a city built of hot sand, broken dreams and five-dollar lobster
Most know the Andy Mercer Memorial Tournament better as “The Rum Runner”, after the venue holding the event. It is one of the tougher bar table tournaments in America. The sixty-four player field plays nine-ball in races to six. It is not uncommon for players to run out entire sets from the break. It is also not uncommon for the field to feature incredibly strong players, often drawn there not only by the prize money (which is substantial: $6,000 to the winner), but also by the player auction. In good years, the auction money surpasses the prize fund itself and the calcutta payouts are far more than their corresponding tournament payouts. I did not attend the player auction this year, but I did hear that it was on the lighter side (aww, economy still sucks, I guess).
I’ve tried to play in the Andy Mercer Memorial 9-Ball Tournament every year for a few years now, and every year I just miss out (one year I was first on the waiting list — and stayed there). This year, I could not get the days off (it’s a three-day tournament, four with the calcutta) and I did not have the funding. But, I did have friends out there for the tournament as well as general Vegas debauchery, so I hopped on over there for moral support, cheap drinks, and honing my spectator skills.
Upon arrival, I immediately went to the Rum Runner counter and paid for a tournament. Have to pay that entry fee while I still have the dough, y’know? 😉 My friend had finished playing for the evening so I settled in to play catch up with some Las Vegans (haha, I said vegans). After much drinking, my friends came back to pick me up for… more drinking.
|This dubious looking combination of liquids is known as a “pickleback”. It is a shot of whiskey with a chaser of pickle brine. It was surprisingly good. I did not think the two flavors would work well together, but they did.|
After drinking into the wee small hours, we crashed at the hotel.
The next day, to my absolute disgust, I woke up on time — because I remembered one of us was still in the tournament. My internal billiards alarm clock is conscientious enough to wake me up so I can wake my friends up for their matches, too.
When I got to the bar, I hovered around as best as I could until Bill Stock let me have his prime seat with the promise that I would give it back should he return. Deal.
the Rum Runner
four Diamond bar tables in the tournament area
There were some changes to this iteration of the Rum Runner. For one thing, traditional racks were out and the Magic Ball Rack was in. Players racked the nine-ball on the spot and broke from the box. I do not have the official reason for this change (and from what I hear, it was done last-minute) and it received mixed reviews from the players. On one hand, it made break and runs a little more rare and, by extension, may have evened things up in the field. On the other hand, one of the greatest things about the Rum Runner is watching any player run packages or, in some cases, the whole set.
The 64-player field included WPA world champions, U.S. Open 9-Ball champions, U.S. Bar Table champions, and of course past and present winners of the Rum Runner itself, including Jim Blakeman (1994, 2004, 2005), Ernesto Dominguez (2010), Ismael “Morro” Paez (1999, 2006, 2007), Brian Parks (2008), and Shane Van Boening (2009, 2011, 2012).
I sat my lazy ass down in the prime viewing seat so generously gifted to me and watched people poke balls with sticks on tables for the next twelve hours without food or drink (because I’m sick like that).
There was one hiccup in my pleasant experience courtesy of an older gentlemen who amassed an impressive harem of Bud Light cans and fostered a visceral hatred for Mark Estes, a player in the tournament. This gentleman had a very distinctive voice and a good amount of us in the surrounding radius knew just how much this dude hated Mr. Estes as he perpetually wished him ill in the tournament, in life, and in the afterlife. After he ran out of gas on Mr. Estes, he loudly criticized the shots and choices of the two players on the table immediately in front of him. I put in earphones as a remedy to this sound and fury. Eventually, Mr. Bud Light addressed his comments and questions to me.
All I wanted to do on this trip was watch pool. For f#ck’s sake, this was my vacation, lame as it was. The Universe could have allowed me to sit around in a billiards environment and get away with a 100% five-star A+++ Fast Shipping Would Buy Again experience, but it wouldn’t. Life would be too boring otherwise.
I ignored Mr. Bud Light for a long while. He leaned over and practically yelled in my ear. I looked at him, noted his inebriated state and age, made an excuse for him, and waited. “You. YOU wouldn’t make that mental error, right? I know you wouldn’t.” He was referring to a missed shot by one of the tournament players.
“Yes. I would.” I turned back to the match.
This spurred (and slurred) Mr. Bud Light to further conversation, which I ignored as much as possible. However, his distinctive voice, which had remarkable carrying power, continued to natter on, occasionally tossing a jab in my direction meant to make me tell him how well (or not well) I played pool. He was a loud drunk dude having a gool ol’ time. I was a quiet sober person trying to have a good ol’ time. I was sure we could meet somewhere in the middle at a respectable distance and then walk away in opposite directions.
“YOU. I bet you gamble.” I looked at him again. “You know how I know that? ‘Cause you’re an Asian female. They all gamble. They looOOoOove gambling.”
“You know who really loves gambling? Old white men wearing glasses drinking Bud Light at bar tournaments. Those guys really looOOoOove gambling.”
“You and I should play some.”
“No. I do not know who you are.”
“You got a stakehorse?”
“Too bad. We can’t gamble. All the girls got to have stakehorses otherwise they won’t gamble.”
I smiled. Mr. Bud Light wanted to goad me into playing, but he had just closed the door on himself. I said sweetly, “You are . a B S o L U t e L y . right.”
The Universe decided I had been tested enough and sent salvation in the form of my friend Pooh Bear coming over to return money to me. In doing so, she inadvertently ran interference between me and Mr. Bud Light. She could tell I was in a — particular — state of mind and gave me a questioning look. “It’s a pity they don’t let you fly with knives.”
The spectator to my right said immediately, “Sh#t, you wanna borrow my gun?!”
The final sixteen players returned in the money on the last day and the number of famous names that did not make it was a testament to the unpredictable nature of this tournament.
In notable play, Max Eberle may have racked up the most 6-0 wins out of any player. Of particular note was his 6-0 win against Bernardo “King Kong” Chavez. Mr. Eberle broke, and pushed out. Mr. Chavez opted to return the shot and Mr. Eberle ran out that rack. Then he broke and ran the next five racks.
|Rodney Morris had a match in front of where I sat. I got a nice look at what he lugged around in his cue case. I was surprised at the many pool balls he hauled around along with his jump cue and baby powder. These balls are used in Bonus Ball, a game I have not yet played or investigated, but has brought many professionals to Vegas.|
My friends and I left before the finals because we were in a hurry to get stuck behind four traffic accidents on I-15. Mr. Van Boening defeated Mr. Jeremy Jones two sets in the final, 6-3 and 6-0. Below are the top eight finishers in this event.
|1st||Shane Van Boening (2009, 2011, 2012)||$6,000|
|5th/6th||Ernesto Dominguez (2010)||700|
With this fourth win, Mr. Van Boening leads as the player with the most Rum Runner wins. Previously, he held three titles, as did Mr. Blakeman and Mr. Paez.
Las Vegas is the only place I know where money really talks. It says, “Goodbye.”
A week later, I returned.
My decision-making process for figuring out how I wanted to travel on this trip supremely amused my brother. I waffled back and forth between flying or taking the bus. He asked what would make me choose one over the other. I told him cost was a major factor. I did not have much money to spend on pool tournaments throughout the year but with extremely careful budgeting, I could do a lot with very little. A one-way plane ticket cost the same as two round-trip bus tickets. I also had to consider the cost of the hotel, cab fare, food, bail, and a million other miscellaneous things that could nibble away at my bankroll.
|I decided to fly there and ride the bus back. Interesting, said my brother. What made me decide on that course of action? I said, “When I can’t make up my mind, I ask myself, ‘How much do I want to win?’“|
|I wanted very much to win.|
|Flying meant I would arrive less tired and less stressed. It was worth paying the high cost to give myself the best chance to win. The expense of the ticket would cut into my prize money, if any, but I valued winning far more than money. Win or lose, riding a bus home would be fine because I only needed to arrive in good condition. I could depart in whatever condition Vegas left me in.|
The flight was amazing. It only took 45 minutes whereas by bus it would be at least six malodorous hours. I thoroughly enjoyed my half-can of soda but declined their complimentary packets of peanuts lest I become too enamoured of the high life.
I had a little tournament on the weekend, but there was additional billiards madness. After a nice lunch with Miss Sunny at our favorite KBBQ spot (the one with the Magic Water), it was off to catch TAR32 featuring Ronnie Alcano vs Jayson Shaw.
Mr. Alcano sports a bright orange shirt while Mr. Shaw sports a healthy pink glow.
I felt both players started off a little tentative, but that is a common occurence with TAR matches as the players get their bearings on the equipment and settle in for the long haul. Neither player pulled ahead more than one or two games at a time. Scratches on the break, especially in the side pocket, were common and unforced errors kept the match close. At 8-8, Mr. Alcano noticeably softened his break in what I believe was an attempt to keep from scratching.
That is how the match was going overall at a glance.
|Mr. Alcano’s shoes were extremely unique. The uppers were made from tonal striped fabric and the sides of patent leather. The front of the shoes had metal, either as protection (like a more refined steel-toe boot, perhaps) or decoration. The ends of the shoestrings had metal tassels.|
|Mr. Shaw sported some savvy elfin kicks of his own. These pointy-toed shoes for men seem to be popular overseas (looking at you, Toasti Hohmann).|
|However, the runaway winner was Ravi. His black beaded and sequined loafers threw off rainbows while simultaneously throwing shade on the rest of our shoes. In the Game of Dressing Flashy, you’re either Ravi or you lose.|
Mr. Alcano had an unusual manicure, including nails that were quite long, and his pinky nail was painted black.
As the match went on, both players let out their strokes a little and some firepower got to see the light. Although neither player was stringing racks, watching them shoot on this table was still fantastic. I can never recommend the in-person TAR viewing experience highly enough.
When the score was 17-16 in favor of Mr. Shaw, I had to leave in order to attend another engagement. I found out later Mr. Alcano eventually won the set by a score of 27-23. Wow. That was a helluva close match and tomorrow would determine if TAR32 would be over or extend to Day 3 as many rabid TAR fans (myself included) hoped would happen.
TAR32 would not resume until 5:00 p.m., which was good as I had a little tournament to play in at the Rum Runner.
Last year had to have been one of the worst years for me in pool, especially in the latter half. Since then, I had made some changes and things were looking better. I did not know what to expect from this tournament. My most concrete goal was to do better than I did last year. The week before, someone had asked if I had even come out to this tournament last year as they did not remember me being there. “Oh, I played.” I said. “Or, rather — I tried to play and failed. Afterwards, you may not have seen much of me because I declined to remain sober.”
So far this year, I had done things bass-ackwards, including drinking too much before tournaments (thanks, friends and Lack of Willpower) rather than after. This highly suspect plan of action seemed to be working quite well, actually, which was as unsettling as it was enjoyable. I’d already taken care of the drink-too-much part on this trip (sigh, although the people I drank with were awesome so no regrets).
|I figured it would be a good idea to sit somewhere quiet in between my matches. I decided on sitting right outside the room, in the sun, like a good cold-blooded reptile would.|
|As I was thus warming my blood, a little blond toddler ran up to me and pointed. Then he ran away with suprising speed in his little socked feet. He ran back. Warm fuzzies. Turns out it’s Mr. Estes’ little boy, Shay. I predict track and field greatness in little Shay’s future.|
I had a long break in between my second and third matches. I could not remember when I ate last but it was a good time for pho (it’s always a good time for pho).
This was the most delicious meal I had all weekend. I might have cried because, you know, steam gets in your eye. Afterwards, I popped on by the Studio to see how things were going on Day 2 of TAR32.
TAR32 had just started when I snuck in. Mr. Alcano dressed in pleasantly preppy colors today while Mr. Shaw opted for jeans and non-pointy-toe sneakers.
|Mr. Alcano shoots under the watchful eyes of his peers|
|Incidentally, TAR33 will feature Alex Pagulayan (far left) taking on Francisco Bustamante (far right) in an all-around format.|
|TAR34 will feature the man in the middle, Shane Van Boening, against the legendary Efren Reyes (not pictured here — although his photograph is also on the wall) in another all-around match.|
I watched for a half-hour or so, and then returned to the grind. When I left, things looked like they could be a repeat of the previous set as the score was once again close, even though it was early.
Back at the Rum Runner, I played my last match of the day and escaped with the hill-hill win. Then, it was back to the Studio for the rest of Day 2. In case you’re wondering, the Studio and the Rum Runner are a straight shot from each other, hence one may shuttle back and forth fairly easily (especially when one has a Friend With Car). 😉
dude, this was the OMG shot of the match for me
Behind the 1-ball and 8-ball clusterfark near the side pocket, the 10-ball is frozen to the 1-ball and wired for the combination. Ronnie played this safe, banking the 1-ball off the top rail to carom off the 5-ball (I think) which had been near the pocket to set this up. Gawd. I really cannot do the shot justice with my limited vocabulary. Mr. Shaw’s posture and expression say it all…
…but he got Mr. Alcano back with a 1-10 combination after Mr. Alcano broke dry.
The score continued to seesaw back and forth as the big shots kept coming. I can say this is the most exciting TAR match I have seen in a very long while. It is no wonder these two have their rivalry (I hear they have matched up more than fifteen or sixteen times now).
Mr. Shaw crested the hill first at 26-24. It seemed like dry breaks and scratch breaks were still a significant game-changer, but the shotmaking — daaaamn, that sh#t was SO fun to watch. Neither of these players played with any fear, it was just fire fire fire except for the occasional sewn-up safety. It was some f#cking great pool, man.
Although Mr. Shaw was on the hill, Mr. Alcano was just behind him and he continued to give chase. After all, it was only a race to two for him while spotting Mr. Shaw a game on the wire…
…then it was a race to one…
…then he won.
And that is how Ronnie Alcano won TAR32 in two sets, 27-23 and 27-26, with a two-pack to close out the final day.
|Mr. Alcano kicks back after his match|
|Mr. Shaw watches the replay of the match with commentator Jeremy Jones|
I enjoyed this match greatly. I truly hope Mr. Alcano and Mr. Shaw will play again (and again after that, etc.). This is one pairing I could see becoming a TAR rivalry on par with Alex vs Shane.
I am not exactly sure on details, but I have heard TAR has some video-on-demand capabilites now. If this match becomes available for purchase, I highly recommend adding it to your playlist and/or collection.
…and now, it was the final day for me.
a view with a room
I arrived early at the pool room and found it empty. There was no free practice for this tournament so I would have to pay quarters to warm up. Nine-ball on a bar table goes extremely fast, even when you shoot in the additional six balls. I found it laughable that I had difficulty trying to justify practice costs to myself, knowing that I could burn through many, many dollars in the space of an hour. Pay for practice and go over budget or don’t practice and take the risk of failing brilliantly on the last day of the tournament. That is but one of many Tales of the Absurd peppering my life.
The question was: How much did I want to win?
I paid the $10 deposit for a cue ball (which I never got back), loaded up on quarters, and went nuts.
|Following my plan from the day before, I sat outside between matches.|
|At one point, a dRuNk-AsS bastard demanded I get in his car and go home with him. I declined. He said he would take me home by force, whether I wanted to go or not. I declined. He made a move to come closer and I made a move to get my best friend Emerson into the fight. He left, but not without telling me it wasn’t right I thought my p#ssy was too good for him. Charming.|
In the end, I finished better than I did last year, and that’s all that matters.
Later on, a friendly spectator kept ribbing me repeatedly about dogging my last match. No one knew better than me that I dogged the match — I was the one who played it. I tried to be a good sport about it and kept my shit together as long as I could before I lost it.
It is easy to see the cost of this tournament in measurable terms of time and money. I had already spent far too much of both. The money I won was not enough to break even and the time I spent I would never get back. However, the intangible prices I paid in terms of stress, health, mental anguish, etc., were far more costly. Because these items could not be measured, this spectator would never know how much — how very, very much — I paid to even make it this far.
I gave this dude an extreme amount of leeway because I knew he was acting out of ignorance and not malice — he did not know what my life was like and I had no desire to enlighten him.
We often hold some wins and servings of glory as being “worth” more than others, which means some losses should hurt less than others. I was told time and again I should have been all right with this loss because I lost to a highly regarded player and at least I got some money.
You may split the hairs as finely as you like regarding the weight and values of wins and losses, but one thing always remains true for me: It never NOT hurts to lose. Perhaps the losses burn at slightly different temperatures, but it always hurts. Over time, I’ll get over it (Time is cool like that) but sadly, time was denied to me at this particular moment of my existence. Still, this incident is not a bad thing. The shittiness of losing drives me to do better and prevents me from being the slacker I was born to be.
It is good to be alive, it is good to play pool, and both these things are good enough to overcome the bullshit the Universe occasionally lobs in my general direction.
I woke up in time to catch my bus home. This had actually not been my intention. I had not set an alarm, intending to let fate take its course and perhaps let me oversleep to recover from yesterday night’s malaise — but here I was, throwing sh#t with wild abandon into my backpack and wondering how fast a cab could drive to get me across town in 20 minutes.
FYI, cabs are expensive and traffic sucks.
At the bus station, trouble started immediately. Our bus remained in its dock(?) as the minutes ticked by. No company employee told us what was going on but maintenance workers would get on the bus, poke around with some tools, read some meters, and then get off. The third time this happened, the passenger in front of me asked the maintenance workers what was wrong with the bus. The maintenance worker said he was not authorized tell us anything, that we would hear from the driver or customer service representatives only. We got on the road an hour later.
There was wi-fi on this bus so I actually got some work done during the ride.
A couple of hours into the drive, it became apparent the ventilation system was broken. Things got warm. Things got stinky. The bathroom at the back of the bus and its contents were negatively affected by the lack of ventilation and the heat, too. Great. We pulled over to stop overheating. Luckily, the bus cooled off and we limped on.
The bus arrived almost an hour late and this was terrible because my masochistic self knew a certain bar sometimes held race to one eight-ball tournament on Mondays. As I did not break even for the weekend, this was my last chance to try and do so. I messaged the tournament director to sign me up, telling her I was running very late, but would show up regardless if I made the tournament or not.
I needed to take three buses and walk a half mile to the bar. I caught the first bus, got on the second and knew time was running out. I messaged the tournament director to forfeit me to the loser’s side if I was not there for my first match. I was forfeited to the loser’s side while I waited for the last bus. In the end, I got a ride for the last leg of my journey and arrived just before I forfeited my second match.
I paid my entry and played through to the final, where I lost.
|After the tournament was over, one of the players I knocked out approached me and said he wanted to gamble with the girl who won the tournament. I pointed to the other Asian girl and said, “That would be her. Not me.” He looked at the winner and then again at me, pondered things for a bit, and then said what the hell, he would play me, too.
|Some harrowing games later, I won enough to round out the last few days and I finally, finally, finally broke even.|
|Then, I went home.|
I had a small package waiting for me in my mailbox when I got through the door. The small package pushed the needle of the past few days from “Even” to “Win”. 🙂
|I have seen chalk holders of all kinds in my pool life, even sterling silver ones from Tiffany & Co. I don’t like any of the designs enough to ever buy one or even use one (if given to me). And then I was sent a photo of one made specifically for me and my inner hair-twirling text-messaging bubblegum-snapping girliness said, “Ooooh! That’s hot!”|
|Brandon Pureza designs some amazing sterling silver chalk holders featuring classic stamped motifs combined into an edgier look along with customizable details.|
|My chalk holder had particular design elements chosen to reflect my peaceloving nature: knives and brass knuckles. I may have to add this chalk holder to my arsenal since it’s quite solidly made and of a good weight. But, I’ll only throw it as a last resort — it’s far too pretty.|
|After those long, smoke-filled grinding days in Vegas chasing a pipe dream, this was a nice surprise to find in my mailbox. Here, the chalk holder sits amongst those depicted on its sides. Art imitates life. 🙂|
|These chalk holders are all solid sterling silver, detailed and well-made, and can be customized in infinite ways. Contact Mr. Pureza via email to discuss design possibilities and prices. See the photographs in this thread on the AZ Forums for more examples of his work.|
Here ends my epic tale of the wins and woes of Las Vegas. I am infinitely glad to meet all the good people in pool as their kindnesses more than make up for the sh#tty times and people I must occasionally endure. And yet, I am also grateful for the hateful — they make success that much more delicious.
|t h a n k s|
|EMCA | J&JNCA | TWTW | Justin Collett & The Action Report | CueSports International | Mark & Sunny Griffin | Bill Stock | Brandon Pureza of awesome sterling silver chalk bling fame | Geno, Gordy, & Staff of the Rum Runner|
|first time hello & hello again|
|Shady Katy | Gary & Cindy | Debra, Jill, Gina, Donna, Tawona, Ashley, Dani, Nicole, Ashea, Rebecca, Stacy | Mark & Shay | Chad & Felisa | The Perpetually Dapper Ravi | The Brits | Jeff | Amy & Tim | anyone I missed|