I have different mental states when I am not in a tournament and when I am in a tournament. It wasn’t always this way. For a long time, both my “in-tournament” and “out-tournament” personalities were one and the same. Ah, those were the days. (If you think I’m a bitch now, you should have known me back then.) Time and society have managed to wear off some of my angles and I’m no longer a curmudgeonly stegosaurus all the time. One of my greatest challenges, if not THE greatest challenge, has been the separation of my in-tournament and out-tournament self.
“Out-tournament” is exactly what it says. I am not in a tournament. If the tournament has not started yet, I am not in a state of competition. I am a reasonable human being with realistic expectations.
After I am knocked out, I am, of course, “out-tournament”. After I get my time to myself to process it all, my in-tournament self fades and I am back to being Hello Kitty. I am philosophical about my wins (if any) and losses (arrgh) and can discuss them in a logical manner. People say sh#t to me and I can generally deal with most of it/them — if not, I have the presence of mind to walk the f#ck away. I am a reasonable human being with realistic expectations.
My in-tournament self is the last completely unreasonable feral thing about me and rather than let it run wild or have society shoot it dead, I’ve tried to manage it into a tolerable coexistence. I had a good showing at the Chet Itow Memorial tournament due to many factors but the biggest contribution was made by my in-tournament self.
When I am in a match my in-tournament self begins to run at top speed. While in this mode, all I can think about is winning and how to achieve it. The opponent I play no longer matters. Every mental resource I have is poured into finding a way to win. Great shots and great fumbles are all the same to me. If I make a great shot, I don’t take pride in it — it is one shot and there are many left. If I miss a ball with ball-in-hand, I don’t beat myself up over it — all I can do is wait for another chance. I have 100% faith in all my decisions and I accept the consequences of those decisions. All I can think about is winning and all I do is push forward toward that goal.
It is between matches that I have the hardest time dealing with society. Although I am not in a match my mental state is still very much in-tournament. I am still 100% committed to winning. I do not care who I play next. The chart does not matter to me. I only want to bring the best game I have to the next match. I do not think about losing. I do not think about playing particularly well or particularly bad. I just want to continue moving forward.
I had a hard time dealing with the comments I received during the Chet Itow. My out-tournament self will concede I had one of the easiest draws in the tournament and I sh#t out to win all my matches because that is the answer society wants me to say. I am never expected to cash well in a tournament of that caliber because you know that I’m no good. My in-tournament self would remind the populace that, easy draw or not, none of my opponents simply laid down and surrendered. They all played and even if I played terrible and sh#t out to win, I still had to slog through each of those matches to the end.
After my first loss, my in-tournament self was suprised, and not a little peeved, at the comments saying, “well, you had a good tournament” “certainly you didn’t expect to win against him“. To my in-tournament self, this tournament was not over. It was double elimination. As I said to one person, “I’m not out yet, so stop throwing dirt on the coffin.” He reminded me there were “only pros” left in the field. And my answer was, I did not care.
My brash, absolutely driven in-tournament self grates on a lot of people. I get a lot of flak for being unreasonable, unrealistic, arrogant, ridiculous, stupid, unappreciative, unladylike — you name it, I’ve been insulted/complimented. But, here’s the thing — when I’m in a tournament, why would I want to tell myself I am going to lose, that the only reason I made it thus far was due to luck? F#ck, if that’s the truth, I should just quit while I’m ahead and hit the bar.
By dint of paying an entry fee, we all have at least a little hope we will do — something. Otherwise, why not stay on the sidelines and talk sh#t? Losing is easy. Whether you can win is unknown and therein lies the challenge. Winning demands you leave your comfort zone for the unpredictable. Winning demands you sometimes suspend reality, that you should first hope to do something beyond your everyday self and then throw everything you have behind that hope with no logical, reasonable chance of success. Hope is what turns the impossible into the merely improbable, and in doing so, gives you the chance for success.
Yeah, I had an easy draw. But, I had prepared for that stroke of luck for years. Then I had to demand more from myself in order to use the opportunity I was gifted, because, I assure you — I was entirely capable of f#cking off every match I won. I didn’t need people telling me I wasn’t a good player or that I had no chance. I don’t know why people feel a need to tell me those things, but I am telling you now, that sh#t is getting old. At least wait for me to be out of the tournament before you impart your unsolicited opinions. My out-tournament self will then be agreeable, logical, reasonable, and realistic. My in-tournament self will tell you to f#ck off because I am here to win and until that last ball drops and the cue ball doesn’t scratch, no one — not you, not my friends, not a burning bush on a mountain — will convince me I don’t have a chance.
I do not have the benefit of talent the top players have. As an average player who is slightly competitive, I do not have the luxury to play this game only for fun. I do not have the greatest of financial resources. My internal drive to win must outrun those shortcomings. I am not a consistently good player, but given my drive and dedication, it is inevitable that I should be able to do something when given the chance.
I sometimes think the hardest pool player demographic to compete in is where I am (and lots of you are): good, but not good enough. That is, we’re okay players but never expected to do well past a point. When we do well, it is often attributed to luck rather than skill and because of that, we never get a chance to enjoy our success. Social norms require we NOT say we played well to win, for fear of looking arrogant. Over time, we sometimes begin to believe it was all luck and no skill, and that reduces our faith in our own abilities. We then play down to how other people think we should play, not how we want to play. This is why I spend so much effort maintaining my out- and in-tournament personalities. One is to appease society (can’t run from it forever) and the other is for myself. At times, I can flick back and forth between the two as easy as flipping a switch, but that ease is not sustainable the further I advance in a tournament.
Many years ago, I entered in a tournament. It was my first hundred-dollar tournament and something about the three-digit price terrified and thrilled me all the same. I had saved up money from my minimum-wage college job until I could afford the travel and entry. I went to the pool room literally jumping with excitement and I asked who else was going. There was no answer. One regular told me no one from that room went to that tournament because it would be throwing money away. I was shocked. I had always been told, by some of these regulars no less, that I needed to play better players to get better. Where better to do that than in one of the West Coast’s biggest tournaments?
“You’re not going to win that tournament. There are 256 players and you can’t beat any of them.”
I knew I was a sh#tty player then, the same way I know where I stand now. I am a reasonable human being with realistic expectations. “I know I’m not going to win the tournament, but I thought it was important to get tournament experience.”
“You’re throwing your money away. What’s wrong with ten-dollar weekly tournaments?”
“It’s not the same. I don’t want to spend my life playing ten-dollar weekly tournaments.”
“Well, then you go ahead and you throw your money off that cliff into the ocean, if that’s all the sense you got.”
That image of throwing money off a cliff into the ocean has always stayed with me. I’ve thrown many thousands off that cliff in the name of tournaments and action — and I’m still doing it.
After we sat in silence a while, he said in a softer, conciliatory tone, “Hey, I think you can still get your money back. It’s real early and if you write to them or call, maybe they’ll give you a refund.”
I looked at him with dead eyes. “A refund?”
“Yeah. You can still get your money back.”
A refund. For real? A f#cking refund. I laughed out loud at the idea. The feral side of me sprang into action and I’ve had problems managing it ever since. “There’s only one acceptable way for me to get my money back. I’m gonna jump off that cliff and swim after it. And if I don’t get it back, then at least I’m going to get my money’s worth.”
“You’re f#cking crazy.”
“You know it.”