Mind Games

It’s all in your head, they say. Sometimes, this is brought home all too clearly.

I’m sitting in my chair, in the finals of the tournament. Up to now, I have battled many
excellent players, and it’s all come down to this last match. My opponent is an excellent
player with a cool head, and he rarely misses. I know that in order to beat him, I’m
going to have to play smart, aggressively, and flawlessly. And I have been; we’re hill-hill
now, and neither of us has made any major mistakes.

My opponent won the lag and we have gone back and forth the whole match. It’s my
turn to rack for him in this final game. I approach the table, and take a deep breath as I
retrieve the rack and balls from the table. Placing them on the table, I quickly rack the
balls, 9 in the center, 1 at the front. With a practiced hand, I quickly tighten them up,
ensuring there are no gaps, and lift the rack. It’s time for him to break.

Once I get back to my seat, I take another deep breath, and watch as he takes aim. I
have seen him break before; they call him “Earthquake” for very good reason. With a
thundering crack! he sends the balls scattering, racing around the table looking for a
hole. It only takes a few seconds for them to settle down, but to me, they take forever,
as I somehow track each ball, silently praying that none of them find a pocket.

By some miracle, the 9 balls stay up on the table, as the 9-ball trickles toward the corner
pocket. Somehow, it stays up, and I’m up like a shot, ready to run the table. This is my

I quickly survey the table, and it’s time to go to work.

1-ball goes into the side pocket, cue-ball travels down the end rail for a shot on the 2 in
the corner.

After making the 2-ball, I send the cue-ball to the other end of the table, for a perfect
straight-in shot on the 3.

I make the 3, drawing the cue ball back to the side rail so I have a shot on the 4 and 5
balls in the other corner.

The 4 and 5 are pieces of cake, and after potting them, the cue ball makes its way to
the center of the table for the 6-ball in the side.

The 7 is clustered up with the 8-ball, but it shouldn’t be a problem after getting on the 6-
ball at the perfect angle. An easy follow pots the 6, and bumps the 8 away.

At this point, the 7-ball is a tricky cut shot down the rail into the far corner pocket. With
some focus, however, it’s not too difficult, and after potting the 7, the 8 is a no-brainer.

With a little victory dance in my heart, the 9-ball, sitting on the very edge in the corner
pocket, is an easy win.

At this point, I have reached the table. I am chalking my stick, an important part of my
pre-shot routine, feeling very confident. The balls are still on the table; the runout was
all done in my head, and I’m ready to complete my plan, win the match, and hoist my

Suddenly, a roar erupts from the crowd, and my opponent is dancing around, his cue
raised high over his head. I close my eyes… I don’t want to look. Slowly, I turn to the
table, open my eyes, and make a horrific discovery: The 9-ball fell in the pocket. My
heart drops to my feet as I realize the truth.

It’s over. I have lost. My opponent approaches me, his hand out-stretched. I want
nothing more than to grab his hand in a crushing grip,”congratulating” him on his
tremendous fortune. I want to tell him how lucky he is, because I was so going to run
that table!

I want to. But I don’t. I smile the best I can, shake his hand, and congratulate him. Let
him have his moment. Next time, he won’t be so lucky.

In my head, I won.

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