Trophy for US Amateur Championships, Preliminary Round (California)

Monday, September 20, 2004

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

A few months ago I received a completely unexpected letter from the APA (American Poolplayers Association) which started out like this:

"Dear Michael:

"As one of our highly skilled players, we would like to extend a special invitation to you to participate in the nation's most prestigious amateur pocket billiards event -- the 11th Annual U.S. Amateur Championship. This is an opportunity to be recognized for your outstanding pool playing ability. The U.S Amateur Championship was designed for the best of the best".

My first reaction was to recheck the name and address on the envelope. Surely they must have it wrong. "Highly skilled player?" "Best of the best?" "Outstanding ability?" Amazingly, the letter was addressed to me, and for good measure they even had my APA member number on it!

Those people sure do know how to get me to send in my money: Just flatter me senseless! Now, I know darn well that I'm not US Amateur Championship good. I guess I'd have to admit that I'm surely not on the bottom rung of the ladder, but just as surely I'm a couple of steps down the ladder from the top players in San Diego, so maybe the letter was stretching the point.

But I figured: what the heck, it might be a good thing to see what it's like to play some of the best players in the country. What have I got to lose other than my pride? I've sure lost that more than once in my life!

Ever since I got the letter, I've been putting in some focused practice, taking a few lessons, doing some reading on pool, and even doing some self-hypnosis and visualizing to help prepare myself for the big event. Actually the event was more like a middle-sized event, because before I could play for the US Amateur Championship, to be held in Berlin, CT, I had to win a spot in the California playoff to be held in San Jose.

Now, all the time I'm preparing for this California preliminary round, I'm thinking to myself "What the heck am I doing? I have about as much of a chance at winning this California Preliminary round as I have of winning the US Amateur Championship... about Zero!" But, not having anything better to do with my time, I just put my head back down and shot some more balls.

Needless to say, I won. Otherwise, this would be a really stupid story. Also needless to say, because there's that trophy staring you in the face at the start of the story!

I learned a lot from the experience. First of all, I learned just how focused I can become when it is really important to me. I can not remember being that focused for a long time. It seemed that every shot required an intensity of concentration that was beyond anything I recall while playing pool. Second, I relearned the old adage: "Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained". In fact, the night before I had to fly up to San Jose for the match, I got my butt handed to me in an 8-ball match (5 to zero!), and went home that night thinking that I must be seriously brain warped if I was going to get up in the morning and enter the US Amateur Championship and get more lessons in humility. It took every last bit of resolve to get up for the match after such a drubbing. I could easily have stayed home and felt sorry for myself. Third: anything can happen! Sometimes even the best players have a bad day, and that just might happen when they are playing me. And, sometimes, maybe, I can play way over my head.

The night before the match I stopped by Shoreline Billiards to get a feel for the tables, and shot a few racks on table #24. I was pleasantly surprised that the tables were clean, with fresh, but not new, cloth, and the balls were very clean. (The proprietor cleans them every night!) Shots ran fast, but not overly fast, and the cushions banked true, and there were no noticeable rolls. It was a classy joint. I went back to the hotel and went to sleep easily while listening to my self-hypnosis recording on my iPod.

The next morning I prepared by doing some extensive yoga/meditation, again accompanied by the pool oriented self-hypnosis recording, and then drove to the pool hall to get there as soon as they opened so I would be sure to have some more practice time.

Registration went without a hitch, and the event started on time. As an unexpected bonus, my first match was a "Bye", so I had a chance to watch some of the other players shoot it out in the first round. They were all very good, but sooner or later they all miss a shot, and that's all it takes for me to think I might have a chance to win.

My first match, a race to 7, was assigned to table #24 (what luck!) and was against Kong-Ho Lee, a Chinese fellow who put up a good fight and had me down by the slim margin of only one game, at two different points in the 9-ball portion of the match, but we tied that session 4-4 and I rallied to win with a 3-0 finish in the 8-ball session, giving me an overall win of 7-4.

My next match, a race to 7, was also assigned to table #24 (what extraordinary luck!!) and was against Colin Mazaika, a tall red-headed guy who actually worked at Shoreline Billiards, so I was expecting him to know the tables pretty well. But during the 9-ball session I lead him all the way and finished with a 5-3 margin going into the 8-ball session. He battled all the way back and finally got us to hill-hill, but I took the final game for the win.

My last match, a race to 11, was against Mike Fisher. After 6 games of 9-ball we were dead even at 3-3, but I took the next 6 out of 7 games for a 9-4 lead going into the 8-ball session, and needed only 2 games to win, but he needed 7. He seemed to know that it was all over but the shouting, but he played on. Interestingly, he appeared to actually be rooting for me; on several occasions he would congratulate me on making some very good shots, and telling me how well I was playing! I took 2 out of the next 3 games of 8-ball for the win.

I was completely stunned! I was only behind at 2 points in the entire event, and didn't lose a match. It was almost easy if you look at the stats, but I remember being extraordinarily focused and dead serious for every shot.

It was a long day: 9 hours of non-stop high-intensity pool. I collected my trophy and drove back to the hotel for a shower and some well-earned sleep. When I woke, the trophy was still on the night table. It really did happen!

In this morning after, I walked along the meandering pond close by the hotel, and drank deeply of the nectar of ordinary existence. The sun shone warmly through a light rain, the sweet sounds of the breeze through the pines was the purest of music, innocent children gleefully feeding the ducks gave promise of a brighter future for mankind, and all the while I was smiling.

2004 Official List of the National Qualifiers

Other True Pool Stories by Fast Mikie

The Big Win
(a story of Karma and Victory)

Agony and Ecstasy in Las Vegas
(the National Team 9-ball Championships)

Fast Mikie Retires His Willie
(how I beat a world champion at 9-ball)

Fast Mikie Goes To College
(recollections of a time long ago)

Diary of a Pool Shooter - The Adventures of Fast Mikie
(the blog)

Michael McCafferty Home Page
Michael McCafferty Pool Page
Diary of a Pool Shooter - The Adventures of Fast Mikie

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