This is my 3rd year going to the event. First year I placed 3rd in the women's open 8-ball division. Second year my women's team placed 3rd in the women's open 9-ball division. While those two finishes may SEEM minor or unimpressive, lol, I have to say that for whatever reason, I play THE BEST pool of my life at this ACS Nationals tourney in May. I have no idea why, I just do.
However, this year I hadn't been putting any time on the felt and was only looking forward to going to Vegas to get away from the real world for a while. It is my favorite city and I needed an escape. Honestly, I didn't even care about the tourney. I was just glad I was going because it was in Vegas and I needed to get away.
Maybe that is the key to my title tournament jitters from the past: not caring. No expectations means no nerves for this lady!
So, I get to Vegas on Thursday afternoon and I admittedly proceed to my favorite table game at Harrah's (that's where I stayed) called High Card Flush and sat there all night drinking my helpless life away and playing this card table game that I love so much.
I woke up early Friday morning and decided to head to Planet Hollywood, my new favorite casino, to have breakfast at their cafe, called the Planet Dailies. Although it was filled with good/sad memories for me, I also had a few glasses of Champagne with cranberry juice. YUM.
I walked by their High Card Flush table (only a few casino's have this card game, mostly the ones affiliated with the Total Rewards card) and it's already open. Yay! After the first hour, I got a 6-card diamond flush that paid out 100 to 1, and I had my little $5 bet, so made a cool $500 on the spot.
After a couple more hours, I then went to back to Harrah's and went poolside, even though I heard the pool was blah (and it was!). Very boring and just a square pool. But I laid out for a few hours to get some sun. The most interesting thing I saw was this pigeon, who is very good at avoiding the paparazzi! (me)
I tried to fall asleep that night but I had too much redbull and could NOT go to sleep. I was begging for sleep because my first match was at 10:30am on Saturday and I KNEW I would be up early because I was still on Texas time. I think I got about a whole 3 hours of sleep total. I was pretty doomed. And I knew it.
I was so physically exhausted and hung over, I didn't care about pool. Which, is what I wanted, right?
I got a bye, so had plenty of time (since I woke up at 4am) to ride the MonoRail from Harrah's to the MGM, where I then walked a mile thru the MGM (not joking) and then over and across to the Tropicana.
My first match is at 10:30am and I am EXHAUSTED. I don't care about anything. It shows, too. I find myself down 6-1. :( My opponent is a GREAT player and she was a Master so had to go to 7 to win, I am Advanced and needed 6 games to win.
For whatever reason, little by little I hung in there and managed to claw back and won 6-6! OMG I could not believe it. Here I was exhausted and SO VERY tired and yet was still able to play pool and came back to win!
My next opponent at Noon was also a Master, and we started a little late because my hill-hill match went over time. She didn't really play like a Master and I won 6-3 I think.
I'm still VERY tired. I just really want to go home honestly. Crawl back in bed.
I then played a 5 (Open player) at 1:30pm. I don't know how I was even functioning, as obviously tiredness does not wear off. I knew my opponent, and every time we have played in a National tourney the last few years, she has defeated me. They were all very close, memorable matches. I told her I didn't think she should be a 5. Maybe I shouldn't have said that, but what I meant was she played better than an Open player.
I find myself down 3-2 and she needs 2 games and I need 3. At this point, I *kinda* want to look at the bottom of the score sheet. The score sheets have times printed at the bottom for the next round (win or lose), so you know when you play next so you don't have to look it up on the brackets. I knew if I read the loser didn't play until the next day (Sunday), that I would prolly just give in so I could go to sleep, lol. But, quite honestly, I knew I had enough energy to go play High Card Flush and wouldn't go to sleep right away anyway. If that was the case, I told myself, then I could play pool.
I noticed she made mistakes late in the rack and I kinda waited for my turns at the table and sure enough it goes hill-hill and a tough choice by her (after a very long decision, she tried a safe that was wasn't successful), I was able to seal the game with a 3-ball out.
Here I am in that very match:
WHEW. Got by that one, too. (somehow)
I check the sheet. Dang. I have ANOTHER match today. This time at 4:30pm. This time against the tournament favorite. Luckily, I ENJOY watching her play because she is the epitome of 3-balls-ahead shape and so I emulate her and play good. She walks around the table and sees exactly where she needs to be for her third ball. It's truly beautiful!
She jumps up 4-2 and I am just SO exhausted I could cry. I'm barely functioning and really just want her to put me out of my misery.
After a discussion with retired Pro Joe Salazar (who has a booth there), he shared that there is a big difference between mental exhaustion and physical exhaustion. If I was mentally exhausted, I really wouldn't be able to function or execute my shots. But because it was physical, I was still able to compete and shoot and make decisions based on my muscle memory and knowledge.
Down 2-4, I look at the score wrong. I think it's 5-2. With my opponent going to 7. I figured I was done. D.O.N.E.
But then when I checked the score again to see who broke, I see I'm *only* down 2-4. Mentally, that was HUGE to me. It gave me some extra pep for some reason and I was able to tie up the score at 4-4.
At this point, she's getting frustrated and starts to get upset at people walking by, some bad rolls she is getting, some good rolls (well, $hit in balls by me), and she is very agitated. Eventually, her emotions get in the way and I'm able to capitalize on some of her mistakes (while also playing decent) and I won 6-5!!
Omg ARE YOU SERIOUS?
I look at the bracket and see I am playing FOR the hotseat at 1pm the next day.
I am already on cloud nine and canNOT believe I just defeated the favorite. WOW. All that exhaustion and not caring and not thinking ahead WORKED again!
At this point it's about 6pm and I figure, "well, I have time to gamble." lmao. High Card Flush here I come. This time I walk back and it's a HIKE but I stop in at Planet Hollywood on the way to Harrah's and play my fav casino game, and then eat a really juicy hamburger at PBR Rock Bar and Grill to reward myself for a good day of pool.
To show the distance between casinos, here is a map of the strip. The tournament is at the Tropicana (down on the bottom), Planet Hollywood is in the middle (where I enjoyed staying last year) and this year I'm all the way up at Harrah's (top blue circle). Wont stay there again for any tourneys held at the Tropicana I can guarantee you that, lol. While I LOVE the strip, it made for an even more exhausting time playing pool, even if I didn't walk the entire way back and forth. I did take the Tram 3 times, walked a lot though, and then taxis once my roommate Courtney came in for teams. Anyway, here is the map:
I get a good nights rest (finally) but still a TAD tired. But, NOTHING like Saturday.
This day, Sunday, is pretty difficult though as it was Mother's Day and my lovely Mom, Toni, had been passed just 2 1/2 years ago.
My goal this day was to not think ahead, though. Nothing more. Nothing less. I reviewed my checklist a few times (the one that I prepared for the BCAPL Texas State tourney) but otherwise just relaxed. I ate at the Mirage buffet (MY FAV) and had their champagne Sunday brunch and then rested before heading to the Tropicana. I knew not to WALK this day, as I wanted to be rested up as much as I could.
I got to the Tropicana about 12:15pm. I saw that my opponent was already hitting balls. I grabbed my cue from my teammate, Janet (she graciously kept it at the Tropicana for me so I didn't have to trek it up and down the strip every day), and I hit some balls and felt real good.
We start the match and I'm in a good mood.
My opponent's name is Jacki and she is from Virginia. Her and her husband are good friends of a friend of mine. As I shake her hand she says, "I feel like I already know you" as she shyly laughed a little.
She raced to 5 (and Open player) and I still raced to 6 (as as Advanced Player). I broke first. The 9-ball is sitting down near a pocket and I see that I can back bank the 1-ball into the 9-ball. Risky, but the 1-ball doesn't go anywhere else, anyway.
I make it!
Then she breaks, doesn't make anything, and the 1-9 combo sets up and I make it.
I am now up 2-0 and she says, "Nice way to start out." She wasn't being rude, she was just frustrated.
I didn't want her to feel bad, but it was how the first two games went. I was SUPER confident and just told myself not to think of those "rolls" and instead realize that, well, this was just my time evidently.
And just like that, things turned.
I hooked myself, she got out. I missed a tough 9-ball, she made it next.
Score 2-2, and I could tell I was trying too hard. And she was playing really good. Bad combo for team Melinda.
At this point, it seemed like the match was put on fast forward. She got out really well and I missed a tough 8-ball after a REALLY great run. I felt it slipping away, even though I was playing well. But, I hooked myself AGAIN on a really fantastic shot, and she got ball-in-hand and ran out well and won the match 5-4.
OMGosh, I was DEFLATED.
I was really pissed and ready to play at 3pm.
I go to the tournament desk and they tell me it will be delayed.
Evidently the scotch doubles matches were still going on. The match I was waiting for, hadn't even STARTED because one of the players was in the doubles tourney still. REALLY?
I went upstairs and had a slice of their thin pizza (YUM), went back downstairs. Still. Nothing. No opponent. They hadn't even started yet - STILL!
I texted my g/f Amanda about how upset I was with the previous match and she suggested I listen to my ipod. So I went upstairs to the couches and the beautiful sunlight and listened to Rihanna as I sat there sulking, not wanting to talk to anyone. Just pissed. Upset. Disappointed. :(
I still didn't think ahead, just thought of the missed opportunities I had in the match.
I finally went back downstairs to the convention center where all the main pool tables where about 4pm and HEY, they are finally playing! I go sit by Joe Salazar, who runs a booth there, and I sat with him and expressed my woes. I consider him my mental coach and we just chatted about things in general and he gave me some advice about how I played well at State, and that this experience no matter the outcome will be good for me.
Finally I had an opponent at 5pm. Ugh. 5PM!
Unfortunately, it was against the favorite. Yes, I had beaten her the evening before, but she is so so tough to beat.
I didn't think I would defeat her this time. Yep, no expectations at all. (I think you all are seeing the theme here, also.)
She gets ahead 2-0 and then 3-1, but she makes a few uncharacteristic mistakes and I tie it 3-3. More mistakes occur and I start playing good pool! Really smart safes, and outs. I get ahead 5-3, but she makes a small comeback and regroups well and the score is now 5-4 me. The last game I shit in the 3-ball. She gets pissed. Trying to get perfect shape on the 8-ball, I shit-in the 7-ball. Ooops. She's pretty livid. I don't blame her, really. Even though everyone would tell me later "that's 9-ball," still sucks when it happens to you. I got out and won 6-4!
OMG I'm in the finals!!!
I feel like a winner just beating the favorite (again). Honestly. It felt like SUCH an accomplishment!
OMFG! Joe was SO happy for me to persevere! He said I learned a lot coming off a bad loss and ALSO being down in that match. All these awesome learning experiences!
I turn in my score-sheet. Yep, my opponent is playing scotch doubles!
I can't even begin the finals now. I have to wait. MORE.
Yep, I go have another slice of thin pizza. That's what I do! I was barely eating on the trip so indulging a little for celebration was fine by me, lol.
I had a few drinks during the course of the day, but didn't drink anymore as I wanted to feel the whole finals match, completely, with all my senses.
I watched from afar her match and it seemed to take forever. I hit a few balls, rested my feet, listened to my ipod some more. Just relaxed. Nothing I could do but wait. And try to relax while I waited.
And I tried as HARD AS I COULD to not think, "You might be a National Champion." Now that I reflect back, I don't think it even entered my mind! I just wanted to play pool and give a good fight, like I did NOT do the last time Jacki and I met at 1pm earlier this day.
I didn't think ahead. YAY me! That has totally affected me in the past.
We finally start at 8pm and she said it, even though I was thinking it, "I'm exhausted." At that point I knew I had a little edge. At that point I realized she had been playing pool non-stop all day since 1pm, I had only played two matches. AND, she still had another scotch doubles match after ours.
I felt bad, "what if it goes two-sets, she'll really be tired."
OMG did I really just think of my opponent like I always do? Yep, I did. BUT, that wasn't going to get in the way. I told myself, "if it goes 2 sets, it goes 2 sets, Melinda. Nothing you can do."
It crossed my mind had we played the finals sooner in the day, the outcome could have been very different.
I played really good the first set and she makes a few mistakes and I capitalize. I win 6-2 I think.
At this point, we both have to run to the bathroom. I knew that could be my demise. But I had to go. I still didn't think ahead, or think of the possibilities or anything. I just wanted to get back and play more pool.
But I could tell I got relaxed. I could tell I felt like I had already accomplished a lot by winning the first set. I tried so hard not to relax, but I could feel it in my body after the quick restroom break.
She tells me she hopes she gives me a better game this match, and I can see she's a little more confident and awake. I'm saying, "noooooo" lol in my head.
Jacki plays really, really good. She said she had never placed well in this tourney before and that's why she was a 5, but she told me she had been gambling more in the pool room the last year and her game has gone up. And it was obvious.
I thought of this a lot when I saw her bear down on shots and get out. She played really well and I knew it would be a good, tough finals.
The first game I make a mistake and she capitalizes. Next game I make a mistake and she capitalizes again. Dang it!
I do NOT want to go out this way.
The next game I make another mistake and I realize I'm getting tired and I go get lots of cold water to wake up. She's running out and my heart is sinking. She will be up 3-0 if she runs out. That's overcome-able, but tough to overcome in reality. She leaves herself a really long 9-ball.... and she misses it!
Light at the end of the tunnel!
I make the 9-ball and I have more pep i my step! Whew. I can see she's tired and I feel bad for her, but I keep going and I win another game. Score tired 2-2. The cold water and getting on the scoreboard helped me so much!
I started to play really well again and found myself ahead 4-3. We both need two.
The next game is a safety battle and for the first time in a long time, I win by three-fouling.
I'm now on the hill.
I try still so VERY hard not think ahead and I did not.
I see an out.
I ALMOST hook myself on the VERY first shot, but had enough room to make the 2-ball. I look at my three-balls-ahead shape well and plan ahead and I can see if I get on this 6-ball okay, I will win. I make the 3, 5, and get on the 6 ball perfectly. Stay down Melinda! I make the 7. Breathe Melinda! I make the 8ball and slide over well for the 9-ball.
I get down on the 9-ball, a short, straight-in shot. I get back up because I'm crying.
Yep, I'm CRY-ing!
OMG I'm really about to win this tournament. OMG.
I get down and the tears are so much in my eyes, I can't see. I get back up. Melinda, hold it together.
I finally shoot the 9-ball and start bawling!
I shake her hand and she asks me why I'm so emotional. I tell her it's Mother's Day and I won it for my Mom. :) And plus, I add, it's a National title.
She tells me how sweet I am to dedicate it to my Mom and I hug the few friends of mine who were there (Connie and Janet and Ren and his wife).
I can't BELIEVE IT!
I post on Facebook, "I won the tourney for you, Mom. I'm a National Champion!"
Joe had left already by the time the first set was over, so the next morning I practically ran to tell him, "I won!" I exclaimed! Awww, his little grasshopper doing so well! :)
Days later, still can't believe it. Weeks later, still can't believe it.
Official ACS photo. Jacki (2nd) and I (1st)
Jacki was a really great opponent and I couldn't have asked for a nicer and talented opponent with a big heart and calm demeanor. I am honored to share the podium with her!
Even as I type this. I still can't believe it! HOW DID I REALLY DO THAT??