I played in a tournament this past weekend.
A month and a half before this tournament, I discovered a bad habit in my stroke. I decided to correct it. My game went down, as expected, because that’s what happens when you make a change. I knew the change was for the better, so I was determined to stick to this new change, no matter how much my game sank. In the long run, I knew it would pay off, even if it was going to suck donkey balls in the short run.
Three weeks before this tournament, my tip began breaking down. I needed a new one. My usual cue repair guy was out of every tip I preferred. He put on a tip. I tried it, didn’t like it. He put on another one. Ditto results for the first. And the third. And the fourth. A week later, there still wasn’t a tip I liked. I didn’t want to have to play with a tip I didn’t intend to use in the tournament while I waited to mail-order one I did want (no locals had anything I wanted). Finally, I was able to get a tip that was close to the one I wanted, but not exact.
Two weeks before this tournament, I was playing some of the crappiest pool in recent memory. That’s what changing my stroke and unfamiliar equipment does to my game. Some people were all, “Oh, I play at the same level with any kind of equipment. I don’t understand how you could be so dedicated to one tip.” Yeah? That’s YOU. I like what I like, I play best with the equipment I am most familiar with, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. Can I play with a house cue? Yes. Would I rather play with my own cue? F#CK YES. For me, playing with a different tip is like the difference between riding a bicycle and a unicycle. Concept is the same, but execution and technique are now slightly different. I might be able to ride a unicycle, but I certainly won’t be riding as well as if it were a bicycle.
A week before the tournament, I practiced nine hours in one day and spent the rest of the day watching and analyzing the technique of better players. I was still uncomfortable with everything, but I only had two options: wuss out of the tournament and get my entry fee back or play the tournament with the understanding that I might play the worst pool of my life in front of the most annoying railbirds in the country. Well, sh#t. If I gotta play bad, then I might as well go all the way and play bad in a big tournament in front of an audience. Why not. If you’re gonna have an ice cream sundae, might as well get the deluxe version with the ton of nuts and a f#cking radioactive fake-ass cherry on top.
I’m a believer in what I call the Crucible Method of improvement. The best way to break a bad habit is to use the new technique under the greatest pressure possible. If I don’t go insane from frustration, I should come out of this tournament playing better. “Stay in the fire until you’re fireproof,” I used to say. A friend of mine put it another way: “No pressure, no diamonds.”
The tournament was exactly the nightmare I thought it would be. I missed ball-in-hands, easy shots by a mile, and tough shots by a light year. Banks, which used to be a fairly reliable shot in my arsenal, failed me nine times out of ten. I hung balls so often you’d think I was decorating a Christmas tree. But, I knew this was what I signed up for, so I bore down and flailed forward.
I stuck to fixing my bad habits and forced myself to get under control. Every goddam shot was a struggle, both physically and mentally. F#ck. It all tired me so much, but I had a goal — if I wasn’t going to win this tournament, then I would take as many people down with me as possible. Yes, that is the F#CK YOU Method of Handling Tournament Pressure which I use on occasion. I might not be able to win it, but so help me pool gods, neither will you.
In the end, I finished better than I did last year, and that’s all that matters.
I mentioned ice cream sundaes earlier, didn’t I? Let me tell you about the f#cking radioactive fake-ass cherry that topped my tournament sundae.
Right after I was knocked out — I had just shaken my opponent’s hand (he’s a nice guy) — I put in my earphones and threw the balls out back on the table. I wanted to hit balls with no pressure. I wanted to actually relax for a moment with the game I loved, and maybe see if the changes to my mechanics would now feel more natural seeing as how I managed to survive this tournament with sanity more or less intact. I had JUST lined up on the one-ball — I hadn’t even gotten down to shoot it — when some curly headed mofo with a giant ugly saxophone-style cue case strutted up and said loudly, “YOU KNOW WHAT YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE ON THAT NINE-BALL…”
I stood up and immediately shot right back, “NO! I don’t want to hear it! You weren’t the one shooting that ball in that match under that pressure — I DON’T F#CKING WANT TO HEAR IT!!“ This assclown had NO IDEA what I had gone through in preparation for this tournament and everything I had to go through in this tournament itself.
The aforementioned mofo then had the f#cking nerve to say, “Really?! Really? You’re going to say that — to me?”
“YES! I am! Now F#CK OFF!”
The aforementioned mofo then spent a good half-hour complaining to everyone who would listen that he couldn’t believe I didn’t want his advice and it was my loss. Yeah. He painted himself as the victim. F#cking assclown. He’s a victim all right, a victim of his own f#cking mediocrity, which I could have pity for if I was a more decent human being — but thank heavens I’m not.
t h a n k s
EMCA | FWCCA | Eric Crisp of Sugartree Cues | Murray Tucker of Tucker Cue Works | Tad Kohara | Hard Times Billiards Bellflower | Sam, Marie, Mike, Fach, Ramin & everyone else who ran the tournament | everyone who bought fuzzy keychains from my Etsy store (that’s what paid for practice!)