Monday, May 10, 2010

Playoffs, Playoffs?

The season ended last week. Alex, Mike, Jen and I had a comfortable lead, but there was still a small chance we could slip to second. Even if it was small, though, the thought still made us a little nervous; besides the obvious satisfaction of winning the regular season, first place meant a bye to the third round.

We finished 19-19, kept first place, and we play Friday at 6:30 instead of having to play Monday night, win, then win again Thursday night to make it to Friday. That’s two rounds we don’t have to sweat.

It’s been a good season. Personally, I got moved from being a 7 to an 8 and finished with a .650 winning percentage overall. Mike moved from a 4 to 5 and finished with .600 winning percentage. Alex finished with a flurry of wins to get a winning record and solidify our hold on first. And Jen, considering it was her first season, did great, finishing at about .500.

We’ve had some moments. The first time we ran into our former team captain was a little awkward. The thrashing Mimi’s team gave us our first time against them smarted. When the season began, I was single; midway through, I had a beautiful face to share a beer with after a tough loss(or a great win). I was called a liar, but won anyway. I blew a 3-0 lead, but seemed to learn from it(I hope). And I moved up.

Mike went through at least three prospective roommates before finally having someone move in at the beginning of May. He took a trip to India, came back and just kept on winning.

Jen used a house cue her first few matches; now she has her own two-piece cue. She made a game winning shot that made the house-pro smile, and it was only one of many incredible shots I saw her make this season.

Alex got a new cue1 and kept kicking ass. In three seasons he has three winning records, but more importantly, he’s alway there to share a beer, a story and a laugh with. I couldn’t ask for a better teammate.

No matter what happens Friday, it’s been a great season, with a great team. Can’t wait for the summer session.

1Technically a new shaft, but I’m not writing that.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Next Level

The last three weeks I’ve had a no-show and two matches. I beat a guy with an 8 handicap 7-3, got myself raised to an 8, then beat one of my more quirky opponents 7-1, despite giving up a ball. He didn’t have the best night, but he wasn’t playing terribly. I just took advantage when he made mistakes and got out when I should have.

I’ve wanted to increase my handicap from a 7 to an 8 all season; it feels good to finally make it happen and to get a big win my first match with the new handicap. However, one match doesn’t mean anything. When I start having to give up one or two balls regularly, and I start playing guys even who used to have to give me a ball; all of that will be the real test. I look forward to it.

My team is doing great: first place in our division, and the best record overall among Wednesday night teams. Jen is doing great, especially considering this is her first season. Two weeks ago, she nailed a tie-breaking nine-ball(and a combo, no less) like it was nothing. Mike has been raise from a 4 to a 5 and just keeps winning anyway. Alex is as solid as ever, which considering he and I play the two best players on the other team every week, is remarkable.

Maybe this year we will not only make it into the money, but walk away with the trophy.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Blowing It Again

This feels familiar, I thought. There was no New York accent(just silence1 behind wire-frammed glasses), but the results were causing me Deja Vu:

I win eight-ball 3-0;(rather easily, I might add)2, then fall apart in nine-ball.

It’s the first game of nine-ball, and my opponent is looking a two-nine combo up and down. It wasn’t a gimme but it wasn’t that hard, either. I sat impotently in my chair, shook my head, and awaited my fate. This can’t happen again, I thought, I can’t blow a 3-0 lead for the second week in a row. Fuck, why did I leave him that shot and the game and...

He missed. I ended up winning.

He won the next two games of nine-ball, though, and the thoughts creeped back. Especially after I was running out, and blew - just straight up fucking blew - a cut on the eight ball.

He made the eight, but left himself tough on the nine. He missed, and left me with a cut in the side.

The next game, I was (again) running out before I scratched while making the six ball. Great, I thought, only three balls left on the table, ball-in-hand for my opponent. It wasn’t looking good; I stiffly swallowed while trying to shoo away thoughts of last week’s disaster.

My opponent took the cue ball, carefully lined up a shot on the seven, and nailed it - drawing the cue ball right back into the side pocket. I took the gift and the game.

I won the next game too, playing just well enough to win. Dan was rattled a bit. His manner away from the table - so quiet that describing him as ‘soft-spoken’ was equate to calling him boorish - broke briefly for a few seconds after each miss when he threw up his hands, spat out a curse, or slammed3 the chalk on the table.

After choking last week, winning 7-2 felt really, really good. I’d made a few shots that, in practice, I’d been working on. That type of reinforcement, assuring you that practice does indeed “pay off”, is crucial to my confidence as a player. Nothing is more frustrating than working and working on something only to have your muscle-memory and mental faculties fail you in a game situation; thoughts like you’ve worked on this, practiced it, studied it, so if you blow it...well it means all you’ve done is waste your time creep into your brain. Banishing them - with confidence - is a great feeling.

Or maybe that’s just how my mind works.

Alex had a rough night, losing 2-7, and Jen lost a close match 5-7. Mike, though, double-tapped his opponent with a 7-0 victory, his first perfect night. So, overall, we did very well and kept our second-place standing.

Which was good, because the next week, we’d be playing Mimi’s team again.

1Broken by the occasional, barely audible mumble. But a friendly mumble.
2That’s a half-lie, we traded an eight-ball back and forth but I never felt that much in danger because I left him long and he couldn’t make long shots. Still, it wasn’t easy - at least that game.
3Well, slammed for him - it was really more like “slapping” the chalk onto the table.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Blowing It

The reality(maybe) was this: I was playing better than him, I was getting some rolls, and he was having an off night1. I wasn’t running out or do anything extraordinary, but I felt like I was.

That feeling, which was connected to but not actually part of reality, had me thinking 7-0. After the last eight ball fell(ending the race 3-0 in my favor), that score, added to my win-lost record, flickering before me on the league website, probably cementing my ascent to the next handicap level...that score was all I could see.

My opponent, a middle-aged native New Yorker2, was already at that level, and I - felt! - that I was better. Much better, obviously.

Less than a half-hour later, I lost the last game of nine-ball on a foul3. That ended the race 4-0, him, in nine-ball. 4-3, him, for the match.

What the hell? Aren’t I better than he is?

The reality(maybe) was this: my thoughts wandered, my execution suffered, he got the rolls this time, and I wasn’t running out or doing extraordinary. Or ordinary. But I felt like I should be. Which made me fee worse, play worse, until finally the match was mercifully over, where the reality(certainly) was a victory for him.

Fortunately, the rest of my team did well. Alex won 7-2, Mike won 4-3 and Jen won 7-5. That performance put us in second place(ahead of Mimi’s team!).

In the big picture, this was only my second match loss all season. I’m not having a bad season. Still, having a 3-0 lead and not winning another game, not one more fucking game; that’s shitting a bed you just carefully and cleanly made yourself.

I had a new cue coming, and hopefully new results.

1How off I have no idea, since this was my first time playing him.
2Judging from an accent that would make a casting director drool.
3If you foul three times in a row, you lose the game, same as if your opponent knocked in the nine. I’m glad this humiliation(at least in total) is in a footnote.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

On To The Next One(after being pissed off)

The shot from the seven to the eight ball was perfect. The seven fell, whitey bounced off the rail and glided behind the eight, like a shark sizing up it’s prey. After a bad start and a back and forth struggle, the match was mine.

As I got up from the shot, I saw my opponent throw up his hands in disgust and turn towards his watching teammates. I didn’t smile, I didn’t gloat; I didn’t do anything other than look at him and announce:

“Eight-ball, corner pocket,” gesturing towards the intended pocket. It was a short shot, the calling was just a necessary formality: we were playing nine-ball, and the eight ball was my additional “game” ball since he had a higher handicap than me.

The shot was called. I leaned down, softly sent the eight-ball home, and got up to shake my opponent’s hand.

“Good ma-”

“You didn’t call the ball,” he said, cutting me off.

I blinked. Was he serious?

“Yes I did, I said it right to you.”

“No you didn’t, I was watching you the whole time. I never took my eyes off you,”

“Dude, I know you did because I saw you throw up your hands when I got position on the eight - and I called the ball.”

This fruitless exchange went back and forth for another minute; exasperated I said I’d talk to Chris(the league director) and ask what we could do.

Walking to the front of Amsterdam, I passed Mimi, who tried to talk to me. I put up my hand and said something like sorry I’m in the middle of a dispute with my opponent1 and marched right past her. My jaw was tight, my teeth were clenched, and my shoulders tense. I was pissed.

Chris’s ruling didn’t help: since I hadn’t physically marked the pocked(with a coin or something), and my opponent hadn’t acknowledged my call, it didn’t count. I didn’t win.

Now, I got credit for the eight ball, and it was still my turn at the table. That was the good news. The bad news was I still had to make the nine to win, and since I didn’t think I’d be shooting the nine, I’d left myself a very long cut shot.

Angry, but trying to remain calm, I returned to the table and reluctantly told my opponent he was “right2”, apologized, got down and slammed the fucking nine ball into the corner pocket anyway. Game, match. Fuck. You.

I silently took apart my cue, got my things, shook his hand, and went to the bar. A few minutes later, my opponent gone and my teammates around me, I recounted the tale, still very angry.

“Damn, I need a beer.”

“Fuck that guy,” Alex said. “You still won, yeah, you make me shoot again? I’ll win twice, asshole!!” he said, laughing.

I smiled. We had done pretty well that night.

Still, the experience left me sour.  Next time I play that guy, I want to destroy him. If he still has to give me a ball, I’ll ignore it and beat him anyway. Then it’ll be on to the next one.I used that phrase as an excuse to post this awesome video:

1Or, as I call him now, asshole.
2The way a rules-lawyer can be right, but still be wrong.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Position Night

Position night1. An opportunity for all teams to advance or cement their place in the standings. My team, in second, was playing the first place team. That group had a familiar face: our old fifth team member, Mimi - the girl next door - was now part of the opposition. She was going to play Mike, and as sweet as Mimi is, I was hoping Mike would kick her ass.

That didn't happen. Mimi came out firing, and Mike - recently upped to a five handicap and just back from a trip to India - was blitzed 5-1.

Jen was playing a girl Alex and I had dubbed Jessica Alba II. During our second season, we'd heard of a girl who played Wednesday nights who looked like Jessica Alba, only "better". While she definitely wasn't superior to the original Alba, the resemblance was enough for the nickname to stick.

She attracted a lot of attention. One night, a particularly tall admirer stared at Alba II while she played on one of the front tables. He was grinning like an idiot. After a few minutes, he asked the houseman who the celebrity was. I wonder, was he disappointed to learn she - outside of Amsterdam Billiard Club -wasn't famous?

Jen, a looker herself, took on Alba II2 on one of the front tables. I finished my match early, and came back to the bar to get a beer and watch. I walked over to talk to Chris and my opponent, Landrew, while watching Jen and Alba II play.

Chris was telling Landrew how the internet has killed gambling in the pool world, when all of a sudden I heard my name called from the bar.

"Hey Kris, you enjoying that view?"

It was Damien, one of the housemen, off tonight. Beer in hand, he was goading me about ogling Jen and Alba II. I smirked, then realized that because of one of the wood-paneled  columns that dots Amsterdam, Damien couldn't see Chris and Landrew from his perspective at the bar. Panning from the left, he saw me(beer in hand, smiling), the column, then the table with the two dueling vixens. An easy mistake.

Jen lost some close games, but the final score was 7-2 for The Invisible Woman. From the games I'd seen, they seemed evenly matched, the games just didn't go Jen's way that night.

Alex, playing once again the slowest player on the opposing team, won 7-5, snapping a losing streak. Combined with my 7-3 win, we finished just under .500 for the night.

Checking the standings the next day, I was happy to see we'd only dropped to third. Mimi's new team, despite winning, had dropped to second. Apparently the former third-place team had thrashed the fourth-place team. Still, in our first meeting, her team had come out on top - something she reminded me, real friendly like, as we had drinks afterward.

At the end of March, though, my team will have a chance at revenge. And we'll get it.

1It's very hard to resist a dirty joke here.
2Or as some call her, Ellaina.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Snow, Newbies and The Rest

Three weeks ago, the snow canceled our matches. Two weeks ago, I was up against a woman who was playing her second league match ever(I won 7-0). So that's covered.

Last week, I finally got to play a "real" match for the first time in three weeks. My opponent was a (seemingly)nice guy, big and tall, quiet and wearing an army jacket. He worked for the city, and was hoping for more snow so he could make more overtime. We were both 7s so we played even.

Ahead of us in line was the woman I had played a week earlier and her opponent. The houseman for the night, Damien, offered them one of the front tables; the so-called TV tables: two tables in the front of the club, separated from the riff-raff by faux-gold railings and equipped with their own, permanent set of Super Aramith balls(the Rolls Royce of pool balls, as silly as that sounds).

The newbies, realizing they'd be on display, refused the offer. Damien was taken aback - usually league players loved to play on those tables. More room and pro-level equipment. If a great local player or pro player stopped by, these were the tables they would play on. The two newbies, however, had no way of knowing that, and took a table near the back. I'm sure by the end of the season, they'll get over their TV table phobia.

For right now, though, their loss was our gain. My opponent and I gladly took the front table. We flipped a coin(I won), shook hands, and barely spoke another word during the entire match. Weweren't cold to each other, but we didn 't waste time with bullshit filler conversation either. "Good shot", "Bad break there", "Good game", and the occasional laugh were the only sounds besides the clicking of the balls.

He was a good shot, but his position play was a little off. I started great, winning the eight-ball part of the match 3-0. I won the first game of nine-ball too, and the thought of another 7-0 week crept into my mind. With a chance to go up 2-0, though, I made a tough cut on the nine, but the ball sailed three rails before scratching in the far corner pocket. Then my opponent fluked in a nine, and suddenly he was ahead 2-1.

I managed to settled down, and ran out from the five the next game. He got it to 3-3 quickly, and at worst I was going to win 6-4. That didn't sound nearly as good as 7-3, at least to me. I really wanted that last game, and it came down to the six ball. We traded safeties until he tried a tough shot, missed, and left me an opening. I ran the remaining four balls, and that was that. My team did very well overall, Mike winning 4-3, Jen winning 5-3 and Alex losing a tough match 5-7.

The next day, I checked the league standings. Our good night had moved us from fourth to second. Our next match was during "Position Week", which means the first place team plays the second, third plays fourth, and so on. Looking at the team in first, I realized it was Mimi's team.

Mimi left us to sub for another team - as part of our mutiny, we all felt it best if she was as far away from our former leader as possible. Leaving for another team made sense, her playing time would be more flexible as well(a good thing for a graduate student). So Mimi and the rest of us are still friends, share drinks after matches, hang out, everything; however, next week will be very interesting. Her new team is going down!