#mini8 – A Faster Version of #8ball

The rules for #mini8 are identical to #8ball. The only difference comes in how you rack. Instead of seven stripes and seven solids, you only rack four of each in a diamond shape with the 8-ball in the middle. The numbers on the solids and stripes doesn’t matter but the points of the rack should be opposite with one solid and one stripe on the side corners and one of each on the front and back corners. This is how it looks…

mini8-rack

#mini8 is a good game to play when time is scarce. I like to use it on the losers side of tournaments when we get more players than the number of tables can handle. Having too many players can be a good problem to have, but not if it means that the tournament won’t finish before the venue closes.

I run a scotch doubles tournament every Friday that averages ~22 players. One week it landed on the birthday of one of the bar’s regulars and drew a field of 38! I knew we couldn’t keep the normal double Elim #8ball format because it’s already a “race to one” and the bar only has one table. Instead of going to single elim, we ended up playing #mini8 on the loser’s side and finished just in time.

Although #mini8 may sound vastly easier than normal #8ball, in my experience it doesn’t translate to every game being a runout. Of course there are more break and runs, but a lot of times a game ends up being a few innings and has some safeties, two-way shots, etc. It’s like #8ball with the beginning stage cut out. For instance, during the the tournament mentioned above, there were 17 games of #mini8 without a single runout. Granted this was scotch doubles, but there are a lot of good shooters (and very few slouches) in this tournament.

Have you ever had all eight of your teammates show up for league practice and you all sit around barely getting in one game each? Well, next time instead of cramming full games of #8ball into the half hour allotted, why not save time and play some quick racks of #mini8 instead?

Hockey Draw

So you have two balls left before the eight. You have a perfect angle on the first ball to get down-table to your last stripe. You take your time, stroke well, and float the cue ball down the table perfectly! Uh oh, too perfect…

TooStraight

You’re now staring at a straight in shot on your last stripe with seemingly no way to get down table for the eight ball shot. Who hasn’t been in this situation? Well, this post is intended to give you one more tool to add to your arsenal that comes in handy in many situations, but especially on these straight in shots.

The problem is, with the shot outlined above, you are too straight in to cheat the pocket with top spin and come off of a rail and to make matters worse there are some solids in your way. Solution? Use a lot of bottom to draw the cue ball off of the rail and open the angle with reverse side spin! It works the same as opening and closing the angle on a follow shot, but since you are bringing the cue ball back in the opposite direction, you need to put the spin on the opposite side. So in the layout above, you’d need to put *left* spin on the cue ball in order to draw it back to the rail and open the angle more to the right side of the table. I call this “Hockey Draw” because the cue ball’s path looks like a hockey stick…

HockeyDraw

In order to perform Hockey Draw, you’ll obviously need the ability to draw well and that requires a good stroke. So work on those fundamentals if you find this shot difficult to execute. Also keep in mind that the distance from the rail is important. It can be done from close or far as long as the cue and object balls are relatively close to each other, but it requires more stroke from further out and more magic when really close, so you’ll want to practice at varying distances to figure out what you’re comfortable with and expand from there. The #DrawShot pictured above is kind of a sweet spot, so that’s a good place to start.

This technique also works well in many other situations that don’t necessarily involve a “too straight” shot. It can be used to get breakouts, avoid traffic, or simply because it’s the easiest way to get to where you need to be. Once you master this shot, you’ll be amazed at how often it becomes useful. Plus, it looks really cool! ūüėČ

Follow to a Close Rail

FollowToRail

This is a pretty easy shot to get good at with a little practice and it’s extremely useful in many situations. The object is to use a little top on an easy shot and have the cue ball land on the rail. In this case, you want to land on the long rail so that you have a natural angle on the 11-ball to get around the cluster of solids and have a good shot on the game winning eight ball.

Once you are comfortable with this shot, you’ll want to also practice it in the corners and at varying distances. When you can reliably make this shot and land on the rail as shown, change it up and practice with the cue ball and/or object ball further away. As a bonus, this helps develop your speed control which will improve your entire game.

The last thing to mention is that for this skill to be effective you need to be looking at least two shots past the one you’re shooting. Thinking about the whole run is another crucial skill to develop in order to get better at pool in general, so try to always think ahead even when it appears easy. Imagine you’re approaching the table for the 13-ball in the shot pictured. If you only look at how easy it is to get on the next stripe, you may end up too straight or fall a little short and make it difficult to get on the eight. Your subconscious may even favor putting you on the straight-in shot which would make your run a lot tougher. Always think ahead!

How To Stream Pool Matches

video-camera-245x300Recently I’ve been trying out some different streaming options for the two pool tournaments that I direct each week. My APA League Operator just went to Vegas for the Southwest Challenge and wanted to stream some of the matches back home to the local players. I gave him some advice on an easy setup and I wanted to publish it here for anyone else who might be interested. With the technology available to us today it’s a whole lot easier than you might think to live stream a pool match. All you need is an iPhone, Android, or even a newer iPod touch (assuming there’s Wi-Fi.)

You will need to create your own free account with either JustinTV or ustream. There may be other services, but these are the ones I’ve tried and both have their advantages and disadvantages. JustinTV has a much better API if you’re a programmer like me, but ustream has some pretty big advantages for normal users. JustinTV has no client app for Android, so while you can stream from Android, your viewers can only watch on an iPhone/iPad or computer. Also, only ustream allows you to mute the audio in case you don’t want background conversations to be overheard.

Once you have your free streaming account setup with one of the sites listed above, you should test it out at home. You don’t want to get to your big event only to realize that you’ve forgotten your password or don’t know how to use the app. Go to the App Store or Google Play section of your phone and download the app that corresponds to the site you chose. JustinTV and ustream each have a streaming app for both the iPhone and Android platforms. Login to the app and click on the camcorder button to switch to broadcasting mode. If you haven’t entered your username and password, it will require you to do so now. Once in broadcasting mode, it’s very similar to using the built in camera app. You just point at the pool table and hit the button with the red record circle on it. While recording, the red circle will flash and the app will tell you how many viewers you currently have watching. You can also chat (in text) with everyone who’s watching your stream.

After you’ve done your home test to confirm that you have all of the technical stuff out of the way, it’s time to start thinking about the best location to place your camera (phone) during the event. If this is a regular tournament that you run every week, you can wing it the first week or two and try out some different spots. However, if your first try at this is an important event, you may want to go to the venue at least a couple days early to setup and test. The main things you want to consider when choosing a location are the camera angle, foot traffic, and distance from the table. Ideally, you want the camera to be 5-7 feet off the ground so that it is¬† looking down at the table. It should be just far enough away from the table that the whole table (every pocket) just fits into view without any kind of zooming. This height and angle will allow almost every shot to be seen, even when the shooter’s back is to the table. You also want to try finding an angle where people won’t be walking through the shot a lot. Neither of these apps have a “focus lock” so when people walk in front of the camera, it tends to focus on them and then back on the table once they’re gone. This can happen with the shooters as well, but the fact that they’re close to the table and you’re shooting at a high angle does help to minimize it.

TripodThere are a couple of other optional items you can buy to help with getting that perfect viewing angle. The Magnetic Gorillapod is by far the best tripod I’ve found for this setup. It has flexible legs that can wrap around anything from a chair to a pole, or even a little hook on the wall. You may have also guessed already, but it has magnets in the feet so that you can just stick it right onto any magnetic surface. The light fixture of a neighboring pool table is a good place to try. The only problem with the Gorillapod is that it doesn’t hold onto a normal phone by default. It has the little standard tripod screw at the top, so it works out of the box with just about every camera, but only a few phones (or phone cases) have that tripod screw hole. This is where the iStabilizer tripod mount comes into play. It holds any reasonably sized phone and screws into any standard tripod, including the gorillapod. One last item that is useful to bring along is a lightweight extension cord. Without it, you’re either limited to streaming for only a couple of hours until your battery runs out, or you have to be extremely lucky and have a power outlet right next to your camera location.

Once you have your stream working, you need people to view it! It’s a good idea to mention it to all of the players at the start of the tournament to let them know that their friends and family can watch for free. (I’d also let them know that the camera is for streaming purposes only and there is no red flag for booth review like in the NFL.) Another idea for spreading the word is to post the stream’s url on Facebook or Twitter if you are connected to a lot of people in the pool playing community. Having strong players on the stream never hurts either, so if your venue has more than one table, you can try to coordinate the matches so that the stronger players (and winner’s side matches) end up on the “streaming table.”

Have fun shooting and if you are going to stream any pool matches be sure to leave a comment here or drop me a tweet so I can watch.

US Bar Table Championships

I just got back from Reno where I competed in the US Bar Table Championships for the first time. It was a great tournament with some pretty stiff competition. Due to my work schedule I was only able to play in the eight ball bracket which was the biggest event with 189 players. I took 49th place and won my $100 entry fee back.

My first match was against a pro named Chris Gentile who took second place to Efrin Reyes last year in the One Pocket Open. I lost 5-2 but I shot well and the whole set felt a lot closer than the final score. Both of my wins were table runs and I had another couple of opportunities to do some damage. Chris played very strong offense and made two really amazing runs to close out the set.

Later that day, I got to play my second match, this time on the loser’s side. The guy was shooting really well during his warmup, but I was able to take command of the game from the start and went up 3-0 before he knew what hit him. Around this time he switched to playing safe and I made a nice masse on my last ball and then kicked the eight into the side. Once I was up 4-0, I ended up feeling a little bad for the guy which may have messed up my last run. I’m going to need to work on my killer instinct. I quickly recovered and ended up winning 5-1.

The next morning I did pretty much the same thing to my next opponent and won 5-1 again. I then got to watch a winner’s side match where I’d be playing the loser as soon as it was over. By this time I was really wishing I could run up to the hotel room for a nap, but I didn’t figure that I’d have the time. The match that I was watching went hill/hill and ended with one guy playing a super thin cut on the eight into the corner. He had to hit it so hard to make the eight that the cue ball whipped around three rails and ended up rattling the same pocket that the eight dropped into. So now I knew that I’d be playing the other guy and that he’d probably still be miffed about that last shot. I went over to the table that we were scheduled to play on and two ladies were playing there, tied at 2-2 in their race to four. It took them around 45 minutes to complete that fifth game as my energy was draining. After a while, I ended up hearing my name on the PA and that my match was moved to a different table, yes!

As predicted, my next opponent came into our match with a negative attitude. He started off with a sour comment about which side of the table he wanted before the first game was even racked. Then during the first game, he played a safe where I could just barely not see a 13-15 combo into the side. Both of my stripes were close to each other and to the side pocket so I decided to try a masse. I’ve already successfully swerved a few shots into the pocket during the previous matches so I stepped up and fired away. I missed the shot, but clipped the 13 and sent the eight toward a far corner pocket, luckily it didn’t have enough steam. My opponent called a foul saying that I hit the eight first and I of course protested. He claimed that I “had” to have hit the eight first due to where it was before the shot. I think that he really believed this, probably due to having a bad angle from his preferred seat. He ended up relenting saying that he should have called for a ref. I took the first couple games and then put myself into one ball hell in the third. He played me safe and I attempted to thin his five ball into a cluster of three other solids. I missed it completely and he got BIH. He played me safe again and this time I successfully parked the five right into the cluster. He played another safe and warned me I was on two fouls. I completely forgot about the three foul rule, woops! The eight was just on the other side of his clump of solids and I had to do a two rail kick. I missed the eight so I lost that game due to the three foul rule. He took a bathroom break smack dab in the middle of the next game but I didn’t let it affect me. I ended up winning the set 5-3 and couldn’t wait for that short nap that I’d been wanting to take. [Edit: there is no three foul rule in 8ball! Great reminder to read the rules beforehand. I’m pissed at myself, but at least I won the set.]

When I went to the board to see what time I’d have to return by for my next match, I was surprised to see that it was a half hour in the past! I had just finished the previous match so I knew I was safe, but I really didn’t want to jump into another battle just yet. I went up to the desk and found my way to the table where I’d be playing. I won the first and third games for a 2-1 lead and my opponent pulled a page out of the last guy’s book and went to the can. I don’t really think that it affected me this time either, but I ended up losing 5-3. I shot well the whole set, no bad misses, no missed safeties. I just didn’t have the winning edge that time.

All in all, I ended up making it to the first round of the money, which is better than I had expected. I had a great time, bought a hoodie and a jump cue, played a lot of pool with my girl, and got to take my dogs on a long road trip. I’m planning on doing it all again next year!

NomadPool YouTube Channel

Recently I’ve been using my iPhone 4S to take video footage of the last few matches of the #10ball pool tournaments that I’ve been running every Friday at San Francisco’s Happy Lounge.¬† The jukebox provides a great angle.¬† All I have to do is lean my phone up against a pint glass and hit record.¬† I can then easily crop and upload the videos directly to the NomadPool Channel on YouTube.

I stumbled upon a cool use for youtube’s “annotations” feature where you can highlight parts of the video and insert text when the mouse hovers over.¬† For the latest TGIF Finals Match, I added an annotation over each important object ball before two of the shots, at around 02:05.¬† This is useful since the number of each ball is important in rotation games such as #10ball, and the darker balls are easy to confuse on a grainy video.¬† It reminds me of watching pool on ESPN where they show the overhead view and put an exaggerated cartoon image of each ball over the top of the actual ball.

Billiards in TV & Movies

I just did an IMDB plot search for “billiards” and found a few shows and movies that I’d like to watch some day.¬† I’ve copy/pasted the links and descriptions here…

  1. A 1973 episode of Gunsmoke called Cowtown Hustler¬†where “an old drifter, named Joshua Pinch, passes through and hustles several cowboys in a pool game. He learns that the drifter’s real name is Moses Darby, a former world champion¬†billiards¬†player. Rope proposes a partnership with the old hustler. Darby accepts, and along with Sally, they head for Dodge City to seek their fortune.”
  2. A 1915 short film called Pool Sharks¬†where “two ardent suitors for the hand a pretty young woman carry their fight from an picnic to a test of skill in an indoor pool hall. After a series of unbelievable trick shots, the fight degenerates into¬†billiardthrowing, which involves an innocent bystander.”
  3. A movie that comes out in 2013 called 9-Ball¬†where a 10 year old girl, obsessed with pool, sees her dad get dramatically murdered. ¬†He uses his last words to tell her “Gail. Have faith, you will be a champion.”
  4. ¬†A 1952 documentary called Columbia World of Sports 4801: The Willie Hoppe Story which is the story of Willie Hoppe, world-champion billiard player for more than fifty years, even into his seventies. Commentator Bill Stern describes Hoppe’s abilities as the camera catches the match played at the New York Athletic Club, which Hoppe easily wins while playing against a much-younger opponent. The reel concludes with Hoppe demonstrating some of the tricks he can perform with a pool cue and a ball.
  5. A 1945 documentary called Champion of the Cue
    In this edition of Columbia’s “Sport Reels” (production number 7801), regular series narrator Bill Stern, employing his usual the-fate-of-the-world-hangs-in-the-balance style, talks while pocket billiard (pool shooter) champion Willie Mosconi (who was what Minnesota Fats claimed to be, but wasn’t) demonstrates his cue skills, with many of the shots shown in slow motion.
  6. A 1939 short film called Take a Cue
    Despite the school just having won an important basketball game, its students are more interested in one of its teachers, namely qv##nm2012781##, who teaches them in the fine art of playing billiards. He teaches them how to properly hold the cue, gauge the correct distance from knuckle to cue ball, and create the proper spin on the cue ball to position it properly for the next shot. He then demonstrates some seemingly impossible trick shots. Feeling the limelight has been unfairly taken away from him, Homer, the school’s star basketball player, tries to thwart Peterson’s attempt at making shots, while showing that he himself can make them.

San Francisco Pool Tournaments

Picking up where I last left off ages ago, I’d like to talk about the “Hi-Tech Tournaments” that I promised to start running. ¬†My pet project for a while now has been working on a website called NomadPool.com where pool players can sign up for their own free account and challenge each other to real life games of pool using their cell phones. ¬†A while back I added tournament support to Nomad and for the past three months, I’ve been running two weekly tournaments in San Francisco¬†every Friday and Sunday nights.

The Friday tournament is a #10ball double elimination tournament at Happy Lounge starting at 7pm.  @happy has one table and a very good pool vibe.  Everyone there is treated like family and they all love to shoot pool.  You can count on finding good and friendly competition no matter who you play.  This tournament is beginning to gain some momentum with 17 players showing up two weeks ago and our highest attended tournament last week at 18 players!

Then on every Sunday night, I run a double elimination #8ball tournament at the Blackthorn which is also in SF.  The @thorn has two pool tables, nice seating, and a smoking area out back where you can bring your drink.  The attendance at this tournament is usually ~15 players with a peak of 20 players about a month ago.  After the tournament ends, the tables stay open (free) and we play #8ball on one table and a big ring game of 3-lives (killer/turkey shoot) on the other.

You can check out the tournament page¬†if you’d like to see the upcoming tournaments as well as the past tournaments, including the full brackets. ¬†You can also see the¬†online leaderboards¬†that I promised in my last post. ¬†There are separate leaderboards for #8ball, #10ball, and other game types.

Hi-Tech Tournaments

It’s time for PoolSynergy again!¬† This month’s topic is about our ideal tournament and is being hosted by Mike Fieldhammer, the Billiard Coach. I highly suggest you cruise on over to Mike’s post to see all of the other perspectives on what makes for an exceptional tournament.

So, I’m a software developer by trade and I’ve been working on a side project for quite some time now that allows people to challenge each other to games of real life pool using their cellphone.¬† I already have support for tournaments built into the site and have ran a handful of tournaments, the largest two being a 21 player double elimination and a 39 player single elimination.

I’ve been planning on cutting back on my league play in favor of personally directing some weekly tournaments here in San Francisco. My goal is to make these tournaments as much fun for as many players as possible and continue to refine the site along the way.

With that in mind, here’s my plan so far…

1. Online Bracket History – Every tournament I run will have the full bracket saved online so that you can go back and view all of your past matches.

2. Instant Updates – Along the same lines as having the bracket history, every match will be instantly updated on the website in case you get stuck late at the office or something, you’ll still get to follow along with the action in real-time. You can even leave comments on the games to root your friends on (or to talk a little smack.)

3. Online Leaderboards – Every game that you play in one of my tournaments will count on a global online leaderboard as well as a leaderboard specific to the venue where the game took place. I’m using a version of the ELO rating system which was developed to rank chess players. Every player starts out with a rating of 1500. When two players compete, points are transferred from the losing player to the winner. The amount of points transferred depends on their ratings. The higher rated player risks more points to win less while the lower rated player risks less to win more.

4. Progressive Break Pot – I was thinking about running a calcutta based on past experiences I’ve had in some tournaments back in Detroit but then I read about an awesome sounding break pot on Melinda’s PoolJourney blog. I’m planning on incorporating this break pot almost verbatim. Basically you’ll get to buy as many $1 raffle tickets as you want and the chosen player will get one chance to break a 9ball rack.¬† As long as they make a ball on the break, they’ll get 1/9th of the total pot for every ball that they legally sink after the break. Everything else carries over to the next week’s pot.

5. Venue Provided Incentives – I’m going to talk to the bar owners to see what they can throw in to get players excited. Something along the lines of one free drink per player or maybe something added to the pot once a month. (Players would have to play in at least one tournament earlier in the month to qualify for the bonus.)

Please leave a comment if you have any feedback or ideas (or if you live near SF and would like to play in the tournaments.) I really want to make these tournaments successful and I’m hoping that introducing some technology into our favorite pastime will make for a great experience for everyone involved.

If you happen to own a “pool bar” or a tournament director yourself, I would love to talk to you.¬† Besides tournaments, pool hall and bar owners can use the site to give their regular players a venue-specific leaderboard to challenge each other on.¬† The best part is that no computer is needed to send and accept challenges, everything can be done through simple text messages and we have an iPhone/Android app coming very soon.

My Favorite Game

This month’s PoolSynergy topic is about your favorite game.¬† This is a good question that I haven’t really thought about lately since I mainly play in bar leagues now and thus am relegated to mostly 8ball and 9ball.¬† After reading this post, be sure to check out the rest of the April 15th Edition over at Johnny101’s blog.

I love both one-pocket and 8ball carom, and have had the chance to play each a few times recently.  Playing both of these games on a serious level is not only fun but it will greatly help your strategy in any other game you play.  If we had been asked to choose our top three favorite games, those two would easily be next in line.

Golf PoolThat being said, my all time favorite game in terms of the pure fun factor has to be playing golf on the 12′ snooker table.¬† Golf can be played with 2-9 players at once.¬† Everyone has one numbered ball that is their own which they shoot at in order, similar to a 9ball ring game.¬† You start off with the cue ball in the D (similar to behind the line) and your ball on the foot spot.¬† You have to bank it back to your back right corner pocket, which is called the “one hole.”¬† Like in the “other version” of golf, you can’t move on to the next closest corner pocket, the “two hole,” until you sink your ball into the first pocket.¬† You continue around the table until you end up on the right side pocket which is the sixth and final hole.¬† If you scratch while on the six hole, you go back to the five, but this doesn’t apply on earlier holes.¬† There are some variants on the rules, but Wikipedia’s Golf Rules are similar to how we used to play.

The strategy is normally to try “putting” your ball close to your pocket, because in the event of a miss, you would like it to ideally end up very close for when your next turn comes around.¬† Beware though, because it is also everyone’s responsibility to shoot other players’ balls away if it is sitting near their pocket and you have a shot at it.¬† For instance, if you’re on the three hole and someone is near their own five hole and you have an opportunity to hit your ball into theirs to kick it out, you really should do so instead of soft banking your ball back near your own hole.¬† Everyone is gunning for everyone else while at the same time trying to leave themselves in a good position.¬† It’s awesome!

We used to play golf for hours upon hours at Hall’s Billiards back in the greater Detroit area.¬† I was just a youngster with a sharp shot who made a small living between gambling and tournaments but couldn’t really hold his own in an unweighted set against the best in the area.¬† Back in the corner playing golf would usually be me, a couple guys twice my age, and a few more 4-5x my senior.¬† I don’t know if they took it easy on me at first which gave me confidence to play well, or if it was simply the fact that the game was so much fun, but what I do know is that when it came to golf, I was able to play well above my pay grade and come out on top more than my fair share.