The Adventures of FastMikie
in search of Truth and Beauty in the art of pocket billiards.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Nick Varner shows me some Straight Pool
Imagine what you could learn about straight pool by having Hall of Fame pro Nick Varner coaching you on each shot, explaining patterns and strategy and shot-making...
A couple of days ago, I had the opportunity to have that fantasy become reality, right at home on my own table, and even got it on video, in 3 parts, for a total of only 29 balls run. When my run come to a close with a safety, Johnny Archer spots a kick into a 5-ball combination for a break, and continues his run to 120 balls. That big run is on another set of videos. These three clips are Varner coaching me.
This was all completely unplanned. The original intention was to play some straight pool to see how high a run the three of us could put together with me playing every other shot (Johnny, me, Nick, me, Johnny, me, etc). With both of them coaching me on every shot, I figured I'd learn a lot. We were going along pretty good and then Nick misses a dinky shot ("I forgot to aim!") and the table looks so good, and I've been getting impatient to hit more than one ball in a row, so I change the rules and want to run solo, whereupon Nick coaches along with some input from Johnny.
Nick Varner calls the action while Johnny Archer runs 120 balls.
This video starts off with Nick Varner coaching me through my last rack, where I get myself in trouble and play safe. That's when Johnny Archer spots a kick to a 5 ball combination for a break shot and proceeds to run out the rack (12 balls) and keeps on going for a total run of 120 balls.
What is exceptional about this run is that Johnny does it despite all sorts of distractions, interruptions and while carrying on conversations about the shots and the strategy as he goes.
There is a lot that can be learned from these videos!
Maybe I'm too busy with facebook to do a better job of reporting, but in the interests of completeness and transparency (which seems to be a new buzz word), there are a few random bits for the record.
1. In the first of the recent three tournament wins in a row, the worthy opponent was a guy I had never seen before, John H. In the finals, for the last game, I broke and ran out. He never got out of his chair. Bummer way to lose, but a great way to win. So to see what he had going for him I invited him over to shoot some pool at the Fun House, and he chose 9-ball. I don't remember the score, dammit, and that's why I should be writing this stuff down as it happens. Maybe I'll do an iPhone app for keeping scores... In any case, I do remember that I played pretty good and won convincingly. He's a good dude. Into radio controlled airplanes.
2. In the second of the recent three tournament wins in a row... there ya go again... I can't remember the details, so if you were in the finals of that 8 ball tournament a couple of weeks ago, and you want me to mention your name here, as the guy who came in second, just let me know. Maybe I'll remember later, and maybe I'll remember that I forgot it, and maybe I'll come back here and write it here, and nobody will ever know because nobody reads this stuff anyway.
3. In the last, most recent of the 3 wins in a row, the big Quarterly Tournament, which gets my name on the plaque on the wall, thereby granting me immortality in some very small degree... the worthy opponent was "Ball in Hand" Benny. He is a lot of fun. When he makes a great shot, and when he misses, he says "I love this game!". Gotta like a guy like that. Anyway, I played good, and so did he, but I won.
4. When Samm was in town, we played some pool here at the Fun House. In 9 ball, and she won 9-5 and we played some straight pool and I won 50-27. She was using the ICEBREAKER break cue and getting some great action with it. My break was not working at all.
5. Samm Diep and I played in the Hard Times tournament up in Los Angeles, and we both did the 0-2 barbecue. I could not get motivated, and I was not pleased with my performance. Objectively, I should be able to win against both of those players. But not this Sunday.
6. Mike R. called me out on my facebook page, so I messaged back "Bring it on..." and the match took place at time that couldn't have been more poorly chosen, and amazingly, I'm the one that chose the time! How did I get to be this old and still be an idiot? Maybe I was being efficient by trying to schedule lots of things to happen all on the same day, so I can have the other days all to myself (which is what we hermits do), but I wound up scheduling a pool match...
a) immediately after a lunch appointment with one of my favorite female friends, so this guarantees that my mind will be completely unfocused on pool. Usually I will clear my entire day leading up to a tournament. More time for preparation.
b) at the same time when my assistant Carol would be here working. Her cooking is always a distraction in a very good way, but not if I need to be shooting some serious pool. Since it was her last day before her vacation, there were extra details to be dealt with, and of course this did not help my focus.
c) at the same time as I had scheduled a plumber to do some maintenance. Isn't that the most bone-headed thing to deal with during a pool match? It seemed that every 10 minutes the plumber would be missing a part, need to make a call, needed to ask a question, or just wanted to watch a few shots!
What was I thinking to have scheduled this perfect storm of madness? Needless to say, and as much as I choke on the saying of it, and in the spirit of full disclosure, transparency, and such, and as I agreed that I would so do, I am giving the score of the match in the smallest of font sizes because I refuse to admit it into my reality, so here:(9-ball, 7-5, 7-3) Didn't see that? Well try highlighting that area with your cursor... In any case, I do have to admit that he was breaking well and getting plenty of opportunities for early outs with combinations. It seemed that all I could think of was how stupid I am for scheduling this match for such conditions.
It occurred to me that a wise man would have chosen a more appropriate time for combat, and then it hit me... these are the words of Sun Tzu in his classic "The Art of War":
Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all ranks. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.
Italics in the above are mine, to indicate where I screwed up. Maybe I'll remember next time.
7. The $20 gift certificate for pizza which I won in the last tournament (I would have preferred a trophy), I intended to use to treat the guys in that tournament. When I called to order a couple of large pizzas, it was $37. What the heck. Hope they enjoyed it.
Three-peat. Hat Trick. 3 tournament wins in a row!
The good news is that I won the 8-ball tournament again, for the third time in a row, but the big news is that this last win was the big Quarterly tournament. Every 13 weeks the "ringers" come out of the woodwork, people you never see at the regular weekly tournament. They come for the glory, of course, but also the immortality: you get your name inscribed onto the plaque on the wall for all eternity. And they come for the big cash(ish) prize: a $20 gift certificate to the local pizza place. These shooters had a mean and hungry look.
This is about the 3rd big Quarterly tournament I've tried, and I gotta say it ain't easy. The people who play here are some seasoned vets. They don't rattle. They know what they are doing. They shoot straight. If you miss, they will run out on you. Period. And that's what happened to me today, after winning the last two weekly tournaments in a row, without losing a single game... an utterly perfect record... today I lose my first game by missing the ball before the 8 ball (a slim cut down the rail), and the dude (Paul E.) just completely runs his 7 balls and then sinks the 8, while I sit there feeling stupid. So, like I said. YOU CAN NOT MISS or you are toast.
That's a lot of pressure, of course, but there was a lot more pressure keeping up a perfect never-lost-a-single-game record like I had going the last two-plus weeks, so when I finally lost that game to Paul E. it was like a big weight lifted off my shoulders. (The Unbearable Weight of Perfection) I felt better, but I still had a big up-hill battle to win the tournament, so I had to stay focused.
Well, of course that's exactly what I did, never losing another game and now the name of "FastMikie McCafferty" will be inscribed on that plaque, that Pantheon of Heros, for all eternity. I drove home very carefully because I did not want to die before my immortality started: it will take a week or two before my name actually gets put on the plaque.
OK, three weeks in a row, and capped off with the big Quarterly tournament of immortality. Not bad, for sure, but I gotta be movin' on... this town's too small for me now, I gotta be checkin' out some fresh territory. These people need a break from me and I gotta be finding someplace where they aren't expecting me to win. I gotta find me a place with some tougher competition. NOT THAT THESE GUYS AREN'T TOUGH... like I said: you can not miss a ball with these dudes or they will run out on you.
But I need some fresh meat. I gotta be gearing up for the US Amateur championship.
In any case, I think I set a new personal best: Undefeated for 15 matchups in a row. didn't lose a single game. Won 22 of the last 23 matchups. 3 tournament wins in a row.
Now is the time to move on and try my hand with some of the other tournaments around town, I've been laying low too long. And, maybe, even some real practice! And some stright pool. I have a real need to shoot some straight pool and see if I can get me some new high runs.
I really need to set some new Goals and Plans for 2009, before it's over!
I won the 8-ball tournament again this week, and I guess that could seem a rather ho-hum thing if you consider how many 8-ball tournaments there are across the world, going on day in and day out, in bars and pool halls and even a few places with the top pros. So maybe my wins are small change, in the grand scheme of things.
But for me, these wins are extraordinary for several reasons: 1. I was undefeated! 2. Never even lost one game! 3. Two weeks in a row! 4. No pool at all for 5 weeks prior, no practice at all for 6 months. 5. I might know why!
I am rather surprised (and pleased, of course) at these recent events, and being a rather introspective sort of person, I like to think deeply on the meaning and importance of extraordinary events, especially when they happen to me.
I noticed a new feeling during last week's perfect tournament. It was especially pronounced as I was breaking and running out in the last game of the finals. My head was so focused on running out, and each ball, and the position, and how to hit it, and executing, all while I experienced a massive determination, and absolute commitment. Wow! As I was feeling and doing all this, I realized that this was a new place for me, and that somehow I had arrived at a higher level of awareness.
No, this was not "The Zone" which seems to come and go of it's own will. Instead, this experience was being completely directed by my will. I was in control because I was taking control, of everything, absolutely.
In the week since that first perfect tournament I reflected that my demeanor seemed to be similar to what I sensed just the week before, when I played Monica Webb (WPBA pro who won the National Championship last year for her first win in 10 years). We played two games of 9-ball. I broke, she ran out. She broke, made a ball, nailed a safety, then ran out. She just rolled through me like I wasn't there. She never said a word and was serious as a heart attack during the entire experience, even when I congratulated her for her huge win last year, and good luck in the tournament that started the next day. It was like she never really heard me. She was already in her tournament head, and she went on to win it! Two major tournaments in a row, after being winless in a tournament for 10 years.
What is the cause of this extraordinary turn of events? What changed?
I can't say what it was for Monica, I can only say that when I reflected on My win last week, I seemed to relate to Monica's demeanor, which was the only thing I could know. I couldn't possibly know how she felt physically, or what she was thinking. The only evidence I have to work with is her demeanor: how she moved, where she looked, what she said, and how she said it, how she racked, sized up the table, pre-shot routine, shot-making, strategy, etc. From all this I can imagine a great focus and determination driving her, an overwhelming presence which dominates her opponents.
As I write these words I am reminded what Mika Immonen, when thinking of his opponents, said to himself when he was winning the US Open last year: "I want it more than you". It was his mantra. It seems that Monica and Mika were in that same place, each in their own way.
Back to me. Of course I'm not at the level of either Mika or Monica, but I think I have sensed a new level of awareness and focus and determination and what seems to be of great importance: never giving up, fighting to stay in the match even when it looks grim. Many times I have sensed that an opponent made mistakes simply because of the pressure of knowing that if they did make a mistake they would pay dearly for it. And they get that pressure from seeing that I am focused like a junk yard dog.
Two tournament wins, back to back. Undefeated all the way in both. Never lost a game. Wow.
I think I'll pour myself a pint of Murphy's to celebrate this week's win, and drop a shot of Bushmills in it, to celebrate last week's win. That might put me in a thinking mood, and I'll probably do more writing on this night of the Full Moon.
Forgive me, for I have sinned: I have not blogged in way too long, but even worse, I have not played pool in even more way too long. My love for the game had waned, and I am not worthy. Yes it is true that I have a Gold Crown IV in my living room, and yes, it is true that I have it covered in the finest Simonis 760 which allows me to draw the ball the length of the table, and yes, it is true that I have a custom Samsara cue with a manicured Moori tip and the finest balls in all the land. Yes it is all true, and to make matters even worse, it is true that I have no job, and no wife, and no dependents to keep me from playing as much pool as I want, whenever I want, and for free. Yes, it is all too true, but I have not played, and that is certainly a crime against all logic, and a sin against the laws of the gods of pool, and I am deserving of their utmost revenge.
Now therefore, and whereas, this humble defendant has desired to find some way to get back into the game, to find the love that was once there and somehow gone astray, I did find myself, just yesterday drawn to the annual spring WPBA San Diego Classic at Viejas Casino, only 45 minutes drive into the mountains from my oceanfront retreat, to see if there were some way I might become refreshed, and re-inspired to pick up my cue with passion.
And it was so, with some help from friendly gods of pool...
I arrived early, looking to meet up with a friend of a friend, one Cristina Delagarza, a fine looking lady pool player on the tour, and a friend of my good friend Samm Diep, who suggested that I might help welcome Cristina to San Diego on her first visit here.
Yesterday was the first day for the tournament, and it always starts with a pro-am tournament, which is mostly a fun thing, with 8+ teams of 6 players, each team assembled at random from a pool of players who had signed up months in advance, and captained by one of the more famous of the women professionals. Upon arriving, I was informed that it would be hopeless to get into the pro-am tournament as all the spots were taken long ago, and there was a long waiting list. But pool gods have extraordinary powers, and they somehow caused my name to be called, and I found myself on Gerda Hofstetter's team and we proceeded to have a great time, playing three matches, which were timed at only 10 minutes each, and the team winning the most games wins the bag o' swag at the end. Although I went away swagless, I did have the opportunity to shoot 2 or 3 (can't remember) nine-balls to win games for the team. It was just luck, really, because players shoot in rotation. Luck? Maybe it was the pool gods. I made one particularly nice shot on the nine up the rail, long, long shot, and on tournament tight-pocketed Gold Crown V, with only 1 second remaining and everyone counting down loudly. Sharking was allowed, and the opponents were doing everything to distract me, but I stroked through that shot pretty as a picture, and there was never any doubt that the ball was destined for darkness. Boy, did that feel good, especially since it was the first time I picked up a cue in any sort of competition in a long time. Sweet.
After the pro-am tournament, I figured I would try my luck with "Play the Pro". This is where you get the chance to play two games of nine ball with a one of the women professionals. Ten bucks if you want a randomly selected pro, twenty bucks if you choose the pro. I chose Monica Webb, whose last tournament, the prestigious US Open Championship, was the first tournament win of her career even though she has been ranked in the top 5 for a long time. Needless to say, she was on her game. I broke, she ran out. She broke, made a ball, then shot a ball or two, and left me with an impossible shot which I stupidly attempted anyway instead of playing safe, and of course she ran the table. So my "Play the Pro" experience was limited to two strokes of the cue. These women are good!
I left at around 9pm, heading back to the Fun House to shoot some 9-ball with Dan S. who always gives me some great competition. I wasn't in stroke, of course, but it seemed that neither was Dan, and we traded games back and forth, but in the end I won the match at 7-5 whereupon he took off for home around midnight.
That win must have set something off inside me because I started thinking that I might try my luck the next day at the Thursday afternoon 8-ball tournament, where I had been absent for the last 5 weeks, at least. In spite of waking up with a raging headache (probably dehydration from all the air conditioning at the casino), I was still pumped with yesterday's pool, so I took 3 practice shots and headed out the door to see if the pool gods were still smiling on me.
They were. I went totally undefeated, didn't even lose a game, and made some pretty sporty shots and some even sportier positions, and walked off with first place.
Well, now, isn't that special?
I just got home, started opening my mail, and in a further sign from the pool gods, among the bills and junk mail, there is my invitation to compete in the annual US Amateur championships. Some people would say it's a sign, an omen...
Maybe. But I'm just happy to be in love (with the game) again. And I owe it all to Samm Diep for getting me out of the house to meet up with Cristina Delagarza, and to the pool gods for getting me in a game that never should have happened, and meeting up with Dan, who was out of stroke just enough for me to win, which gave me the incentive to enter a tournament, and even win it. Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:
That the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.