Viva Las Vegas: Your Guide to the Championship Tournament

Download a PDF of this article

You Made it to Vegas! Now What???

So, you’re going to Las Vegas to play in the championship event? Congratulations! Are you prepared?

Prepared for what, you ask? Good question! You’ve come to the right place!

If you have been to Las Vegas to play pool, then you may know some of the things I am going to share with you. Hopefully, you’ll find a few nuggets of information that will help you have a better experience.

If you have not been to Vegas yet, then I hope these tips I am going to share will give you a bit of an advantage over those who have not had the wisdom to read my column.

There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get right to it!

Preparation

Obviously, you want to be prepared for your tournament. If it’s your first tournament, your nerves might get the best of you. Don’t worry, that happens to the best of us. I would suggest entering some local tournaments to get used to pressure.

If possible, play against another team in the same format as your upcoming Vegas tournament. Give yourself real stakes to play for to get you into “competition mode.” Once you get to Vegas, you should be ready to take anyone on!

Plan your stay

Consider staying an extra day or two to enjoy Las Vegas. There is a lot to do there, including visiting the many casinos, seeing various shows, or riding awesome thrill rides. You don’t want to worry about trying to make the Cirque du Soleil show time if your match runs late; you need to stay focused on your game. Planning on extra “fun” days allows you to focus on the task at hand.

Try to arrive a day early, at the very least. If your flight is delayed, or even worse, canceled, you want to make sure you have plenty of time to make it without forfeiting your first match!

When you are planning your stay, try to book your room as early as you can. You want to stay in a room close to the tournament area to minimize walking distance. Most of the time the hotel has deals associated with the tournament, so don’t forget to ask.

Find out what restaurants are nearby – food is usually good in the casino, but can be pricey. There are many restaurants in Las Vegas, and if you shop around you can save some money.

If you’re on a tight budget, consider bringing food with you. If you’re flying and bringing food isn’t an option, go to the grocery store and pick up a few things: breakfast cereal, sandwich makings, some hard-boiled eggs, etc. Don’t forget snacks, too.

Know the Dress Code

Playing in the tournament is very similar to going to a job interview. Dress to impress. Do not show up in jeans, shorts, flip-flops, and tank tops. Most tournaments have a dress policy, so make sure you read it and pack accordingly.

And don’t toe the line. Just because the tournament rules say you can wear nice jeans with no rips or holes doesn’t mean that’s what you should wear. Consider wearing slacks; they are comfortable and light, and they look good. Have you ever seen the way Rodney Morris dresses? He always looks better than everyone in the room. And now he’s in the Hall of Fame (Congrats, Rocket!).

Don’t wear tennis shoes (except to walk to and from the tournament room). Get yourself a nice pair of loafers or dress shoes that are comfortable and dressy. If they are new, wear them for a week or two before the tournament so you don’t get blisters.

Many tournaments require the team to wear matching shirts. I recommend you do this even if it’s not a rule. It will help to build the team dynamic, and it will be more intimidating to your opponents. Only wear those shirts when you’re playing a match, however. Bring a change of shirt with you so you can keep the shirt as clean as possible. You should have a couple of them; you may need to wear them for over a week.

Traveling

Of course, we could write a whole book on good traveling tips. I want to focus on your equipment. You need to make sure your equipment gets to Las Vegas safely.

If you are going to take your cues on the plane with you, I strongly urge you to check it. Hoping that TSA is going to let you take it on the plane as carry-on is a gamble, and you don’t want the hassle if they won’t. I recommend purchasing a cue travel case to protect the cues. They are a very sound investment, and you can pack extra things in it with your cue.

You might consider having the cues shipped via FedEx or UPS to your hotel, if you don’t trust the airlines to handle your cues properly. Another option is to have a friend take them with them if they are driving. But then, you risk not having your cues if they are delayed or detained.

Of course, if you followed my earlier advice and got to the tournament early, then you might still have time to get your cues if they didn’t end up on the flight with you for some reason.

When booking your flight, try to get a direct flight, even if it costs a little more. Connecting flights increase the possibility of delays and lost or delayed luggage.

Arrival

When you get to your hotel, you will face many temptations. The slot machines and tables might try to lure you in, and you'll probably be very excited to check out the tournament rooms. Don't worry, there will be plenty of time for that – you did arrive early like I suggested, right?

First things first: Check in. They will give you the lay of the land. Go immediately to your room and unpack. Believe me, you don't want to get back to your room later in the evening (or worse, early morning!) only to have to root through your suitcases. Settle in first.

And before you leave the room to check out the tournament areas, put on a good pair of walking shoes!

Prepare for a LOT of walking

If you have a FitBit, use it! You're going to walk a LOT while you're in the tournament. If walking is a problem for you, most hotels have scooters that you can rent by the day or week. You may want to ask them about it when you are booking the room (I hope you're reading this before you leave, and not after you have checked in!). Be aware that many tournaments do not allow you to take the scooter into the tournament room. However, they will definitely save you a lot of walking to and from the tournament areas.

Make sure you wear comfortable shoes. I like to wear dress shoes when I'm shooting, so for walking to and from the tournament I'll wear a pair of sneakers, then change them when I get to the table. I only wear the dress shoes when I am in a match.

Don't forget anything in your room. I once forgot my chalk, and Aurora offered to run back to the room to get it for me. It took her 17 minutes round-trip! I think I still owe her for that, and it was 3 years ago!

Now, she and I are very prepared. She has a large tote bag with wheels and a handle that we use to haul everything. It can hold her purse, another bag with her iPad, extra shoes for her and me (she insists on wearing heels most of time—can you imagine walking through the casino in them?), bottles of water, and snacks. A flight attendant’s overnight bag will work, too. Trust me, you'll thank me later!

Aurora also acts as my caddy. Having a person with your team who is willing to fetch things for you will really save you time, and allow you to focus on the task at hand: winning the match! She will fetch water, get the score sheet, and grab food, snacks and anything else that will save us from having to walk even more. If you have someone willing to do these things for you you'll be very grateful. Make sure you buy them a spa treatment while you're there.

Get a lay of the land

Ok, you have everything you need, comfortable shoes on your feet, and you're ready to play some pool! You may want to head down to the practice rooms about now. Since it's your first time in the tournament rooms, make sure you familiarize yourself with your surroundings and the locations of some key areas.

Most of the Vegas tournaments will have multiple rooms filled with pool tables. Find them, and note the table numbers in each. When you are assigned a table, you'll need to know where they are. This shouldn't be difficult; there are usually many signs posted with the information you need.

Find out where the Tournament Desk is. This is the hub of the tournament; they will hand out assignments and score sheets here, and it is where you need to return your score sheet once you have won your match. This is also the place to go if you have questions.

Since you are here, find out when your first match will be, and where it will be played. Most tournaments have this information available for days before the event, and will have the information online. If you don't know yet, now is the time to find out. If this is a team event, make sure all of your teammates know this information as well.

Most Vegas pool tournaments will have many vendors in attendance. I would tell you to go find them, but you really can't miss them. It might be a good idea to shop around a little bit to find out where the repair vendors are (in case you need to replace a tip), and where the best deals are on items you might need to replace (chalk, bridges, gloves, or even sticks).

Many booths have famous spokespersons working with them. If there is someone you'd like to meet, find out when his or her scheduled appearances are. For example, one of my favorites is Stefano Pelinga; he is a very nice guy, and always takes the time to talk to his fans. Tiger has sponsored him for quite some time, so you may get a chance to play a few trick shots with him.

You will find water stations everywhere… make sure you know where they are; it's a good idea to stay hydrated. And on a related note, observe where the bathrooms are. If you have to go in the middle of a match, you'll want to know how close the nearest one is.

Finally, make sure you know where you're going to eat breakfast. It truly is the most important meal of the day, and you need to start the day with a good meal. At the Rio, I recommend the Hash House. It's on the way to the tournament rooms, and serves an excellent breakfast. If you're trying to avoid the expense, then make sure you have some good breakfast foods in your room. A Power Bar and a Red Bull aren't going to cut it.

Meeting the pros

As I mentioned, many professionals will be in attendance. If there is a pro event going on, you will see many of them walking around. Most of them love to talk to their fans so don't be shy. However, make sure you give them some respect.

Be aware of what's going on. If they look like they are in a hurry to get somewhere, then leave them alone. They are there for the fans, but they are also there to focus and play their best, too. If you see them eating breakfast at the table next to you, you might want to let them eat in peace. Use your best judgment; you can usually tell by their body language whether they are receptive to being asked for an autograph.

Practice

Now that you are familiar with the tournament layout, you might want to get some practice time in. There are a couple of things to consider when you are looking for a place to shoot, and when you are practicing.

They will usually have a practice room set up. If they do, they probably have rules about not shooting on tournament tables. Respect the rules; don't just jump on a table when nobody is looking.

If they do allow you to practice on any open table, be aware of matches that may be in progress around you. Don't choose a table immediately next to a current match. Try to find a place where you won't be in their way.

If you have no choice, then respect their play; they should always have the right-of-way. They should never have to wait for you or ask you to move. Put yourself in their shoes; the last thing they need is some inconsiderate buffoon making them lose their focus.

If there are people waiting to play, be considerate. Don't practice for hours. Allow others to use the tables too. Common sense should prevail here.

Pre-Game

We call this practice, but in reality, you are at the big tournament, aren't you? The time for practice has passed. Your goal should be to get warmed up and ready for your matches. If you spend hours on the table playing game after game, you're just going to tire yourself out. You never see baseball players playing a game before the game, do you? No. They do batting practice, throw a few balls, and stretch.

Sometimes, though, you want to practice a shot you had trouble with during your last match. Focus on getting that shot down. Shoot plenty of times until you are confident that you won't have a problem with it again.

When warming up, take easy shots. You want to build up your confidence; confidence is what wins games and in a big tournament where it's easy to lose your confidence anything you can do to build it up will help. Just warm up your arm and get loose.

When it's time to play your match, make sure you get to your tables early to get a feel for them. You are usually assigned two tables to speed up the match. When you get on the table, you have a few goals.

First, learn the 3-cushion route to the corner pocket. I won't go into the details here, but if you've read my other articles, you know how important it is to know how the rails affect the path of the balls.

Next, check to make sure the tables are level by hitting a slow ball down the length of the table. Do the same across the width of the table at both ends. Observe any drift, and share this information with your teammates.

Hit a few practice shots to get a feel for the table’s speed and cushion response.

Most importantly, whatever the condition of the table is, accept it. Do not complain about problems – accept them, share with your teammates, and realize that if you know and your opponent does not, you have an advantage.

Intimidate your opponents

When you are warming up before a match, don't try difficult shots. You don't need to impress anyone. Sure, you might scare your opponents if you make a tough cut shot, but if you miss, your opponent will just end up feeling more confident: "awesome, these guys are fallible. We can beat them."

Instead, shoot some easy shots. Set up a few stop shots, and focus more on the fundamentals. Pop those balls into the pocket, one after another. You might think they are watching you, thinking "this guy only shoots easy shots," but the sound of the balls repeatedly popping into the pockets will get into his psyche. Trust me, this works.

Laugh and joke with your teammates. This shows them that you guys work well together, and enjoy being with each other. You're all friends. Even if there is a guy on your team you normally don't like and wouldn't give the time of day... today, you love him.

However, you should also be serious. Don’t overdo the joking and laughing. Your opponents need to know that you mean business.

You're probably nervous. Guess what? So are they. Just realize that your opponents are scared, just like you are. Don’t show it, but realize they feel it too. Give them a reason to be afraid.

If this is your first time here, do NOT tell them. They don't need to feel like they are more experienced than you. However, if this is NOT your first time here, talk about previous trips. They'll be thinking, “Oh, wow, these guys have been here before. They really know what they are doing!”

Match Time

When it’s time for you to play, there are a few things to consider. Every tournament has its rules, and you should be very familiar with them. Learn them; ignorance of the rules is no excuse. I would like to cover a few things they don’t usually put into the rulebook.

Above and beyond, play the game with dignity and respect. If you do that, everything else will fall into place. For those who need a little help in this regard, here are a few tips:

When it’s not your turn to shoot, sit in your seat and wait for your turn. Be aware of any rules regarding talking to your teammates when you’re not shooting. In some tournaments, it is not allowed.

When you are at the table, be aware of your surroundings. Sometimes you might have to wait for another player to shoot because they are in the way of your shot. Don’t let it bother you… if it interrupts your rhythm, go get a sip of your water, wait for her to finish, then go shoot your shot.

Make sure when you are playing that you stay hydrated, and try to make sure you eat before your match. If you don’t have the time to eat a meal, then consider having a snack. A candy bar, granola bar, or trail mix are good options. And always stay hydrated.

Don’t drink. This isn’t necessarily a rule. It’s more of a guideline, and my strong recommendation. Even if the tournament allows you to have alcohol in the tournament rooms (most do), try to refrain from drinking. It does not improve your game, and if anything, it encourages you to be a little “loose” with the recommendations I have provided. Don’t be “that guy.”

When you are not playing a match, be there for your teammates. Cheer for them and offer them a high-five or fist bump when they do well. Remember that confidence is the key to winning tournaments, so bolster each other and be supportive. Even if you don’t like the guy; for now, he’s your best friend!

Respect your opponents. Don’t always assume that they are cheating, or sharking, or being otherwise underhanded. And if they are doing those things, don’t retaliate. Play your game and be above all of that.

Disputes

If you do have a dispute with your opponent, don’t argue or escalate the issue. Calmly call a referee over to help out. They are there to solve disputes, and to watch questionable shots in case of a possible foul.

To call a ref, usually you walk to the middle of the table arena and hold your stick high in the air. Don’t scream out “REF!” You wouldn’t want someone to do that to you when you are down on a shot. Wait until the referee sees you and walks to your table.

If your opponent is about to shoot a shot and you think he might foul, politely tell him that you would like to have a referee watch the shot. Do not do this when he is mid-stroke. You should have plenty of time to tell him before he gets down on the shot. And when your opponent tells you he wants a referee to watch your shot, smile and say “sure thing!” He’s not trying to shark you.

When the referee has made their decision, it’s final. No… it’s FINAL. Do NOT argue with them. If you truly feel that a referee is not being fair, then you can file a complaint later. For now, simply accept the decision and play on. You don’t want to be the story everyone is talking about later that night: the team that got thrown out of the tournament.

Play with dignity and respect, and you’ll have no problems.

Other Considerations

If your tournament run is over, there is still plenty more to do! Don’t despair; you can still have a lot of fun!

  • If you have other teams from your room or area in the tournament, go be their cheerleaders!
  • Enter a Mini-Tournament. These are usually going on all day every day. They are usually single eliminations, 8 players, and cost $10 to play for a first place prize of $50. Just don’t enter one when you’re about to play a match, thinking you’ll be done in time. Your main tournament takes precedence; your teammates are counting on you.
  • Enjoy the Las Vegas nightlife (and day life too!). Go see a show or find a great restaurant. Visit Hoover Dam. Go ride a roller coaster. Just be safe, and travel with friends.

 

Conclusion

Las Vegas can be scary, intimidating, and quite overwhelming to someone who hasn’t been there before. Just remember that more than half of the people there are new, too! If you follow the plan I have outlined, and go to Las Vegas prepared, you give yourself quite the advantage over the others who have not had the privilege of reading my column.

If you are a veteran, then you know most of what I have said. I hope I was able to impart a little bit of knowledge to you as well. If you have some green players on your team or from your room attending the Vegas Championships for the first time, take them under your wing and show them how it’s done.

Have fun, be respectful, and take home that trophy!

And if you see me there, please be sure to say hello. Unless I’m eating breakfast. Then, leave me the @#$% alone! 😉

 

If you have any questions you’d like me to ask, use #AskTheBilliardsProfessor on Twitter (@billiardsprof) or drop me a line at pool@billiardsprofessor.com. I can also be found hanging out with fellow billiards enthusiasts at reddit.com/r/billiards. Come on by and join the discussion!

Download a PDF of this article

Posted in APA, Article, BCAPL, General, Tournaments

Billiards for Everyone

A Guide to Fun Handicapping

The last two months focused on some fun games to play when you are bored with the old “standards.” This month, we’re going to focus on playing the games you’re most familiar with.  With a bit of a twist.

So, you’re hitting balls around at your local watering hole.  You’re bored.  You’re even contemplating playing some Reverse Pool or Honolulu, when a friend comes in and wants to play.  Awesome!

The only problem is, he is MUCH better than you, and whenever you play him, you end up watching him shoot from the comfort of your chair.

Wouldn’t it be nice to come up with a way of making things a little more even?  Fear not, dear reader, the Billiards Professor is here to help!

Ideally, you want to make the game harder for the better player, and easier for the lesser player.  In a perfect world, once you’ve come up with a handicap that works, you should win about half of the games.  So, no, making him shoot with one hand using a broomstick is probably not fair.  Let’s come up with some fun ways of evening the score.

8-Ball

Make the better player shoot the balls in order.  Standard rules apply, but in order for him to keep shooting, he must shoot his balls into the pocket in order.  There are a couple of ways to play this.  The hardest is that if he does not hit the lowest ball first, it’s a foul (like 9-ball).  This makes it VERY difficult for him to play safeties, and gives the lesser player a huge advantage.  If you’re a rank amateur playing Earl Strickland, this might be fair.  But probably not. An easier way is to allow him to strike any of his balls first (like standard 8-ball WPA rules), but he still must pocket the balls in order.

Here a couple of other rules to make things more difficult:

  • The better player must bank a certain number of his shots (for example, he must bank at least 3 balls during his run). It’s up to the other player to make him comply by reminding him.
  • The lesser player, at any time during the better player’s turn, may call “my turn” to end the other player’s turn no matter what. The player at that point may still shoot the current shot, but must then give up the table, whether he makes it or not. The lesser player can do this only a set number of times – start with one time.
  • After the break, the lesser player can move/remove balls. For example, he may move the 8-ball to any spot on the table.  Or, he may remove any 3 balls and pocket them.
  • The lesser player gets ball in hand whenever he returns to the table. This one is a good one to give a player if you still want a good chance to beat them.  Most players think this gives them a huge advantage, but it’s not as good as they think.  Same with allowing him to remove balls after the break; all that does is give you more room to run balls without interference!

There are other ways to handicap other games as well.  You could restrict the better player in 14.1 to only running 14 balls at a time.  You can always allow the lesser player to break.  In One-Pocket, it’s common for people betting on the game to give “weight.”  If I play Scott Frost, for example, I might want to make it a 10-6 race instead of the standard 8-8.

Some handicaps give you a very distinct advantage, and some only a little.  Mix things up a bit, and see what works best for you.  Try playing a game where one of you plays reverse pool, and the other plays “normal.” You’d be surprised at that strategies you come up with when trying to play safe!

 

I would really like to hear from you about some of the games and special rules and handicaps you have come up with. Feel free to email me and tell me your stories!

If you have any questions you’d like me to ask, use #AskTheBilliardsProfessor on Twitter (@billiardsprof) or drop me a line at pool@billiardsprofessor.com. I can also be found hanging out with fellow billiards enthusiasts at reddit.com/r/billiards. Come on by and join the discussion!

Posted in Article, Handicapping, Table Talk, The Break / Rackem / Stroke Magazines

Billiards For Bored Players — Reverse Pool

This month’s game for bored players calls upon your carom skills. It’s called Reverse Pool, or if you are less politically correct, it’s also been referred to as Irish Pool or Kentucky Pool.

The rules may vary, and you are certainly welcome to add your own set of rules if you like. Here is how my friends and I play the game:

The object of the game is to be the first to make 8 balls.

To make a shot legally, you shoot the intended ball off of the cue ball and into the pocket you called. Banks, kicks, and other caroms do not matter – all that is required is that you shoot the object ball into the called pocket, and at some point during the shot, it must contact the cue ball.

To be clear, you are hitting the object ball with your cue stick, and making it carom off of the white cue ball before it goes into the pocket. Got that?

Rack up all of the balls like you’re playing 8-ball, with the balls in any order. The 8-ball does not need to be in the center. Replace one of the object balls with the cue ball (You’re going to use the replaced ball – for example, the 1-ball – to break). The cue ball can go anywhere in the rack, and you will want to place it in a spot where you can carom the break ball off it into a called pocket.

Yes, you call your shot even on the break.

I like to place the cue ball on one of the corners of the rack. With a good firm break, I can make my ball in the corner pocket off the cue ball and get a pretty good spread on the rack.

Place the 1-ball (or whatever object ball you chose) behind the head string, and break the rack open. Make sure you call your shot before breaking. If you make it, you continue shooting. If you do not, it’s your opponent’s turn.

Any other balls made on your shot count toward your score, as long as you made the ball you called. If you miss and other balls go in, bring them up and spot them.

A foul gives your opponent cue ball in hand. Fouls include:

  • You do not hit the cue ball and then a rail.
  • The object ball goes into the wrong pocket or the right pocket without hitting the cue ball.
  • The cue ball goes into any pocket.

This is a very fun game, and it helps you with your carom/billiard abilities. Sometimes, playing a different game like this one or Honolulu (see last month’s article) will help you to see the table in a different way, and you may see shots in your regular play that you didn’t consider before!

Here are a couple of variations:

  • Place the cue ball in the center of the rack for the break, and break using the 8-ball. Player gets to shoot after the break always, and any ball made on the break is spotted.
  • Try this game playing 8-ball. You must hit the cue ball before hitting your opponent’s ball; otherwise, it’s a foul.
  • For an added challenge, only balls going into the pocket cleanly off of the cue ball are counted (similar to bank pool rules).

 

Have you played this game, or something similar? Have a question about the rules, or any other question? Use #AskTheBilliardsProfessor on Twitter (@billiardsprof) or drop me a line at pool@billiardsprofessor.com. I can also be found hanging out with fellow billiards enthusiasts at reddit.com/r/billiards. Come on by and join the discussion!

Posted in Article, Table Talk, The Break / Rackem / Stroke Magazines

Billiards for Bored Players — Honolulu

How many times have you gone to the pool hall to practice, or bang the ball with your friends, only to feel a little blasé about the usual games?  8-ball just seems so… plain, and you’re just not feeling 9-ball.  Straight pool?  Boring!  One-Pocket?  Um… what part of “boring” didn’t you understand?

It would sure be nice if there were some other games to play, wouldn’t it?

Fear not, my friend! I’m here to help!

Over the next few articles, I’m going to teach you some new games to play. Hopefully, these will help you out on those days when you want to play something a little more unconventional!

This month’s game is Honolulu.  Other names for this game are Banks, Kisses and Combos, or Indirect.  It’s a very similar game to Banks. The object of the game of Honolulu is to be the first player to pocket 8 balls.

A ball only counts if you make it in the pocket you call.  And it only counts if you make it by any means, except straight in.

That’s right – you can bank it, kick it, carom, or make a combo.  As long as you call the ball and pocket, and it goes in any other way than straight into the pocket, you score a point and continue your turn at the table.

The caveat here is that you cannot “kick” or “bank” off of the rail that’s connected to the pocket.  So, a shot that goes into the corner after brushing the rail just before it goes in does NOT count – that’s considered a straight-in shot.

Called shots must even be made on the break.  A common call is the head ball in the side pocket.  If you do not pocket a called ball, 2 balls must hit a rail. Failure to do so is a foul.

Fouls are standard: failure to hit a rail after striking a ball, scratching, and hitting the cue ball off of the table are all fouls.  The penalty for fouling is the loss of a ball. If you have made balls, one ball is brought back to the table and is spotted on the foot spot.  If you do not have any balls down, you will owe a ball.

Honolulu is a fantastic game to practice some of your more unorthodox shots. It also teaches you to look at the table a little differently, and may open your eyes to new possibilities that you may not have considered in a standard game of 8-ball.

If this game is a little too challenging for you, you might consider playing with 9 balls, instead of 15, and the first person to make 5 balls wins.

Another variation is to take ball-in-hand for every shot, or at the beginning of each inning.  Sounds like this would be easy, but believe me, it’s still challenging.  This is also a good way to handicap your game if your opponent is a weaker player – they get ball in hand every time, and you do not.

Posted in Article, Table Talk, The Break / Rackem / Stroke Magazines

Dealing with Downtime

Playing the Hurry-Up-and-Wait Game

Recently, we talked about what to do when you’re not at the table: you must continue to do your job while you are sitting in your chair.

Today, we’ll talk about what to do when you’re not playing, and you are waiting for your next match. Maybe that’s what you’re doing right now, while reading this article!

If you have played in any tournaments, you know what I’m talking about.  Some of them are very well-run, with plenty of tables.  Some are, well, not so well-run, or don’t have enough tables to accommodate all of the players in one round.  Either way, you often have to wait to play your first match – and if you have a first round bye, you might be waiting for a long time.  All that warm-up time before the matches started was for naught, because by the time you get to play, you’re cold again!

So, you finally get to play your game.  The match was a close one, and took an hour and a half to complete, but you won!  Congrats!  Guess what?  You have to play again!  This time, you lose, but because it’s a double elimination format, you are still in it.  You’re off to get a quick sandwich, because boy, are you hungry!  What’s that? They’re calling your name again?!

I know.  I’ve been there too, my friend.  I have also been at the opposite end of the spectrum: I am one of the first players called, and when my match is done, I don’t get called again for 4 hours. YES, 4 hours!

How well have you done during such tournaments?  Are you like my friend Jason Williams, who can jump up at a moment’s notice and run 9-ball racks in his sleep?  Do you shoot well on an empty stomach?  How about when you’ve just wolfed down a burger?  Did you lose badly, then complain to your opponent that you came in cold?

A couple of years ago, I played in the Terry Stonier Memorial at the Jointed Cue in Sacramento, CA.  I’m a middle-of-the-road player, and didn’t expect to win the whole thing, but I wanted to do well.  If you’ve been to the Jointed Cue, you know that they have a back room with stadium seating.  I took advantage of those comfy seats, and took little cat-naps in between my matches.  They announced new matches just a few feet away, so I knew I’d hear them when they called my name.

I managed to get 7th/8th in that tournament.  Each game I played, I felt prepared, and refreshed.  I didn’t rush myself, and was very focused.  Ever since then, I try to get a little cat-nap in whenever I can.  It doesn’t always help, and I don’t always actually sleep.  It’s more like I’m resting and meditating.  I truly believe it helps.

Not everyone is like me.  Jason will go outside and chat with friends, and smoke.  In fact, I rarely see him sit down.  Yet he consistently walks all over his opponents.  Shane van Boening and Rodney Morris will get on any empty table they can find and just keep hitting balls.  They like to keep the engine revving!

If you don’t know what works for you, here are a few suggestions to help you get through the (sometimes) rough tournament schedule:

  • If you know the schedule, plan accordingly. Make sure you stay nourished (food and water), and rested.  I strongly recommend you keep some snacks on hand – a candy bar or two, an energy bar, or some nuts.  Sometimes you’ll have to play three matches in a row, and you’ll need some quick energy to sustain you until you can eat a real meal.  Go to the bathroom when you can.
  • Stay warmed up. If the tournament allows practice between matches and there’s an empty table, hit some balls.  Just stay loose and limber; making a bunch of easy shots helps build your confidence.  If you are having a particular problem with a shot, practice it until you can make it fairly often.  It will help build your confidence as well.
  • Find a comfy viewing spot and watch other matches. If you know who you’re playing next, go watch that match and pay attention to their gameplay.  Study their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Catch a cat-nap. Aurora goes with me to almost every match, so it’s nice to know I can nap and have her wake me when they call me.  Bring one of those airline neck pillows – they are awesome!
  • Have fun! Play some pinball or table tennis while you’re waiting. Chat with your friends.  Play some games on your phone.
  • Clear your head. Walk outside. When you are thinking about your last match, only think of the missed shots as a learning experience. Think about what you could have done better to make it.  Think about some of the really great shots you made, too.  The key is to stay positive.
  • Between tournaments, think about getting into shape. This is a tough sport, and those who are in good shape have a distinct advantage.

There may be many other things you can do between matches to improve your chances of winning.  The key thing here is to remember why you are playing.  Most of us do this because we enjoy it – so enjoy it!  Make sure you figure out what it is that works for you, and try to do it when you can.  Pace yourself, and don’t get discouraged.

Pool is not always about who plays the best.  Sometimes, it’s about who can last the longest.

 

If you would like to share some of your success stories (or even the failures), or have suggestions for future articles, please feel free to drop me a line at pool@billiardsprofessor.com. I can also be found hanging out with fellow billiards enthusiasts at reddit.com/r/billiards. Come on by and join the discussion!

Posted in Article, Table Talk, The Break / Rackem / Stroke Magazines

Zombie Pool

Stop Thinking and Play!

Last month, we talked about how to play from your chair. Of course, since you’re just sitting there, this entails thinking about strategy, observing your opponent, and attempting to discover what they might be struggling with at the table.

This month, we are going to focus on being at the table, and I’m going to tell you to stop thinking.

We have all done it:

“Wow, this guy is pretty good.  I better not make any mistakes.  He left me a tough cut into the corner on this ball; I can make it fairly often, but I’m gonna have to go around three rails to get on the next ball.  If I miss, he’ll probably run out on me.  Damn… I hope I don’t overcut this.  If I do, it will leave him an easy shot, and he’ll probably win the game.  I’m already down by 2 games, I don’t want to be down by 3.  Maybe I should play safe…” and on and on it goes.

Sound familiar? Stop it.

You have been playing this game for a long time.  After a while, over hundreds, even thousands of shots, hours upon hours of practice, your body has developed a muscle memory. Your brain knows what to do.

Don’t think about what you have to do to make the ball.  Don’t think about how to make the cueball end up in the perfect position. The only thinking you should do, as you approach your shot, is where am I pocketing this ball, and where does the cueball need to be.

Does it sound like I contradicted myself?  Read the last paragraph again.

Do not think about HOW.  Just decide WHAT to do, and let your subconscious brain figure out how.   When you practice, you are not learning how to make a cut shot, or how to make a bank shot.  You know how.  You’ve done it before.  When you practice, you are teaching your body and your subconscious mind what it feels like to make the shot, and what it feels like to miss.  You do it over and over, training it through Pavlovian response.

When you train a dog to roll over, you do it over and over, rewarding her with a treat whenever she does it right.  After a while, she’ll know exactly what to do.  Your body is the same way.  The euphoria you feel when you hear the thunk of the ball finding the bottom of the pocket is your treat.  When you miss, you don’t get a treat.

When you practice, don’t be too frustrated by misses.  They are just as valuable as the successful shots in helping your subconscious mind learn.

Think of the tournament you are in as the Westminster Dog Show.  All of the practice is behind you.  Your dog has learned how to navigate the course, and now all you have to do is show the judges what she has learned.

When you step up to the table, try to leave your conscious mind in the chair.  Become a zombie.

Chalk your tip.  Assess the table.  Determine where you are going to pot the next ball, and where you want the cueball to stop. Approach your shot, take your prestrokes, and deliver. Gather up your chalk, and repeat.

If you are successful in leaving your brain behind, and simply performing this “boring” routine of making ball after ball in a zombie-like rhythm, congratulations! You have just found the Zone.

Hmm.  The Zombie Zone.  I may have to trademark that!  Either it’s an awesome billiards technique, or I could open up a new amusement park.  What do you think?

 

If you would like to share some of your success stories (or even the failures), or have suggestions for future articles, please feel free to drop me a line at pool@billiardsprofessor.com. I can also be found hanging out with fellow billiards enthusiasts at reddit.com/r/billiards. Come on by and join the discussion!

Posted in Article, Table Talk, The Break / Rackem / Stroke Magazines

Armchair Billiards

Playing the Game from Your Chair

We have all faced that moment, many times: The ball you shot into the corner pocket rattled, and didn’t fall.  Dejected, you trudge to your seat as your opponent jumps eagerly out of his chair, ready for battle.

I know how it feels.  You want to keep your opponent in his chair as long as possible, while you run out rack after rack.  Or, you want to play a lock-up safety on him, knowing that there is a very favorable chance you’ll be coming back to the table in a moment, hopefully with ball in hand.

But, alas, that is not to be.  You have left him with a duck, and you know that you’ll probably be sitting in your seat for a while.  Oh, well… at least you’ll get to enjoy a few of your fries, right?

Hold on a second there! Don’t be so quick to give up. Your job is far from over!

Many of us pool players are known for playing poker.  Maybe it’s the gambling that draws us.  Whatever the reason, we love to play.  And as you might know, poker is a game that takes a lot of focus and observation, even (or especially) when you are not in the current hand.  You need to watch your opponents, to see how they are playing, figure out their tells, and look for weaknesses.

Pool is very similar. I would go so far as to say that sitting in your chair observing your opponent is an incredibly vital part of the game.

Of course, we always want to keep our opponent in his seat, and run rack after rack.  But that rarely happens, even amongst the pros.  You will have some time in your seat, and while you are there, you have a job to do.

First, observe the table.  You are not standing over it now, so your perspective is a little different.  You might notice something you completely missed while you were at the table.  Maybe there’s a cluster that can be broken up, or a safety you might be able to play.  Perhaps you’ll see a pattern that was not clear before.  Study the table carefully, and plan what you would do to run the table out, if you were in your opponent’s shoes.

Second, watch your opponent.  Observe the choices he is making.  Is he going for that long, straight shot in the corner, or is he thinking about playing safe?  That might indicate that he is not comfortable with his straight distance shots at the moment.

Is he looking to bank his next ball across to the side pocket, or is he looking to cut it down to the corner?  Have you ever seen him bank?  Does he make most of them, or is he struggling?  Does his cut shot go in every time?  If not, does he have a tendency to overcut, or undercut?

If you left him safe behind another ball, is he opting to jump, or kick out of the safety?  Is he capable of jumping a full ball?  Does he prefer to masse?

Look at your opponent’s face, and his body language.  Does he look confused, or annoyed?  Have you been leaving him safe a lot, making him frustrated?  Is he talking to himself, or to the balls?  Or, does he look focused, and determined?

And why do you care about any of this?

The fact is, this game is more mental than anything else.  Yes, it’s important to know how to make balls, and leave your cue-ball where you want.  But if you are fairly evenly matched, then whether you win or lose is really going to come down to which one of you is more mentally prepared.  If you can get your opponent to start talking to himself, you have a distinct mental advantage!

Observing your opponents and discovering their weaknesses will help guide you in your decision-making. If he’s having trouble with the long straight shots, then leave him a tester if you need to play a safety, instead of locking him up behind a ball.  Give your opponent a chance to make mistakes, and you might get him to unravel a bit.

One last piece of advice, while you are planted in your seat: root for your opponent to do well.  It’s very easy to fall into the trap of hoping on every shot of his that he’s going to miss.  And when he doesn’t, you get more and more frustrated, watching him march slowly toward that final ball for the win.  If you can get into the mind-space of cheering him on, then you won’t get frustrated unless he misses – and guess what?  You’ll get over that frustration awfully quickly when you realize that miss means you get to eagerly jump out of your seat, ready to attack the table while he trudges to his chair in dejection.

And because you’ve been studying the table, you know exactly what you are going to do, and how you’re going to do it.

Keep your head in the game – especially when you are in your chair.  You’ll give yourself that mental edge, and you’ll be much better prepared to win!

 

If you would like to share some of your success stories (or even the failures), or have suggestions for future articles, please feel free to drop me a line at pool@billiardsprofessor.com. I can also be found hanging out with fellow billiards enthusiasts at reddit.com/r/billiards. Come on by and join the discussion!

Posted in Article, Table Talk, The Break / Rackem / Stroke Magazines

I Stream, Ustream

Televising Pool For the 21st Century

Not long ago, I played in the BCAPL National Championships. It was a lot of fun; anyone who has been to Las Vegas for these events knows, it’s a great time.

Unfortunately, my family and friends could not all go to Vegas to cheer us on, and would be doing so from afar. My gal helps out tremendously for events like this, sending out texts and updating my Facebook page to update them on our progress. This is awesome, but what if we could do more?

One day, she and I were brainstorming, and suddenly realized we had the answer in the palm of our hands. Literally!

Could we stream our matches from our smart phone?

In short, yes! After much fiddling and testing, we decided to set up our iPad to use Ustream, and we met with resounding success. My family and friends were able to watch many of my matches over the course of a week, live. Plus, they could chat with each other and with my girlfriend as well.

I love living in the future.

As you might know, I play in the Mezz West State Tour. They have a “TV table,” and every match played on this table is streamed live, for free. On top of that, they use tablets for each table to keep score, which gets updated on their website in real time. They usually have two commentators who are very knowledgeable about the game and the tour, and they have a chat room set up where people can comment on the match as they are playing. The commentators even interact with the chat room, answering questions as they go. You won’t see that on ESPN!

There are many other billiards events now that follow this same format. It is the way of the future, and we must embrace it.

These days, I have heard and read many discussions about the state of the game of pool – how ESPN will show bowling or golf on TV, but you rarely see billiards any more. That the sport is “dying,” and that there is a dwindling following.

You know what’s dying? TV. There is a tremendous dilution of viewers for most television shows these days. 9000 channels, and now competition from the likes of Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, and Roku. In a short time, I truly believe more and more people will abandon the sinking ship of large cable companies, and will begin embracing the idea of getting their content online.

We are at the beginning of this paradigm shift, and it’s time that pool rides that wave. Do you want to see great pool? Go online. Jump onto those live streams, and get involved in the discussion.

Best of all, give something back. Donate a little, and show the streamers that you support the hard work they do to consistently provide us with quality HD content.

We’re never going to get back to the days of ESPN broadcasting epic pool matches. We don’t need them. We are the Online Generation, and we are the pioneers of the streaming world. Let’s embrace it, encourage it, and support it.

Posted in Article, Table Talk, Television, The Break / Rackem / Stroke Magazines

Learning to Love One Pocket

Love it or hate it, it’s a very challenging game

I am a very lucky man.  My gal is very supportive of my love of pool, and goes with me to every tournament, and every league night.  She keeps track of my pool lesson appointments for me, and even gets on me to make sure I get my articles submitted on time every month.

Before we met, she knew nothing about pool, and had no desire to play or watch it.  Since we have been together, she has learned to love pool.  She gets most excited about 9-ball.  In her words, she loves to see the ball “zooming around the table” to get into position for the next shot.

She also enjoys 8-ball, but I strongly suspect that is because I play 8-ball in a local BCA league, and she loves socializing with our friends at the local pool hall (Crown Billiards in San Ramon, California).

Pool takes up a lot of our free time, and she’s pretty gracious about it, for the most part.  Often, I will tell her about a tournament I want to play in, and she’ll tell me OK, and put it on the calendar.

Unless it’s One-Pocket.  She hates One-Pocket.

I am sure most of you are familiar with One-Pocket.  If not, head on over to onepocket.org for a detailed description of the game.  Essentially, you and your opponent battle it out to be the first person to pocket eight balls in your assigned pocket. A simple premise, to be sure, but the nuances involved are very deep, and take a very long time to master.

One-Pocket is a very different animal from most other pool games. There is a lot of maneuvering and safety play, and very little actual shot-making.  I think that is where her boredom comes from: “I want to see balls go in the pocket!”

If you are in the same camp, and really don’t see the appeal of the game, I invite you to watch a match or two.  You can find some good matches on YouTube by searching for “One-Pocket.” Find a match with Scott Frost, and pay attention to the following:

Do not leave a clear shot for your opponent. Most of the time, you’ll want to leave the cue ball near your opponent’s pocket.  In doing so, you are forcing him to shoot away from his pocket, making it very difficult for him to score a pot.  Of course, you also want to make sure that you don’t leave a relatively easy bank shot for him, either.

You don’t always need to leave the cue ball near his pocket.  If you tie the cue ball up with other balls, you can not only leave him a difficult shot on his own pocket, you might make it difficult for him to play safe on you.  In most games, there is a cluster of balls near the foot spot, called the “stack.” If you put the cue ball next to the stack on his side of the table, he will have tremendous difficulty getting the upper hand on you.

Positioning balls near your pocket. One of the keys to doing well in this game is to ensure that you have some easy “ducks” sitting in front of your pocket, ready to be potted. The more you have sitting there, the more pressure it puts on your opponent, because if he misses a shot, you are going to be able to earn some points, and possibly even run out!

If you leave a ball on the long rail and one on the short rail, your opponent will have a difficult time leaving the cue ball in a position where you cannot put one of them in your pocket. But don’t just leave a bunch of balls near your pocket.  Make sure they are in position for easy pots.  If you tie some of them up, you might hinder your chances of making easy shots.

Remove balls from near your opponent’s pocket. This is really a corollary to the previous point.  In fact, the game really boils down to these two things: remove balls from your opponent’s pocket, and reposition them near your own.

This is where some of the “wow” factor can come in.  If you realize that a player is attempting to remove balls from his opponent’s side, and his shot ends up clearing 4 or 5 balls away, only to leave them near his own pocket, you have to recognize the tremendous skill that takes.  Seriously, watch Scott Frost’s matches.  He does this on a regular basis.  He’s a beast!

Don’t just blast those balls away, and put them on your side, though.  It’s not enough to put balls near your pocket; you must also protect them.  Leave the cue ball in a position that a) leaves no shot on your opponent’s pocket, and b) is hidden from your ducks by other ball(s).  The stack is very useful for this!

One-Pocket has often been compared to chess.  While chess obviously requires much more strategy, the analogy still holds up.  Often, you will move your pieces around, building up a strong defense around your king, while simultaneously forming a strong attack.

Don’t approach One-Pocket with the intention of potting 8 balls.  A game can last over an hour, and with that perspective, it’s VERY boring. Instead, approach it like a battle, and position your “men” in the best spots to give yourself the overall advantage.

As a spectator, don’t watch for the players to pot balls.  Instead, watch how they maneuver the balls around the table, and pay particular attention to their cue ball control.  95% of the time, they are focused mainly on putting the cue ball in the PERFECT position.

It takes tremendous skill, and some of the best players are masters at their craft.

 

If you would like to share some of your success stories (or even the failures), or have suggestions for future articles, please feel free to drop me a line at pool@billiardsprofessor.com, or leave a comment here. I can also be found hanging out with fellow billiards enthusiasts at reddit.com/r/billiards. Come on by and join the discussion!

Posted in Article, One-Pocket, Table Talk, The Break / Rackem / Stroke Magazines

My First TV Match

I could have played better, but I’m happy with the overall outcome.

Posted in General, Mezz West State Tour, Television, Video