walk the line


at least it’s not monday

The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has.  Even when you make a tax form out on the level, you don’t know when it’s through if you are a crook or a martyr.  ~Will Rogers



I’ve been doing better than usual this year in the realm of billiards. One of the first things I upgraded was my ramen. Through the miracle of Cars With Friends, I went on a pilgrimage to a distant and fabled ramen paradise.



That’s ramen with some customized add-ons. Those add-ons are green onions, shoyu egg, cod roe (the tiny bright orange fish eggs on the little plate) and something listed as “pig back fat”.

Here is a closeup of a one seriously serious deliciously delicious spoonful of excellent broth and authentic noodles garnished with a little slab of “pig back fat” (also known as “bacon”) and a dab of cod roe.

<can't talk, busy eating>

This bowl of ramen will now be one of my main driving reasons to win.

You’ve been warned.



walk the line

I’ve been out of town the past three weekends and I am now glad to have a breather. Two of those past three weekends saw me play in tournaments. One of those past three weekends saw me win. Every weekend featured countless (unsolicited) bits of advice and opinions (both well-meaning and assholic). I found it all very fascinating.

This past weekend, I played some fantastic pool and I played some crappy pool. You’ve probably figured it out by now, but fantastic + crappy = craptastic. But, that’s the way it goes, sometimes. In particular, I was made aware by more than a few people that I made some surprisingly bad decisions.

Where am I going with all this? Actually, I don’t know. I’ll just ramble on and let the Earl Grey + Bailey’s do the driving. Oooh, hold on, the taco truck is here. I’ll be right back.

She's totally fucking serious, dude!! S E R I O U S L Y | S E R I O U S | D I S C L A I M E R
This is not an instructional article. I am not seeking instruction by writing this article.
Serious Cat is watching you.

All right, I’ve got ceviche, tacos, and my Earl Grey + Bailey’s. It is only fitting, then, that today’s post be about risk.


A significant portion of my pool game is based on risk. I’m primarily a shotmaker. (I play mostly rotation-based games. Yeah. Settle down, smartasses.) A good deal of my style of play and approach to the game is a result of being 99.9% self-taught.

Since I had the good fortune to learn on my own, my game is entirely my own. By that, I mean my game is not influenced by anyone else’s style or perception. When you go to an instructor, it is inevitable that they will teach you what works for them and their style will be instrumental in shaping your own. That’s not a bad thing (unless you have a bad teacher — but “bad” is open to anyone’s interpretation). Instruction is good because it gives you a boost (especially in the beginning) and you improve at a more rapid pace. However, instruction can also settle you into someone else’s well-worn path. This is not a bad thing, either, and we’ll return to that in a bit.


The best part about learning on my own was that there was no one there to tell me what was, or wasn’t a good idea. Nothing was impossible until I decided it was impossible — and even then, I figured it was only impossible until I practiced enough or acquired the correct skill set to make it possible. (This explains why I didn’t know what a defensive shot was for at least three years and didn’t bother trying one for another two.) I tried to make everything. The result? I didn’t make everything — but I did make a lot of difficult shots most people would pass up. I also sold the farm many times due to trying the (almost) impossible.

Needless to say, I got a lot of “you know, you should have done this…” and “if you had done this, you would have…” and “if you’d let me teach you, I’ll make you into a champion…” and my personal favorite, “oh my god, what the f— were you thinking?!” Heh. I understand most of these people (I’m not so naive to think all of them) had good intentions, but it made no difference.

When something hurts me enough, I’ll change. Every major change in my game has been a result of finally losing enough money or losing enough times to the same douchebag or realizing my knuckles can’t win forever against stucco walls. My game moves forward after the change and people wonder, “But I told you to do that before — why didn’t you do it then?” It takes too long to explain that, mentally, my game was not ready to change. But, when I’ve hurt enough, I’ll change it, and — best of all — I won’t forget it.


How nice. Someone just gave me a Coke. Let’s add that to the hallucinogenic mixture in front of me I call “lunch” and fast forward to the present.


Experience has taught me what I, with my current abilities, can do and I use that information to give myself to best chances to win. However, as some of you may have seen, there are plenty of moments when I shoot a “f— it, why not” sort of shot. When I make those shots, people say I’m talented. When I miss those shots, they say I’m a moron. I’m cool with that because it’s all part of my plan for improvement. As long as I keep improving (no matter how miniscule the rate), I’m fine with whatever speculations people make about my game.

Losing, as much as I hate it, is useful. I learn things from losses no instructor could ever teach me, and I remember it. I try risky shots because I don’t fear them. I’ve come to terms with the possible consequences and when I shoot that shot, I won’t regret it afterwards. Losing is the risk I take to test the boundaries of my abilities and there is no other way to do so. People tell me, “You should shoot that shot in practice, not in a match,” to which I reply, “If you never shoot that shot under pressure in a match, why practice it at all?”


My game has improved in recent times. This is because of risk. I’m not afraid to lose and that is why I’m not afraid to shoot. There is no reward without risk. Sometimes, making a change drops me from a high peak into a low valley, but if I believe it’s for improvement in the long run, I’ll stick with it.

In college, I once decided to track improvement in my game. I did the fifteen-ball drill (it’s like a much easier variation of straight pool) fifty times a day (start with ball-in-hand anywhere and shoot from where the cue ball ends up at the end of each rack). The great thing about this drill was that it was ALL about shotmaking. You miss, you lose. Start over. I remember one instance where I ran 102 before missing. The very next attempt, I ran 2. Now that is a fall from a high peak to a low valley. When I graphed the results after six weeks (geek alert), the most prominent thing I saw was that 102 to 2 drop. Depressing. However, when I zoomed out on the graph, you could see that one steep drop was no more than a dimple in the larger scheme of things — and the larger scheme of things was a beautiful, gradual incline.

I am all about that incline. Of course, by the law of diminishing returns, it becomes exponentially harder to improve over time in a game like pool. Now, I have to expend more effort to improve only a little and there’s an additional, very interesting, monkey wrench in the equation — reputation.

It’s all well and good when I swung away at fliers when I was a total beginner. Hell, I was expected to do stupid things because I didn’t know better. However, now I’m expected to know better so when I do take a flier, I get a lot of s— for it. There are moments when I feel that societal pressure to play what most people would say is “the right shot”, to play the safety instead of firing away when I feel like it. Sometimes, it’s not even societal pressure, but my own laziness.


When you have no desire to test yourself, that’s when you plateau. Without expending any further effort, you’re good enough to beat most people (or at least the ones you care to beat). In some cases, you surpass your instructor and since they have nothing further to teach you, if you don’t actively push yourself, you’ll level off at where your instructor has plateaued. But, hey, you’re “good enough” for you and hell, it’s a comfortable place to be.

If you are willing to risk falling, that is when you will figure out how high you can go.

I’ll take the ups and downs route if only because it charts out like a heartbeat. Plateaus, while they may be comfortable, chart out like a f—ing flatline.


I have no idea if any of the above makes sense and, frankly, Earl Grey + Bailey’s are telling me not to give a s— if it doesn’t. So, cheers to being fearless. Swing away, Merrill!


this is what you see when you go directly from a competitive pool weekend to work -- sunrise at the train station


20 Replies to “walk the line”

  1. ramen. nom nom nom nom nom

    and, “if you tell me, i’ll never remember. if i look it up, i’ll never forget.”

    plus, “walk a mile in the other person’s shoes so you know what their blisters look like on you.” (ok, i totally made that up.)

    1. Everyone should try my shoes, especially my newest stilettos in blue satin and lace.

      1. i wonder if that’ll look hot on me with my halter top, belly jewelry and tight leggings.

        ok, erase that image from your mind permanently. i just f~*ing grossed myself out.

    2. Before you criticise someone, walk a mile in their shoes.
      That way, when you do criticise them, you will be a mile away.
      And you will have their shoes.
      -Some Poker Player-

      always keep this in mind 🙂

  2. I think I will have to start reading the food sections AFTER the billiards and life sections, cause all I did was think about that damned Ramen while reading the whole blog 😀 Reading some paragraphs twice, not retaining anything but Ramen, Roe, Shoyu egg… So, I’m gonna go make me some Pho (just as nom nom nommy) and then re-read your blog!!! LOL!

  3. I would offer some advice, however I saw Serious Cat watching & suddenly felt like a Nazi in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

  4. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Not sure who said that but it sounds like a description of your learning style. I really like what you’ve written!

    Brian in VA

  5. Pork belly in the Pho sounds good…nothing going to waste with brisket, rare steak, tendon, pork gut and bone broth. I once saw ask for a bowl of liquid to put in his Pho so I asked the waitress what it was and she said fat…I passed.

    It’s a mixed blessing that you have to work for it gets in the way practising pool and so does table time – where the job comes in:-)

    “Physician heal thyself.” Home schooled pool player – you.

    Glad to hear your getting better and enjoying it.

  6. There is an awesome Pho like recipe online called Faux Pho. Google it. I made it numerous times. While not the real thing it still tastes pretty fucking good.

    Also, great post this time!

  7. Out of all the posts I have read on your blog, this is my favorite. This is a brilliant philosophy for billiards and life (are they mutually exclusive?).

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