Saturday, November 14, 2009

Beating McGonagle

Once again, my lack of practice jumped up to bite me on Wednesday in league play, as I was thoroughly outplayed by a guy with a lower rating than I have. Not much fun.

So when today turned out to be soaking in rain, it seemed like a good idea to jump back in to the once-or-twice-a-month tournament at World Class Billiards. Between free practice before and after and the high-level competition itself, it was a great chance to get in some much-needed work.

As I finished warming up, I fell into conversation with one Tom McGonagle. He knows what he's doing, and is a very good shot, and is the regular favorite to win the tournament. As we chatted, he told me that he gave lessons, and I discussed it with him. I'm not yet sure it will fit into my upcoming schedule, but it's certainly an interesting idea. I'm almost entirely self-taught, and am well aware of gaps in my game that a good teacher might help me to close.

As we discussed his teaching approach and what I hoped to learn, I described my game for him, and told him that if he were to play me, he'd see that I was capable of making quite difficult and pretty shots, and equally capable of missing very easy shots.

Shortly afterward the tournament organizers gathered the players together and announced the draw. Inevitably, I was matched up against Tom McGonagle.

We began play, and there was my game, on full display for him. I handed him a game by missing an easy shot with a straightforward run-out awaiting. He did not miss the straightforward run that I left for him. But he subsequently returned the favor by rattling a nine-ball in and out of the pocket, leaving it hanging to give me a gift-wrapped game. And then I went to work with my usual stuff. In between his clockwork run-outs, I kept finding fortunate leaves, and kept finding ways to knock in early nine balls, until I had the four wins I needed to beat him.

That was easily the best win I've had since I started playing this tournament, and it was made better by the murmurs that followed. "He beat McGonagle?" "He beat Tom?" Eyebrows were raised. The room was divided between those who knew enough about my game to conclude that I'd gotten lucky, and those who figured this new guy must be really good.

My next opponent fell into the latter camp, but by the time he'd swept me, his fears were allayed. I had one horrible miss in that one, but it really didn't matter, because he thoroughly dominated me overall.

In the loser's bracket, my last opponent caught a break and inadvertently knocked in the nine ball that knocked me out of the tournament. Those who live by good luck die by bad luck.

No complaints, though. I shot pretty well overall, and reminded myself that if I was on my game, I was still capable of beating a very good player on any given day. Like, you know, McGonagle...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Rust never sleeps

I haven't been practicing at all lately. I play in a match most weeks, and I've been fairly successful, but at no time this fall have I really felt like I was in control of a match. So I decided I better get myself over to World Class Billiards last night to practice a little bit.

Wow, was my stroke in sorry shape. My game had seriously oxidized. I had some ugly misses, and it was taking me entirely too long to clear the table. I just didn't know where the shots were going. An hour and a half later, I was getting the feel back, and I started to believe in each shot. It was important to get there, but it was even more important to remind myself that I can't take my stroke for granted. I'm going to have to work at keeping the rust off, or my game will slowly start to deteriorate...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Taking my monthly spanking

Once a month they have a Saturday 9-ball tournament at World Class Billiards up on Route 1 in Peabody. They love me there. A couple of the organizers remember my name, even though they don't really know me. It's not because my game is memorable, or because of my winning personality. It's because I'm a source of cash.

There are some very, very good players that play in this thing. They have a token handicapping system, in which the best players are designated as "fives", and the also-rans (like me) are designated as "fours". You play head-to-head in a double elimination tournament, and against each opponent you have to win a number of games equal to your rating. That means that I have to get to four before a five gets to five, or in other words, I've got to break even (4-4) or better against them.

As I said, these guys are really good, so for me to break even against them is, shall we say, a long shot. I'd have to shoot the lights out and get really lucky with the vagaries of the table.

So far it hasn't happened. So for now, and for the foreseeable future, I'm just pure cash to these guys. Which is OK by me. It always helps my game to play guys who are better than me, and I get a lot of good practice in. It's not a bad price for a day's outing. And besides, it's nice to be wanted...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

It's OK to miss

You aren't that good. A very handy point to remember when you're playing pool. If I had to pick the most common tactical error that amateur pool players like me make, it's trying too hard to make a shot at all times.

There's a time and a place for trying to make every shot, like if you're trying to impress somebody, or you want the practice. But if there's money on the table, or if you're playing in a league, the object of the game is to win. And that means doing whatever it is that gives you the best chance of winning.

There are actually a couple of separate cases here. Take the tough shot. Some people will attempt a tough shot because they've made it before, or seen other people make it, and they think, hey, I should be able to make this. And if I do, I'll be in great shape!

But what if you're not that good, and it's a low-percentage shot? And what if, in missing it, you'd be setting up your opponent, who maybe is that good? Not a good idea. You've got to know yourself, and know how likely it is that you'll make a given shot, and understand the consequences of missing. In some instances it'd be better to play a defensive shot of some sort.

And what about the high-percentage shot? Soooo many times a player will see one of their stripes dangling in front of a corner pocket, and another ball in an awkward position, and they'll shoot the sitting duck, because they're afraid to miss the other one. But then what? Now you've opened up that corner to your opponent, and you still don't have a decent shot, so what have you gained, really? It might be better to leave that ball dangling over the pocket for future use, and have a poke at the trickier shot. If you miss, you leave the table in better shape than you would have if you'd taken the easy shot and then missed.

It's OK to miss a shot. Everybody but everybody misses. We know all of this in an intellectual way, but it's good to keep reminding ourselves, because our emotional impulse is almost always to make the next shot. We aren't that good.