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.




Friday, March 30, 2007

Character

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 was in a similar situation not long ago,
and I called a foul on myself,
but in this case I went on to win the match,
and the tournament.
(For the story of that big win, click here)

So, it could have gone the other way for Dave.

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)


(blog top)


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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

2007 US Amateur Sign Up Time



I just got the invitation in the mail...

The APA wants another 40 bucks from me.
And I want another crack at
the US Amateur Championships.

That seems like a fair trade.

In 2004, I tried out for the first time,
along with another 1000+ wanna-be pool players.

I was undefeated in the
California preliminary rounds.
(read the story, click here)

That performance got me into the big show
with 127 other hopefuls.
I was less than spectacular,
and tied for 64th.

In 2005 and 2006
I fell short in the preliminary rounds
and didn't qualify for the big event.

So, here we go again for 2007.

What will I do differently to prepare?

For starters, I'll reduce the pockets
on my Gold Crown IV table to 4.5 inches.

That will give me 6 months
to sharpen my aim and my game.

Never give up!

(blog top)


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Sunday, March 25, 2007

Piling Rocks

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.

(blog top)

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Fangio and Pool



I learned to approach racing like a game of billiards.
If you bash the ball too hard, you get nowhere.
As you handle the cue properly,
you drive with more finesse.


Juan Manuel Fangio

"greatest driver of all time"

---------------

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.

(blog top)


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Mark Twain and Pool



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.”

“I can’t,” he said. “I’m left-handed.”

(blog top)


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Albert Einstein and Pool



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."

Albert Einstein

(blog top)


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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Table Lights

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.

(blog top)


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Precision Position Practice




Precision Position Practice Exercise

Rules:
The balls numbered 1 - 9
are lined up on the foot string, 
from the center of the foot cushion
to the foot spot (on a 9' table). 

Run all 9 balls, in sequence,
into the corner pocket directly (no banks).
The cue ball must hit
the bottom cushion on every shot, 
and can not hit any other cushion or any other ball 
than the lowest numbered ball. 

Play the video to see how it's done.

Early in 2004,
my first year of lessons with my instructor,
he showed me this seemingly simple exercise,
and challenged me to do it.

He said he has shown this to many players,
but none of them had ever done it.
Actually, some had claimed to have done it,
but when it came to performing it
in front of him,
they just could never do it.

Naturally, being up for a good challenge,
I tried it, and tried it, and tried it...
It got so frustrating that I finally
put it aside for a while,
deciding I would come back to it later.

I tried it many times after that,
and it just seemed to be too much for me,
but I just couldn't figure out why.

Finally, on September 22, 2005,
more than a year after being shown this drill,
I did it!!
Luckily, I had the video recorder running.

I immediately called my instructor
to give him the news,
but he was unimpressed,
and told me he would believe it only when
he saw it with his own eyes.
He figured that a video could be faked.

That following Saturday,
on our regularly scheduled lesson,
I did it again, in person.
I've done it a few other times since,
but I don't practice it as much as I should.

It is an excellent drill,
and teaches speed control,
the nuances of subtle english,
and cue ball action off the cushion.

Let me know when you finally achieve it!



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Monday, March 19, 2007

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.

I wrote about this study in another blog I write
The Art and Science of Success in Business.

Here is the relevant entry from that blog:

Practice, Perseverance, Passion

What does it take to be Great?
Is there such a thing as a "natural"?

The answers are here
in a recent story in Fortune Magazine.

The bottom line is that all exceptional results
require lots of Practice, about 10 years of it
according to the story.
And that's focused practice,
not just putting in time.

Here's their System for Practice:

1. Approach each critical task with an explicit goal of getting much better at it.

2. As you do the task, focus on what's happening and why you're doing it the way you are.

3. After the task, get feedback on your performance from multiple sources. Make changes in your behavior as necessary.

4. Continually build mental models of your situation - your industry, your company, your career. Enlarge the models to encompass more factors.

5. Do those steps regularly, not sporadically. Occasional practice does not work.

(Notice the feedback loop,
which is an essential ingredient for any System
if it is to react to the constantly changing environment.)




On this same topic,
Calvin Coolidge said it perfectly:

"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.

Talent will not;
nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.

Genius will not;
unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.

Education will not;
the world is full of educated derelicts.

Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."




Of course, if you have a Passion for what you do,
Practice and Perseverance come naturally.

Consider this well...



So, if you practice with passion for about 10 years,
you will probably hit a million balls,
and you will be great.
Absolutely.

(blog top)


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Friday, March 16, 2007

Just Doing My Job

Another Thursday night,
another APA team 8-ball match.

My match was dead last in the lineup,
my least favorite... I prefer to go first,
take care of business, and get out of there.
Hanging out in bars ain't for hermits like me.

I won the first game,
lost the second.

I have come to realize something about myself:
I really, really dislike losing.
It kinda puts me in a funky mood,
and, for a hedonist like me,
what's the point?

So, with the score 1-1
and my opponent (Ken Conley) with
the fresh taste of my blood,
I decide that I will tighten the screws.

This is something I learned from El Maestro.
Many times he will play safe when there is no need,
just to frustrate the opponent.
The cat toying with the doomed mouse.

While El Maestro has refined this to an art form,
it is not my preferred style.
I'm a lover, not a fighter,
and certainly not a torturer.
(not that there's anything wrong with that!)

I would much prefer to run out clean
than to drag things out by duckin' and divin'
and playing an unnecessary chess match,
but something inside me wanted to try a new tactic.

An evil spirit welled up within me,
and I played shot after shot
that was devious, gratuitous and even malicious.
I hated myself for it,
and yet, somehow, it felt sooooo good.

My strategy worked.
I won the match 5-1.

And now,
on the morning after,
I still feel dirty,
but it's a good kind of dirty,
if you know what I mean.

(blog top)


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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Wife Swapping Pool Players?

Or,
Pool Playing Wife Swappers?

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.

Wife Swap is the series where two moms switch houses for six days and live in the shoes of the other woman. Please visit our website for more information: http://abc.go.com/primetime/wifeswap/index.html

If you or anyone you know have questions or are interested in applying, please email me at michelle.silva@rdfusa.com 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.

-Michelle


(blog top)


Mission Accomplished #2007-g

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.

How do you rate? See below:


Rack Avg.
Tour Pro 19 - 20
Professional 17 - 18
Semi Pro 13 - 16
Devel. Pro 10 - 12
Advanced 7 - 9
Intermediate 4 - 6
Recreational 0 - 3

Easy, right?
Not really!
Try it.

Click here for scoresheet & rules.
(Excel spreadsheet format)
Let me know how you do with it!

I suppose my next goal in this exercise
should be to achieve 150,
or maybe to average over 130 for 100 racks.

Do you know of any other good exercises?

(blog top)


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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Marathon chess match in a smoke filled room



Thursday night, another APA team 8 ball match...

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.

I'm still learning...

(blog top)


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Half a run is better than none

Last night one of my regular practice partners
showed up at the Fun House for our monthly Wednesday night
practice session.

We started off with 9-ball,
and I won both sets 7-5 and 5-4,
but I was struggling.

Then we played some straght pool
and I won 100-68.
The highlight of the match was
my run of 24,
which is just slightly less than half of my target of 50,
but I guess "half a run is better than none".

If I can run 24, I can run 50.
I can taste it!

;o)

(blog top)


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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Victor Castro - story of a local pro



Victor Castro, local pool pro,
was the cover story in a recent issue of
The San Diego Weekly Reader
about Filipino pool players
and why they are the best in the world.

Click Here for the full story.

I went to Victor Castro for a lesson
about a year or so ago,
and he told me that everything I was doing
was wrong: grip, stance, stroke, aiming...
everything!

I didn't go back for a second lesson!
;o)

(blog top)


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Focus vs. Concentration





Concentrate

A. to bring all efforts, faculties, activities, etc., to bear on one thing or activity

B.
to come to or toward a common center;

C. to become more intense, stronger, or purer.


Focus

A. to concentrate: to focus one's thoughts.




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.

Ouch!

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 Paramahansa Yogananda'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.

(blog top)


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Friday, March 02, 2007

And the award goes to... Fast Mikie!





In a recent poll of players
who recently visited the Billiards Blogger site,
yours truly, Fast Mikie,
was voted The World's Best Billiards Blog
by a margin of almost 2-1
over the runner-up.

Wow!
All I can say is a heartfelt "Thank You"...

to my many fans
(who voted early and often),

to Buddha
(for his philosophy of attention with detachment),

El Maestro
(for his patience, commitment, and excellent teaching),

Brunswick
(for my Gold Crown IV),

Aramith
(for my super-pro balls)

Simonis
(for the finest cloth in the land),

Samsara
(for my great stick),

Mom and Dad
(for their benign neglect during my mis-spent youth),

my many worthy opponents
(who give me something to write about),

Carol
(my cook, who makes great pool snacks),

and so many others who
I don't have the time, space, or memory
to list here now.

"Thank You"

I am humbled.
But that won't last long...

;o)

(blog top)



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