The Adventures of FastMikie
in search of Truth and Beauty in the art of pocket billiards.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Saturday Night at the Pool Hall
El Maestro and I are shooting 9 ball for a few hours, when some young movie star looking guy starts talking with Tony and all of a sudden I've got a match. Race to 7 games in 9-ball.
This ain't no beauty contest, so I've got nothing to worry about.
With the flip of a coin, I break, and after several turnovers, I win the first game. That feels good.
And then it begins... He wins the next game, because I scratch on the nine. And he wins the next game, because I leave the nine in the jaws. And then he wins the next game, because I have no idea why, by now I'm almost in a coma. It's 3-1 his favor.
My spirit is unfocused. My energy is low. My mind is unclear. My mojo ain't happenin'.
I was sluggish from a big Mexican meal.
I felt like Rocky Balboa, on the ropes, taking a heavy beating.
It just won't stop. He hammers me again. It's 4-1.
And again! It's 5-1.
Lesser men would have already given up. By this time they would simply be pushing balls, waiting for the end.
We have all seen pros on TV, when the score is real lopsided, against them, they almost sit lopsided, slumped, in a pose of submission, a picture of undeniable defeat.
El Maestro taught me to show no fear, no emotion, and certainly not submission.
El Maestro also taught me to make adjustments.
I would just have to increase my focus, increase my energy, dominate the table, and shoot like I know I can.
Where does it come from to be able to recover from such great deficit? Is it possible?
Fast Mikie, again, digs deep, and speaks: "Ok, PJ, that's enough of a spot."
Fast Mikie wins the next 6 games in a row. And wins the match, 7-5.
When I finally got to the hill ahead of him, 6-5, the pressure was enormous, my body heat escalated off the charts, my mouth got sandpaper dry. I have not yet learned to control my physiology but I am studying El Maestro who has great powers in this area.
The last shot I had to go 3 rails fully around the table for short side position on the nine which was frozen to the short rail. Of course, you already know it worked, but when I was down on the shot, knowing I needed this to be a sweet shot for six games in a row, and the match, and a major-league comeback victory... well, the stress was extreme.
It's all about the glory, I suppose. Mortals aspire to heroic deeds.
One thing I have learned is that heroic achievements never occur if one has given up. It is the man who persists unrelentingly who wins.
Heroic deeds require dire circumstances. Like, maybe, being down 5-1 in a pool match? Did I allow myself to get so beaten, so that I could enhance The Legend of Fast Mikie?
It would seem unlikely, but Brinksmanship is a game I play with myself.
I'm naturally lazy, I resist doing anything at all unless it is absolutely necessary, and then, when I do something, I want it to have the greatest possible reward.
That's when I focus like a junkyard dog. I can persist like a mofo. Persistence is my secret weapon. In itself, persistence requires no talent. Just put your head down and keep going. "Never, never, never give up." (Winston Churchill, during WWII)
Tonight was my first team 8-ball match in the APA in a couple of years.
One of the reasons I dropped out of the APA team events is because the championships in Las Vegas allow smoking in the tournament rooms.
Although I smoked unfiltered cigarettes for more than 20 years once I quit I became sensitized to the smoke and now I can't stand to be around it.
On my first and only Vegas championship tournament (in 2004, click for story) the air was so bad I vowed to never return until they banned smoking.
And now they did it. It wasn't APA who did it however, it was the State of Nevada. So that means I can go back.
The Masters Triple Play tournament, The National Singles, the mini tournaments, and the team events are all now "in play" again for me.
So, back to tonight... I was first up, playing against a skill level 5. (Mike H.) When I last played APA, I was a skill level 6, so I needed 5 games to his 4.
I won, 5-0.
I felt comfortable throughout because it was evident that my opponent could shoot good but needed experience with strategy. All I had to do was block a ball on him, and he had to let me win.
It almost seems unfair.
I was shooting pretty good. Two or three dumb mistakes. But it was a strategy win. It seems that I am finally getting it. A few months ago I was clueless.
It reminds me of an old Buddha saying: "The ox is slow, but the earth is patient."
My favorite shot of the evening: I break and sink a solid, and the rest are runnable except for the 4 ball which is blocked except for a cross-table bank as the only option to get out. There are other easy shots on the table, but I take the bank on the trouble ball for the opening shot and get shape for the rest of the run.
Most opponents would not know why I would take such an opening shot and of course when it goes in (which it did, of course) they might get the feeling they are in the presence of a higher power.
I'm at the pool hall a few minutes early when El Maestro walks in.
He says he wants me to shoot some "A" player. (Chuck J.) I say sure, anybody, anytime, any game. It's not about Who. It's about the balls and the table.
He points to some guy sitting in the big chairs by the window, but to me the view was all blurred. I really didn't want to see the guy, because it really didn't matter who it was. All players are the same. Their sole function is to rearrange the table if I let them.
The essence of the game is contained within the green area. And the gray area (the brain).
For the record, I won 7-4 but more importantly I feel that the win was a fine gift to my instructor who watched the whole set with great pleasure. Some of my shots were truly beautiful.
It was one of those events where it could be said that the planets were aligned favorably.
Interestingly, it was the first day of the New Moon, a time when my creativity and sensitivity are heightened.
The day after a long day at the table is a day to relax. I started with at least an hour of stretching and breathing (yoga). Especially good for the lower back.
For the first time in 3+ years, I am happy enough with the shaft I'm using to reorder an identical shaft.
What could possibly earn my approval? The Predator 314 series 2, with a Quick-Lock joint and a Moori medium tip, extra long (30").
All shafts before this have been Predator, and in normal length (29") but I have experimented with the Z-shaft and custom 314 shafts cut down to 12.25mm.
I think the extra inch in length helps on reaching some shots, and also the overall balance of my cue.
I evolved from a Moori soft to medium because the soft needed constant attention.
Seybert's gets my business, because they are easy to work with, they stand behind their work, I can order online, and get it fast.
I ordered another shaft today because the tip on my current playing shaft is getting kind of low, and flatter than I like, so I did some shaping to get it to nickel radius, and roughed it up to hold chalk, and now it is playing sweet again, but that's about the last time I can do it.
This was the opportunity to get a backup shaft. Then I'll send in the one I use now, for a fresh tip.
In a turn of events which defied the odds, the state of Nevada passed a law restricting smoking in Las Vegas, especially in the hotels, and that means pool tournaments!
The last time I shot pool in Las Vegas about 2 and a half years ago at the National Championships, the smoke was so thick and disgusting I swore I would never return until they outlawed smoking in the pool rooms.
A reader asked me how I practice, which I figure is a great question, because I have asked myself that same question many times.
Here's how I answered him:
My practice sessions are not very disciplined.
Many times I just throw all 15 object balls on the table, randomly, and then go for the run, but sometimes I vary the experience with different ideas, sometimes I try to run them all from the same side of the table, for example, or try to run them without the cue ball touching a rail, or a ball other than the OB.
One thing for sure, I almost never ignore a missed shot. When I do miss, I always replay the shot until I feel comfortable with it. I feel it is essential to never leave that negative image of the miss in my mind.
I never practice my 8/9 ball break shots, first of all because I don't like all the noise, and second because it seems like work to rack them each time. How lazy is that!? ;o)
Sometimes I hit all the balls really soft, other times with strength, confidence. Sometimes trying a kill shot instead of soft roll...
Sometimes going 2 or 3 rails instead of just one rail to get position. Sometimes with reverse english, or none at all, to see what happens...
Many times I will take the tougher shot, like cutting a ball down the rail instaed of banking it, or cutting a ball into the farther-away pocket instead of the obvious one.
I should definitely practice more bank shots.
If I didn't vary my approach to practice, I'm sure it would seem like work, or boring, so I try to keep it interesting.
So, practice for me is not about doing everything right, but about learning, discovering, and that never seems to get boring...
The last time Tony and I shot some pool, a couple of weeks ago, I ran through a rack of 8 ball, and then almost all of another rack (missed on the last shot) and he actually told me "Those two racks were PROFESSIONAL quality"
He was referring to the choices, the shot selection, etc that I made, as well as the precision position.
That really made me feel great, and affirmed what I had been suspecting for some time: that my game has taken a step up. It was only a few months ago that my 8-ball patterns were awful.
Again today, after shooting for about 7 hours straight, he gave it up again telling me that I was shooting good.
So I guess I'd have to say I'm feeling pretty good about that.
For the last 3 years, I thought he wasn't giving my game any compliments because he was some kind of tough guy. But all the while it was just because I didn't deserve any compliments!
But I still have a LONG way to go to reach his level. Some of the things he does with the cue ball are just plain unbelievable until you see it happen, repeatedly.
It gives all of us a way to contribute to the solution with the least amount of energy (2 clicks!) so we can all go back to shooting more pool and still sleep good at night knowing we did a good thing for our world.
So much for hunger and poverty. I'm working on war and disease next, but I'm thinking that these things might be a bit more time consuming, so I gotta get right back to it before my stroke gets all wobbly.
The primary website that describes the approach is