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.




Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Welcoming the perfect stroke

In the movie "The Legend of Bagger Vance", there is talk of finding that perfect swing that is yours alone, and that is there, looking for you as much as you are looking for it. A perfect swing that is effortless, and as if by magic, human will is transmitted through the arm and out into the ball itself, making it perform in ways fantastic.

Bagger Vance: Look at his practice swing, almost like he's searchin for something... Then he finds it... Watch how he settle hisself right into the middle of it, feel that focus... He got a lot of shots he could choose from... there's only ONE shot that's in perfect harmony with the field... One shot that's his, authentic shot, and that shot is gonna choose him... There's a perfect shot out there tryin' to find each and every one of us... All we got to do is get ourselves out of its way, to let it choose us... You got to look with soft eyes... See the place where the tides and the seasons and the turnin' of the Earth, all come together... where everything that is, becomes one... You got to seek that place with your soul... Seek it with your hands don't think about it... Feel it... Your hands is wiser than your head ever gonna be... Now I can't take you there... Just hopes I can help you find a way... Just you... that ball... and all you are...

This movie is about golf, not pool, but golf and pool are a lot alike. And it got me to thinking about some of the Zen-like concepts of finding the perfect golf swing and applying it to the perfect cue stroke.

Both the golf swing and the cue stroke are a single co-ordinated physical motion of the arm hand wrist fingers which is the link between the brain and the ball.

I continue to have feelings that my stroke can be improved. On the spectrum of stroke perfection, with "poking a ball with a stick" at the low end and Efren Reyes at the top end, I am definitely closer to poking.

This yearning for my yet-to-be-found perfect stroke comes at a good time for me. There is a year before the next US Amateur championships.

This is an opportunity to welcome a perfect stroke into my life. An excellent project for the New Moon.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Asia 10-Ball Championships in Seoul, Korea

I just received a "Stage 2" invitation to the Asia 10-Ball Championships in Seoul, Korea to be played November 11. 2008. The nice thing about a Stage 2 invitation is that I am automatically qualified and do not have to go through the qualification rounds in order to play with the best. How cool is that? Kinda!

Why me? Maybe because I was a student at the Jacksonville Predator Pro School put on by Charlie Williams' Dragon Promotions, who is also running the Asia 10-ball championships. And maybe because they need to fill the field of 96 players.

Since I have yet to beat all the best players in San Diego, there is little reason to travel to Korea for competition.

Also, Seoul in November will probably be a good bit colder than Del Mar, CA. I'm a fan of warm. So I'll stay home

Guinness TV ads featuring pool

Check these 3 short advertisements for Guinness, featuring some historical aspects of the table, the cue, and the cloth.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

No more Mr. Nice Guy

If I wasn't such a nice guy, maybe I would have won.

During the Encinitas Thursday afternoon 8-ball tournament (with only 11 balls) one of the players "Gunny" said he was having trouble seeing the ball at a distance because he's looking over the top of his glasses. So I showed him how to adjust his glasses so they ride higher on his nose and he will be seeing through his glasses for clear vision on long shots.

I was just being me, a Giver, Mr. Nice Guy.

Well, you know the rest of this story. This guy comes back and has me hill-hill in the final then breaks and runs out for the win. A nice run, too. He deserved it.

But maybe next time I hear someone having trouble with something I won't be so quick to help, especially during a tournament.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

New Cloth Project

The tournament this past weekend was played on Gold Crown III tables with tournament BLUE Simonis cloth. The good news is that I really liked the way the tables played with that cloth. And since it's time for new cloth on my table, I figured I'd check into the blue. So I left a message on AZ Billiards forum to see if others have some experience with the blue cloth. What a great response! Here's the thread.


I hadn't even thought about Simonis 760, which is faster than 860, so I went to the Simonis website to fill in some blanks, and that was very informative too.

So I figured, why not just call Simonis and talk to a human being, right? What a pleasant surprise... a very nice voice named Felice answered all my questions very capably.

Simonis 860 and 760 are same price. The 760 is faster, designed for straight pool (my favorite) and is made of 70% wool and 30% nylon. The 860 is designed for 9 ball and is made of 90% wool and 10% nylon. The HR cloth is only made in 860 designation, it stands for High Resistance, and it is a thicker cloth but manufactured in the 760 blend but not sheared as flat, so it's slower and plays at the 860 speed.

Felice confirms that 760 would be better in a humid environment, such as my place, and the tournament blue will be better for video. She even recommended a person to install it that is near me. (In Long Beach, Mike at 562-397-6755.)

The tournament blue 760 sounds like what I want.

First Day of the Rest of My (pool) Life

The US Amateur championship is the focal point, the highlight, and the climax of my pool year. That was last Saturday. Sunday and Monday were travel. Tuesday was a buffer day, to enjoy being home, to do nothing except bridge between the past year and the new year ahead. Today is the first day of the rest of my (pool) life.

It is time to rededicate myself to goals and the process for achieving them.

I have started documenting my daily routines and have already discovered ways to make them more productive. It continues to amaze me how improvements are always possible.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Home Again


The indescribable bliss of "Home".

One of the main features of FastMikie's Fun House is the hammock. This photo was taken during a recent intensive Hammock Therapy session. It is a well-known fact that wars can not be fought from a hammock, therefore if everyone spent more time in hammocks there would be less war. I'm doing my part.

It is so good to be Home again, with my food, my bed, my space, my sky, my ocean. These feelings are quite new to me. For the last 30 years I have lived in many different places along the coast in and north of San Diego, always renting, never in the same place very long. Many of those years were spent on long periods of barnstorming, flying my open-cockpit biplane wherever the wind wanted to go at the time, on the go for months at a time, living out of a small bag of clothes. All that time there was no "Home", only a place to go back to, or leave from. This new feeling of "Home" is strong.

Road Trip Photos



CA Hwy 1, somewhere south of Big Sur

Notice the speed in the head up display shows only 52 mph on a stretch of road that I would normally be doing well over 100. For some reason, I decided to take it easy on this trip, and enjoy the scenery. I love this coastline. Completely deserted, wild, pristine. The weather is always changing.

There is a new law in California which prohibits cell phone use while driving, but there is no law against taking photos. Go figure.


Ragged Point Inn, 15 paces in front of Room 29, looking south


Ragged Point Inn, 15 paces in front of Room 29, looking 400' straight down



FastMikie, on the road, somewhere south of Big Sur, 2008


Monday, September 22, 2008

On the road again

This past Wednesday I packed cues and supplies for the trip north, along the coast road from San Diego to Mountain View, about 500 miles. The primary mission was to compete in the qualifier tournament for the US Amateur championship. The secondary mission was to enjoy the spectacular ocean/mountain scenery from the cockpit of my very worthy road machine, top down, at speed. A little over half way through the trip, I stop at my favorite little hotel the Ragged Point Inn. My room is #29, only 15 paces from the edge of a 300+ foot drop to the ocean and rocks below. Outrageously spectacular.

This is one of the reasons why I like pool. It gets me out of the house, occasionally. And that's good therapy for a hermit. One could even imagine it as a medical expense. Maybe it's deductible. I'll look into that...

I like to arrive on site a couple of days ahead of time, so I can get the feel of the place and the speed of the tables, the balls, the menu, etc. The place is Shoreline Billiards, and is under new management this year. I was pleasantly surprised to see all relatively new cloth, all new balls (Aramith TV set). Best of all, the tables played great. Much faster than my table at home; it gave me an interesting perspective on the humidity of my oceanfront location. And resolves me to install fresh cloth and a dehumidifier at home. I like fast cloth!

I put in a couple of hours on the tables on Thursday and Friday, and I was enjoying the conditions, and my performance. I was ready...

My first match went well, and I won 7-2. I had him down 5-0 but left him a hanger and he got another. I may have let up a little and let him back in the game, but then I got serious about ending it. I played well.

Second match also went well, and I won 7-3. I played well again, including one particularly fine and tricky break & run in the 9-ball segment.

The tournament was won by CJ Robinson and John Johnson. CJ put me on the one-loss side when we stood at hill-hill and I missed shape on a 4-9 combination. In my next match, JJ finished me off. That put me in 3rd place. Unfortunately, only the top two go to the big show, the finals, in Atlanta, in November.

It was a real marathon. My last match ended just past midnight. And I started hitting balls at 10:30 am... about 14 hours of pool. John J. finished his match past 3am. I didn't stick around for it, I was wiped out. These kids are one-third of my age and have a lot more stamina. I'm going to have to work on my endurance over the coming year so I can hang in there longer. During my last match I was actually yawning. That's not a good sign.

This tournament, only once a year, is a focal point of my pool. I made several improvements over the past year designed to help in this one tournament. I made a major investment in some footwear which were a great success in reducing pain/discomfort in my feet, legs and lower back. I also invested in special glasses which have a fixed focal length tuned for about 2' to 12', just for pool. This seemed to be an improvement over the "progressive" lenses I had been using for the past several years. The lenses are also bigger, so I have better vision on the longest of shots, and less neck strain. I also started using an energy supplement called FRS, which gives excellent results of keeping mental acuity for exended periods without any of the jitters of other stimulants.

It is truly said that "Competition improves the breed." It is Darwin's theory of natural selection and survival of the fittest, yadda yadda yadda. I definitely feel that I am getting better.
Water under the bridge. A good learning experience. I'm looking forward to next year!!

Also competing in this national tournament were two of my favorite bloggers, both cute, young, Asian, female bloggers (or is it female Asian bloggers?). OMGWTF was there in Mountain View, and came back the long way after a first round loss against the same person she had to beat in the finals. She's got spunk, moxie, and other fun words I like to use... A thousand miles away, in Denver Colorado, my Fun House buddy Samm Diep breezed through her qualifier unbeaten. Congrats to both, and hope you both make it to the finals. I wish I could be there for that match!

Monday, September 15, 2008

The chill of autumn brings renewal

Summer's over. In a week it will be the first day of Autumn. Already there is a chill in the air toward sunset. The new season has begun. It's a perfect time for a fresh perspective of the future.

My shoulder is feeling better. In a big surprise today, it feels almost normal. I discovered the benefits of ice as a therapy. Sweet relief. The pool god and the shoulder god are at peace. I feel good.

After the U.S. Amateur championship, I'll be looking forward to some time away from pool for a month or so. I'd like to rest up a bit before starting in again with a new plan, new dedication.

I like making improvements. The table has taken severe abuse with all the practice and lessons, so it seems like an opportune time to replace the Simonis 860.
I'm looking forward to seeing how my draw stroke (such as it is) performs on fresh cloth.

Re-leveling should also be done. And the bed height needs lowering. Seems my table is a bit higher than it should be.

That should be the last of the maintence for another year at least.

All things considered, a pool table is a good investment. Maintenance costs are low. Operating costs are very low (chalk, light, heat). Lots of money saved on alternative forms of entertainment. Available 24/7, indoors (any weather, wind, temp...), special clothing not required, private...


Saturday, September 13, 2008

89 ball run (10 racks -1) in 9-ball

Tony "El Maestro" Sorto stopped by this afternoon to give me a 3-hour lesson. Right off he says that he will have me run 14 racks TODAY. Yeah, right. But I'm willing to listen. So he sets up the balls as in this photo:



The object is to run the balls in rotation without touching another ball, as many times as possible. Today's goal is 14 times. Notice that all of the balls are within one diamond of the foot rail. This requires precision position because the position possibilities have tight tolerances. Getting even slightly out of line may well demand a dramatically different shot.

I stumbled a few times before I got the feel of this setup, and put two racks together. And then missed a couple, did another two, then did it 10 times in a row, but missed the final ball, for a total of 89 balls pocketed, in rotation, no bumping.

At first, I was totally skeptical that I could run this 14 times. Now, I think it's definitely do-able. El Maestro's lesson was to demonstrate how much the mind can hold us back, and how much it can shape our success.

I'm unsure whether this is good performance, or average or what. El Maestro didn't give me any indication on that. It seems to me to be a pretty good number, especially this being the first time I've tried it. Let me know how you get along with this setup. By the way, I have no idea where El Maestro got this setup. I sure never saw it before.

It sure felt good. Eighty nine balls is more that I have ever run under any circumstances, any setup. Try it, you may like it!

Note: moon phase 98% full.

Good Times at Hard Times

Last Sunday was the Hard Times Billiards (voted Best Billiard Room in America) "first Sunday of the month" tournament when a great crowd of "A" players, shortstops, professionals-in-town-at-the-moment, and general wannabes give it a go. It was also a highlight of Samm's visit to the Fun House, so we made the hour-long (at 80 mph average speed) road trip north to the depressing neighborhood of Bellflower, a wart on the ugly butt of Los Angeles.

My first draw was a first-timer at this tournament, Amy, who went down easy 5-1.

My next draw was at the other end of the spectrum of skill, none other than Francisco Bustamante! Earlier, during practice, I introduced myself again, reminding him that I was one of his students at the Predator Pro School in Jacksonville a couple of months earlier. He smiled, and actually seemed to remember me, and gave me a handshake as loose as his famous stroke. But now, school was out, this was real life competition, a zero-sum game in which one of us, Django or FastMikie, would be banished to the one-loss side. What more could I want?!

Django broke and ran. Broke again, ran a few and missed, and FastMikie ran out on Django!

Ha, take that Pilipino-man, I bet you think twice about missing a ball with FastMikie waiting to pounce! Do I really need to report to you, dear reader, how good it felt to run out on Francisco freakin' Bustamante, one of the most awesome shooters of all time? Probably not, but I'm gonna tell you anyway: Un-freakin'-believable! It felt all warm and yummy inside, maybe like I was two years old and just peed my pants, or won the world Formula One driver crown... What impressed me the most about me (ego taking over here), was that I was so relaxed while doing it, and I'm in Fantasy Land hallucinating that Django is actually enjoying watching my run out.

And then, I woke up.

Ha, your own self, Django says (to himself, of course, as the match progressed in silence between us), as he completes the set without flaw, 5-1. Is it possible to actually enjoy getting my butt handed to me? Yes, if Django does it. Such a pleasure to watch him play, especially at such close range.

Next match was against "Miami Vice", who went down easy 4-1 (one-loss side is a race to 4, winner's side is a race to 5).

Staying on a roll, I took town Kenny D. 4-2, winning 4 in a row after being down 2-0. I felt loose, and really wasn't trying that hard because Samm had already been knocked out of the tournament and it was now dark and I was not looking forward to the long ride home late at night on the LA freeways.

My last match was against Frank, a 68 year old guy who just didn't miss. His table presence was very good. He says he almost always cashes in this tournament, "deep in the cash". That's saying something for this tournament. I hope I play as good when I'm 68.

Back on the road for the high-speed dash to Del Mar, Samm was uncontrollable... continuously reliving/retelling the best moment of her pool career, when, just an hour before, Bustamante told her "You have a beautiful stroke!". I can't blame her; if Bustamante told me I have a beautiful stroke, I would tell the story in ads in all the major pool magazines, and ask him to repeat that on video for YouTube, etc. Read her side of the story on her blog.

It was all good fun, of course, and the ride home went fast, with a late night pit stop at In-n-Out Burger. Samm was seriously jonesing for some red meat, while I scarfed some fries and my first chocolate milk shake in years (hey, it's my birthday!).

I kept the storytelling going, as every time she fell into a quiet reverie, I would poke her again with something like: "Hey, didn't I see you and Django talking... what's up with that?" And of course she would light up like a Christmas tree and launch into the "beautiful stroke" story again, in ever more detail. Then, I would tell her the story about how I took a game from Bustamante. And so it went, long into the night...


Friday, September 12, 2008

Just too good for some people

Samm wanted to try out some local tournaments, and the only one running last Friday night was all the way on the other side of town, a place called Nice Rack in El Cajon. I had never been there before so I had no idea what we were up against, so it seemed like an interesting adventure.

Samm and I were doing pretty good through the first couple of rounds, when the tournament director comes up to me and starts out with:

"Where are you guys from?"
Del Mar, says I. Samm's from Denver, why?

"Is there some big tournament in town?" he asks.
Not that I know of, says I, why do you ask?

"Well, we don't allow "A" players in this tournament." he declares.

Now, that's one of the nicest birthday presents ever, to be told I'm just so good of a pool shooter that I'm not allowed in their tournament. I've never been so happy to be rejected.

While on the topic of "A" players, here's one description of skill ratings, which I lifted from the Billiards Digest magazine forum:

9-Ball Tournament race to 7 (Dec.1997 "All About Pool" magazine, article
by Bob Cambell)
Handicap rankings

D- Player
will not run a rack
average run is about 3 balls
with ball in hand, will get out from the 7, one out of 3 times
rarely plays a successful safe

C-Player
will probably run one rack, but usually not more than one rack in a typical race to 7
avg. run is 3 to 5 balls
with ball in hand, will get out from the 7, two out of 3 times
mixed results when playing safe
inning ends due to botched position, missed shot or attempting a safe.

B-Player
Able to run 1 to 3 racks
avg. run is 5-7 balls
with ball in hand will get out form the 5, 2 out of 3 times
most of the time a "B" player will play a "safety" which maybe hit easily 2 out of 3 times
a typical inning will end with a missed shot, a fair safety, or a won game

A-Player
will string 2 to 3 racks
avg. ball run, 7-9
with ball in hand, will be out from the 3 ball, 2 out of 3 times
typical inning will end with a well executed safety or a win.

OPEN-Players
average 8+ balls
string racks together more than once in a match
is a threat to run out from every ball, from every position, every inning
typical inning will end in excellent safety or win.

(here's the link to the post at Billiards Digest magazine forum)

The Finest Rack in All The Land





Look what I got for my birthday!

Samm "Cherry Bomb" Diep is a great friend and a charter member of my list of Cutest Cueists. She shoots lights-out, she's a really nice person, and a lot of fun, so when she "guerrilla invited" herself to spend a few days at the legendary FastMikie's Fun House to shoot some pool, hit the beach, and other assorted amusements, I said Yes in a hurry.

Little did I know that she would come bearing gifts, the best of which was this most awesome Delta-13 rack, customized with "FastMikie's Fun House" on two sides and the Five Star logo featured on the front of the Mikie's Fun House t-shirts (awarded only to the very best Friends of the Fun House).

This rack is the best I have ever used. Solid aluminum and amazingly accurate, it seems as if the balls just want to align into a perfect formation without any help. It's effortless!

Thanks, Samm, you're the best!



(Samm Diep, aka The Cherry Bomb)


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Double Senior Moment

This afternoon I was cruising along in the Encinitas 8-ball tournament, and got into the semi-finals against Pat. It was close. I had stripes, (or was it solids?) and I shot the wrong flavor, but nobody said anything, and I didn't realize it either, of course (Senior Moment #1). The very next shot, I shot the other flavor (Senior Moment #2), and got called on shooting the wrong ball, but since I had already gone back to the flavor I originally had, and since nobody called the original foul, according to the rules, it was no longer a foul. The ref said it was a foul, but I think the rule says otherwise. But what the heck, it wasn't as if it was the end of the world, so I gave up ball in hand. So I came in 3rd.

It's a fun tournament. Free to enter, no prizes, just bragging rights. Except once a quarter if you win you get your name on a plaque. This is an old man's shot at immortality. The competition is fierce. Good players hang here. Lots of experience. Lots to learn. Good energy of sharing.


Straight Pool Marathon

Dan W. stopped by the Fun House last night for 7 hours of straight pool, his favorite game, and mine too. He said he needed to hit a lot of balls in preparation for the U.S. Open 9-ball championships next month, especially using the "measles" cue ball, which will be used in Chesapeake City, and which performs so much differently than the red circle ball.

The first game Dan just ran away and I barely pocketed anything on those few occasions when I did get a shot. I asked for a new start when he got to 250 and I had only 50. The second game was a lot more even, and there were a few moments when I was actually ahead, but he squirted into the lead toward the end and we finished at about 150 to my 130.

Regardless of the score, I really enjoyed the straight pool. Dan's a class act, and he can shoot pool at the Fun House anytime. Thanks, Dan!


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

More Shoulder Shenanigans

Today's X-rays of both shoulders show calcium deposits which could be a cause of the pain. MRI imaging is scheduled to get a better look. Meanwhile the new M.D. shoulder specialist prescribes a new therapy/strengthening/stretching program, and another cortisone injection into the right shoulder, just an hour ago.

On the giant list of "things that I love", injections are way toward the bottom. No pun intended. In this case the injection was into the shoulder, and surprisingly wasn't as bad as I anticipated. Dr. Mark does almost un-noticeable injections. Truly a talent. My dentist also does virtually undetectable injections, which is probably why I have been going back to him for the last 30 years. Is this more info than you wanted? Am I rambling? I'd rather talk pool.

Hopefully this latest injection will do the trick and I can start getting back in stroke. I did 2 hours of practice yesterday and it was just amazingly weird some of the things that happened when I struck the cue ball.

I am reminded of
the dancing of Elaine Benes (from Seinfeld). (YouTube video)

My stroke may not be as spastic as Elaine, but it's more toward that end of the spectrum, with Efren Reyes far, far away.

I have developed a new stroke-quirk: The butt of my cue, or my knuckles, hit the rail when I follow through. Of course, not on every shot, just those where my right hand will be near the rail when I finish the shot. It seems that the frequency is increasing for this sort of acquired gesture.

I have set up the video camera again. I predict more clips soon.


Monday, September 01, 2008

Pool as Art

From Wikipedia entry on "art":

Generally art is a (product of) human activity, made with the intention of stimulating the human senses as well as the human mind; by transmitting emotions and/or ideas. Beyond this description, there is no general agreed-upon definition of art. Art is also able to illustrate abstract thought and its expressions can elicit previously hidden emotions in its audience.

Some people see pool as a sport. Some see it as a game. I see pool as art. Live "performance" art, as in Theater. Starring me. Every shot is different, and it's always unknown, until the final moment, whether the play is an epic tale of great struggle and great reward
, or a terrible tragedy.

It is my goal to enjoy every performance of the art of pool, and to enjoy the great reward.



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