue ball where you need it.  A little English off a side rail can help too in a pinch.

 

The first six or so usually go down pretty easy, but then you start to notice that leaving the cue ball in the right place is becoming more important with fewer balls left on the table.  If you pocket all fifteen balls in a row, you move the line of balls back one diamond and do it again.  This line placement makes the shots a little longer plus it brings the side pockets into play adding another dimension.  If you get that second line down, move it back another diamond making the shots even longer.  I’ve never gotten past this line.  Nevertheless, this drill is a good way to tighten up your ball control, play with the different ways of positioning “whitey”, and a great way to get your stick and you working together.  I credit this drill and the time I put into it with my success last night.

 

My “220” match (10-Ball vs Ghost on 9-foot tables) started really good.  By the end of the seventh game, I had hit my average of 44.  I figured I was in the money.  Aaaaaannnd that’s when I lost focus.  Between being bubbly about the 105 score in “198”, sitting on my average in the seventh game, being a little hungry (I hadn’t eaten), maybe a little mentally soft from the beer, and imagining what I was going to do with all the money I was going to win in this week’s tournaments, I forgot that I still had to put balls in holes to be successful.  Over the next four games, I put just nine balls down to end with a 53.  Pathetic.  I had a great chance to post a really good score and let it slip away because I didn’t keep my head in the match at hand.  I probably won’t get into the money with that score, but it was a good lesson in managing my mind.  With the Tri-Annual 220 Tournament coming up this weekend, I hope it was a lesson learned.  I’m looking forward to finding out.

 

Old “220” Average:  44.10                 Old “198” Average:  None

New “220” Average:  45.45               New “198” Average:  None

Goal “220” Average:  70                    Goal “198” Average: ??

Yesterday I hit balls for quite awhile.  Mostly I was just slamming them; straight-ish shots without too much action.  Sometimes, it’s just nice to hit the cue ball square with purpose, feel that solidness of your weapon driving through the cue ball, the rifle crack of the cue/object ball collision, and the quick thunk/tap of a colored ball hitting the back leather and hammering into the wood plug at the bottom of the pocket.  None of that pussyfooting around with soft shots or rollers or hard cuts – just hammering them home.

 

I was really warmed up.  Most of those hard, straight-ish shots were finding the hole.  Very satisfying.  My confidence was building.  I tried a few shots with more cut, and they were going too.  So I added some english.  Aaaaannnd things fell apart.  The spin wasn’t working the way I intended and the balls started hitting the rail on either side of the pocket and ripping around from bank to bank to bank, etc.

 

To get it back I slowed my arm speed down.  I had one sort of tricky shot where I didn’t use much arm, loosened up my wrist, and let the wrist do most of the work.  Bang!  Ball in hole, cue ball zipped smartly in a direction I’d hoped for.  Well THAT was sweet!  Tried it again, loose wrist, easy arm swing, wrist pop at impact, and follow through. Bang!  Ball in hole, cue ball sucked back with an intense and intended purpose!  Nice.

 

I thought immediately of my mentor who would occasionally point out others in the pool room, “Look at how easy they hold the cue stick.  Notice the wrist snap.” she’d say.  “Easy arm motion with an easy wrist pop.  Do you see it?”  Yeah, yeah, I got that, I’d think. “I do that.”  Well, I don’t.  I didn’t.  I haven’t been.

 

I hit golf balls a long way, much farther than most of my peers.  On the rare occasion they’d ask for advice, I’d tell them to loosen up the wrist, slow down the swing a little and let the wrist whip that club through the ball.  “It’s all in the wrist!” I’d say.  I don’t know why I haven’t seen the connection, applying the same philosophy to my pool game.  Regardless, a light flipped on yesterday.

 

I’d already spent fifty minutes blasting balls, so it was time to quit.  But I tried a few more with a little more wrist and liked what I saw and felt.  It was easier to hit the ball solid, the balls fell in intended holes, and the action I was getting from the cue ball was much better than what I was used to.  I ended the session with successful shots, some new clarity, and something to practice.  Yesterday was a good day.

One Of Those Days

Posted: November 28, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

Excited to be back in the pool room yesterday, I got there early and started hitting balls.  I was there to play “198” and “220”.  I was going to score well in both.  Maybe win a little money and build up my average.  Instead, it was “one of those days.”

 

In my first game in “198” I started out with a “snap game,” a GREAT way to start a match!  It was a bit of a bad opening break that left the 2-ball tied up.  But the 1-ball was in a place where I could break it out, which I did perfectly.  After that, it was easy; I just took my time, made sure to pocket the object and leave myself a shot at the next one.  Nothing tough; nothing hard.  When the 9-ball finally dropped, it all felt so easy, so natural to run out.

 

Next game, scratch on the break.  Crap.  OK, it’s a snap game I’m working on, so I still can use this next run to give myself a big opening score.  I pocket the 1-ball, but get out of shape already on the 2.  I’m thinking, “Serious?!?”  I miss the two trying to get in shape for the three.  Dammit.  I open with a snap game, but can only muster a net score of 9 in the second game!  Aaargh!

 

The rest of the match went on like that.  I couldn’t seem to hit the head ball square.  The cue ball would fly off on either side of the rack on the break and the patterns I was used to seeing never materialized.  Then, invariably on my first shot I’d get out of shape.  The subsequent shots would just get farther and farther out of shape until I was hooked or I missed the shot trying to get back into shape.  It was embarrassing.  Final score:  never mind!

 

“220” is next.  An opponent is waiting to go, so I jump right in figuring the bigger table and a fresh game will be better.  Nope.  Same problem, different game.  Couldn’t hit the head ball square.

 

But I didn’t give up.  Every time I walked to the table I’d think, “OK.  This is where I turn it around.”  Then I’d hit the cue ball just a little wrong and I’d be back to scrambling without the patience or skill to get things back on plane.  I didn’t quit and managed one cut game.  The subsequent break didn’t leave me an opportunity to use the Cut Option.

 

The bottom line was, I wasn’t breaking well.  Upon reflection, I should have taken some time between the two matches to figure out how to hit that head ball square before moving on to another match.  I also should not have eaten a big ol’ bacon cheeseburger before playing.  Now THERE’s a distraction!

 

Old “220” Average:  43.50

New “220” Average:  44.00

Goal:  70

My New Stick

Posted: November 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

It came!  My new stick arrived!  Let my improvement commence!

Before the 2012 BCA Western Regional 9-Ball Tournament in LincolnCity a couple months ago, I decided it was time to improve my equipment.  I have a Lucasi pool cue with the original maple shaft.  I bought it probably 15 years ago, and while the shaft is still in great shape, it is a simple wood shaft with a distinct grain.  As an engineer and a woodworker, I know that wood is flexible in one direction and stiff in another.  I believe that that inconsistency in flex added some inconsistency in my shot-making ability and limited my improvement.  Some of the other players might wink and say, “Well, Pete, maybe you should work on your (fill in blank) first.”  You can fill in the blank with numerous pool elements: stroke, timing, aiming system, banks, straight shots, long shots, rail shots, and so on.  Others might say, “If your stick is your problem, you’re hitting it too hard.”  Or, “Wouldn’t it be cheaper to get a new tip?”  And inevitably, someone will add, “You’d be better off just going bowling.”  (Ha. Ha. Ha. You guys are hilarious.)  In any event, I was convinced I needed something new to add some spark to my pool life.

So I headed to LincolnCity hoping to talk with some folks, try some sticks out, and maybe find a deal.  I talked with a bunch of people about the options including the Predator, Tiger, OB and some others, and remarkably everyone had their opinions (which flowed pretty freely!).  Eventually I came to the conclusion that for a B-Level player like me almost any shaft upgrade will probably do just fine for a bunch of years.  I checked in with Jessie over in her 911 Billiards corner.  She gave me some shafts to hit with and I test drove a Tiger and the OB-1, both about $200.  I had a knowledgeable friend test drive them too, and we independently decided on the OB.  The “deal” I got was not paying sales tax in Oregon.

It took awhile to get and I know 911 got tired of my breathless, “Is it here yet?” every week.  (Thanks for your patience, Jessie!)  It finally arrived almost 6 weeks after I ordered it.  And I’m pumped!  The fact of the matter is that I believe it will make a difference in my ability to make shots and more importantly, the pace of my improvement.  It removes any possible shaft flex inconsistency and replaces it with a hard, cold truth which I expect to hear every once in awhile, “It ain’t the stick any more, dummy!”