Monday, November 15, 2010

Avoiding Frustration

This article is part of Volume 12 of PoolSynergy, a monthly collection of the best writing on pool. After you read it, be sure to check out the rest of the November 2010 edition of PoolSynergy for other great articles over at Pool Student's Blog.

Three tips to avoid frustration

Ever had an over-whelming urge to break something after a pool match? Ever curse at your poor skills during a match that doesn't go your way? A quick glance at any given pool match will reveal that most players seem to be frustrated about their game. Most of the time.

It seems like a natural part of the hobby, but I think it doesn't have to be that way. Frustration itself is a useful thing and something we cannot usually avoid, but we don't have to dwell on it. Instead, we can try to use it as a tool, as an indication of something that we should be noticing. If we just let the frustration take control, it will take over and it will become more difficult to shake it off. 

The zeroeth tip, a meta-tip if you will, is to step outside from your usual thinking and just to try to understand what frustration and anger are all about. Because they are a thing in your mind. They are not direct result of the world as such. They are your brain's interpretation of the situation. You react to the events in some way and this is something you yourself can control. 

Tip 1# Fake It

The easiest trick to make yourself avoid frustration is to just fake being calm. Just decide beforehand that this time you'll just fake showing no emotions and not being frustrated. Whenever you make a real bad blunder, just pretend like nothing happened and walk away cool. What you'll perhaps notice is that this external "fake" actually causes you to be more calm. There's this old myth that if you pile up anger and frustration it will eventually come out, all the more worse, but that's not in fact true. The truth is quite the opposite. Your thoughts and emotional state will follow your external behavior. 

Tip 2# Acknowledge What Frustration Is Telling You

We tend to concentrate on the superficial reasons for frustration. If we miss an easy ball, we become angry and all we think of is "how on earth could I miss that?" But the real reason of the emotion is how we feel like it affects the image we are giving. Usually we don't think like this consciously, but the primary reason typically lies in the conflict of how we think we should be seen by others and how we actually performed. Normally our minds are happily telling ourselves that everything's fine, but sometimes the reality leaks in too abruptly and we have this uncomfortable feeling. 

The irony of all this is that others are typically much better seeing how good or bad we really are. Our external expression of frustration is trying to say something like "in reality, I'm better than this", but the other people see us more objectively and all this gesturing and cursing just makes us look worse. 

The problem is the mismatch in our objective skills and how we would like to be seen by others. But others already see us pretty objectively, so the only thing we can change is to become more realistic of how good we really are. However, it's too easy to fall into the "I'm such a bad player, boo-hoo" trap when we go this route. That's not what you want either. You should try to see your performance as the true representation of your skills. When anger and frustration start to build up, just notice it and realize that it's your mind trying to resolve a conflict of your self-image.

Which brings us to the final tip.

Tip 3# Understand The True Meaning Of Competition

This tip is directly from Timothy Gallwey's excellent book The Inner Game of Tennis. Gallwey was struggling to find the meaning of competition to him. What purpose do our opponents have to our hobby? What's the point in playing competitively in the first place? You might say that you want to win, but that's not a real answer to anything. 

What Gallwey realized, and wrote about in his book, was that if our purpose is to become more skillful, better at our game, then the purpose of our opponents is to make our task harder and harder. The better we become, the harder our opponent has to play to provide us a challenge. Gallwey's used surfers as an analogy in the book. When they start the hobby, they'll just ride easy waves and try not to fall. But as they get better, they want to ride bigger and tougher waves to give themselves more challenge. In other words, we want to find out how skillful we can become. And this is the real purpose of competition: they are means for us to become better. 

So you don't have to look at individual matches or tournaments us something you have to win. That's your goal, of course, ultimately, but that goal serves the purpose: our desire to become better. Understanding this has made me much more calm and relaxed. I can see matches and tournaments as a tool, as having some real purpose behind. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pool Synergy 12 is about the future of pool

Check out Pool Synergy Volume 12, which is all about the future of pool as a spectator sport.

I was planning to contribute, but didn't manage to arrange suitable time doing it. (My view on this, in short, is that Internet and live streaming is going to change the landscape, but it will not change the way people think or want it to change.)

That said, I just watched Mika Immonen versus Shane Van Boening going at each other in TAR 19. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it, even though the broadcast time was inconvenient for me, but the thing is that the audience for these matches is still a niche.

Hoping to get back into the groove with the blog.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Let Your Body Do the Work

The most important realization of my pool career came to me just recently. Strictly speaking, it's not an intellectual realization, though it started from reading Timothy Gallwey's The Inner Game of Tennis. (See PoolStudent's review of the book.) Timothy goes into great lengths explaining how to execute tennis shots so that the conscious mind doesn't interfere. To put it short, your conscious mind (Self 1) just needs communicate the goal, say pocketing the object ball in the case of pool billiards, to the part of the brain that actually executes the movements (Self 2). I will not try to summarize the book here, you have to read it yourself if you want to know more.

(Note: strictly speaking Self 2 refers to the parts of your brain that has to do with motor control. It is easier to think that it's the body that executes the movements, because it feels that way to us. Take walking for an example: you don't walk with conscious control, it happens automatically. The part of your brain that does it is what I call Self 2.)

The realization I had was how it felt to let my body (Self 2) to do the shot, to execute the stroke. It requires a little bit of courage to just trust your body to do what's necessary. But once you start to get a hang of it, you soon understand that this is the only way you can execute shots. This realization needs both the intellectual understanding and the actual experience of letting your body to do the work.

The best way to understand the difference is how it relates to relaxation, the relaxed stroking hand. Every single pool player will probably agree that your stroking hand needs to be relaxed. But what comes from the realization of letting your Self 2 to execute the stroke is that relaxation is a side effect of that process, not something that you need to concentrate on. If you try to consciously relax your hand, it requires conscious thought process, which is just going to make relaxing all the more difficult. But if your conscious mind only concentrates on what you want to achieve with the shot, it is the job of Self 2 to find the appropriate level of relaxation to execute it.

Of course, Self 2 does not know how to do it unless you give it a chance to learn it. And that's exactly what practice does. When practicing, you repeat this exact same process: deciding what to do and requesting it  (Self 1) from your body (Self 2). As you repeat this process over and over again, your body figures out how it can serve your conscious request. It is incredibly smart figuring out this stuff. Self 2 does things that you couldn't even imagine doing consciously. The trick is to trust your body to do all the work.

The problem with my game is that I've become too preoccupied with all the details of the execution of my stroke. The details do matter, there's no denying of that, but if I try to control the body consciously during my shot, the execution is bound to fail. If I do it the way Timothy Gallwey suggests, I can still pay attention to the details, but I can't and shouldn't control them during the shot. In fact, I'm better off thinking that there's nothing wrong with my technique in the first place, because this type of thinking makes it much more easier to let my body to execute it! If I don't judge my technique, it's easier to just let it do the job and observe it. Paradoxically, it's also easier to change mistakes in the technique through this kind of process.

I can do no more than to suggest to the reader to read the book, The Inner Game of Tennis. Gallwey explains all this better than I can. The point of my article is that after reading Gallwey's book, and after agreeing that he has a good point, you still need to experience how it feels to let your body do the work. Or to put it in another way, to not let your conscious mind to interfere with the execution. To me, it's a special kind of experience. It doesn't transform your game immediately, it doesn't make you an instant champion. But if Gallwey's right, it is going to make a huge difference if you keep doing it. That's how it feels to me right now.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Real Purpose of Single Person Practice Games

I just realized the real use of single person practice games like Fargo. These are games that you play alone that simulate competition by having varying situations and a score. Practice games are different than other forms of practicing in that they give a real feeling of competition. You can aim for high scores in any form of practice, but that doesn't feel like competition. Playing Fargo does.

If you'll excuse me, I'll digress from the main point for a while.

Practicing is a process in which you try to improve your skills. Typically you repeat something, say some sort of a shot, over and over again until you learn it a bit better. Because you're free to do so, you might fine-tune aspects of your stroke during a practice session. It's basically a stress-free environment to experiment and fine-tune. Part of the process is to just repeat something so that you remember it better. For example, you can practice your cue ball control by setting up a shot and aiming the cue ball to stop at a certain spot. When you isolate a part of the game, it's much easier to gain control over it.

This much should be pretty much obvious.

But what does it mean for single person practice games?

First, it should be obvious that it's not the best way to practice finer aspects of a shot. It's much more efficient to setup a particular shot and repeatedly execute it. The same goes for position play and pretty much any particular aspect of our overall ability. The same goes for executing a longer pattern on the table. It would be more efficient to setup the pattern again, if something fails. With practice games you just play.

This is not to say that playing single person games can't be good practice. They do improve your skills for sure and the heightened concentration typically implies that you're not just banging balls. Or if you can't bring yourself to playing alone, and wanted to do more of that, maybe this type of game encourages you to practice more.

However, the aspect these practice games can help the most is a bit more elusive. You see, the game of pool billiards is all about consistency. For players above certain level, many of the shots are actually pretty easy. In theory. You know what you should do but somehow a lack of concentration, careless preshot-routine, or whatever, sneaks in and you miss a shot. If you could arrange an interview after each missed shot in the pool world, I'd bet that most of the answers would be something like: "it was an easy shot, I don't know how I missed it."

Sure, some of the shots are just too difficult or low-percentage for one's own skill level, but those are not the shots we complain about. When we miss a difficult shot, we just shrug our shoulders and say to ourselves that it just was too difficult of a shot for us. The shots we do complain about are those that we feel we should be huge favorite to be successful at. Now, we often don't recognize the fact that we will miss a shot just by chance even if we should make it majority of the time. If I'm a 90-10 favorite to make a certain shot, I'm still going to miss it one out of ten times.

But the more important lesson here is that most of us regularly miss shots that we should make. And I'm not talking about choking in pressure or anything like that. I'm saying that even in a regular tournament match in which you have just the right amount of pressure, you still miss shots that you later complain that you shouldn't have missed. And the reason you state is some type of lack of concentration.

The beauty and pain of practice games like Fargo is that you make the very same "easy mistakes" in your Fargo run as do you in competition. You start with a good rack or two and then you miss the first shot, because you didn't focus correctly. And since the scoring system gives you instant feedback, the score of zero for this rack, you notice your error painfully clear.

Which brings us back to the real purpose of single person practice games: they offer an environment in which you can practice maintaining focus and concentration. Furthermore, you can experiment with different methods that might help you maintain your focus better. With these games you can practice your consistency. If you're not consistent, you know you need to work on it. And since it is a practice environment, you're free to experiment with different methods and ideas. In a real competitive situation, your focus needs to be on winning the game.

Single person practice games are a platform for experimenting and practicing consistency.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Speeding up One Pocket games by spotting balls

Recent One Pocket tournament at Hard Times had a rule that there could be only three balls in the kitchen. When more balls go the kitchen, you start to spot balls until there are maximum of three balls in the kitchen. You start the spotting from the ball that is nearest to the end rail. This prevents the game from going into an end rail game where both players are just exchanging safeties and should therefore speed up the game, on average. Jay Helfert's post doesn't specify explicitly whether you spot balls after each shot or after the inning, but akatrigger clarified that it was indeed between innings that you should spot balls.

The rule is not a new invention: Freddy Beard has a similar system described on his blog, but I find his rules too complex. "The maximum of three balls in the kitchen and spot balls starting from the ball nearest to the rail" is a simple rule and easier to remember.

Now, I'm not an experienced one pocket player, but I really like the rule. It should be useful in tournament play to prevent for individual matches to last significantly longer than the average match. There's still a lot of safety play, but you can't just start rolling the balls near the end rail to prevent your opponent from running out.

The only real downside I see is that it's easy to forget to spot those balls and it might give the other player an easy shot on his pocket. Say you leave the cue ball near the foot spot and your opponent notices that a ball needs to be spotted and this leaves an easy shot for your opponent. Had you noticed that you should spot a ball before your inning, you wouldn't have left the shot for your opponent.

As can be witnessed from the On The Rail TV coverage, players quite often forgot to spot balls, but from what I've seen it didn't give much advantage to the player that got the ball that was spotted (that should've been spotted before the previous inning).

I've played with the rule couple of times now and we didn't notice any particular problems with the rule, apart from the problem of not remembering to spot the balls. One time we had to spot like four balls at a time, because we forgot the spotting rule for several innings. It didn't give either one advantage though. On the whole, we didn't have to spot balls all that often, because we play a bit too aggressively compared to our skill level. That said, if we wouldn't have spotted balls, they probably would have ended up on the end rail, out of play mostly.

I think the traditional rules are fine too, but I think this is a good way to speed up the game in tournament play and to make sure that no individual match drags the progress of the tournament.

Can anyone see any other pitfalls with the rule?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

My Pool Story

This article is part of Volume 9 of PoolSynergy, a monthly collection of the best writing on pool. The rest of the July edition of PoolSynergy is at Michael Reddick's blog Angle of Reflection. The April theme is "What's Your Story?".

When I try to think how I got started with pool, I'm unable to trace it back to any single memory. Instead, I just remember various moments and places along the path. None of these contains a single moment that got me started, but all of them —in their own way— have been elemental to my pool story.

The earliest memories I have are from my teens, back from the days when I used to play table tennis seriously. Our team practiced in a hall that was built for nearby school as a temporary sporting facility while they had their own built. Needless to say, it was not exactly state-of-the-art as far as sporting facilities go. In fact, it didn't even have a bathroom. It's still in use, it seems, but nowadays it's mainly used for floorball.


It was built near a larger sport center that had, among others, a swimming hall, ice-skating hall and a bowling center. One of the buildings had pool hall, not surprisingly in the bottom floor, beneath the ground if I remember correctly. We used to visit that hall once in a while and I can still remember the excitement and wonder I had watching others play the game. It seems the pool hall still exists. Maybe I should visit the place next time I'm around.

That was about 20 years ago.

Forward some amount of years and enter darts. I have no idea where it started, but me and couple of my friends started playing darts quite intensively. We never got around to play darts competitively, but we managed to practice enough to become pretty good. However, it was with the same lot that we had the idea to play pool billiards.

Now, I still have nothing against darts as a sport, but I guess we were at the most unrewarding point of our development as darts players, meaning that we had become pretty good, but it was going to take a whole lot more disciplined practice to advance to actual good. So throwing darts was pretty frustrating at that time and playing pool offered a somewhat similar, but a more rewarding hobby.

We didn't have a pool hall real near us, so it took quite the arrangement to get to play, but when we got there, we used to stay for hours. None of us got any formal training or advice. We just played. Most of the time there were exactly three of us and only two of us played at a time. I remember waiting anxiously to get back to playing when it was my turn to wait. I think we mostly played eight ball and sometimes those frames took ages.

Unlike darts, we didn't really have any yardstick to compare our level of play. We just played. And enjoyed. Sure, like in any competitive sport, you get frustrated, but compared to the frustrations we experienced with darts, pool billiards seemed somehow more enjoyable. It's not to say pool billiards is better than darts, but I guess it was better suited for us, at the time at least.

We used to play in a place that had quite a few regulars one of which approached us to give advice on our play. I don't know what our problem was, but we were quite dismissive about his advice. He was obviously a better player then any of us, but we just wanted to mind our own business, which, in hindsight, was quite a bad decision.

Pool remained a recreational hobby for us, but we played quite irregularly. The situation remained similar until one day, around ten years ago, another friend of mine got couple of thousand Finnish marks to spend. He decided to buy a pool table with the money. They had a place for the table, in a private club, and soon enough I joined their club. I was friends with some of the lot, but my main motivation was the pool table. I was eager to practice alone. Unfortunately, my practice methods and fundamentals weren't quite in shape, but sure enough I got better, slowly. Practicing wasn't the pleasure as I've managed to transform it nowadays, but I got some hours in.

Then one day another acquaintance visited the place. He was a better player than me, but I remember managing to hold my own against him at that time. I don't remember what the exact score was, but I won some and he won some. I guess that inspired him to hint about a weekly pool tournament held nearby. It was at a bar, Pub Ysipallo (Pub Nineball in English) it was called. They had four tables and the place itself was a regular pub, far from fancy or "polished".

I needed to build some courage to enter the tournament. I knew I wasn't that good and somehow I thought I would embarrass myself. Fortunately, the atmosphere and the players organizing the tournaments were extremely nice and kind. Still, I remember being extremely nervous and tense for the first match, but I managed to win some frames, maybe even a match.

It was the players and the atmosphere that brought me back to the weekly tournament, week after week. There were quite some characters in the bunch, and I didn't necessarily every one of them, but it was a fun company and became good friends with some of them. I did practice some, but it was mostly these tournaments that kept me playing. I wanted to become a better player, like most of us, but didn't want to do much about it. I just focused on enjoying myself in the tournaments.

Even though now, years later, I have a different agenda with my pool career, I still fondly remember the times at Pub Ysipallo. The place is no longer called that and they don't have the pool tables anymore. (And in fact, most players hated the tables; they were a bit clunky and not in the greatest condition either.) But that's the place and those are the people I go back to in my memories of my pool story.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

US Open 10-Ball Runner-up, Lo Li-Wen

Filipino Lee Van Corteza took the first place in 2010 US Open 10-Ball Championship, but the second place was taken by a relative unknown to western pool audience, Taiwanese Lo Li-Wen. ("Lo" is his surname and "Li-Wen" the first name.) He's originally from Taiwan but now resides in Tokyo, Japan. According to the AZBilliards forum poster, he recently won the Hokkaido Open and was the runner-up in Japan Open 2009. Finding information about him on the Internet seems to be extremely difficult. There's a result page of him winning the MAG SUMINOE CUP-Kansai 9-ball Open (2010), besting among others none other than the great Ralf Souquet.

(Photo of Lo Li-Wen is courtesy and copyright of On The Break News Group. Used with permission.)

His name caused some confusion for the TAR live coverage as they weren't quite sure how exactly to spell it. "Lo Hi-Wen" seemed to be a popular misspelling of his name. Later to the final, the commentators received a short background story for the guy. He's aged a little over 30 years and has a two-year old child.

Lo's record in this year's US Open 10-Ball was impressive. He advanced in the winner's bracket winning the likes of Marc Vidal Claramunt (9-2), Tyler Edey (9-7), Oscar Dominguez (9-6), and Corey Harper (9-0) in the early rounds. With eight players left in the winner's bracket, he defeated Charlie Williams 9-7. Just recently Lo lost the first round match of the 32 player cup to Williams in the World Pool Masters 9-8.

After defeating Williams, Lo Li-Wen was to face Mika Immonen, who has been a dominating figure in major pool tournaments in recent years. Immonen won the World 10-Ball Championship and achieved an impressive back to back wins in the US Open 9-Ball Championships in 2008 and 2009. However, Immonen's track record didn't help him as Lo sent him to the loser's bracket with a decisive 9-5 win. Lo Li-Wen had faced Immonen also in the World Pool Masters recently, beating him 9-8 in the group stages.

After winning Immonen, Lo Li-Wen had a match for the hot seat, a place in the final two. The match was against Lee Van Corteza, who's also had a lot of success lately. Corteza took out Manny Chau, Mike Dechaine and others in the upper side of the winner's bracket. Lo Li-Wen took the hot seat with a comfortable 9-6 win over Corteza. Corteza eventually fought his way back from the loser's bracket and faced Lo Li-Wen in the final, a race to 13 wins.

The final involved some controversy in the early stages. The pace of the game, especially on Lo Li-Wen's part, was extremely slow. Even the TAR live stream commentators, Billy Incardona and Scott Frost were worn out by the slow speed of the play. When Corteza lead the match around 7-2, the tournament director Ken Shuman took the players to a meeting and suggested the players to speed up their pace. The director said that they would otherwise have to start using shot clocks. Both players seemed to agree with the tournament director's sentiment and they started playing faster. It is unclear why Lo Li-Wen played so slow as his pace in the previous TV table match was significantly faster. He certainly didn't appear to play slow intentionally.

At first, it seemed that speeding up the game made Lo Li-Wen somewhat uncomfortable, but after few nervous shots, he actually started to play better. To my account, Lo stringed around three racks of breaks and run-outs after the talk with tournament director and eventually tied the match at about 8-8. Throughout the match, Lo's break was working effectively. He broke with an open bridge, unlike most others, and with a little less speed, but managed to make balls on the break continuously and controlling the cue ball and the one ball pretty accurately.

The match proceeded evenly and eventually the players were hill-hill, 12-12. Lo Li-Wen broke and was left with a relatively tough shot on the one to the side pocket. He missed the pot and let Corteza make the one and the two only to make a poor position shot on the three. Corteza played a safe, which left a short jump-shot for Lo. Lo missed the pot and Corteza ran out to take the US Open 10-Ball Championship.

Judging from the way Lo Li-Wen played in the US Open 10-Ball, we'll surely see more from him in the future.

Higgins Scandal

For those unaware, a newspaper in England released a video that accused snooker world champion John Higgins for accepting a bribe for fixing frames. Now, if you do watch the video, you're going to believe that Higgins is guilty. But if you spend few moments thinking about it, you should realize that it's not a fair "trial" for Higgins. The newspaper does its best to make Higgins look guilty, because they're selling a story. It's not their job to be objective.

In fact, they've already won. They've sold the story.

I'm not saying Higgins is not guilty. I'm not trying to defend him. But I am saying that you can't and shouldn't judge him based on the video. That video is edited and cut, and possibly manipulated, to make Higgins look bad. And by releasing this version the newspaper succeeded just in what they wanted. They sold the story. They don't give a shit about making it fair. They don't give a shit about "cleaning the sport." Their only motive is to sell papers, to sell stories.

To judge Higgins based on the video is sheer stupidity. To watch the video and "buy" the story is a trap set by the newspaper. I'm guilty on both accounts.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I Suck But That's OK

I've kept a record of my Fargo results from last autumn, from around when I started practicing again. The good thing about it is that it gives a quite accurate picture of my skill level. Which is a nicer way of saying that I sucked, and still suck. But that's OK, because everyone sucks. The important thing is to reduce the suckage.

And that's the great thing about keeping records. It surely is awesome to see some progress happening. My result graph bounces up and down, which has made it somewhat difficult to say anything conclusive. But today I realized that I need to graph last 10 match averages. And this is what it looks like:

That puts my current 10 match average at around 110 points. In American terminology that makes me a B player. It's not disappointing nor is it over my expectations. It is what it is. That's my current skill level. 

The mistakes I make practicing Fargo are those same silly mistakes I make in matches. Lapse of concentration, general sloppiness, inconsistent preshot routine, stroke variability, mistakes in position play and so on. Even as of lately, I've had frames of zero points in Fargo: meaning that I've missed the first shot of a frame. That's why I believe that Fargo is a good metric for my progress. I don't think my playing skills specific to Fargo have improved that significantly so the progress can be attributed to increasing my skills and consistency. (There are some minor things like adjusting to your own skill level that do increase the average score in Fargo, but I think I've had that covered for most of the Fargo scores shown in the graph.)

My goal, then, is to increase the 10 match average score to 130 by the end of this year. It's not going to be that easy, because of my limited practice time and the fact that I've probably collected most of the low-hanging fruits of my progress. There is most certainly a whole hell of a lot of room to improve, but improving will become progressively harder.

I think I need a better practice schedule. 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Feeling of a Stroke

This article is part of Volume 7 of PoolSynergy, a monthly collection of the best writing on pool. The rest of the May edition of PoolSynergy is at p00lriah's blog. The April theme is Poolosophy - Your Approach to Pool.

I thought I had my "poolosophy" (my approach to pool) nailed when I read Bob Fancher's Pleasures of Small Motions, years ago. For the first time in my career I read a book that explained what has driven me to pool all these years. The title says it all: it's the pleasure one gets from executing small motions of fine motor control. It's the pleasurable feeling of having your body and your arm in control. It certainly isn't the only purpose for my pool hobby, but it plays a big part.

However, it wasn't the first read of Fancher's book that gave me this sense of purpose for pool. I don't remember when exactly I bought and read the book for the first time, but I'm sure it's close to ten years ago. At the time, my pool hobby revolved around playing handicapped weekly 9-ball tournaments and, occasionally, playing in a bar with friends and a lot of booze. So much for improving my skills.


I took the tournaments pretty seriously and I remember being extremely angry with myself after losing a match I thought I shouldn't have lost. I had no real idea of my true level of play, but I considered myself "somewhere in the middle" of the typical attendees of the tournament. There were some pretty good players even though it was a low buy-in tournament. The tournament was pretty heavily handicapped so everyone had a chance.

The thing about these weekly tournaments was that the array of players and personalities was incredibly diverse. Everyone had their own "poolosophy" that ranged from some people doing everything they could to win the game to some other's odd appreciation of "the right way to play the game". I fell mostly to the latter group. I had this strange conviction that one should play the game in what I thought was the "right way". I watched the better players and saw how they made beautiful run outs and amazing shots and I wanted to be like them. That's what I should aim for, I thought.

You see, the tournaments were almost always 9-ball with handicaps, so they were effectively a race to something like three or maybe four games. A lot of the players there, me included, were pretty low-level in their skills and I would estimate that most averaged like three or four ball run outs. It was basically guaranteed that when a player broke, pocketed a ball or two, landed on the next ball, that they would not run out. Recognizing this fact, many of the players opted to try low-percentage combinations and caroms or making three fouls for the opponent. (Which were, in hindsight, often the right choices for them, just based on the probability of winning the game on such strategy compared to the chance of running out.)

I would become extremely annoyed about this type of play. The matches that I lost commiting three fouls or with the opponent fluking the nine ball were infuriating. I got so annoyed by this type of play that actively refused to play in such way. If I had a ball-in-hand, I would almost always try a run out, even if the nine ball combination was pretty easy. Even to this day, I'm pretty uncomfortable shoot game winning combinations even though my attitude towards them has changed.

I remember having a somewhat conflicting feeling about pool with the Fancher's book's message and the constant frustration I felt at the table. Pool felt great when I did manage to play well and make good run outs, but being relatively poor with my skills, those moments were pretty few and far between. And even when I felt good about my game, I was always afraid that the deciding match would degenerate into "crapshoot".

To be fair to Fancher's book, there's nothing conflicting about his message. It was just that all these ideas melted in my head into this strange, irrational concept of how pool should be played. And while I enjoyed playing pool, it generated unnecessary frustration way too often.

Fast forward some years. Got married to a lovely girl, got a couple of lovely kids with her. Kids grew up few years and I had again the chance of spending some time on the pool table. I started by playing in the local weekly tournaments (in the town where we moved to after having the kids). I knew I wanted to play pool, but I had these frustrating memories of my past "pool career".

It was after the last summer that I re-read Fancher's book. There was nothing new in particular, but it slowly convinced me to actually spend some time practicing. I always knew the value of practicing, but for some reason I never quite translated this knowledge into actual time on a pool table on my own. Doing the most basic drills imaginable.

The start was pretty slow, in terms of pleasure of the practice. Like most pool players, I thought I disliked drills. The idea of executing these boring drills, over and over again, seemed kind of unpleasant. But after few weeks of pretty fixed practice schedule, I started to get this new type of satisfaction from the drills. Enough repetition of straight-in shots (of all kinds) gave me a whole different feel for my stroking hand and the whole body.

I realized that I finally understood, on a personal level, what the pleasures of small motions really meant. While I always could appreciate the feeling of a good stroke, this constant evolving and fine-tuning of my billiard stroke brought it to a new level. The words "relaxed" and "smooth" as related to my stroke got whole new meanings every other month. I had tensions in my arm and in my body that I never knew about. And these tensions of course made me miss shots that I thought I shouldn't. In short, I started to enjoy playing a whole lot more.

This newly found relaxedness transformed my competitive play too. It is hard to measure one's performance based on handicapped weekly tournaments, but I feel like I've played more consistently and managed to win more games. It has also helped with my choking on key balls of a frame or match. I'm still somewhat nervous on certain situations, but with the new confidence on my stroke, I know I can make the shot nevertheless. I trust my arm and my body nowadays.

So my poolosophy is to enjoy the pleasures of small motions through practicing. I hope it translates into some competitive advantage and I'm certainly going to attend tournaments in the future. But to me, the important thing is how the stroke feels. Right now, it feels very good.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Reflections on Recent One Pocket Action

We managed to arrange some local one pocket action. We had four players (including me) and we ended up playing for roughly four hours. This was my first real one pocket experience. I had played couple of practice games, but this time we had a little bit of money on the table. It's not that I can't play seriously when there's no money involved, but the money did make the game a tiny bit more serious this time. It felt like a mini-tournament.

Anyhow, being that I'm a complete newbie when it comes to one pocket, I was expecting to be confused most of the time. And I sure was. Not so much that I didn't have a decent chance at winning, but I often found myself in a situation where (a) I didn't know what to do know (b) most options required a skilled shot. I find it ironic that some people think that one pocket is boring. To my opinion, not knowing what to do, having huge amount of strategic choices and having to execute very difficult shots is the exact opposite of boring. Sure enough, you aren't pocketing balls all the time in one pocket, but I find it exciting and inspiring that I have no idea of what to do in a given situation.

All of us four happened to be pretty equally skilled, the matches very pretty even all the way through. I had the least actual one pocket playing experience. My inexperience did make a quite big difference as I made couple of really poor shots in situations where an safer option would have been available. Those mistakes were really gross. One was selling out after the opponent's break shot. I was trying to clear balls out of his pocket, but I didn't control the cue ball and left him a pretty open table. He didn't run out from that, but made like five or six balls (if I remember correctly). The other was an attempt to de-pocket a ball when my opponent was on 7 points. I should have had just pocketed his ball and followed the cue ball into the pocket and kept myself alive in that game.

I recently read most of Jack Koehler's Upscale One-Pocket, but I still managed to make mistakes that resulted from not following Koehler's advice. One of his suggestions is that, in general, you should use kick-shots primarily for moving balls, not pocketing them. Especially if you aren't experienced with kick shots. I saw this principle in action many times. It is just too easy to miss the object ball too much with a kick shot and possibly give the opponent an easy shot.

Those slow, soft kick-shots are quite rare in rotation games and in 8-ball. Usually kick shots are just trying to clear safeties in those games and most often they are hit with some significant speed. In one pocket, kick shots typically require more finesse and I personally don't have much experience with those shots. It's often too easy to sell out with them.

In general, I think I wasn't careful enough at all. There were situations where I didn't know what to do, but there were some pretty easy, simple safeties that I didn't execute carefully. I left too many easy short-rail banks. There's a huge difference in leaving a bank where the opponent can or can't control the cue ball. If the bank has just a bit too much angle, making the ball becomes somewhat more unlikely and the cue ball control is that much harder.

All in all, it was a nice experience. I won one match and lost the other two 2-1 and I was happy that I didn't get completely slaughtered. I hope to get more one pocket action going in the future. We have a bigger tournament in the start of June. Like one of the fellow players yesterday said, the chances of winning that tournament are effectively zero for all of us. The skill difference is just that big. But I hope it will be a nice experience.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Thrown Into Throw Effects

We had a pool trip to our neighboring country, Estonia, just recently. The trip obviously involved a lot of pool playing, but it wasn't too serious. It was more like a regular vacation. Me and my wife won the mixed doubles competition, which also happened to be the first official tournament for my wife.

Anyhow, one of the attendees to the trip was someone (among others) whose game I respect a lot. So I tried to fish for comments and criticism on my game and one of the valuable comments he gave was that my shot selection is too limited. I tend to go for draw shots, even when a follow shot would be more appropriate. I'm particularly prone to use outside English with my draw shots and often a whole different shot would be a better choice. The comment felt obvious in hindsight, but without someone saying it to me, it probably wouldn't have occurred to me. So I'm grateful for that.

What I realized later was that one of the reasons that I have a limited shot selection is that I've never approached throw effects systematically and often the shots I avoid involve inside English. In certain shots, you should compensate pretty heavily for the cut-induced and spin-induced throw. The most natural compensation is the use of outside English, which often negates the throw effect completely, making it unnecessary to compensate with the cut-angle. I think the reason of my shot selection bias is partly because I've grown to trust shots that involve outside English. Some shots just seem harder for no obvious reason. I think the underlying reason is often that they involve heavy throw effects. My brain has registered that I've missed a lot of these types of shots and that's one of the reasons I've avoided them.

Now, since these throw effects are very much real and pretty significant at times, it follows that every good player already compensates for them, in some way or another. Many players probably know that there are throw effects, but in practice they compensate the throw by intuition, by feel. And there's nothing wrong with that, because ultimately you have to compensate by feel anyhow. But the point that Dr. Dave makes is that this intuition can be guided and taught so that you learn quicker. That's my intention.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Half-Ball Hit And Russian Billiards

Part two of Mike Page's excellent half-ball hit youtube series introduces the concept that the path of the cue ball of a half-ball hit is not very sensitive to the exact point you hit the object ball. That is, you can aim the object ball within a range of about 20 degrees of angle and the object ball comes out within two degree accuracy. In Mike's example, he cuts the object ball in such way that the cue ball drops into the corner pocket and it seems that he does it with great accuracy. But as Mike explains, it's mostly because of the cue ball path is more or less the same, if you just manage to hit the object ball in a range that is pretty wide.

Now, readers outside of Finland or Russia are probably unaware of billiards variants called Russian Billiards or the slightly different game (popular in Finland) called Kaisa. Both are played on a pretty large table with rather large balls. But the main characteristic of the game is that the pockets in both Russian Billiards and Kaisa are extremely tight. Like few millimeters wider than the balls. Straight-in shots are hard on these tables, unless you've practiced a whole lot. If the object ball is on the rail couple of diamonds away from the pocket, the shot is practically impossible.

[1] License of the pictureGFDL and CC-BY-SA 2.5, 2.0 and 1.0. Author: Alexei Kouprianov. 

The Russian Billiards has different variants and I don't know how each of those work exactly, but I think it's called "American" or the free variation, where you get points for pocketing the cue ball too. You'd think that pocketing the cue ball is pretty hard with these balls and pockets and you'd be right. But if you look at a typical game of Russian Billiards by world's best players, you'll notice that they make it look pretty effortless. And pocketing the cue ball is very powerful shot in that game, because not only you get a point for it, but you also get a ball-in-hand and for most shots, you'd like to be straight-in to make sure you get the object ball in.

I believe that the reason that they manage to pocket the cue ball so accurately is the exact same that Mike Page describes in his video. The angle that the cue ball must come out of the hit is much narrower in this game, but it's still not that sensitive to the exact angle that the object ball goes to. It's certainly not always an exact half-ball hit, but I'd claim that it revolves around it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Story uusi poolin joukkuemestaruuden

[This article is in Finnish.]

Story Poolin joukkue, Juan Castaneda, Tuomas Riipinen, ja Jesse Rosendahl, voitti vuoden 2010 poolbiljardin joukkueiden suomenmestaruuden. Nuorekas mutta kokenut joukkue uusi mestaruudensa edelliseltä vuodelta. Mitään untuvikkoja Storyn pelaajat eivät toki enää ole, mutta etenkin finaalissa Storyn joukkue oli selvästi ikävuosissa Galaxie Cue Sports 2:n "veteraaniporukkaa" perässä. GCues 2:ssa pelasivat seniorirankingia hallitsevat Mika Määttä ja Kauko Keskinen sekä kokenut Teppo Rantanen. Kisat pelattiin Tampereella Galaxie Centerissä. Kolmosijalle jäivät Galaxie Cue Sportsin ykkösjoukkue ja Lahden LP-90:n kolmosjoukkue.

Finaalien peliparit olivat 9-pallossa Riipinen vastaan Määttä, 8-pallossa Rosendahl vastaan Keskinen ja 14.1:ssä Castaneda vastaan Rantanen. Molemmissa joukkueissa pelattiin melkein koko kisat samoilla pelivalinnoilla.

Ysipallo-ottelussa Storyn Riipinen pääsi alussa 3-1 -johtoon, mutta Määttä pääsi tasoihin kahdeksannessa erässä. Riipinen otti kuitenkin uudelleen johtoaseman ja johti parhaimmillaan 8-4. Määttä kavensi, mutta 8-5 -tilanteessa Mika ei päässyt hyvästä aloituksesta huolimatta ykköspallon päälle. Alla video ysipallo-ottelun ratkaisuerästä:

Mestaruus ratkesi Jesse Rosendahlin ja Kauko Keskisen kasipallo-ottelussa. Ottelu eteni tasaväkisesti, mutta Rosendahl sai lopussa puristettua itsestään tarvittavan keskittymisen ja vei ottelun lopulta luvuin 8-6. Aiemmin jo kasipallon SM-kisojen puolivälieriin selvinnyt Rosendahl pelasi koko kisojen ajan vakuuttavaa kasipalloa. Viimeisessä erässä Rosendahl joutui urakoimaan pussitusten ja jättöjen kanssa, mutta varmisti lopulta Storyn mestaruuden varmoilla otteillaan. Alla ratkaisuerän viimeiset pallot.

Peli oli tätä ennen hetkittäin hieman hermostunutta. Tässä erässä GCueS 2:n Keskinen putsaa lopulta pöydän, molempien pelaajien päästessä yrittämään erän voittoa.

Samaan aikaan straight pool -ottelussa pelasivat Storyn Juan Castaneda ja GCueS:n Teppo Rantanen. Pelissä ei nähty valtavia lyöntisarjoja ja peli eteni tasaisesti pisteissä. Ottelu keskeytettiin, kun Rosendahlin voitto Keskisestä ratkaisi finaalin. Alla näyte Castanedan ja Rantasen pelistä.

Toisessa välierässä hopeajoukkue GCueS 2 kohtasi saman seuran ykkösjoukkueen, jossa pelasivat Toni Valkila, Einari Autero ja Jimmy Wikman. Ykkösjoukkue oli etukäteen kisojen ennakkosuosikkeja, mutta Kauko Keskinen jyräsi Valkilan kasipallossa (8-2) ja Määttä voitti hienosti pienestä altavastaaja-asemasta mestaruussarjan kärkimiehen Einari Auteron lukemin 9-6. Jimmy Wikman ehti ennen näitä pelejä voittaa Rantasen straight poolissa. Wikman nakutti tauluun lukemat 100-20 tyypilliseen nopeaan tyyliinsä.

Story kohtasi välierässään Lahden LP-90:n kolmosjoukkueen, jossa pelasivat Jarno Toivonen, Marko Salonen ja Henri Toivo. Ottelu oli Storyn hallintaa. Rosendahl ja Riipinen voittivat omat pelinsä (8-2 ja 9-6) ja Castanedankin peli oli tässä vaiheessa jo 97-30. Tiukemmalle Story joutui puolivälierässä Hyvinkään HyvBk:n Miikka Hirvosta sekä Makkosia Marko ja Petri vastaan. Ottelu päättyi 2-1 Storylle. Riipinen voitti ysipallossa ja Petri Makkonen straight poolissa. Rosendahlin ja Hirvosen kasipallo-ottelu päättyi lopulta 8-7 Rosendahlille.

Lopulliset mitalisijoitukset:
  • 1. Story Pool, Juan Castaneda, Tuomas Riipinen ja Jesse Rosendahl.
  • 2. Galaxie Cue Sports 2, Teppo Rantanen, Mika Määttä ja Kauko Keskinen.
  • 3.-4. Galaxie Cue Sports 1, Jimmy Wikman, Einari Autero ja Toni Valkila.
  • 3.-4. LP-90 3, Jarno Toivonen, Marko Salonen ja Henri Toivo. 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Most Important Thing: Belief in Yourself

Talent is overrated. Way overrated.

It seems like a strange thing to say in these times, because last decades have been all about the individual and the individual's talent. We've become obsessed about child prodigies, super-talents, people that "just seem to have it in them." The research, however, is beginning to draw a slightly different picture on the whole subject.

This is not to say that there are no individual differences. There are. This is not to say that anyone can be the best in the world. That's impossible. (By definition.) Neither it is the case that the whole story is known. But what research suggests pretty much contradicts the common knowledge. The short version is that talent is overrated. The longer version I try to present in this article.

Note though that this is not some tree-hugging hippie philosophy of "everyone being the same and equal." All this is based on research. I wouldn't mind if it was the other way around. If that was the case, then I would advocate and preach an opposite message. But I think it's fair to say that the importance of talent as represented by common knowledge is mistaken. Furthermore, I think it has very important consequences for the individual.

Research in the area of expertise has been popularized by a guy named K. Anders Ericsson. He and other researchers were determined out to figure out what made some people experts in their respective fields. The findings can be summarized in two words: deliberate practice. Or four words: shitloads of deliberate practice. There are pretty much no exceptions to this. Even those that have historically been classified as exceptional child prodigies, like Mozart or say Judit Polgar in chess, turn out to have been practicing a huge amount before they really blossomed in their thing.

Now, you can argue, justifiably, that these people who have practiced countless of hours (and then some more) are more talented too. (Maybe they are more talented in practicing, who knows.) And it is probably true, to some extent. But it brings up bizarre comparisons. You look at yourself and think "well I'll never be the best" and compare to someone who already is there and forget the amount of work they've done. It's like you could simulate in your mind your skill (or lack thereof) after thousands of hours of practice without actually doing the practice.

The bottom line is that the only known correlation to expertise is the amount of deliberate practice. Why assume other correlations like the inborn talent when research has not found any? So long as you don't actually practice for years, who knows what your potential could be. To be fair, it is likely that there are inborn and perhaps learned characteristics to do in fact determine whether you can become an absolute top player, but I can guarantee that you can become a pretty fucking good player in pool if you practice, deliberately, for years on. Most pool players never know, because they never practice for long periods of time and deliberately.

The message that an individual should take home from all this, I think, is to not worry about whether you have it in you or not. The only way to find that out is to practice shitloads. In the process, you will become better. Not probably a top player, but certainly the best you can be. There's incredible amount of potential to be filled anyhow. Where exactly it would land you, no one knows. But you can't stop before you even started, just because you're afraid that you can't make it to be a really good player. You can. Believing that you aren't constrained by fixed, inborn characteristics will help you become the best you can.

Coincidentally, this is what another researcher, Carol Dweck, has found in her studies. She has studied what the difference in one's beliefs makes to one's current performance. She divides people into those who believe that "they either have it or don't", aka. the fixed mindset, and people who believe that it's the hard work that determines whether they succeed or not, aka. the growth mindset. Unsurprisingly, people with growth mindset actually perform better. When they fail in something, their response is "well, I have to try harder." In contrast, people with fixed mindset respond to failures by thinking they aren't talented enough.

This can be replicated very easily in for example classroom setting by conditioning one group to think in the fixed mindset and the other group to think in the growth mindset. Then they put all to fail in a test and see how they fare in the next one. Just a simple conditioning like this makes the fixed mindset people to not try at all in the next test. They think that failing is an indication of them being inferior and they do all they can to avoid failure. The growth mindset people think that failures are good indication of where they should be concentrating on. They think they should just try harder.

Dweck has a popsci book about her research called Mindset, which contains solid advice about the effects of one's mindset. The book to me seems a bit too touchy-feely, but it's based on solid research nevertheless.

So, all in all, I think we should all stop worrying about our inborn restrictions. One, they are not so important as we tend to think. And two, those worries are hampering our progress anyhow.

[Although I'm not part of Pool Synergy, I figured I could follow their theme and write an article what I think is The Most Important Thing.]

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sleep more, perform better

These are the facts. One, your performance decreases the more sleep deprived you are. Two, your learning is hampered if you don't sleep well.

For those unaware of how sleep debt works, here's a short, simplified explanation. First, everyone has pretty much a fixed daily sleep need. This sleep need varies individually: some need only five hours of sleep per day, some people need nine, most fall somewhere in between. When you sleep more than your daily sleep need, your sleep debt is decreased and vice versa when you sleep less than your daily sleep need. The more sleep debt you have, the more tired you feel.

This tiredness is somewhat masked by circadian alerting and external stimuli. Circadian alerting is a biological process, which makes you more alert starting in the morning and starts to make you really drowsy in the evening. External stimuli are things like caffeine and states of mind like being excited. Below is a picture that graphs your sleep urge during different times of the day. (Think of "sleep urge" as the reverse of alerting.)

Now, this system of sleep debt is automatic. Just like a thermostat controlling the temperature of a room, your brain just starts to make you more sleepy when you gain sleep debt and more alert when you decrease it. You can't consciously decide to sleep less. Eventually the sleep urge becomes so over-whelming that you can't fight it anymore. If you've ever seen those documents about people who have tried to stay awake for as long as possible, you know what I'm talking about. After a couple of days of being awake, they start to grow more and more tired. (Though in fact these people who stay awake for long periods start to develop microsleeps in which the they fall asleep for just couple of seconds every now and then. Typically they can't even notice these sleeps by themselves.) The research in sleep deprivation shows that this same happens even if you miss just half an hour sleep per day: it just takes a lot longer to become so sleep deprived that you start to fall asleep during the day.

The jury is still out whether this sleep debt system is in fact one-to-one between the amount of sleep that you've lost and the amount you sleep more later. That is, whether your daily sleep amount converges with your sleep need in the long run. The evidence suggest that this is the case. So you can't decide to sleep less, because your natural sleep urge just makes you sleep more later.

But for the serious student of pool, or any other discipline for that matter, the lesson isn't about whether or not you can sleep less. The serious student should make it a priority to sleep as much as possible.

Whether or not you can "cheat" the system by constantly sleeping less, the fact remains that your performance increases in all aspects when you constantly sleep as much as you can. Veteran sleep researcher William Dement describes this in his Google Personal Growth series talk. Dement shows graphs from studies in which Stanford athlete students are put to sleep extension programs and after couple of weeks of sleeping as much as they can, they start to perform better in all aspects of their discipline. They run faster, they shoot baskets more accurately, they jump longer and so on. It's pretty amazing if you think of it: these are people who aim to be professionals in their discipline and their performance increases just by sleeping more. They thought that they knew how good they were, but after a couple of weeks of extensive sleep, they performed better.

But there is even more to it.

Recent research also suggests that sufficient sleep is necessary for efficient learning. If you practice a fine motor task, like for example pocketing balls with a stick, you have to sleep during the next night or else the practice is completely forgotten. In fact, your fine-motor control is refined during the sleep. You learn during the sleep! The better you sleep at night, the better you learn. If you don't sleep next night after a practice, you don't learn anything. Matt Walker describes this line of research in his talk.

How do you make sure that you get enough sleep?

If you've taken seriously what I've said, you might be wondering whether or not you are sleeping enough. The short answer is that if you don't feel tired during day-time, you are getting enough sleep. If you do feel tired say one hour after waking up in the morning, you are probably sleep deprived. Note though that there is a dip in alertness in the afternoon, which you can see in the graph above. So even if you are sleeping enough, you might still experience afternoon drowsiness and this is just because there's a dip in circadian alerting. But all in all, the best indicator of sleeping enough is your day-time alertness.

If you are sleep deprived, however, the correction is simple: start sleeping more. The research has shown that you can't sleep too much, contrary to the popular belief. If you just sleep as much as you can, eventually your sleep debt decreases to zero and you start feeling less and less tired. (And you start perform better, as discussed earlier.) But you can't sleep away your whole sleep debt in one go. Even if you're extremely sleep deprived, eventually the circadian alerting kicks in and you wake up.

The best way to make sure that you get enough sleep in the long term is to set up a fixed time to go to sleep, say 10 p.m. in the evening and to sleep as long as you can in the morning. There's some flexibility to the exact time you can go to sleep, but not much, maybe an hour or so. This type of arrangement ensures that you are able to fall asleep predictably. If your sleep schedule is chaotic, you might not be able to fall asleep even if you're extremely sleep deprived. Yes, this means that you shouldn't be pulling those all-nighters at the pool hall.

In summary: if you want the best performance out of yourself, you should stick to a fixed sleep schedule and sleep as much as you can

(You need to avoid alcohol too, because it decreases the quality of your sleep significantly.)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Practicing straight shots

Practicing easy, straight shots is not only about learning to shoot straight, which is important also, but to refine the motor image that is involved in a billiard stroke. By motor image I mean the learned patterns in your head that turn into a pool stroke on the table. It's an image in the sense that the components of the stroke are stored and described in your head, similar to other information stored in your head, like for example visual images. The difference is that there is no easy way to describe the image, other than playing it out on the table.

This in turn means that it's practically impossible to describe how a good stroke feels. The hand that executes the stroke should for sure be relaxed and loose, but there is no way to accurately describe just how relaxed or loose the hand should be. Everyone has to find out this for themselves. Sure, if someone has an incredibly tense arm, you can notice that as an observer and suggest that he has to loosen up. But to find the exact looseness is up to oneself.

The idea is then that on a practice table, hitting straight shots gives you the freedom of examining your own body during the shot. You can observe how different parts of your body feel during the execution. If some part feels tight, you can try loosening it up and see it changes the overall feeling. By carefully observing different parts of your body during this type of practice, you might find out that you been overly tight in some surprising part of the shot and might notice that you can loosen it up.

Further, it is only during practice sessions that make this refined motor image stay in your brain. When you repeat the slightly improved shot (or just your plain old shot), your motor image gets re-wired in your brain. This image is what your actual stroke in say competition is based on. It's not an exact instruction, but rather a series of patterns that your brain tries to follow when you actually execute the shot. But it does contain attributes like the looseness of your shoulders, for example, and the only reliable way to refine those attributes is on a practice table.

So when some pro says that he used to practice straight shots, it was not only about the straightness of the shot, but to observe and refine his body during the execution of his stroke.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Fun with Byrne's draw

I've been doing some PAT exercises lately and I had fun applying of a piece of knowledge from Byrne's New Standard Book of Billiards to one particular exercise.

The chapter is titled "How to kill cueball speed with draw", diagram 52, and describes couple of situations where you aren't using draw on the object ball but where draw can be used to kill the speed. The other example in the book is making a really thin cut in the side pocket and then killing off the speed of the cueball by using draw. See the diagram below:

The layout of the exercise I've been working on couple of times is like this:

The goal is to pocket the balls in rotation order.

The layout I often ended up with was something like this:

So the cut on the object ball is relatively thin and the distance is quite large too, so it's pretty difficult to control the cueball effectively. There were spots where I had to use draw just to avoid a kiss on the next ball. But in general I found using draw to be effective just for killing the speed of the cueball. With draw, one can use a pretty authoritative stroke, as Byrne puts it, but still have a decent control of the cueball.

All in all, not a ground-breaking revelation to anyone, but it was fun to apply a piece of knowledge in at least seemingly different situation. I have used similar shots before, but this time I had a "ah, that's the shot" feeling.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My first racks of one-pocket

I've been an avid watcher of one-pocket videos for quite a while, but I've never had a good chance to play the game. Last night, after our league match, my fellow teamer agreed to play few racks of one-pocket. He has been playing one-pocket for some time, but is not an expert or anything. (Hi there Sami if you read this!) He's better than me, though I managed to win the couple of racks we played.

Finnish one-pocket community is organizing a one-pocket tournament in the summer and I figured I should get some experience as I'm planning to attend the tournament. The tournament is going to be really tough as one-pocket typically attracts players that are quite proficient in general and their experience in one-pocket really gives them an edge. In one-pocket, you have to play shots that you pretty much never play in other billiard variants.

Our game was pretty reckless and aggressive, but even a reckless game of one-pocket consists of quite a few safeties and challenging pots and position plays. Even on a pretty open table you really have to struggle to run-out over five or so balls. But that's the fun of one-pocket. In, say, 9-ball, position play is mostly straight-forward and simple. (Though not easy or else anyone made run-outs in 9-ball all the time.)

The main reason I'm interested in playing one-pocket, because the game itself seems fun. I'm not playing it because it might improve aspects of my "normal" game, though I'm sure it will. I just find the game of one-pocket to be interesting in and of itself.

That said, it surely should be useful to play a game that has safeties as central part of the game. Sure, you do have to play safeties in almost all other games too, but you can mostly ignore the safety aspect in other games and still do pretty well. In one-pocket, however, it's just not possible. It seems to me that in one-pocket, safety play is crucial even when you're attacking. If you're making, say, semi-tough banks, you just can't expect to make the ball every single time and not care about whether you leave an open table for your opponent.

On John Biddle's review, I've already ordered Upscale One Pocket book by Jack Koehler. I also plan to keep watching those excellent one pocket videos, like for example this Reyes vs. Daulton game with expert commentary by Joey Aguzin and Jeremy Jones. And I hope that I get to play some practice games before the tournament.

PS. And finally the title of this blog stands up! I didn't keep a count, but I wouldn't be surprised if I caromed a combination in the game.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Just a quick status update

Just posting to tell that I've been busy in my private life and haven't had time to write blog posts here. I've been playing some, but mostly I've been balancing work and family life and have been trying to get enough sleep too.

I've been in contact with a local player, a top-ranked Finnish pool player, and he's agreed to give me private technique coaching sessions. (For his hourly rate.) It took some time to build up a courage to ask coaching sessions, but I'm really glad that I did manage to ask. I will have more to say on this when we arrange the sessions.

I have some plans on longer articles on various pool-related things that have been on my mind. For example, I've been planning to write about the effect of sleep on the practice of motor skills. Short summary: current research has shown that sleep is absolutely essential to most forms of learning, particularly motor learning. But more about that later.