A lot has happened this past year, life in general. Pool-wise, I didn’t write about BCA Nationals last year at all, so I guess I can update about that.

Played in three divisions again: Open Scotch Doubles, Women’s Open Singles, and Women’s Open Teams.

8OSD, we finished 65-96 (still in the money, but the lowest payout you can get).
8WOS, I finished 129-192 (no money).
8WOT, we finished 17-24 (also in the money, but the lowest payout).

It was fun since a bunch of us went, but by the end of it I was sick of Vegas and just wanted to go home. I ended up buying a used tournament table though (practically brand new before the tourney started), so I could play at home.

It’s a beautiful table, and I’m happy I got it. But life happened, and I decided to take a break from pool and league for a couple months to sort out my head.

I started playing again a month or two ago, on and off. Then I ended up agreeing to play on a women’s team for Advanced/Masters division (way out of my league), so I’ve been practicing more lately to get ready for Vegas. I’ve got a month to go and hopefully I’ll win a match or two when I’m there.

I’m concentrating on playing position at the moment, trying to reconcile the path that the balls go in my head with what actually happens on the table.

So I bombed out of the first round of playoffs last night. I wasn’t shooting that great but kept playing super offensively. I had plenty of chances to play safeties instead but I didn’t.

I also think I psyched myself out mentally, like I wasn’t able to get to that peaceful mindset cuz I’d been too excited and worried about doing well for playoffs.

So frustrated cuz I thought I was actually getting somewhere with my mental game. Time to start over.

-_-

My Tuesday BCA pool league season just ended this week, and next week we start playoffs. The scores are not all in yet, but I think our team is going into playoffs ranked #3, which is the highest we’ve ever come so far. Yay!

Personally, I managed to finish out the season on a high note, getting four 4-0’s in a row (including a table run on a particularly tied up table that I’m proud of). I certainly made mistakes and missed shots, so I still need to improve my shotmaking and positioning, but I think the recent streak is directly attributed to improving my mental game.

Through an online recommendation, I started reading this book called Winning Ugly, which is centered around the mental game of tennis. Then my friends told me about another tennis book called The Inner Game of Tennis, which I really, really like. While the former does cover mental stuff (like strategies to fight nerves, and having a killer mentality), it also focuses a lot on…the external self-game (for lack of a better term). For example, having intel about how your competitors play, and making sure you have all the equipment you need.

The Inner Game of Tennis is pretty much all internal. It’s based on the thinking of people having two selves (basically, the mind and the body). The mind can do powerful things, but sometimes it wants to be in control of everything, which tenses up the body. It’s like having someone give you a job to do, but watching over your shoulder the entire time. You get stressed out and don’t do a good job, because you’re not able to perform your task autonomously. Then, when you don’t do a good job, your confidence level drops and it’s a downward spiral.

Instead, the mind should just visualize what it wants and trust the body to do its thing. If the body makes a mistake, the mind should just note what happened objectively (without being angry or condescending). The body learns and will make its adjustments the next time around.

This learning philosophy really resonated with me, and it helps me keep calm during matches instead of getting frustrated with myself for missing shots.

I definitely recommend the book.

The other thing that helped me was this breathing exercise that my friend told me about. I had mentioned to him that I’d been trying to get in the habit of meditating, and he told me to try the following: (i) breathe in for 10 seconds, (ii) hold your breath for 10 seconds, (iii) breathe out for 10 seconds. Basically, 30 seconds for one breath.

Man, is this hard to do. I can do about half of that, for a couple of times, before I get breathless. But, I found that even in trying to do it for 3 seconds instead of 10, it has helped me with my nerves during matches. I still notice my heart beating rapidly during matches, but then I challenge myself to breathe and soon, I forget about my thumping heart.

I feel like I’m in a good place mentally, as long as I continue with the meditation and breathing and competitive situations. I put together a booklet of drills I want to practice, so that I can improve technically.

Vegas in 2.5 months!

Even though I’ve been playing pool pretty much 2-4 times a week for the last year or so, I feel like I’ve plateau’d.

I haven’t been dedicating time to practice drills since the Vegas tourney ended back in July. Even though it’s still six months until the next one, I know time is going to slip by quickly and I need to start doing drills now if I actually want to make a dent in my game.

The only thing I have been trying to work on is my break, like the last post mentioned. Even though I understand the theory, executing it has been much harder than I anticipated. When I move my body to accelerate and hit harder, my accuracy (or the spot where I hit the cue ball) falters, so the power doesn’t get fully transferred to the cue ball.

Anyway, enough excuses. Time to buckle down.

One thing that you notice when you watch the pros play 8-ball is that the break is the key between winning and losing. Since everybody is able to run out racks like it’s nothing, you need to make sure you get a ball in on the break (and leave your cue ball in a good position).

This past July at BCA Nationals, I picked up my very first break cue so that I could try and improve my break, in light of watching all those YouTube videos. I saw this little beauty and it was immediate *want*. It’s got a rubber grip and it breaks down into multiple pieces, so that you can also use it as a jump cue and a short cue — it’s like you get more for your money’s worth and you don’t need to carry around so many extra sticks too.

To my disappointment, I’ve pretty much broken dry (in 8-ball) ever since — save for the rare fluke that a ball actually dropped. With the phenolic tip, it sort of sounds like a miscue when you break. But I’ve kept on with it because the cue is just so pretty.

I tried to pick up some pointers from friends on how they break. One was telling me that you gotta have this *snap* when you break. Another friend told me to use my body too, not just my arm. Another one told me to use a closed bridge instead of open. That all seemed to make sense, but I couldn’t do it for some reason.

Then I stumbled across this video with Charlie Bryant:

I had to watch it a couple times to understand him through his thick accent/rambling, but I get it now!

I had been trying to move my body and arm at the same time, which is kind of like a big block all starting to move forward at the same time. That takes more time to build up the speed, so I wasn’t getting much power on my break since I was still “accelerating”.

What Charlie is saying is that when you pull your arm back, your body should already start moving forward, so when your arm goes forward it’s sort of like a *whip* feeling with your entire body. After I tried it, I realized it’s totally similar to using your hip/waist power when punching/kicking in martial arts. And it clicked!!

I tried it out a couple times last night during league, but I’m so excited to go and practice my breaks now. *power!*

I came across this TED Talk by Kelly McGonical about how it’s not the amount of stress you have, but your attitude towards stress that is more important for your health. She mentions a study that found that:

  • people with lots of stress and a bad attitude towards stress had the highest mortality rate over the 8 years of the study
  • people with lots of stress and a good attitude towards stress had the lowest mortality rate, even when compared to people that had little stress

She gives an example of putting yourself in a stressful situation, such as talking in front of a group of skeptical, disapproving people. Your heart will start to speed up, you’ll feel hot and start to sweat. Instead of thinking of those reactions as a bad thing, think of it as your body is recognizing you’re in a tough situation and is ramping itself up to better prepare you for it — increased blood flow, etc.

So I was thinking, next time my heart starts pounding when I’m playing against someone in pool, I’ll just be like “hey body, thanks for the help!”.

Anyway, just a short post. Go watch the video!

I’ve been doing pretty okay in our Tuesday night league so far, but this week I totally crashed and burned.

I think it’s a combination of a couple of things.

  1. Post-Vegas slack: In the weeks leading up to Vegas, I was super focused. I practiced drills, watched pro 8-ball matches on YouTube and read numerous articles about safeties and mental aspects of the game. Post-Vegas, not so much. Even through we’re still playing pool every Friday and Saturday night, I feel like I’m just hitting balls around and not really concentrating on my stroke and positioning.
  2. Ego: I’ve found that when I play against someone I don’t like (whether I actually have a valid reason to dislike them or not), I tend to lose. I think it has something to do with ego, like I think I’m better than them and I get careless and don’t think about playing strategically at all.
  3. Impatience: League matches start at 7:30pm and usually end around 10:30 at the earliest. Most of the time, we finish before midnight but sometimes matches go long (I think my latest one was a playoff match that ended past 1am).

This night in particular, one of their players just had some mannerisms that didn’t sit well with me (totally not a valid reason) and the loss, combined with the slow pace and unfocused play, snowballed into a whopping 0-4 for the night.


Pool players are probably one of the most diverse group of people ever. Fat, skinny, tall, short, rich, poor — the list goes on. And the thing is, you can’t judge how good a person plays by how they look. There are some scruffy-lookin’ people in the leagues that shoot really well. So it’s really important to remember to have humility in pool because the old guy with the wonky eyes that don’t look straight just might run out on you. You don’t know til you see ’em play.

I know some people that shoot better when they’re angry, but…not me. I also think it’s horribly immature to show that you’re pissed off or in a bad mood from a match. I’ve definitely been guilty of it (my face is really easy to read), so that’s another reason I want to remember to calm down and play the table.

I read a book recently which said to think about it from this perspective: This [person that I dislike] is a person…just like me. He/She wants to be happy, and free from pain…just like me. And on it goes, but it really helps in calming you down. 

Too bad I didn’t think of that this past Tuesday, ey?

So the other day, I got a Community News email from the City of San Bruno and the event calendar mentioned a pool tournament at the Senior Center. Of course, I was intrigued — but not being a senior would probably disqualify me from entering. Instead, I told Felix “El Gato” at the Creek about it, since he is a bonafide senior citizen.

El Gato’s one of my favorite old guys at the Creek, a genuinely nice guy who has become like a grandfather to me (one that you’re not afraid to talk to and drink with). He started out playing carambola originally and he more often than not goes for the early 9-ball combo, earning him the title of “the king of 9-ball” among some of the Creek pool crowd.

We couldn’t find any other details online (game? format? entry fee? prize?), so he went down to ask for details and sign up. The desk clerk didn’t even know anything about it, so they took his name down and said they’d call him. Bah — I guess that was pretty much a sign of things to come.

He eventually roped in another retiree at the Creek to join him too. They managed to squeeze some more details out. Apparently, they’d be playing for “a bottle of wine” as the prize — so I guess it was more glory than anything.

Anyway, the tourney was last Monday (9/19). Called El Gato a couple days later to see how he did, but turned out he got knocked out pretty early and the tourney overall pretty much bombed because all the old guys were arguing about the rules and whatever.


It got me thinking about 2 things.

One, I’m glad that the tourneys I’ve participated in have had good tourney directors. A good tourney director will explain the rules and the format, keep the flow of the tourney going and keep the hecklers/complainers/hard personalities in check.

Two, I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to play in an organized pool league. Before I started SFPA (a BCA league), I used to think ball-in-hand’s, safeties and using mechanical bridges (the cheat stick) were for wusses. I was all-offense and I-can-make-a-shot-from-anywhere.

I don’t quite remember, but I don’t think I knew any of the following rules:

  • the table is open after the break, even if you potted a ball in
  • the double-hit foul (if the cue ball and object ball are less than a chalk width apart)
  • needing to hit a rail after the cue ball hits an object ball, or it’s a foul
  • once suits are established, to hit only your suit first or it’s a foul
  • shooting with at least one foot on the floor
  • the improper jump (by scooping the cue ball, rather than hitting down into the table)
  • that you can hit through frozen balls

Luckily, the guys in my first SFPA team (I joined 3 years ago) were awesome about explaining all the rules to me. Though, I admit it still took me a while to accept safeties (within the past year or so) and using a mechanical bridge (within the past couple months or so).

And now, when I see some old guys playing in the same way that I did before, it seems so…un-enlightened somehow?

Last year, Toro and I went to BCA Nationals for the first time for teams (Womens Open Teams for me and Mixed Trophy for him). Everyone walking around the casino’s vicinity carried pool cases like us and it was so exciting! I think we were there for like 4 days, and we were hooked.

This year, we took the plunge and entered BCA Nationals for doubles, singles AND teams, so we were there for about 11 days. I started dreaming about pool matches (is it bottom left draw on this to set myself up to run out??) about halfway through, yet I still woke up itching to shoot.

Nervousness

The weekend before Vegas, I went to San Diego for my first WCC. I thought I was all good with the nervousness when playing, but apparently NOT. I had some moments, but ended up doing unspectacularly in my division. I redeemed myself with a 2nd place finish in a late night 9-ball tourney that went til like 5am (by that time, I was drinking and didn’t care as much = not nervous).

So, taming the nervousness was one of the main things I wanted to improve upon in Vegas. Through a rigorously scientific combination of (i) remembering to have fun (not caring so much about the result) and (ii) beer, I think I found my balance. The latter was actually very helpful, because although I tried to think about “playing the table” and to breathe calmly and slowly, I could not get my heartbeat to stop THUMPING like mad at some points. So, thank you Modelo, for helping me enjoy my game more.

Scotch Doubles

We finished 49-64th place out of 299 teams, so we got in the money. I was initially afraid that Toro would get mad at me if I played shitty, but we had fun and were very supportive of each other so we played pretty well. Our last match on the loser’s side was interrupted by this big storm that knocked out the electricity. Play was suspended til the next morning, after which we were just arthritic or something cuz we totally dogged the match and got knocked out.

Individuals

I finished 65-96th place out of 268 women, so I got in the money again. In my first loss, I was down 0-3 but came back 3-3 and almost ran out to win, but I rattled the 8-ball in the corner pocket and she finished it out. I thoroughly enjoyed that match though and was freaking PUMPED to keep going on the loser’s side. However, in my next match the woman was safety-happy and my high wore down. Lethargy kicked in and my insides felt angry and unsettled, so I didn’t shoot well and I got knocked out after that.

Had a bit of a break then, so went sightseeing and whatever while my friend Khanh ended up winning 1st place in the division!

Teams

We kept the same team as last year (Short ‘n Surly) and we finished 25-32nd place out of 112 teams, which was also in the money. We blazed through our first match, but then got knocked to the loser’s side. The next day, we won the next 3 matches and celebrated with the boys on us both having a spectacular day. The next morning, we played a team (2 of them were from the team that knocked us out last year) and we ended up losing after going hill-hill on the tie-breaker match (which took an absurdly long time). We went out in a good mood though, and we were more bothered by the fact that we didn’t win Best Dressed Team.

So all in all, Vegas was great. It was awesome that a bunch of us were there for the entire 10-11 days, so that we had enough time to play pool as well as hang out. I thought about getting a Diamond table for the house, but ended up not getting one for now (trying to resist impulsive buys). Definitely have renewed dedication to improve my game for next year though.

Viva Las Vegas!

Over the past weekend, I shoveled tons of base rock around my front lawn. After 5 hours of hard labor in the day, we played pool at night. And…I played hella good!

This was consistent all night. Making long straight shots, tough cuts, good position.

I think that being able to feel my muscles (through the aches and pains) actually helped me align my body better and my stroke was improved.

Did some more yard work the next day and continued to play really well again the following night.

I hope this continues on for next weekend in San Diego for WCC.

Maybe I should bring a shovel along with me.