SHARKING ?

(January Issue 2001)

Talking to opponents, joking with opponents while they are playing or in between their shots and your shot, some are mere friendly suggestions, friendly talk - when does it get to be devious? (This is an experience that happened to me.) I was participating in a Saturday tournament, when I beat a particular player, during that match I had not noticed his presence or the presence of one of his close friends, his buddy, comrade, cohort. It was in the second match when he came back through the losers bracket to play me that I noticed this cohort once again hanging around the table. I noticed when I was down stroking on a long shot and I was up against the rail, this person walked in front of my view, stopped, turned around and left the picture. If I was playing intelligent or even smart pool I would have gotten up, chalked my cue, re-aimed, did all the things that I had to do to get into position, but I didn't. That's my fault!

Yet again, sharking - does it come in pairs? Do people work with somebody else to perhaps win a match or help their friend. An interesting question. I pondered this on the way home and have been thinking about it ever since. Believe me, no excuse, it was my fault that I didn't get up and start again. Yet it made me think, how many other times, did they work together? Actually do they team up? So it got me thinking about different tournaments that I've seen both of them in. Mind you, the talent of either one of them is excellent, but that is not the point. It did get me thinking though, do they team up? Maybe, but I did go back over in my mind, different tournaments that they played in and being friends you don't really notice an irregularity with the fact that they are usually always together, when one is playing a match and the other isn't. So it would for an untrained eye perhaps go by the wayside.

Yeah, maybe so, maybe this is a vague attempt to justify my losing when he came back and met me in the losers bracket. Perhaps, but it does raise a curious question. Do good players team up to try to shark other players that their friends are playing in a match? I've also noticed the other going to his friends match and talking, joking, having a conversation or trying to with the opponent of his friend. Perhaps a more subtle sharking because if you're involved in a conversation or even thinking about a conversation, you are not concentrating on the game and concentration is the most important part of your game.

What gives me further credence to this theory on these two particular pool players is that when they have met each other in a final of tournaments, whether coming out of the losers bracket or through the winners, they really don't play each other. They split the pot. If the pot is $300 to the winner and $200 to the second place, they will split the $500. I have also seen them shoot in the finals one handed, bank eight when it wasn't or double bank as you would be goofing around with your friend on a practice day.

Curious, if nothing else, it does make you wonder. You be the judge. All I know is I'm going to watch a little closer, observe and see if it does seem to work that way. All this could be part of my fertile imagination or maybe not.



THERE IS NO 'I' IN TEAM

(March Issue 2001)

In our V.N.E.A. leagues our tournaments are usually about the 2nd or 3rd week of March. We play anywhere from 18 to 22 weeks throughout the year and vie for positioning on the bracket board. With that we were in the first position in the year 2000. Something happened throughout that tournament that I had never seen and hope not to see again and that is a lack of teamwork.

On Saturday, we had worked our way to the finals bracket and the second place team had worked their way up as well. We'll call that team A.L. Now the A.L. team had always been very close in competition with us, usually winning 117-114 or vice versa, within about six points give or take. We play on a fifteen game rotating format, maximum points per game is 10 and if you make all of your group of balls it would be 7, the 8 ball being three points. We battled down to the 14th game and we were tied.

He broke and ran down to his last ball before the 8, had a difficult long cut shot cross table to a corner pocket. He missed. I was left with 7 and the 8 and his one remaining ball before the 8. So I figured my strategy and I had a few clusters so it was rather difficult to run out and break out the two. Along the bottom of the side rail I had two of my balls spaced apart and his ball had ended up in between those, approximately 6" apart. So I knew the only way he could get out was a bank. My strategy was to make a ball, call a safe, make a ball, call a safe. And that's what I did. There was about three of them in a row. I could tell he was becoming frustrated without being able to break his ball out. He played some good safeties back on me and with the number of balls I had on the table it wasn't a complete safe. But he did hit his ball and hit a rail, never broke it out which would have left me an avenue to get out. At that time I was impressed with his game. He was playing smart and matching me move for move. As it got down to where there was only 3 of my balls left and the 8, I shot the 8 over into the mix where his ball was, but I left him just enough to where he could maybe go for it but maybe not. The smart move would be not. But he did go for it. He missed, left me a long cut into the corner which I made, came back out, got my other ball open and made the 8. We win, going into Sunday, winners in the winners bracket.

They came back through two matches, one later Saturday night and the other Sunday morning to meet us again. Figured we'd have the same strategy, trying to stay close, keep ahead whenever we can. Only the format is different now, this is the trip to Vegas, whoever wins goes. If we beat them we win, but they would have to beat us twice. The difference is a 25 game rotating format, everybody plays everybody. I felt we had an advantage going in where our team was stronger, player for player. And as it turned out we won the first round 44 to 26, won the second round by only losing 1 game. We won all the games in the third round. Going into the 16th game, we were up 65 balls. The player that I had played the night before that had played very smart and matched me move for move was up against one of my other players. And what happens next is something that is the most unusual display of pool that I have ever seen and hope not to again. They were behind 65 balls but they were still going for it. You never say die until its mathematically impossible. We were feeling pretty confident in ourselves and all the guys were shooting well. The game went back and forth and my player beats him 10-2. What happens next has to be out of bizarro world. He was angry because he couldn't pull out a win so that his team could keep going on. But the match is virtually over. Then he walks over to the table where his team was sitting, breaks apart his stick, puts it in the case, puts on his jacket and picks up his case and proceeds to leave. His team asked him where he was going, he didn't answer, his team pleaded with him to stay.

"We are a team whether we win or lose." He never said a word that I heard and he walked out the door as his team just looked and watched him get in his car and go. We won it on the 18th game, but I could never see anybody walking out on their team. You win or lose as a team. And my point, I guess that I am trying to make, is that if they were beating us the same way that we were beating them, he would have stayed.

Something to think about. We've all lost games. We've all lost matches and we've all lost tournaments. We've all come very close and could always think as we were going home, one or two shots, or a game would have mattered, or I could've won more. Over the years we've gone to Vegas 7 out of the last 10 years that we've played together. We have won matches by a mere 1 ball and so happens to be that we ended up losing the trip to Vegas by 1 ball.

You play all year as a team, win or lose.



HAVE YOU EVER LOST BEFORE ?

(August Issue 2001)

You can always walk away learning something from a loss and that doesnít make you a loser. I was recently at a tournament, with a lot of good players. A friend of mine had commented that during one of his matches that heíd beat a well known national champion during this tournament and he had done it pretty handedly. He walked over to shake his hand and told him "good play". The person didnít respond, was kind of moody and arrogant about it, being down from his loss Iím sure. My friend is somewhat outspoken and he just proposed a question to him, "Have you ever lost before?" The gentleman looked at him a little befuddled and said, "Well, yes". My friendís comment was to the point, "Then act like it!", which in my opinion speaks volumes.

We all like to win and we all lose but youíve got to realize also that youíre probably going to do more losing throughout a years time than winning. Itís like any other sport, the batting average of any major league player is good if itís 33%. So you figure if you lose a lot there has to be something to be gained from that loss. You can approach it in several different ways. You can become moody, arrogant, donít want to talk to anybody, kind of brood about it. That is not very productive. We all tend to go over any game or any match we have lost to figure out perhaps where the turn around was, what we did. What we missed and how we could have done anything different. I know I have many times. If you walk away from a match after a loss and youíve learned something from that, perhaps what not to do next time, then you gain. If we walk away with an attitude and figure, "Well, Iím just not on today", "Iím not in stroke", "The other guy was lucky", that may be true. The greatest part of this game is that you learn and you keep learning. I donít care if itís Earl Strickland or if itís some average barroom player. You should learn from your mistakes or your losses.

I like to watch opponents. Not necessarily opponents of mine but other opponents that Iíll meet some other time, on the road or even a little bit later in the tournament. I find their weaknesses so I can capitalize on my strengths. Thereís many avenues that you can take to improve your game. Practice is only one of them, but to know the weaknesses of your opponents is a very crucial one. You can also learn from the mental attitude of an opponent. How he or she reacts in certain situations. If you play a lot of safeties that you donít need to. Youíre not in stroke. Youíre on your ĎBí game - so play a ĎBí game. You run a couple and you duck and hide. Just one example that can be used. Iíve won a lot of games and many matches using the philosophy "Play to the level that youíre playing today". Donít think about how great you were. Donít think about how great you could be. Think about how you are playing today and adapt. Thatís what itís about, itís adapting to conditions that youíre playing. We all get bad rolls. We all get unlucky, but we all get lucky as well. We all get good rolls. Thatís not saying that they average out but utilize how you play at the time youíre playing.

Just because you lost doesnít make you a loser. Thereís always another match and another day. Revenge is always one of the best reasons for winning.





THE PSYCHE OF A POOL PLAYER

(October Issue 2001)

Most everyone in the professional world of sports has a trainer. That doesnít mean that the average barroom pool player needs to go on a diet or eat all the salads or the right type of nutrition, although that may be true, thatís not what Iím talking about. You donít have to go out and run a couple of miles everyday because youíll get your exercise going around the table. A trainer is someone who will improve a professional or semi-pro athleteís game. A pool instructor is someone who can improve your game.

In the game of billiards or pool, whether it is played in a bar, on a circuit, in tournaments, leagues or around the world, most of the players that I know have never taken a lesson. Myself, Iíve only taken one and I regret that because I learned so much from that lesson. I regret not taking it earlier in my game.

These instructors have taken many hours of training to pick out various peopleís, I donít really want to say "flaws", but actually it is. Whether you are stroking, how youíre hitting the ball; how youíre standing; how youíre positioned; how youíre holding the stick; whether you follow through; whether you stand up; whether you poke, not stroke. There are so many variations on what you can do wrong and Iíve done most of them if not all.

In my travels around the Northwest as I deliver, Iíve been asked several times, "Where can I go to find a good instructor, who can teach me how to make my game improve? How can I learn to do trick shots? How can I learn to break? I want to know what Iím doing wrong." Thatís encouraging. There are some people out there that realize that no matter how often they practice, if you donít practice correctly, youíre not going to improve. Or if you practice the same flaws in your game, over and over again, youíre not going to improve either. Your game may be erratic, it may be spontaneous, and thatís the reason you need to get back to basics. You need to learn what youíre doing wrong in order to move on and improve your game consistency. I would guess probably 90% of the average players has learned as much about shooting the cue ball, applying the english, the diamond system and just how in general to shoot the ball, but he or she is still inconsistent with their game. Finding the flows in your game from a trained professional is in my opinion the best way to go because they will have you do different drills, different exercises that you can do in order to improve your game. If you donít know of an instructor ask your friends, ask your league operators, go into a pool hall and ask whoever is working there if somebody can teach you how to improve your game to become more consistent. Then let me know. You can e-mail me (itís on page 2) or you can write to me. Iíd like to know what you think after youíve taken some lessons.

Some lessons can be a little bit expensive but find out what you are going to get for the lesson. Maybe you need more than one instructor to teach you different things or you need to move to another instructor so you can learn different techniques. Everybody is different so if you want to improve your game - donít go out there and buy that $1,000 stick. Invest in yourself and find an instructor that can teach you how to improve your game. Then you can invest in that cue.






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