Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Domino Effect

This is the second of a series of posts written in coordination with other pool bloggers. This month we are focusing on "Billiards Tales." To see others, go to

Specifically, the topic "billiard tales" is defined for this month's feature as: the most memorable pool story that made you a 'better' player; an interesting pool related story that either happened to you or that you heard of that inspired you in some way, e.g. a moral to the story.

Even though I've been playing pool for over 20 years (yes, that's right, it all began when I started to play pool for fun at the arcade twenty years ago), I just recently learned an extremely valuable lesson just in Jan of this year. I learned another valuable lesson I'd like to share for this months feature that happened almost 3 years ago.

I admit.... I'd rather tell you some amazing story I witnessed or heard about. I have seen some amazing things in 20 years, heard amazing stories, been to a lot of great top tournaments, and met a lot of amazing people, but if I am to be honest, what has inspired me most is getting help from other people, and how that comes about - sometimes those are the best stories!

Story One:

I always thought I didn't stay down well and that my fundamentals were not pristine. I knew my biggest struggle was that I lifted my head during my shots. Luckily, one night of play led to an immense improvement in my game.

Picture it:

January 15, 2009. Dallas, Texas on the Diamond 9-foot table at the Billiard Den.

I was playing in the Texas challenge match. The outcome of the challenge match was not the learning lesson, but the aftermath has been one of most rewarding things for my pool game.

I played three matches (banks, 9ball and 8ball) and they were all streamed live on the Internet. I barely lost banks, won the 9ball, and should have won the 8ball match.

Many of my friends from the forums watched me on that cold January from their home computers from across the U.S. Many had never met me before nor watched me play pool so it was fun interacting with my friends on the chat while I played. My opponent was Zach Ballas and he was a nice opponent.

After the match, a friend of mine emailed me and said:

"Morning Mel. Great shooting last night. I was focusing on your technique. The one thing I saw is that you were pulling your head up on many of your shots. I was not the only one to notice this. By the way you have an awesome break. Just thought you should know."

I replied that it was an indeed a problem of mine and he added in his next reply:

"You are rising at the point of contact and follow through. "

I never really thought about when I was jumping up/lifting my head, I just thought it was "in general." So, this info was truly eye-opening for me and a huge piece of knowledge.

I went into my next tournament solely focusing on staying down EVEN more than usual. It worked fabulously!! Many people even commented on how nice my stroke was at this tournament. Some even said they could tell I had been working on my game over the winter. I was elated!

Staying down, body not moving, head not lifting FEELS beautiful. When the stroke of the cue is pure and you are staying down well and not rushed, it truly feels amazing. The key is to capture that fluidness for every stroke.

I then worked on this fundamental even more during my practice sessions and also asked other friends throughout the year about advice on how to stop this bad habit.

Learning about 3-ball shape, pre-shot routines, and mental toughness has obviously helped me most with my game over the last few years, but this particular learning experience has been even more valuable. I knew it was a weakness in my game and it has now really improved this year - all because I was on a stream and my friend noticed how I was jumping up on my shots.

I am extremely thankful for the domino effect - taking a risk and playing in the challenge match, having it streamed live on the Internet, being watched by friends, who then offered that crucial advice.

Story Two:

Picture it:

May 2007. Las Vegas, NV. Riviera. BCAPL 8 Ball National Championships.

In my singles event, I went out in two. It was just plain embarrassing. I played terrible. I played like a newbie. It was like I hadn't played pool before. Even in the second chance tournament, I fell apart. I was thinking too much. :( I simply didn't play pool and let the mental game get to me.

One of the last nights in Vegas, I found myself at a poker table at the Riviera, trying my hand at lady luck. I wasn't really looking around the table when I sat down and minded my own business. Several hands go by and I finally notice that Mr. Paul Pottier himself was sitting right next to me. LOL - and I think I am observant, lmao.

If you don't know this, Paul is an exceptional player AND an instructor to some of the top players in the world.

I had been playing pool so badly that it gave me the strength to ask him in front of everyone sitting at the table about my problem.

When I told him I was thinking too much, worrying about stupid $hit during my match, and actually getting embarrassed during my matches, he said "that is a problem many of my students have." That made me feel better (lol) because some of his students are VERY top pros!

He gave me advice in front of everyone and then afterwards joked, " that'll be $600; $1,000 if you use the advice." LOL!

He's actually very funny and knowledgeable... I wish he didn't have to go to dinner so soon that night.

His advice was: Basically, embarrassment is the same as fear. If we look at fear and confidence on a percentage level, we have 100% of them combined into a flask (my terminology). The key is to make the two "feelings" lopsided in the flask so there is more confidence than fear. He didn't tell me how to do that, but the information was still very valuable.

Domino effect - playing such bad pool, decide to play poker, happen to sit next to Paul Pottier, had the guts to state my recent mental angst, and he was willing to give advice.

These two stories are just a smidgen of how the smallest pieces of advice from interesting events can make the biggest impact to your game! Isn't it amazing how you learn of these nuggets? For example, I just happen to hear the other day a top pro state on a stream that a smooth stroke is his biggest advice. That has recently also helped me a lot.

Ahh.... learning is a powerful drug, isn't it? Pay attention to your to your surroundings and those dominoes. :)

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