If the Southern California pool scene was high school (which it very much is in some respects, tee hee), then the annual Jay Swanson Memorial 9-Ball Tournament would be its prom (or 10 year reunion, if you want to feel less immature).
Jay “Swanee” Swanson was a pool player from San Diego from before my time. I have watched a tape of Swanson playing a very young and rail-thin Johnny Archer, though. You who have seen the match know what I am talking about. Swanson was known as the “Gentle Giant” and this tournament honors his memory.
|I had to get up at a slightly ungodly hour to make the starting line at this tournament (doors open at 9:30, matches begin at 10:00 a.m.), but we all do what we gotta do. Luckily, it was another balmy winter day in Southern California and I could stay as toasty as I pleased as long as I stayed in the sun.|
|A common question I get is: “How long does it take?” The trip takes anywhere from two to two-and-a-half hours on the weekends. It’s not too bad considering plenty of people are driving from many more hours away.|
|The trip was uneventful and that’s about as good as it gets.|
The “Swanee” is Southern California’s largest tournament. It knocks out 191 of the 192 players entered in two days via races to 7 on the winner’s side and races to 6 on the loser’s side on the first day, and races to 7 and 7 on the second day. The relatively low entry fee ($60 when I first started playing, $80 now) and high-quality field (this year’s star attendees included world champions, U.S. Open champions, Mosconi Cup members, and other assorted professionals) ensure that a nice variety of players of all skill levels come for the big dance.
If you’re gonna have your ass kicked, might as well be by the best, right?
Off topic: Evgeny Stalev, my favorite player, was in the area but did not play the tournament. Interesting. I hear he’s more of a poker player these days. He did stop in before and after the tournament to play and bet a little with Efren Reyes, though.
|Left • Like last year, the fine billiards tables at this establishment get some love from attentive professional players.|
|Right • The Filipinos go straight for the cards.|
This tournament is crazy. Just think of the logistics. And add the fact that Hard Times in Bellflower doesn’t have the loosest pockets around and you have a tournament that needs to run on a tight schedule if everyone’s going to get a decent amount of rest. Matches have to be knocked out one after the other and players must play back-to-back-to-back.
Sunny Griffin and Bill Stock • They ran the board (two 128-player boards) and made the calls.
I didn’t do much on the score updating front (I’m very good about this and Twitter is my preferred journalistic vehicle) because playing pool is more fun than watching it. I didn’t play in this tournament last year because I had a decent action match set up that eventually ran away.
Didn’t have that problem this year.
Jose Parica • Bein’ all gangsta in his Benz.
Let’s get my crap (and it is totally craptastic) outta the way so we can get to the real fun stuff that happened later.
I played pretty damn terrible in this match. I lost 7-1, but I forced myself to shake my opponent’s hand (not all that special, I guess, since I knew the guy) but I still f#cking hated every f#cking second of it. The fact that I was even able to do it is miraculous.
Every year, the topic of my dislike and infrequency for shaking hands comes up. It looks like someone called my number already so let’s talk about it. It boils down to this:
I don’t like shaking hands and I have my reason for it.
Plenty of horrible people in the world shake hands and it doesn’t make them better people for it. I choose, on most occasions, not to shake hands and if you feel it makes me a worse person for it, so be it. There will be a day when I’ll make the reason know but that day is not today.
In recent years, I have “mellowed” out a little (hard to believe, isn’t it?) and occasionally, I’ll get it in my head to do the handshake thing for a while, but I repeat — it is sporadic. Any work done on this issue by me will take eons until there is any recognizable improvement.
Imagine we’re looking at some ancient seabed which through tectonic forces has raised up to observable level. Each of my handshakes is a drop of water. When those drops of water have carved out the Grand Canyon, only then shall I be somewhat inured to the Socially Acceptable Level of Handshaking.
You get the idea.
This was an ugly, ugly match. My opponent was someone I knew and a nice person who, not unlike myself, expected the best performance out of himself at all times. This became difficult for both of us because we had an awkwardly situated table in an area of high foot traffic and general idiocy. At one point, a guy came out of the tournament room, stood by our table and continued yakking on his phone. Well, that’s the way tournaments go, I guess.
I hate having to play people I like because I feel there can be no victory, only defeat. Especially if we’re both on the one-loss side. Maybe this is why I prefer to dislike the general populace.
By this point, I’d spent most of the day in a slightly grumpy state of mind. Playing substandard pool does that to me. But, as I said before, I very occasionally get the idea that I should be A Better Person. I’m not sure what triggers these episodes but I think it might be low blood sugar or a low blood-alcohol level or something of the sort. Anyways, my next match was with someone I did not know and I took a deep breath, cracked my neck a couple of times, and decided that it was never too late to try and be A Better Person. My match was called and I went to my assigned table.
I looked around but my opponent wasn’t there yet. I threw out three balls on the table and hit them in. A man who was a DEAD RINGER for Yosemite Sam (but not quite as — diminutive — as the animated character) approached the table. I took another deep breath, tried to look cheerful, and I greeted him by name. He stared me up and down, then heaved his considerable cue case onto the table and began picking through his cues. Okay. I leaned against a stool and waited. He took a rather long time to assemble his cues. When he was done, I walked up to the table again and stood there with the most pleasant expression I could muster and a plastic smile. I was gritting my teeth, but hey, no one said trying to be good would be easy. He said brusquely, “I am going to use the bathroom.” Leaving his cues on the table, he stalked off. I sat back down on the stool.
Miss Sunny, one of the tournament directors, came over and asked what was going on. They had called our match a while ago and she noticed we had not started. Since this tournament was on a tight schedule, she wanted to know why we hadn’t started. I shrugged and told her he had gone to use the restroom.
Yosemite Sam came back. He went up to the table and picked up his cue and I, taking my cue from this that he was ready, approached the table.
“JUST RELAX WILL YOU?!!?” He said this very loudly with a snarl. “I’VE SEEN YOU HITTING BALLS THE WHOLE TIME AND NOW IT’S MY TURN SO GET AWAY!”
Practice time at this tournament is more rare than a handshake from me given in good faith. There is ONE practice table and 192 players. You do the math.
However, I considered that yes, prior to this match being called, I did get to hit a few balls. Of course, that’s because I was here and not out chasing Bugs Bunny with a pair of six-shooters. (Not that that was what Yosemite Sam had been doing. I am merely speculating.) I do understand that practice time is valuable to all and everyone has a right to it and so, I SAID NOTHING (because I was trying to be A Better Person), and walked one table away and sat down on a stool.
Yosemite Sam savagely threw out a rack on the table and I waited patiently as he chopped his way through it. At the conclusion of his firewood session, I stood back up and walked towards the table. He gave me a mean look, noisily threw out another rack, and recommenced lumberjacking. Yosemite Sam wasn’t going to play until he felt good and ready, it seemed.
When it comes to a tournament, I have all the time in the world.
I went over to the tournament desk where the directors were watching and said, “Just letting you know, this guy told me to ‘relax’ and he wants to warm up before we play. I’m going to get some coffee. I’ll be back.” Miss Sunny wanted to tell him to start right away, but I said it was all right — I didn’t mind waiting. But, it was not about whether or not I was all right with waiting or whether Yosemite Sam was taking his time hacking out some hasenfeffer — the tournament brackets could not be delayed. We were made to begin.
I played well in spots, but overall, just dogged too many opportunities. Yosemite Sam got into stroke and he won. Afterwards, he walked up with a smirk and held out his hand. I looked at his hand and hesistated for the briefest of moments before saying, “Nope. You were rude.”
This launched a tirade on his part about how I was in the wrong for “crowding” him and “rushing” him. Apparently, he thought he was completely in the right for yelling at me at the beginning because, I might not know this, but he’d “been around pool” for a long time and he knew how things should be.
He further accused me of being “on juice” and this instantly insulted me. If anyone was supposed to be on drugs, it was HIM. He had been twitchy the entire match. I’m an ornery bastard(ess) but I’m never on drugs — I would rather spend that money on table time. I had to listen a while longer before it turned out that he meant to say that I had “juice” — meaning I had wrongfully used my influence with the tournament directors to begin the match before he was ready. The amusing thing is that I wouldn’t have minded waiting to start the match. I could have used the rest. And the coffee. If I had both rest and coffee, I might have won.
Upon further inquiry to others more familiar with Yosemite Sam, it turns out he is this rude almost all the time. Yosemite Sam’s rudeness was, like most instances of rudeness (including my own), not necessarily personal, and nothing more than a brief moment in time. I do not think he would have been as rude to some six-foot-eight hair-covered monster named Gossamer, but unfortunately, I have only the appearance I was born with and that appearance is not threatening at all.
I did appreciate the Universe letting me know that I should never, EVER change my naturally charming Why-Don’t-You-Go-Die-In-A-Fire personality for anything or anyone. If I ever try to be nice, it only backfires and that’s awesome because I’d rather just be the murderous bunny you all know and love/hate.
Bizarro cartoon characters aside, I knew the second day of this tournament would be excellent to watch. And so, I dragged myself out of bed on a perfectly lazy Sunday and took the bus back to the Home of Champions.
|click to embiggen|
|Psychedelic-angled panorama of the Tournament Room.|
Some big names were already out of the tournament but there were plenty left. It was nice to see a good amount of locals still in as well.
Today, I had the time to eat. Hard Times usually has a bonus menu during big events. I am a big fan of ceviche (anyone have good recipes?) and I always look forward to having it.
|The ceviche this time around was not quite as nice as previous incarnations of the dish (they used surimi, that imitation crabmeat stuff, to augment the fish), but economic times are tough for all. This is an event summary, anyways, so I’ll go back to talking about the players and the game and leave the food out of it.|
As the number of players dwindled, all matches were moved into the tournament room. It is my sincere wish to make it far enough in one of these tournaments to where I get to play in an environment like the one pictured below.
Mark Griffin • “The Man Behind the Curtain.”
The biggest luxury for me during a tournament is to have enough space. I would love to be able to take shot without reflexively looking behind me to make sure I’m not in someone’s way. It’s also nice to know someone else won’t get in my way.
I hate it when you both need to shoot and just stand there looking at each other telling the other to go first. If you shoot first, you feel rushed. If you shoot second, you feel like you have to make the shot because everyone waited for you (and now they’re watching). And if you miss at all, you just feel dumb.
(I feel dumb a lot.)
like the fog creeping in on little cat feet • Spectators would come into the playing arena and sneak closer and closer to the marquee matches. I told Mr. Griffin it was like watching a high tide roll in.
A race to seven, winner breaks, between the kinds of players that were left in the tournament was like a coin-toss. It was a great format for spectating as the short races meant more matches between different players. It was like a buffet of champion play.
Amar Kang to Efren Reyes: “I’m about to sink your battleship!” • Mr. Kang won this event in 2006.
|sweating and chilling at the same time • time to kick back and see what happens to all your side bets.|
There was no music playing on the jukebox and in the eerie quiet, one could hear everything.
Alex Pagulayan would like you to know his favorite song is Air Supply’s “Making Love Out Of Nothing At All”. He was in a power ballad mood and his karaoke list included Journey and Guns ‘N’ Roses, I believe.
|While charging my phone up to prepare for the onslaught of updates to Facebook and Twitter, I came upon a Facebook post about Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech (of which I am a fan).|
|The poster remarked, “Any aspiring pool player should have to have this printed on a card and carry it with them to any matches.”|
Amongst the many bus passes, league membership cards, and random crap populating my wallet — guess what I have? 😉 It’s laminated with the same packing tape I used to patch my old cue cases with. Ah, the memories.
In addition to the Swanee tournament, there seems to have been some sporting event concurrently going on known as the “Super Bowl”. The area in front of the bigscreen TV had been packed and the cheers and groans of many had echoed across the room most of the day.
“After the Super Bowl” • And the Cards Played On
And when it was over, only pool players were left.
One bracket in the tournament was behind the others by two matches. We won’t say who, or what (Popcorn Box!), might have been the cause for the delay but eventually, things got caught up. Oscar Dominguez played a very nice set against Max “Mad Max” Eberle to take the hotseat.
Eventually, Mr. Pagulayan emerged from the tangle on the west side of the bracket to take on Mr. Eberle in the semifinals <insert menacing revving of motorcycle engine here>.
|There is a cute story about the camera there in the corner recording this match.|
|A gentleman watching this match asked me to show him how to use his camera. His teenage daughter (who also plays pool, but was working that day) had bought him the camera as a present so that he could use it to take pictures during the tournament.|
|After I showed him how to use the camera, he was very happy and said now he could show his daughter his pictures (and videos!) with the best players in the world.|
If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the freezer getting my heart back to the lump of ice it’s supposed to be. Don’t wait up for me. I might be a while.
During his break before the finals, Alex told us a few stories including one about backgammon, one of his other gambling games.
|Back when he was twelve, one of his regular
|Off topic: America’s own “Pots ‘N’ Pans” (Mr. Rogoff) was at this tournament doing his usual schtick with the “Can this be felt?” whilst reaching for women’s breasts. Ugh.|
|In more pleasant news of the world, Alex said he would give me his shirt (I had said I liked it very much) if he won the tournament in exchange for massaging out a knot in his shoulder. Deal. (I’m surprised anyone would trust my hands that close to their neck.)|
Down came the green flag and we were off to the final race. Alex started off at a sprint.
He broke well, played fast, played perfect, didn’t care if he got out of line, got back into line, and did it all while bouncing around like it wasn’t past midnight, he hadn’t played for a jillion hours straight, and there wasn’t money or pride at stake.
The times that Oscar made it to the table to break, he broke dry. Alex’s break was working extremely well and he was making two balls on the break quite consistently.
I’m not sure what the other die-hard spectators were expecting, but I had budgeted at least an hour and a half for the final — and now, it was going by disturbingly fast.
the cue ball was behind the 4 • Alex made the kick.
Alex looked unstoppable during the entire set. He long-banked this one 9-ball and made the pockets on Table 1 — which are a very respectable 4 inches — look like a five-dollar footlong from Subway. (Mmm. Sandwich.) An hour might have passed and Alex was already on the hill. There was plenty of discussion that this could well be the fastest finals set in the history of the Swanee tournament.
Then, the caffeinated machine that is the Alex Pagulayan Show experienced a minor technical difficulty.
We were all surprised but none more so than Alex himself. He sprang straight up in the air and landed badly. When he got up, he was limping.
|Alex Pagulayan after the leap • He strained his calf muscle and was forced to change his stance to keep his weight off of it.|
I think many (myself included) thought he may have been clowning around, him being Alex and all. As the match went on, it became apparent that Alex was not clowning around.
He was actually hurt. Although Oscar was still a little shaky, Alex could not capitalize on the opportunities and the beads on Oscar’s side of the board began moving.
Things got worse for Alex, and his luck seemed to have done a full 180.
Oscar’s game smoothed out and now his break was just as effective as Alex’s was. More weird scratches on Alex’s part made the match painful to watch.
The end seemed inevitable as Oscar steadily moved towards the finish line.
I think many of us have been on both sides of this equation. You’ve been the one to come from behind and conversely, you’ve also been the one to see that lead bleed out when all you need is One More Game. Speaking solely for myself, all you want when you see that cushion melting down is for your opponent to dog it just once or for the lightning bolt of luck to strike.
Oscar was grinding it out and warming up to his top gear. He could not be expected to miss.
Alex got his Hail-Mary lightning-strike instead.
Two words summed this up for me: “Well, shit.”
Shortly afterwards, the 3 a.m. awards ceremony took place. There was much pomp and circumstance and getting the f#ck home because we working snarfs had to be at work in four hours.
all in 2-1/2 days’ work • First place pays about $100 per hour.
Mr. Pagulayan made good on his promise, and I received one small, stylish polo shirt covered in blue chalk and that blackish stuff from the chrome trim on Brunswicks.
I am the biggest winner of this tournament.
|t h a n k s|
|EMCA | Lyle | Marie | Oscar & Ernesto | Alex (for the shirt)|
|first time hello & hello again|
|Raquel, Melissa, Brook, Michelle, Sunny, & Emilyn (yay NorCal) | BigCat & his fellow Arizona peeps | Robert, Josh, Josh, & Louis (yay SD) | meezergirl (you’re everywhere) | Fernando (that was the cutest story ever) | all the Filipinos (the ones that remember me, anyways)|