The Adventures of FastMikie
in search of Truth and Beauty in the art of pocket billiards.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Rule Rant - the break shot
There's probably more than one stupid rule in pool. And some inconsistency.
For example: In 9-ball, if you get the 9 on the break, you win, but if you scratch and get the 9 on the break, the 9 is spotted, you give up ball in hand, and the game continues.
In 8-ball, if you get the 8 on the break, you win, but if you scratch and get the 8 on the break, you lose.
Why should the rules be so inconsistent? Nine ball is played on tables that are rented by the hour. Nine ball is preferred because it is a fast game, so you get more (games) for your money.
Eight ball is played on tables that are rented by the game. Eight ball is preferred because it is a slow game, so you get more (time) for your money.
But with coin-operated bar tables all balls, 8 included, stay down, so the 8 could not possibly be spotted and therefore the rule must declare a winner or loser when the 8 is sunk.
Ok, how about if you are playing on a table where pocketed balls are not imprisoned? Like this morning, at the 8 ball "Blast", on bar tables that are unlocked, for league play. Surely then the rule would not apply, right? Wrong. Even when the reason for the rule is removed, the rule still applies. It's madness, I tell you!!
The purpose of the break shot in 8 and 9 ball is to spread the balls around the table in a relatively random layout, and at the same time to sink a ball, stay at the table and continue to play. While the object of the break shot is acceptable, it relies almost entirely on Chance for the result and therefore makes a mockery of 8 and 9 ball as a test of skill. The most important shot of the games, the break, relies to a great extent, on Luck!
Now, consider straight pool. No such thing as Chance on the break. You have to call every ball and pocket. The opening break of the game is a safety. This truly marks straight pool as a game of skill.
But, back to 8 and 9 ball... When will the rules be changed? A professional player wants to win by demonstrating his skill, not pure Luck. And, to lose by Luck alone is the worst. Like this morning, when I sunk the 8 on the break, and scratched on the same shot. Automatic loss of game!
I think 8 ball is the only game in pool where you can lose on the break. It just doesn't make sense.
After the US Amateur championship preliminary round, last weekend, I thought my pool year had ended, I was already in vacation mode, ready to take some time away from the table, really looking forward to some stress-free time without competition, some time for reflection, and writing, and other creative projects...
That mindset lasted only a couple of days. Then El Maestro called to announce that I must compete, with the team, one last time, at the 8-ball "Blast".
But this blog entry isn't about that. This is about Fresh Air and Sunshine.
Our team was eliminated in the first round, and I was home, lying on the floor, enjoying some yoga moves, stretching out the stress of my match, when all of a sudden, something warm, on the side of my face...
Sunshine! Warm afternoon autumn sunshine. The finest kind of sunshine, for sure. As I am soaking it up, the thought occurs to me that it has been too long since I have felt this good stuff.
My body, uncontrollably, moves closer to the warmth of the rays. (science calls it a "tropism")
I start to notice the freshness of the air a faint ocean breeze slightly bracing chill, enough to get my attention.
Why has it been so long since I have enjoyed these simple pleasures of Fresh Air and Sunshine?
If I had not gone on pool vacation, absolutely, for sure, as of noon today, I would not be enjoying the Fresh Air and Sunshine because the blinds would be drawn to close out the glare of of the afternoon sun. It's impossible to shoot pool into the sun.
And, the windows would be closed to shut off the breeze which would rattle the blinds when drawn.
So, I have discovered, Fresh Air and Sunshine are the enemy of Pool.
And now that I am on pool vacation, I can once again exhilarate in the simple joys of existence.
Fresh Air and Sunshine is addictive. So is pool. Yet, they are mutually exclusive. It's like when worlds collide!
(click the photo to see it BIG TIME! go ahead, click it!)
Look Ma! Three trophies and three patches!
These trophies go with the hundred bucks Tony gave me last night for our 8-ball team's performance in the Summer Season.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the help of El Maestro. Gracias, amigo. The trophies, left to right: Division Champion Perfect Season Most Valuable Player (MVP) Notice that they have my name on them, so they're not returnable!
Here's another look: (click the photo for a closer look! you know you want to!)
The patches, left to right: 8-ball Break & Run 8-ball On The Break Most Valuable Player (MVP)
All this stuff, for only 3 months of my life, (not counting the 4 years leading up to it) stressed beyond belief, hanging out in pool halls, no life to speak of... It's like poking yourself in the eye with a sharp stick. It feels great when you stop. I highly recommend it for everyone!
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to buy some trophy polish...
But before we go, let's take another look, shall we? (last chance to click the photo and see it BIG TIME! go ahead, click it!)
Late this afternoon, I met El Maestro at Hensley's Flying Elephant 850 Tamarack, Carlsbad CA for a review of bar table concepts and strategies, in preparation for the 8-ball Blast tomorrow. This competition decides if we get to go to Las Vegas for the National Championships next August.
The lessons: Smaller tables mean more clusters, the need for more precision position, probably more safety play, the need for greater cue ball control, there are no long shots, hit the ball more softly.
It was the first time I picked up a cue in 6 days. I was shooting mediocre, but I ran the last rack of 8 ball, so it was good to end on a high note.
Another high note was the $100.00 in cash El Maestro handed me for my share (1/8) of the team money for winning the Division Championships.
Available in October, 2007, Brunswick is releasing the new Gold Crown V which is essentially the same as the IV but with some cosmetic changes.
One noteworthy bit: There will be a Tournament Edition featuring tighter pockets engineered to WPA specifications. No information is available on the Brunswick site, but here's a link to it at Triangle Billiards.
The first real American celebrity who owned a Brunswick table was an immensely important person in American history—Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was a self-confessed “billiards addict.” He described the game as a “health inspiring, scientific game, lending recreation to the otherwise fatigued mind.” It is quite possible that critical issues of national interest—slavery, international relations and the civil war—were handled over the slate of a Brunswick table. the Brunswick website has info on other famous owners
Yesterday was the first full day back home after being on the road for a week. It is SO good to be back at the Fun House, to wake up in my own bed again to breathe fresh ocean air, yadda, yadda, yadda...
But what is best of all is that the pool year is over. The Fast Mikie pool year, that is.
My year revolves around the US Amateur Championships, just ended. For the past 4 months I have been focused on that one event, and now that it's behind me, I get the opportunity to relax.
I feel like the Terminator, One-armed and battered after confronting the T-1000 The Terminator utters those immortal words: "I need a vacation!" Here it is in 5 seconds of video, with quote.
Yesterday I tried to put it all into perspective. It seems like an appropriate time to ask "Where do I go from here?"
Contrary to a recent post, I'm not going to quit the game. (And besides, I didn't get any offers for my gear!) But there will be some changes. My thoughts of August 1, 2007 have not changed. So I'll be taking a break from league play. In fact, I'll probably take a break from pool, serious pool competition, that is. A pool vacation, maybe through January.
I'd like to spend some time doing some OTHER stuff, the stuff I put on hold to be serious about pool. Like party with friends, get some time on the beach, doing some freestyle Frisbee.
One of the things I like most about freestyle Frisbee is that there is no score, no winner, no loser, just pure play.
There is no stress to remain undefeated. There are no team members counting on me. There is no schedule to adhere to. I get to breathe fresh air, soak up the sun, play in the surf, get some exercise. And think of the money I'll save: Frisbees are a lot cheaper than cues.
I found freestyle Frisbee about 28 years ago, and it is probably the one thing which helped me endure the 40 years of The Dark Ages of No Pool.
Even Mosconi, the Great One, had no particular love for the game and only did it for the money. So, if I don't need the money, (good thing, 'cuz I ain't making any!) why do I test myself at this?
I hate to lose. So why put myself in tournaments where losing is mandatory for all but one? Who am I to think I can win against all odds? Why do I do this?
The only answer I can come up with is because "I need the eggs" *
*That's a line from the Woody Allen movie Annie Hall in which he tells the story:
I thought of that old joke, ... this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, "Doc, uh, my brother's crazy; he thinks he's a chicken." And, uh, the doctor says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?" The guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs." Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y'know, they're totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and... but, uh, I guess we keep goin' through it because, uh, most of us... need the eggs.
After today's performance, there can be no other alternative. This was more than a humbling experience. It was humiliating!
I could get into the details, but it would be too painful to relate, and I would never want to see it again in writing.
The only good thing that happened is that the fat shark who beat me was beat 7-1 by Jeff, the same Jeff I won against last night.
That's about the only good thing I can take with me on the long drive home.
I did not shoot good pool.
Why, you ask? (go ahead, ask)
Is it better to lose with no excuse, or to at least have some excuse?
The best I can come up with for a reason is that for the past several weeks my left shoulder has been in major pain. I haven't wanted to say anything about it here because I never want to give myself an excuse ahead of a match. Don't want to jinx myself. Never want to give myself an excuse for losing.
But, last week, the pain got so bad, I went to see the doc, (and I NEVER see a doc) who diagnosed "rotator cuff tendinitis" and gave me a shot of cortisone. That helped a little, for a couple of days, but then it came back two days ago.
I've been pumping myself with Advil, and that helps a little.
Then, as if things couldn't get worse, late last night, after my match with Jeff, my RIGHT shoulder is real tight and painful. WTF? Maybe it was from breaking in my match last night. Maybe I'm overcompensating with my right for all the pain in my left.
Maybe I'm just looking for an excuse. But I guess I'd rather have a reason (rather than NO reason) for shooting as bad as I did today.
But, I'm now in serious pain, mentally and physically.
I think I'll seek the services of Mr. Guinness and Mr. Bushmills. Old reliable!
A clean cut lookin' guy comes over asks me if I want to shoot some pool. I figure I shouldn't. I figure I should just stay inside my head, ignore all outside influences, get the feel of the tables. But, for some unknown reason, I say Ok.
He asks if I'm here for the tournament. Yes, I am, I says, not giving up too much info. He suggests we play the format, 8 and 9 ball. Sure, I says, why not.
So I ask him if he's here for the contest. He says yeah. So I ask him if he has qualified here before. He says yeah, like every year for the last 12-13 years!
Yikes! (I says to myself inside my head) So I gotta ask: What's your name? Jeff, says he. Hmmm. Jeff. I remember seeing a business card at the front counter, with a Jeff-something as owner. Jeff? says I. Jeff the owner? Yeah, he says. Yikes! (This time I says it out loud)
Unfair, I says. You own the place and you compete with your customers? Totally unfair, dude.
Now I'm curious. So I asks him, with all the qualifying you've done all those years, how'd you do in the Big Show back east?
So he's real laid back when he spells it out: Pretty much always in the top 20 or so, a bunch of times in the top 10, best finish was 3rd.
Yikes, yikes, and double yikes! Looks like I'll be rackin' balls for him tonight.
But then we start in to shootin' some pool, and I put all the stuff out of my head, and hey, guess what, he misses a ball just like regular human beings!
And, in the fullness of time, we get to hill-hill, and I win the match.
I beat the boss! Never woulda figured that in a million years. But, hey, I would have to admit, I was shootin' pretty good pool.
So I break my stick down and go home to get some rest for the big tournament in the morning.
Back at the hotel, I look at the business card again: Jeff Szafransky, Owner, BCA Instructor
Yikes, and he's a BCA instructor!
Sleep comes easy.
In the morning, I wake up fresh, relaxed, and it strikes me that my first thought, almost as if I was dreaming it, is that "I'm going to make it through" (I'm going to qualify)
What a great omen! Nothing can stop me now. I'm confident, I'm mentally ready. I have prepared well.
Before I left on my trip I grabbed a couple magazines (pool related, of course) in case I got bored.
So last night, on my way out the door for dinner at Ragged Point, I took the September issue of Inside English Magazine which covers the pool scene in PA, IN, MI, OH, IL, IA, WI and thereabouts. Nothing in my area, but I like the writing.
I open to the table of contents and almost fell out of my chair when I saw my name listed in the author column. WTF?
Well, I do remember, vaguely, that the publisher, Sandy Schuman, contacted me a long time ago, about me writing some stuff for their magazine and I think I said something like Sure, and if you like something in any of my blogs, you can publish what you want. And that was the last I heard on the subject.
And now, here I am, listed as writing a story. I wonder what I wrote?!... So I turn to page 11, and there's a headline:
"Some of the Best Pool Writing is Online Best of the Blogs A (sic) Edited Look at One of Our Favorite Blogs Diary of a Pool Player (sic) The Adventures of Fast Mikie by Michael McCafferty"
Wow! Look Mom! I wrote something and it got published!
Bottom line is that Inside English cut and pasted several pieces of several different blog entries from the past couple of months.
This morning I packed a bag, grabbed the cue case, and headed north.
Perfectly timed it to avoid the worst of the traffic and slipped thru LaLaLand like poop thru a goose. Onward, non-stop thru Santa Barbara, a brief glimpse of the Pacific at Ventura, and quick pit-stop/refuel at the Solvang turnoff, pressing onward, ever onward for the great central coast of California where the road almost disappears to only one lane in each direction, and then gets even more narrow, twisting impossibly into mountain/sea switchbacks.
Past the tiny town of Harmony, population 18. Past San Simeon, where the richest man of his time built a castle beyond imagining. He could have built it anywhere in the world, and he chose here, south of Big Sur.
And here is one of my favorite places on earth. Ragged Point. My room is just a few feet from the edge of the cliff, dropping 200' to the sea and the rocks, and oblivion.
I have flown this coast many times in my open cockpit biplane. This place always brings a deep breath, an easy smile, an open spirit, and peace. Stress simply evaporates.
There are no phones in the rooms here. But there is a wireless internet connection. Go figure.
The first order of business is yoga. Six hours of high speed driving demands bodily dekinkification.
Then walk the cliff, soak up the sunset.
Tonight I'll have a good meal, meditate on the challenge ahead, get plenty of sleep, to the sounds of the surf, then a good breakfast, and continue north, for the tournament of the year.
UPS just arrived! It's here at last! Check out my new Willie:
(photos not to same scale. duh.)
In a time long ago and a land far away, when I first started shooting pool, I spent 15 bucks and bought a new Willie Hoppe signature cue made by Brunswick Balke Collender.
I still have that same cue, half-a-freaking-century later!
When I started playing pool again, about 4 years ago, after enduring the Dark Ages of 40 years of No Pool, I retired my old Willie immediately after a match with Loree Jon Jones, world champion & Hall of Fame pool shooter, during which I won 2 out of 3 games of 9 ball. (read the true story)
That same day I bought a cheapo Predator playing cue to take advantage of the low deflection shaft offered by new cue technology.
Recently, Predator Cues introduced a replica Willie The Willie Hoppe Limited Edition and since I'm a sucker for reliving my youth, and a cue-a-holic, I got one. (#169 out of 500)
I'll use it as a break cue, 20.5 oz, with a 29" Predator 314 Series 2 shaft and the Tiger hard tip. It even comes with a spiffy 2-cue case!
I bought it online from Seyberts. Good people. Good prices.
Practice is one of my most un-favorite things. I'm lazy. I find excuses to avoid it. And yet, it is the path to excellence.
To be interesting, practice needs a challenge.
For example: run six balls.
This little test seems easy enough, but it has bugged me for a long time. It was first shown to me in 2004, when I was competing in the US Amateur's in Berlin Connecticut. The guy who showed it to me said he has never seen anyone do it, not even the professionals he showed it to. Well, now there's a challenge!
To be fair, maybe he/they didn't try it as many times as I have.
Rules: Position balls 1-6 frozen on the rails, at the diamonds, as shown. Start with ball in hand. Pocket the balls in order, 1-6, into the same corner pocket. No banks. Must not use opposite rail. Sounds easy, right? Try it!! You'll be mighty surprised.
The tough position, of course, is getting from the 5 to the 6. And, getting on the 4 so that you can get right on the 5.
Once you have mastered this drill, then try it without hitting any other rail other than the one on which the ball is resting. Then send me the video!
The thing I really enjoy about this drill is that position must be so exact that it is important to Pay Attention to very subtle adjustments in english and speed.
I learned a lot from all that practice!
The famous Japanese Zen master Dogen told his students, “Practice is enlightenment.” This wise teaching applies to billiards and to life. As we train with absolute commitment in every step, our practice becomes enlightenment.
Last night was the first match in a new session of APA team 8-ball, and I lost.
I missed one shot on the 8 but an embarrassing margin. I made a costly, and rather stupid, mental error. And, generally, exhibited relatively mediocre play against an opponent who played well. (4-1 vs. R. Dusenberry, skill level 6)
The great joy of this otherwise ugly evening is that I have removed the enormous burden of Perfection which I have been carrying for the last 3 and one half months.
The gods favored me with omnipotence only for a little while, and then, last night, reminded me that I am human.
It has been 4 years since I took up this game. I have yet to find the easy, relaxed, fluidity which El Maestro demonstrates so naturally and so consistently.
I yearn to play solely for the sweetness of the game.
In a dramatic turnaround from this past weekend when El Maestro came by the Fun House and for 9 hours beat me like a red-headed stepchild in 8-ball and 9-ball, tonight I turned the tables and went undefeated in the weekly Stagecoach 8-ball tournament, finishing with a match against El Maestro himself.