Gold Crown IV

Gold Crown IV
FastMikie's Fun House, Del Mar, California

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Easy pickin's

I've been taking a bit of a vacation from competition after having a perfect, undefeated session in the APA Triple Play Masters format. I haven't played any semi-serious pool for almost a week, but this afternoon Dr. Mark stopped by for a quick lesson in humility. Only had time for one game of 8 ball, which I won, but he wanted to try for best of 3 so I gave him another game, which I won, and then he had to try one more time. By now I'm shooting really fast, because I gotta get outta here for a haircut. Mark likes it when the game moves fast, but that didn't do him any good because I won all 3 games.

There was never any doubt in my mind. Confidence was running very high. Shots seemed to be easy.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Fresh Meat, and a New Game

T.B. visited the Fun House last night for some lessons in humility. Our hero, Fast Mikie, took 6 out of 6 games of 9-ball while watching "Stickmen" on the wide plasma screen. Before we started the games, TB suggested that we just play, not really to be counted for anything, no bragging rights involved. Of course I agreed, lying through my teeth, as I knew he was giving me the same lie!. I knew he wasn't being serious, because the concept of "just for fun" would have evaporated if he won, and left him blameless if he lost. And, of course the same applied from my perspective. That left us both to compete like dogs while remaining civilized. My dog ate his dog. (And, we had fun!)

As I was running out on the 6th game of the shutout, El Maestro arrived and changed the game to some 3 handed pill pool. It was a very fast paced and interesting game whereby the shooter must hit the physically closest ball first, while trying to pocket the ball equivalent to the pill he has drawn, or while pocketing any ball to continue his run. Every shot must first involve the closest ball. It's a good thing to get my mind thinking new thoughts, new strategies... It also gets you focused on some very precise position play.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Plan for Excellence in Pool

Here is the plan which I have been using and improving for the last 18 months. It has helped elevate my game from an occasional "ball banger" to a perfect, undefeated session of ten matches in the APA Masters division, Triple Play format (8 and 9 ball).

This plan is offered as a basis for discussion and for all to use and personalize as needed.

The plan is here:

A taste of straight pool...

Shot a little straight pool last night,
against KJ,
and won 50-14.
He says he doesn't like to play safe.
So he probably will not be winning
a lot of straight pool...

Thursday, June 16, 2005


And, speaking of the stick in my hand,
last night I was using a
fresh shaft (Predator Z) with
a fresh tip (Moori slow).
This was against the advice of El Maestro,
but I saw no alternative.
I had lost confidence in my other shaft
after thoroughly inspecting it and finding
that the tip had separated from the ferrule
around the entire circumference.
I felt that it would come off very soon,
possibly in the most important match of
my pool career so far (last night).
I could envision the tip separating,
and me missing a critical shot because of it,
and losing the game, the match, and
my perfect undefeated session,
all because of equipment failure.

Even worse, by using faulty equipment,
I was introducing fear and doubt
into every shot, and would probably not
deliver a full stroke if I was hesitant
about the tip flying off.

It's all about confidence, I've learned.

However, playing the match with a new shaft
has its own set of challenges.
The new tip will play differently,
auditory feedback will be different,
shaft surface feel will be different,
"hit" will be different.
I needed to hit a lot of balls with it
before I got comfortable with it,
but I didn't have enough time
before the match
to hit as many as I wanted.

Both choices suck.
I had to go with the lesser of two evils.

I didn't mention this to Tony, or anyone else,
that I was playing with the new shaft,
against his teaching,
because it would create negativity and doubt,
and it would be voicing an excuse for losing,
before the match was even played.
And this too is the teaching of El Maestro.

So there I was,
I had to choose between two conflicting
teachings of El Maestro.

Again: Both choices suck.

I made the choices, and moved on.
I stood alone in the field of battle.
I won ten battles out of ten.

If I can do it, so can you...

Not A Dream!

I woke up this morning and wondered
if it all might have been a dream
that last night I won a match
against one of the best players
in the division.
And that gave us first place
in the division.
Even better, it put me solidly
in first place among the players
in the division,

And, checking out the other two
Triple Play divisions in San Diego,
it seems that my point total for the session
is the highest of all players.

Considering that I have been playing
semi-serious pool for a little under
a year and a half, I would have to admit
that my performance has exceeded expectations.
One major reason is the excellent
teachings of El Maestro, Tony Sorto.

But, as Tony himself would say,
I was the one with the stick in my hand.
I did the shooting, and won 70 games
against tough competition.
I've been called a Lucky Bastard, (M. Birtcher)
but luck has a way of coming and going,
and it evens out over time.
Certainly over 70 games.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


Tonight our Masters (Triple Play) team
played for all the marbles.

We needed 16 points for the team
to stay in first place
and have enough points so that
no other team can beat us for the session.
This was our last match.
We had to do it.
So we did.

And, last night I played for all the marbles.
I needed to win to stay undefeated.
I needed to win to stay in first place.
I needed to win in order for the team to win.

It wasn't easy.
Tony matched me up against one of
the toughest players in the division.
David Flaker is a skill level 7, the highest.
I'm a lowly 6, so I knew it was going
to be an uphill battle.

But somehow I got a good start.
On my first 9 ball break, 4 balls dropped!

I had a good lead, but Flaker fought back
and we were tied up at 6-6 for the final game.
It could have gone either way, but I won.

The perfect ending to a perfect session.
Ten matches played, ten matches won.
And 3 of those matches were against
players with the highest skill level.

Who'da thunk it?

I'm going to get some sleep.
We'll talk more about this tomorrow...

Meanwhile, check the stats!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

City Championships, 8 ball team

I have just endured the APA 8 ball "city championships", but isn't it a minsomer to call it a championship if there is no single champion selected? To me, that seems somewhat like sex without orgasm. It might feel good, but what's the point? There needs to be some ultimate conclusion. Instead, FIVE teams are selected as city champions, and off they go to Las Vegas to compete in the national championships, in August.

Las Vegas, in August.

That's what they do to the WINNERS!!!

Maybe you are detecting a certain lack of enthusiasm on my part. Can you feel my ambivalence? Sure, I want to win, but if I win, then I have to go to Las Vegas, which I loathe with a passion of almost biblical proportions. I played in the 9 ball national team championships in Las Vegas last year, and it was then and there that I publicly declared that I would never do that again. Life is too short to spend any moment of it in Las Vegas.

I played an interesting match on Saturday, against a similar skill level player. We went to the hill. He won. I didn't play in our match on Sunday, and the team lost.

I'm so happy I don't have to go to Las Vegas, but I'm real bummed that our team didn't win. But if we did win, then I would have been bummed that I had to go to Las Vegas.

Talk about being on the horns of a dilemma... And it's all based on the TEAM concept. It is only the team that would force me to Las Vegas, so if I go solo, then my problem is solved. This is one more reason why I have opted out of team competition with the APA.

The APA does have one event that interests me because it is for individuals, not teams, and you don't even have to be a member of the APA in order to compete. Full-on open competition, no handicapping, no prize
money, just bragging rights, a nice baseball jacket, and a butt-ugly trophy. But it's not in Las Vegas! I have my eye on the APA's US Amateur Championships. There is a worthy target for my enthusiasm!

Friday, June 10, 2005

On the edge of integrity...

During Wednesday's match
I watched my opponent line up on the 5 ball,
but the 4 ball was still on the table.

I was struck with the problem:
Do I tell him he should be shooting the 4 ball?
If I don't tell him, I will get ball-in-hand,
and will have a better chance to win the game.
I needed a win.
He won the last 3 games to tie the score.

It's not like it would be cheating.
After all, it is his mistake.

Do I have any obligation to tell him
that he is shooting the wrong ball?

Wouldn't it be dumb of me to tell him?
After all, it is a contest of skill as well as intellect.
And if he makes a mistake, he should pay the price.

But, wouldn't it be more sportsmanlike to tell him?
But there is no trophy for sportsmanlike behavior.

Nobody else was watching the game.
The were all watching Tony win 7-0 on the next table.
Even if they were watching,
they could never know what I am thinking.

I have heard it said that character is defined by
what we do when nobody is watching.

All of this is going through my head
as he is lining up on the 5 ball.
Then he stands up, looks around the table,
and then gets down for the 5 ball again.

I can't take it any more.
"Excuse me, 4 ball." I blurt.

I feel a lot better now,
knowing that there was no "asterisk" on my win.
I feel better that I took the high road.
And I also learned that it is possibly even
more to my advantage to advise the other player
that he is about to foul.

For starters, the opponent will be caught being inattentive,
and this will work on his mind,
and his game will be further deteriorated.
Being caught puts him in an inferior position
which can be overcome only by
me doing something equally inattentive.
Not likely.

What would you have done?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Thanks, Tony!

Tonight was a critical match.
If I won tonight, then I win MVP for the Masters Division.
If I lost tonight, then I would need to win the next, and final, match next week. That would put a mountain of pressure on next week's match, so that's why the need to win tonight.

I won the lag, chose 9 ball first, and won the first 3 games. So far, so good, but I made a mistake and the opponent won a game. Then he won 2 more and the match was even. My dominating lead of 3-0 was wiped out, and now it was a race to 4. And the opponent has the momentum. Not good at all. Did I survive 8 matches over the last 8 weeks, winning every one of them, only to have certain victory snatched from my grasp at the last minute? Hell NO! I needed to control this situation starting right NOW.

I had a serious talk with myself. What was missing from my game? Safety plays! I had been playing too loose in the last 3 games (and I lost!), and hadn't played a safe so far in the match. Not good at all. I resolved to control the match by playing safe whenever I had a low percentage shot, or even if I figured I could improve my position by earning ball-in-hand.

The strategy worked, and with the help of an 8-ball break & run, I won all the remaining 4 games for the win.

That extends my perfect record to 9 matches won out of 9 matches played. First place in the Masters Division. So I guess I'm feeling pretty good about it all right now, but I know that Glory is fleeting, and there is a line of pool shooters a mile long who think they are better.

There's only one shooter I know who is unquestionably better than me: El Maestro Tony Sorto. He has been trying to teach me this game of pool for the last year and a bit. I guess some of it is starting to sink in.

Thanks, Tony.
I couldn't have done it without you.

Monday, June 06, 2005

9 Ball City Championships

On Saturday my team (Synergy) competed in the APA 9-ball Team City Championships. I took my first match easily at 55-28, and put on a decent show.

The second match was with Ernie, a skill level 8 (out of possible 9) in 9 ball. I'm a skill level 7 in 9 ball. He's supposed to be better, so I knew I was in for a battle.

He raced to an early lead, probably more than 20 balls ahead, but I slugged away and brought the endgame to where I needed 6 balls, he needed 4, and I was in control of the table. I pocketed 5 of my 6, but in getting position on the final ball, the cue ball ever-so-slightly brushed another ball and put me off line and thoroughly snookered so that the only thing I could do was kick for a safety, or kick for the shot, or both. I went for it, and missed. He ran out. I lost by one ball. I guess it could have gone either way.

It was not pretty at all. He was not shooting exceptionally well, and I felt that I was awful. I missed several shots, by the slimest of margins, but "a miss is as good as a mile", as they say.

Throughout the match, I was feeling that I was far behind, and had no idea that I was so close toward the end, until team captain Russ told me as I was taking my final turn at the table.

I noticed a couple of times my body position would slouch and I would have to conciously straighten and think strong thoughts. I felt as though I was fighting uphill the entire time and never really hit my stride.

I'll have to work on a visualization that I am already In Stroke, rather than a state that I am trying to achieve.

Back to the practice table...

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Signature of a Shooter

At the very end of last night's match, I was looking at a straight in stop shot for easy shape on the game/match 8 ball straight into the opposite corner. But, for some unexplainable reason, I chose to turn the simple into the rediculously complex and cheat the pocket with high right english to come three rails to get perfect shape on the short side for a straight in shot into the side pocket.

Looking back on it, I was doing something that was very wrong, but it turned out right. I can't figure out if I even saw the simpler stop shot. I saw the 3 rail position, that's for sure, but it was inappropriately risky. I think I did it more out of a playful nature, writing my signature on the finish of the match. As if a simple stop shot and a straight in for the win would be too boring, too easy.

I knew I had the match in the bag. I was two games ahead, and at the table looking at the last two balls. I sensed that my opponent had already given up in his heart. But I was still playing the game, and it must have been my playful, childlike persona who took control of my computer-mind, and invented a shot that was intended to be spectacular, all for the fun of it. My signature, writ large.

I have seen El Maestro do this sort of thing many times.
Monkey see, monkey do.

It reminds me of the signature of an aviator, the way he lands his airplane. In shooting a shot in pool, and in landing an airplane, it has to be done right the first time, there are no "do-overs". Even people new to flying can tell if a landing is executed well. But the real judges are all the people at the airport who are watching you all the way down. Fellow pilots, non-flying old-timers, student pilots, wannabes, and even mechanics who will put the pieces back together if you screw it all up... they are all there watching your every move with detachment from the security and anonymity of terra firma.

With so many critical judges, the aviator must execute a technically perfect landing (3-point, no bounce, short roll out, smooth, etc). And to do it with some flair, some particular signature move which gets the juices flowing in pilot and voyeur alike... now THAT is the goal of an aviator's signature landing. I was particularly focused on making my landings, my aviator's signature, a thing of beauty.

I find many parallels between flying and pool. I'll probably write more on this later.

Here's another example:
Porsche and Ferrari people are completely different.
There is an old saying that Porsche is to Ferrari as artificial insemination is to mad, passionate lovemaking. In this way, Allison Fisher would be the Porsche of the pool world while Fast Eddie Felson, shooting "fast and loose" would be the Ferrari. As an ardent fan of the Ferrari mystique (I have owned 5 different Ferrari over the last 30 years), I want to see my pool game evolve more along the lines of the mad, passionate lovemaking, but with a good bit of play, humor, and even surprise thrown in. Capricious, possibly. And yet, winning at a world class level.

And then I woke up.
Back to the practice table...

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

It's Good to be King!

Click Here for a thing of beauty, and a joy forever.

Try it again: Click Here

I have found myself clicking this link more frequently lately because it's just so pretty, and it keeps getting prettier every week!

Last night's match was memorable!
Our team ("Destiny's Team") was in first place with a slim lead of only two points (and we know how fragile slim leads are). We played the second place team and it could have gone either way, but we came out on top in points for the match, so we stay in first place. Yaaaaayyyyyy, team.

Now for the good part: Me!

Our carefully crafted game plan came apart at the last minute and I found myself matched against Dave A. who has been stalking me closely in the rankings. Dave is a top-rated player. His skill level is 7, the highest. I am only a 6. And we were playing head to head, no handicap. This was going to be an uphill battle! He has been in second place, but only by one point, so the pressure for me to continue to win has been extreme. Now, here we were, face to face. One of us would walk away in first place, the other one a loser.

He won the first game, I won the second. After 8 games of 9 ball, we were even 4-4. And then I won the next 3 games of 8 ball for the 7-4 match win. I made some good shots, including some good safeties. But I also made some mistakes. I must stop making elementary mistakes. (Yeah, right: I must stop being human!)

I have been looking forward to this match all week. I knew we were going to have a real showdown, and that all the marbles were riding on this one. Usually I get myself all worked up thinking about these things, and by the time of the match, I'm a basket case. So I tried a little technique from NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). I made a list of some of the extraordinary things I have accomplished &/or survived so far in my lifetime, and then meditated on that to get myself into a super-confident state of mind. It worked! I didn't feel nervous at all, even when I was behind in the match. And, even more remarkably, I was unperturbed even when I was surprised by being matched against a higher skill level player instead of the equal skill level player I was expecting to play.

Other things I did right: I got there early and got in some good practice time. And that paid off big time because the tables had brand new cloth and they were a lot faster than just last week. The other team didn't get any practice time at all because they didn't get there early. Preparation pays!

How fast were those tables?
It was the first time I ever saw ball speed effected by a ceiling fan!

Let's try it again: Click Here
I hope you're enjoying this as much as I am...

It's good to be king!

But in this league, you get to be king for a week.
I have to earn it again next week.
Everybody will be looking to take me down a peg.

Back to the practice table...