Thursday, March 26, 2020

A Saturday Night Out Lessons

I was conversing with a friend of mine at the end of last year, who is also a frequent contributor to billiard magazines. We chat every so often comparing notes and sharing ideas.
After we discussed our most recent interactions with certain players for our respective magazines, he shared he had recently played pool (I thought he hadn't played in quite some time, so I leaned in towards the little chat window, anxious to see what he would type next.
"On a side note, " he started out, "I'm starting to get the Jones to play again. I actually got out on Saturday and played in a tourney. "
He then shared a photo of him and another player. They were holding up 20 dollar bills like a fan, lol. Then as I looked closer, I realized my colleague had more 20s than other player next to him - he placed first! My colleague is an introvert and shy (especially with photos), but I could see happiness and accomplishment on his face.
"Not bad for someone who has played in maybe two tourneys in the last 12 months, " he quipped.
"WOW! Look at you!" I gasped. I was so happy for him! Then added, "Sometimes breaks are really good for our game," not knowing I was foreshadowing his next comment.
He asks me, "Tell me if this makes any sense. I am a Fargo 560 and my buddy is right around 590-600, depending on the day. When I decided to go play, I didn't tell him because I knew he would come out to watch. I wanted a chance to play without feeling that I had to play up to his rating. "
We have all been through this right?
We sometimes play better in front of certain people, or sometimes play worse in front of others. Are we showing off, trying to prove something, being over confident, or on the contrary, are we afraid to be play bad in front of our friends, or feel embarrassed if we lose, etc.
The "clear" atmosphere allowed him to finally JUST PLAY POOL. I talk about this a lot, but that's what he did this Saturday night. He played pool! No distractions. No considering how he plays because his friend was there. Just played pool.
Again, mental distractions (whether we are aware or not) can keep us from just playing pool, and giving our best on every shot.
But wait!
He had more to share about his Saturday night escapade:
He continued, "I also told myself that contributing to a billiard magazine doesn't mean that every table is a Cosmo for me, and it's okay to have to stop and study, work out a plan, and bear down trying to make it happen. "
Uh, what?
He lost me.
I asked him to explain.
"I sometimes get the idea that since I watch a ton of top level pool to get ready to contribute to the mag, that it should be easy for me to run out on a bar box and that I shouldn't have to ever stop and study a table or shot for more than a few seconds."
Oh wow, what a great reminder! Sometimes we get too cocky or maybe lazy about our game. Don't get too comfortable or think you know the game enough to not study the table or take your time. Every match give it your all and don't presume you can slack off on planning or looking at options.
Congrat's to my colleague! (leave your buddy home more often and take your time, haha!)
Stay safe out there, fellow players; social distance.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Not Afraid to Fail or Succeed - Tips

One of my friends mentioned he tried to leave a comment on my blog.  I asked him for which post, and he said the one about not seeing results.  I didn't see the comment through Blogger, but luckily he gave me the Cliff Notes version:
"It is harder to get tournament results now than it’s ever been... Players are just flat out better now than they were 25 years ago and there are so many more of them. No result is guaranteed. The guys that do consistently well are the ones who put in the work."

Good point!

However, I then keyed in on his final sentence:  “The guys that do consistently well are the ones who put in the work.”  

The reason why, is because he himself has been finishing higher than I’m used to seeing on the tour he plays on. You all know my curiosity, so of course I asked him about it (smile).

I asked him, “Does this mean you are putting in work? You are placing higher than before, and more consistently – not just lucky or random high finishes.”

I was expecting his normal witty repartee, but instead he was serious.  And the info was really eye-opening.  I'm excited to share this conversation with you all!
“I practice at the house before big tournaments. But, what has happened to me is my whole outlook has changed. I just play... Very aggressive and confident. And I don’t quit. LOL.”

“That's really awesome,” I told him. Then asked, him why he starting doing that.

He replies,
“Life... LOL. I’m not a wound-up person, so I can just concentrate on playing. I’m not afraid to shoot anything anymore because the result of any given shot means very little to my life. I know that sounds fatalistic and yet weird, but it works for me. I like playing and I like competing, but the truth is: the results mean nothing to me or my life. I used to be afraid both to fail and to succeed. Now I’m neither.”

Interesting, right?

I then asked him what made him decide to start playing that way.

He explains,
“It’s that fear thing. I used to be so afraid to fail. Now I’m not. And, truth be told, I’m a more talented and polished player now at age 51 than I have ever been.” (he has great fundamentals he’s worked on for years and they are very solid now.)

I prodded more, “Did you wake up and realize that? Or just figure that out one day?”

He said,
“It just kinda happened. No figuring. It just seemed silly to be afraid to lose a pool game. Or afraid to win one for that matter. Funny thing is I still have little moments of crisis of confidence. But they don’t last long and the balls keep going in whether I have them or not. No explanation for that. 
Observation about confidence: Am I playing well because I’m confident or am I confident because I’ve reached a predictable level of playing well??

Hmm, good internal questions.

I then asked him one final thing about this really intriguing discussion, “How long ago did this change in thinking start?”
“Let’s see. I guess I really first felt it about a year ago. Maybe around the time I realized I was at a terrible job with not much hope for better.  I just know that when I turned my life over to a certain feeling of resignation it carried over to my pool playing and all fear was gone. No fear of losing, no fear of embarrassment, and no fear of winning even. It somehow freed me to just play. And to play a style that I enjoy. Because I was resigned to the fact that none of it really mattered.”

He added, “I doubt that makes sense.”

Actually, it does.  And SO wanted to share this with you all.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Drinking and Pool, Lessons from Katniss and the Cueist

I thought I’d do something a little fun and different. I asked the same questions to The Cueist (the pool player of The Cueist Project section of my blog) and Katniss (the pool player of the Project Hunger Games section of my blog) about a certain theme to get their thoughts.  You know, to compare notes and all.

Being sober for almost 3 ½ years now, I realize it probably doesn't make sense that the first theme would be about drinking and playing pool, lol, but here we go!

All three of us used to drink while playing pool (the Cueist and I more than most, haha). But, drinking (while playing pool) had lessened for me towards the end of my pool journey as I became more successful, and so I wanted to know if it had for them as well, along with the any positive (or negative) impacts.

The first question was, “Do you ever take a drink to calm nerves? If so, do you still do that? Do you think it's effective?”

When I cannot calm my nerves, yes, I will take a shot. I actually did this in the first tournament of the year. I was playing a young lady that was just bouncing around the table making all her balls. For some odd reason, my breathing exercises were not helping me. I took a break (you are allowed one per match) and as I passed the bartender, I ordered a ‘Jose Cuervo dressed and chilled’ as I walked by.  I went to pee, came back out, and my shot was ready. I downed it right then and there and then went to continue the match. I was calm within 10 minutes. I ended up winning that match. And, that was the only alcohol I had during that 14-hour marathon that day.

And what about you, Cueist?  Do you ever take a drink to calm nerves? If so, do you still do that? Do you think it's effective?

The Cueist:
When I joined a new league team awhile back, we would always drink throughout the day during events. I'd get nervous, and thought I needed a drink to calm down. That was the captain’s way of coping with the nerves, and I thought the same thing. But that was more of a crutch, a habit, that I had developed over the years. Instead, I tried focusing on my breathing, PSR (pre-shout routine), and just having fun in order to get rid of the nerves.  
At an end of a season tournament recently, I heard from some of my teammates that they believed that since our team drank every league night, that we'd all drink that weekend, too.  Some of the players didn’t want to do that (I know, it doesn't make sense!).  But, a few of us made a pact to stay sober the entire time while we played. Once the matches were over for the day, we'd have a drink if we wanted to (okay, most of us wanted to, lol). We kept up the 'not drinking' during pool playing - with the exception of when we made it the finals - some of them needed a drink to calm down apparently. But personally, I didn't feel any more nerves without having a drink of alcohol. So, it justified that it was simply a crutch.

And then I asked them, “Do you feel you drink less, now that you are more successful in your pool game?”

I take my game more serious now, so yeah, I don’t drink as much. 
“Go on,” I nudged:

When I first started playing pool, I was excited to get out and get to hang out with other players and drinkers. Eventually I joined a league. The whole atmosphere was very new to me, but I loved it.  At one point early on, I won a few games over a couple of weeks (even though I was a true beginner), and I liked that feeling! So, I took my game more seriously.  
At some point, they made me the “anchor” for that same league team. One night I was buzzed and I missed the winning ball! (a shot that I make more often than not). I lost the match for our team. That feeling I did NOT like. Ever since then, I don’t drink as MUCH. Maybe 2 beers only.
I prodded some more:

“So, do you think you became MORE cognizant about not combing drinking and playing pool in the last few years because your game has improved so much?  Or, did that first anchor experience start you on that journey?”

Both, actually. I want my mind and concentration to be clear and strong for the amount of energy it takes to compete. I think many players forget that...that alcohol interferes with energy. 
Additionally, I feel like I should maintain a certain level of professionalism because I have some women tell me sometimes that they want to play like me. Or, “Wow, I want to be like you when I grow up.”  While that makes me blush, it is a positive culprit for me to drink less. Besides, I don’t want to become a cocky drunk that thinks they are unbeatable. Alcohol makes us fearless, right?

I asked the same question to The Cueist:

Do you feel you drink less, now that you are more successful in your pool game?

The Cueist:
You know that saying "dress for the job you want?" Well, it kinda goes along with that. While I don't necessarily have the want to be a full-time pro player, I started noticing something last year. There is a guy from Texas (Justin Espinoza) who was the one that made me notice it, actually. He used to drink at all the tourneys, etc. While he's such a great player nowadays, he made it a point to quit drinking while playing pool. And his performances in tourneys immediately jumped up a bit during that time. He kept hashtagging "soberpool," and it was one of those things that I just kinda kept in the back of my mind. 
That was it?

The Cueist:
Well, no, lol. In Vegas one year, I noticed that most, if not all, of the top pros don't even touch alcohol while playing. Why? Because it's their job to play pool. And you don't want to be impaired while doing your job. Sure, they were all hanging out at the bars at the end of the day, but while they were playing they did not drink.
Bottom line is that drinking and pool is one of those things that goes together like peanut butter and jelly. But if you want to progress and play at a high level, you really need to have your full focus on the match at hand. And any bit of alcohol will impair that focus. While I don't plan on trying to be a top pro or anything like that, I do have a goal to be move up in my league standings this year. And that means focusing as much as possible, to give myself the best chance to win. Drinking can wait till I'm done playing matches for the day.

Thank you to the Cueist and Katniss for your insight and experiences! You will help others with your honesty, and for that I am thankful.

Monday, March 9, 2020

When You WERE a Better Player

Last week I wrote about how sometimes players who don't cash a lot throughout the years might quit playing pool due to their disappointment and frustration. Today I would like to talk about players that used to cash (that no longer do) who feel similar.

It has to be very frustrating for players of any sport who used to play well, who no longer do. At what point do they decide to throw in the towel? Or, do they just continue to play anyway? Struggling and limping along.

I’d like to share part of a convo I had with someone about this, that puts this into perspective (imho).  I will let his words speak for themselves, instead of me interpreting them. 

I’m taking break, and stop going to tournaments. I am going to hit balls at the house and kinda find myself with regards to my pool game. I need to relearn how to focus and also just hit enough balls that making them becomes automatic again. My lack of confidence and struggling is just making me not have fun. Same thing happened with golf - in high school I was a champion…now I don’t play, yet I still expect to play the same. Same with a couple of other sports I used to dominate. 
I guess I should just accept this fate that I suck because I don’t practice. But, I’d rather just quit than accept being “less than.” But, then I go back to thinking “well, those good players play for a living or at least hang out in a bar every day. I can’t do that, but I have a good life otherwise….so, so what if I suck?”

I suggested one of my blog topics (learn to refocus), and some other tips. I was trying to get him off of the “I’m going to quit pool ledge.” But any attempt at advice was not heard by him. And it made sense, actually.

He is a seasoned sports player. He has played enough different types of sports throughout the years to understand what he should probably do. And no advice for me was going to keep him from quitting pool, solving his frustrations, or giving him an any 'aha' moment.

After my feeble attempt with advice, he replies:

Ahhh…here’s the problem. I’ll admit I’m ambitious and that you are logical in your advice and statements. My problem is that I can’t settle for what may be this moments reality. You see, I honestly believe that I have the potential to play top speed. Call me crazy (I’m totally ok with that). I do however know first hand that to perform at a world class level, then you must put in the work. So, that’s my logic and excuse. Basically, I believe I’m a top player, but without the time to practice or perform as they do. Hopefully this doesn’t sound too “prickish or egotistical” That’s why I often speak of humility, as I have to make a conscious effort to keep my ego in check.
Not prickish at all, right? Just ownership of his thoughts and feelings.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

When You Don't Improve...

I've been playing pool in Texas for close to 30 years. And I always wondered what happened to those female players that I used to see playing on the Texas tours. The ones that really loved the game, but didn't cash a lot or make it to Sunday.  Where did they go?

Players either eventually improve, or they don't. Right? 

My heart tells me I think they sadly realized they weren't advancing enough and they got frustrated spending money and traveling with no success to show for it.  They may have got discouraged and didn't think they played good enough anymore to continue spending the money to attend all the out of town tournaments.

A lot of players, no matter if they improve or not, love the camaraderie of our amazing sport!  They will continue to travel and play in tournaments, even if they aren't a good player and hardly ever cash. But.... not everyone will continue to do that.

Obviously, there could be many other very life-changing reasons why players stop attending tournaments, which have nothing to do with skill-level.  Family life, moved, health reasons, new career, etc. 

But I'm not talking about those players. 

I'm talking about the ones who didn't finish well most of the time. There were too many players throughout the years that stop playing that makes me think they didn't have the passion for the sport anymore because they just weren't successful. That hurts my heart to say it out loud!

Now, you all know I like to be very honest and transparent in my blog, so let me tell you that I am one of those ladies. 

I really am.

However, my sport wasn't pool, my sport was poker.  I was myopic for sure.

(Because I wrote about poker yesterday, thought I'd share some more about my experience with that sport.)

I used to play poker a lot at Winstar (a casino on the border of Texas/Ok). I really loved the camaraderie and the socialization! I loved that I got to know all the dealers, waitresses, and many of the 'regular' poker players who played at Winstar often.  I just loved the whole entire atmosphere, really. The clanking of chips, the bad beats, talking to the players at the table, etc. My extrovert personality really came out in that atmosphere for some reason; I was very comfortable.

Winstar had 46 tables (now they have more) so it was a HUGE poker room!  My ex and I would go all the time. It was definitely an addiction.

But, just like pool players get the pool bug, I definitely got the poker bug. However, I didn't know what I was doing, mostly socializing, and especially drinking too much.

After those two to three dedicated years of (mostly having fun and) playing poker, I slowed down substantially after we broke up. I have played maybe only twice a year since then.

Every once in awhile I played pretty good, but I still didn't really know the game. I left 90% of the time without money in my pocket, and therefore only 10% of the time with money.

I didn't put any effort in to improve my knowledge. I only read part of one book.  I only occasionally watched poker on TV.  I didn't study the game at all.  My recent ex-boyfriend (MM) gave me some tips and also friends throughout the last ten years gave me some tips, but because I haven't worked to put in any effort to improve, and I hardly play anymore, I am not a good poker player at all. 

I don't love the game anymore. Instead, all it's done is made me realize that I wasted A LOT of money the last 10 years (trying) to play poker and I really, truly didn't know what I was doing.

I don't play poker anymore just like those ladies don't play pool anymore. It's disheartening to not cash most of the time, so I understand. 

So, I understand in a very direct way, why maybe some of those women stepped away from pool.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Poker Tell-Tale Signs and Pool

When I am playing poker, it's very natural for me to start flipping the chips in front of me.  I can flip them over each other between my fingers (called the "Thumb Flip"), either one handed or both hands at the same time. I can also merge two stacks of poker chips together with one hand (called "The Shuffle"). 

Here is the "Thumb Flip":

And here is the "Shuffle":

I know how to do this because around 2011 I played poker about twice a month for two years straight at Winstar (a very large casino on the border of Texas and Oklahoma). I saw players flip chips and stack chips with one hand all the time. So, as I would sit there waiting in-between rounds, I practiced those moves.  I got better at flipping chips than playing poker, lol!  But, it's still something that's pretty cool I can do.

I went to Vegas in February for my 50th birthday (yes I turned 50!), and every time I played the carnival-type table table games (like deuces wild, crazy 4 poker, ultimate Texas hold'em, high card flush, etc), I would flip the chips or stack my chips in front of me with one hand, strictly out of habit.

However, when I played live poker in the poker room on the last night I was in Vegas, I stopped myself from flipping or stacking chips, like I would normally do.  Instead, I just left them all alone (poor things!). A few times throughout the three hours I would catch myself about to flip the chips, then stop and set them back down casually in front of me.

The reason I did this is because I did not want my table mates (i.e. opponents/enemy) to know I knew how to play poker. I know, flipping chips isn't a sign I'm good at poker, lol, but it IS an indication I've been around poker a lot.

While this isn't something us pool players would normally do (hide our talent as we play pool), it IS something a hustler would do in the pool room who is trying to get action. 

"Melinda, what could possibly be similar in pool to flipping chips that gives you away?"

Good question!

If you are going to a bar or pool room trying to hustle, you don't want to give away that you can play good pool, right?  What's the point of hustling then?  lol. 

So little things like, you don't keep your hand flat when you're on the rail (tell-tale sign you aren't a top player), or maybe you don't stay down on your shots, or maybe you ask stupid questions to make you look naive:  "Hey, what is that thing?" (when they are using a magic rack). 

While I'm not trying to hustle poker players, I also don't want to give away immediately that I actually know how to play poker.  Give yourself a small advantage - legally and within the rules. Albeit I don't play poker very well, but I still do know the game and can play smart, and I don't want to give that away just by the way I flip or stack the chips one handed.

(My chip stack last year at Winstar Casino for my berday)