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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, January 15, 2009

One fine shot down the rail

If ever there was a day for a man to pour himself a shot, it was today. I guess what I'm saying is, that I've already poured myself one, thank you very much, and I've had a taste of it too, thanking you again for your indulgence while I get this tale underway.

It's a tale of a competition in billiards, and it happened today, and it happened to me, so I know whereof I speak, and of course there were many witnesses who saw the exact same thing.

Unfortunately, it was not recorded on video, so the best record, the only record so far, is this document I now write. Readers of this document are invited to comment at the end. But we must get to this story...

It was an 8-ball tournament, and it happens only 4 times per year. The competitors have enormous experience, and yet I put my paltry 5 years experience into play against them. They know not of my secret weapon: the Secrets of Sorto are with me. I have studied him move the ball. His skills and artistry at moving the cue ball around the table are unmatched, and it is not just me saying this... anyone who has seen Tony Sorto shoot pool will agree. LOOK AT THE VIDEO!

But this is not about Tony Sorto (also known as "El Maestro").

This is about me, and what happened today. It was an 8-ball tournament, with very strong competition, race to one. In the finals, it's a race to two. In a race to one, you absolutely MUST win the one and only game you are going to play against your competitor. When you face each competitor, you must win or you are lunch.

Consider for a moment, the mental ferocity which must be created in order to totally dominate your opponent and to do it with such confidence and presence of being, and of course, spectacular shot making. Also consider that this ferocity must be from the very instant the arena is entered, and must be maintained against all distractions, and against all odds, right through to the moment of final Victory, when the man stands alone, above all. How is such a thing possible?

These are the secret teachings of El Maestro.

Sometimes these stories get me mighty parched. Could be the chalk dust in the air, and the Santa Ana winds blowing in off the desert. The air gets dry and... you know what would go good right about now, a pint of Murphy's Irish Stout! It tastes just like the classic Guinness, only smoother. I can not wait another second, there's so much to tell, but first a bit o' suds...

Oh, that is some fine stuff. And I have to confess, while I was up getting myself a pint of Murphy's Irish Stout, I splashed a shot of Bushmill's Irish Whiskey in it, shot glass and all, as is the custom in many an Irish pub; I know this from extensive personal experience. And, I might add, a well-thought out custom as it gets you where you want to be twice as fast. And I'm all about efficiency, saving time, etc.

I promise I won't interrupt this story...

... and this is where I stopped writing for a good while. I was conflicted, knowing that every word I write must be true (it is a sacred oath I have taken as a writer, to speak only truth), and therefore I can not say I won't interrupt again. What is an interruption except something over which we have no control, some Random Event. If I have no control over it, then I can not speak of it with confidence. There could be interruptions, possibly for another pint and a splash. It could be a long story. Bear with me...

Four times a year there is a tournament where there is no prize, no money, no trophy, no nothin', except your name on a plaque on the wall, along with the date you won it. There is no other name, no second place is mentioned. On this plaque a man stands alone, over all his anonymous contenders, for all time. Here a man is immortal, for as long as they have pool, and for as long as this building stands. For this we play.

And of course, for bragging rights.

Between the Great Quarterly Tournaments are 12 weekly tournaments, with mostly the same players. These weekly tournaments, you get zip if you win. A big So What, but we play anyway, 'cause a man's gotta test himself, we gotta strive, we gotta evolve. It's the way of the universe.

Today was my chance at immortality, my name on the wall, for all to see that on this day did FastMikie... but I'm getting ahead of myself, I should start at the beginning...

My first match turned in my favor when my opponent was unsuccessful with his execution. I did not return the favor. FastMikie 1, Opponents 0.

My second match was one of those little gems which you love to remember. My opponent flips the coin, I call it, I break, I run the table. Opponent never gets a shot. All they got to do is flip a coin. That's a tough way to lose, never get out of your chair. I hate when that happens. Of course it has happened many times to me as El Maestro has run racks of 8-ball at will. I have learned much about the art of running a rack of 8-ball. And of course when and how to play safe if the situation calls for it. But today, in this match, I broke and ran those sweet balls as though I was born to do it. FastMikie 2, Opponents 0.

After a stunning performance like I just put on, a man walks a bit more erect, there's a glow, if you will, the chest a bit higher. It can't be helped, but a man is better off if he keeps his emotions checked. Inside he may be feeling ten feet tall and bulletproof, but he's got to hold himself back from premature celebration. This is just one more game in a series. The next competitor waits.

I tried to keep myself cool on the outside, but inside I'm thinking how sweet that run was, and I'm feeling like this is my day, I can go all the way, I know it.

I know I can win this tournament because I have won against these players before. But it wasn't at the Great Quarterly Tournament, it was just a weekly. I didn't get my name on the wall. I got bupkus. Nada. Zilch.

This is my third Great Quarterly Tournament. The first time I played here, I came in second. Not bad for the first time I ever played these guys, and I was pleasantly surprised to find them as strong as they are. These guys have been shooting pool for a long time. They don't miss much, both in terms of strategy and skill.

So here I am busting out all over with confidence when I get my next opponent, which again I win the flip of the coin and the break and I get a ball on the break and the spread is so fine for the stripes and it all begins with this trifle in the side pocket, and I have myself another break and run... Except that I'm still back here shooting the 14 ball in the side, and I can't be thinking about the 8-ball going in, and look what I just did... look at that 14 ball heading right into the tip of the side pocket, how the holy jumpin' jeepers did such a stupid thing happen, there could not possibly be an excuse for it, except... the obvious fact that you have your head so far up your arse with your magnificent break and run in the last game and the easy break and run you have in this game, that you had insufficient brain power to sink a kink in the side.

Funny thing, a brain. No matter how we would like to think we can think of more than one thing at a time, we can't. One. That's the limit. At the moment when the cue tip moves through the space previously occupied by the cue ball, at that very moment the only thought you can have in your head is the pure thought of the cue ball doing exactly as you imagine it in your head. If you imagine it poorly, with any lack of detail, you will miss. Most likely. Because there is always the element of luck. A man can hit a ball poorly, and yet he can get away with it. The shot goes in because there are certain tolerances on most shots. So sometimes, you can get away with thinking other thoughts, or thoughts that are not completely thought out, and yet still make a shot.

That was not the case with my shot on the 14 ball in the side. I missed. Now my opponent had his choice of stripes or solids, and of course the stripes, as I mentioned were open like a flower, so he took them, and left me with the solids where were in ugly clusters and blocked and otherwise a hell on earth. At the end of that game, these words came into my mind: "You never know where your next lesson in Humility is going to come from, but it always comes". FastMikie 2, Opponents 1.

I have been wounded. Two wins, one loss. I can not lose again or I am out of the tournament, my name will not go on the wall, I will not be immortal. I must not lose again. I must win.

It's at moments like this that a man faces his toughest challenges, where there is no alternative, where he MUST win, he must achieve the prize, there can be no other way. These are the moments I live for, I love the challenge. I love all challenges, but mostly I love the challenges I can win. And I can win this.

I woke up this morning focused on the win. I dressed in my tournament uniform: all black. I project a self image of seriousness of purpose, of confidence. And that was the feeling throughout the tournament room today: seriousness of purpose. It was quiet, and you could tell that the early matches were played tentatively. Luckily I was last to play in the first round. I could relax, breathe, prepare, listen to my iPhone/iPod recordings, the affirmations, the Beethoven piano sonatas, such as the Moonlight Sonata, which always relaxes me. The headphones of an iPod cut down on conversations started by others. They are reluctant to interrupt your focus, and that's one good reason to wear the headsets, whether you're listening to them or not! But I don't want to give away to many good ideas here, I just want to tell you what happened...

My next match I won, and the next, and soon enough I am standing in the finals, in a race to two, for all immortality, my name on the wall, and, of course, for bragging rights, which, being from Philadelphia, are more important than the finest Frankincense, or Myrrh (whatever that is, but you get the idea, bragging rights are big).

I have played Gunney before and I know his game. He shoots good. And all the while he shoots good, he puts out this "I can't see" line of complete bullshite (an Irish term) that it boggles the mind. I mean, if he can't see then what the heck is he doing in the finals? One week he can't see close, the next week he can't see far, the next week he can't see at all. But he keeps coming back and winning. There should be a special place in hell for people like that, but you gotta love that guy at the same time because he puts out this hang-dog good-old-boy vibe that's self-effacing and homey all at the same time. That's where he really gets you because you figure he can't see and he's a nice guy so you don't want to crush his neck into the ground, so you let up and soon he has YOU by the throat.

But that's not exactly the way it happened. I won the first game in the race to two. I had him so tied up in that first game that he couldn't make a shot. These are the secrets that Sorto has taught me, and they do not become known except after many hours of practice and study, and then only if El Maestro is the teacher.

Now I had Gunney where I wanted him. The win is within my grasp. I see myself reaching out to pluck the ripe fruit of immortality, swollen in ripeness with my own magnificence. One more to go, Gunney old friend. Just lay down and die like a good sport, will you? It would be so much easier that way, amigo. I'd really rather not work for it. You see, I'm retired and have grown lazy...

However, Gunney, the Marine, would not go down easy, and put one mark on his side. I am unmoved when a man pulls up along side of me. He was behind, he was looking up at me. When he draws even, he tends to take a breath, to relax with the goal within reach. It is still my advantage.

In pool, anything can happen, and it usually does, when you least expect it.

I could drag this story on with shot by shot descriptions, but in a winner take all, one game do or die match, it could go either way. I was at the table, and I saw the road map to the finish line. The shot that got me was a combination, and although I made the shot, my cue ball position was less than perfect, and I could not continue. However I could play safe, and did. In fact It was one of the best safe shots I have ever played. I think there was no combination of cushions that he could hit that would give him a good hit. He was screwed. I just love a good safety, especially when they are not expected, and when they are so simple, and so dead-nuts guaranteed to give you ball in hand.

But sometimes ball in hand only gets you so far. Sometimes ball in hand only gives you the opportunity to play another safe, and to give up the table again, and once you give up the table, anything can happen. And in a race to one, where everything is on the line, anything usually does happen.

And, as it happened, Gunney was at the table, pocketing a couple of balls, but I was completely at ease knowing that there was just no way that, with the layout of the balls, that he could get out. It was not in the cards. But he just went ahead anyway. And when he finally got to a shot on the 8-ball, for the win, he was faced with what I almost certainly would have tried to bank, and most likely would have missed, and sold out, and of course that's what I was expecting Gunney to do. Instead he calls the ball down the rail into the corner pocket that, surely my 7-ball is guarding, right? I mean, there's just no way that 8-ball can go down the rail that clean. There's just no room at all for "tolerances". Zip. Don't be a fool, Gunney, bank it! No man can cut that ball from that angle, so precisely to get past my 7-ball.

I was there, and I can tell you that was the finest shot down the rail I have probably ever seen, and so Gunney deserves his win, his name on the wall, his immortality.

I'm not particularly happy about it, but it's moments like this that turn a man into a philosopher. And with a couple of pints of Murphy's Irish Stout (and a couple of shots of Bushmill's Irish Whiskey), a man becomes a philosopher with ease, this being a great attribute of the Irish. We are a race of writers, drinkers, fighters, and philosophers. Aye.

When in the course of human events a man's thoughts turn to The Meaning of it All, some of the best minds come to the conclusion that there is no meaning except that which we create. Each of us is the center of a universe of our own creation. However, in each perfect universe which we create there are Random Events over which we have absolutely no control. For example, when we are sitting in a chair, completely helpless, a simple spectator, watching your immortality disappear before your eyes, one ball at a time.

That was one fine shot down the rail, Gunney.

I hoist my pint to salute you!


Anonymous Samm said...

"Yet" was right, FM. Nice run on the Sorto Rotation. Now, if only we could teach him to set the chalk blue side up...

Monday, January 19, 2009 8:25:00 PM  

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