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.




Thursday, May 31, 2007

Off to a good start

The player performance list for the first 2 weeks
was published yesterday.
It was just so pretty, I had to take a picture:



SL=Skill Level
MP=Matches Played
MW=Matches Won
Pts=Sum of opponents' Skill Levels in Matches Won

Although only 40 players are listed,
there are 86 players in the division.
Only those who have won at least one match
make it to the list.

There are 20 other 8-ball divisions and
18 9-ball divisions
so there are 38 other people in San Diego
who show up first on their lists.
I mention that in a desperate attempt
to keep my ego in check.

And, again, this is just for the first two weeks.
There are another 11 weeks to go.
Gotta stay focused...

Here's another of my favorite photos
along the same lines as
"off to a good start".
My son Mike, taken 36 years ago.
You can see his massive intelligence
even at such an early age!



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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Poolhall Junkies

Poolhall Junkies, the movie,
was added to the Fast Mikie Pool Library.
Lots of good pool footage.
Christopher Walken and Rod Steiger.
I give it 5 stars.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

To Become a Seven, BE a Seven

In the early afternoon of yesterday,
as I was preparing myself mentally for
another APA team 8-ball match,
I was struck with this simple thought:
"To Become a Seven, BE a Seven."

The "Seven" of which I speak
is the highest skill level for APA 8-ball.
Currently, my skill level is six.

It is easy for non-Sevens to see Sevens as
high-priests of pool, exalted beings
who perform magical feats with ease.
Achieving the remote pinnacle of Seven-dom
seems to be almost hypocracy, unthinkable,
or at least, earned only after a lifetime of effort.

Or is it?
The Zen approach puts the Seven within all,
waiting patiently for us to see it, believe it,
and let it blossom.

This, then, was my thought of yesterday afternoon.

It is easy to see a goal as beyond our grasp.
This is a Western way of thinking.
Work hard to earn what we want, over Time.
Eastern philosophy speaks of a different way:
that we need not pursue happiness, because
we are already happy,
or, priorly established in that which is
Happiness Itself.

It was a beautiful day when I learned that,
many years ago.
And yesterday afternoon I relearned it,
as it applies to pool, and Seven-dom.

So, instead of putting the achievement of Seven
outside of myself,
something that I was NOT YET,
I allowed myself to think that I am already Seven,
and that in order to become a Seven,
I simply allow myself to BE Seven-like.
To think, act, move, talk and feel like a Seven.

Last night I won my match, 5-1.
(vs. Richie R., skill level 6)
This is the same score as last week,
and, like last week, the only loss
was self-inflicted.
I knocked the 8 in early, on a miscue.

This means that in my last two matches,
my opponents have earned exactly zero games.
I would love for that to continue!

And yet, I was not pleased with my performance.
Will I ever be?
Will "Seven" ever be enough?
For that answer, I am reminded of
the words of San Juan de la Cruz
which first struck me so hard when I first
read them in the preface to
Carlos Casteneda's "Journey to Ixtlan":

The conditions of a solitary bird are five:
The first, that it flies to the highest point;
The second, that it does not suffer for company,
not even of its own kind;
The third, that it aims its beak to the skies;
The fourth, that it does not have a definite color;
The fifth, that it sings very softly.


It was 25 years ago my then-girlfriend
presented me with these words
which she lovingly penned in calligraphy
on parchment, and mounted for display.
She knew then the answers
to the questions I have had many times since.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

I Gave As Good As I Got

This past weekend was a major local tournament,
the Ron Greenberg Memorial,

at On Cue Billiards, in La Mesa, CA.
Nine ball, race to 9 on the win side,
and to 7 on the one-loss side.
Winner breaks. Rack your own. No jump sticks.
No handicapping, so all 72 players were good.
A lot of familiar faces in the lineup.

It was supposed to start at noon,
but when was the last tournament you did
that started on time?
It's like the Army: hurry up and wait.

In any case, it's a marathon.
You get up early to prepare everything
including supplies (water, protein bars, chalk, etc)
and shoot some racks before the drive south,
giving plenty of time for the usual traffic delays,
and arrive in time to play some more
at the scene to get a sense of the tables.

And then it begins...
Non-stop pool, for hours and hours and hours.
No breaks, no time for a decent lunch.

At my best,
my break is un-spectacular,
but after 8 hours of nine-ball
I was hitting the rack like an nine year old girl.

It just doesn't seem true that pool takes endurance,
but in
a big tournament like this
I'm reminded of the need for top physical conditioning.

When all the chalk dust settled,
the top four were:

1. Lou Ulrich
2. Oscar Dominguez (son of Ernesto)
3. Dan Wallace
4. Morro Paez

Dan was the guy who
knocked me out of this tournament,
so I guess I can't feel so bad about that.
About a year ago I played Oscar at Hard Times,
and he won, demonstrating an aweome preshot routine.

The bottom line is that I won 2, lost 2.
And I won by greater margins than I lost.
So I gave as good as I got,
and maybe a little bit better,
but I was not pleased with my play, generally.

Another learning experience
on the road to excellence.


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Friday, May 18, 2007

New Session, New Life

Yesterday was the first match of
a new APA team 8 ball session.

I was feeling good,
and I think I played better
than I have in a long time.
I was focused, and relaxed,
and I saw the paths through the patterns,
and my position play was good.

I won 5-1.
My only loss came on the first game,
when I went for a cross-side cut-bank shot on the 8,
and since banks are one of my weaker areas
I lined it up with pure intuition,
and tried to draw the cue ball
to the foot rail to leave my opponent tough

(opponent JP, skill level 6)

in case I missed the shot.
I made the bank (yeah!)
but scratched in the corner (yuk).

It was one of those shots where
you go from ecstacy to agony within a second.
But I had to just let it go and bear down.
I won the next 5 games in a row, and the match.

I've been putting more time on the treadmill lately,
and that may have contributed to how good I felt
going into the match.

And, in the afternoon before the match,
I picked up 10 black un-numbered Aramith balls
at Quality Billiards
and shot them until they lost their identity,
in the hopes that I would not miss another 8 ball
like I did in my last match.
This must have worked because last night
every 8 ball dropped as intended.

One of the games was a safety marathon
which must have gone at least 21 innings,
even with El Maestro coaching me.
The complexities of safety play
still challenge me.

Hmmm... let's see,
I need work in banking, the break, safety play...
what AM I good at?

;o)

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

An Ounce of Cure

I finallly got around to
adding some weight to my playing cue.
Unfortunately, there was only room in the butt
to add a one-ounce weight bolt.
That brings the total weight to 20.4 ounces,
which is still an ounce short of what I wanted.

My old Willie Hoppe cue, which I retired three year ago,
(read the story, click here)
started out life marked as a 22 ounce stick,
but now, almost 50 years later,
it weighs 21.3 ounces,
and El Maestro figures that's what
my muscle memory would like me to use.

Later in the day,
El Maestro stopped by to shoot a few racks,
and check out how I play with the new weight.
I think we both figure it helps a lot,
as I had 3 break & runs in two sets to 5 in 8-ball.
(Two in a row!)
It was easy to get used to the new weight.

Many times I have heard "let the cue do the work".
A heavier cue should naturally do more work
with less stroke.
Additionally, a heavier cue should shoot straighter,
and follow through more naturally.
It's the law of physics, right?

In any case, it is also true that changes to the cue
tend to result in improvements simply because
we are paying more attention to what we are doing
and looking for positive results.
(Seek and you shall find.)

Maybe it's pyschological,
maybe it's physics,
maybe a bit of both.
Time will tell.
But it feels good!

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Pool Shooter's Treadmill


I try to get through Life
with the least amount of effort
and yet achieve the greatest rewards possible.
I guess I'm just lazy.

So, as you can imagine,
I'm really not an exercise nut,
but I do understand the need for it.
For years, I was a long distance runner,
but that finally got to my lower back.
I adapted, and got all the exercise I needed
with serious freestyle Frisbee play on the beach,
and then for years after that,
yoga was my exercise of choice.

Subsequent to my yoga years,
I would do frequent multi-mile walks on the beach,
not just for the air, sun and exercise,
but for the beauty of it all.

But this plan has a few drawbacks.
For starters, it's limited to daylight hours,
and good weather.
And, as much as I hate to say it,
it's boring, and a waste of time.
From a practical standpoint,
I could be doing more with my time
than just walking to get some exercise.

For example, if I planned it right,
I could be watching a pool video
and learning safety-play techniques,
or kicking and banking theory.
(see Pool Library for extensive DVD collection)

It has been proven that just visualizing
can replace some of the many hours of practice
it takes to become proficient at something.

Such was the thinking that lead to
the Thinking Man's Treadmill.
(see photo above)

I couldn't find one like I wanted,
so I had to invent my own solution.
I started with the Vision Fitness T9450HRT model, but
I needed a solid bracket to hold my computer,
so I could watch instructional DVDs,
and even the TiVo-recorded pro matches
and other Internet videos.
I designed the bracket out of tube steel
and the computer shelf from wood.

To enhance the exercise experience,
I use dumbells to tone my arms & shoulders,
and crank up the elevation to the maximum setting.

Other items I've added to the control panel include
water, pen/notebook to record session details,
heart rate monitor, remote control for ceiling fan,
remote control for room lights, and phone.

Add a few minutes before/after for
some yoga (breathing & stretching).

For a final reward,
a Jacuzzi & steam in the Fun House Super-Spa.
Then, maybe a light meal, a nap in the hammock,
and who knows, maybe I'll even shoot some balls...

;o)

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Action items for improvement

Thinking more deeply about missing shots,
I am reminded about thoughts I have had
but never followed up on...

Long ago, El Maestro told me of a player
who, when he missed a ball in a match,
would then go home and do that same shot
until he could make it 50 times in a row.
At the time, that seemed excessive,
but now I'm thinking it could be right-on.

To highlight that concept,
there is a saying I've heard,
I think it was on AZ Billiards forum,
"An amateur practices until he can make a shot.
A pro practices until he can't miss the shot."

Following this line of thought,
I have some practicing to do!

Now, as to some of the details of practice:

It seems that I have developed a
favoritism for some balls:
I like stripes because they have
more markings to help line up shots.

And, I dislike some balls:
The edges of the 6 ball blend in with the rails
and it's difficult to see the edge on a long thin cut.
The 4 ball seems to hide from my color vision,
and sometimes I overlook it entirely on the table!
And of course, the 8 ball is the worst,
because it is the same color as the shadow
under the rails, so the edges disappear
on long thin cuts along the rail.

I'm not alone in this dislike for the 8 ball.
In the summer of 2006, on my road trip,
I met up with a hustler/pro named "Georgia Boy"
who gave me a few lessons
and he also confessed to a rabid dislike for the 8
and for the same reasons.


It is not good to think negatively
about any ball in particular
as it may effect my accuracy.
I must make these enemies my friends.

I'm thinking of getting a full rack of 8 balls,
and shooting them exclusively until
they lose their negative identity.

And, while I'm at it,
order 7 solid blacks, 7 solid reds, and a yellow
for practicing 8 ball pattern recognition
and reduce the favoritism of stripes.

Help Wanted:

Finally, my practice would be much improved
with the assistance of a ball spotter / scorekeeper
who would set up the same shot relentlessly
so I could spend more time shooting and
less time emptying pockets.
They could also keep records and notes
so that I could see improvements over time.

Is there is anyone out there who wants
to takle this minimum wage job?
There are some great fringe benefits
such as ocean view, free snacks
and an opportunity to learn the game!

Preference given to cute mutes.

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Just when you think you've escaped...

... they pull you back in!

I thought the current APA 8-ball team session was over.
But somehow, we made it into the playoffs,
so there was the prospect of several more matches,
plus Las Vegas for the nationals.
Will the pain ever end?

On the bright side,
there was the opportunity to win again,
but as it happened, that didn't happen.
In fact, it was even worse than that.
Not only did I lose,
I lost to the guy I won against 2 weeks ago,
(the top ranked player, Dave Arballo)
and even worse, if I had won,
the team would have advanced in the playoffs.
So that makes me the fall guy.

It was ignominious.
I missed a long straight in 8 ball.
How can I do that?
Of course I have seen world champions do that.
Of course I have even seen El Maestro do that.
But nothing lessens the pain of ME doing that.

What actually caused such a miss?
What let my full attention wander
at the moment of stroking the ball?
More importantly,
how can I keep this from happening?

It must be true that such a humbling experience
serves as the foundation for future growth.
One step back, two steps forward...

Naturally, it was not ALL horrible.
I made some really nice shots.
But it wasn't enough.
My miss on the 8 gave my opponent new hope,
and he drove the final nail into my coffin
with a nice break and run for the match win.

OK, Dave, that has earned you an invitation
to Mikie's Fun House,
and an opportunity to play on a real pool table
(9' Gold Crown, not a dinky bar table).

I shouldn't complain about the bar table,
even though my only losses were on bar tables.
Last night I actually liked the table!
Slow nappy cloth, un-level, crowded, hot, loud,
but that didn't seem to bother me at all.
I felt relaxed, confident, focused...
Until that one miss on the 8.
That probably rattled me,
and gave hope to the enemy.

Disaster lurks on every stroke.
My focus must become stronger.

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