[Mike] On Shaft Maintenance

This will be a dual post on the topic of cue-care and shaft maintenance. Mike S has offered his opinions and following those I will add my thoughts.

Hustler walks over to the broom closet to pick out a twig to smack the balls with.  The old saying any one off the wall will do.  HAHA that’s far from the truth now.  What really is inside of that wood plank we protect with our lives and will reach out and fly to the floor clamoring to try to protect our baby from a ding or knick.  I know I have been the weird guy walking into work in the dead of winter or crazy heat of the summer with my cue case getting that, “What’s that?” look.  Some like maple, some love ebony, others pick any $100-200 colorful option at the local cue shop, or I even know a league player that uses a $40 Budweiser promo cue.  What’s the perfect combination for you? (This could be a very a long conversation because shafts, standard maple or low deflection, haven’t even been mentioned.  The reason this blog post is being written because cue maintenance seems to be a secret or underground process of taking care of easy things like getting a tip replaced, changing the wrap from linen to leather, fixing a shattered butt-cap or designing a cue from the ground up. We know who to call and will gladly share that information with you.)

Have you ever been down on the last ball to win your match and the shaft of your cue seems to be ungodly sticky or gummy.  There is a reason for that.  In my experiences so far 90-95% of cues off the shelf have a coating sprayed on them to seal the wood of the shaft for a longer shelf life.  This coating protects the wood from moisture and the outside elements but it also collects the dirt and grime from chalk and your hands.  NO matter how many times you wipe it down or wash your hands this feeling won’t go away.  In the heat of battle this stickiness intensifies tenfold and then comes the baby powder and FUCKING GLOVES.  (I hate gloves, I will gladly play just about anybody $20 against their glove) BUT, for a minimal cost, this coating can be sanded off and the wood resealed to a wonderful smooth as silk feeling you will fall in love with and become a more frequent visitor of the local cue makers we have in St. Louis, MO to keep your shaft ding-free and playing great.  Another point to be made about cues off the shelf either made here in the USA or abroad the tip that comes on them is a piece of shit, usually.  Again this is a simple $12-40 upgrade.  Right now I’m playing with a Zan tip from Japan, medium density.  It is a 8 layer tip and I really like how it plays and the funk it can put on the ball amazes me sometimes.  A quick shout out to Sharik Sayed for the access to these tips from his sponsorship and Dan Otto for hooking me up with the tip.  Layered tips are here to stay, some of the most popular are Kamui, Talisman, Moori, Onyx, Tiger, or Sniper. I have tried about half of these very popular brands and they are available in different hardness’s.  A layer tip is comprised of the best of the best of the pig hides laminated together and when shaved to a curve allows for a nice amount of surface area for gripping the cue ball and chalk to adhere to.  My favorite part about playing with a layered tip is the minimal maintenance or no maintenance at all.  All that is needed is a liberal application of chalk and don’t break with it hard.  Tip picks or tapping the tip with an abrasive tip tool is a no no and for a good reason.  The layers are glued together and scuffing or picking these layers apart drastically shortens the life of the tip or can completely compromise the tip.   Mushrooming of the tip is well-known from the tip being hit at a hard pace often and the only thing the leather can do is get out of the way and go to the sides, this I have not experienced with a layered tip in about 6 years, but that’s just me.  The local cue makers here in St. Louis have their preferences but usually have more then 2-3 options at a time that you can try on a cue not just look at.  Asking never hurt anybody.  Which leads me right to the elephant in the room.

How does the shaft feel in your hands?  Does it feel a little too big for your hands, meaning you can’t comfortably apply a closed bridge because of the diameter of the shaft?  Or do you love how your playing cue feels but the new or old break cue you have is like a red-headed step child and completely uncomfortable.  Let’s fix that.  Again for a minimal charge, starting around $15 the diameter and taper of the shaft can be adjusted to your liking My fellow teammate and long time league player just mentioned to me a few days ago after an initial adjustment that her break cue just wasn’t feeling like her playing cue and she switched back to breaking with her playing cue. This is death to a $35 tip.   I recommended she give our buddy a call and make a plan to take her playing shaft with her to have the shaft measured and the dimensions replicated on the break shaft.  These small changes are quick fixes and in a few days your investment is starting to feel more of an extension of your body then just a pool cue.  

Also a quick note about break cues, the Samsara break tip hits like a ton of bricks.  You might have an extra cue or recently upgraded your playing cue and adding one of these very hard break tips can save a little bit of money in the short term but also help decide if investing in a dedicated break cue is a necessity.  New players are quick to drop a hundred bucks on an Action or Players jump/break cue usually with a phenolic ferrule and tip and are quick to find out they are harder to control then they seem.  It’s very true but in my experience with the Samsara an 80% solid hit on the cue ball is more controllable and the ball flies off the table less frequently.  At this point you might have one of these cues in your bag, but don’t worry the “tip” or rounded nub on the end can be flattened on the lathe and one of these wonderful break tips can be installed.  I think they are around $25.  

The cue that I play with has seen better days but I love it and I plan on buying another from the same cue maker.  I love my cue because of how it feels when I strike the cue ball, the extra length of the shaft, ivory ferrule, and the magical Zan tip. This combination right now really leaves me with me a huge smile on my face when all is going well on the pool table.  And when it’s not I for surely know it’s not my equipment that is fucking up.  The cue that you play with is your choice and what it looks like doesn’t matter, how it plays and the control that can be applied to the cue ball is far more game changing.  Take a look at your equipment and assess where you stand with your game and if making one of these small adjustments could make a huge difference for you.  

On that I will leave you with the contact info of the three best local cue makers in no particular order and how weird is it they all start with the letter J.  

Josh Treadway www.treadwaycues.com 314-605-8935
Jerry Terbrock www.jerryterbrock.com 314-520-3221
Jim Buss www.jimbuss.com 314-423-6122

And here are my thoughts on the matter:

In addition to having your shaft professionally maintained, it's important that you do your part in keeping the shaft in good shape between services.  I have tried a variety of methods for this, including cue wax, shaft slickers, sandpaper, brown paperbags, dollar bills, magic erasers, strips of leather, alcohol wipes and q-whiz products.

All of them serve a purpose and most of them will do about the same quality of job.  However, each of them have side effects you might not be aware of.  The sandpaper, q-whiz and shaft slicker (which includes those plaid little sleeves with what feels like velcro inside, and those green-pads generally used for cleaning pots and pans) products do a great job at removing the outer layer of grease, funk, chalk, oil and other dirts from the shaft.  However, the price you pay is that you are actually sanding off the outer layer of your shaft.  So, in time you will shave your shaft down to 8mm (on a long enough timeline).  These products are some of the most common out there, so it's no surprise that people often complain about the size of new shaft.  By the time they need one, they've sanded off a few millimeters so they're used to a 12 or 11.5mm shaft and a brand new 13mm shaft feels like a baseball bat at that point.

Magic Erasers and alcohol cleaning products do a good job of removing the dirt while not sanding away at the shaft; but they introduce risk by way wetting the shaft, allowing the pores in the wood to open up enough to release the dirt particles.  If done in moderation and in a controlled manner this isn't too dangerous.  Also, this type of cleaning sets up a great base for the next type of protection: burnishers.

Leather strips, cue wax, dollar bills, paper bags and the leather side of q-whizs are all about sealing the shaft after it's been cleaned.  Cue wax works just like car wax (in fact, a lot of people use Turtle Car Wax on their shafts); rub it on a clean shaft, uniformly, allow it to "set", then buff it off.  The Q-whiz simplifies this by essentially combining the waxing and buffing into one step by having a wax-coated leather facing, which you then use to buff the shaft (as if you were cleaning it with a green pad).  The friction melts the wax just enough to allow it to transfer to the wood, while the leather beneath acts as the buffer and essentially seals the wax around the shaft. Simpler methods of burnishing the shaft which just heat the existing outer layer of whatever is there would be the leather strip, dollar bill and/or paper bag.  All of them create heat through friction, the motion then redistributes the oils/particles and then seals the outer layer.  These methods don't do much of anything for "cleaning" the shaft so much as just making it smooth feeling again.  Though the natural texture of the leather strip will naturally pull out some of the oils much better than any paper-based product.

There is one more method and it is quite possibly the simplest and most effective I know of: The damp paper towel. In the middle of any set there's a point during which you might use the restroom either for natural need or for a mental reset - and you will most always wash your hands.  Instead of tossing that damp collection of paper towels into the trash can, bring it back to the table and wrap it around the shaft as uniformly as possible. Then with a tight grip, in one smooth motion, wipe from the ferrule down to the joint.  Turn the cue 1/4 turn and reset the paper towel to a "clean" part and repeat.  You will see just how much chalk your shaft has picked up since the last time you wiped it down; instant results. This method both cleans and smooths the shaft immediately AND poses no threat to the integrity of the shaft as there's not enough moisture to open the wood pores, and not enough heat to warp the fibers and there's not enough friction to remove the outer layer.

I use the last method at least once per session (sometimes twice in dirtier or humid conditions).  You can also, should you like, use the burnisher-side of a q-whiz after this wipe-down to help keep chalk out of the shaft and prolong that silky-smooth feeling.  

And there's my 50 cents on shaft maintenance.  What about the ferrule you say? The magic eraser is the best at cleaning the chalk off of those, in my experience.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, suggestions and criticisms on the subject, if you have any.

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Filed Under: Gear

APA US Amateur Prelim Tournament Review

This past weekend I played in a local qualifier for the APA US Amateur tournament.  While I don't have a lot of interest in going to the regional qualifier or the national event, I did want to play in this event because I liked the format and it's another chance to get some seasoning.  I had decided before I entered that if I found myself in a position where I was in danger of winning a qualification I'd work it out with my opponent who actually does want to go.  Knowing the field of players, I didn't expect to have to worry about that; and it turns out I was right.

The format is an APA Masters "style" - no handicaps, race to 7, potentially playing both 8-ball and 9-ball.  Winner of the lag determines the format to be played first and gives up the 1st break in the match.  If 8-ball is chosen, then 5 racks of 8-ball is played, then 9-Ball is played until someone gets a total of 7 wins.  If 9-ball is chosen first, then up to 8 games of 9-ball is played, then 8-ball until someone gets to 7 total wins.

Tournament started at 10am and I was the first match called. I lost the lag and my opponent choose 8-ball first.  Which, considering I don't feel anything close to awake yet is fine with me.  Plus, it means that I get to "warm up" both mentally and physically with a game that generally don't require a lot of stroke shots.  (Barbox 8-ball rarely requires a lot of CB movement.)  Nothing terribly exciting happening during this match, other than I let some racks slip away, but it goes hill-hill and I snap the 9 on the break. Win my first round!

I only had to wait about 30 minutes for my 2nd match against another unknown player.  But, this guy beat a known favorite in the first round so I knew not to mess around.  I win the lag and choose 9-ball, to try and get some quick games in, maybe to help get me in stroke, maybe to put a little fear into my opponent as I generally play 9-ball fairly aggressively, with good success.  It has certainly happened before.  I don't think I put any fear into him, but I could tell he was off his game a little.  Not sure if he was rattled being down 5-3 going into 8-ball, or if he just don't play good 9-ball.

I tried to keep up with my aggressive style of play, but I quickly discovered (realized) that was a mistake.  He played much better 8-ball, so for each aggressive shot that didn't work, he won that rack and I soon found myself hill-hill again.  The rack before this was where I also realized that I can outsmart him.  I was able to adopt a more strategic style of play - something more like one pocket than 8-ball.  I looked a lot longer at the table and found the best way to break out my problem balls and play a great safe, forcing him to play off a specific ball (or leaving just 2 options, both of which were beneficial to me).  The rack was a mess with clusters all over the place.  After several walks around the table, I saw it.  I could shoot a stop-shot on my solid, which would break up that cluster and both balls would bank away and open up - while also freezing him to his own ball, and anywhere his pushed to would leave me a shot to get out.  He kicked at one of his balls on the foot rail, made a good hit, but left me several choices.  I run out to get to the hill.

On the hill, I break and make some balls, but the table is not a run-out table.  I start playing smart safes and he's now shooting aggressively trying to get the win.  Towards the end of the rack, he tried a difficult combo on the 13 into the side while also playing shape for his key ball.  He missed and left his 13 frozen to my 7 ball.  My first thought was to bank my 7 long-rail and play shape on the 8.  But I wasn't sure if I could hold the cue ball. I also knew that if I missed the bank, I'd lose the game and the match.  Instead I re-evaluated the layout and finally saw it.  Make his 13 with my 7 and hide the cueball behind the 8 - blocking him from seeing his last ball.


It worked out better than I expected! I actually got the cueball FROZEN to the 8-ball and in such a way that any 1-rail kick would be very difficult.  He missed the kick, giving me ball in hand on an easy 2 ball layout.  I win my 2nd match!

From this point on in the tournament, it's now single-elimination (the format is known as "Single-Modified", meaning that players have 2 chances to lose within the 1st two rounds before being knocked out.  As I had won both of my first 2 matches, I was now in the 3rd round, and have no 2nd-chance opportunities.)

A few minutes later I play again, and again I win the lag and choose 9-ball.  I manage to get a quick 2-0 lead, but then I missed a safe and gave up a rack, and later I again got too aggressive, which left him with a chance to fire at the 9- which he did and made.  At the end of the 9-ball section it was tied at 4 apiece; much to my dismay.  8-ball was a series of tough layouts and basically we each tried to wait for our chance to get out - then we did.  Most racks were 1 or 2 innings.  But, I made 2 mistakes, missed a crossbank, which lost me that rack and rolled an inch too far on a tight-position shot on the 8, which also cost me the rack.  He's now on the hill and he came a very tough (and/or dirty) break and run to win the match.  I lost 5-7 and I was out of the tournament.

The "highlight" of the match, for me, was my only rack of 8-ball win where my opponent had jarred his keyball and scratched somehow.  I was left a full table of balls to run.  The layout of the balls were pretty wide open, but the ball only had 1 pocket, so I had to be sure to end the pattern correctly.  I took a long time looking over the table.  I knew what my key ball options were easy enough, but getting there with the least amount of risk too a few extra minutes of analysis.  I walked around the table several times.

Then it hit me, literally.  It was like a switch flipped and the pattern was glowing my brain. 6 in the side, 4 in the corner, get an angle on the 3 in the corner to get back to center table, for the 5, then 7 in the same corner, 2 then 1 then 8.  Once I saw it, I quickly went to work. 6, then 4, but got a little straighter on the 3.  I drew it back, but not quite enough.  I ended up straight on the 5.  Normally I'd be upset by this since my plan was now forced to change.  But, As soon as I realized I was straight, I also realized that I could float forward 4 inches and use the 2 to get back on the 7, then the 1 then 8.  And I executed that plan flawlessly.  I "stunned-through" the 5, leaving me with a simple small-draw on the 2 for the 7 in the side, which got me naturally to the 1 in the corner, which left me straight in on the 8 ball.

This was the first time I have ever, without setting the cue-ball down, formulated a plan for the entire rack.  It was exactly as how the books suggest: Run the rack backwards.  I chose the 1 as my key ball. I knew I needed to be straight in on the 2 to get good on the 1 and I worked it backwards.  Even though I had to change my plan, I feel like my initial plan was good enough to allow for slight variation as I had also done exactly what 8-ball players suggest: Work one area of the table at a time.

Typically in a situation like this, I'd look for my "problem ball" and just start running balls, focusing on the next group of 3, but this time I didn't.  I waited until I had a plan every ball. A target position for every ball.  I saw the rack play out in my mind before I set the CB down.  This is a milestone for me, personally.  I've always relied on my gut and shotmaking to get out on racks like these.  After all, there's only 8 balls on the table, they're open and it's a barbox.  Should be an easy out, no matter how I go about it - right?  WRONG.  I have dogged a number of these "open table" layouts (as any pool player has) and I was not about dog this one.

Here's the final runout diagram:

Even though I lost that match and was out of the tournament, I wasn't upset about it as I had already played decently throughout the day.  I was also, despite being a little tired, in great control of myself.  During every match there was a point where I'd normally start to get negative, frustrated and harbor feelings of defeat - but each time that happened I was able to push them aside and get back into the match.  After each rack, no matter the outcome, I told myself it does no good to get upset about [whatever happened].  Actually saying it - out loud (under my breath mostly) did wonders for my mental state.  Thinking it is one thing, but hearing it seemed to actually have an affect.  Not just hearing it - but also LISTENING to it.  

Overall, I feel like it was a good day for me, personally and I hope to continue down this path of strengthening my mental game.  My arm will pick up glitches and they'll go away and I'm starting to just accept those days; though it's not always easy when I'm losing more matches than I should (especially lately).  But, these are all the normal growing pains of being a pool player.  I've been fighting that acceptance for a long time, but I think (hope) that maybe this acceptance is exactly what I need to get over this little slump I've been in the last month or so.

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Filed Under: 8-Ball · 9-Ball · Tournaments

[Mike] Feeling The Stroke

Today we have our first guest-blogger: Mike S.  Anyone who's followed me for the last 6 months or so would remember him as my teammate and practice partner.  He's typically the other guy in the videos I post and as of late has been beating me into the ground.  We usually end up talking about all kinds of pool related stuff and I thought it'd be neat to have him share some of his thoughts on things.  Today it's all about the stroke - and what isn't a stroke.

Strokin’ IT!!!

What’s in a stroke? What makes for a good stroke? How does it feel? 

"Fluid", "Comfortable", "Precise", "Effortless", and "Magical" are a few words that come to my mind when thinking about delivering a great stroke. Since before I understood what great pool was and the attention to detail that it takes to move the cue around the table effortlessly, one phrase stands out: Don’t poke it, STROKE it. It still sounds so corny but God is it so true. 

Last night I was in great stroke, I was feeling the ball contacting the cue tip and knew exactly where it was going and why. Many things contributed to my great performance in Master’s League, but mostly I was warmed up and relaxed. No worries at all yesterday, just me and the table. The balls were laying out great after the break and there were a few defensive positions that worked out in my favor, all in all a great night at league. (7-0 victory didn’t hurt)

Back to the Stroke talk, after league sparring with John and Julia on the extra practice table was a great display of some awesome runs and a few cheesed in 9 balls. But the strokes where flying. It feels nice to let it out and play the 3-4 rail position and it never hurts being on the right side of the ball to make position easy and unforced. John commented “I’d be in perfect shape on the 10 footer, this 9 foot business is screwing me” something like that. It couldn’t have been more true on a few over-ran positions, but without a stroke he would have never gotten there or even have a chance of moving the rock around a 10 foot beast.

When it comes down to it, you don’t wake up one morning and magically you can spin and maneuver the cue ball around the table with ease. It takes work and practice and getting out of your comfort zone. Hitting the cue ball outside of the miscue zone is risky but in the heat of battle and that is your only option at the table, the confidence to deliver a great hit can be the difference between a match win and match loss. What I mean is, typically you do not need to use extreme outside/inside or extreme top/bottom but a halfway delivered shaky poke is no way to make something out of nothing. Before most matches or killing time while at the bar and wanting to hit some balls, you might catch me at a random table with a house cue or my playing cue just hitting one ball around the table. I’m checking to see how the rails feel and I’m feeling the cue ball react off of the tip and more times than not hitting the ball 3-6 rails. Being loose and relaxed and just figuring out the table, does one rail play bad or not react as expected or is the cloth picking up speed across the middle unexpectedly, seeing how it feels. Give it a try, hit the ball outside, inside, mega top spin and crazy backspin see how it reacts off the rails and be confident moving the ball around the table, it’s FREE after all, you don’t have to drop the balls to practice stoke drills. Because the proof is in the pudding, a horizontal cue traveling at a consistent pace with intent and follow through can create an amazing reaction. I personally struggle with soft drawing the cue ball off the long rail and to the middle of the table with finesse without scratching in the side, I do I’ll admit it but my stroke has allowed to use reverse English or inside topspin to maneuver around the table to get good position if not better position than trying to land the cue ball in a extremely precise location with touch.

The bottom line is, if your cueball jumps in the air after the tip hits it (unintentionally) or after it contacts the object ball, or has no spin after the object ball contact and you thought it was going to take off like a rocket but instead dies right there or after the rail contact; you just poked the cueball. This leads to a lack of confidence to go 3-4 position with any type of spin not just outside running English. In this case, stroke development and practice should be in your plans for a better pool game. 

Remember Stroke it, don’t Poke it.


Filed Under: Stroke · Training

Midwest 9-Ball Tour (March 2014) Review

This past weekend I tried my hand at the Midwest 9-Ball tour again.  I'd love to say that I avenged my embarassing performance, but I'd be lying.  I went 2 and out and this time my matches were nearly exactly reversed from the last time.  I'm really tempted to blame my first match performance on the extreme amount of time between when I arrived and when I played - but it was my decision to stay there the whole time.  So I have to take the blame for not doing what I should've done in order to best prepare for the tournament.

I get there at 10:30, sign up and wait ... and wait ... and wait.  About an hour after the calcutta and first few match accounments (now around 1:30) I find out I wont play my first match until 6:30.  Instead of going back home (10 mins away) and resting or eating good food or finding a place to play/get in stroke, I sat there. I watched some matches, and sat there on those hard chairs/stools.  Around 4 I went with a friend to get some food and ate stupid fast food, even though I had brought "tournament dinner" with me (aka: Cliff Bars and a protein shake). I figured I'd have enough time for my body to digest whatever I ate before my match and I was wanting to get outside for a bit; though it was cold, windy and on the verge of raining all day.

At about 6:45 I get called to play my match against some unknown name.  I get to the table and immediately start to notice just how COLD it was in that corner.  Shortly, I was shivering cold for some reason.  I played mostly okay during this time, but wasn't really owning/controlling the table.  I went to get a coffee to warm up, but that particular brew must've been the high-octane brew as 10 mins later I get the caffeine shakes.  I try some breathing techniques to keep my heart rate down and it helped, but overall I just felt distracted by the environment.  It didn't help that 5 of my friends were sitting at the table watching the match.  I don't think I would've minded if I had been playing well, but I hate performing poorly for an audience. 

My break was working pretty well, getting a great spread of the balls.  However, I was hooked on the 1 or had to play safe off the 1 70% of the time ... so my speed is a little too high.  The problem with that is now I've just opened the rack for my opponent.  And while he wasn't a monster player, he was competent and could get out from the 4 regularly.  We traded a lot of games and handed each other some easy outs.  But, in the end, he wins the match.

If I had won, I'd face Chuck Raulston in the next round - which was the gateway to the money round as it turned out.  I needed to win 2 in a row from the start to hit the bottom of the payout brackets.  I didn't figure to get past Chuck though, and my opponent didn't get past him either.

I play my next round at 9:45... against Jimmy Eberheart.  A regional top player.  It was either him, or a friend of mine with whom I had practiced the night before where he destroyed me 9-5 and 9-1 in the same format.  I didn't like my chances in this bracket - but I suppose I have to pay my tournament dues as cannon fodder for a while.

After I ran out the first rack against Jimmy I thought "maybe, juuuuust maybe, I can squeek by."  It was alternate break and as it happened, I played on the same table so I already had a good feel for how it was playing.  He gets his rack, I get my next one and he ties at 2 apiece.  I miss the 1 on the next rack (trying to get too perfect), which led directly to a WIRED 2-9 (as in frozen balls pointing straight into the pocket).  So he pulls ahead, and then he gets the next one of his breaks. 2-4 now.  He rattles a ball and I get out, then he misses an easy 7 and gives me the rack (it was a cookie-cutter out from there).  Tied at 4. 

And here's where the plot twists. I think I get too comfortable playing him - we've been chit-chatting back and forth, talking about the table, the cue-balls, even tournament strategies.  Once he remarked that he shouldn't tell me something - then proceeded to tell me anyway.  I knew he wasn't "afraid" of me and I knew he expected to win the match from there.  I knew going in that he was a massive favorite - but I sometimes like that - it raises my game generally.  Like I'm the little kid trying to play with the big boys, taking my hard knocks in stride; and doing well in that regard.  (I guess I should only play known killers, cuz anytime I feel like I have decent chance of winning, I dog it off something fierce.)  Anyway, he pulls ahead again and gets to 7.  Either he scratched on the 2 or made the 1/2  and scratched or something - he gives me ball in hand on the 3 with a tricky 4-ball.  Overrun my position to play the 4-9 combo (or at least I no longer like it so much so that I abandon the idea) and am faced with the layout below.  After some analysis, I get down and shoot the 4, draw into the side rail, under the 9, then have the inside spin take the cueball forward around the 9 for shape on the 5.

When the CB stops rolling, Jimmy and his friends all compliment me on a great shot. Jimmy specifically said it was "really, really pretty shot".  That felt particularly great.  He paid me another compliment earlier when my neither of our soft-breaks were working and we had both switched to the hard breaks, I heard him say to his friend "He's got that sledgehammer break down."  I was controlling the cueball 85% of the time (as in it's in the center of the table without going around the rails) and making balls much better this match.  I still found ways to get out of line though, because it's .. well, me.

I did get to 6 games though - better than I expected - and I had a lot of fun playing against Jimmy.  He's a really friendly guy (until you piss him off, I'm told).

I spent the rest of the evening (till 4am) watching matches.  Saw some great pool being played and supported my friends who were still in it.  A couple of guys, both of them teammates of mine (former/present) actually, made it to the cash on the one-loss side Sunday.  I made some new friends courtesy of AZB and I got to watch "the youngin's" play a scotch-doubles bank game with Skyler, Drake & Seth Neipetter, Nick Evans and a few other locals that would rotate in/out.

I got into some friendly 9-ball action Sunday with a friend on the big table and after about 3 hours we were dead even.  I guess I got tired cuz then I started missing balls, hanging balls and losing my cool something fierce.  I quit down 6 games, went home and played Fable for a while.

It was a good weekend of pool and I can't wait to hit another tournament with the lessons I learned from this one. Next scheduled tournament I know of is the APA Amateur National Qualifier in 2 weeks.

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Filed Under: 9-Ball · Tournaments

Sparring With Focus

In an effort to get prepared to avenge my poor performance at the midwest 9-ball tournament last week, I matched up with a friend who has won or placed in the top 3 several times in that tournament.  Julia Gabriel is a local gal who always does well at the midwest tournament.  We matched up playing mw9-style races to 7 this past Friday.  We played 4 sets.  The first set, I played well, and she seemed a bit off.  After a break for dinner, everything changed.

Saturday, I read some of Phil Capell's book A Mind for Pool and it had a section on the mental game (well, more than one) wherein he says "Don't make excuses. People that hear players making excuses know that player is passing the buck on their own mistakes." (paraphrased)  And it's true.  I've known that to be true for quite some time, but it's still incredibly difficult not to blame something that seemed, at the time, out of my control (like a bad table roll, or dirty balls clinging together).  This is particularly relevent here because I blamed my stopping to eat dinner as my reason for losing the next 3 sets (terribly). 

I normally don't eat while I play, or if I do, I snack so as not to give my body too much to do while I'm still trying to maintain focus at the table.  But, after I ate, I lost all focus.  To be fair, it wasn't all because of the eating.  The first half of my focus loss was that I had won the first set, pretty heavily.  I felt like I had the home-field advantage, playing on new cloth, and with the red circle cue ball.  Even though my speed wasn't as good as it could be, I was making great shots and getting tight shapes when I needed them.  In a word, I was confident.

Which should be a good thing.  It's that small step from being confident to being overly confident that kills people.  It killed me, for sure.  I thought I had found some of my opponent's weaknesses, but what I had thought was a weakness, was nothing more than a couple of flukes. My mistake.  And that mistake would mentally grant me the permission needed to shoot at flyers, to take lower percentage shots, to go for the runout when I should've played safe instead. 

We played alternate break, and I lost the 2nd set 0-7. I lost the 3rd set 1-7 and I lost the 4th set 4-7.  Once that focus is gone... it's gone.  I tried all of my tricks to get it back. I quit talking to bystanders, I quit fidgeting with my phone, playing the jukebox, looking around.  The problem with getting focus back, I've just realized, is that I become focused ... on getting focus and instead am too distracted to play the game.  In effect, I try too hard. Which is just as bad as being overly confident. 

Now, after watching the videos, I can say that yes, the rolls were going more towards her than for me in the later sets. That's not an excuse, just an observation - to which she agreed. However, when she'd make a mistake and leave me a chance to get out ... I simply did not take advantage of the opportunity.  I was trying too hard to make sure I capitolized on her error, tried too hard to ensure I made the ball; which raised doubts in my instinctive shot alignment, which caused indecision, which caused missed shots.

I did, however, capture one rack of decent shooting in the 4th set, where I broke and ran out.  It wasn't pefect, as I had bumpbed into 3 balls throughout the run, but it worked and I got there.

There was a rack earlier that I broke and ran out - but it was an early 9, so I don't count that, exactly, as a break and run. I had to bump the 6 to keep shape on the 4, but I put the 6 in a spot where I wasn't sure if it passed the 9 into the hole, so I played the 6-9 carom instead, which I made.

In summary - I'm really glad Julia came out to run over me.  It was almost like playing the ghost, except that I had more chances to screw up than when I play the ghost.  I look forward to our next sparring.

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Filed Under: 9-Ball

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