some pre-Thanksgiving procrastination for you…
the far side of the world
I wake up at 4 a.m., get on a plane, and fly across the country.
I arrive in Tampa, Fla., during a thunderstorm. I hear people come here for the winter, but I can’t figure out why. I pick up my cues from the baggage claim and the travel bag I packed them in is soaked. The whole thing, which includes my uber-nice Jack Justis, the cues inside, and the majority of my tournament clothes (which I had thoughtfully used for extra cushioning for the case) weighs about forty pounds. Nice. Well, if an ant can carry something five times its own weight, then I figure I can suck it up and carry forty percent of my own.
Checking in at the hotel is quick and painless.
The hotel room itself is spec-freaking-tacular. It’s a two-bedroom, furnished apartment with two bathrooms, a living room (with internet-enabled flatscreen TV), dining area (with actual dining table and four chairs and track lighting above shining down a holy nimbus on the entire thing), and a kitchen with full-sized refrigerator, stove, and microwave.
It’s grander than any apartment I have ever lived in to date.
I put my luggage in order (it’s more difficult than it sounds when you’re overwhelmed with so many options for storage space — I usually throw my crap on whatever “chair” or “sofa” or “chaise longue” is in the hotel room) and then set out for the pool room.
The pool room for this event is
11236 W Hillsborough Ave
Tampa, FL 33635
The majority of the tables here are a model I have not seen before. They remind me of the Globals I played on in college, but I’m told they are local-built tables, Robertsons. The cloth is that nice tournament blue. I put my name on the waiting list (and it looks to be a long-ass wait since everyone is practicing for this event) but I luck out and run into some friends from my side of the world. I jump into their practice rotation and soon discover the most important feature of these tables: they are l i g h t n i n g fast (to me and my slow ass, anyways).
In addition to the unsettling speed of the cloth, the rails behave in an unpredictable manner. After discussing it with the other players at the table and testing a few shots, we figure out what the weirdness is: the rails are set ever-so-slightly lower than usual (to me and my short ass, anyways). What this does is change the reaction of the cue ball when it rebounds off a rail, especially when certain kinds of spin are applied. Some kinds of spin will take easily and the cue ball will zing around the table even faster while other kinds of spin will kill the ball, almost on the rail, when you least expect it. These variations in speed and bounce are interesting and, like a good golfer playing a new course, I will have to remember them and adjust accordingly during competition.
Since you may or may not have a roasted fowl with sauce awaiting you, here is the quick rundown of my trip through the brackets:
First, some information about this tournament:
- Race to 5
- Combination of 8-Ball & 9-Ball
- 3 Games of 8-Ball
- 6 Games of 9-Ball
if you start with 9-Ball, it is possible to win the match without ever playing 8-Ball, i.e., you win 5-1 or 5-0
- Double Elimination
- 4 1/2 x 9 Tables
- APA & Pro Rules Apply
8-Ball: slop counts, you are what you make
9-Ball: push-out allowed, no three-foul
- Winner of Lag will choose Break or Format
I usually use my cell phone as my alarm clock. I was worried I might sleep through the alarm (having been used to its friendly, non-insistent xylophonic chiming for the past year) that I decided I would use the hotel alarm clock. Registration for the tournament was at 9 a.m. and first matches would be at 11 a.m.
I woke up with the sun shining brightly in the window. I looked at the hotel alarm clock and it said:
I press some of the buttons on the alarm clock but there is no change in the display. S—. The f—er’s broken. I feel around for my cell phone and when I see the time, I have a heart attack.
I’d already missed registration. I didn’t know if that meant I had forfeited the entire tournament. I run for the living room where I had left most of my things, including the information packet for this event.
I promptly slam into the closed door of the bedroom. Damn these luxurious hotels! I remember that I had never been in a hotel with separate rooms so when I had the luxury of a door to my bedroom, I closed it. Tada! Right. Never again.
After swearing at various inanimate objects, I find the information packet and call the pool room looking for the tournament directors. They tell me missing registration is all right, but I have to make my 11 a.m. match. I hang up and call the front desk. Fortunately, the very last shuttle to the pool room for the day wil be leaving at 10:30. I have to be at the lobby by 10:25. Did I mention that the luxuriousness of the hotel extends to the hotel grounds? The spacious grounds have BBQ pits, volleyball courts, and pretty little pest-filled lakes. I have ten minutes to get into tournament clothes, tournament shoes, and drag all that along with a nice cue case to the lobby about a quarter-mile away. F— the spaciousness!
At the hotel lobby, I breathe deeply and tried not to look like a robber demanding cash when I ask where the shuttle is and whether or not it can get me to my 11:00 match on time. They assure me the shuttle driver is on his way. I sit in an uncomfortable chair with a tropical rattan-can look and really try not to go psychopathic on everyone. 10:31. 10:33. 10:35. Breathe. Breeeeeeeeeathe. At 10:36, the cheerful shuttle driver arrives and the pool playing crowd gets on.
One of my friends from New Jersey is on the shuttle and I mention that I’d woken up late and my match is at 11:00 a.m. I have to get to the pool room by 11:00 a.m. I tell the driver I need to get to the pool room by 11:00 a.m. He assures me I will get the pool room by 11:00 a.m. I have just over 20 minutes to get to my match which starts at 11:00 a.m. The shuttle sets off down the road and I tell myself to remain calm. I will get there by 11:00 a.m.
As we trundle down the road, I watch the clock. I can’t help it. Each minute is as long as a f—ing lifeage of the earth. At a stoplight, the driver gets a call. He announces that we have to go back to the hotel to pick up two players also headed to the pool room. ARE YOU F—ING SERIOUS?! I, and a few other passengers, remind the driver that I NEED to be at the pool room ASAP or I will forfeit. His response: “Oh, we’re only halfway. It’s easier to turn around and get those other guys than to go all the way to the pool room and come back for them.”
“My match starts at 11:00. If I don’t get there, I will forfeit.”
“Don’t you worry, you’ll get there around that time.”
“No, ‘around that time’ isn’t going to work. I HAVE to get there ON TIME.”
As the driver slowly makes his agonizing U-turn back to the hotel, my frustration and panic rise until I feel the blood beating in my brain and my f—ing eyeballs feel like they’re being smashed with a bat. This driver is not a competitive pool player, therefore, my anxieties and struggles mean nothing to him.
I take a monumental breath and tell my friend, “If I get there late and forfeit, then this tournament will be single-elimination, that’s all. If I didn’t want to be late, I should have set two alarms.”
I sit back and wait.
We finally arrive at the pool room and I go directly to the tournament desk where they direct me to my match table. My mind is still hazy, no doubt a by-product of being driven insane by a slow-playing shuttle driver, but I manage to muddle through the motions of playing pool. I win 5-1, but the scrappiness of the match makes it feel like 5-4.
The table for this match is one of the three Diamond SmartTables of the room. This changes this a bit as they don’t play similar to the other Robertsons. I play fairly well but make bad strategic decisions and lose 4-5.
Afterwards, a lady who was watching the match says to me, “Boy, these tight pockets are bad for everyone’s game!”
I think she is trying to make me feel better about losing, but as we know, there is nothing that makes you feel better about losing. Nothing. She probably means well, but I’m not going to agree simply because she’s nice. I don’t need anyone to make excuses for me. I’m the one that played and I know what happened “The pockets have nothing to do with me losing. When you don’t play well enough to win, you lose. I didn’t play well enough to win, and so, I lost.”
Now, the tournament truly is single-elimination.
My next opponent is one of the prettiest and nicest ladies in pool. In contrast to her adorable appearance and personality, she plays a very mean game of pool. Once again, it’s a scrappy match. A race to five is a short race and doesn’t allow you to get comfortable enough to bring your best game. I win, 5-2, and learn a lot about glass artistry. 🙂
It seems like there will be a bit of a wait before I play again. I feel rather blah and so, I go sit with Stephanie My Drinking Buddy From Ohio. This may or may not be a good idea.
Naturally, when you hang out with Your Drinking Buddy From Ohio, you must drink. So that’s what I do. This is highly unusual for me to do during a tournament (especially since the last time I did this in February, I ended up as the butt-end of highly suspicious shenanigans), but, whatever — life is highly unusual and I’m going to deal with it in the usual manner.
We have some rounds of drinks which turn out to be very, very strong. The lemondrops I describe as “mostly drop, not so much lemon”. This may or may not be due to the fact that the bartender has developed a fancy for the girls at our table. In any case, good times, good times.
And then, it’s post time.
I feel blah, buzzed, tired, incredibly unmotivated, and filled with dammit-let’s-get-this-sh*t-over-with. That’s right, I get those moments, too. Just like all of you. As incredibly driven as I am, there are times when it really all seems I’m doing too much for too little.
My opponent is a very nice lady from the west coast who traveled here with her very nice and supportive husband. This is unfortunate. At out of state pool tournaments, I have a tendency to cheer for those from my state (unless you’re highly unpleasant). If no one from my state is available to cheer for at the moment, then I cheer for those from my coast which is, in this case, from the far side of the world. We had both traveled a ridiculous amount for this race-to-five tournament and now, here we were, both on the loser’s side and one of us would have to be out at the end of it all.
Let’s get this over with, then.
It is an ugly match. I feel that my opponent normally plays much better than she shows in our few games. I can tell because the knowledge is there, but the execution is off. As for myself, well, after lemon drop, lemon drop, Jager-something, beer, lemon drop, and more, I can say I played about as well as a jellyfish could.
We are hill-hill and it comes down to the last two balls in the last game of nine-ball. I remember my opponent shooting a slight cut on the eight-ball into the bottom right corner pocket. The nine is just off the bottom rail near the bottom left corner pocket. Both are fairly easy shots. My opponent shoots the eight too softly and it either skids or rolls off. It bumps the corner of the pocket and sits in the jaws. I make the eight and the nine, and win 5-4.
What sobers me is the thought that here is someone who traveled as far as I did for a tournament whose short races in the early rounds are pretty much a crapshoot. My opponent at least sweated the match and paid the game respect while I didn’t do either. I didn’t give a s— at that point and, while that can get you a good distance in pool, in the end, you HAVE to give a s— if you expect to win. This tournament pays no money so everyone who travels here truly plays for the sake of the game itself. You play in this tournament because you DO care about winning. It is highly irreverent and irresponsible of me to put myself in a state of mind because I don’t want to care, because I’m pissed off and tired of the whole grind.
Winning this match ensures my advancement to the final day.
I make the decision not to squander my second chance.
I return to the pool room at 8:30 a.m. for my 9:30 a.m. match. I win this match 5-0, but it is not because of playing well. My opponent gives me chances and, due to my born-again religion of How About Not F—ing Things Up, I capitalize and convert those chances into games won. In a short race, every mistake is exponentially magnified. It’s f—ing brutal.
I’m on the hill in this match when I hook myself on the six-ball (playing nine-ball). I look at the table from all sides, and I look at the angles, but honestly, I have no clue as to where I should send the cue ball in order to hit the nine-ball. I had hooked myself quite well. There is very little room between the obstructing object ball (the seven) and the cue ball. This also means there is very little room for error. I know the rails are not what I am used to so I’m clueless as to where to kick.
I look down the rail again and, go ahead and laugh here, I see a spot on the rail and immediately, the voice(s) in my head say, That’s the spot. Send the cue ball there, with english. I send the cue ball with a little running spin to the rail just under the side pocket. Miraculously, the cue ball hits the six-ball and cuts it in. Bizarro! The voices in my head may be murderous, but they sure know how to kick a ball.
I win, 5-2.
This is a rematch with the player who put me on the loser’s side. The voices in my head still have the speed and angles of the table down for kicks, but I am unable to capitalize on the opportunities I give myself with this advantage. Hilarious, but not really. It’s death via hemorrhage by shooting yourself in the foot repeatedly at close range with a pellet gun. Due to my opponent’s solid play, I lose, again, by the same score, 5-4.
I didn’t learn from history, and so, I must repeat it.
Here ends my 3,000+ mile pilgrimage to the shrine of pride.
As the tournament progresses, I am relegated to spectator status. Watching the finals of a tournament is the best self-torture a competitive pool player can inflict. You know you had a chance to be there, but you f—ed up somewhere along the line, that’s sometimes good motivation for not f—ing up next time.
The regular, casual pool player crowd begins to fill the room and some of them stop to watch the tournament. As I wait to medicate myself and some friends with the bartender’s creations, a random gentleman and I have this conversation:
“This a contest or something?”
“A contest? You mean the tournament?”
“Yeah. The competition. You playing in it?”
“Nope, I’m out.”
“Aw, where you end up?”
“Wow! What you win?”
“Same thing I won when I finished second.”
“That’s real nice! How much you win?”
“What? Nothing? Why?”
“It’s winner-take-all. Only the winner is a winner. The rest of us are the — alternative — to winners.”
There are some who question the logic of going through the process of this tournament. To make it to the final rounds (this tournament), you must win a qualifying regional round. Then, you must travel to wherever the finals rounds are held. The American Poolplayers Association (APA) will help you defray some, but not all, of your travel costs and depending on where you are, those costs can be substantial.
It’s a lot of money and a long way to go for winner-take all, yes? People ask me why I try for this tournament year after year and the answer is: Because I haven’t won it yet.
Congratulations to Amy Chen and Raymond Linares who won the Women’s and Men’s divsions of this tournament. I agree with Ms. Chen’s assessment that the quality of play on the women’s side has rocketed in the last few years. That’s the way it should be and I look forward to having my pride do nothing but cost me money again quite soon. 😉
t h a n k s
to all the people I met, new & old
those that participated in my October raffle — thanks to you, I didn’t have to eat granola all weekend
the APA peeps who run this show (and run it well) | Kristen Malone | Michell Monk | Amy Chen | Stephanie my drinking partner from Ohio | the crew from CA (westside!) | Nick from South Carolina | Cupcake (learned lots about equine medicine and surgery) | Kelly Cavanaugh | Valerie | The Nice Lady Who Bought Me A White Russian | The Scottish Lion | Eric from Joysee (and his handler Suzy) | uwate | Dana Aft | Raymond Linares (does a GREAT Shane Van Boening impression) | The Bartender
if I left you out, sorry, and you can have a cookie
Happy Turkey Day!
See you all when we’re back next week.