How To Train Your Dragon


One time, only a couple years after I started playing pool, I had a dream. In the dream I was playing a league match which was handicapped, and I was barely a D player who was up against a B. When we started play, I became so zeroed in on the object ball that everything else in the room faded away, and the table seemed very bright. No matter how far away the balls were, they looked so close. I had all of these ideas about how to get position for the next ball, and wherever I imagined the cue ball, it arrived. These ideas just magically materialized in my brain as I glided around the table with a relaxed confidence. In the last game I rolled too far for position and hooked myself, so I elevated my cue and massed the next ball in, running out for the win. After the match, which I dominated, my opponent walked up to me with his outstretched hand and said scornfully, “You’re the best D player I’ve ever seen. Do you want to play a little more?”

And then I woke up. Except that I was never really asleep, and this was not a dream. I had hit the nirvana of pool (Dead Stroke. Dead Punch. Unconscious.) for the first time in my pool career. Me and the B player did play another set, and much to his disbelief, I played like an average D. Of course he accused me of sandbagging, but I could tell my obvious lack of skill was confusing him. Needless to say, I lost the set, he complained to the league director and I remained a D because that’s what I truly was.

So what was that dreamlike trance that I stumbled upon and, more importantly, how do I get it back? That, my friends, is the hook. When heroin addicts speak of their first high, and how they spend the rest of their addiction trying to feel like that again, I know what they mean. I am chasing the dragon of Dead Punch.

Over the years I’ve hit various stages of it, from full subconscious operation to extremely focused relaxation, and every time I’ve tried to study the feeling so that I can recreate it. The following is a list of the things that I’ve noticed when the rest of the world falls away, and it’s just me and whitey:

-My body is relaxed when I’m over the ball. It’s resting on the table with little to no tension.

-My breathing is even and deep; a low diaphragm breathing that expands my stomach. My body naturally exhales right before I deliver the final stroke.

-My eyes move easily from the cueball to the object ball during my practice strokes, and then lock onto the smallest spot on the object ball until the shot is complete.

-My whole upper body feels like one unit. My dominant eye, arm and cue are a single mechanism made to follow straight through the point on the object ball.

-My thoughts about the shot are clear and decisive, but when I get down my brain is virtually empty. There is no doubt or hesitation.

-My arm swings straight through the ball, and I let it. My brain has worked out the speed, and I trust myself.

-Nothing exists outside the four walls of the table. I cannot be distracted and there is no place I’d rather be.

-In my head I am rooting for my opponent. I want their best game, and I don’t care if I win or lose.

I’ve often wondered what dead stroke is, and why it has to be so elusive. I’ve come to believe that dead stroke is merely a peek at your potential greatness; a tease that keeps you coming back for more. People often say pool is an addiction and, like drugs, dead punch gives you a dizzying high followed by a momentous crash back to Earth. It leaves you feeling empty and wanting more, and the only way to fill that void is to play until you experience it again. It’s this feeling that urges players to aspire to greatness despite the lack of money or glory left in the sport of pool. That’s why the best advice I can give you is to keep chasing that dragon, my friends.





Answers to the Most Asked Pool Questions


In my previous blog post I answered what might be the number one question that I am asked. If you’ve read that, you know that I’m not one to sugar coat my answers. My mentor took a tough approach with me, and brought me to tears many times, but that is what made me the player I am today. Here are some answers to other questions I frequently hear. If I miss any, please feel free to ask in the comments.

I’m playing like crap, and it sucks. Should I take a break?

For the casual player: Yes, take a break! Pool is your leisure time activity, and it should be spent enjoying yourself. Maybe a fresh perspective after a couple weeks off will bring you back to your regular game.

For the aspiring player: Hell, no. Get into the pool hall and stop whining about everything. The game has ebbs and flows, and you need to learn how to deal with them. Some of the best practice you can get is learning how to fight your way out of bad play. Try to learn what it takes to dig deep, and raise yourself out of a funk.

I play better with a couple drinks in me. Should I do a shot before my matches?

For the casual player: Absolutely! Relax and have fun! League night is only once a week.

For the aspiring player: Absolutely! Not! Unless you are also an aspiring alcoholic, I wouldn’t start relying on drinks to make you play better. It may work in the beginning, but pool is a very delicate balance of clear thought and physical precision. Drinking clouds both of those.

How can I get a sponsor?

For the casual player: You can’t.

For the aspiring player: Sponsorship is only about one thing. ROI. What do you have to offer a potential sponsor? Do you frequently play on live streams or in big tournaments with lots of visibility? Many players think they are owed sponsorship because they play well, but sponsors really want someone who brings visibility to their brand. Connect with companies via email or at trade shows, and tell them what you bring to the table. One more thing to note is that you can start with an endorsement deal. Companies will send you product for your own use, and in return you wear a patch. Real monetary sponsorship is usually only available to the upper echelon of players, and even then you may only get free product that you can sell, and keep the profit. One more thing…your conduct when you wear that patch should be impeccable. No one wants to sponsor an asshole.

Will gambling make me better?

For the casual player: Gamble will probably make you broke-er, but if you enjoy it, do it!

For the aspiring player: Gambling can be good for your game if it’s done the right way. Lopsided matches won’t do much for your game, so set the spots accordingly. Also, if you spend all of your practice time gambling, you may get stuck protecting your money, and not try new things. Like all things in life, it’s about balance.

How many hours a week should I practice?

For the casual player: Practice whenever you feel like playing. If you don’t feel like it, a quick warm up before your league match will do.

For the aspiring player: How many hours do you have free during the week? Can you sneak out on lunch break and hit a few balls? Keep in mind that your pool obsession can have a major impact on family life, so make a schedule that everyone can agree to, and stick to it. I know you want to get better, but it won’t mean much if you get fired from your job and kicked out by your partner. But then again, think about how good you could be!


Why You Probably Won’t Get Better at Pool


One of the most popular questions that I am asked when I’m in a pool hall is, “How can I get better?” My answer is that if you’re asking me this question, then you probably won’t get better. If you think that’s a harsh assertion, let me explain myself.

1. If you’re asking me this question you probably have no idea what your weaknesses are.

If you haven’t assessed your own weaknesses by the time you are asking me this question, there is probably no chance you ever will. The people who constantly improve are the ones who carefully self-assess and work to improve the holes in their games. If you’ve ignored  your weaknesses thus far, then you probably don’t have what it takes to work on something that you absolutely hate until you want to shatter your cue in a million pieces and/or have a nervous breakdown. You’ve probably never felt utterly demoralized and broken down by that one thing that you can’t seem to master, yet you come back day after day and keep grinding. And you’ve also never experienced that moment when it all clicks, and suddenly you have a glimmer of hope, which only makes you double the effort.

2. You want to skip the struggle.

You are asking this question because you want the magic bullet. You want me to say something so profound that your game goes up once my words meet your medial temporal lobe. I can’t tell you how many people I see in the pool hall with gadgets and gimmicks all designed to create a quick fix that will make you instantly better. I see low level players adding an extension to their cue “because Earl does” or buying  different cues in hopes of instantly morphing into whatever champion is using it. These champions didn’t get that way by a gimmick, a gadget or a cue. They got that way because they obsessively spent every moment in the pool room working on the things that they find most unpleasant until they master them.The best players literally shed blood, sweat and tears until they become that way.

3. Your ego is too big

Chances are you’ve asked other players this very question, but upon realizing that your game didn’t magically improve, you came in search of answers from me. Maybe when the other players said your break was too wild, or your position was too weak it sounded like too much work to fix. Or maybe you think those things are already great, and that it must be something else. I can’t tell you how many times someone has asked my opinion about something, and then told me they’d rather do it their way. If your mind isn’t open to new ideas, then your ego will forever hold you in lower echelon of pool.

I’m sorry if I sound callous, but this is the reality of improving your game. I’m not talking about the kind of improvement that happens by default if you keep hitting balls. I’m talking about improving beyond your natural plateau. Improvement that people notice and talk about. The kind that makes people ask you what you’re doing. For that kind of improvement, there are no quick fixes. There is no product you can buy. It’s just you facing your weaknesses. Until you work your ass off to make them strengths. And then your old strengths become your new weaknesses. So you rinse and repeat until that shit is squeaky clean.


Another Love Letter to Pool


Dear Pool.

I know I said I would love you forever, and a part of me always will, but I’m starting to think we’d be better off as friends. Our relationship is so awful right now that no matter how much I give you always want more, and I’m tired. I still want you in my life, but I don’t think it’s healthy for me to be with you every single day.

I know this seems out of the blue, but you see, I’ve met someone. His name is Work, and he knows how to treat me right. Things aren’t always easy, but he makes me feel worthwhile, and the more I give to him the more I get back. He takes me to nice restaurants and buys me beautiful clothes, and makes me feel appreciated. I finally understand what a healthy relationship is.

It may sound cliche, but I do still love you, I’m just not in love with you. Maybe this time apart will make my heart grow fonder, but now that I’ve met Work I’m not sure I could live without him. Work isn’t possessive or jealous and it’s ok for me to spend time elsewhere. I really hope that we can remain friends because I would still enjoy taking trips together and spending some quality time with you. I think we should start over again. Try to rebuild some sort of relationship where we enjoy each other. Maybe we can spend the afternoon together a few times a week. Lunch will be on me.



An Open Letter To Pool


Dear Pool,

I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately, and we need to talk. I’m starting to think that our relationship is one sided and unhealthy. Don’t get me wrong…the good times are fantastic. In those times you build me up and make me feel invincible, and nothing has ever made me feel that way before. I truly appreciate those moments and I will cherish them forever, but what we really need to talk about are the other times.

You know what I’m talking about. I love you with all my heart and your indifference and downright cruelty toward me are an unnecessary betrayal. You keep me away from my friends and family for days at a time. You take my money and rarely pay me back. At times you humiliate me in public. You relentlessly point out every one of my flaws to show me just how insignificant I am in your world. How could you be so horrible to me when I give you so much of myself? I’m constantly working on this relationship, but nothing is ever perfect enough for you. I’ve been thinking about leaving you for good.

But who am I kidding? I am still hopelessly in love with you. I am under your spell and I don’t have the strength to leave you. I am a broken person, and sadly, I will continue to take all the abuse you have to dish out. All I am asking is that you ease up on me before you completely crush my spirit. I don’t know how much more I can take, but I can’t leave because in my heart I know there is so much more in store for us. I can feel it! As crazy as it sounds I want to be your number 1. I want to be everything you expect of me and more. So it is with this letter that I am professing my undying love for you. I’m too invested in you to throw it all away for something that will never make me as happy as you can when things are good. Please take it easy on me. We could be great.

All my heart,




Reasons not to practice:

My back hurts
I’m tired
I need to do laundry
I’m hungry
I want to watch my son’s karate class
I need to clean my apartment
I already practiced 16 hours this weekend

Reasons to practice:

I want to show my son that anything is possible

Back to work.

2011 World Mixed Doubles

It’s only been 2 months since I went to Hangzhou, China to compete in the Dragon Promotions 2011 World Mixed Doubles. I’m finally getting around to writing about it for one reason only. Jury Duty. More specifically, Grand Jury Duty. 30 days of sitting in a courtroom deciding whether to indict citizens of New York. I know it sounds like a long time, but it’s only 3 hours a day, and for a once aspiring prosecuter (me!), the whole process is fascinating. Anyway, as you can imagine, there is quite a bit of down time, and that extra time has allowed me to read, write and do the other quiet things that can be achieved on an iPad when you’re not in a noisy pool hall or sitting at home with a 5 year old that demands the iPad to play a game of Cut The Rope.

So anyway, back to China. When I got the invite to the tournament I didn’t know who my partner would be. Good chemistry goes a long way in a doubles tournament, so when I found out my doubles partner was Hunter Lombardo, I was thrilled. Hunter and I have know each other from around the pool scene for many years, and while we never played pool together, every time we are in the same room we end up laughing until our sides hurt. I like people who are open, impulsive and can go with the flow, so he was the perfect partner for me. Imagine my surprise when we discovered that we both travel with the same exact hair dryer. A match made in heaven.


Considering we never played together, we played pretty well. Good doubles partners never point fingers, and help their partners get out of messes. We did that well, and when we lost, it was as a team. We ended up losing our first match to a team from Taipei. We played well, but so did they, and we ended up losing. Our next match was televised. The TV arena was on the ground floor of a mall in Taipei, and the production was extremely well done. I’m always impressed at how Dragon Promotions does live events so seamlessly. Recently I got some photos from that match that ran in a Chinese newspaper..




In the next match we played team Japan, and got off to a great start. We played really well together and got a big lead. Then while we were on the hill, the wheels fell off. We both started making mistakes, and just couldn’t get out. In the end we couldn’t get it done, and we lost. We finished 9-12 out of a field of 16, but I think we had more fun than the other players.


And we definitely had the best hair.

My New BFF’s!

You’d probably never know this, as scarcely as I update my blog, but I love to write. One of the reasons for my lack of blog entries is that I am stretched very thin, and it’s difficult to find the time and the peace and quiet that are required to write something meaningful. Thankfully, my new BFF’s at Pooldawg have commissioned me to write articles every 3 weeks. If there is one thing that motivates me, it’s big brother breathing down my neck, so every 3 weeks I will be delivering a short manifesto that you will hopefully learn something from, or at least enjoy reading. The following is a link to my first article. Enjoy!

Thoughts from the Electric Chair