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.