Gold Crown IV

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

Monday, June 30, 2008

Like Fargo, with less thinking

I took a break from practicing the Playing Ability Test (PAT) level 2, and went for "something completely different". The game of Fargo is one of the more challenging things you can do in a practice routine. Click here for the full rules of Fargo.

A game very much like Fargo is something Allen Hopkins came up with called The Q-skill Rating System. Here's a thread at AZBilliards forum with the rules, and some discussion of the Q-skill Rating System.

Tonight I chose to do the Q-skill drill because I have played it in the past, and my high score is 139 for 10 games, which is "Semi-Pro" category. That's the nice thing about the Q-skill Rating System: you can rate yourself according to Allen Hopkins' estimation of skill, and that ought to be accurate enough.

As for my performance tonight, I only scored "Advanced", which was a complete disappointment, to be sure, but I am nothing if not persistent, so that rating will be improved. (He says with bucket loads of determination.)

After practice, I took a few minutes to improve the spreadsheet for this drill. You can download it with this link: Allen Hopkins Q-skill Rating System Spreadsheet.

Try it, you'll like it.

Geezer Pool (aka Senior Billiards)

National Senior Games:
The APA has partnered with the National Senior (50+) Games Association (NSGA) to host the 2008 National Senior Games Championship Festival. The event will be held September 4-7, 2008 in Providence, Rhode Island.

For more info, click here.

Ozone Billiards National Amateur Open:
July 30 - August 1: Seniors 8 ball
August 1 - August 3: Seniors 9 ball
Jacksonville, Florida. For more info, click here.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Miscellaneous Matches

I don't get around to mentioning every match-up as it happens, so this entry is an attempt to catch up on some of them. After all, it is supposed to be a Diary, right?

1. Yesterday I shot a couple of sets with El Maestro Tony Sorto at Family Billiards in Oceanside. They just installed some new cloth and tightened up the pockets on a few tables. I was most interested in trying my draw stroke on new cloth to compare the results I've been getting on my table. In a word: Wow! Now I'm going to have to replace the cloth on my table. Another reason for doing this: I just played (again) the John Schmidt DVD showing his run of 245 balls in straight pool. He mentions new cloth as being a benefit for higher runs. That clinched it. In any case, back to yesterday's match-up: I won 7-2 playing the US Amateur format (9 ball and 8 ball), and as I was rubbing his nose in it, behaving like a poor winner (hey, I'm from Philly... that's what we do), he reminded me that he won the first set of 9-ball only, by the same score, 7-2. Amazingly, I didn't remember that so readily. Funny how the mind works, easily forgetting the negatives. I'm sure that's a good thing, a survival tactic.

2. On June 19, Malve showed up for the first time in about 6 months. It was late, after I had just put in a strong practice session of 3+ hours, so I was tired, but I didn't want to wus out, and used it as an opportunity to stretch my endurance. We played a short race to 5 in 9-ball. It seemed that neither of us were playing that great, but he got ahead 3-0 before I woke, got focused, and made it hill-hill, whereupon he totally lucked in a round-the-table wild ball which combo-ed in the 9 ball. "The balls roll funny for everybody, kiddo" (Fast Eddie Felson, The Color of Money).

3. On June 14, one of the legends of pool stopped by FastMikie's Fun House on his way to the US Open (golf) tournament at Torrey Pines, just a mile or two down the road. Jay Helfert is a well known pool tournament director and poker player and pool shooter, and a regular on the forum, where we met. He shows up here early in the morning, and I'm not really awake yet, and haven't had any breakfast, so I just watch him hit balls while we talk. He's banking like a madman, sinking them from everywhere, and he's got me thinking that I'm in for a major lesson in humility when we get around to playing after he returns from the golf tournament. I call in the reserves: El Maestro, figuring that after Jay puts me down that Tony will put him down. But it turned out better than I thought, and I won 7-4 in US Amateur format (8 and 9 ball games). Jay got off to a strong start 3-0, but I won the next 7 out of 8 games for the win. And I had a couple of really nice games of 8 ball at the finish, pure surgical performances. Loved it. So I didn't need Tony for backup, and we just played some Honduran rotation for a while, and then Jay gave me some lessons in One Pocket, which I never play. Jay showed me his photo and story in the great One Pocket book "Shots, Moves and Strategies, as taught by the game's greatest players" (see page 71).

4. I might be missing a match or two here, so if it's one I lost to you, please remind me. I have a tendency to forget the losses!

Fiddling with my blogger

This morning, major improvements were made to the technical stuff on this blog. You may notice that it now takes 60% less CPU cycles, loads faster, jumps higher, and has eliminated war, pestilence and hunger. Well, OK, that might be going a bit too far, but I have eliminated some bugs and made it faster. Most people will never notice, but for geeks like me, it's just something we gotta do.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Playing Ability Test (PAT) Spreadsheets - All levels

Here they are, updated with all the tricks:

Please let me know if there are any bugs, and how they can be improved.
We're all about Kaizen here at FastMikie's Fun House.

Playing Ability Test (PAT) Level ONE Spreadsheet

When I was still practicing with Level ONE, I didn't have a handy spreadsheet to do all the grunt arithmetic, so Practice Assistant Dave had to do it all with a pencil. Ugh.

Recently I went to Level TWO on the PAT test, and made up a spreadsheet to do the work of scoring, and that has worked out very well. That got me to thinking that I should do a spreadsheet for all those folks still at Level ONE, and I put some new features in this new spreadsheet, which are kinda fun. For example, the score column is orange until you pass the minimum to get a patch, then it turns the color of the lowest level patch (light green), and when you get to the next level, it turns the appropriate color (dark green). I also added a cumulative score column so you can compare mid-test scores to last time you took the test.

Now the PAT Level ONE spreadsheet is more advanced than PAT Level TWO, and that hardly seems right, so I'll have to go upgrade that one now. I'm a giver...

I'll do PAT Level THREE when I pass Level TWO, or when somebody else wants to modify one of my existing spreadsheets.

Here's the new Level ONE spreadsheet: Click here. Good Luck!

Friday, June 27, 2008

New high run on video

My humble personal best on video so far, just 27 balls, but getting better all the time, and reaching for the next goal of 50, then 100. It's close. I can smell it.

This was last night. I had just finished a couple of hours of practice, doing the PAT level 2 drills, and had a few minutes left to try some straight pool. This was the first go at it.

This video was edited to fit within the 10 minute limit for YouTube, so some spots were removed where I was taking some time to think, chat, or rack., Other than that, this is the way it happened.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Coming to San Diego: Johnny Archer & Earl Strickland

July 15, at Nice Rack Billiards, 11am to 3pm, Johnny and Earl will put on a show AND A SCHOOL, limited to only 12 students, $200. per student, and that's cheap for learning from legends. For more info, email Mark Cantrill at and tell him FastMikie sent you. Do it now and tell your friends!

IPT Challenge Matches, June 24, 2008

Starting with a nasty case of the jitters by both players, Mike Sigel and John Schmidt played some straight pool to 125 points. A couple of nice runs by both, but overall the match dragged on with neither player showing any real brilliance. The pace was slowed by many cases of missed position. Mike Sigel won, but I was rooting for John Schmidt

Next up was a race to 15, playing 8 ball, with Tony Robles and Karl Boyes (U.K.). Again the going was slow, and Boyes missed too many shots giving Robles the opportunities to win.

I showed up at the studio at 4:15 and didn't get out of there until 11:15. If I hadn't brought my super seat cushion from the biplane, I would have been a basket case from sitting on those hard bleacher seats for 7 hours. I learned that lesson from the last match. El Maestro has said many times that we need to make the necessary adjustments, and that's excellent advice for all of life, not just pool.

And speaking of making adjustments, check out this video clip of Tony Robles' break shot set up. Notice the many tiny adjustments of his feet as well as the three phases of the set up. I took this video at the IPT match because I was so impressed with his pre-shot consistency and thoroughness.

Complete videos of both matches will be posted on the IPT website soon, but not available as of this writing.


PAT 2 spreadsheet

I have been working with the Playing Ability Test for long enough to discover one good reason why it has not been more widely adopted as a standard for determining player ability levels: It's WORK!

To be more precise, it requires something we all hate: lots of arithmetic. So I have solved the problem by creating a spreadsheet which does all the work.

Here's the link: PAT 2 spreadsheet. (now version 2)

Notice this is only for PAT level 2. You can modify it for PAT level 1 or 3 until I get around to doing it and posting them here.

Good luck with these challenging drills!


Sunday, June 22, 2008

FastMikie Archives

(FastMikie, 1978, click for bigger image)

This is yours truly, back in the day of long hair and bell-bottom pants, posed next to my daily driver, a 1966 Ferrari 275 GTB, at Big Sur, CA.

At that time, it had been 14 years since I last shot any pool, and it would be another 26 years until I would play again. I guess I was just working too hard. I was a used car salesman. Would you buy a used car from this man?

This photo was just sent to me by my younger brother, who resurrected it from the family archives. Thanks for the memories, Jimmy!


Friday, June 20, 2008

PAT 2-7a Frozen Rail Drill #3

I really like this drill because you can get some nice cue ball action going 3 rails for position. Sometimes 4 rails, but that's going farther than needed.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

PAT 2-9c Spot Shot w/o touching bottom rail

A couple of months ago I saw a thread on AZ billiards forum about making spot shots without hitting the bottom rail. One approach was to hit the cue ball so softly that it would pocket the object ball but not continue to the bottom rail. The other approach was to hit the cue ball with so much draw that it would draw into the side rail, never hitting the bottom rail.

All of this discussion got me interested, and I tried the soft shot approach and was able to do it without too much trouble. Then I saw a video of some Filipinos doing the draw shot approach, and that was just completely amazing to me. Such a beautiful stroke, and so much juice on the ball... I never even tried it, and just assumed that I could never match such a shot.

It's amazing what limitations we put on ourselves. Our beliefs hold us back from ever experimenting to learn the truth of our preconceived ideas.

OK, now fast forward to last night, (a night of the Full Moon), when I was working with the Playing Ability Test (PAT), Level 2. As I got to drill #9, which is set up shots, and especially the third shot in the series, I almost laughed because here it was, the same shot I already convinced myself that I could not do: the spot shot without touching the bottom rail...

I had no escape. If I were going to complete the PAT Level 2, then of course I would have to perform this shot. This was now out of the realm of beliefs. I had to try it. I had to find out how to do it. I could no longer simply ignore it.

The video below is actual footage from last night's practice session, of the first two times I ever tried this shot. If you have your speakers turned on, you'll hear my utter amazement. What a wonderful lesson to learn again... As Paramahansa Yogananda so wisely said: "The results can not be achieved unless the experiment is made."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

PAT 2-10, Nine Ball Situation

After having achieved strong scores (1361 out of 1549) in Level 1 ("for Beginner to Intermediate Players") of the Playing Ability Test (PAT), I have moved up to practicing Level 2. Although I don't have the workbook for Level 2, and therefore can not keep score yet, I do have the DVD for Level 2, ("for Advanced Players") so I can see how the tests are set up, and give them a go...

I must admit that Level 2 is giving me some lessons in humility. It is a lot more difficult than Level 1, but that's exactly the sort of challenge I need to improve my skills.

In practice tonight, I tried out section 10, the Nine Ball Situation, for the first time. Here is my 3rd attempt:

The 3-ball was made a lot easier because I used my Longoni cue extension. This is the first time I've used it for a draw shot, so I was a little apprehensive, but it worked out OK.

The Nine Ball Situation is definitely the most fun of the PAT test drills. You are allowed to bump into balls, and even make them in unintended pockets, but of course that's sloppy pool. This video shows me hitting them pretty clean.

I should have the workbook in a few days and can start to keep score.

Friday, June 13, 2008

I'll be the one with the happy butt...

In case you have been living under a rock, please be advised to log on to at 5pm on June 24 for a most excellent evening of pocket billiards. The "main" match will be between Karl Boyes (U.K.) and Alex Pagulayan (Philippines) playing some 8-ball, but the "undercard" match is what I'm really interested in: Mike ("The Mouth") Sigel vs. John ("Mr. 400") Schmidt playing the best pool game ever invented, 14.1 straight pool, race to 125.

The only thing better than watching this match, Live, on your computer is being there in person, in the very small audience, one of whom will be me!

And the only thing better than watching this match in person, will be sitting in the most comfortable seat in the entire event, which I will be. How can this be, you ask? Isn't it true that the bleachers are made of the hardest materials known to man, and that they get increasingly more painful as the hours pass, as I personally experienced at the last month's match? Yes, true indeed.

However, I will be bringing a secret weapon in the war against butt pain. Ok, not so secret now, but nonetheless something which will completely eliminate all pain, and guarantee that I am the only one smiling (except for the two winners) when the matches are over. What could it be, you ask?

Ok, here's the story. When I sold my software company in '92, I decided to do something I had always wanted to do, ever since I was a little kid: fly. So I bought an open cockpit biplane, and learned how to fly. For the next 7 years, I went flying, all over the USA and Europe, and did some of the most outrageous things that can be done in an open cockpit biplane, many of which were then, are are now, at the edge of (and beyond) what is allowed by the laws of the land, and/or good common sense. It was great fun.

"The Spirit of Adventure #1"

In the fullness of time, about 7 years after I started my flying adventures, I quit one day after a brief discussion with a duck. (Of course, that's another story, and you can read it here.) I put my beloved biplane up for sale, with only one stipulation: that the new owner would have to provide his own pilot seat... I was keeping the one in which I had experienced so much joy and terror. At the time, I had no idea what I would do with the seat, but I just knew that I could not part with it. For the last 8 years, it has just sat around FastMikie's Fun House, without any real purpose, until now...

It's just the perfect size: one skinny butt wide, and yet quite well padded with shock absorbing foam (capable of +/- 5G's), and finished in burgundy leather, to match the trim on the biplane.

While all those other people you see on the live streaming video are suffering on those hard bleacher seats, there will be one person smiling away, reliving his flying days while he enjoys some great pool.

Bustamante's stroke

There are wonderful secrets hidden in Bustamante's stroke. I could watch it all day. That's one of the main reasons why I attended the Predator Pro pool school May 21-22, in Jacksonville, Florida. And it's also the reason I took this little video clip.

Bustamante was one of the 4 teachers (along with Efren Reyes, Thorsten Hohmann, and Tony Robles).

It's difficult to relate just how excellent it was to be there, working with these gods of pool, learning from them, getting their advice, not just on The game, but on My game.

Of course, the video clip is just 8 seconds, but I was there for two days, soaking it all up. Priceless!

Replay this video many times, and you will start to see the some very interesting things. Notice that on his final back swing, the cue tip is completely removed from his bridge hand. Notice the almost impossible flexibility and looseness of his wrist. And the complete follow through, ending with his stroking arm at this chest. Also note the dropped elbow, something pro instructors strongly advise against. Bustamante rewrites the rules!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

100 days of opportunity

As of today, there are 100 days remaining until the US Amateur Championship preliminary rounds. One hundred days of opportunity to learn and to practice.

Practice sessions will be modified to include, at least once a week, a match in the US Amateur format (race to 7, combination of 8-ball and 9-ball) instead of the traditional drills. Another day will be exclusively straight pool break and run. That leaves 3 days per week for PAT drills. That covers 5 nights (Mon-Fri) per week. Saturday is now reserved for 9-ball tournament. Sunday is R&R, progress review, planning, etc.

That's the general format for the practice week. Some modifications will be made as opportunity and need arises, such as focused training sessions with El Maestro, challenge matches, other tournaments, etc.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I want to win, but I shouldn't?

It was in Jacksonville, Florida, at the Predator Pro pool school, May 21-22, 2008.
In a conversation with Thorsten Hohmann, he asked me to tell him about my pool goals. I did not hesitate with my answer: "To win the US Amateur championship."

I felt pretty good about the fact that I even had pool goals, and I felt even better that I have had them written down (see Plan for Excellence in Pool). There was no question in my mind that 99% of the pool players, as well as 99% of the other human beings on the planet, do not have written goals of any kind. I have come to realize this after many years of business experience where Goals and Plans are absolutely essential if one is to succeed.

I wasn't so happy to hear Thorsten's response, which was essentially that I should not have a goal that involves winning. His reasoning is that we do not have control over winning, because we have no control over who we might draw in a tournament, we have no control over how well the opponents will play against us, etc. We only have control over how we play. And, if we play very well, then we just may win, but that is not a given. All we can do is to have as our goal "to play well".

Upon hearing this, I remembered that I have heard this
before, more than once. In fact, at the beginning of this year, I redrafted my pool goals to reflect this philosophy, and instead of stating my desire to win the US Amateur championship, and to run 100 balls in straight pool, etc, I simply called these "Possibilities".

The concept is to focus on the Process, not the Result. To be completely detached from the Outcome, and to focus solely on the Here/Now of doing the thing (the shot). This is a very Zen approach to life. The meditation is the doing of the thing. The result, the outcome is irrelevant.

So, while I had 6 months ago redrafted my goals to reflect this philosophy, I was still a person who impulsively replied that I wanted to WIN. Even though I have been intellectually converted to the concept of focusing on the Process, not the Result, I was still acting out of greed for the Win.

And again, just last week, I was sitting quietly with El Maestro, having a tall regular at Starbucks, and I slipped him a few affirmations which I had put down on a small piece of paper, a few words to keep me focused during a match. El Maestro saw the word "win" and immediately corrected me. Again. He has mentioned this very thing on more than one occasion in the past. His teaching was the impetus for me to re-phrase my goals as possibilities.

But with all of this expert coaching, I am still holding on to the need to win. Why? It could be my Type-A personality. It could have something to do with being the second born child in a family of 6 kids. It could be lots of things. What's wrong with wanting to WIN? It's totally American, isn't it? Maybe it is because I have built this bad habit over many years, and now it is difficult to teach this old dog a new trick. Maybe I just need more time to become more humble.

Yes, I want to win, and I may always want to win, but somehow I need to let go of that and focus completely on the moment of the shot, and trust that if I do that good enough, then the win will be the result.

And yet, pool is a zero-sum game. There are no trophies for "playing well". You either win, or you are just one of many names of also-rans. You are either on top of the list, or not. I truly enjoy being at the top of the list. I truly feel that it is where I naturally belong. However, according to the experts, I should not have it as a goal.

This will take some learning on my part.

Efren Reyes gets tricky

Just a little video clip of Efren Reyes doing a slick trick shot during the Predator Pro Pool School on May 21-22, 2008 in Jacksonville, Florida.

I was there, took this video, and now you can enjoy it too.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Another Saturday, another tournament

I got second place in today's 9-ball tournament at Pacific Q Billiards, this week playing as an "A" player. (Last week they made me play as a "B" player, which greatly upset me, due to my horribly overinflated ego.) Winnings go to the worthy cause.

I played well, stayed focused, made some good shots. Felt good all the way through until the last match when my back started hurting. I lost to El Maestro in the finals, which should really be counted as a win because everybody loses to El Maestro in the finals.

Last night's practice was another go at the PAT-1 test, and I continued to make small improvements and achieved a new high score of 1320(?).

In other news, which I have been loathe to blog, I lost a match this past Monday night, playing 9-ball on a barbox, giving up 3 games on the wire in a race to 7, to a player who was shooting much better than his handicap. I was having trouble getting the speed of the table, and the cushions react much differently than normal (9') tables. I hadn't played on a barbox in about a year. I have a deep-seated dislike of these tables. I did stay in the match mentally, but the win was not to be. However, it was good mental practice.

Friday, June 06, 2008

PAT-1, try 2

Last night was my second try with the PAT-1 test. I thought I was doing ok until I got to about the middle of the test, and then it felt like things started to fall apart and I got to thinking that I was really doing worse than than I did in the previous attempt.

I began the practice routine late, and I felt that I was rushing to finish the test on time. Rushing increases missed shots and/or missed position. This leads me to realize that I need to find some way to relax, take my time on each and every shot, as though that shot is the most important shot I'll ever make.

As it turned out, my score last night was a slight improvement: 1,265 (vs. 1,221) out of a possible 1549. I'm going to give it another go tonight, and focus on each shot.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Playing Ability Test (PAT-1): First Look, First Attempt

I had a few minutes before last night's practice session began, so I skimmed through the Playing Ability Test, Level 1 (Beginner to Intermediate) workbook I just got. As mentioned, it was the only one left, and I didn't know if I was at level 1 or 2, so decided to just start at the beginning and see what it was all about.

With only a cursory look, I could tell that this PAT test is really a most excellent product. Very structured and well thought out, as you might expect from the German authors. I resolved to drop my existing practice drills and start right in on the PAT tests and see what happens.

The workbook says that the PAT-1 should take about 3 hours, and since that's all I have scheduled for practice, I got right into it as soon as Practice Assistant Dave showed up. We spent about 20 minutes to go over the concepts and the way the scores are calculated, then spent the next 2 hours and 40 minutes doing the PAT-1.

My score was 1,221 out of a possible 1,549 which means that I would be qualified to move immediately to the PAT-2. Of course the tests must be administered by a qualified professional to be counted, but this practice session gives me an idea of where I would score. We kept accurate records, and even though I missed shots due to misunderstanding some of the instructions, and because I was rushing through to get done, we counted the misses truthfully and moved on without do-overs, just as it would be done in a real test situation. I figure I should be able to score a good bit higher than the 1,221 for the PAT-1 and will continue to work on it until I get the PAT-2 workbook.

There were 10 different drills in the PAT-1, the last one being a 9-ball run out situation, where the balls are set up in a particular pattern. What you see in the video is what happened on my first two attempts to run out (the test gives 3 attempts). Although I was successful with the first two attempts, the position play was not pretty, but it was effective.

I have ordered the PAT-1, 2, and 3 videos from Thorsten Hohmann's eBay store, and the PAT-2 and 3 workbooks from Bebob Publishing, so there will be more posts on this unique rating system.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Banking with The Beard

Bank shots are just one of many areas of my game that needs improvement, so when I saw that the bank legend "The Beard" put out a new product, I jumped at the chance to learn more. This morning I finished playing this very well done 2-DVD set of "Banks That Don't Go - But Do!"

All I can say is "Wow!!". You have to see some of these bank shots for yourself, or you wouldn't believe it. The set of two DVDs is 49.95 and shipping is free. Click here to order.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Please Help Me Cure My Madness!

The Ferrari California (click image for a bigger photo)

Love is a madness, and I have fallen in love. Gaze above, if you will, at the object of my madness: The all-new Ferrari California. The first Ferrari with a retractable hardtop, the first with a front-engine V8, and lines so lust-worthy that I fear that I have no option but to have one of these for my very own.

This madness will necessitate some major adjustments to my life-style. First of all, I will need to go back to work to raise the quarter of a million dollars (yes, it is truly a madness!) this beast will cost at a minimum. But I will need a job that pays much more than that because I'll have to buy a new home because right now I only have one parking spot, and with the Ferrari I'd need two spots because you surely can not drive this work of art every day, especially on short trips for haircuts, etc. (Maybe I could cut my own hair, to solve that problem, and to save money?)

There will be some challenges, of course. First of all, there are few jobs available that pay in the upper six figures per year, fewer still that would entertain the idea of hiring someone in the middle of their seventh decade of life. If that were not enough, I have a personal defect that makes me quite unsuitable for most of those jobs that would be available: I'm a lazy lad. I think I would need a job that I could do from the comforts of my hammock.

The worst thought of all is that if I were to find such a job that would pay what is needed to acquire the object of my affections, that it would impinge on my search for Truth and Beauty in the art of pocket billiards. It is almost unthinkable, of course, but such is the depth of my madness.

So, clearly, a job is out of the question. Therefore, I am reduced to begging. I throw myself at your feet, dear reader, humbly asking for your help to find a cure for my madness, and to keep me shooting pool. All donations gratefully accepted. And there may even be a free ride in it for you. Imagine this screaming banshee pulling Gs up Torrey Pines hill... oh, I'm getting all excited just thinking about it.

Click the button below. Use PayPal to send me your loose change and dog-eared C-notes. You know you want me to get well. You know you want a ride! Please? I'm begging you! Oh, the misery of Love...

Or, if you prefer, send checks and large suitcases full of cash to:

PO Box 2270
Del Mar, CA 92014

Many thanks...

Monday, June 02, 2008

Expect the Unexpected

This past Saturday, at the weekly Pacific Q Billiards tournament, it seemed that many circumstances conspired to put me into a mental state that could best be described as unsettled.

El Maestro has many times advised me that I should expect the unexpected, to be ready for it when it happens, and to not let it have any effect on my game, or, rather, to deal with it when it happens, and then get right back into my game. I didn't fare too well with this on Saturday.

I made plans to play the tournament the night before, and got plenty of sleep to be well rested. My plan was to do some light exercise, breakfast early, then a light lunch before leaving for the 1pm tournament at noon. What I forgot completely was that I had scheduled an appointment for Saturday morning with an electrician to check out the Fun House for the upgrade to a Brunswick pool table light to match my Gold Crown IV. I almost never make appointments before noon, but in this case I made an exception to accommodate the electrician's schedule.

His visit threw off my pre-tournament preparation plans, and everything was much too rushed to be effective. I got to the site with what I thought was only 10 minutes to prepare and hit a few balls. Again, Fate had other plans. The tournament was scheduled for 2pm, not 1pm, but I didn't know that and just kept hitting balls, alone, wondering more and more as time passed why there were only 5 players on site for the tournament. At 2pm, Tony Sorto (El Maestro) shows up for the tournament, but still not enough players are there, so he and I hit a few racks of 9-ball. This goes on for another hour, while we wait for the tournament director to get another player.

By now, I'm hungry (no lunch before I left) and start in on some French fries, which was absolutely the wrong thing to do, but it was the best of the bad fried food available. After the fries, I'm tired, and fully expecting that there will be no tournament, and if I had any competitive edge before, it was fast disappearing.

Finally, when I least expected it, the tournament is on, and my first match is against El Maestro himself, everyone's worst nightmare for a draw. He does not lose! In my case, since he has been my teacher for the last 4 years, and I have seen his game close-up and know probably better than anyone what he is capable of, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to put myself in a positive attitude of expecting to win. Of course, I lose.

The next match was against James, who beat me in the last tournament 3-0, so I was looking forward to a chance to get even. Now the most unexpected thing happens: they announce that James has to spot me the 8! WTF? The tournament director thinks I am a "B" player? When did I get demoted? I didn't get that notice? In fact, I have NEVER been a "B" player... I went from a C directly to an A, more than two years ago. (Check out this great story on that topic.)

This B player status was so unexpected that I lost it completely. Even James was thrown off by it, as he was expecting to play me even A to A, just the way we played last time. What I should have done was to just inform the tournament director that I wanted to play as an A, to refuse the spot, and carry on without any undue emotion. That's what I should have done. I won't go into detail about what I did do, only to mention that it was not what I should have done.

I did win the match against James, and up next was Mark, who I beat in straight pool last week 60-26, but straight is not his game. Nine ball is his game, so I needed to be on guard. The match went hill - hill, and he broke and ran the final rack for the win. I didn't play exceptionally well, and missed one shot because I was trying a shot I shouldn't have been trying during a match. Practice, yes. Match, no.

That put me in my seat for good, with the opportunity to video Tony's remaining matches. This was the first time I've done any videos of him in competition. I'll be studying them closely for clues to his extraordinary skill, and hopefully be able to adapt them to my game. Look for a video clip or two to appear here soon.

Unexpected start time delays, unexpected rating, unexpected format, unexpected weak pre-match preparation, unexpected initial draw, unexpected reactions...

So, the lesson of the day is to expect the unexpected. It WILL happen. And, as we know all too well, "It's not what happens to you, it's what you do about it
that matters."

Sunday, June 01, 2008

PAT - Playing Ability Test

In my continuing search for excellence (perfection?) in pool, a journey that has consumed much of the last 4 and a half years of my life, I have been looking for some objective method to determine how my skill compares with other players...

The APA has a system they call the Equalizer, but of course it is flawed in many respects, not the least of which is sandbagging. Another way of determining skill is by competition, but there is no way that all competitors can match up with all other competitors.

As my awareness of the pool scene grew, I remained unaware of a suitable way of rating player performance, and I felt that sooner or later I would have to, if nobody else did, invent some way of objectively measuring and ranking player ability world-wide. (Yes, I sometimes get carried away in my ambitions. It's the megalomaniac in me.)

Fortunately for me, it has already been done. I say fortunately because while I am ambitions, I am also quite lazy, so my recent discovery of the PAT (Playing Ability Test) has saved me a lot of work.

What is PAT?

PAT stands for Playing Ability Test, and is much more than just a method to test the playing abilities of billiard players. It is, in fact, a system to assess the skills that one needs to play good pool on the basis of exercises evaluated. Those skills are defined in ten sectors - ten aspects of the game. Additionally, this system may always be applied as a model to plan short, mid and long term training programs.

The system was developed by Ralph Eckert, Jorgen Sandman and Andreas Huber, and is used and recommended by The European Pocket Billiard Federation, the World Pool Billiard Association, and the ACS (American Cue Sports, which is the exclusive publisher and distributor of the PAT manuals in North America).

The first publication of the PAT is dated 2006, but it seems to have been a very low-key adventure because I have just recently learned about it. The website is

Anyone serious about the game is advised to check into it further.

I started looking into PAT before I left for the Jacksonville pool school, and as coincidence would have it, I got talking with Thorsten Hohmann about it, and he had several of the DVDs, but they were in the European "PAL" format (USA=NTSC), so could not be played over here. Today I noticed that Thorsten is qualified at the highest level (level 3) of the PAT, with the 4th highest score worldwide.

Yesterday I received the PAT 1 workbook (for beginners to intermediate players) which describes the various tests involved, and how the ratings are calculated. The book was sent to me via Fedex by Joseph Mejia of San Francisco Billiards, one of the few testing facilities in the USA. I haven't met Joseph, yet, but I already trust him simply because he trusted me by sending his last copy of the book without pre-payment, and on my honor to send him a check for $25 by return mail.

San Francisco Billiard Academy is a BCA Certified Master Academy, the highest level of BCA teaching credentials. Bob Jewett is an instructor there.

Joseph says that there will be a PAT test given sometime in June, and I plan to check it out, so stay tuned for more...