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!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I'm a fucking no-balls cocksucker.

Let me back up. I'd been playing an overly-friendly Jewish lawyer, a man who claimed to have heard of my boss via a hamburger documentary my boss had no involvement in, a man who had the annoying habit of announcing each of his misses with a sharp "nope", a man who was a life-long New Yorker bitching about how Amsterdam's best days were behind it, a man who was so cordial and friendly I had no business being agitated by him so recognizing this made me even more agitated(what kind of horrible person am I?), a man who was playing even with me, a man in a tiebreaker in me, a man lining up the match-winning nine ball after I had missed a long shot into the corner pocket.

A shot I should have made, but missed - badly. I'm a fucking no-balls cocksucker, I thought, rounding the table to slouch in my chair while the lawyer unwrapped the gift I'd left him. And he did, but as the final ball dropped, I looked past him, and saw a face.

A beautiful, smiling face, half-ducking because she thought she might distract me if I saw her. Alex stood next to her, laughing. I'd lost 6-7 in a tiebreaker. I'd been up 3-0 in nine-ball, then my opponent got a nine on the break, fluked a nine ball in the corner, and barely avoided scratching on a combo attempt the next game to even the race at 3-3. I'd played like shit half the time. Walking around the table after missing a match-winning shot, a crucial shot, a shot that I could grab, pin and use to label myself as "clutch"...I was shaking my head, cursing myself. cocksucker. Then I saw her face.

Seeing her face, I was happy. Really happy. Drinking with her at the bar later, I felt like a winner. A real winner.


My team had a rough night. Besides my loss, Alex had lost 3-5, playing a three. Giving up three balls is tough, especially to someone who shoots glacially slow. Jen had lost 4-7, Princeton(subbing for a vacationing Mike) lost by the same score. We dropped from third to fifth.

We drank to forget our troubles. Well, Alex, Andi and I drank. Jen left, and Princeton was playing with his fiance in the back of Amsterdam. No shots this time, only beer: Heineken for Alex, Guinness for Andi, and Budweiser for me. I'm not sure why I drink Bud; I give all sorts of reasons: makes me feel American, it's cheap, even the aesthetic appeal of the goddamn label. I love that Andi drinks Guinness. No strong opinions on Alex's choice of Heineken.

Amsterdam was dead when I had arrived just prior to our nine o'clock match time, but now, close to eleven, it was jammed - jammed with annoying, loud people.


Someone was actually shouting beer.


Jesus Christ. I couldn't really hear Andi or Alex. We left after two drinks. I walked with Andi to a cab, kissed her and said goodbye. I couldn't wait to see her the next night. I also had to pee.

It was after midnight. Could I hold it for the 45 plus minutes it would take to get back to my apartment?

I started walking back towards Amsterdam. The bartender looked at me, eyebrows raised and apart, as I hurriedly hit the head. I came back, saw that the shouting dipshits had left, and made my usual unwise Wednesday decision: Hell, I may as well stay for one more beer.

Sophia, the bartender, gave me the first beer for free. That's why it was the first, and not the only. I had two more. With Amsterdam cleared out, Sophia had time to talk. I gushed about Andi, she told me about a great date she'd had recently, we traded relationship war-stories, and compared frequency of trips home(we are both from Maryland, funnily enough) .

It was almost two-thirty when I left. I still couldn't wait to see Andi the next day.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Price Of Mutiny

A new team, a new name: Different Strokes. I suggested TMI, but Alex and I decided that might be too obvious. Our old captain was still in the league(though we wouldn't find out he'd switched to Wednesday nights too until later), why risk even more awkwardness?

Looking at the league standings, it's strange not to see our old team name. When matches are called, I have to remind myself what our new team name is. The price of mutiny.

The actual playing on Wednesday nights instead of Tuesdays hasn't taking much adjusting to - the two aren't that different, in the context of the work-week. Same Amsterdam crowd, just different faces. The cocktail waitress is now the bartender; the bartender now circles the hall with her little tray. Which is fine with me, because I get along better with the Wednesday bartender. Chris still announces the matches in the same place, with the same jokes(that are still funny).

The only new thing(mostly) are the opponents. The first week we played some familiar faces, but scanning the team rosters, I knew they were the exception. Tonight, I faced off against Cho, an 8 I'd never played before. Alex and Jen were playing even, while Mike was spotted a ball.

Cho told me he'd taken a season off, but was no stranger to league play. That was obvious when the houseman, Steve, knew him on sight. He was pleasant without being too talkative - the perfect opponent. Small talk, game talk, and nothing else.

Now, as I've explained before, the league uses a handicap system to keep games competitive between players of different levels. I'm a 7, and Cho was an 8, so I had a one ball advantage in eight-ball; I could take the last ball in my group off the table without having to shoot it. This is a big advantage.

Or at least it would have been if in the midst of running the table I hadn't forgotten about the handicap. Confidently lining up a shot on my last ball, I thought about the easy position I would have on the eight, and how great it was running out the first game. Then Cho rose slightly from his seat.

", sorry, but you have to take that ball off."

I sat up, looked at Cho, and laughed.


Sighing, I dropped my last ball(the two) into the corner pocket, heard it crack into the ball return, and gazed at my now shitty position: instead of shooting the two and following for an easy eight ball, I had a table-length bank.

"Yeah sorry about that, if you shot it would be a foul, and who wants to win that way?"

I liked this guy; he could have taken the foul but chose to let me save face and have a chance at winning. I missed the bank, though, and he won the game.

Chuckling to myself, I took a swig of water and sat down. This could be the start a long night, I thought.


It wasn't, though. Cho was either ranked too high or was having an off night. I won eight-ball 3-2, and nine-ball 4-1.

Talking with Mike about our matches back at the bar(He'd won 5-2 and had his handicap raised by Chris, which wasn't surprising because Mike was winning over 70% of his games), I was surprised when he closed out his tab without ordering a post-match Stella, then I remembered he was going to India for three weeks. I told him I'd hook him up with my friend Ian, who was in Mumbai, knowing Mike would come back with some epic tales. I tried to talk him into staying for one drink; I wanted him to meet Andi. Andi...a girl I'd been on a couple dates with. Beautiful, smart, sweet, witty - and coming by for some drinks. I'd met Mike's new girlfriend, Beth, so it only felt appropriate. He had to trip-prep, though, but he'd meet Andi eventually. I had a good feeling about her.

After Mike left, I recapped the night with Alex, Jen and her boyfriend. Alex had lost 3-7, Jen 6-7 in a tiebreaker. Still, overall our team was 21-19 on the night, and still in third place.

"My opponent took so long to shoot," Alex said. "So I kept ordering beers, and lost focus."

"Maybe that was his strategy, when he realized he couldn't out shoot you," I replied.

Alex laughed. "Yeah maybe, because he couldn't."

Jen was quiet, because Jen is always quiet. Chris jokes that he hasn't heard her say a full sentence yet. That's probably true. Her boyfriend was equally quiet. Now, Jen's boyfriend has a name. It's Casey. I had forgotten that, though, when Andi arrived. We kissed hello and I made the introductions:

"Andi, this is my friend Alex, this is Jen, and this is Jen's boyfriend....," I trailed off, hand extended in Casey's general direction.

"Casey," he finally said.

Whoops. Andi broke the uncomfortable silence:

"I have to tell you about my day, something happened."

"Uh-oh, it this a good something or a bad something?"

"Good," Andi said smiling, a rich, deep, beautiful smile...but ANYWAY. "I had just been to Starbucks and I was standing on the corner. Suddenly, I felt a tap on the shoulder and a voice says 'Excuse me, where'd you get the Starbucks?', I turn around and it's Al Roker!"

"Al Roker? Wow!"

"Yeah! So at first I'm exactly like that, 'Wow, Al Roker!', then I just told him where the Starbucks was."

I smiled. She smiled. This is the start of something good, I thought.

Jen and *Casey* soon left, leaving Andi, Alex and I to drink and talk. We ended up doing three shots of tequila while joking about Andi and Alex facing off in a drinking contest. I already knew I couldn't keep up with Alex, and Andi out drank her English co-workers when she worked in London. I was a lightweight sitting between Ali and Frazier.

But it wouldn't happen tonight. Andi stopped with the third shot, but I ordered a fourth for me and Alex because we hadn't been out drinking in a while. I changed it up though, and ordered Jack Daniels.

That wasn't the best idea I'd ever had - especially on a work night. My judgement would be even more questionable a week later.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Now On Wednesdays (Mutiny!)

Teams break-up for a lot of reasons. Sometimes people lose interest. Understandable - pool isn't for everyone. Sometimes a common time-slot can't be agreed upon. This is New York City, everyone is busy; it can be hard to nail down four people for something once a month, let alone once every week. Other times, the chemistry just isn't there. Not everyone gets along, there's a personality conflict, an inability to relate...or, in my team's case, the team captain turns out to be a borderline sexual harasser, compulsive sharer of too much information, and gives everyone the willies. Which in a pool hall - with its usual cast of derelicts and scoundrels - is no easy feat.

Take my first opponent of the winter season. Married, with kids, yet he talked to everything with a vagina that walked by. But his case of the bitches aside, I could talk to him. He was charming in a roguish kind of way. I was never creeped out, and at least half of the women he accosted enjoyed the attention. And he never pushed things past personal boundaries.

This was not the case with our former captain. Every night had a level of awkwardness that swayed between uncomfortable silence and clunky conversation to abject revulsion. Maybe we were too judgmental(but probably not).

Either way, for the winter season, the team lineup is me, Alex, Mike, and our newest member Jen. We mutinied over to Wednesday nights, hoping to avoid awkward encounters with our former leader.

Of course, he joined a Wednesday team too. Game on.


As I said, my first opponent was a pussy-hound. No shame in that(depending who you ask), but it did make for an extremely slow match. He flirted with the waitress every time she passed by(and I'll admit, I didn't mind that this kept a beautiful blonde at the table for at least five minutes at a time).

He had played Alex the season before, playing well above his six rating. Smoothly telling Alex he didn't usually play this well, he ran out the first game of eight-ball and didn't look back. That rubbed Alex the wrong way, and he was pissed after he lost the match. Talking to the guy later at the bar, I could see why Alex hated him, though in person he was almost impossible to hate to his face. He was polite with a facade of modesty. He oozed used-car salesman charm. I tried to act surprised when he told me he was currently a broker; I didn't have to act when he told me he used to dance professionally for the Metropolitan Opera. He hit on a trio of twenty-something girls pre-gaming for a night at Webster Hall moments after telling me about his triplets. If he was on my team, I probably would have liked him; called him a 'devilish rogue', doing shots while noting which waitresses were the cutest.

He wasn't on my team though, and this night, I wanted to beat the crap out of him. Enact some revenge on behalf of Alex. And I did(sort of).

I won 6-5, but it should have been 7-4 or 7-3. And by "should" I really mean "could" which really means "I fucked up, but I have an excuse I half believe".

I was clearly the more-skilled player, even though I dropped the first game of eight-ball. From there, I won three straight, making some impressive shots. We were on Table 11, which had tight pockets. Knowing that bothered my opponent, and it kinda bothered me, but I was still making the shots I should make. Until nine-ball, anyway.

Our match was almost two-hours old by the time we got to nine-ball. He took frequent bathroom breaks. He yammered on about his name, his kids, his wife - in addition to the flirting, this was putting us in danger of finishing sometime around 10:45(after a 7:45 start time!).

After winning my third game, ensuring I'd win the match 6-5 worst case, I said(well, thought) fuck it, and dismissed any competitive imperative I might have had three hours earlier.

The worst case ended up coming true when I, hungry and tired, jawed a nine-ball. I shook his hand, wished my best to his damn wife and kids, went to the bar and ordered some food and a beer. Hunger won out over fatigue, but by the thinnest of margins - I was slumping and eating with sloth-like speed after my boneless buffalo wings finally arrived. I tried my best to engage Mike in conversation. He and Alex had won, our newest member Jen had lost in a tiebreaker, making for a much better start then the last two seasons.

It was after midnight when I got home. I put my cue in the corner, dropped my things, let my jacket slide off and crumple to the floor, fell into my bed and to sleep. I woke up a half-hour later, managing to get undressed and hang up my coat, retaining some kind of civilized dignity.

I was exhausted, and it was only the first week.

Friday, January 22, 2010

It's So Over

We made the playoffs. Henry, Mike, Alex, Mimi and I managed to finish fourth after the Fall regular season was over(due largely to Mimi kicking ass when she subbed for me).

That first night, Alex saved us by killing his opponent 7-1. I had eeked out a 5-4 victory, and combined with Henry's one game loss and Mike's one game victory, we were only one game ahead. For some reason, Alex's rout was the longest match of the opening round.

"She couldn't shoot - I mean at all, " he told us at the bar. "Maybe she was having a bad night, but she could barely form a bridge."

Intriguing, because she was ranked a six, and sixes can (generally)at least shoot decently.

In the second round, I was matched against a nine. I prepared for a (possible) ass-kicking, and early on, that's exactly what I got.

I broke the first rack of eight-ball, and the cue ball got kicked into the side pocket by the fourteen(which followed it in, so at least I had a strong break going for me). My opponent took ball-in-hand behind the headstring, and calmly ran out.

Then he ran out the second rack in his second turn at the table(an incredibly difficult run out, he had to pocket three of his balls into the same pocket, playing pin-point position - it was impressive, though depressing, to watch). I stared at the ceiling, sighed, and thought about how much it would suck to tell me expectant teammates I had lost 0-7.

Then, I managed - with help from my handicap - to win the third game. Fourth game, he tried a difficult safety and left me a window. I ran out from there. Suddenly it was even, two games apiece.

The last game was a replay of the fourth game - he misses a difficult safety, and I make a gutsy shot on the eight to win it. Down 0-2, I came back to win eight-ball 3-2. Even though I wasn't playing that great, I still felt good about the comeback.

He won the flip for the nine-ball portion of the match, and preceded to run out the first game. He shot beautifully, juicing the cue ball, gliding it around the table softly;whatever was needed. Occasionally, he missed a shot down the rail or a long cut shot. Those were my only openings in the match, and most of the time, I took advantage.

Having the seven ball - because of the handicap - as an additional money ball helped. He left me straight in on the seven once, but length of the table. I drilled it. Practice was paying off.

With him ahead 3-2, I got lucky. I had a good shot on the six but needed to bang it home hard to get the cue ball up table towards the seven in the corner pocket - I got good on the seven, but the six jawed and shot out of the pocket only to roll directly into the opposite corner pocket. I shook my head, smiled, and tapped by cue stick on the table, apologizing for my luck. Either way, the seven went down, and the race was tied.

The next game, he left me a difficult shot on the five. I had two options: a) table-length bank with follow and hope to get lucky with position on the seven, or b)play safe. Since there were only four balls left on the table(the 5, 7, 8 and 9), I went with the bank. It was beautiful. The five banked off the end-rail and sailed into the opposite corner pocket, and the cue ball hesitated then spun up the table and gave me a passable shot at the seven, which was glued to the rail nearest the pocket I had just sent the five to.

"Well, guess I'll have to do that again," I said.

I studied the table - the seven was makeable, but certainly not probable. However, the eight and the nine were very close to each other, on the left side of the table near the side pocket. If I missed the bank, I reasoned, I could still hide the cue ball behind the 8-9 cluster and hope for ball-in-hand. I ended up missing the bank by a mile, but hit the safety perfect. He missed the kick, I took ball-in-hand and made the seven. Match to me, 7-5.

Chris came up to record our results, and I asked if anyone else on my team had finished.

"Oh yeah they've finished - Henry lost 7-1 and Mike lost 5-1, " Chris said. "I'm going to stop Alex, because I don't think he can win 8-0, since that's impossible."

Well...fuck. Hearing that took the polish off my victory.

Still, we made the playoffs for the second straight season, and we made it out of the first round. Hopefully next season, we can do even better.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


The last time I had played Tom was in the playoffs. I won the match by one game - after he had been up 2-0 in eight-ball. He squeezed out a 3-2 win over me before losing 4-2 in nine-ball. That wasn't the end of our night: our teams tied, so as the designated "tie breakers" we had to play, er, a tiebreaker.

It was over in less than two minutes. He broke, making nothing. The one ball was visible but tough, and the two-nine combo was dead in the corner. I safetied, hoping for ball-in-hand after he(most likely) broke up the two-nine, purposely fouling but not leaving the easy win on the table. Instead, he tried to kick at the one, missed, and I calmly made the one and the two-nine for the win. My team advanced, his was out.

Flash forward to tonight. My team is in the toughest division, above five-hundred but mired in the middle of the standings. Tom's has a losing record, but is in second place among a bunch of struggling teams in a division that even Tom admitted was "dogshit".

"But I'll take first place in the dogshit division any day. We are the Kings of Dogshit," he said before our match.

We were put in the "TV Table", so called because it's at the front of the club and is covered by a webcam. I wish I had played better for the one or two people watching.

Stocky and jovial in the way only stock guys can be, Tom was a ball or two away from burying me 3-1 in eight-ball. I made two mistakes and lost two games. Tom, a good player, was playing good, mistake-free pool. Then, inexplicably, he took a risk and accidentally sank the eight-ball. Instead of a 3-1 victory, it was 2-2. Boosted by my unexpected good fortune, I made short work the next game and won after just two turns at the table. A 3-2 victory. Incredible(or as incredible as amateur pool can be).

Nine-ball swayed back and forth, but eventually Tom won a hard 4-3 victory. That meant a tiebreaker, though this time the game wouldn't decide our respective team's fate.

I won the flip and chose eight-ball for the tie-breaking game.  It came down to Tom missing a tough but makeable eight after a three-ball runout, leaving me a three-ball runout of my own. 11 ball in the top left corner - click, ball drops, decent but not great position on the 12 in the bottom right corner. Great, sink the 12 with a little follow, drop right on top of the eight ball. Game over.

And I did drop right on top of the eight-ball. Which was great...for Tom. The 12 missed the pocket by about an inch. I didn't shoot it confidently. You're going to miss it, miss it, miss it! I was not the master of my own mind. You're not even lined up correctly - just shot it soft and shoot it now, hope for the best! It should be easy to stop, get up, think, and get back down over the shot with confidence. Shoot quickly, it's your only hope! I did, jumping up after the shot, pathetically twisting my body as if I had telekinetic powers at my disposal to make up for my empty nutsack.

So Tom won. A small measure of revenge.

Afterward, I drank with him and his teammates. I did shots with Ben the Brit(perpetrator of my only other loss this season). After we tossed back the tequila, out of the corner of my eye I saw Chris shaking his head. His gesture had a reasonable point: it was Tuesday night, and we all(probably) had work the next day.

Reasonable decisions are rarely made at a pool room bar, though.