(no subject)

Cloudy with patches of fucking up
Flat Top Johnny's, April 16th, just home and it still smarts: WLL. Beat Ed 5-1, giving him two on a race to five; lost to Tenzin 3-1, giving him three on a race to 6; lost to Wong, yes Wong, AGAIN, level on a race to 3 but we "forgot" and made it a race to 5 anyway.

What can I say? As usual, against an opponent who wasn't putting me under a lot of pressure but wasn't falling apart, I appeared brilliant. Against Tenzin I should have run out in the second game -- a perfect length-of-the-table stop shot on the 7, just take the 8 with a bit of inside English -- and dogged the 8. He got that, I got the next, in the next I managed an amazing positional shot 5 to 6, guiding the white between the 8 and 9 to end up perfect; great 6 to 8; good 8 to 9; and left the 9 in the jaws. So that was that. Against Wong, he threw two away, then I threw four away and didn't throw two away, so it went hill-hill. I tried to get the 2 in the side, it bounced back and hooked him; he came off the side rail onto the 2 and comboed the 9 in. Nothing I could do but watch for the long fractions of a second while it hung on the edge of the pocket deciding whether to let me come round the table and take the easy combo that was left. He even called it. He kindof apologised but it didn't really count as apologising. It didn't have to. It was a great shot.

Dogging too many shots. And although I am hitting high, high peaks of performance consistently, I am relying on inspiration. Tonight in particular I was letting myself get swept away with how great I was on the low-stakes balls and then suddenly going "wait, something serious is happening" on the high-stakes balls. As always, the prescription is more focused practice, more awareness of my stroke, more games (three of a tough shot in a row) that help me learn to handle the pressure.

I can be an A player in the FTJ rankings. I can be a B+ in Marc Dionne's. It's just a matter of focusing without overfocusing.

It's been a while.

Flat Top Johnny's, 9th May: WWLL. A lot of mental blocks on the 6 and 7. Difficulty with eight-foot, slightly off-straight, shots diagonally across the table. I was aware of the mental blocks but didn't do anything much about them. Lost to Wong, who is a B+ really, and to Matt G, who is a C+ but doesn't miss when you leave him with ball in hand and the 7-8-9, which I did two games out of three.

Flat Top Johnny's, 2nd May: WWWLWWL. Lost on the hill-hill game of the second match of the final. Beat Arjun and Austin, B and B+, on the way up. Those two matches were perhaps the best I've ever played in competition. Against Austin I needed four games and broke and ran in three of them. Against Arjun I needed 5 and broke and ran in two. It was a fantastic clear focused feeling. After that I went off the boil a bit, missed a few against Ken but won, missed a lot against Wong in the hot seat match and lost 5-2. Beat Ken again pretty easily in the one-loss side final. (I have a feeling Okie was in there somewhere on the one-loss side but I can't quite square everything up). In the first match of the final I was on fire -- that kind of hot inspiration that is amazing to be around but of unknowable duration. Kicked on to the 7 to make it along the top rail and then powered in the 8 from the full length of the table to come around three cushions perfect on the 9. Then lost hill-hill and didn't really have a chance in the hill game, Wong ran out from the 3.

That was a good evening, though. A recalibration of how well I can expect to play for a sustained period of time.

Eating is important. They don't have Red Bull in FTJ's. On the 2nd I had chips and salsa ($3) when I realised I was fading and it greatly improved my level of focus, though it didn't bring it back to where it had been at the start of the evening. On the 9th I had quesadillas ($6) and I think it was a bit too heavy, though it did help.

New England Nine-Ball, Boston Billiards Nashua, 1st May: Two and out! Really shocking, lots of mistakes all over the place, no idea what went wrong. Lost to Mike N 6-2 on the one-loss side. He felt so sorry for me at 5-0 up that he deliberately threw the next game, which was nice of him but mortifying. Then the *next* game I broke and ran. But thoughts of making him regret his favour vanished when I jawed the 8 and scratched in the next game. So odd to play so badly for no reason.

Jillian's League, last day of school, Jillian's, April 25th: Beat Gene 6-1. Or was it 5-1? Forget what the 7-6 race is to. Funny, given my comment about Mike in the New England Nine-Ball tournament, I didn't consciously give Gene the game when I was on the hill, but I certainly didn't focus the way I had in the earlier games. Gene is very good and this was the best I've ever played at Jillian's. In particular, in the last game, his ball was blocking the 8 to the pocket with two of my balls left, so I laid a great snooker (needed perfect judgement of pace and got it), got ball in hand, moved his ball with my first shot but left a ten-foot shot on my last ball, and took my own time over it before putting it in the middle of the pocket and coming perfect for the 8. That felt good.

So: Two peak performances, one record low (I've never been two and out in a Marc Dionne tournament before). One thing I particularly liked was the clear vision and moderate pace I was able to sustain during those two performances: not on fire, not racing round the table, making everything but not knowing what to do when I get thrown off balance; but taking my time, knowing I was in the moment, and not letting it burn out. It was the best I've played since Snookers in October, possibly the best ever.

One lesson: continue to be a bit serious about practice. I'd been working on half-ball bank shots in work, just learning how the half-ball contact works when the object ball's near the cushion: that freshness of focus was I think a big help. Next thing to try is Michael Reddick's rolling safety drill, I think.

Back to school
First day of league. I beat Sam 5-1. I was surprised: Sam's probably the best single-ball potter in the league. But apparently he hasn't been winning a lot, and he was brought down from a 6 to a 5 this season, and that may have hurt his morale. He seemed to love the sound of the balls smacking off the back of the pocket too much. Everything was fast and hard. He kept losing position. I didn't play as well as I should but he consistently gave me one more chance than I gave him.

The lighting wasn't great on the bottom right corner and I missed a lot more shots into that pocket than I should have, starting with a dreadful miss on the 6 in the first game. After that first miss I seemed to give myself permission to miss more. It's the usual story: I need to learn to step back and breathe, and recognise the difference between paying attention and telling myself I'm paying attention.

Good to see everyone though. A fun evening.

Actual practice
This was supposed to be about keeping track of my practice sessions and it's turned into a series of brags. Because I'm not really doing practice sessions. Hmm.

I love shooting pool sometimes.

I was in San Diego. Fast Mikie has a page on his blog where he lists weekday tournaments in the area. It looked easy to get to BLVD on El Cajon for their nine-ball race to two double elimination tournament. I headed up and it was actually eight ball, single frame, eight-foot tables with huge pockets. But a tournament's a tournament and at least the place was well lit. "Look out for Jimmy," Scott said as we shot a few warmup games, "he's good". "Jimmy's good," said Dove. I ran out on my first innings against Jimmy. "I've got my eye on you," Jimmy said and won his way up the one-loss side to the final. He broke and ran the first game, broke and ran to his last ball in the second, then snookered himself and I managed to keep him snookered.

The prize was your bar tab, which was unfortunate, because (after some money ball games with Scott and Jimmy) the third whisky lost me $20 on a nine-ball race to five with Jimmy, and then the fourth one did too. The high price of free whisky.

It was a great evening. Met some nice people, shot some good pool, talked as much or as little as I felt like. I left saying I'd be back, like you do.

Posted via LjBeetle

A win at Flat Top Johnny's, and consistency
I didn't shoot a ball of pool from the day of the last Marc Dionne tournament till today, but I had a lot of interesting conversations with friends over Christmas about my current pool experiences: how getting better isn't just about narrow pool skills, but about broader things like self-discipline, being in tune with your body, and learning to cope with distractions and pressure.

So it was Monday and I had time between my Green Card biometrics appointment and the tournament at Flat Top Johnny's, so I went to the Wave and practiced being consistent. Object ball two diamonds down the long rail, a block of chalk off the rail. Cueball three diamonds down the long centre line. Shoot and shoot again until I've made it right five times in a row. The point is to have something that's not trivial but still relatively easy: there are no excuses. Just get it right. Five times in a row. Then move the cueball somewhere else, do it again. Move the object ball two blocks of chalk out, do all the cueball positions again, till it's right five times in a row.

That evening I finally won the Flat Top Johnny's nine-ball tournament, straight up the winner's side and a 5-2 win in the final. There were some dumb mistakes but nothing like last time. Last time things got to the point where I was being distracted by how furry the cloth was (way too furry). This time my focus was much better and I was able to recognize how furry the cloth was (furrier than you'd like) and put it to one side.

I played Russell (or Warren) on the way to the final. I forget his exact name but I know it's a tube station inside the Circle Line. Goodge? He's given me a lot of trouble in the past -- he's ranked a C but he's very consistent on shots that stay in one half of the table and very good at staying on them. This time he missed more than I did.

I beat Steve for the first time, thanks to some snookers that for once he didn't get out of. Steve is such a smart player that it amazes me he doesn't win every time. You have to play safe well and then run out when you can to beat him. Sometimes he just misses but if he didn't he'd be amazing.

Then there was a wait and I did five-right-in-a-row on safeties. Put the 2 somewhere in the middle of one half of the table, the cueball and 1 so a straight line through them has the 1 just missing the 2. Play the cueball through the 1 to leave the 2 snookering the cueball on the 1. Change the starting positions but not the idea. Do it five times in a row till you get it right. Then put the 1 and 2 on a line parallel to the long rail, the cueball straight through the 2 to the long rail, and lay five snookers in a row. Much harder but a really interesting exercise.

That kind of practice *never* comes up in the next match you play. But in the third game against Warren (or Russell) in the final, 1-1, he scratched on the 3 and left me a position where I could put the cueball so the 3, 9 and cueball were just off a straight line and roll the cueball behind the 9, and roll the 3 next to the 4. When he missed and gave me ball in hand it was the simplest thing in the world to do it again. "You're on two," I said, and he seemed annoyed, in an out of character way, as if he thought I was inventing the initial unforced error on the 3. When he missed the 3 again to give me the game on the three-scratch rule he seemed to give up. By the time I was lining up on the 9 in the deciding game, 4-1 up, he was already putting his cue case on the other end of the table and packing up. Which I thought was a bit rude -- stay off my table when I'm shooting! -- but I didn't say anything. I should have. He's a nice guy and I hope he didn't think I was hustling him in any way.

But it was rude.

But winning heals a lot of wounds, and it's nice to actually win something instead of just performing well. More of that please.

New England Nine Ball Stop 9: Ten Ball version
Won two, lost two. "At least that means they got the handicap right". A 28-person field, so one more win on the winner's side would have put me in the money. Instead, having been first on the hill, I overhit on the eight to run into the ten and knock it *between* the cueball and the nine. I got out of the snooker, but Ron made two great shots on the nine and ten, then produced his best run of the match to get to the eight in the hill game and left me snookered with the eight over the pocket. I missed, he ran out, and well done him for keeping such close control of the last two games after I'd won five in a row.

Again, as usual, my tactical problem is insisting on playing the shot even though I know I'm going to miss it. Again, as usual, my strategic problem is getting that bit too excited when the winning post comes into view: running eight of ten balls, not doing badly to get on the nine, and then sending it wide.

While waiting for the one-loss side to catch up I played some against myself, but was getting too excited, so I knuckled down on the IPAT level 1 six-ball drill and finally made it twice in a row. This drill's very tough for me: at least in the initial shots you have to hit everything harder or softer than I feel comfortable with, and the spare balls are in the way of the natural follow route which is how I most like to play shots where speed control is very important. Good to do it twice, and on a very fast table at that. Let's try for three times next time.

On the one-loss side, I managed an amazing thin cut, the seven halfway along the short rail with the cue ball near the center spot, then missed a straight nine into a narrow side pocket. Greg cleared that one, obviously. In the next one, I swerved nicely out of a snooker on the 3 and followed straight through it with the spin on the cue ball taking it off the jaws and into the pocket, leaving Greg a 3-10 combo. In the third he got the 10 on the break. In the fourth he hooked himself on the 3, got out and accidentally comboed the 10, and since we weren't playing the call your shots version of 10-ball that counted. And in the fifth... actually, there wasn't a fifth, he only needed four, so that was that.

A long drive home from Portsmouth in the dark. Not exactly kicking myself but wondering how I can get myself to slow down when it matters.

Working out what matters
I won the work Christmas eight-ball tournament, which wasn't a surprise as no-one else there takes it as seriously as I do. Managed to nearly blow the run-out in the last game: I had a great angle on the second-last of my balls, put too much draw on, ended up straight on the last one just off the rail, tried to force the angle onto the rail and off again and ended up stuck on the rail, dead straight on the eight across the table to the far corner. I made it, but ran through after it and was a MILLIMETRE short of scratching.

It was an important win as there were Bruins tickets riding on it. EM's only four but she already knows she loves hockey.

In Pleasures of Small Motions, Bob Fancher talks about identifying what you want to get out of pool: for example, do you want to win, do you want to enjoy the motion of the balls, and so on. This is useful, clarifying advice, like a lot of his advice. For me there are three clashing goals: I want to play cool shots; I want to take the game seriously and win; I want to enjoy hanging out with my pool mates and I want them to think I'm fun to hang out with. The middle goal doesn't work with the others. Playing cool shots means you aren't playing safeties when you need to, you're going for the crazy results. Being fun to play with means not taking too much time over your shots, which often means not taking enough.

I raise the stakes on myself further by thinking, not about what I want from the day's play, but about what my play says about me as a person. Effortlessly brilliant shots because I am a genius. Good, solid pool -- well, actually, when I'm playing that way, I don't have a self-image question. Fun guy to hang out with BUT WHO ALSO WINS. Of these, really only the middle one is useful or empowering; it's the only one about what I can control, not what I can't. But when you're just knocking around it's hard to think of it that way; the social pressure is to just have fun, even when you can still hear that other part of you noting that you *should* win or at least try to, and you can't pursue those two goals at once.

And! I don't just think about what my play says about me as a person: I think about what my opponent is thinking about me. This is a GREAT idea: after all, what my opponent thinks about me is unknowable, and fractured, and frankly probably not even about me but about what he's going to do next, so clearly thinking about it is useful. I need to stop stop stop that.

And anyway, what I often think he wants is for me not to take too long. Does he actually want that? Who knows. Time goes much more slowly when you're at the table, aware of the other guy doing nothing, than when you're away from the table, watching the other guy decide what to do and working out what you'd do in his place. But I assume the other guy's getting impatient and in a casual game, a game where we want to come out of it friends, that leads me to rush.

At the moment, this means that I'm actually playing best in what would superficially seem to be the highest-pressure setting: Marc Dionne's New England nine-ball tour. This is because, bad though the pressure is, I don't have to keep two ideas in my head about who I am. I can just take the time to make sure I've thought through the shot and have my rhythm right. Since I don't like not playing well, I need to bring that focus to casual games, up to and including the tournaments in Flat Top's.

Update -- Paul Graham on keeping your identity small. Not anything to do with pool or sport, but a reminder that it doesn't help you if you let ordinary questions become questions about your identity.

Flat Top Johnny's, December 13th 2010
This was a bad one, my first ever two-and-out in a double elimination tournament. The problem was my mental game. Time and again, approaching the winning post, I'd get a very bad dialogue going with myself in my head, and would pay attention to the dialogue rather than just getting down and focusing on the shot. So in the first round against Steve I was coming back from 4-2 down in a race to 5. He scratched on the break and I ran the table, 4-3. I broke and ran to the 6, which was awkwardly near the 7, but made a nice shot to knock the 6 in and leave a long 7 just off-straight down the long rail with an easy stop for 8 and 9. And at this point my whole attention shifted away from the shot at hand, to:
  • How good a shot that was on the 6
  • What a great shooter I am
  • How I was bound to break and run the next game as well
  • Because this game was as good as over
and although a small part of me was consciously aware that I was playing the 7 dead straight, not off straight, I let my focus drift up into the top of my head where the party was going on instead of pulling it back down behind my eyes and more-or-less forced myself to play the shot wrong. The 7 wobbled, there was a series of crazy shots, Steve turned out to have won 5-3.

The same on the one-loss side against Tim. A few times there were shots that I played carelessly, more-or-less deliberately. Usually on the 9. Just got down and whacked at them. Tim's in the Jillian's league too and after the match he said "You usually play much better at Jillians".

There's a conflict between the part of me that just wants the other guy to go Wow, he made that look easy, and the part of me that wants to actually win even if it doesn't look cool. Alex Higgins v Steve Davis. As you play at higher and higher levels that conflict becomes more important. You can get away with being Alex Higgins in league but you need to bring Steve Davis to tournaments. And the feeling of winning is better than the feeling of making that one incredible shot. I need to work, not just on being conscious that my focus is drifting, but on taking the time to stop, breathe, and bring it back.


Log in