The Big 2-0-0
kind of cool, in a bicentenary sort of way
Today’s post is post #200.
I hope you all have found great amusement and enjoyment both for, and in, the game of billiards as a result of reading my rants o’ insanity.
A Brief History Of OMGWTF
Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away
A pool player I knew decided to start a blog and wanted me to start one also (presumably so there’d be at least one reader and a link to another site). I said, “Why the hell would anyone want to read about our lives? It’s a little presumptuous to think the rest of the world gives a s— about our opinions and thoughts.” After much goading, I got a spot on Blogger and left it unoccupied for a few months.
Friday, November 18, 2005
I posted a picture and the provenance of my bacon-fat candle. Although I am very proud of this accomplishment, no one else notices.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
I posted a write-up of IPT tournament at the Grand Sierra Resort, Reno, Nevada. The world is introduced to the “Pool Junkie” series of major tournament recaps.
Monday, June 4, 2007
This is the first post of my 100 Days of Pool project. I have to hit at least one ball, every day, for 100 days. It’s a lot harder than it sounds, especially when you are not a professional pool player. It concludes on the Friday, September 7, 2007 post.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
The most anticipated post, ever.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Many things have changed about the blog and many things remain the same. It will forever be a work in progress.
If it so pleases you, you can tell me what your favorite post is and/or what you’d like to see more (or less) of in this blog. You may post in the comments section, or send me your thoughts via email.
Thanks again for all your support!
Aliens vs Ghosts
this is serious science
According to the results of my poll asking which side you believe would win in a battle of space aliens vs Earth’s ghosts, 52% believed E.T. & Co. would win versus 47% who had faith in Anne Boleyn delivering some spectral whoop-ass with her head on or off.
I HIGHLY enjoy these polls and all your various insights. Thanks so much for partcipating, and rest assured more polls requiring ponderment are in production…
my digital camera once again
I don’t know how many of you like my photography skills, but who cares — the photos are back!
And just in time, too.
Let’s have a close-up of the interior… This is a little more on the rare side of medium-rare…
And finally, if only this was the actual size of the average bite of steak…
This steak was a 24-ouncer and cost a few pennies less than $6.00 (on sale!) from my local supermarket. Just because times are tough doesn’t mean I have to change my eating habits.
I am overjoyed to be able to post these as the first blog photographs of 2009.
Might Masochism & Madness
not necessarily in that order
In Other News of The World, I went to a tournament over the weekend.
In Other News of The Obvious, it caused me much frustration.
In Other News of The Redonkulous, well, read on and find out for yourself…
My better half was away working on the day of the tournament, so I had to get myself to the pool hall (only one vehicle and driver’s license for two of us). Luckily, since the tournament was on the weekend, traffic was light and the three buses I had to take were all on time. I left home at about 9:30 a.m. and was at the pool hall by 11:00 a.m. I was a bit early, as the advertised starting time was noon. The owner of the room was gracious enough to let me practice while I waited for the Tournament Director (TD). While I’m batting balls into the rail waiting for TD, let me give a bit of backstory about this tournament.
I had heard of this tournament about two weeks prior, but had not planned on attending. I ran into TD at another tournament and he had mentioned it to me again. “Dude, you gotta play! It’s a special tournament just for girls.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“I’ll be SO PISSED if you don’t show up… You gotta play in it!”
“It’s the same format as your usual tournament, right?”
“Yeah, race to five and three, loser breaks.” The tournament was eight-ball on big tables.
“Do you KNOW how long a race to five eight-ball race between girls can take?”
“Oh, I’ve done it before. We’ll be done by evening. You gotta go, dude, I’ve already got sixteen players signed up.”
“Meh. I dunno…”
“Last time, it paid out like two-fifty, two-forty for first place. It’s a good payout and you’d be one of the favorites to win.”
“Dude, when I think about how long that tournament is going to be and how much hassle, I’m not sure that’s enough money to make me suffer that much. Do you even know what that tournament is going to be like?!”
“C’mon it’ll be fine. Just think about it. The house adds money if we get sixteen or more players.”
“Okeydoke, I’ll think about it.”
Initially, I SERIOUSLY did not relish the idea of playing in this tournament.
There are not a lot of women who play pool in my area, and even less women who play eight-ball on a big table, so I had a fairly good idea of who was going to play in the tournament. I surmised that most of the participants were going to be players from the local league. While there were a few who played fairly well, the majority were not going to be breaking and running racks on the nine-foot tables. Since the format for the tournament was to be loser breaks, I figured that the matches could take a very, very long time.
Still, competition is competition, and I was a glutton for punishment.
TD arrived at 11:40 a.m., give or take few minutes. He set up shop and soon, the players began to trickle in. At noon, however, there were only three women (including myself) present. The tournament was supposed to start at 1:00 p.m., so I figured (pool players being pool players) that everyone would come at the last minute.
One o’clock came and went, and there were only six players present. TD began making some phone calls to see where everyone was. Traffic was bad and so he decided we’d wait until we had at least sixteen players to start the tournament. He kept reassuring me that we would get at least sixteen, maybe twenty players. I asked him when he thought the tournament would be finished and he said we’d probably be done by 7:00 p.m. I laughed at this and said, “Do you know how long this tournament is going to be?”
“My usual tournament finishes at 7:00 p.m. or so, this should be about the same.”
Charming, but unrealistic. “TD, your regular tournament is mostly men, and most of those men can break and run a rack. These ladies are not going to be able to break that hard, or run a rack. There is going to be a lot of missing, and a lot of safety play. That means it could take all night.”
“Well, we have to be out of here by 9:00 p.m. because there’s going to be a private party taking over this area of the pool hall.”
“We won’t be done by then.”
“Yeah we will!”
“All right, If you say so…”
My first match started at 2:00 p.m. against a well-known player we’ll call Ginger.
Ginger was easily the best player in the tournament and it was just my luck to have drawn her in the first round. She had won a national barbox eight-ball title a few years ago, back when I was in high school. I didn’t know her personally, but I knew of her, and expected the match to be interesting and competitive.
Ginger started off by winning the first two games to take the lead. I had chances in both games, but did not capitalize on them. I noticed the tables played poorly. There were dead spots on the rails, and leans EVERYWHERE. The tables were covered with your standard-issue fuzzy tan recreational felt. All these conditions mean that I had to change my game, and change it quickly.
Since the table wasn’t level and the felt was dirty as well, a finesse game was not a good idea here. Each shot would have to be struck firm. If I attempted to slow roll anything, it would simply roll off course, or even worse, not make it to the pocket and not get a rail in the process, thereby causing me to foul and look really, really stupid at the same time.
The randomly dead rails were also quite difficult to deal with. If they had all been dead and devoid of bounce, then at least they would have been predictable. This, of course, was not the case — life would have been too easy, then. Some rails were livelier than Morro Paez after he snorts espresso grounds. Other rails were deader than all the people who have ever told me I play “good for a girl”. In addition, some rails had live and dead spots. The rails were just boxes of chocolates — you never knew what you were going to get.
The final bit of weirdness about the tables was that, despite the fact that they were in terrible condition, the pockets were actually quite small. This was because this pool room, back in the day, had actually been a room for players. These small pockets would not accept shots that were struck firm UNLESS you hit the EXACT center of the pocket. Otherwise, the balls would rattle out.
The smaller pockets required a finesse game.
Everything else negated a finesse game.
I changed my game accordingly, which is to say, I hit every shot with a firm stroke, aimed as precisely as I could, and did my best to avoid the rails. The result was that I caught up and tied the match at 2-2. I felt that I was finally getting into gear.
Ginger began to get a little fidgety.
She broke the next game and broke well, making a ball or two. She ran down the solids until her last ball before the eight-ball, which she missed, and also scratched. The layout of my stripes was not easy as I had three balls on one rail and the rest of my balls were also close to that rail. This kind of runout required very careful planning and very precise cue ball position. I took my time looking at the layout from all angles and plotted the course I was going to take. I placed the cue ball down and mentally ran through the map again. I was ready to shoot when I heard, “What rules are we playing by?”
“What?” I stood up and turned to Ginger. She was asking the question.
“Do you know what rules we’re playing by for this tournament?”
“It’s BCA, I’m pretty sure.” I turned back to the table and tried to recapture my moment of focus. I was ready to shoot again.
“You didn’t you see that?!”
“That girl,” she pointed to one of the players on the next table, “just made the eight and they’re playing it like it’s a win. I don’t think that’s BCA rules.”
“Well, maybe they don’t know.” I turned back to the table again.
“They should know, I’ll go tell them.” I got up off the shot and waited for Ginger. Although it was perfectly in my right to continue shooting, I thought waiting for my opponent would be the courteous thing to do. Ginger walked towards the table, and then halfway there, she turned back. “It’s really none of my business, I’ll let them keep playing.”
“Okay.” I resumed my stance.
“Maybe I should make sure we’re playing by BCA rules.”
“Okay, go ahead and ask TD, I’ll wait for you.”
“Oh… no. That’s okay, we’ll just continue.”
By now, it was hard to remember what I had planned to do with my runout. I had a fuzzy image of the map that I had drawn up and I started on the run. Halfway through, I realized I had shot one ball out of order. I could still recover, but it would require a slightly tricky shot with high inside English down a rail. It was a dangerous shot as the cue ball would come very close to the pocket itself. I struck the shot well, but the cue ball caught a funky point on the rail and slid in after the object ball. Ginger got ball-in-hand and ran out the last two balls.
I slogged through the rest of the match as well as I could. Ginger was suddenly extremely talkative and seemed to have developed a vicious case of hemerrhoids as she simply could not sit still, especially if she was facing me while I was shooting. I chalked it up to her being old and caffeinated and did my best to focus. She would constantly comment on my game, her game, the chalk, her twitches, my twitches, the weather — you name it, she talked about it.
At this point, TD decided that since there was such a nice turnout for his tournament, he needed to take some photographs of the event.
WHILE WE WERE SHOOTING.
So, in addition to terrible equipment, I now had the irrational fear of a bright light blinding me every few shots. Our well-meaning tournament director never figured out that flash photography during a tournament might be distracting to the players. I didn’t say anything because the only two people in the tournament who would have cared would have been Ginger and I. The rest of the girls seemed to treat this tournament as more of a party, and less of a competition.
I lost the match to Ginger 5-3, and even though I was massively irritated with myself for many misplayed and missed shots, unexpected scratches, and general lack of focus, I shook her hand. It had been a tough match. I needed to learn how to play better and matches like this would make me into a better player.
As I idly hit a few balls on the table while I reviewed the match in my head, I realized someone was talking to me. Or rather, behind me.
“…it’s just rude, rude I tell you.” This was Ginger muttering behind my back.
“What? What’s rude?”
Seeing that I had heard her, Ginger ranted, “The way you shook my hand.”
“You didn’t shake it like a real handshake, or like you meant it.”
“What the hell is a real handshake?!” I didn’t know why she was getting cranky. “Ginger, I shook your hand. For your information, I GREATLY dislike shaking hands, win OR lose, and I generally don’t do it. However, I felt that we had a good match, and I shook your hand to acknowledge that.”
Ginger’s face had taken on a dramatic change. She no longer looked like a benign chatty older lady. She looked like a livid Benjamin Button (when he was a young old man). I was rather afraid for my jugular at that moment. Ginger snarled, “IT’S NOT LIKE I SHARKED YOU TO WIN OR ANYTHING!”
Now, this, gentle reader, was INCREDIBLY interesting.
In my mildest voice, I said, “Who said anything about sharking? *I* didn’t say you sharked me. Why would you bring that up?”
A look of revelation passed across Ginger’s angry little boy face and suddenly, she was all smiles and polite chit-chat again. She instantly switched to a soothing tone of voice and began to tell me about how it was okay for me not to shake hands with people, it was a personal preference thing, and why didn’t people understand that, etc.
This flip-flip on her platform regarding the shaking of hands could give any politician’s glib tongue the seven. For life.
I decided not to listen to the rest of the speech and moved my things over to a booth where I expected to wait a long time for my next match. My match with Ginger had been the first to finish, and we had still taken over an hour.
As I watched some of the other matches, a spectator who was also a pool player, and familiar with both Ginger and me came up and said, “My God, did you not see her sharking you?! She was going everywhere! Moving her cue, standing up, talking… How did you stand it?”
“I was trying to play through it. I really did play bad. I had so many chances and just didn’t do my job. It was funny, though, that she was lecturing me on sportsmanship.”
Another spectator, one of the tournament participants, said, “I would have just sharked her right back.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Why not? She did it to you.”
“I love this game too much to sink to that level. If I do my job and play my best, she has no chance. I just didn’t do it in that match. But, this is a double-elimination tournament. I have one more chance — and I SWEAR TO GOD I’ll meet her in the finals.”
My better half, who had just arrived after work, asked me, “You don’t know about Ginger?”
“I just know she was some barbox eight-ball champ a couple of years back.”
“Dude! You know those people that shark people all the time?”
“SHE sharks THEM.”
“Oh. That’s hilarity.”
“Everyone knows she does it. She does it all the time at every tournament.”
“Dang. Well, there’s no fixing that now. I have to make it through to the finals.”
I settled into the trenches and began the long wait for the long journey through the losers’ side.
Let us have a moment of reflection.
I have famously asked before in a previous blog:
“If someone tries to shark you, but you don’t know it, and you beat them anyway — does the sharking actually exist?”
What about if you lose? Does the sharking exist? Even if you (kind of) don’t know it?
Waaay back when I first started playing pool, I didn’t know what sharking was, and it certainly didn’t bother me. It wasn’t until I learned what sharking was, that it could affect me. The beginner’s ignorance is bliss. People walk in front of your shot and you think nothing of it. Loud music in a pool hall? Well, it’s a place to drink and have fun so of course there is loud music. Everything short of a hockey check didn’t bother me because all I wanted to do was MAKE THE DAMN BALL GO IN THE DAMN HOLE.
Now, years later, I do know what sharking is, and it can bother me because I am aware of it. However, there is no way I can become “unaware” of it in the same way that words spoken cannot be taken back.
Once you have learned about sharking, it is very easy to make sharking a self-fulfilling prophecy. You expect someone to shark you and so, all the little ticks they have are easily labeled as possible shark tactics. In some cases, you recognize that your opponent IS sharking you, and the audacity and unfairness of that alone is enough to send you on tilt. I fight constantly against the self-fulfilling prophecy of sharking. It’s difficult because being sharked is a good excuse for explaining losses, and I don’t know about YOU, but sometimes, I really, really, really want to use an excuse.
In recent years, I have explained away my opponents’ shark moves to myself as due to ignorance, and this holds true most of the time. Honestly, in a tournament like this, where most of the players are beginners, they are not aware of tournament etiquette because they haven’t played in many tournaments. This is more of a good time for the players, and they’re not sharking you on purpose when they lean forward to watch you shoot, or jerk sideways when you shoot because they are hoping you miss. Same goes for when they reach for their cue right as you’re shooting a tough shot. They’re expecting you to miss, but only because they would miss that shot themselves. They are not reaching for the cue to distract you, but rather to ready themselves for when they expect you to miss. Annoying, but innocent. And devoid of malice — most of the time.
At the higher levels of pool competition, sharking itself has become an art, and even as an expected and accepted part of the game in some cases. For someone like Ginger who has played at the higher levels of competition, I would assume that she knows what she is doing when she chatters nonstop or disrupts me while I am playing. I have seen her get angry at her opponents in other tournaments for doing what she herself was doing to me.
But, then again, maybe she’s just ignorant.
And then there are those pesky hemmorhoids.
There is only one way to defeat sharking, and that is to lose yourself so deeply in the game that you never notice. That, my dears, is the extremely, extremely rare state of mind known as the Zone everyone always raves about. We have all been there at one time or another, and in that state of mind, even a hockey check could not stop you from running out.
Like many great and wonderful things, the Zone is a rarity — and because we cannot call it up at will, we must muddle through competition as best we can with varying levels of success as we deal with sharking, distractions, camera flashes, horrible music, psycho bitches, and life in general.
I finished my first match around 3:30-ish and now it was 5:00 p.m. and I still did not have an opponent on the losers’ side. TD was beginning to look slightly stressed as he paced the room. He walked by my booth and said quickly, “Don’t worry, the match you’re waiting for is almost over. You’ll be playing soon.”
“I’m in no hurry. I don’t have anywhere else to be.”
“Oh, good. I didn’t know if you were getting antsy or not.”
“Nah. Tournaments require patience.”
“Did you know all the rest of those first-round matches are going hill-hill? The matches are going on three hours long!”
“I figured that might happen.”
“I think we’re still doing good, still doing good. The girls just have to pick it up a bit.”
At 6:00 p.m. I played my second match. I won, 3-0 in about twenty-five minutes. I made camp and prepared to wait some more.
I checked the boards to see who I would play next and saw that I was to play the loser of one of the winners’ side matches. The match was already in progress. I watched a few innings and realized that I could be waiting for a very, very long time. The two players were equal in skill and very methodical in their play. I clocked one game at twenty-five minutes and then I could not bear to watch more.
My better half kept an eye on the match and reported the results of each game. In each game, the two girls played all the way down to the eight-ball as the last ball on the table. Neither one could run more than two balls at a time.
I was going catatonic while I waited. I had been up since 8:30 in the morning and now, I had put in more than a workday at this tournament. I was really tired, and slowly beginning to think this tournament hadn’t been a good idea at all. I told my better half, “Dammit we should just go home. At the rate this is going, it’ll be well past midnight before the tournament finishes.”
“Well, maybe they’ll play to a certain point and play the rest of the matches tomorrow.”
“No, the management said it HAS to finish in one day.”
“It is going to be a long tournament. Those two girls are making one ball at a time and when they get down to the eight-ball, it takes them at least three or four turns to make it.”
“Arrgh! This sucks. I don’t even know what the money is, but I don’t think I can put a price on sanity.” I stood up to see how the match I was waiting on was progressing. “What’s the score now?”
“You know, I’m not really sure. The taller girl’s won the last three games in a row — but they’re not done. The score has got to be close. They’re playing worse the longer they play, though — I think they’re both nervous.”
I watched the match. I had already seen plenty of missed shots, bad position play, inadvertent safeties, and missed kicks by these two, but I now noticed something I didn’t see before. Both girls were trying very, very hard to win. The concentration written on their faces could fill a library. There was no doubt each of them was trying her best. Even though they played at a beginner level, their desire to win was on par with the highest professional players.
They put me to shame.
They may have missed their shots, but they did not half-ass them. Each shot was carefully considered, examined, measured, and shot. The girls may have missed because they did not have the skill to make the shots yet, but not because they took the shots for granted or because they were lazy.
Skill can be learned with practice and time. The drive and courage to win is not learned so easily, and many would argue those are innate qualities and cannot be learned.
I decided not to be chicken s— and leave the tournament simply because I was tired and bored. I remembered there was a time I played terrible pool but took every shot very seriously. As I got better, I took more things for granted and my discipline waned. If I was to be a good player, I had to view every tournament the same way. A handicapped match in league, a match in a local weekly tournament or a match in a professional event are all the same — they are competition.
It was back to the trenches and more waiting.
Finally, the match I was waiting on concluded a little after 8:00 p.m.
By this time, TD was tearing his hair out. “Oh. My. GOD. I never, never thought these matches would take this long. They all went f—ing hill-hill! It’s f—ing crazy!”
“Told you. Now what? We have to get out of here by 9:00 for that private party, right?”
“Actually, we have to leave now. They have to prep for the party. We’re going to use some of the other tables.”
“Oh, all right.”
“And it’s all races to three now, winners’ side or losers’ side. We have got to finish this tonight.”
The whole tournament operation moved to a different part of the pool room. The tables we were allotted were right in the middle of the room. We were surrounded by the weekend customers and there wasn’t much room. Oh well. This is the tournament I chose to play in and I would have to play on whatever and wherever I was assigned.
Here is a rundown of the matches I played, as well as I can remember them.
This match, sadly, was with one of the girls I knew and liked, Chen.
I wished she hadn’t lost in a grueling three-hour hill-hill nailbiter as I would have preferred to play her opponent who was someone I didn’t know. I played unusually well in this match, and I am certain it was because the table I played on was much better than the ones used in the beginning of the tournament. This table, even with its red fuzzy felt, rolled true and I made several good shots.
The lady I played in the next match, let’s name her Muffin, wore an interesting outfit. It was a one-piece, stretchy, slightly-metallic sleeveless jumpsuit that left very little to the imagination, even if you DIDN’T want to imagine what was under there. Muffin also had a glove to match. A body glove and a pool glove — no fashion oddity there at all.
Muffin had played Ginger earlier in the tournament, and very nearly beat her. I watched a bit of that match and it had been very entertaining as Ginger had started up her talking bit, but Muffin had jumped right into conversation and the banter during the match hadn’t distracted her at all. She seemed very amiable and social and was probably used to talking a lot during pool. In fact, Ginger had to stop talking towards the end of the match in order to concentrate. Ironic.
Muffin was also quite a shotmaker in that match. She didn’t play position, but it seemed like she didn’t have to. She fired in cuts and banks (three banks in a row at one point!) all at the same fast speed and that kind of play served her well on those tables. As a result, I was a bit wary as I knew she could run out if I left an open table with no obstacles, i.e., if I ran down to the eight and missed.
Oddly, she didn’t seem too much at ease in this match, and she missed several shots I fully expected her to make. She also had a slightly annoying habit of standing or moving in front of my shots, but I knew she just didn’t know better.
On the last game, I misplayed a break-out which rolled the eight-ball onto the side rail near the bottom corner pocket. The rest of my balls were very close, as well as being tied up with some of Muffin’s object balls, so position had to be played carefully. During the run, one of Muffin’s balls ended up rolling in front of the eight-ball and obstructed the corner pocket I would have shot it into. With no more choice in the matter, I ran out the rest of my balls and played position for a bank on the eight. Unfortunately, the cue ball settled into a divot and ended up being frozen to one of Muffin’s object balls. I would have to jack up to shoot the bank. A fairly routine bank just turned into a fairly difficult one.
As I stretched and tried to balance myself, Muffin got off the bar stool and came right to the foot of the table where I was shooting. She stood there like a referee, chalking her cue. This, of course, was rather rude, but I know she did not mean to be rude. She just wanted to see me make the shot, and, if I missed, she was ready to shoot right away. I looked at her and smiled. She smiled and chalked her cue. I made the bank.
This was an interesting match.
First, I must give you some background on my opponent, let us name her BABS (the Bar’s Alpha Bitch Syndrome). In case you don’t know, or need a refresher, I define Alpha Bitch Syndrome as…
…the irrational desire of a female pool player to be considered, revered, and/or admired as the top female pool player in her home range. To this end, she will challenge any other female who comes into her territory — whether a regular, a stranger, a road player, a hack, an amateur, a semi-pro, a professional, or Absolute Worldbeater — for dominance.
Babs was the Alpha Bitch of this bar and I had encroached upon her turf when I had begun attending the tournaments here.
Babs was tall, blond, and quite pretty. She got plenty of male attention and she reveled in it. I got male attention as well, but it was merely for my pool playing and nothing more. However, it was still attention that should rightfully have belonged to Babs and she would not let such a challenge go unanswered, or unpunished.
As a pool player, Babs was not, from what I had seen of her play, someone that I should lose to. She made good shots from time to time, had some knowledge of position play, little to no knowledge of safeties, and a decent break. She had also been watching all of my matches closely all day. I did not know why before, but I knew now — we were on a collision course to play, and she wanted to beat me down more than anything in the world.
I won the flip, and broke the first game. I didn’t make a ball, and Babs ran a few balls before missing. The table she left me was quite open, but both lower corner pockets were blocked by her balls. Incidentally, those were the two pockets best suited for pocketing the eight-ball. I ran down to the last ball I had, the fifteen-ball, and got bad position on it. I attempted a bank, and missed. My fifteeen-ball settled right on the side rail, which was a very bad place for me. Babs had five balls left and all were fairly close to pockets. She ran them out and made the eight. Dang. I was down 0-1.
As I racked the balls, some people came over. They were friends of Babs’ and they leaned against the tables next to our table. They were rowdy as they had been drinking for some time. I put in my earphones and broke the balls. This game unfolded almost like the last one. I ran down to the last two balls and missed. Babs made a few balls and missed, but left me no shot. I missed again and she ran down to her last ball, and shot it well, getting a nice straight shot on the eight-ball.
All the while during this second game, Babs’ support group was cheering raucously and commenting on my choice of shots and discussing my play. This was rather distracting, so I turned up the volume on my iPod until I could not hear them. Bless the iPod for it hath maintained my sanity.
As I waited for Babs to shoot the eight-ball one of the customers on the table behind us came up to me and started talking. It took me a moment to realize he was actually talking to me. He seemed irritated, so I took out my earphones and said, “Are you talking to me?”
“Well, yeah!” He seemed rather huffy, “I said I wanted a bottle of water.”
“Oh. The bar’s over there. I imagine they would have one.”
“Why do I have to go over there?”
I was trying to keep an eye on my match, but this guy kept blocking my view. “Umm… Because that’s where the bar is? And the bartenders?”
“Wait a minute… You work here, right?”
“Uh, no, that would be a negative. I’m playing in the tournament.” Seriously? I was not wearing the waitresses’ uniforms, had my iPod on, and I was playing pool. If I was an employee, it would have been amazing that I had not already been fired.
“No, no, you work here. I know it.” I looked closely at his eyes and realized they were not focusing. He was obviously tipsy.
“No… I think *I* would know if I worked here. Thanks for thinking I’m employed, though.”
“What? No. I want my bottle of water.”
“Then I suggest you go get it yourself.” Babs was looking for me to make sure I knew what pocket she intended to shoot the eight into. “Goodbye.” I stepped out from behind the befuddled customer and waved my acknowledgment to Babs. I put my earphones back in and ignored the further outraged demands of the drunk customer.
Babs aimed the straight shot on the eight with great care. This win would put her on the hill and keep me at zero. She did a few warm-up strokes, hit the eight with good speed — and inexplicably shot it straight into the bottom rail. We were both stunned, as was the watching peanut gallery. Babs let out a little scream and flounced back to her seat. I ran out the last three balls and now the score was 1-1.
Babs broke the next game and while some of the balls scattered well, there was a cluster of five balls near the foot spot. All these balls were solids, and the eight-ball was also in that cluster, but nearer to the edge and thankfully not in the middle. Babs hadn’t made a ball, so I began to run the stripes.
The biggest concern during my run was how to break out the eight-ball. The rest of the stripes were quite makeable. I selected one of the striped balls near the corner pocket as a candidate for the breakout shot. I had to stay in line with my plan in order to utilize this ball and, unfortunately, right before I got to the breakout ball, I got out of line. My cue ball rolled too far on one shot and I almost scratched in one of the bottom corner pockets. I could still see a ball, but I would not be able to make it and get correct position for the breakout.
I walked around the table to see what other options were available. I saw that I could still break out the eight with that last break ball I had saved, but I would need to get a slight angle, and I would be shooting it into the side pocket with follow. The cue ball should then be able to bump out just the eight-ball and I would take whatever shot I got on the eight. The good thing was, if I didn’t get a good shot on the eight, I could play a safe of some sort. Babs did not know how to deal with clusters and I would be leaving that four-ball cluster alone while separating the eight. It was a brilliant, villainous plan.
I made the ball and got a shot on the break ball, just as I planned. The side pocket shot would be difficult, but as long as it was possible, and at the right angle, I could win.
Of course, the best and most brilliant plans of mice and madwomen often go awry.
Upon closer inspection, I realized that I was, ever-so-slightly, on the wrong side of the break ball. At this angle, I would not be able to use the cue ball to break out the eight as it would go off in the opposite direction. There was no cheating the pocket from where I was in order to create an angle, either. The cue ball was still sitting in the jaws of a pocket as I could only slow-roll the cue ball from the jaws of one pocket to the jaws of the other pocket in my last shot. Making this last object ball in the side was pointless as I would not get a shot on the eight. I was unwilling to play a safety from this awkward position, which did not allow me much speed control or finesse. No shot and no safety. I had a dilemma.
And then, the playlist on my iPod ran out and there was no more drowning out the peanut gallery. I could hear every loudly judgmental giggly remark from Babs and her crew. I didn’t want to restart my iPod because I did not want to be distracted from the table. I looked at the shot for an intense minute. Somewhere, the private party went wild and there was now loud thumpings on the floor and walls.
I was so redonkulously irritated I held my breath like a temperamental child to get control of myself.
It was then, with all the pointless thumping, the horrendously loud music, the annoying Babs and her peanut gallery, the lateness of the hour, and the great expectations I placed on myself, that I found that which we all seek — the Zone. (Either that or it was the lack of oxygen, the beating pulse in my brain, or the hallucinations from lack of food.)
I looked at the table again and saw that there was another pocket for my last ball. It was a long, severe cut up to the corner pocket. If I made that shot, I would most definitely break out the eight-ball because I would be smashing the entire cluster open with the cue ball. The shot had to be made with much force. It was a very difficult shot and if I missed it, I would be giving Babs free rein to run out and win. It was, however, the only option.
The great thing about having only one option left is this: you don’t think about whether it’s difficult or easy because it’s your only option. You just fire away.
As I lined up the shot, the surrounding audio chaos faded. I pulled the trigger and the cue ball shot towards the stack like the proverbial bat out of hell. I distinctly remember the sound of the cue ball striking the object ball. It seemed unnaturally loud.
The cue ball crashed into the cluster and balls went flying everywhere. I looked up and just caught the blurred edge of my last ball dropping into the intended corner pocket. I glanced down at the table and saw that the cue ball had powered through the cluster to the rail. The eight-ball had been freed and was in the center of the table. I thought to myself, “Goddam that was RiDiCuLoUs!”
As I stood staring in shock, I noticed the peanut gallery’s running commentary had stopped. There was no peep from the peeps. I collected myself and went to look at the eight-ball. It was not a cakewalk shot and easy to futz up since the cue ball was frozen on the rail. As I examined it, I heard something I will never forget and even now brings tears to my eyes.
Babs screamed to the back of my head, “GODDAMN YOU! DON’T YOU EVER… F—ING… MISS?!“
There were many witty things I could have said in response.
I shot in the eight-ball as an answer.
That one crazy shot seemed to take the fight out of Babs and her crew. She played the next game without much thought and actually spent most of it arguing with her supporters about how loud they were talking. She stalled many times to go to the restroom, to get a drink, to eat chicken wings, and bicker loudly with the audience. I waited patiently for my win through all her shenanigans, knowing that the wildebeest thrashes the most violently when it is in the jaws of the crocodile.
This next match was against a lovely lady we’ll call Kitty. Kitty was a league player from the local league and by all accounts and also what I had seen, she was a total sweetheart.
The management made me move tables so I bid adieu to the table that gave me my last three victories. I moved my things and Kitty flipped the coin. I won the break, and as I was racking the balls, Kitty came up and very sweetly said, “Would you mind if we just played one game from now on, winner moves forward? It’s very late and we don’t want to be here all night.”
I was surprised, and I looked at my watch. “It’s only 11:30.”
“Yes, it’s really late and I really want to get this tournament over with.”
I looked at TD by way of inquiry. He shrugged and said, “I told her if she could get you to agree to it, we’d just do race-to-one for the rest of the tournament.”
I looked around at the remaining players and spectators. All eyes were on me and no one said anything. Since no one voiced their opposition to this idea, I could only assume that I was the last person they asked regarding this idea for change. I knew why.
Kitty and the rest of the players, spectators, and the tournament director were all ready to throw in the towel for the evening. The tournament had lasted LONG past and required so much more energy than anyone — except me — had expected. None of these players, spectators, and the tournament director understood that a race-to-one was about as fair as a coin toss. Such a short race could be easily won, but also easily lost. The better player generally wins in the long run and in the longer races. Not many here would understand this concept because most of them were casual competitors. To them, this was nothing more than a picnic that lasted past sunset. To me, this was a long drawn-out battle I had set out to win from the moment I went to sleep the night before. I wanted to win and I was, probably, the only one left that cared about winning. Everyone else wanted to go home.
They asked me last because they knew the person least likely to agree to the terms of a race-to-one surrender would be me, the last person fighting for the sake of winning. Yet, perhaps, with everyone else agreed to the truce, they could convince me to surrender via peer pressure.
This was an important moment.
I have been an outcast most of my life and this was an opportunity where I could win the approval and friendship of everyone present. They could tell everyone I was gracious and went with the general consensus. They could tell my detractors that no, I wasn’t really a selfishly competitive bitch, I was just a girl who played pool for fun like they did. I could be a model of sportsmanship. We could all go home, catch the reruns of The Chappelle Show, and live happily, ever after.
I hesistated for just a second before I looked Kitty straight in her friendly and hopeful eyes and said, “No. I will not agree to a race-to-one. I cannot do that.”
I watched the friendliness and hopefulness disappear from her eyes. She looked pained and confused. “Why not?”
“I have played too long and fought too hard today in all my matches to stake it all on one game.” I love playing pool, but above all, I love competing in pool — and I want to know if I am the best player in this tournament, in this pool room, on this day.
“But, it’s so late… I don’t want to stay any longer.”
“You may forfeit, if you like, but otherwise, we play a race to three.”
Kitty sighed, “Okay.”
I won the first game, and Kitty outsafed me the next game to win.
With the score at 1-1, I broke and ran flawlessly through a tricky layout until I got to the eight-ball. I needed make my object ball and draw the cue ball back past the eight ball in order to shoot it in the same corner pocket. I did not draw enough, and instead of having a fairly decent cut shot into the right lower corner pocket, I now had a straight-in shot into the left lower corner pocket. Problem was, that pocket was blocked by Kitty’s object balls.
Crap. O. La.
I lined up to cut the eight-ball backwards into my original intended pocket. It was a miniscule-percentage shot, if only because I would be contacting such a thin piece of the eight-ball, but it was the only shot left. I hit it with the same power I might break a rack with and the cue ball crashed into the object balls and I prayed none of them would come back and hit the eight-ball off course. Ever so slowly, the eight-ball trickled towards the pocket — and fell in.
Kitty conceded the rest of the match.
It was now a quarter past midnight, and my next opponent was someone I shall call Kabocha.
I was vaguely acquainted with Kabocha and her game. In the limited interactions that I had had with her, I gathered that she was competitive and confident in her game. I knew that she played well and her skill, combined with her confidence, would make this a very tough match.
We both played bad. I made a lot of position errors and missed a lot of shots, as did Kabocha. In one game, Kabocha had ball-in-hand and three balls left, but instead of running out, opted to try a safety that she ended up fouling on because she hit the shot too softly and did not get a rail. In the fourth game, I had three balls left with ball-in-hand at one point, and failed to get out. Instead of winning the match, I was now hill-hill with Kabocha. We were both extremely frustrated as we both generally played on a much higher level than what we were exhibiting.
Kabocha went to take a break, and I went to go rack the balls. As I racked them, I let out an “Arrgh!”
Instantaneously, one of the spectators jumped to my side and began lecturing me. “Don’t be frustrated, just play your game. You need to calm down.”
I looked at this shaven-headed fool in disbelief. “What?”
“I’m telling you, you need to do this… and this… and this… Remember this shot? How about this one?” He made motions with his hands.
“Uh, NO.” I walked away from him. I needed to focus again and this f—ing meddler was behaving like one of the millions of idiotic men who always feel like they need to rescue the damsel in distress. It never occurs to them that the damsel can get herself out of distress — and might prefer it that way. I understood that he meant well, but the last thing I needed now was some f—ing moron telling me how to play this game.
Amazingly, this goomba followed me. “Come here, you should be listening.”
I wanted SO MUCH to just punch this f—er who had appointed himself my coach a good one to the jaw. I turned away from him but he continued to follow. I was losing my cool. My hands were curled into fists and I was getting twitchy.
I spotted my better half and said to him, “Here! You handle this!”
My better half told him, “She needs to be by herself right now. She’s trying to focus.”
“No, no, no, she needs to understand she’s not going to win if she get angry.”
“Well, different things work for different people, and when she gets mad, she can actually play better. I’ve seen it. She’s got her own way of doing things, and you should just leave her alone.”
“I don’t believe you. Everyone knows you don’t play better–“
“You know what? How about you drop it? Just drop it. Just let it go and let her play her game.“
“No, she needs to–“
“Look, if she wanted to know what you thought, she’d have asked you.”
They continued to debate as I walked away. The meddler was very, very persistent. Finally, he returned to his seat.
I was boiling mad now — which was great! I had lost focus due to exhaustion, but now, my eyes and head were clear and I was once again driven to win. Kabocha returned, and I broke the rack.
I did not make a ball on the break and Kabocha chose stripes. She had one trouble ball which she broke out with a spectacular shot. The table was open, and there was nothing I could see that would stop Kabocha from running out for the win. Unbelievably, she missed her last object ball and left it near a pocket.
And now, it was my turn.
It seemed like I hadn’t shot a ball in ages even though in reality it was more like ten minutes, and I could see so many possibilities for running out but did not know which was the best one. I let go of worrying which was the best route and settled on just picking a route. I ran the balls haphazardly. Along the way, I had to redraw my plan a few times. Finally, I got on the wrong side of my last object ball.
This last object ball was not a hard shot. It was getting particular position on the eight, which was close to the side rail, that mattered. In a different situation, I would not have been afraid of this shot. However, I was tired and lacking in confidence at the moment and it was easy to doubt myself no matter how simple the shot. I needed to send the cue ball down to the bottom rail to go around the eight-ball. It seemed like a monumental distance even though, in reality, it was perhaps only about eleven feet. Pressure distorted my perception.
I wanted very much to roll the cue ball. However, I knew that if I rolled the cue ball, I probably wasn’t going to get a good shot on the eight. But, I was not very brave at the moment and rolling the cue ball seemed like a good idea, even though I knew in my heart it was not.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but the control of it.
The two options waged a debate in my head. Roll the cue ball, or strike it firm and send it around the eight-ball? I had so many what ifs blinking tragic possibilities. What if I hit it firm and the cue ball scratches because I drew it too much? What if I hit it too firm and I end up with a long tough shot on the eight? What if I hit Kabocha’s other ball with the cue ball and end up with crappy position on the eight? What if I put too much spin, or not enough? Rolling the cue ball seemed to be the safest, most comfortable option…
…but it was not the right option.
I had flashbacks to matches and money I had lost when I had been in a position to win because I soft-stroked a shot out of fear. Trust me, I have lost thousands over this retardedness. Frickin’ thousands!! Had I learned nothing? Had I paid such a high price in misery and various forms of currency for nothing other than the opportunity to f— up again?
That would be unacceptable.
Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
I wasn’t going to shoot scared, and if I ended up scratching, or getting crappy position on the eight — so be it.
I bore down and smacked that shot with a stroke I didn’t think I had. The cue ball flew down to the bottom rail. The spin caught and the cue ball popped over to the side rail where it pinged off nicely and floated to the middle of the table, leaving me with a perfect shot on the eight. Of all the magnificent, gutsy, flashy shots I had made in this tournament, this simple shot was by far the best, because I had to overcome my own fear to shoot it.
I made the eight, and won.
This was the final match, and Ginger, who had breezed through to the hotseat hours and hours ago, was my opponent.
I was fired up to play.
However, it was 1:15 a.m. now.
TD informed us the final match would not be played due to the lateness of the hour, and Ginger and I were forced to split first and second place.
“Never in a million years would I have thought this tournament would last this long or that you would make it through fourteen hours of pool.”
“It’s winning for fourteen hours straight that’s hard.” I had to ask, “Are you SURE we can’t play the final match? They won’t close for another forty-five minutes — we could probably finish in that time. Even if it takes two sets of race-to-three.”
“No, no. They’re kicking us out so they can close up.”
“You can’t win ’em all, you know…”
“…but I must always believe I can.”