coffee on steroids! WHEEE!!
playing more pool
didn’t I say this before somewhere?
World 10-Ball Qualifier
California Billiard Club – Mountain View, CA
Occasionally, I like to play pool.
I got it into my head to run off from responsibility and play in the WPC World 10-Ball Qualifier held at California Billiard Club in Mountain View, CA (might I add that this room is one of my FAVORITEST rooms, EVAR).
California Billiard Club
881 E El Camino Real
Mountain View, CA 94040
There were 32 players in this tournament and the rules for ten-ball for this tournament were a bit different. For me, ten-ball is played by pretty much the same rules as conventional nine-ball. For this event, I received these rules in an email:
It’s a call pocket game, but you win when you snap in the ten on the break.
Four balls to a rail on the break.
Standard push-out following opening break.
Call every ball and pocket, if not obvious. If you slop a ball in, your opponent has the option to shoot or to make you shoot again.
SAFETY: If you call a safety and pocket the object ball, the incoming player has the option to play the shot as left, or hand it back to his opponent.
If the ten ball is pocketed in the wrong pocket, or pocketed without calling it, it is spotted. No other ball is ever spotted.
Stalemate rule is in effect. Game is replayed with original breaker.
Because of these unusual rules, all players attended the players’ meeting and every rule was thoroughly examined and explained. Most of the rules were printed on yellow half-sheets of paper and distributed to all players. One more rule was clarified during this meeting and it was:
You cannot call both balls to be made on a carom. You may call one or the other, but not both.
The races were to nine, and my first match was against someone I knew from back in my days in the Bay Area. We’ll call him Yellow Jacket.
Yellow Jacket and I had always been friendly and I knew his kids (who also played pool). We’d run into each other at local tournaments and such and I’d always have a nice chat with him about his kids and how they were doing in school and in pool. Nice guy, really.
I’d never played him before, but I heard he was a pretty good player, so I did my best to focus.
I got the first break, so I broke, made a ball, and I didn’t really have a good shot, so I looked at Yellow Jacket and said, “Push.” I rolled the cueball out to the top rail and sat back down.
Yellow Jacket looked at me and said, “That’s a foul.”
“Hmm? No, no. I said, ‘Push.’ It’s a push-out, not a foul.”
“No, it’s a push. No ball-in-hand.”
“It’s a foul, yes? According to the rules?”
“No. It’s not a foul. There are some different rules for this tournament, but you can still push out. You can shoot the shot from there, or, you can give it back to me and I will shoot it. “
“Oh. I see.”
He looked at the shot for a long minute. He walked a few laps around the table. He got down on the shot. He got back up on the shot. He came back over to me.
“Huh? Sorry for what?”
“I was not at player meeting, I did not know about the push.”
“Oh, that’s okay. No worries.”
“Okay, I sorry I ask so many questions.”
“No problem. You can always ask the tournament director if you’re unsure, you know.”
He took another minute to compose himself, and shot. He made the ball.
He moved to the next shot, and repeated his slow, methodical study of the layout before finally shooting the ball. I was, at first, mildly irritated with his slowness, but then I thought to myself, if I really wanted to win, I would also take my time. He was probably very serious about winning, and I should respect that. Since he was also an older gentleman, he might also need to take longer for physical reasons. Besides, I was here to play pool. I didn’t want to be anywhere else, and I wasn’t in a hurry.
Yellow Jacket took frequent bathroom breaks, but I figured he needed them. He also asked me the same questions over and over again, and I did my best to answer them as patiently as possible. Over and over again. I fell into a routine over the course of those hours.
After every push-out I did, I waited for Yellow Jacket to ask, without fail, whether or not I had fouled. I would answer that I had pushed, that it was not a foul, and the little conversation you read earlier regarding this matter would repeat itself. He would apologize, and remind me he was not at the players’ meeting. I would assure him that it was all right to ask questions, and also to ask the tournament director for further clarification.
I also learned quickly that I needed to make eye contact with Yellow Jacket when I called or indicated my pocket. No matter how “obvious” the shot was, he would invariably ask. I found this odd, and a bit annoying at first, but it was his right to ask. This tournament was call-pocket, and he had a right to ask which pocket on every shot, just as I also had the right to ask him which pocket on every shot.
During the match, Yellow Jacket ordered food and would often take long moments to take a bite, then wipe his hands down, talk with his friends, and then shoot his shot. He often talked quite loudly during my shots, and he walked around a lot as well. I chalked it up to his personality and thought nothing more about it.
The match wore on.
It became increasingly difficult to remain focused. I also struggled mightily to remain polite regarding Yellow Jacket’s constant chatter, slow play, movements around the table, his incessant requests for bathroom breaks after every two games (I granted them all), his question after question after question, and his extremely profuse apologies citing the fact that he wasn’t at the players’ meeting.
In the beginning of the match, I had played quite well. I was now having trouble running routine layouts. I often left just the last two or three balls for Yellow Jacket, after running the rest of the balls. While he also did not shoot well, he could consistently make the two- and three-ball runouts. My safeties were failing, as well as my eyesight.
At the end of the third hour, it was painfully obvious to the spectators, Yellow Jacket, and myself that I was doing what America and America’s economy had been doing for quite some time now — running out of gas.
I had lost my lead of 7-2 to the tune of 8-7.
I remember the feeling of being almost at the edge of sleep sitting in my chair. I believe this is what is often referred to as “being put in a coma” in pool terms. I was really, REALLY tired, but the dangerous part was that I had almost no fight left in me whatsoever. My physical game is terrible — what little I can execute is mostly driven by an extreme desire to win. Without the desire to win, I might as well forfeit.
Yellow Jacket missed a six-ball and I shook myself awake for a brief moment. I looked at the table and saw that the seven and eight were near each other on the side rail, just a little ways down from the side pocket. The ten was further down the same rail, about a diamond in front of the pocket. The nine ball was out of this mess, but on the other side of the table, by the opposite siderail. The layout was best described as — craptastic. I felt sleepy.
I shot the six-ball without much thought (bad idea) and somehow ended up with a fairly decent shot on the seven (mediocrity rewarded! yay!) which, if hit correctly, would bump out the eight-ball so as to move it into makeable position. I shot the seven and, while it went in, I did not hit it nearly firm enough to pop out the eight-ball. The cueball nudged out the eight, but I still had a very steep (if even possible) back-cut into the side pocket.
I gauged the shot and I could see that I had to choose between the two things that have existed on many craptastic pool shots since time immemorial: make the shot or get position on the next ball. The eight might be makeable, but to cut in such a delicate shot would require a very delicate stroke. Should I make the ball, I would have a difficult off-angle bank on the nine-ball. If I tried to hit the eight in with the proper stroke required to get around the table to the nine, I would most likely pull a Sweeney Todd and butcher the people I didn’t like. Oh, and butcher the shot, too. Yeah.
I hate them.
“Are you there pool god(s)? It’s me, OMGWTF.” I thought that might have been the title of a book, but I guess I was mistaken. Anyways, yes, I asked this question. Almost out loud, too, might I add. I was that far gone.
And I received a strange answer.
I looked again at the eight-ball and the ten-ball and a holy light from the heavens shone down upon — an extremely low-percentage carom from the eight into the ten. I also remembered the rule that said:
You cannot call both balls to be made on a carom. You may call one or the other, but not both.
I could call either the eight in the side, or the ten in the corner. But not both.
I had a brief moment of assholity, and a strange and impudent light flickered on in the attic. I narrowed my eyes, looked at Yellow Jacket, and very deliberately said, “The eight in the side, the ten in the corner.” I got down to shoot the shot.
“No, no!” Yellow Jacket ran up to me at the table and waved his arms like he was landing a plane. “No, no, you cannot do that.”
“Oh no? Why not? I’m calling both shots. There’s a good chance both will go in.”
“No, no, no, no. You cannot call both balls, only the one.”
“Yes, yes, yes. Only the one.”
“Where did you hear that?”
“At the players’ meeting, they say so.”
“I thought you weren’t at the players’ meeting.”
“Yes, you told me several times you weren’t at the meeting and that is why you kept asking me questions, BECAUSE YOU WEREN’T AT THE MEETING, REMEMBER?”
“Oh. Yes. Right.”
“So, which is it? Were you or were you NOT at the players’ meeting?” Yellow Jacket looked confused, and rather uncomfortable. He wouldn’t look me in the eye (maybe because he was thinking laser beams might dart out of my eyes and fry him — and those would be useful). “Why did you keep asking me questions if you WERE at the players’ meeting, and, if you can remember this one rule, why couldn’t you remember the basic, so VERY basic, rule about push-outs?”
I let him stew for a moment longer, then I said, “The ten in the corner.” The carom almost went in, but as we know, almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades (and sometimes one-pocket). I freed the eight into a makeable position and Yellow Jacket easily ran the last three balls for the win.
But now, I was awake.
It was my break, and I broke, and broke well. I made two balls and started running out, making several nice shots. I got out of line on the nine-ball and missed it, leaving Yellow Jacket an easy out. Surprisingly, Yellow Jacket did a full Sweeney Todd on the easy nine and fired it right into the rail. When the blood and guts had settled down, I had a thin back-cut into the upper-left corner pocket of the table with the cueball rather close to the side rail. While the shot was very makeable, I would most definitely lose control of the cueball on such a thin cut. I also risked scratching the cueball into the upper-right corner pocket. The ten-ball was down table, just below the rack spot.
I looked at the nine for a moment, and made up my mind to fire away and take whatever ten-ball shot I was left with, even if that ten-ball would be a ball-in-hand ten-ball for Yellow Jacket. Take no prisoners! I got down on the nine and suddenly, my name was being called and hands were being waved. I got back up.
“Oh, you know, I need a bathroom break.” This was Yellow Jacket.
With a calm, beatific smile, I said, “No.”
“Oh, thank–what you mean ‘no’?”
“I said, ‘NO’. You can go when this game is over.”
“No, I really need to go now.”
“There are only two balls left on table, this match is almost over. You can go when we’re done.”
“No, I need to go…”
“Don’t drink so much soda next time.”
I looked at the shot again, and refocused. There were three things I needed on this shot: 1). the nine had to go in, 2). I had to avoid the scratch and 3). I needed a shot on the ten.
I hit the shot well. From the corner of my eye, I watched the nine-ball trickle into the pocket thanks to the clean cloth (1!), but my real focus was on the cueball, which had zinged forward and barely missed the other corner pocket, hitting the rail just before the pocket facing (2!). It pinged off the rail on the other side of the pocket, and continued downtable, ending up about an inch off the lower left rail, leaving me a shot at the ten in the side pocket (3!).
I practically did a backflip over to the shot on the ten-ball but I lost the happy-joyness after I examined the shot. While the shot was perfectly straight, the angle of approach for the ten-ball to the side pocket was very severe. This table had tight pockets and at the angle I was aiming, there was very, very little margin for error. Plus, I had the cueball on the rail. Dangnabbit.
I hated the thought of it, but I actually had to hit this shot PERFECT in order to make it.
If my stroke wasn’t dead straight (and we all know how tough that can be when the cueball is on the rail and you can’t make a comfortable bridge), I would miss.
If my aim wasn’t dead-on, the ten-ball would hit the point on the pocket and bounce out.
If I hit the shot too hard, I could scratch or the ten might jar out of the pocket.
If I hit the shot too soft, I might not get a rail, and look completely stupid.
I took a deep breath, and got down to shoot. Right as I wound up my backstroke, something moved in front of me as I blinked. I thought perhaps an eyelash had fallen in my eye. I got up, rubbed my eyes quickly, realigned and got back down.
The flash again.
This time I got up and took a good look.
It was Yellow Jacket, wiping his hands on a large white paper napkin. I waited until he was done, realigned on my shot and got back down. Warm-up strokes. A pause. Backstroke — and bzzzzt!
I stood up again and looked.
Yellow Jacket was walking back and forth, back and forth, right in front of the side pocket. He made a big show of talking to one of his friends that was there. Whatever they were talking about seemed to require grandiose hand movements to illustrate. Perhaps they were jacking off?
A sliver of understanding made it through my thick skull as I watched them and I finally realized, “This little f—er has been trying to shark me. The whole time.” Indeed he had. I just didn’t know. I had simply thought he was old, slow, possibly suffering from Alzheimer’s, and fussy — with a weak bladder, and I had tried my best to be patient and polite. I had Ned-Diddly-Flandered him to frustration (that’s a Simpsons reference, don’t worry if you don’t get it) — basically, I had killed his evil intentions with kindness. Hilarious.
I felt like saying something, perhaps something laced with a few choice bits of profanity, but thought better of it. Instead, I walked over to examine the shot from behind the side pocket. I thought about how funny people are, and how you don’t really know a person until you’re playing him (or her), hill-hill, for all the pride in the world.
I went back over to the shot, lined it up, and shot it with a blank mind.
Yellow Jacket, for all his walking back-and-forth, feet-wiggling, hand-waving, sniffling, sneezing, coughing, sore throat, runny nose, and general assholity, could not stop the ten-ball from rolling straight into the pocket.
Game over, you bastard.
I heard a slight smattering of applause from the spectators across the room. The match had lasted a few minutes over an epic three-and-a-half hours. People were probably relieved the torture was over — what had they done to deserve watching such terrible pool?! I was greeted with handshakes and congratulations.
“That was great! You made that ten-ball with him walking back and forth in front of your shot! Hahaha, that’s just great!”
“You know, I thought about that, I was wondering why he did that.”
“He does it to EVERYBODY.”
“So he really was trying to shark me.”
“Oh yes. You didn’t know? He tried all his strategies on you, playing slow, bathroom breaks, walking around in front of your shots — you beat him anyways. Good job!”
A few more conversations with others players of all skill levels verified that Yellow Jacket had a known reputation for sharking, slow play, and general annoyance.
I had lucked out in trying to do the right thing.
As many of you know, sharking generally only affects you if you LET it affect you. I didn’t know until the very end that Yellow Jacket had been trying his best to shark me the whole time, and it worked out for the best. I don’t want to get all philosophical and after-school-special-saintly on your asses, so I’ll just leave the final question (answerable, as always, in the comments section…):
If someone tries to shark you, but you don’t know it, and you beat them anyway — does the sharking actually exist?