Let’s talk about added money, green fees, and coin-op tables, in a tournament setting.
I suppose we could start by giving definitions or meanings of these terms.
Added money: Money which is added to the tournament prize purse from another source other than the players’ entry fees such as the venue or a sponsor.
Green Fee: A fee charged to tournament players usually to cover table rental time.
Coin-op Table: A pool table with a mechanism to release the balls from inside once enough coins (or bills) are inserted into acceptor.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s put it all together.
What are the benefits of hosting a pool tournament? Generating income for the establishment? Perhaps… How? What kind of income? It is pretty much understood that pool players as a whole drink very little alcohol. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but I am writing in terms of a large group. So, to think or hope a pool tournament is going to generate a ton of income through beer and liquor sales is, well, naïve to put it mildly!
OK, so you have a tournament with, let’s say 64 players, in your building. Of those 64 players you might have 15-20 (to be generous) who order a beer or drink. Cut that number in half for the ones who order another one. Then cut that number in half for those who have more than 3. Then, there is always the one guy who gets sloppy. So in essence, you have about 4 or 5 paying customers in your building, while the rest are just taking up space, using your electricity, and flushing your toilets. Now, just hold that thought and I’ll get back to it in a moment.
Let’s talk about the tournament. Let’s say it is a $10 entry fee plus a $5 green fee. The owner of the venue has agreed to open the coin-op tables and add $500 to this tournament with the stipulation of filling it up with 64 players. Wow! That really looks good on a flyer! Big, bold numbers, in a highlighted color to attract the eyes of the reader:
(You probably saw that before you ever started reading this blog!)
See how that works? OK, back to the point: Where is that $500 going to come from? Why has a stipulation been put on it that the money is only added if the tournament fills up? That’s the first clue, right there! Guess who is really adding the money to the tournament? What is the entry fee, $10? NO!! It’s really $15! The PLAYERS added $320 to the tournament leaving $180 for the establishment to add to make it $500.
Now, it has been said that venues that make the players feed the tables are robbing the players of the added money. Seems to me like it’s the other way around! The green fee tournament directors are lying to the players about the added money. Yeah, that’s right! I said it! They are lying to you about the added money! You [the players] are adding most of the money to your own tournaments! Then, the establishments are turning around and taking credit for it like they have done some huge, generous thing! Granted, if an establishment opens up the coin-op tables for a tournament, that is nice. That is generous. But why not just advertise the tournament as $15 entry, open tables, $180 added? Here’s why: because $180 added for 64 players, and even for 32 players, sounds really weak and they’re afraid no one will come! So they choose to mislead instead. Tell me how generous that is. Tell me again how they have my best interests, as a player, in mind!
Now, let’s talk about another tournament in a different venue. This tournament has a $10 entry fee with a guarantee of $250 added and, if it fills up with 64 players, they will throw in another $250 for $500 added. The only difference is, the tables are closed and each game must be paid for by the players. Sure, the player who goes deep in this tournament then gets put out just before the money has more invested than the player who went 2-and-out, but he also was able to play more games than the early-out player. That does not really seem unfair to me. If I am a player in this tournament I know from the get-go what the terms are. I know from where the added money is coming. I know the deeper I get into the tournament, the more money I’ll have invested (giving me more incentive to win). I understand that someone will win and someone will lose and I hope I can play well enough to keep from being the loser!
If we compare these two tournaments, there really is not a whole lot of difference from a player’s perspective. The highly skilled players may be more apt to go for the green fee tournament because they will have less invested to subtract from their winnings. That is understandable. I want us to look at it from the business owner’s perspective. Let’s bring back the thought we were holding from a few paragraphs earlier. If I am the owner of the establishment hosting the event, I know it is going to cost me money. I have to figure out a way to try and recoup some of that cash. So, I have approximately 60 people in my building drinking water, coffee, tea, or soft drinks, spending minimal cash. What can I do to get some more money out of them? Well, serving good food would be the best bet, but unfortunately, there is no kitchen in my building. I know what I can do… there is no green fee. They have to pay for pool! Yeah, that makes me a big meanie! Whoever heard of pool players having to pay to play pool? Well, I can’t make them drink more beer, or shots, or big, tall mixed drinks if they don’t drink. I can’t blame them, either, for wanting to stay sharp and at the top of their game. I have to understand because, after all, I own a pool room and want to cater to these people. But I can’t do it for nothing and if the majority of people in my business are not spending money then my business is not making any money. If my business is not making any money it will not last very long. If my business closes, where will the pool players go? To the place which held the other tournament? Sorry, but they closed way before I did! They were upside down after every tournament and just could not recover!
Now, here is my take on all of this: first of all, honesty and integrity go a long way with me. If I have a choice of dealing with one of two people, I’m going to go with integrity and honesty every time! Even if the shady guy seems to be offering a better deal, I’m going to shy away from him and go with the other guy because I know there will be no surprises. A reputation means a lot! Secondly, I like to look at more than just what is on the surface. For instance, in the case of these tournaments I want to know who is running them. Is that person known to be honest or shady? Is that person a true lover of pool or is he looking for notoriety? Yes, believe it or not, there are lots of tournament directors out there who do it just so they can rub elbows with great players, get their names in print, and be seen with famous players. Admittedly, all those things are kind of cool, but as a tournament director, they have to be put into perspective. Does this person do that? How does he handle his notoriety? Along with that, I want to know about the venue. How are the owners? I don’t care if they are adding $1,000, if they do not respect pool and pool players, if they don’t know how to provide an atmosphere conducive to pool playing, including proper maintenance and care for their equipment, I probably will choose not to play at their place of business. It seems most pool rooms in this country are struggling, some, deservedly and some, just because. I will always choose to support the pool rooms whose owners and staff (including tournament directors) operate in a manner to support the game. That does not mean run themselves into the ground in the name of pool. That simply means doing what they can to support the game at their local level by taking advantage of the opportunity for residual income from a tournament. What is residual income? Residual income is income generated by the tournament after the tournament. For example, a player who has never been to that particular pool room before the tournament really likes the place, the tables, the atmosphere, everything! So he makes it his home pool room, going there to practice and brings in other players for action, which in turn brings in spectators who --- spend money! If players like the establishment, they are doing something right and deserve support. So, if I have to put quarters in their tables to play in a tournament, I don’t mind doing it! It’s going to a good cause, which benefits me as a player, by helping them to keep their doors open, cloth on the slate, and chalk on the rails!
In closing, I want all readers to understand one thing! The sole purpose of this blog is to make you think. It is not to discourage, run down, or decimate anyone or anyone else’s tournament. I just want everyone to think about why some things are done and understand the reasons behind them. On the surface, some things can look bright and shiny but be filled with rust and corrosion. Know what to look for and ask questions. Remember the age old adage, “If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is!”
Technology: the mere word strikes fear in the minds of some, while filling others with unbridled excitement! Since the dawn of mankind we as a race of humans have striven to make life easier. Technology has played a huge role in our history as we have constantly looked for better ways to perform everyday tasks.
In the world of pool and billiards, technology has also been ever present. Though the main premise of the game has not changed much, technology has changed the way things are done. How many different types of specialty tips are now available? Low deflection shafts, zero-deflection shafts, jump cues, break cues, balls made from different composites to react and perform more consistently, even the cloth has been through a tremendous evolution! Through it all though, pocket billiards is still played on a table which is half as wide as it is long, with 6 pockets. The basic and most popular games have remained timeless, 8-ball and 9-ball. Though leagues have tweaked them from their original formats, if you walk into just about any honky-tonk in rural America and try to play by league rules, you will likely be leaving very quickly and hopefully under your own power!
The technology on which I would like to focus today involves the world of electronics. We have the internet. We have smart phones with cameras able to shoot still photos or videos. We have social media, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, to name a few. On these platforms we are able to share with the world anything and everything we want! We have gone from a once private society to one which seemingly begs for attention by posting even the most minute and insignificant of daily activities for all to see! Despite all the users and abusers, social media addicts and trolls, this technology now plays a huge role in our ancient game! This is evident by all the pool related group pages and websites spewing out tons of information for any and all who want to know where the next big tournament will be held, who has the cheapest LD shaft, and yes, pictures of the unknown pool player who is moving across the country torturing everyone he plays!
Let’s narrow it down just a bit more. Most all of the social media platforms give the ability of “live-streaming” to the user. With live-streaming the user can simply use the video camera on a smart phone to broadcast live video through a social media platform. Also available is live-streaming through web sites and broadcast equipment, which may not be as easily accessible to the average “Joe,” but with a little research one can learn without taking on the lifelong debt of a student loan!
Within the last couple of years, live-streaming has grown tremendously around pool. Action games or 2- man tournaments as some are called, and also multi player tournaments can now be viewed from the small local tournaments to the large international tournaments. This has also raised some controversy between the players and the streamers as to privacy and who owns the rights to their image and what-not. But that is a topic for a completely different discussion. There are a few live-streamers out there who have risen above the rest and made quite a name for themselves. What they do differently than the rest is what makes their streams the most sought after with viewers willing to subscribe and pay for access. These streamers have such a following, venue owners will even hire them to set up at their venue and broadcast events and action just for the exposure!
It has become quite common now for someone to have a camera set up at a local tournament to live-stream the activity. I’m sure most everyone reading this blog has seen them. I find it very difficult to sit and watch some of these streams. If there is someone playing whom I know, I might watch for a couple minutes, but they just don’t hold my attention like some of the bigger productions. What is the difference? Aside from the fact that the “bigger guy” has spent thousands and thousands of dollars on his equipment there are a few things which these small local guys can learn from them. I think first, and foremost is camera angle and position. So many of these local tournaments have the camera sitting on a table or on a tripod which raises it to maybe head level of the average man. What does that look like to the viewer? It is very two dimensional. The table, the balls, the angles, cannot be seen well enough to know exactly what is happening. It is usually set up right next to the tournament director’s table so there is a lot of traffic. Players checking on their matches, reporting results, or just visiting with the director will often stand right in front of the camera. That is truly annoying! If I’m actually watching and people keep walking or standing in front of the camera I’m going to lose interest real quick! If you pay for a live-stream you will notice the main camera is positioned way above the table giving the viewer optimum visibility. So, on the local level, if you have only one camera, try to get it positioned as high as possible and directed toward one table to give the viewers the best view possible of the action. This alone, I believe, will boost interest and viewers numbers tremendously!
Secondly, if you can afford another camera, do it! The more, the merrier! Showing the same table from a couple different angles adds so much to the viewing experience. Even if it has to be shown on a split screen, giving the viewers more than one angle of the same shot is golden!
Thirdly, I think the biggest feature which sets apart the “big guys” from the locals, is commentating. Even with a prime view of the table from multiple angles the stream can become bland and boring with no sound or just the low murmur of the crowd. Having someone who knows a little about the game to do some commentating on the action will liven up the broadcast, holding the viewers’ interest even longer.
Last, but definitely not least, think about the matches which will be played on your “TV table.” The viewers don’t want to watch a couple players who keep missing, scratching, missing some more, dragging the match out for an extended period of time! Granted, those players are in every tournament and we want to encourage them to play, but from a production standpoint, putting them on the TV table is not a good idea. Give the viewers a good match up to watch! Two guys who will put multi racks together, or who are known for a lock down safety game will make for good viewing. If I’m watching a girl who can’t make a bridge, playing against a guy who just wants to get in her pants, I’m moving on. Although, I guess that could potentially get real interesting! The point is: put content on the screen that is worth watching.
Technology is here to stay. Some may love it, and others hate it. Me? I’m on the fence, though I’m learning to accept it. Using what we have as tools to better promote, better educate, and better the game overall is how we embrace this rapidly growing wave of technology which is upon us.
Live-streaming your events will undoubtedly attract attention and generate interest. Live-streaming like a professional will set you apart from the other local guys streaming from their phones propped up against a beer bottle!
Here I am again, sitting at my desk in the warehouse office. I am supposed to be doing “job related” activities like processing returns, scheduling pickups, inventory management, answering the phone and pretending to care about whatever the caller’s dilemma may be when in reality, I couldn’t care less! But what am I doing? I’m thinking about pool. I’m thinking about the pool group pages which I manage. I’m thinking about tournament promotion ideas and I’m thinking about my blog. So, as I sit here putting my job, well being, and future in jeopardy, this thought enters my mind: what is it about this game that has this affect on me? What is it about this game that has this affect on so many others? What is it about this game that can take up so much of my time, monopolize my thoughts, and keep me searching for answers even when I’m away from the pool room? What gives it this controlling power?
I can remember when I first fell in love with this game. I had played pool before, but not with any passion. Not with any purpose. Not with any determination or desire. This one time, this one instance though, it all came together and sparked a fire inside of me like nothing and no one else has ever been able to do before or since! What did it? What was the catalyst? I won money! I had never played for money before. In fact, the thought had never even crossed my mind because I actually hated the game! Yeah, that’s right, I hated pool! But, this time it was different! This time a new challenge presented itself, more than just knocking balls in the holes and celebrating an empty victory with a cold beverage. This time, making that game winning shot was rewarded with cold, hard cash! Suddenly, this game which had been so boring, so stupid, so pointless, now had a purpose! It required skill with an element of luck which, when a wager was placed upon the outcome, transformed this boring, stupid, pointless game into an adrenaline pumping, emotional roller coaster of excitement! I started to notice things like angles, spin, speed and how they affected the shot. Things I had never cared to notice before. But now, when the outcome of the game mattered, when it had a direct impact on my wallet, I wanted to know everything there was to know about it!
When that night was over, I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of accomplishment! I had ALL of THEIR money! I had done it! It was MY skill against all of theirs! It was MY desire to win that had pushed me! Not a coin flip, not a lucky guess, not luck of the draw, it was ME! I had done it better than all of THEM! Granted, none of us in that group were of any account by the standards which I gauge my game today. In fact, we were nothing more than bangers who hadn’t clue! But at the time, it was huge to me! That was the first time I had succeeded in something which I had chosen myself! It wasn’t an assignment handed out by a teacher. It wasn’t a test on a lecture by some monotone professor. It was something I had chosen on my own. I had put myself in that situation and I had handled it! That night was life changing for me!
Ever since that night, which has now been nearly 30 years ago, the game has never left my thoughts. Sure, there have been breaks during which I played very little, but it was always there! During those breaks, I think it is safe to say the game was on my mind and in my thoughts even more so than when I was playing! I can remember dreaming about a shot I had missed for MONTHS after missing the shot! I can remember replaying scenarios in my mind of games I should have played differently. What that night did to me was open my eyes. In my desire to learn and play the game better I was exposed to just how beautiful the game really is! Masterful control of the cue ball with nothing more than a stick with a piece of leather glued on the end is mind boggling! All the things which can be done with that stick, to a round ball, then to transfer that control to another ball with the first one? Really? Think about that for just a moment! Then, to be able to use that control to win a game against someone with the same desire and quest for knowledge is the absolute most exhilarating activity available to man!
What I have realized, is that the possibilities are endless, the scenarios are countless, and knowledge is infinite! There are those who might scoff at how little my skills have progressed in almost 30 years of playing. But that’s alright. I am not a “natural” talent. I have had to work for every, little increase in my ability! For some, it has come easy, and for others, it’s even more difficult than for me! That is part of the beauty of it! Even now that I am closing in on half a century of time on this planet, with my body failing me and my eyesight waning, that desire to learn is still there! That fire still burns! I continue the quest to the best of my ability! One can say I love the game. One can say I am addicted to the game. I say, the game is a part of me! It is my passion! It has become my life! That, I suppose, is why it does all those things to me!
I originally wrote this in January of 2016. I thought I would share it again. Even though it is my story, it applies to many others as well.
January 30, 2016
Love and Pool
Recently, while in one of the pool rooms I frequent, I heard someone make a comment. This particular person is someone whom I respect both for his ability as a player and as a person in general. The comment was, “I have my own money, but apparently I don’t have my own time.” He was referring to the jealousy the lady in his life feels when he goes to the pool room. When I heard that statement I started thinking. You might say it triggered some old memories of past experiences, most of which I would rather forget. Nonetheless, there they were which leads me to this blog. It is my hope that reading this will help someone to make the right decision and if the young man who made the comment happens to see this, I really hope it helps to open his eyes!
Almost everyone who will see this has been bitten. Nearly all of us in this group have that one thing in common. We have all been bitten by the pool bug! Here is my story:
I started playing this game by accident. The recreation hall at the campground where my parents and I spent our summer vacations had a couple pool tables. If it happened to rain, I might have spent an afternoon banging balls around until the weather cleared. As I became older and started driving and hanging out with friends, I went to a local game room a few times, but honestly, I did not enjoy playing pool at all! In fact, if going to the game room and playing pool was suggested, I would opt out, choosing to do something else or just stay home. At the time it was my opinion that the game of pool was just silly and stupid. Having fun playing the game seemed impossible! I could not understand how or why others had such a good time playing it. Yeah, that was me all the way until 1989.
In 1989 I turned 21. I also found out on my 21st birthday that I was going to be a daddy (happy birthday to me!). One day that year while at my 2nd shift factory job, one of the guys talked about a cool little bar he had stumbled upon in downtown Chattanooga. He said they had a bunch of pool tables, the food was really good, and the beer was cheap! A group of us decided to check it out after work and we all met there later that night. The place was a dive! It smelled terrible! Most of the ceiling tiles had long since fallen from the leaky roof, and there did not seem to be anyone else within our age group in the place. As a matter of fact, it was all a bunch of older guys who yelled at each other, cussed each other then played each other! Anyway, our group gathered at a bar table in the back of the place. The beer was cold, the food, amazingly enough, was very good indeed! I had not played any pool in probably two or more years and had never played more than a couple games in a single outing. Remember, I hated it. But, I came along this time for the social value and was having a good time. I even put some quarters up and played a game or two! Then, as happens so often when alcohol is involved, someone suggested we start playing for money with the winner keeping the table. I was unsure about this but had just enough beer in me to quash my inhibitions. I was about to play my first ever pool game for money! Little did I know, this was a pivotal moment in my life!
I think I was third, maybe second (it doesn’t really matter) to play. Evidently someone in the group had played a challenge table game before and kept things running smoothly. Up until now, my games had consisted of banging balls around the table, trying to move as many as possible, hoping to make one of “mine” without knocking in the 8 ball! Suddenly, I realized, all that had to be done was to hit the balls in the right place, and they would go in! I had never thought of that before! I won my first game! My opponent paid me, and then promptly put his quarters up to wait his turn to get back on the table. I won the next game as well; and the next; and the next! My pocket was filling up with cash! My buddies could not believe it! After all, I was the guy who hated pool, never wanted to play, and found other things to do if pool playing was the activity of the evening! Some of them actually had their own “pool sticks” which, of course, meant they were “good,” and I was beating them! They kept coming back for more. Game after game I won. I even figured out the basic concept of position play by trying to leave angles on each shot which made it easier to move the cue ball. Don’t misunderstand me. I was in no way running out, drawing the cue ball 3 rails for shape, or anything of that nature. I had no idea what a “stroke” was, nor did I know it was even possible to make the cue ball go backwards, until I saw one of the guys do it. But, I definitely had some sort of advantage over everyone else in my group and by the time I left to go home, I had pretty much busted every single one of them! Remember that bug I mentioned earlier? Yeah, it bit me that night! It bit me hard and I would forever be “infected” by the pool bug!
Pool had become a part of my life. I loved it! I wanted to get better. I went to Service Merchandise and purchased my first cue and case. It was official, I was a pool player! I started to frequent this dive of a bar and practicing by myself on the coin tables and occasionally on the biggest tables I had ever seen! I would go there every night after work, even if I didn’t have any money. I would sit at a booth in the corner and watch. I saw some pretty amazing things, things which intrigued me greatly. This was a culture. It was more than just a hobby to these old guys who were always in here. It was a lifestyle. Of course, little did I know who I was witnessing at the time. Howard Barrett, Vernon Elliott, Charlie Lane, Gene Cooper, and string of others whose names have long escaped my memory or I never knew, came through the doors several times a week. Night after night, week after week, I came and sat in the dark booth and just watched. They didn’t seem to even know I was there or if they did, they certainly didn’t care. They carried on with their barking and haggling and the money they were passing around made my head spin! I wanted so badly, to be good enough to do what they did! That is the story of how it all started for me. At the time, I knew nothing about a “pool bug,” and had no idea what an impact on my future those few weeks would have.
I became a father later that year. With that came responsibilities. I wanted to be a good father and husband, and I tried. I really did. But there was this one thing that kept coming in between us: pool, at least that what I thought and was led to believe. I thought I could be a father and husband, and still play pool. I could not understand the problem, but there definitely was a problem!
By 1992, I was divorced and living in my parents’ basement. After my divorce, I felt extremely guilty about my pool playing. I sold my cues and swore I would never play again! After all, it had ruined my life, right? Even though I had all the time in the world now, I was going to chastise myself forever by giving up the game I loved! That lasted about six months. I finally decided there was no reason for me not to do what I enjoy when I no longer had any marital obligations. I bought another cue and started back playing. This time, after the 6 month hiatus, my game actually improved by leaps and bounds. The break had broken me of most of the bad fundamentals and mechanics I had developed. I basically had to learn all over again, only this time I learned correctly, or at least closer to correct than before.
The old dive bar downtown, which by the way had been called, The Brew n’ Cue, had since closed down and the building demolished. There were a few other places in town to play but none had the vibe, the aura, the personality of The Brew n’ Cue! I missed that place and the old players who seemingly lived there. I would see some of them from time to time, but never again was I able to observe them in their natural habitat at The Brew ‘n’ Cue.
My pool game continued to pick up, little by little over the next 3 years. By 1995, most of the players in town at least knew who I was. I was still green and though my skills had improved, I was far from a force with which to be reckoned. Then it happened! Eyes the color of the ocean! A smile that could bring any man to his knees! And she asked about me! Once again, I was smitten! Lucky for me, at least I thought so at the time, she was a server at the pool room! How could I beat that? Well, to make another long story short, we were married in 1996. Wow! What a mistake I made! Funny thing, I realized it on the way home from the courthouse the day we were married! There had been red flags aplenty over the past year, but again, I chose to ignore them believing I could not play pool and be a good husband.
By 1998, I had all but quit playing again. I was involved with coaching baseball, trips to local BMX tracks, and of course, work. Occasionally, I would venture out for an evening at the pool room. That venture always came with a price which took several days to pay. Eventually, I decided it was not worth the nonsense with which I had to deal afterwards, so my trips became more and more of a rarity. Again, following the belief of the status quo that it was the pool playing which was bad, not that I had made a bad choice in women.
Several years passed by. She still worked at the pool room, only now she was the General Manager. I still had my full time factory job, yet I assisted her at the pool room, running tournaments, dealing poker, and other things for which I was paid. My pool playing was nearly nonexistent. I was at the pool room 4 nights a week, seeing people play, watching a little action now and then, but never was able to play. I was miserable! I started drinking heavily. It became worse and worse. I hated my wife, I hated my life, and I became almost suicidal.
There was something missing from my life and as obvious as it may seem by reading this, I had no idea what it was! It all came to a head late in 2009, and by mid 2010, I was divorced again. This time, however, the marriage, the divorce, had all taken a heavy toll on me.
For the next two years I struggled to recover, looking for ways to cope with all the triggers the years of psychological abuse had created. Finally, I was able to function normally again, and guess what… I started playing pool again!
Over the last 4 years or so, I have come to realize that the failed marriages were not my fault. For some reason society wants us to believe that pool playing is a bad thing. Honestly, it’s no worse than football, baseball, basketball, or anything else someone may do. I figured out that what we as pool players need to understand, is that pool is a part of who we are. When we make choices such as, with whom we want to spend our lives, we are often times blinded by infatuation. We allow ourselves to become smitten by a beautiful woman (or handsome man for some) and relish in the fact that they want to show us affection. This is where the mistake is most often made. It is nearly impossible for someone who does not play pool, someone who has not been bitten by the pool bug, to understand that the game is a part of us. To them, it’s just something we do to pass the time and there is no reason why we can’t just quit doing it and spend every free moment with them, doing what they want to do!
Before going into a relationship, we pool players need to accept ourselves for who we are, and be true to ourselves in our relationships. Someone who understands that pool is more than just a hobby, but an element of our personalities is very difficult to find, for us straight men, anyway. It took me until I was 44 years of age to finally find that person, and let me tell you, I am having a blast! Sure, there are responsibilities and obligations which accompany a relationship, but when the other person understands me and knows what I’m about, those obligations are easily fulfilled!
It is so easy to be seduced by the beauty and affection of those who don’t understand us, but there is a high price for that seduction! I’m here to tell you, there is nothing hotter than having a woman who loves you, sitting in your corner while you’re playing, and she actually knows what is going on! It was a long time coming for me but it was well worth the wait!
My advice to anyone who may be going into a relationship whether serious or not, be true to yourself! Don’t deny your passion for the game. It is not a vice, as some would have you to believe. It is a part of you! If the other person cannot handle that part of you, they cannot handle any of you! Hold out for the one who appreciates you, the whole you! It will be well worth it! If you settle for less, you will be able to deny your unhappiness for only so long before it consumes you. By then, it may be too late!
I recently made the comment to someone at a “pool league party” that I wished this particular large league would incorporate some pool etiquette into their system. It seems to be so prevalent amongst players in the league to have no idea of what any kind of etiquette is or that any actually exists. To them, it is a social event at which they can drink and cut up with friends and just have a good time. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with that but, from this pool of league players is where we get new players into the actual pool culture, pool in the “real world,” as I call it. That is why I try to educate those with whom I come into contact while playing in the league. It can be real rude awakening for some when they try to cross over from league play to something more realistic. A little education might help to soften the blow on them and also spare some pool players the headache and high blood pressure of dealing with the uneducated.
So, let’s talk about etiquette. Believe it or not, in this rough and tumble, mentally brutal, dog eat dog game we love, there are some unwritten rules. Rules that are learned over time by those of us who have chosen to join the culture. Probably somewhere along the way in our journey through the pool world, each of us has come across someone or a group of people from whom we received some pretty stiff lessons! I can remember one such lesson, and to be honest, it may have actually been my first!
In a previous entry I shared the story of how I started playing pool. I mentioned the dark, dank pool room upon which we stumbled and how, after that first night there, I returned as often as could! Not too awfully long after that first night I was there again with one of my buddies playing a great new game we had discovered, called 9-ball! Now, at this time most bar table games cost 2 quarters. That was also true at this place with the exception of 4 tables in a row, in the area where most of the “big action” took place. These tables had only 10 balls in them and each game cost 1 quarter! Yes! Four tables solely dedicated to 9-ball! Oh, by the way, at that time we had no idea of the terms, “action,” or “action area” and what they meant.
So, there we were, me and my buddy playing 2-dollar 9-ball in the “action area!” Keep in mind this was maybe 2 weeks after that first night I was bitten by the pool bug. We chose one of the end tables closest to the wall because there was a booth next to it where we could sit while the other was shooting, eat our food (which by the way was really, really good at this place!), and set our beer bottles and cigarettes. Little did we know that by choosing that table it was the only smart thing we would do that night! Now, 28+ years later, it is obvious to me that area was cordoned off the way it was for action. Back then, neither of us had a clue! All we knew was, “Hey! These tables only cost a quarter!” So that’s where we planted ourselves for our night of “big action” playing 2-dollar 9-ball against each other!
It wasn’t long, an hour or so, before the “players” came in. I remember an older guy, kind of short, white hair, I can’t remember his name though “George” is ringing a bell. Anyway, George seemed to always be the loudest, meanest, roughest, and toughest of the bunch! He was always barking at everyone about “playing some for fifty!” Well, he came in and was barking at another guy. Whenever this started I was intrigued! So much so that I couldn’t play, I had to watch and listen intently! My buddy would get aggravated at me because it would be my shot and I would just sit there, watching and listening! But I didn’t care. I was in school and class was in session! I was paying attention like I had never done in actual school! It was the bug. It had me!
Anyway, after several minutes of barking, they agreed to play. I can’t remember if they were playing even or if George was getting a spot. I don’t think I understood the whole, “spot” thing at that time, but looking back, George really didn’t play very well so he was probably getting spotted. They chose the table right next to ours! Of the four tables, there was probably a favorite and I’m guessing that was it. Otherwise, why would they choose to play next to a couple of bangers? They flipped the coin and started playing. My buddy and I also continued our match right next to them; us playing for 2 bucks a game, them playing for 50 bucks a game! It was my first experience playing that close to someone playing for money. Before then, I had never really thought about what could happen. It had never occurred to me that there was etiquette to it or a sort of right of way. I had no idea that my $2 game, as much as it meant to me, was absolutely meaningless to them! More than meaningless, it was an annoyance! I guess we were lucky that they had not kicked us out of the action area when they got there. Maybe they should have but had they done so, the lesson we were about to learn would not have been learned, at least not that night.
I remember I was down on a shot. I don’t remember which ball I was shooting, but I certainly remember which ball George was shooting! I don’t know who got to their shot first, me, or George. I never saw him. Before I shot my shot, I felt the butt of his cue poke me right in the hip! I immediately stood up and turned. My eyes met the eyes of George, whose face was blood red! He reached up and grabbed the cigarette out of his mouth, and proceeded to let out a string of cursing like I had never heard, at a volume level that could make the bravest man cower! I was barely 21, a stoner with long, golden hair and at the time weighing in around a buck-twenty, and looked like I just left the set of MTV (back when they actually played music videos)! He was a hardened gambler who had more than likely done some time in the penitentiary and though a bit short was not small in stature! In other words, he scared the shit out of me! Though his opponent and the sweaters who had gathered got him to back off of me, it was made abundantly clear that we should not be playing in that area. It was fine for us as long as there was no “real” action. But if real action came in, our $2 game had to be relocated. The funny thing is, it made perfect sense to me while pissing off my buddy. He insisted that we should not have to move! We were paying customers! He didn’t get it. I was starting to understand the culture. Sure, we were paying customers, but George and his group were part of the culture! We could go to the back, out of the way, keep doing what we were doing, and still be paying customers.
Being a paying customer is what meant the most to my buddy, though, and that’s probably why he rarely came back. Me, I wanted to be more than just a paying customer. I wanted to be a part of the culture! I wanted to be in that world! I wasn’t mad at George. He taught me something and I respected
that. I learned who had the right-of-way. I learned action supersedes non action. I learned to respect the culture. After all, the culture had been around longer than the game rooms and bars which were simply exploiting the game for their own gain. I learned my place. I learned people like me and my buddy played a role in their culture, even if we didn’t understand. I learned we were the ones supporting their culture. I learned they didn’t care if we were there as long as we stayed out of the way. As long as we knew our place, they had no problem with us. They knew they needed us and they accommodated us, but the game was most important! It’s more than a game. It’s a way of life to many. We were merely newbies exploring the game and culture. All George and his group wanted from us was respect. Not necessarily for themselves, but for what they were doing. At the time I had no idea what all that respect entailed but George and his group was actually willing to educate and help us, and I was eager to learn!
I had no idea I had stumbled into a little corner of pool Heaven! I was never really aware of that fact until a few years later, but the things I learned in that old, dilapidated building will stay with me forever!
What a touchy subject this can be! Handicapping in leagues and tournaments, whether from a formulated system or simply as assigned by someone who claims to know, always seems to stir up a storm among players, league operators and tournament directors. But what is the purpose of handicapping and what is its place in pool? There are some who believe leagues and the handicaps that come along with them have been what have “saved” pool. Then, there are those who believe just the opposite, that the leagues and their handicap systems have ruined pool.
If we go back to early in the 19th century, we can find out how the game of billiards came to be called “pool.” One definition of the word "pool" is: a collective bet, or ante. A “pool room” was a betting parlor for horse racing. Billiard tables were placed in these pool rooms so the bettors could have something to do in between races. It stands to reason that the bettors soon began betting on more than just the ponies! And the tables? Soon they were known as “pool tables!”
From its history, the game of pool has come from a dark, seedy, smoky, and somewhat degenerate background. The game of kings? Hardly, not in this country! If you were a person who frequented those early pool rooms chances are you were not soft. Chances are, you were a hustler of sorts. You might have had a job, but you made (and lost) your money in the pool room! It was not a place for women or children and many a man was toughened by the pool room.
As time went on, the game became more public with pool tables being in bars, restaurants, end even game rooms. More and more people started to play. Much like poker, the game itself is innocent and can be played without wagers, but it is not the same! The betting, the wagering, the gambling, is as much a part of it as the balls themselves! A new breed of hustler was born. This, is where the evolution stopped until someone decided to try and tame the game.
Hustlers of yesteryear were a rare breed. The folks who hung around the pool rooms (which were called pool rooms because they had pool tables) were not generally what we would call everyday people. There were the gamblers and there were the players. Sometimes, the gamblers could even play a little bit, too!
The point I am trying to make is, pool will always have that stigma from its early days at the tracks. That is where the modern game originated and became what we know it as today. That history is an intriguing, mystifying, and almost holy part of the game to those of us who have a true passion for pool. It is not a game for everyone. It was never intended to be a “family friendly” activity. Those who played the game played with true heart and desire! They celebrated when they won, and they paid off when
they lost. There was no crying in pool, and if there was, it was part of a hustle! The game was never meant to be fair. The best player or players were supposed to win. Those who didn’t win would go back to the poolrooms to practice, or they would quit! The rules were never changed to give the weaker players a better chance. The hustlers never gave back their winnings due to a guilty conscience. It was a game for people who were tough, thick-skinned folks and were not easily offended by anything! The thought of banning anyone from a tournament because they “played too good” never crossed anyone’s mind! In my opinion, that is the true nature of pool. Just like any other sport or activity, it can be done “just for fun” if that is all one is looking to get from it.
In my younger years I considered myself an avid softball player. I played in local leagues and tournaments and at the time was probably one of the best outfielders and base runners in the area. One day, I met a guy who had played some pro baseball. He had been called up as a closer (pitcher) for the Cleveland Indians. He also had played some softball so I recruited him to play on my team. When he showed up to his first game we decided to warm up with each other. Immediately I realized the difference between what I considered myself, and what he was! I was known for my “cannon arm” which he proceeded to mock making my cannon look like a spring-loaded BB gun! His speed and prowess in the base paths put mine to shame! He was an all-around better ball player than me! I took the game just as seriously as did he, but his natural ability, talent, and training put him at a much higher level. I respected that. Was I jealous? Well, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t! But instead of turning that jealousy into hate, I turned it into desire. For the few games he played with us, I watched him throw. I watched his swing. I tried to learn as much as I could from him to better my own performance. We didn’t make him throw with his left hand, or bat with one eye closed, he was just better than us and we accepted that.
The correlation I am trying to make here is this: Pool seems to be the only sport/game in which there is no real reward for improving. As players’ skills improve, more and more often they are punished for being better at the game than those who have not tried as hard! It makes absolutely no sense! These guys we watch on Youtube, PoolactionTV, and numerous other streaming sites, have dedicated their lives to this game! To some, that dedication is misinterpreted as a misspent youth, a degenerate, or just plain laziness. While I will agree some of those traits do accompany some pool players, I will never agree with punishing players for playing better! This trickles all the way down to the local level. Every day I hear about or see tournaments which won’t allow certain players to participate. “No road players allowed!” “No pro players allowed!” I’ve even seen, “No 7s allowed!” Why? This softening of tournaments has to stop! The phasing out of the strong players has to stop! They should be the heroes! They should be the idols to whom the rest of us look up and try to emulate! Sacrificing the integrity of a tournament for participation numbers does more damage than good in the long run. The softer players, the ones who just don’t have what it takes to survive in the pool world, become spoiled. They want to enjoy the benefits of winning without putting in the work to be a winner. Once they get a taste of that, it’s very difficult to rid their mouths of it! In turn, the strong players who are no longer allowed to play become obsolete. General play and skill levels decline. Those who had the potential to be great see what has happened to those who got there, then they no longer want to get there themselves and not be allowed to play!
What is the point of trying to be a better player if, once you get there, you’re not allowed to play anymore? How do you think these strong players got to where they are now? Do you think they emerged from the womb with a champion stroke? Were they born with a knack for One Pocket strategy? Absolutely not! They put in time, countless hours of practice, and countless hours of being beaten down by those who played better than them at the time. They paid their dues in both time, and cash! That is what it takes! It takes heart! It takes dedication! It takes desire! It takes a killer instinct with which only a few people are born! That is what the game is about! Those are the people for whom the game was created! If you don’t have the heart, if you don’t want to dedicate yourself to it, if you don’t have the desire or that killer instinct, you don’t need to play in tournaments! You need to stay in league, collect your participation trophies and patches while you manage your handicap in such a way so as to make it easier to win. Real pool competition is not for you! You are handicapped!
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not against leagues! Leagues can be a good thing and are perfect for generating business and revenue for bar and pool room owners (and league operators). Also, league night is a good time to recruit those select few players who appear to have what it takes to graduate to real pool. I participate in a league and thoroughly enjoy my league night (most of the time). It’s a great opportunity for me to share my limited knowledge with beginners and see if I can ignite the same spark in them. Not everyone will want to listen. Not everyone will care. But there will be one or two who want to go farther. They are the ones in whom I am interested! Everyone else? Sure, we’ll cut up, have a good time and enjoy ourselves. It’s league night! But when league night is over, the next time I pick up my cue I will be on a mission! I may not be a great player and probably never will be, but my heart and desire is as big as anyone’s! That’s what it takes to play. I am not handicapped!
The year was 1993 or 1994. I thought I was a pool player on the verge of making it big! That, all by itself, shows how green I actually was! One thing I knew, though, I loved the action! I had gotten a taste of it myself and I had seen enough good action to know I loved it!
I had a friend who, though he was younger than I, had been around the game and the action much more than I and had some seasoning. He took me “under his wing” and tried to help me get the seasoning I desperately needed if I was going to survive in this culture. From him I learned a lot of things about the game, about money, about hustling, and about myself! My biggest problem, according to him, was I had a player’s mindset! I was eager, too eager in fact, to play! Potential opponents could sense that eagerness and use it to their advantage whenever it came time to match up.
“You don’t have to play…” my friend would tell me over and over.
“You have a job, right?” he would ask rhetorically since he knew where I worked.
“Yeah…” I would say.
“You’ve paid your bills, right?”
“There’s gas in your car?”
“You have some cash in your pocket? I mean, you can eat until payday, right?”
Knowing where this line of questioning was going I would reluctantly nod my head and answer, “Yeah…”
To which I would get the same response he gave me every time this came up, and it came up a lot!
“You don’t NEED to play! You just WANT to play! You want to play so bad that you’re willing to jump in and lose all your money just to be in action! You gotta learn to say, NO!”
Then he would shake his head in frustration, crack open a cold beer, light up a smoke, look at me and finish with, “Relax man! The pool tables aren’t going anywhere and neither is the action, because you ARE the action! They’re all waiting on you! Let ‘em wait! Maybe they’ll be the ones too eager to play by the time we get there!”
Eventually we would go. We ALWAYS got in action because I was the eager one. During the time we ran around together, we probably ended up close to even on the money, but the lessons I learned from him were priceless! Granted, it might have taken awhile for those lessons to sink in and for some I needed experience to put his words into perspective. As long as we were together I was not going to get trapped! At the time I don’t think I fully understood that. I thought I was ready! Again, with the eagerness, I went to the bank, withdrew every dollar from my account, called in sick to work and took off on my own!
A few weeks prior my friend and I had made the long 35 minute journey from Chattanooga to Dalton, Georgia. There was a 24 hour game room which was notorious for action during the late night hours. The son of a large carpet manufacturing company would often play there and lose amounts in the six figure range. That was our goal, to get me to the table with him. Anyway, while we had been at this game room, there was a young man playing who just never missed! He ran out and ran out and ran out! He was (I thought) the best player I had ever seen! We hung around for a few hours, but I never played. We were just showing up to get acquainted, something we would do several times so as not to be strangers when we had the opportunity to get in the box with the degenerate son of the carpet mogul!
Back to heading out on my own: Remembering this kid from Dalton, I made a beeline straight to the game room with my humble bank roll. You see, there was some major action happening at the Chattanooga Billiard Club! Gene Cooper was there. Wade Crane, Jeremy Jones (a very young and fat Jeremy Jones!), and a bunch of money men in Lincolns and Cadillacs whom I had never seen before! Money was flowing like water! Steak dinners, high dollar cigars, drinks and women! Yes, pool groupies! Who woulda thunk! Every short stop player for miles around was there looking to get a piece of the action! That’s where we were headed! No longer was I the player, I was the money man! The one in charge! The shot caller! I was sure no one knew of this young kid, barely old enough to get in the door at the Chattanooga Billiard Club! We were going to get them all! We would start small and build our bank roll! I was excited! I was…… EAGER! After all, we had the nuts! We couldn’t lose!
When I arrived at the game room and told this young boy what was going on and what my plan was, he was happy to ride with me back to Chattanooga! What player doesn’t appreciate someone who is willing to put up all the cash for them to play? Since I was fairly new to the game and had not been very far from Chattanooga to play, I did not know many of the players lying in wait like sharks in a feeding frenzy at the pool room. My “horse” began to point out different players, telling me who we needed to stay away from, who he thought he could beat, who wouldn’t have any money, and so forth. There was an older man there who had been coming in for a week or so before all the action started. I had seen him play and in my “professional” opinion, he was not that impressive. As we sat on the outskirts of the action surveying it all, the older man walked over to our table.
“You boys interested in playing some 9-ball?” he asked.
Way too quickly I piped up, “He’ll play you some!” and nodded toward my young friend from Dalton.
“Oh yeah?” he smiled while holding a cigarette in his teeth. “What do you wanna do?”
“How about a race to 5!” I stated it more than I asked it, trying to show assertiveness and confidence.
“A race to 5, huh… for how much?” the man asked.
“Two hundred,” I said, “we’ll freeze up 2 sets. You wanna freeze up 2 sets? If not we can find someone else to play!” I was proud of myself for acting like I knew what I was doing!
The older guy chuckled, still holding the cigarette in his teeth. “That will be fine,” he said. “We’ll freeze up $400.”
Eagerly, I reached into my wallet and counted out the twenty $20 bills and stuffed them into a corner pocket of the table on which the game was going to take place, on top of the man’s four $100 bills. I was about to turn $400 in to $800! Maybe he would play some more and we could double up again! I hoped he wouldn’t ask for a “spot” and it would be easy pickin’s! I loved being the player but this new role was in some ways even more exhilarating! I ordered a beer, lit a smoke, and sat back to watch my new “friend” do work. I couldn’t help but think about how lucky this was to get in action this quickly! I was about to hit the “big time!”
The first game was a little slow. My friend, who never missed a shot in Dalton, missed a couple balls. He just needed to get warmed up and find his groove. When he catches his gear we’ll be fine, I thought. We were down 1-0 when the older guy broke and ran the second game. I still wasn’t worried. The third game my friend got to the table, and missed!
“I’m used to bar tables. These 8-footers play different,” he said. But he reassured me he could make the adjustment and get in stroke.
Three to nothing, four to nothing, and five to nothing! We lost the first set! I couldn’t believe it! My buddy from Dalton was a champion! We had another set to play and I was still confident he would get in stroke and get the cash!
The second set went much the same way. Looking back, I think I could have played better than my “champion” friend! He would look like he was getting in stroke, and then miss on the 8 ball or even the 9 ball! Five games straight, again, we lost the second set!
Before it begun, my quest was over! I was broke! I put everything I had into that match! I couldn’t figure out how in the world that had happened! My guy was a GREAT player! How could he have lost?
“Sorry, man. I tried. I guess I just can’t play on these tables.” The words offered no consolation.
“That’s ok, we’ll try again sometime,” was my halfhearted response.
The next day I was back at the pool room. I was broke, but I was there. So was the old guy that had won my money. My friend, who I had ditched because I thought I was ready, came to the pool room to sit with me.
“So, what happened?” he asked, already knowing I had done something stupid.
“Well, I went to Dalton…” I told him the whole story from the beginning to the end. He sat quietly sipping his bourbon and smoking his cigarettes while I talked. I even pointed to the old guy who played so my friend could get a better visual. Finally, after I was finished reliving my nightmare, he spoke.
“Do you know who that is?” referring to the old guy.
“I know his name and he’s been coming in here for a couple weeks and playing in the midnight tournaments. He doesn’t play that good, really!”
“He doesn’t play that good?” he about spit out a mouthful of bourbon.
At this point I am not going to divulge the man’s name, nor the name of my “friend” from Dalton. As it turns out, the old guy was also from Dalton and he and my “friend” had known each other for several years. Basically, I forced myself into a “two brothers and a stranger” type of hustle! I was “thrown into the river.” I was “creeked.” All terms of which I had heard but thought I was too smart to ever fall for. My friend had tried to warn me. He told me I wasn’t ready. He told me my biggest problem was being too eager. I didn’t listen, because I was too eager.
I paid for my mistake. In the grand scheme of things that $400 was nothing, though at the time, it was everything! In this culture there are dues which must be paid by all. No one gets a free ride! Many have tried, and many are yet to try, but in the end all will pay their dues or quit! That is how lessons are learned. Believe me, I learned a lesson that day which I will not forget, ever! That has never happened to me since and probably never will again. That is a lesson I may never have learned had I not taken the plunge!
Last night had the highest turn out of any Thursday night tournament at Runway Billiards, where I do 2 weekly tournaments on Tuesdays and Thursdays. After the tournament was over I packed up all my stuff and headed out to my truck for the 45 minute drive home. It is 44 miles from the Runway parking lot in west Mobile, Alabama to my driveway in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Though that is not terribly far, nor a terribly long drive, sometimes it seems twice as far and twice as long at 1:00 am knowing I have to be right back in Mobile by 7:30 am!
As I opened the doors to my truck I noticed someone behind me. A bit startled because I had a pocket full of cash and my arms were full with a cue case, brief case, and a ticket tumbler, so I couldn’t reach my pistol which was in the front! Fortunately, it was someone I knew who was no threat and had followed me outside to chat for a moment. Keep in mind my drive home and the sleep deprivation I will surely suffer tomorrow! Nonetheless, I stopped to hear what he had to say, hoping he would make it quick so I could get on the road. When he started talking I immediately felt a little guilty for wishing he had not followed me outside. He was showering me with thanks and compliments for doing the tournaments at Runway! Now, when I was young, I was sort of the shy type. I had a difficult time meeting new people and, of all things, knowing how to graciously accept compliments. As I have become older, I have learned how to overcome that shyness, for the most part, but taking compliments? I still have a difficult time with that. I don’t know what to say. I feel uncomfortable, self conscious. I just don’t like the attention! But yet, there we were! He was telling me all sorts of things which were supposed to make me feel good, all the while making me extremely uncomfortable! Finally, he finished and since he knows of my drive home, he let me close my door and head home.
On the drive home I had some time to think and ponder over the things he had said. I did appreciate him expressing his gratitude and appreciation for what I do. His words got me thinking again why I do what I do. Why I put myself through the hardship of late nights and early mornings. I certainly don’t have to do it, but week in and week out, there I am, sitting at my table, taking signups, selling Break & Run tickets, and running the bracket! I do it because I love the game! That’s it! I love pool! It is true that Runway pays me a nominal fee to run these tournaments (which does NOT come out of the tournament money!), but I am most certainly not getting rich doing it. Here’s the kicker: IT DOES NOT FEEL LIKE A JOB! I enjoy it! I more than enjoy it, I love it! I know sometimes I can sound like a broken record talking about my “passion for pool,” but I can’t help it! I love to play, I love to watch, I love to promote and plan, and I love to run events!
When I moved to the Gulf Coast in 2014, I was amazed at the players I found! I was also amazed at the lack of tournaments and action. I found a few, attended some, but for the most part, I was left hitting balls by myself at the pool rooms with no competition. I wanted to play, and I knew there were others like me out there because occasionally I would stumble across someone. I heard the same thing from everyone, “pool is dead on the coast.” I could not, and would not accept that! I had to do something, so I did! I resurrected the Sunday tournament at Skeeter’s in Gulfport, then things just took off from there. That’s when representatives from Runway contacted me, making me an offer I could not refuse. Do what I love, and get paid?!?! I could not believe it! But it was true and I have been there almost 2 and a half years, now! I still love it as much now as I did then!
One of the things that brings me all this happiness and joy is watching players improve. The majority of players come for awhile and start to lose interest, get burned out and quit. I love watching the guys who keep coming back, keep trying, keep asking questions, all the while improving little by little! Don’t get me wrong. I do not take credit for their gains other than giving them an outlet to test and gauge themselves and an encouraging word here and there. Everyone knows I am certainly not qualified to be teaching much of anything on the pool table! But watching these kids (and they are not all kids, some are older than me!) grow and improve really makes me feel good!
The fact that I am able to share my passion with others, plant a seed in these guys, and watch it grow is a great feeling! It is not necessarily a feeling of accomplishment, but more a feeling of purpose. Many times the topic of discussion around the pool rooms, or on social media groups is, how can we fix pool? What can we do to give pool the luster it once had? Then there are comments and arguments about who has the best idea and it always reverts to money. Though pool may lack financial support and mainstream coverage, I think the main thing pool needs is PASSION! If everyone who owns a cue felt about this game the same as I do, there would be no stopping it! It would be huge! Without passion, it is just a pastime, a game, a meaningless activity to occupy time. Without seeing the beauty of perfectly executed shots and knowing what it takes to do so, there can be no passion! Without understanding strategies and moves, there can be no passion! Without a desire to learn, there can be no passion! That is my purpose. That is my goal, to share my passion and hopefully watch it grow bigger and bigger in others. We cannot all be champions. Only a select few will ever succeed to that level. But what we can do is have the heart and passion of a champion! If each of us had that, all the “problems” in pool would take care of themselves.
So, though I was very uncomfortable for a few moments, I am grateful for the compliments last night! More than just compliments, they were words of encouragement! Words which reminded me of how
much this game means to me, how much I want to help it grow, and gave me the determination to keep on doing what I am doing!
The Lag #9
The 2018 Buffalo’s Pro One Pocket and 9-ball Open, My Experience
Since its inception in 2015 I have attended every one of these. The 2018 tournament was the second annual tournament at the new Buffalo’s on Bloomfield. There are things about the old place I miss, like the general aura. I mean, when you walked into Buffalo’s on Airline it felt as though you had just entered a time warp landing somewhere between 1963 and 1975! With the exception of top notch, modern equipment the place just had the feel of yesteryear and you knew as soon as you walked through the door that this was a place where pool happened! Pool players and high stakes pool matches took priority and you better stay out of the way! A sign on the wall by the front two 9 foot Diamond tables read, “NO GAMBLING cheap on the front tables. Go in the back!” That sign said it all! Does cigarette and cigar smoke bother you? You better find somewhere else to enjoy your microbrew and play cutthroat with your buddies because if there was a big match going on, you could cut the air in the old Buffalo’s with a knife! I loved it! Everything about it! When I heard he was moving I was somewhat heartbroken because pool rooms like that just don’t exist anymore in today’s politically correct environment and every pool room having to bow down to the leagues just to keep their doors open. But I understood the area of Airline where he was located was not exactly welcoming to anyone from out of town. A big time player with a big time stake horse practically needed an armed bodyguard to go to the car any time after dark. So even though I was going to miss the old Buffalo’s, I looked forward to the new one opening. I saw pictures posted online as Buffalo and Painter scrambled to make the move. I was working full time again so I did not have the free time to just take a jaunt to New Orleans to check it out. I was back in the working class and once again had to request time off from work to do anything. My first request for time off was to attend the 2017 tournament at the new Buffalo’s on Bloomfield! When I walked through those doors for the first time last year, I was amazed! I was in awe! I was in disbelief! It was like Buffalo had taken the old place, pumped it full of steroids, and plopped it in this huge building in Jefferson! It had the same feel as the old place only about 5 times as big! Somehow Buffalo had managed to bring the aura with him and transplant it in this building with 25-30 foot ceilings! And the setup? Let me tell you, Buffalo knows how to set up a pool room! We all know how annoying it is to be playing a serious match and have a bus load of folks come in and have to walk right by your table to get to the bar. Then, right by your table again to go to the restroom. Then, since there are so many of them, they stand up to do their partying which is way more important than the silly game you are playing on the table they are now using to prop themselves up. Well, that does not happen at Buffalo’s on Bloomfield! There are no pool tables close to the bar and there is plenty of seating at the bar and in the bar area for that bus load of power drinkers on their way back from the Quarter. When they have to go to the restroom, yeah it’s at the other end of the building but there is a walkway with 4-foot walls on either side to guide them all the way to the hallway where the restrooms are located! Once there, they are likely to sober up because that hallway acts as a wind tunnel for the air conditioning system. Once you turn that corner, you are within the a/c! It’s at least 10 degrees cooler, if not more, in that hallway! Basically, it is obvious that there was some serious thought put into the layout of the place with the pool players in mind. How often does that happen anymore? Almost never!
This year I arrived on Friday so I missed the One Pocket Calcutta and early matches. But again, I have to say, I am always impressed when I walk into Buffalo’s. There are always little, subtle changes that add to the “feeling” of the place. And in the case of this big tournament with Ray Hansen and Poolaction TV on location, the arena set up for the feature table was perfect! Seating around the bar tables was done in such a way so as not to interfere with the players as well so plenty of spectators could get a close up view of some of the world’s best as they played 9-ball on Diamond bar tables!
I hung around for a little while on Friday evening just to take it all in. I love being at Buffalo’s and after several months of working without any real time off, sitting in the middle of Buffalo’s on Bloomfield for me is as relaxing and refreshing as throwing down a towel on the beach and laying in the sun for most normal people! I was able to say hello to some people I had not seen since last year. I was able to see some folks in person whom I had met only through Facebook. I was able to watch some great One Pocket being played. The match between Jason “Jaybird” Brown and Roberto Gomez was quite an exciting match! That little Roberto is a shot maker. He will shoot at anything at any time and make the shot! He very quickly jumped out to a 4-2 lead over Jaybird before Jaybird finally was able to slow him down. I have to say, Jason Brown put on quite a display of what heart and sheer desire to win can do! He started moving like a world class One Pocket player. No longer was Roberto able to just free stroke balls at his hole. Now, there was a price to be paid should he actually miss! That added pressure caused him to put some more thought into his shot selection and show his inexperience in One Pocket. Jason scrambled back to tie up the score at 4-4 or double hill. Roberto even said to Jason at one point, “Jason, give up!” which seemed to give Brown even more desire! Roberto ended up winning the final game as Jaybird found himself in an early trap and could not escape. Roberto did not immediately get out, but the ball count was 7-0 real quick. Even in that position Jaybird continued to fight until the bitter end! I was extremely impressed with the heart he showed during that match! There was some good gambling going on as well, which always gets my attention more than anything! But after a tough week of work, I was ready to go to the room and catch some sleep. I planned on playing in the 9-ball open and I knew once it started sleep was going to be something that could only be caught a little at a time, if at all, for the next couple of days! So Friday night I turned in early to prepare my old ragged body for the abuse it was about to endure.
In the blink of an eye Saturday morning arrived. I checked my phone to find it full of texts and PMs from people on their way wanting me to sign them up for the 9-ball tournament. No problem, glad to do it. Pool is part of my life and helping pool players is what I do. After a nice breakfast downstairs at the Inn, it was a 4 minute Uber ride to Buffalo’s. I quickly found Painter and signed up all who had contacted me then went to hit some balls on the immaculate Diamond bar tables at Buffalo’s on Bloomfield! Before I even got started, Tommy Farrow and Bill Webb from Mobile walked in the door. I steered them to Painter to get signed up before they joined me to hit balls. Of course, Bill was beside himself because Efren was sitting at one of the tables in the bar area with Corey Deuel just hanging out watching TV. Tommy and I proceeded to warm up while Bill went fanboy on Efren and had a picture taken. He came back grinning from ear to ear over that! After an hour or so, the place started really filling up. Other players wanted a chance to hit balls and warm up so we gave up our table to sit and wait for the calcutta to begin. More and more players kept signing up! Paperwork was misplaced. It kind of looked like a circus at the director’s table. But running two tournaments a week I understand how it can turn chaotic real quick even with just 20-30 players, so the fact that they were dealing with over 100 players kept it from bothering me that the calcutta did not start right on time. You really have to expect that at an event as large as this, especially with another tournament taking place right alongside of the 9-ball. Finally, the calcutta was underway. Ray had divided the players into 3 groups: the upper echelon which he auctioned off first, the shortstops went second, then the unknowns or non threats went last. With 112 players or so, a 3 hour calcutta was not surprising! After taking in over $31,000 in calcutta cash, the first matches were called and the tournament was underway!
It’s funny how some things work out. Tommy Farrow from Mobile, and Karl Humphries from Pensacola, drew each other in the first round! Pensacola and Mobile are like Slidell and New Orleans. Pensacola players play in Mobile and Mobile players play in Pensacola. Needless to say, Tommy and Karl know each other and have played in many of the same local tournaments. So to drive to NOLA and draw each other in the first round was a bit ironic.
Players in the One Pocket tournament were allowed into the 9-ball tournament once they were knocked out of the One Pocket. The way it was set up, they knew by the time the 9-ball started there would be only 4 left in the One Pocket. Those 4 would not play in the 9-ball tournament, but the rest of them could if they wanted. This made for some real land mines in the bracket with players like Jeremy Jones, Jason Brown, Roberto Gomez, Billy Thorpe, and Efren Reyes coming in! Besides them, there were plenty of others who could break one off in you like Rob Saez and Alex Calderone to name a couple!
As the night went on, I played 2 matches, winning them both much to my own surprise! The first guy was a NOLA local and I don’t remember his name. The second guy, Paul Dodge, I remembered because there was some bidding on him in the calcutta. I really felt like I should have lost to both of them but somehow I squeaked by, going double hill with Paul. Checking in at the director’s table I was informed I would have to play one more match that night and it would probably be awhile as my opponent, Kid Chris, was in a high stakes gambling match and they had agreed to call his tournament match with me last. Someone had to be last, I suppose. Sure, why not let it be me. I’m only playing the best 9-ball of my life! I don’t mind being put on ice for 3 hours before playing again. Oh well, the free time gave me a chance to do some spectating.
I think the coolest thing I saw the whole weekend was an elimination match between Roberto Gomez and NOLA local, David Haar. Tommy, Bill, and I just happened to be sitting by the table where the match was called, so we had front row seats. David had a huge group of fans come to watch the match as well, though their words did not do much for David’s confidence as they ribbed him (as friends do) more than anything. As the match got started and Roberto jumped out to an unsurprising lead, Roberto began to cheer for David as well! It was one of the greatest things I’ve seen at an event like this! Roberto who, if given the chance, could put a large package together, cheering and trying to pump up David who, well not to be too critical but I doubt he has ever put a 3-pack together. David did finally get to move his penny after a 1-9 combo. You would have thought the Saints just won the Super Bowl if you were in there when that happened! With the score at 6-1 in the race to 7, Roberto gave David a chance. He called the 9 ball in the corner and attempted to make the cut which looked impossible. He scratched. David got a second game! If I remember correctly, Roberto broke and scratched the next game. A high pitched, “Uh-oh!” came out of his mouth as David only needed to shoot in the 1 ball then another easy combo on the 9! David had 3 games! “OK, that’s enough now!” Roberto exclaimed laughingly. “Are you happy with that score?”
“I was happy to get 1 game!” David replied.
Then Roberto finished him off. His attitude toward David during the whole match was awesome! He was not stoic and quiet, he was jovial and helpful! He wanted David to try hard. He wanted to boost David’s confidence. Most of all, he gave David an experience he will never forget! Sure, Roberto could have just run over David in no time and got it over with. But instead, even though he beat him handily, letting him win a game or two, he gave him a very positive experience and a lifelong memory. I hope David understands the significance of what happened during that match. I’m sure he does.
Finally, my match with Kid Chris was called. It was nearly 2:00 am. The winner had to return at 1:30 pm on Sunday, and the loser had to be back by noon! How important was it to win this one? As we got started, I could see Chris’ mind was not on this match. Chris is a much better player than I and under any other circumstances would crucify me in bar table 9-ball. We went double hill! Fortunately, even after the extended wait, I was still playing the best 9-ball I have ever played. I don’t even remember how, but somehow I won the last game! I couldn’t believe it! Chris was very polite. He shook my hand and told me how well I played and that he didn’t know I played that well. He told me he was glad I won after making me wait that long and assured me that he did not just let me win. He went back to his big table match and I headed back to the room!
There was no getting up and going downstairs for breakfast on Sunday morning! We slept way too late for that! It was a McDonald’s all day breakfast item for us, then back to Buffalo’s. My first opponent Sunday was going to be none other than, Tommy Farrow! Tommy and I play real close and if you asked each of us separately, we both would probably say we have the edge over the other! It was clear to me as our match started that I did not have the same break I’d had the day before. That is a huge factor in bar table 9-ball! I took an early lead by capitalizing on mistakes Tommy made, but he caught me by not making any more of those mistakes and taking advantage of my break which was not working in my favor at all that day. I did reach the hill first and was left a long rail bank on the 9 ball. I rattled it and left it for Tommy. He still was not at the hill yet. The next game, I left him a long rail bank on the 9. He nailed it! That put him on the hill with me. Again, I do not remember exactly how that last game went down, but Tommy got me. He played better than me that day so he deserved it. That win put him in the money and the loss kept me one match away from the cash. His next match would be against Billy Thorpe. That alone would make the whole weekend worthwhile!
On the one-loss side my next match was against Zack Sanderson, another local player but a strong one, nonetheless. I was starting to get my stroke back from the day before, but my break was still not there. I put up a good fight against Zack, surprising him a little as we also went double hill, but in the last game I got out of line on the 7 ball and was forced to go for the shot as there was no safety to be played. I missed, not by much but you know what they say about getting close. It’s no good in 9-ball. Zack got out to move into the money rounds sending me packing one out of the money (17-24).
Out of the 9-ball tournament I was able to watch a little of the One Pocket before deciding to go take a nap. We returned later that night just in time to see Justin win the One Pocket from the one-loss side over Tony who was in the hot seat. Back to the 9-ball we were able to watch the last few matches. Jeremy Jones took out Billy Thorpe in a match with one of the most comical jump shots ever! Taking advantage of being able to climb on the table Jeremy, who is by no means a small man nor a young one anymore, sat right in the middle of the table to position himself to reach a jump shot on the deuce. He hit the shot perfectly, but watching him get out of the way of the moving balls was even more comical than watching him climb up there! He managed to do it without touching anything and pulled it off! Next he faced Roberto. Their match went double hill with Roberto breaking. Double J took third.
The rest is history. Roberto double dipped Efren in the finals. Had it not been 3:00 am, it might have turned out differently.
That was it. The event was over. But it’s Buffalo’s and there were a bunch of players looking for action. One Pocket, Banks, 9-ball, it was all going on like always at Buffalo’s!
We hung around for another day and unfortunately, I got sick on Monday evening. No action for me but I got 16 straight hours of much needed sleep before heading back to Mississippi on Tuesday!
It was a great time! I love this event and I love Buffalo’s on Bloomfield! I look forward to this event all year and savor every moment! I have not been to a lot of places across the country, but I have been to a few. I would bet there are not many places like Buffalo’s, if any, in the country! They go all out for this event and it is well worth it for anyone who loves pool to make the trip from anywhere to attend! I certainly plan on being back next year and as many after that as there are! Great job, Buffalo, Bullseye, Painter, the Buffalo’s staff, Ray Hansen and Poolaction TV! You put on another fine event!
I’ve been in the shipping/receiving/transportation/warehousing industry for the better part of 30 years. To say I hate it, would be a huge understatement! Yet, due to poor choices and planning when I was a youngster, day in and day out, I serve my self-inflicted sentence. The things in my life which I truly enjoy, for which I have an undying passion are worked in to time which should be spent sleeping and cause me to suffer greatly as I cling to the few moments I can find each week to indulge in them. I am referring, of course, to the game of pool, and also to writing.
Lately I have started to look at things differently. Instead of placing the blame for my exhaustion and lack of motivation on my passion for pool, I would rather believe it is the boring, dead end, non gratifying, barely-pays-the-bills “real job” which deserves the credit for making me miserable! On Tuesday and Thursday nights, after clocking out from my “real job,” I run pool tournaments at Runway Billiards in west Mobile, Alabama. These tournaments have been known to last well past midnight at times depending upon the number of participants. So on many occasions after my 45-50 minute drive home I can crawl into bed at 2:00 am (or even later) for a quick nap before rising at 5:30 am to go to work. Many have asked, “How do you do that?” or “Why do you do that?” They don’t understand. Their thought processes conclude that I should not treat myself so badly and let someone else run those tournaments so I can get some rest.
My thought process is just the opposite. You see, I love what I do with the pool tournaments I run! Sitting there running the bracket, watching the matches, then writing about it in such a way to interest those who were not in attendance makes me happy. So I believe the need to get up early in the morning to go to a job I hate just so I can pay my bills and keep a roof over my head is what is causing the problem. Why should I even consider quitting what I love to be more rested for something I hate? I need to be looking to quit what I hate, to do what I love! There is one thing staring me in the face whenever I pick up this train of thought. That is FEAR. I have been punching the card my entire working life. When I am on the clock, it is guaranteed money. For me to venture out and try to make ends meet doing what I love to do is a huge risk. I have a family. There are others who rely on me to keep the lights on, water running, gas in the cars and the small luxury of cable television on top of maintaining the actual house. So a big, giant, “WHAT IF…” takes over every time I think about diving in head first. “What if I can’t pay the bills? What if I lose the house? What if, what if, what if…” Then I hang my head in defeat, punch my time card, and watch every tick of the clock in misery!
These days the effect it is having on me, my emotional and mental state, is becoming more and more severe. I know that most average, every day people hate their jobs. It has simply come to be accepted as “the way things are” and we just “do what we gotta do” to “keep on keepin’ on!” So am I being selfish in my inability to accept things for the way they are? Am I acting like an entitled brat because I want to do what makes me happy and quit what is making me crazy? Sometimes, that’s how I feel. I think our society has been trained to think along those lines in order to keep us down. It just is not right for me, or anyone, to feel guilty about wanting to be happy!
Earlier I mentioned some poor choices and planning when I was a young man. I certainly believe there are and should be consequences for bad decisions. If there were not, well, give America a few years and these youngsters of today will be in charge and show us what life with no consequences is like! But that is another topic. I do not believe I should be paying a penance for the rest of my life over the choices I made. I mean, I did not kill anyone. I never committed any serious crimes. I just had trouble prioritizing.
So today, thirty-some-odd years later, why should I just accept the fact that I come home wanting to eat a bullet more days than I do not? Why should that be considered a weakness on my part? Why am I just “lazy” or “unmotivated” for wanting to be happy with what I do? Believe it or not, I am not the only one who feels this way. These are very common thoughts by very common folks. I want to face these thoughts, these fears, and defy them! I want to do what I love, what makes me happy, what I have been told I do fairly well, for a living. I receive messages and comments nearly every day regarding things I have written. People compliment me when they meet me in person for the first time and tell me how much they enjoy reading what I write. I have been told I do a pretty good job running tournaments as well. These things are easy because I have a passion for them. I am able to put my heart into doing them because I care and want to do a good job. I want to run good tournaments and write interesting articles! Am I ready to dive in head first? Am I willing to go all or nothing? Well, I am not willing to lose my house and put my family on the street, so maybe I will dangle my feet over the edge and test the water. I have imagination and creativity, but I lack in other skills. Self-marketing being one. I want to do this, I am just not sure how to go about getting started. I have never been the person to brag on myself. I really do not like the attention. I suppose, though, in this endeavor I will have to learn to promote myself at least a little bit.
Welcome to the mind of an eccentric writer!
This is The Lag… Hit ‘em good, my friends!
Well, it’s been several weeks since my last installment of, “The Lag.” This one is doubtful to be a real attention grabber. This one is more for me than anyone else, though I’m happy to share with those who may be interested.
If I were to be super creative, I might be able to come up with a metaphor about how life is like a game of poker, or maybe even pool. How we must play the hands we are dealt, or how we must make do with the way the balls stopped after the break, if I were very creative. But, I’m just not feeling it. I just do not seem to have that burning desire, that drive inside of me to write some thought provoking, insightful essay about pool and my life. You see, I am suffering from burn out. Not to be misunderstood, I still love the game very much! I am just going through a spell during which my attention is being drawn away from the game I love and directed toward some harsh realities. I have tried to play but have found that the solace, the peace I once found in playing just is not there right now. The pressures of life are bearing down harder than I can bear down when I’m behind a few balls in a game of One Pocket. My focus is gone and I am very easily distracted.
This is not the first time this has happened to me. In time, it will pass. As much as I would love to be able to focus only on pool and writing, the reality is most of the world does not care about our passion. Life goes on and with it, the responsibilities, obligations, and hardships of living. A lot seems unfair but that does not matter. Fate is not about being fair. Some of our fate is determined by our own decisions and some, I believe, is just dumb luck. Eventually, when I am once again comfortable I will be able to put some focus into playing. Until then it would be pointless and wasteful for me to even try. I am not giving up. Oh no, not a chance! As I have often stated in the past, this game is a part of who I am. Even if I wanted to, I could not shun it from my life. It would always be there in some form or fashion. Besides, I still have my tournaments (which I love doing, by the way!) at Runway which will still keep the fire smoldering within me!
In the meantime, hit ‘em good, my friends! This is The Lag…
It has been awhile. It’s amazing how certain people or situations, or situations caused by certain people, can bring us down! Of course, this blog is about pool in some sort of way so I suppose I should relate this to pool somehow.
For several months I had a “situation” brewing which just seemed to slowly drain the life out of me. As the stress of this situation built, I gradually began to lose interest in the things I love and enjoy the most. My attitude toward life in general soured a bit. I didn’t want to ride my Harley. I didn’t want to play pool, and I certainly didn’t want to write about it. All things I once loved doing I no longer had the desire or the motivation to continue doing. I still felt a passion for all those things, but my motivation was suffering. I continued to play, but as my “situation” became more and more difficult to deal with, my frustration and anger from it spilled over into my table demeanor and my game suffered as well. Finally, I decided to take a break from playing as it was doing nothing for me but adding to my already overwhelming frustration. And as far as continuing with this blog? Well, it was supposed to be therapeutic for me and hopefully others who cared to read it. In my state of mind how could I possibly keep it positive even if I found enough motivation to get up and write anything? So the blog stopped.
As time went on, my “situation” continued to grow. I got more frustrated. I got angrier. I was at my wit’s end! I was hating life and fighting battles in my mind every day. Everything and everyone in my life was feeling the effects of this dark cloud which had parked itself right over top of me! I knew I had to do something I just wasn’t sure how to go about doing it. But if I didn’t do something quick things were only going to get worse, a lot worse! Then, it happened! I was getting ready to go somewhere and try to have a good time when it all came to a head and exploded. I did not get to fulfill my plans for that evening because the “situation” had instantly become top priority. In a matter of a couple hours that dark cloud had swirled into a tornado, touched down, and then blew away! I was tired, no, exhausted! Not from being down and unmotivated, but from the battle I had just fought and won! Once rested, I began to feel a little more motivated. The desire to do the things I love started to return. Creative thought processes were becoming more prevalent, and I wanted to play again!
My first time back to the table after rectifying my “situation” was still not pretty. I’ll admit, I struggled a little with some negative thoughts about not playing anymore and even questioned why, if I play this bad, I owned a cue! Only for a moment, though. I remembered my own words of advice to others who have stepped away from the table for awhile, “You can’t jump right back in expecting to play just as good as your best day!” My whole attitude had changed! I was able to take the defeat and learn from it just like the days when I was coming up. I didn’t let it pin me down. That was the difference made by having a clear head versus just a few weeks prior when life was my enemy.
It has been a couple weeks now. I am still not back to 100% but I’m getting better every day. My game is coming back fueled by an extremely strong desire to win (too bad my bankroll isn’t making such a comeback!)! I know I will never be among that group in the upper echelon of players. That’s not being negative, that’s being realistic. Even so, that does not mean I won’t try to be as competitive as I can be and possibly take one or two of them down when I have one of those days that I catch that extra gear!
Thank you to all who take the time to read and comment! I appreciate the followers and friends. Until next time: hit ‘em good, folks! This is The Lag…
Soon after The Color of Money (TCOM) hit the big screen in 1986 pool halls and bars across the country saw a huge increase in the popularity of the centuries old game. This has been referred to by some as “The Color of Money Wave.” Folks like me who were a part of that wave, had never even heard of The Hustler or had any idea that The Color of Money was a sort of sequel to the 1961 Paul Newman film. We were simply intrigued and mystified by the action and seemingly realistic situations portrayed by Tom Cruise and the much older Newman. We envisioned ourselves in the same environment and fantasized about pulling off the same schemes and hustles. Little did we know at the time, but this movie was bringing to the forefront an underground culture which had been in existence for a long, long time!
It has been estimated that the TCOM wave crested in the mid-nineties and since then the popularity of pool as more than just something to do while pounding down beers and throwing back shots has been gradually but steadily declining. For years there has been talk throughout the pool community that we need another TCOM to breathe some life back into the game. In 2002 Pool Hall Junkies was released. All of us TCOM surfers waited with breath baited and fingers crossed for another influx of new suckers and wannabe pool hustlers to start filling our pool rooms again. It did not happen. They did not come. In fact, Pool Hall Junkies did not do very well in the theatres and quickly became a subculture flick sought after by the select few deeply involved in the culture.
Now, most of us who jumped on that TCOM wave back in the 80’s, are past the half century mark in age. The memories we have of being introduced to pool, seeing some of the old hustlers who were doing what they had been doing for many years prior, sitting in the pool halls and listening to real-life stories of what really happened “back in the day” (stories that would put TCOM to shame!), are becoming blurred and fuzzy. Most of those old guys we sat and listened to are gone and with them a whole world of knowledge and intrigue has been lost. Now, as we sit in the pool halls we realize we are the old guys to whom the few youngsters look to for wisdom, guidance, and knowledge. Yet, there is something missing. Our hustling “career” lasted only a few years. With the dawn of technology, cell phones with cameras, social networks and the internet, going on the road and hustling pool across the country has all but been murdered! Everyone knows everyone and if you are lucky enough to sneak in under the radar, you’ll do it only once! For the most part the only thing happening at the pool halls is league play. Beer and liquor discounts for league players are dangled out to entice them to spend more money. The big tables have nearly become obsolete and those who are actually serious about playing pool are scoffed at and ridiculed for “taking up space” in the pool rooms! It seems as though the passion is gone and the up-and-comers are fewer and farther between. Those of us who remain true and loyal to the game cling to each other in fright as we watch our beloved culture as we knew it fade away.
Fast-forward to December of 2018. The Mosconi Cup, an annual pool competition pitting the United States against Europe, is underway. Along with the decline of American pool, the performance of this country’s champions in this competition for the last 8 years has been anything but stellar to say the least! Over time, the fans have somewhat lost interest and it became difficult to watch just for the sheer embarrassment felt for our revered players (not embarrassment OF them, but FOR them, empathy). In fact, when it started this year I was almost dreading it because of how it made me feel last year. Regardless, the MC was going to happen and as if to rub salt in our still fresh wounds, it was to be in London. Oh joy…
I’ll admit, I did not watch any the first day. Being busy at work was my excuse for not turning on the live stream. I saw an early post pop up, “SVB loses to Shaw, double hill.” That did not help. I wanted to believe Shane is the better player but why does this always happen at the MC? I shook my head and went back to work.
More posts pop up, “Young Styer is playing like a seasoned pro! Woodward in dead punch!”
Billy Thorpe knocking ‘em dead too! That was it! I had to turn it on! For the next three days, I stayed glued, as much as possible, to the tiny 5 inch screen of my Samsung standing next to the computer on my desk at work! After Shane’s unfortunate loss to Jayson Shaw, Tyler Styer came out and dominated! It seemed like he was responsible for lighting the spark under the team! The American boys came together and marched forward as if they were on a mission! The European players seemed almost dumbfounded. This was supposed to be easy! The European fans that vastly outnumbered the Americans were not what we are accustomed to hearing. But it did not faze our boys! In fact, they thrived off of it! Then, when Sky Woodward wins the hill-hill game against Shaw and then mocks Shaw’s victory antics, it was like a war cry bringing in all the fans from across the country!
Finally, the United States is not a laughingstock. Finally, all the negativity is shoved aside and pool fans from coast to coast are watching on the edge of their seats with clenched fists, gritting their teeth, rooting for Corey, rooting for Tyler on the final day as they start to stumble. We did not give up, though! We just needed one more match! I’m talking to my phone, as I’m sure other are as well! Then there it is! A 1-9 combination by Shane Vanboening to win the final match! America had done it! The team had done it! The Mosconi Cup was coming back to the United States!
As I watched the post game interviews and saw Skyler “cuss” on live television (which was hilarious!), I started thinking more and more about it. Over the past 2 days I had been truly excited. I felt the exhilaration. I could feel the support the fans were giving the team. Is this what we have needed in America? Could this be the kick in the pants American pool needs to rebound? The way I felt when the Cup was over is the same way I felt while watching The Color of Money for the first time. Surely, if I felt this way, many others did as well and hopefully it will indeed be the catalyst for better days ahead!
Although I was slow to watch this year, I’m certainly glad I did! Everyone on that team deserves a hero’s welcome when they return! Johan Ruysink and Jeremy Jones did an amazing job as coaches and our boys all played very well! Styer had a magnificent rookie appearance while Woodward earned an impressive MVP! Way to go Team USA! You have definitely reignited my passion for the game!
I have been sitting at my desk the past few days perusing Facebook for videos of the festivities at The 2019 Derby City Classic. As I watch these videos I am filled with excitement and longing. How I wish I was there!
The top players in the world are competing in several different disciplines of pool. Whichever discipline is your favorite, this event gives you the opportunity to see it played, up close and personal at the very best it can be played! Banks, One Pocket, 9-Ball, 10-Ball, and 14:1 are all being represented and performed by the best players of our era and others who are not afraid jump into the mix with them to find out where they stand.
Then there is the Action Room. It is a whole different world in the Action Room! Yes, you can still find some of the top players in the Action Room as well. This is where the heart of pool can be found! The life blood sustaining the game flows through this room. Outside of this room, on the big stage of the tournament, everyone is putting on a show. Players, hustlers, gamblers, and stake horses are all on their best behavior. Winning a specific discipline of this tournament is great for the notoriety of a player and gives that some player some recognition for the effort put into mastering the game. But in the Action Room is where the real pool is played. This is where the true essence of a player comes out. This is not a controlled environment. To play in the Action Room, a player must have true grit, a killer instinct, and an absolute desire to win!
I have never been to the “Derby.” The closest to it I have been was the Southern Classic in Tunica back in 2012 or so, whenever the first one was… That was the one I attended. From what I understand it was sort of a miniature DCC based on the same format. I can remember hanging out in the Action Room just watching. No, I didn’t play because my bankroll would not have lasted but a few minutes! But I stood on the outskirts, watched and listened. The fast talking hustlers, the big money men who sat quietly just waiting for someone to step in a trap, the players looking for someone to put them in the box, it was mesmerizing! How can anyone not love that? I could have stayed in there for hours and not hit a ball!
Amazingly, that’s the side of pool that is endangered. The “seedy underbelly,” if you will, is where it all started and what it really is all about. Instead of trying to hide this side of pool and brush it under the rug, we need to embrace it! The watered down versions of these games we have today are mere exploitations of the game in name only. Whether the Action Room is at the DCC or in the corner of your local pool hall, the real, true aura of the game can be found in the Action Room! Sure, sitting in the tournament room watching Alex Pagulayan play One Pocket is a beautiful thing and I love that as well! But behind the walls of the Action Room is where the real games are played! Anyone who thinks they like to play pool, owns a cue, or pays weekly league fees, needs to see real pool being played to appreciate what it really is! It will put into perspective one’s view of the game. Real pool is not for everyone. It takes a special kind of person to love and appreciate pool for what it really is. To me pool is beauty; pool is an art form; every aspect of the game, not just certain parts. I love this game just as much (maybe even more) today as I did when I was first bitten by the bug nearly 30 years ago.
1032 McCallie Avenue, Chattanooga, Tennessee: look it up on Google Maps. There is a nice, big modern building which houses a women’s clinic and gyncology offices. It features a well kept parking lot and pristine grounds to welcome patients and make them feel safe in what was once a not so good part of town.
Let’s go back in time to 1989. The big, beautiful medical center is nowhere to be seen. Instead, a run-down, single story building is on the lot. Probably built in the 1950’s or early 60’s, this building had surely seen better days. Originally, it appeared to have been small strip mall type of structure containing maybe 4 or 5 suites and an underground basement. In 1989, though, it was home to the place which will always occupy a special place in my heart, the place where it all started, and the place where I first learned that “pool” was more than just a game to pass the time while drinking beer. This was the place where I learned that pool was a culture, a way of life, and a religion complete with its own “gods” who controlled everything on the tables. I learned there was also a set of unwritten rules which could only be learned by those who were willing to allow themselves to be indoctrinated into the culture. This was The Brew ‘N’ Cue!
The Brew ‘N’ Cue was a shrine to a dying era! Walking through the doors was like stepping into a time capsule. The decorum, the layout, the people, all gave it an aura which can only be found in the movies these days. On the other side of the front door was the bar area. A space approximately 25 feet wide and maybe 40 feet long with the bar running along the whole left side of the room. The rest of the space was filled with seating where patrons could sit, relax, and enjoy their beverages while watching the single television above the bar. Right in the middle of the right side wall, was a wide doorway which led to about 5 stairs going down into the pool room. Walking down the steps you were greeted by four 9-foot Gold Crowns with about an acre of real estate between them! To the left, against the wall was a pro-shop of sorts. In this pro shop sat Howard Barrett. Ball rental, minor cue repair, pool stories, and tongue lashings could all be obtained through old Howard, if he wasn’t asleep in his chair.
Walking deeper into the dark, smoky room you would find a row of Valley bar boxes. 1 quarter would get you 10 balls. There was no “bar-banging” 8-ball played on these tables! No sir! 9-ball rotation was the game for these tables and they were reserved for action only! A free Howard Barrett tongue lashing was included for the poor soul who shoved a quarter into one of these tables with no intention of gambling! That’s right, it only took one time for me to learn my place was in the very back where the tables had all 15 balls and the price was two quarters! “Action only on these tables! Idiots and bangers in the back! Y’all stay off these tables!” Of course, there were a few expletives intertwined amongst the words of his main message. He made it very clear, to me anyway, that there were certain people, certain players who, whether I liked it or not, were more important to the establishment than me and my friends were, no matter how much beer we drank or seasoned fries we ate! Yes, in the back behind yet another wall with two wide openings was “the banger area.” If you didn’t have your own cue, if you had no intention of gambling for more than $1 per game, and if you couldn’t make two balls in a row (on purpose), this is where you played.
I can’t be sure now how many evenings I spent back in the banger area peering through the doorway from our exile into the action area listening and watching wide-eyed as the hustlers and gamblers barked at each other, matched up, and argued over everything; which table to play on, how much to bet, what the spot should be, or if someone had moved the penny the wrong way. Occasionally one of those guys would make their way back to the land of the idiots and prey on the guy who had just purchased his new cue from Service Merchandise and thought he was a pool player. OK, that was me… That was when pool school really started!
On weekend nights The Brew ‘N’ Cue would get crowded. Just a few blocks from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, it was actually a popular hangout for students. In the basement was a large room with a stage where live bands would perform and for a small door fee, patrons could go downstairs and party to their hearts’ content. I believe that is called, “getting lit” nowadays. Yeah, we knew how to “get lit” back in the 80s, too. We just didn’t do it around the pool tables! Upstairs in the pool room the lights were turned down, the music was never too loud, and pool was being played. In the pool room, pool came first! The Brew ‘N’ Cue was a pool hall, after all, and Howard made sure it was run like one!
Of my group of friends it seemed I was the only one to have been bitten by the bug. Before long, I was going to the Brew ‘N’ Cue by myself. After being hustled a few times I finally realized there was a whole lot more to playing pool than I realized! I wanted to learn how to do it right! I sat on the sidelines and watched intently. I stayed out of the way and learned to respect the players who played this game. I would ask Howard questions. Much to my surprise, he was happy to get up and show me some things, if no one else was around. I was no longer banished to the back room. I was allowed to play in the action area, although if there was big action I had to make sure my small action was not in the way. We were usually a couple tables away from the high rollers. They grew to like me not because I was such a great guy, but because everything I won always went back into action. The money went up the food chain!
The Brew ‘N’ Cue was the epitome of what a pool hall should be! Looking back, one of the great things was they made room for everyone, but everyone knew where they were supposed to be. Pool players have never been able to keep pool halls open. Pool halls have always had to depend on others for the revenue. The Brew ‘N’ Cue allowed the “idiots” and the “bangers” to come in, spend money, and support the room, but they did not allow them to run the show. Not all of the bangers understood why they had to play in the back. Not all of the bangers understood why they had to walk around the outside of the room instead of right through the middle of the pool tables, but they did understand that they had to do it! And you know what? They did it, and continued to spend money, and came back to do it again on another night! Another crazy thing that happened was occasionally one of those “bangers,” one of those “idiots” would fall in love with the game and become indoctrinated into the culture!
I don’t really know how long the Brew ‘N’ Cue stayed on McCallie Avenue. In 1989 my son was born. Needless to say, my pool playing was cut back a good bit, though not as much as my son’s mother would have liked. Living on the other side of the county from Chattanooga, my play was limited to the game rooms which were closer by, and the occasional trip to Chattanooga. I was attracted to another pool room with an old fashioned appeal and started playing there more often at the time not realizing what I was missing at the Brew ‘N’ Cue. Then one day I just happened to notice, the building was gone and with it an era of pool in Chattanooga was gone as well.
There were other places to play in the city. The premiere pool room was Chattanooga Billiard Club in their nostalgic location on Cherry Street downtown. Shooters, turned to Parkway Billiards and stayed open after hours. CBC east opened in 1992 offering a more upscale billiard experience away from the college crowd. Hot shots, Diamond Billiard Club, EJ’s, Side Pockets, Double Hill Billiards, Breakers, many places came and went while some have managed to go the distance and are still there today. Ask any pool player from Chattanooga who is at least 50 years old about The Brew ‘N’ Cue. They all will tell you the same thing. That was the spot! That was Chattanooga’s Mecca for pool action! I think all of us really miss that place! I know I sure do! I wish there were more places like that these days but I’m afraid the days of the old-school pool halls are gone forever.
It was 1993. I had been through my first divorce a little more than a year earlier. After spending several months getting my head back together I was back in the pool room. Picking up a cue after taking some time off turned out to be one of the best things I could have ever done, as far as playing pool is concerned. I had developed many bad habits with stance, posture, stroke, pretty much everything to do with how I played. But when I came back I had to relearn how to play and all of those bad habits were gone! Granted, I still didn’t really know how to make a ball, but at least now I had stronger fundamental base on which to build.
The new, East location of the Chattanooga Billiard Club had just been built. It was like nothing Chattanooga had ever seen! The mystical, dark, dank pool room was becoming a thing of the past and “CBC” was the pool room of the future. It was bright, clean, carpeted, and spacious with 24 tables including a Snooker table and a Billiard table, four 9-footers and the rest 8-footers. Two large, raised seating areas offered plenty of room for spectators and diners to sit in comfy chairs to sweat matches or watch the big screen televisions while they enjoyed a meal from the full restaurant menu and drinks from the fully stocked bar. Darkly stained wood and decorative brass bars embellished the interior giving it that final touch of “upscale” distinguishing CBC as a billiard parlor instead of a pool hall. With a club membership, drastic savings on table rental and pro shop items could be had by any who were willing to pay the menial fee for the annual membership. This was my new hang out!
Working 2nd shift at the Little Debbie factory since 1987, I had become somewhat of a night owl. I would rush straight to CBC after work and close the place down nearly every night. The night crowd consisted mostly of people my age who worked in the service industry or other local factory workers. There were a few guys who played better than the rest of us, but still not what I would consider good players.
I don’t remember how I happened to go into CBC early the first time but what I do remember is the daytime clientele was a little different! These guys could play! Most of them were older, retired or worked from home, or just had money and didn’t really have to be anywhere if they didn’t want to. All of them would play for a little cash. It didn’t matter what table. They played 8-ball, 9-ball, Snooker, Golf on the Snooker table, even some 3 Cushion Billiards, and One Pocket! I, like most everyone, had started out playing 8-ball not knowing any other games existed. Then I learned about 9-ball. What a game, that 9-ball! Flog at everything, chunking for the cheese! Now, that was fun! So naturally, 9-ball was what I wanted to play when I decided I was going to show these old fogies what youngster could do! I could roll the 9 from anywhere, and I did! Sometimes, it would even go in, sometimes… What I didn’t count on was, these old guys just went ahead and ran out. What? Where was the fun in that? Well, I imagine having a wad of cash placed in their hands after it was over was all the fun they needed! What was that saying Fast Eddie coined in The Color of Money? “Money won is twice as sweet as money earned.” On the flip side of that coin, money lost is twice as sour as money spent. I came to realize pretty quickly where I stood in the pecking order. Once I got that figured out, I was ready to be a student of the game and these old guys were going to be my instructors whether they knew it or not!
I started frequenting CBC during the daytime hours more often. Since they opened at 11:00 am, I had about 3 hours to play before I had to rush to work. The old guys were there every day and were more than happy to “gamble” with me for the short time I had available. Some days I would get so involved with playing that I would come down with horrible afflictions and not be able to make it to work. That happened way too often! In fact, my boss finally required a doctor’s note every time I was “sick” and unable to work. Fortunately, in those days medical insurance was actually worthwhile and a trip to the doctor for a cold, flu symptoms, or other minor ailments was relatively cheap. Yes, it was actually affordable before the Affordable Care Act! Anyway, so I found the most inexpensive and effective condition was viral Pink Eye. I found that out by actually getting it for real and missing two weeks of work while it ran its course. If I wanted a few days off work all I had to do was drive to the doctor’s office, dab a little soap in my eye and wait for the conjunctivitis diagnosis. BOOM! 3 days off work, minimum! I could play pool to my heart’s content! To this day I often wonder how I was able to keep my job at the plant for just shy of 25 years!
Every one of those daytime players had an impact on me and my pool game in some way or another. There was one guy in particular who actually referring to him as a “guy” seems somewhat disrespectful. He was, Mr. Allen. A military veteran from World War 2, Mr. Allen was confined to a wheelchair and appeared to be approximately 300 years old. He always wore a smoking jacket, an Ivy hat, and chewed on a half-smoked stogie as big around as the butt of a cue! Although smoking was allowed in CBC, I never saw Mr. Allen smoke his cigar. He just held it with his teeth and when he spoke, well, I think we’ve all heard or can imagine someone speaking with a large cigar in his mouth! Mr. Allen played One Pocket. He would roll around the table in his wheelchair bumping balls to the rail driving his opponents insane as they tried to shoot balls at their own pocket. I had seen the game before but never had any real interest in it. It seemed stupid and downright boring to me. If there are 6 pockets on the table why only use two of them? Yeah, crazy, what a dumb game, One Pocket! 9-ball was the game, baby! Roll them all, test the rails, one will fall!
In my simple, little mind I was an up-and –coming player with high aspirations of “going pro.” I had watched both The Hustler and The Color of Money several times and knew how to handle myself in the pool room. What attracted me to this game of One Pocket was not the intrigue of an intellectual game pitting the wits of each player against each other in a strategical battle of chess moves on the pool table. No, it was the fact that Mr. Allen had seemingly no stroke, couldn’t reach the cue ball if it was in the middle of the table, and appeared to miss everything at which he shot! Mr. Allen drove a brand-new, bright, red Cadillac Coupe de Ville with a white top. That car was always spotless, immaculate! I had heard he lived up on one of the nearby mountains, either Lookout Mountain or Signal Mountain, which was also an indication of being well-to-do. Yep, that was my incentive to learn One Pocket. How hard could it be, anyway? Mr. Allen was going to be my meal ticket. He was going to make all this time off from work pay off. I was going to beat him out of his fortune, a little at a time every day until I could afford the finer things in life! So I asked him to teach me the game starting out at $5 per game. Of course, it was a hustle. It was perfect! I was going to pretend I didn’t know anything, let him drop his guard, and then beat him out of his cash! By the end of that first day I had barely enough cash to get to work until payday. Eat? Luckily, the Little Debbies were free in the break room. They weren’t much for sustenance but they kept my stomach from growling! Boy, oh boy! What a hustler I was!
After that initial session with Mr. Allen, I was hooked! Needless to say, he put a humbling on me and made me realize I wasn’t quite as smart as I thought I was. I learned that One Pocket took more brains than brawn, and even though I might have been the better shooter, Mr. Allen could move circles around me! That became my daily ritual. I would meet Mr. Allen at CBC when they opened and play until I had to go to work, unless I called in sick. I’d like to think I was a quick learner, but in reality I don’t think I was. Mr. Allen would laugh and laugh at me as I would repeatedly get so frustrated I would start slamming balls around! Day in and day out we would play. For weeks, then months and I never finished a session ahead of Mr. Allen! I was learning though, and I put that knowledge to work at night, after work. The guys who came in at night would play and lose to me, just as I was losing to Mr. Allen. The more I played the game, the more I fell in love with it! No longer did I think One Pocket was a dumb, boring game. I was beginning to understand how complex and intricate it could be. I was learning how to out maneuver my opponents instead of relying on brute force and firepower to beat them. I was still a tiny, little guppy in a big pond, but I was growing. How much I would grow was up to me and destiny.
As time went by, I did finally start to beat poor, old Mr. Allen. I was no longer gunning for his fortune, though. I had grown to appreciate what he had taught me and respect him not only as a player, but as a person. He had to know my intentions when I came after him to play. He could have broken me, but he didn’t. Instead he just played for a measly 5 bucks a game, doing what he loved and helping a young, cocky dude learn the beautiful game of One Pocket along with a little much needed humility.
I don’t know what happened to Mr. Allen. I would assume that by now he has been gone for quite some time. I saw less and less of him as I dove deeper into this fascinating world of pool until finally, I had all but forgotten him. Again, life continued for me and I drifted away from the game. I can’t remember ever thinking of Mr. Allen again until just a few days ago when someone asked me how long I had been playing One Pocket. All of a sudden, a tsunami of memories flooded my mind and I have thought about almost nothing else! Maybe I’m getting a little sentimental in my old age, I don’t know. But I wish I could tell Mr. Allen how much I appreciate him and what he did for me. Back then, I really had no idea how great of an impact he was having on me. Now I understand. I never became the great player I once thought I could be, but thanks to Mr. Allen I developed a love and passion for the game of pool that would compete with anyone! That’s what Mr. Allen did for me and for that, I will be forever grateful! Now, I hope that somewhere along the way I have or I will spark that same passion in someone else and pass along the legacy of Mr. Allen.
Have you ever felt so discouraged with your game that you have vowed to quit and never play again? And then the next day or a few days later there you are, back in the pool room, looking for action or signing up for a tournament! How many cues have you broken in a fit of rage over a game lost, a miscue, or just plain bad playing?
Living down here on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi I can’t tell you how many times I have contemplated throwing my cue case with all of its contents over the side of the Ocean Springs Bridge into Biloxi’s Back Bay, or the I-10 bridge over the Pascagoula River, or maybe even into Lake Ponchartrain on my way back from New Orleans. Despite pounding the bejesus out of my steering wheel and screaming at myself for miles during the drive home, I have never actually followed through with my empty threats of chucking my equipment into any of the thousands of creeks, rivers, lakes or bayous which cover more area than dry land in this part of the country. I have, however, snapped a cue shaft in anger over the way I was playing. You better believe that shaft learned its lesson and never played bad for me again! How stupid! Snapping an OB Pro Plus shaft in half is like shredding two $100 bills into confetti and tossing the wad into the air to watch it rain. I have witnessed thousands of dollars worth of cues turned into splinters during fits of rage, so I suppose I’m the lucky one with my little $200 shaft!
What is it that causes these feelings, these actions by us pool players? Are we just that irrational that we will literally throw away hundreds or thousands of dollars over a mistake we have made? I mean, I have never seen a cue that makes bad decisions, bad games, lose more money than it has, or intentionally starts hitting balls badly out of the blue. And why do we threaten ourselves with quitting? Pool is a game for which a tremendous amount of skill is required to play well, but there is still a variable of luck involved, even at the highest levels. When we work hard to perfect our craft and then the pool gods come along and dash our hopes and dreams by letting a “banger” get the best of us in a tournament we tend to feel a bit hopeless, like we have just been wasting our time. Why strive to be the best we can be if we’re still just going to get beat by dumb luck? And let’s face it, some people are just more lucky than others!
So we still have not answered the question. Why do we do this? Why does this happen? I don’t think the question can be answered definitively, only speculatively, maybe. All I can do is speak for myself and assume that I am among the norm when it comes to the psyche of pool players. I think I can sum it up in one word: passion!
Those of you in the pool world who know me know that I am very passionate about pool in general but specifically the game of One Pocket. At 51 years of age I have been playing pool for the better part of 30 years and One Pocket for about 25 of those. Though I have never and will never be among the upper echelon of players, I believe I share the same amount of passion for the game as those guys. Just because it doesn’t translate into skill doesn’t mean it’s not there. I absolutely love the game and have dedicated nearly a lifetime of “spare time” to playing and mastering it. So, when something happens which undermines all of the hard work I have put into my game it is frustrating. For example: my opponent lays down a pretty good break. I have to study the table for a few moments to figure out what my answering shot is going to be. Finally, I find it and execute it perfectly. A few innings later, and I’m out of his break and have control of the table. I have one final move to make before I’m ready to start pocketing balls. I leave him buried in the stack with no way out. His only options are taking an intentional foul which would leave me in the stack, or he could jack up over a ball and attempt a long rail bank which would be catastrophic for him after the inevitable miss. How many of you can finish the scenario from here? He goes for the long rail bank, hits it so badly the object ball crashes into the stack breaking it wide open, and caroms into his pocket. Seven shots later the game is over after his “8 and out” from nowhere! Sure, it can be argued that his luck will not last, the rolls will even out in the end, and any other clichés of which anyone can think, all of which may be true. But the fact remains, it happened and the damage is done. I’m not speaking about damage to a bankroll or moving up on the scoreboard. I’m talking about damage to the mental game. I worked hard, I played the better game, and I stayed in control and lost to dumb luck. That will take a toll on anyone’s mind. Suddenly, instead of shooting with confidence and executing perfect moves, every shot is second guessed with a giant, “WHAT IF.” The elbow tightens up, the wrist starts flopping, the stroke gets jerky, all because in my mind my perfect game was not good enough.
Now it is no longer dumb luck. Now I am just playing bad. My opponent is not “getting all the rolls” as I am claiming because I can’t admit to playing this badly. I’m allowing him to “freestroke” on me. Mad and frustrated, I can’t accept the blame so I have to lash out. My opponent is just lucky, the pool gods hate me, the table is playing terrible, my tip is messed up, the excuses pour out doing nothing but making me even angrier because I know the truth! The truth is I played bad! I allowed one moment of misfortune to get to me so badly that I completely self destructed!
How many times have you watched a player self destruct? We sit in the crowd of sweaters watching a big money match or a tournament match between two key players and this happens to one of them. We can sit there, recognize what is going on and criticize it from our chairs, yet still fail to act accordingly when it happens to us. I believe it is all about passion.
Being a pool player is a state of mind. I don’t believe it has anything to do with skill. Anyone who has the passion to play the game, whether they play it well or not, is a pool player. With that passion comes a certain amount of pride. What? You think pool players have no pride? Every pool player is proud! Some can just hide their pride better than others which can be a good thing for gambling, but you better believe every pool player has pride in what he or she has accomplished! When something happens to hurt that pride we can be irrational. I think that pertains to everyone. The anger we display, the irrational behavior, it all stems from our pride being damaged and making our passion seem like a waste of time and energy. When the anger subsides and the irrationality is finished, that same pride and passion takes over once again driving us to fix whatever it was that went wrong. Weaknesses in our mental game can prove to be much more detrimental than any bad physical habits we may have with our stance, stroke, or bridge. No matter how much we practice, how many lessons we pay for, if we don’t develop our mental game our improvement is limited. We have to learn to bounce back and recover from these occurrences. The pool gods are always going to be there wreaking havoc whenever and upon whomever they choose. It’s up to us to develop our own defense against them and learn how to learn from the lessons they give us.
So the next time you see a pool player throwing his cue like a javelin, smacking it on the table like a whip, slamming down the rack and shaking his head in disgust, don’t write him off as a crybaby too quickly! He might just be a super passionate player being served a lesson from our beloved pool gods!
Golf, on the Snooker table, in my opinion one of the most fun games ever invented in cue sports! I was introduced to this game back in 1992 or maybe it was 1993 at the Chattanooga Billiard Club where there was a nine foot table which had been converted into a Snooker table with all the spots for the numbered balls as well as the “D” on the headstring for Snooker. As if learning to play Snooker was not difficult enough with those tiny balls and oddly shaped pockets, the “old guys” had to put regular America pocket billiard balls on that table and play Golf! I remember wrinkling up my forehead and asking, “What?” Of course, being the youngster with an ego made me the house sucker and before I knew it, I was playing Golf on the Snooker table!
I would like to think I may have actually won a few games, but I don’t remember for sure. More than likely, I did not win any but I do remember playing that game was really, really fun! The games in which I played were relatively cheap with 5, 6, or maybe 7 of us playing. Once all the hickies were added up the winner usually made out like a bandit! Like rotation ring games, the best player did not always have to win. Once a player started to get a few hickies, it became more and more difficult for them to catch up. Many times, the hickies would outnumber the price per man and even playing 25 or 50 cent hickies would add up to several dollars in our friendly game.
During this era the Chattanooga Billiard Club, or CBC as it is still called today, was getting quite a bit of action. Players were coming through town and taking on the best we had to offer. We had a few players and a couple of guys with sizeable bankrolls who didn’t mind putting those players in the box to take on the likes of Wade Crane, Gene Cooper, or a young, heavyset kid with super soft hands who called himself, Jeremy Jones. When these guys came through town inevitably there would be a game of Golf on the snooker table. When the prices of these games would edge up towards the title of this blog entry, I could be found on the rail watching the big dogs go at it! I remember that it didn’t seem to matter who was playing or how much the wager, someone playing would get their feelings hurt over the amount of hickies they were being charged. This would lead to some often times loud, colorful language which, to those of us on the rail, was quite entertaining! When the game was over and the bills were being passed around, there was always someone grumbling and wadding up his bills as he threw them on the table. Then they would flip coins and go again and someone else would end up being the whipping boy.
There was one such game with a high price tag being played one busy evening. This game was probably 7 or 8 handed but I don’t recall exactly who all was playing. I may have been known to ingest a few chemicals during that period and my memory of that time can be somewhat foggy. I know I was playing 9-ball a few tables away and my buddy, Chris, was in action playing 9-ball on the table directly foot to foot with the snooker table. Keep in mind I was pretty green but I had figured out that if there was “big” action, I did not want to be playing on any table directly adjacent to the big action table. I guess Chris had not figured that out yet, though he should have because he worked there! Anyway, this particular night he was off work and in action with someone probably playing $2 9-ball or maybe races to 5 for $10, something along those lines. Anyway, you get the picture, he was playing cheap, really, really cheap, right next to the guys who could have made a mortgage payment with what they would win in that one game of Golf! Chris was winning and he would holler down at me after every game with a big grin on his face (no, he didn’t do any chemicals he was just high on life!) to let me know he won another one. So of course, I would look over at him in acknowledgement and try to read his opponent for signs of giving up. Well, Chris had hollered at me, and I stopped to watch him break the next game. Did I mention that Chris was even greener than me? Yeah, he hadn’t been playing long so needless to say, his stroke did not always strike the cue ball where he intended to strike it. Yep, he might have hit this break shot a little low on ol’ Whitey! Or maybe a lot low! That sound, that horrible, horrible sound made when trying to draw the cue ball and it’s cued too low scooping it into the air, that’s the sound we all heard. Me, Chris, his opponent, and all the guys playing Golf, turned to watch the cue ball sailing through the air right toward the Snooker table! Everyone was frozen and the ball seemed to be floating in slow motion, but no one could move to try and deflect it away! When it landed squarely in the middle of the Snooker table it made that other awful sound heard in the pool room of a ball being slammed into the slate. As soon as it hit, everything shifted back to normal speed. The cue ball made it to the head rail of the Snooker table without touching a ball and immediately careened back down the table at warp speed. Before anyone could do anything to stop it, it had hit the top rail twice and was heading toward the bottom rail again. It never disturbed any balls in the Golf game! Not one! It didn’t touch anything! Somehow, Chris had managed to hit it straight, with no spin, and it had gone back forth twice without disturbing the high-action Golf game! He got lucky! I don’t think any of those guys would have physically hurt him, but I bet he would have gotten quite the tongue lashing from several or all of them! Though he could play dumb at times, Chris was not. He was a quick learner. After retrieving his cue ball, he and his opponent moved to another table as far away from the Snooker table as they could get! The Golf game continued with the old guys chuckling and shaking their heads at the antics of the uneducated youngster!
The Snooker table did not last long at CBC. Aside from the Golf games, maybe few games of 6-ball rotation, and the occasional game of Snooker the table sat dormant and was not much of an asset for the establishment. After removing it along with the billiard table on the other side of the building, two 9-foot Diamonds took their places. To this day those Diamonds are still there, right where once were a 9-foot Snooker table and a 9-foot Billiards table. I believe that was 1993 or early 1994. I have not played a game of Golf on a Snooker table since! It’s just not the same on a regular table. Those sure were some great memories, though!
This is the lag…
A Day in My Double Life
My alarm goes off, waking me from a rare deep sleep during which I was dreaming about flying Jeeps doing aerobatics, and playing pool at the flying Jeep air show. I sit up, remove the ear plugs from my ears and the black sleeping mask from my face. It’s the beginning of a new day in the life of me, the lowly warehouse clerk.
I’m dressed and ready for work, but I am frantically packing my bag for my life after work, aka, “Life after death!” Yes, it’s Thursday and I have a 9-ball tournament to run tonight. So, I pack my tournament bag making sure all the necessary items are in there; my records book, sign up sheets, Calcutta sheets, Break & Run sheets, all forms I use to keep meticulous records of all my tournaments, my tablet, envelopes, pens, Chromecast unit, extension cord, “RESERVED” signs for the tables, and a shirt to change into after work. I grab my cues and head down my hallway to the front of the house, stopping in the kitchen to grab my 44 ounce coffee cup.
Finally, I am navigating out of the neighborhood, through the maze of school children and their millennial parents who never learned that standing in the middle of the street and not looking both ways before crossing the street can be dangerous, much less taught their children anything of the sort! Parents who are still children themselves and seem to think the fact that I’m in my car driving on the street while their little snot-nose brats are playing tag in that same street, should be an offense worthy of the death penalty! Once past all that I merge onto I-10 eastbound, headed toward Alabama and dodging the abundance of stupid drivers who use this thoroughfare every morning.
I walk into work. I’m almost always the first one there. I shut off the security alarm system and clock in as a feeling of doom and gloom settles in to make the next 8 and a half hours seem like an eternity.
My cell phone rings, it’s a call from home. Always worried when I receive a call from home during work hours, I answer it quickly. I am informed that I left my cues leaning up against the wall in the kitchen… Great… Now I can’t even practice. Oh well, right now I’m playing the worst pool I’ve played since I was learning to play so I don’t need them anyway. Hell, I don’t deserve to even own a cue, the way I’m playing now!
After answering several phone calls and emails, all of which were totally unnecessary, redundant, and just downright ignorant, I start writing this, in between more calls and emails.
Now, obviously my day has not ended yet so the rest of this is not true history. But, I can base the rest of this on my typical Thursday, which I will do.
From here on out I will be answering more calls and emails, maybe loading out a few customer pick ups, all while basically just wishing someone would shoot me in the head or a stray missile from North Korea would hit the warehouse, taking me out of my misery! I stay in trouble for my customer service skills, or lack thereof, never following customer service protocol and actually telling customers the truth, even if they don’t like it! I just can’t seem to grasp the concept of simply telling them what they want to hear to get them off the line! Also, being the writer I am, my response to some of the emails can be somewhat harsh. Apparently, I have a way with words which, when I want to do so, I can make the recipient feel very, very stupid. Evidently, some of the folks up in the corporate offices and the main customer service department have had their little feelings hurt by a few of my responses to their emails. What can I say, though? If you ask a stupid question, you’re going to get a stupid answer! Thirty seconds of research might lead some of them to the answer for which they are looking and would save them from the humility of being called out by me for their ignorance! Sorry, I have my own job to do instead of doing your job for you! Until 4:00 pm, this is my miserable life. This is who I am during the day.
I have my desk cleaned. My keyboard and mouse have been shut off. I have already changed shirts, put my contact lenses in my eyes, and have my little day bag containing my glasses, contact lens case, and some medications from my recent illness, closed up and ready to go. I am, at this point, waiting for the clock to tick over to 3:55 so I can clock out and put an end to this work day!
I am in my car once again dodging traffic in Theodore, Alabama and headed to Northwest Mobile where Runway Billiards is located. That feeling of doom and gloom is gone. Thoughts of order numbers, ceramic tile, hardwood, rolls of carpet and padding are nothing but a distant memory. None of that is my problem any longer! I’m on my way to my happy place!
I have already carried an armload of stuff into the pool room. I am setting up my tablet with the chromecast, getting my paperwork ready, and laying the “RESERVED” signs on the tables I’ll be using for the tournament. It’s a precaution I take just in case a group of power drinkers comes in before the tournament and wants to camp out on one or more of those tables.
By this time I am usually either practicing by myself or in some light action. Since my illness, which lasted most of February and March, my pool game has fallen off tremendously! So, I have become reluctant to play even if it is light action because I am so frustrated with my game. Practice, I suppose, is what I really need, but since I left my cues in the kitchen this morning I suppose practice will just have to wait!
I will be sitting in my chair at the end of the bar from where I run the tournaments. I’ll be ready for sign ups from participants and selling tickets for the Break & Run pot.
It’s Thursday so the Calcutta will be starting. Hopefully there will be lots of players and bidders to make the Calcutta a good one!
Sometimes it‘s a little later than this, but most of the time it’s right around this time when I start loading the names into the tournament program to start the bracket. As soon as I finish and the bracket is set, I will call the first matches and the tournament will begin. Once the first matches are going, I will count the money, figure the payouts, and divide it all into their respective 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place envelopes. Now, I can settle back and watch some pool! Running the bracket is the easy part. For the next few hours life is grand!
This is the approximate time of the Break & Run drawing. I do it when the tournament gets down to the final 6 players, 4 on the one-loss side and 2 on the winners side. Sometimes we get to that point more quickly than others, but I try to do the drawing no later than 11:00 pm, or very shortly thereafter. As soon as the Break & Run attempt is finished, the tournament is back underway with the final 6 players. This is the time when I try to pay the closest attention to what is going on, who is playing whom, the scores of the matches, any incredible shots, safety battles, break and runs, any information I might need to make my tournament report, which I will write on Friday from my desk in Hell, a little more interesting than the norm. Many times, as the tournament gets down to the final few players, the matches start to take a little longer. Players are being more cautious and taking their time looking for patterns and lining up their shots. No one wants to finish fourth! Usually, even third place is a decent payday with the Calcutta money, so getting knocked out on the bubble due to a careless mistake is something everyone wants to avoid. What it does do, is make for some very good matches of pool for the spectators who remain in the building to witness.
On most nights I am on the road by now, headed back home. Occasionally, we will still be finishing up at this hour, but that is a rarity.
I pull into my driveway, load up my arms and trudge to my front door. Joyce has gone to work so the house is empty with the exception of Drillbit. Drillbit is my 6 pound, 10 year old Chihuahua who thinks he weighs 100 pounds and is only 2 years old! By this time he has been by himself for several hours and needs to go outside. I put down my armload of stuff, turn on the outside lights, which I’m sure my neighbors love to see at this hour, and we head out into the back yard for Drillbit to walk around in circles sniffing for that perfect spot to lay his waste material. Sometimes that spot can be very elusive making the search time seem like hours! Finally, after “doing his business,” and hiking his leg on every fallen twig, fence corner, and plant that is taller than the grass, he is ready to go back inside.
Once back in, Drillbit gets his treat, takes it to bed, curls up and is asleep before I can even get my shoes off! I still have to get my coffee pot ready and take out my contact lenses before crawling into bed at about 2:00 am. As I close my eyes, knowing my alarm is going to rudely interrupt my slumber in less than 4 hours, my mind always starts replaying events of the day. What order number was that? What a shot on table #2! What did that customer say? Who won the hot seat match? That crazy woman in customer service wants what? Who played on table #1 after the Break & Run attempt? How many balls did he make? Where did I put that Return Authorization? That was a great out! Who shot it? Did I finish that requisition? Is the light bill due tomorrow? I need a new tire for my car. How many more days until the Buffalo’s tournament?
My alarm goes off… Somebody shoot me!
I know I’m not alone. In fact, most people who play pool or run tournaments also have day jobs. Unfortunately, having a “real job” seems to be a necessary evil. I wish that was not the case! I wish everything I did in some way had something to do with pool, but I suppose I need to keep a place to live and eating is also a bit of a necessity! So, we do what we have to do. We go to work. Our pool games suffer, maybe even our mental health suffers, but we keep doing it. We live the double life because we love the game!
Hit ‘em well, my friends! This is The Lag…