D I A R Y
of a

P O O L    S H O O T E R

The Adventures of FastMikie
in search of Truth and Beauty in the art of pocket billiards.




Sunday, July 31, 2005

Sunday Afternoon Challenge Match

Kevin J. wanted a piece of me,
but all he got was a can of whoop-ass.

We played Masters format
just like yesterday with El Maestro.
Quiet during games. OK between games.

We lagged. I won and chose to break.
He chose to play 8 ball first.
At the end of the 5 games of 8 ball,
the score was 4-1, Fast Mikie in the sun.
Nine ball went 4 games of the possible 8.
Final score: Fast Mikie 7, Kevin 2.

He started off shooting extremely well,
but the problem was Closing.
And I just took advantage of my opportunities.

I won one 9 ball game with a strong offensive safety,
giving him zero chance on his turn
and giving me ball in hand for the runout.

Although that safety was a beautiful touch shot,
drawing 90 degrees sideways for several inches,
and nestling snugly between a ball and the rail,
that game was won more on
correct thinking rather than shotmaking.
A valuable lesson...

Practice Performs Miracles!

"Practice makes perfect" may be an overstatement,
but practice sure does make Better.
This morning I'm practicing behind the back shots.
Shooting rotation pool where every shot is
with the cue behind my back.
Good physical exercise, that's for sure.
And some of the body positions that are required
are more extreme than many of my yoga "asanas".

Why I chose to practice behind the back shots
was probably influenced by El Maestro's suggestion
during yesterday's practice
that I should practice left handed shots.

El Maestro made the point that
it would be good for me to review the Basics
and that shooting left handed would force me
to look at, and practice, each Element of Shot Making.

I replied that teaching me to shoot
left handed is a low payoff exercise...
My left hand is so completely uncoordinated
that it is laughable.
It would take an eternity of repetition to
build coordination into muscle memory.
My objection was really fear of the unknown,
fear of looking stupid,
fear of being weak.
I used my Intellect to invent a reason,
but it was driven by Emotion.
If I were to take my emotions out of it,
I would have practiced left handed.

I wanted to spend my time on Lessons that
would pay off in the short term. (Greedy)

I couldn't see that time practicing the
the Elements of Shotmaking
is always a good investment
as it enhances every shot.

So yesterday I was the Rebel,
and today I am the Student again.
I must have given El Maestro's words some good thought
while sleeping in my hammock last night.

Later in the morning, I did experiments
with reverse english with heavy follow
on long straight shots in the corner pocket,
bringing the cue ball four cushions to
the opposite end of the table.

Practice performs miracles!

Saturday, July 30, 2005

When Is A Win Not A Win?

Tony "El Maestro" Sorto arrived around 2pm
to give me my regular Saturday lesson.

First we played some 9 ball, but
using bank shots and kicks ONLY!
What a great way to learn these shots...

Next, I told him I wanted to play a match,
in the Masters format
(up to 8 games of 9 ball and
up to 5 games of 8 ball,
in a race to 7).
I also wanted to give it my total focus,
and let there be no talking whatsoever
during the match.
Usually we both have the motor-mouth
going, talking about pool and everything
else under the sun, including some
good natured sharking.
This time I wanted to practice what it
would be like when playing in the
finals of US Amateur Championships.

The rule was that any talking whatsoever
by one player would be treated as a foul,
and give ball in hand to the other player.

Amazingly, we spoke only once in the match,
to clarify a rule, then went back to silence.

I got off to a great start in the 9 ball games,
getting up 3-0, but El Maestro came back strong.
We finished the 9 ball games tied at 4 games each.

The 8 ball games were very hard fought,
with one game going what seemed to be
at least 20+ safeties.
Amazingly, I got on the hill first,
then Tony caught up and we were
facing each other for the match with
only one rack left.
Many more safeties ensued, as both of us
were playing each other very tight.
But Tony finally broke free and ran
the remaining stripes only to get himself
out of shape on the 8.
He made the 8, but scratched after
his cue ball caromed off one of my solids.

It was at this exact moment that I let out
a blood-curdling yell of triumph,
as Tony unscrewed his cue.

It was certainly one of the most hard fought
matches I have ever played.

But was it a true "win"?
Is it a victory when your mortal enemy
has you at his mercy, and then trips and
falls on his own sword?

Did I win, or did I merely survive?

Friday, July 29, 2005

Big Money!

Just got the news:
The prize money for each of the
four members of Destiny's Team,
(El Maestro, Fast Mikie, Tony B. and Tom O.),
the first place team in the Masters Division,
is a whopping $115.oo each.
A new personal best in cash winnings
from a pool tournament.

Of course, my share goes to my favorite charity,
The Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience
(The Spinal Cord Injury Project)
at Rutgers University
.

Even more important than the money
is the MVP trophy for my undefeated session,
which "they" say I'll be getting "soon".

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Challenge Match

Five hours of pool tonight with Malve.
We started off with 3 sets of 9 ball.
I won them all: 10-5, 5-0, and 5-0.
My break was working better.

Then we switched to straight pool,
and I got off to a good start
with the score 27 to -2,
but Malve came roaring back,
and got to 50 first!
However, we were playing to 100.
And the final score was
Fast Mikie 100, Malve 69.
He had a high run of about 20.
My high run was a weak 15.

He was itching to play some more,
but I was wiped out and hit the shower,
while Malve hit the road.

Monday, July 25, 2005

New Custom Cue Case

In one more step along the path to excellence in pool,
today I ordered my new Jim Murnak Cue Case,
with custom "Fast Mikie" carved into the leather.
In mahogany, two butts, plus 4 shafts,
plus jump cue handle.
Signed by the artist himself!

I might still be learning,
but I'll look good...
(at least until I start shooting)

I was seriously considering a case by Jack Justis,
and was continually putting it off,
and I'm thinking it was because those cases are
so very good looking they are almost too showy.
Something "vintage" is more appropriate
for my low-key style.

Getting Serious About The Break Shot

If the break shot is the most important shot in 9 ball,
and the break shot takes a LOT of practice,
then it seems that the "BreakRAK" would be a good tool.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

12 Hour Practice Session - 9 ball breaks and some Straight Pool

Tony shows up early (around noon)
for my regular Saturday lesson,
and we focus on 9 ball breaks.
My breaks are all over the place.
Very inconsistent, weak, ineffective.
Truly an embarrassment.
So I am getting serious about it now.

This was the first time
I videotaped myself,
and it was very informative.
No real follow through!
Duh.

I did get lucky on one break
and make 5 balls!
That was fun.
The odds of a runout increase substantially!

After a LOT of break shots,
where Tony would re-rack and give me
a running commentary on
how sucky each break was and why,
we took a break with some straight pool.
What a relief!
How much more enjoyable than 9 ball...

But I MUST practice 9 ball and 8 ball.
I am on a mission.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

New Table: Brunswick Gold Crown IV

The Brunswick Gold Crown IV
is the standard for professional competition
and it will be the new main feature at Mikie's Fun House
in less than two weeks.

Of course, it will have Simonis green 860 cloth.
No ball return.
Mahogany with antique bronze trim.
And the full 9' size, to replace my current 8 ft. Pro size.

I'm looking forward to
the superior leveling mechanisms,
and to playing on the same equipment I'll be using
in competitions.

And the touring pros
will have no excuse when they lose!

Bring
on the heat!

Monday, July 18, 2005

Lessons in 9 Ball with Mike B.

Saturday was a 9-ball match with Mike B.
who is a skill level 8 in APA,
one level higher than me.
That's the way I like it:
playing people who are better than me,
so I can stretch my limits
and learn more about this great game!

I got off to a slow start in the first match.
I was a little nervous and by the time
I started to settle down, I had already
given him a couple of games because
of stupid mistakes on my part.
He had me down 4 or 5 to zip
and won some games but still lost
the match with a score of 9-5.

The second match went a lot better,
and I actually was on the hill at 8-6,
but I didn't keep my Mind In The Game,
and let him get to hill-hill,
and then blew an easy runout and
handed him that match too.

A few months ago,
I won a 9 ball APA match against him,
and after the match he had only two words
to say to me: "Lucky Bastard!"

So maybe I should say the same to him now!
;o)
I'm looking forward to a rematch!

An interesting, and unanticipated lesson:
How to Rack 9 Ball.
Seems that I had been doing it wrong all along.
After learning how Mike B. does it,
and having a big discussion about it,
I got curious what other players think
on this subject...
Check this link at AZ Billiards forum:


After the 9-ball matches,
Tony Sorto got us into some 3-player "Bollita"
(little ball in Espanol).
This is a fast-paced pill game
where you have to shoot the closest ball first
while you try to sink your pill.

We played for about 11 hours,
with only a short break for pizza (delivered).
Toward the end of the night,
it seemed that nobody wanted to be the
first to throw in the towel and quit,
so we just got more and more tired.
Except Tony, of course, who seems not
to have human failings when it comes to pool.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Touch: Learnable but Unteachable

On the practice table this evening
I am stroking shots with a sense of Touch
that is as pleasurable as the visual I am creating.

It strikes me that the sense of touch
which comes while "in the zone" is Un-Teachable.
It seems that it can only be learned by Experience.
Lots of Experience, with Attention.

It reminds me of the sense of touch which is
required when landing an open-cockpit biplane.
Now there is something which can not be taught,
primarily because there are so many variables,
and they are varying simultaneously,
all the while you are defying Gravity and Death,
while creating a Thing of Beauty by
touching down with the least possible sensation,
at the exact moment airspeed goes to Stall,
sink rate equals zero,
forward speed is minimized,
and the rollout is straight as an arrow.
And doing all of this while going
through the landing checklist,
communicating with the tower
and passengers, being aware of all the radio
chatter of other airplanes in the vicinity, and
looking out for traffic in the sky and on the ground,
all the while being ready for a go-around at any instant.

And if that weren't enough, there is
an interesting phenomenon which occurs
while landing a biplane which Demands
a sense of touch: the sense of sight is lost!
As incredible as it seems, all forward vision
is lost while landing because the nose is high.
Additionally, the lower wing blocks vision
straight down, so you can't really see how
close you are to the runway.
It's all done with Intuition.
And peripheral vision takes over
to keep the biplane straight
at the moment of touchdown
and subsequent rollout.

The inputs to the sense of touch
are primarily from the control stick,
held in the right hand
(a lot like a vertical pool cue)
which controls nose up/down, and wings level
and with the left hand
which controls power
and with both feet
which control nose left/right.

So both hands and feet are
engaged in this intuitive dance
while the ears are listening for the music
of the air over the wires connecting the wings,
and the sound of the engine,
and the squeak of the tires on the runway,
or slipping on a wet grass field.
Even the pilot's face is engaged in the process
as he feels the wind on his cheeks...
It all adds up to a symphony of sensations
all happening and changing while the
biplane goes from 100mph to zero,
and doing it with beauty and personal style.

I remember the many hundreds of landings
it took me to put it all together,
and to develop the Confidence that
I would make the right choices,
and do the right things,
even under extraordinarily challenging situations.

It occurs to me that
if I can develop the Touch
to make awesome landings in an open cockpit biplane,
surely I can develop the touch
to shoot pool at a very high level...

I wonder if there are other biplane pilots
who shoot pool in competition?
I'm thinking that my biplane experiences
have given me a great advantage at the pool table.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Miltonio in action!

Afternoon visit to Miltonio
to get my spare shaft re-tipped (Moori slow)
and to get Tony's shaft re-tipped (same)
and to shoot some pool.

Miltonio's shop is amazing
with all sorts of specialized tools
which he has made himself.
It must be seen to be believed!
And I got a front row seat while
he worked on my cue.
It is an extraordinary pleasure
to watch a master craftsman in action.

We played some one-pocket,
which is his game of preference
and a game I have played only a few times.
He beat me the first game 8-7.
I took the next two 8-2 and 8-4.
I'm starting to get a new respect
and appreciation for the game.
I'll probably play more of it in the future...

Then we played some 9 ball,
and he should have won at least
2 or 3 games where he left the 9 for me,
in the jaws!
That sure is the easy way to win.
Lucky me!

And finally, we talked about a custom cue for me.
But it will be winter before he can start.
I think this may be the first time in my life
that I have looked forward to winter!


Saturday, July 09, 2005

Long Anticipated Match

It's Saturday, my practice/lesson day with El Maestro.
We decided to shoot at Buddy's room
(Family Billiards, Oceanside).
The tables are all Gold Crown IIIs with Simonis.

And so it was that
I ventured out among the the populace,
in search of fresh meat.

I found a match with Ken J. in a race to 5 in 9 ball.
I have been looking forward to this for a long time.

Ken is a strong "A" player
who gets lots of practice every day,
plays tournaments a couple of times a week.

He was playing one-pocket for time
on the next table.
After Ken won, Tony (El Maestro) invited him
to match up against me in some 9 ball,
which is really Ken J's game.

I won the first 3 games, he won the next 4.
Then I won the next to put me on the hill with him.
Now it's only one rack left to decide the winner...

How many times have you been faced with a shot
that was so daring (low percentage),
and so temptingly cunning and beautiful,
yet so ill-advised,
(especially in a hill-hill situation),
but it kept begging to be hit,
until finally you have to throw caution to the wind,
and blast away at it...
and miss?

And after the fact you readily agree that
you should never have done it,
especially since it lost you the game,
and the match.

But how else do we learn if not by trying stuff?
Rarely do shots like this come up in practice.

So now you know: Ken J beat me by a game.
I'm looking forward to a rematch soon!

Friday, July 08, 2005

Blind Spot in The Zone

Back at the practice table,
after a long couple of weeks lying low,
getting lazy and dull-witted.

After a couple of hours of
just hitting the balls,
the stroke comes back...
Speed control is a thing of beauty.
Long straight shots are easy.
Everything just flows.

Except for one shot in particular.
It won't go in no matter what I do.
High or draw or center.
Right, left or no english.
Over and over it won't go in.
It's amazing because it's
one of my favorite shots!

Everything else goes down easy.

I'm in the zone, but with a blind spot!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

What Is The Weight Of A Snowflake?


This evening, I had the good fortune
to see the film "The Girl In The Cafe",
and it was excellent for two reasons:
Initially, because the improbable love story
in the film reminded me so much of my last affair,
a bittersweet tragedy beyond telling.
Secondly, and more importantly,
for the extraordinary message of global importance,
which, if you will share with me
a moment of sober reflection, and read on,
deals with the fact that 100 million people
die each year of extreme poverty,
a tragedy of epic proportions which
we can eliminate with the stroke of a pen.
Actually, the stroke of 8 pens, held in the hands
of the 8 men now meeting in Scotland.

I am reminded of a story which
I happened across a couple of years ago,
and was struck with its simplicity,
logic, and great power.
Here it is:




"Tell me the weight of a snowflake,"
an eagle asked a wild dove.

"Nothing more than nothing," was the answer.

"In that case, I must tell you a marvelous story,"
the eagle said.

"I was standing on a branch of a fir tree, close to its trunk,when it began to snow - not heavily, not a raging blizzard - no, just like a dream, without any wind and without any violence. I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,123. When the very next snowflake dropped on the branch - nothing more than nothing, as you say - the branch broke off."

Having said that, the eagle flew away.

The dove, since Noah's time
an authority on the matter,
thought about the story for awhile
and finally said to himself,
"Perhaps there is only one person's voice lacking
for peace to come to the world."

Author Unknown

It may truly be that only one more voice is needed
to solve these seemingly impossible challenges
of peace, poverty, disease... But we will know this,
and achieve these great goals, only if that one
final voice is heard.
But the final voice is nothing in itself,
without the voice of all of the others.

I couldn't go to sleep tonight without
adding my voice to all those others.

Masters Tournament Final Results!

The final results have been posted on the APA (San Diego) website, and it looks like it is official now.

Click here for the pretty spreadsheet version. This includes some players who are not on the official website version because they dropped out in the middle of the session.

Click here for the official listing.

I am especially pleased that the guy who came in second (Arballo) played 11 matches while I played only 10 (I have no idea how that happened... it must have something to do with a "bye"). The key here is that even though he has a higher skill rating, and played one more match, he still didn't get enough points to beat me!

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Plan Evolves

After taking a couple of weeks to assimilate my
perfect, undefeated session in the Masters Tournament
my thinking about my future in pool is clarifying...

Since I have already won against
some of the best in the area APA,
there is nothing to be gained by
continuing to play against them.
I need to play substantially better players
in order to improve.

Additionally, it seems to be common sense
to compete in San Diego
until I have become at least one of the
top 3 players in the area,
and then expand geographically to selected
tournaments in Los Angeles and Las Vegas,
but only in smoke-free environments.

I have no interest in becoming a road hustler,
or to go on the pro tour,
that's just not part of my hermit lifestyle
where Solitude is the prize.

My sights are set on:

1. US Amateur Championships, California regionals
(September, San Diego)
2. US Amateur Championships, Nationals
(November, Atlanta)
2. Swanee Tournament (January, San Diego)
3. Challenges of selected high ranked players
(as available, at Mikie's Fun House or local pool hall)
4. Local tournaments (On Cue, College, Family)

Practice sessions will focus on areas
where I need more work:
1. Banks
2. Kicks
3. Caroms
4. Masse
5. Jumps
6. Safety


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