The Adventures of FastMikie
in search of Truth and Beauty in the art of pocket billiards.
Friday, March 30, 2007
I won 4-3 against a player of the highest skill level (7) although it wasn't my best performance.
On the other hand, my opponent distinguished himself with a display of integrity.
It has been said that the true character of a man is revealed by what he does when no one is looking.
In the middle of last night's match, when the games were about even between us, Dave Arballo, man of integrity, called a foul on himself, a double hit on the cue ball, giving me control of the table, with ball in hand. And, as might be expected, it cost him the game.
I did not see him foul, so of course I could not disagree with him, and since he is an advanced player, he would know a double hit when it happens. There was nothing I could do.
It was just another example of the ebb and flow of the tides of fortune and fate.
I made a couple of mistakes myself last night, so it was a good learning experience.
The match was notable for one other reason: For the first time ever, I allowed a friend to attend one of my matches. George had arrived earlier in the afternoon, on a motorcycle ride from Washington to Phoenix. He is a real good buddy, I attended his wedding last summer, so it was difficult to tell him no.
I decided to let him watch, as a test of my ability to focus. I knew I was playing with fire by doing this, because I also knew there was a good chance I would be playing Dave, who has a higher skill level, and my focus needed to be absolute.
And now back to the subject: Character.
The measure of a man's character is what he would do if he knew he never would be found out. Baron Thomas Babington Macauley, English historian and statesman (1800-1859)
Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character. Albert Einstein, Swiss-American mathematician, physicist and public philosopher (1879-1955)
Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike. Theodore Roosevelt, American adventurer and 26th president (1858-1919)
Character, not circumstance, makes the person. Booker T. Washington, American educator and civil rights activist (1856-1915)
Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, riches take wing, and only character endures. Horace Greeley, American journalist and educator (1811-1872)
This is one practice exercise that I have been doing since before I knew what it was called:
Randomly throw the 15 object balls across the table, and then pocket them in no particular order, and repeat, repeat, repeat, ad nauseum.
Pool instructor Tim "The Monk" Miller calls this exercise "Piling Rocks". It is a Zen type meditation which leads to shooting "in the zone".
Before I started reading the various books on pool, and learned some of the drills and exercises, this "piling rocks" thing was what I did. That was maybe three years ago, and I couldn't clear the table without missing, so I never really kept track of how many balls I ran. Usually I was lucky to run 5 or 8 in a row.
It was about a year ago that "Cherry Bomb" Samm Diep mentioned in her blog that she ran 105 balls while "piling rocks" and that got me thinking that I should occasionally try this exercise and start to keep score.
This afternoon I didn't beat her score but I did get to 62 before I missed, and that is a record for me. It is excellent FOCUS practice.
But better than that, I felt good doing it, and I know that I can do a lot better.
Samm does other variants of this exercise, including running the balls without touching any ball except the object ball, and/or without touching a rail with the cue ball. These more advanced variants seem lots more challenging but definitely excellent practice.
I grew up hearing and reading the many stories of this enormously gifted race car driver and when I was behind the wheel in my own racing adventures I would always try to imitate his impeccable smoothness.
The previous post got me to thinking about other great people in history and their relationship with pool. The first one to come to mind is Mark Twain, who was known to own a table, and was a good shooter. One of his more famous quotes:
"The game of billiards has destroyed my naturally sweet disposition."
- Speech, April 24, 1906 The full text:
The game of billiards has destroyed my naturally sweet disposition. Once, when I was an underpaid reporter in Virginia City, whenever I wished to play billiards I went out to look for an easy mark. One day a stranger came to town and opened a billiard parlor. I looked him over casually. When he proposed a game, I answered, “All right.”
“Just knock the balls around a little so that I can get your gait,” he said; and when I had done so, he remarked: “I will be perfectly fair with you. I'll play you left-handed.” I felt hurt, for he was cross-eyed, freckled, and had red hair, and I determined to teach him a lesson. He won first shot, ran out, took my half-dollar, and all I got was the opportunity to chalk my cue.
“If you can play like that with your left hand,” I said, “I’d like to see you play with your right.”
In the latest issue of Pool & Billiard magazine they claim, without quoting a source, that Albert Einstein said the following:
"Billiards is the well-developed Art of thinking ahead. It is not only a game, but first and foremost a demanding Sport, which requires good stamina, the logical thinking of a chess player and the stable hand of a concert pianist."
I checked the internet for some confirmation, but could not find anything showing he said it. But I did find this reference:
"The Secret of Creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."
Recently, someone read this blog (amazing!), and wanted advice on lighting for his pool table, so I figured I'd share the reply:
I chose halogen lights, only because I wanted to standardize on them throughout the entire condo, but I didn't know how many or what wattage to use, so I probably overdid it with six of them, 71w each, with 40-degree beam, and on a dimmer. Together they put out more light than needed, and also a lot of heat, so I use the dimmer to turn the lights down.
I'm going to try 50 watt, 38-degree beam bulbs, to reduce heat.
They are about 65 inches above the playing surface, (eight foot ceilings) and cause multiple shadows under the balls, but that doesn't bother me, and nobody else has complained about it.
I would suggest that you NOT put a light source DIRECTLY over each pocket because then half of the light will be wasted, and will cause more shadow under the rails. I suggest that you place the lights more toward the center of the table. Two rows of 3 lights each sounds like plenty. The end lights should be inset as far from the end of the table as the rows are inset from the sides.
One source I just read suggested that the lights should be low enough so that they illuminate UNDER the rails, and while that may be ideal, it is not practical for ceiling lights.
The Price of Greatness: 10 years, One Million Balls
How many balls do you have to shoot before you get really good at this game?
I got interested in this question recently while talking with a team member who is just starting down the long and painful road to excellence in pool.
She was feeling kinda glum after losing her match, and I was trying to console her with the fact that, with practice, she will absolutely get better.
And then, I blurted out the not-so-consoling fact that it probably only takes hitting a million balls before she will get really, really good at the game.
Of course, I had no idea what the real number is. I was just winging it. Who counts every ball they hit? Not me! However, I do know that you gotta hit a lotta balls.
Over the next few days, the question of just how many balls kept running through my mind. So I put the question to one of this blog's readers. He's a techie sort of guy, and he just recently achieved the highest 9-ball skill level (APA).
He did some calculating and came up with the fact that he has probably hit 700,000 balls over 10 years that he's been playing the game.
Well, that's pretty darn close to a million. And maybe it would take another 300,000 shots to achieve touring pro level, if he had the intention of doing such a thing.
These numbers seem to be in the ball park with another study on the topic of what it takes to master ANY endavor.
Either way you look at it, you might want to check this out... I just got this email, and having no wife to put into the deal (and I think that is a very good thing) I'm turning this over to the General Public and that means YOU... so if you think you know someone like this, please contact Michelle directly, not me. Dear Fast Mikie: My name is Michelle Silva, and I am a Casting Producer for ABC's Wife Swap. We are currently looking for a family of Pool Players! We would love to find parents that compete in the sport of Billiards together, but we are open to all sorts of families. I came across your contact information and am emailing you in hopes you could help us in our search. We want to find a family that loves to have a good time and isn’t afraid to admit it! At Wife Swap, we look for families that can not only learn something, but teach something, as well. It’s a great adventure for the whole family.
Any person who refers a featured family receives a $1,000 referral award.
In order to apply for the show, families must have two parents and at least one child between the ages of 6-18 still living at home.
Families selected to appear on the show receive $20,000 from ABC Television.
If you or anyone you know have questions or are interested in applying, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me directly at (646) 747-7946. We are always looking for great families with extreme personalities for future episodes, so please feel free to contact me regarding other “types” of families as well. I look forward to hearing from you soon! Thanks for your time.
Yesterday I decided to work on one of my Pool Goals for 2007. More specifically, the goal labeled "G", which is the Straight/Rotation exercise and getting a score of 130+. My score today was 139. That's an average of 13.9 points per rack, and puts me in the "Semi-Pro" category. (see chart below) I just love it when I keep getting better!
Here's the rules:
1.Break full rack of 15 balls. Run in any sequence for first ten balls, then rotation for last five. 2. One point per ball for each of the first ten, then 2 points per ball for each of the last five, maximum of twenty points per game. 3. Any miss or scratch ends game, except on break. If you scratch on the break, then spot the cue ball at the head or foot spot. 4. After break, push ok to head or foot spot, or within 1 rackspace. 5.If push, then deduct 1 point only if score is 20. 6. Balls pocketed on break count if no scratch, otherwise dead. 7.Total your score for ten games, then divide by 10 for average.
I'm up first, against Dale, who is ranked 6th in the MVP standings, only 3 points out of second place. I've never played on this table before and get only two practice shots before we start.
I win the lag, break, and I'm hooked. He shoots good and gets out. 1-0. He breaks and gets a few balls. I'm hooked again, so I try a safety and mess it up. He's out, to make it 2-0.
This is no way to start a match! If he wins the next game, he's on the hill, and I'll need 5 games in a row!
That's just crazy thinking. Ignore the score. Focus on the table, the shot. I gotta bear down, hard.
It was a marathon chess match that lasted 100 minutes. It took all the brainpower I could muster.
It was a pleasant surprise when I hear the team's applause, and my opponent comes over to shake my hand. I didn't know until then that I won the match, 5-3.
The conditions were awful. Heavy cigarette smoke. (I hate cigarette smoke!) Mini bar tables. Extremely lively cushions, but slow cloth. (Now there's a challenging combination!) And, I swear, the table tilts uphill at the entry to the pockets!
As the match wore on, my focus faded out a couple of times, probably due to the smoke, but I caught myself and got back into the game by sheer will power.
So much for Dictionary.com's meanings of these words. For the full definitions, click on the underlined word/links.
The reason for a fuller analysis of these words is because El Maestro and I went at it yesterday on the keys to success in pool.
I have always used these words interchangeably, and, based on the definitions above, you might see how I could do that. But in the pool world of El Maestro, these words have different meanings.
It was only yesterday, after 3 years of my dogged determination to learn did I finally press the issue when he told me that I have NEVER YET been focused in a pool match.
Needless to say, this was a stinging rebuke, and my first and natural reaction was to completely reject his hypothesis. But I suspected it might be some language issue (what with him being Honduran born and raised and English being his second language) so I pressed for a more complete analysis of his meaning.
For an example of "focus" he offered his own performance. When he is playing a match, he does not recognize distractions, never talks, never shows emotion even on the rare occasion of a missed shot. He never sits down, never recognizes any person even if they come up to him during a match.
He is a rock. There is nothing in his mind except the table. He never looks at his opponent, even when he (the opponent) is shooting. Instead, El Maestro will tend to the tip of his cue, which may be one reason why he gets fewer hits per tip than anyone I have known.
In comparison, he tells me that I have some need to be a nice person and talk with those who talk to me, that I show emotion during the game, that my attention wanders all over the place from the TV to the spectators, players, loud noises and shiny objects. In short, I am a mess.
I complain bitterly to El Maestro that his characterization is excessive, and that surely I must have had at least one match when I had good focus? No.
In fact, he says, it is his judgement that I have probably never been focused in my life.
What? Impossible! Surely my successes in yoga, business and aviation... landing an open cockpit biplane in a high crosswind on a narrow runway... Was it all just luck?
Now he's pissing me off. Who is he to negate my ability to focus?
Well, actually, he's the best pool shooter I have ever seen, so he just may have some basis for his assertions.
It may be time for me to assume some humility and listen up.
El Maestro suggests that, maybe I might want to actually try to focus and see how my game improves.
I am reminded of ParamahansaYogananda's quote: "The results can not be achieved unless the experiment is made."
So, with some humility, and great determination, I agree.
He challenges me to a race to 7 in 8 ball, followed by a race to 7 in 9 ball. In complete silence, and total focus.
We go hill-hill in 8 ball, and in the last game I do an offensive safety. He kicks at his 8 and sinks it cross corner for the win. My focus was not shaken even though he visibly marked the cushion with chalk where he needed to kick at the ball, (totally illegal) and even though he did not call his pocket.
In 9 ball, I won 7-2. Again, in complete silence, even though there were several times when he sharked me by moving in my field of view while I was shooting.
His antics, of course, were a test for me, and not his usual style of competition.
Concentration, in the world of El Maestro, is what is needed at the time of shot-making. If something happens to interrupt the concentration, then, without losing focus, one simply restarts the shot routine.
So, maybe Focus is "big picture" and concentration is "little picture". But you can't have concentration without focus. Lose concentration, and you will probably miss the shot. Lose focus, and you will probably lose the match.