I had another bad finish in Oregon last month. This time it didn’t feel mental, I just didn’t feel aligned correctly over the ball which led me to miss way more shots than I should. I had one decent match on the live stream, and two horrific matches where I missed a lot in the end game. Not a winning strategy. I leave for the final event of the season in Florida on Wednesday. All I can do is stick to my preshot routine and play it one ball at a time. I hope to have better news next time I write!
I’ve had plenty of time to think about this last tournament, and I always try to look at myself in the most brutally honest way. I feel it’s impossible to improve if you constantly make excuses for yourself. I’m a big believer in accountability…owning your mistakes and working to overcome them. Well meaning people will often try to make excuses for you, but do yourself a favor and don’t buy into it. So here is my brutally honest assessment of myself after this tournament.
You already know about my first round (see below) where I served my inner demon an eviction notice. The second round I was matched up with Ga Young Kim, who played almost flawlessly. I missed one or two balls, but really didn’t have many good opportunities. I’m not surprised she went on to win the event.
Next I had to play a fellow New Yorker on the live stream. I was very focused and played well. I made a couple of mistakes at the end, but she was off her game and didn’t capitalize on them.
In my next match I played really well to get up 6-1. My opponent suddenly woke up and started playing perfect. At 6-5, she missed the 9 ball and let out not one, but two primal screams. She left a very makeable 9, and instead of taking a moment and composing myself I convinced myself that everything was fine and I shot at the 9. It was only after I missed it that I realized that I wasn’t fine at all. That scream scared the crap out of me and got my heart racing. I took my break and composed myself. I can’t remember feeling that angry in a long time, and although I was angry at my opponent for her unsportsmanlike behavior, I was more angry at myself for letting her distract me. I came back from my break, and she continued with perfect play and ended up winning the match 9-7. It was very disappointing, but I learned a big lesson. Sometimes your opponents will behave in an unprofessional way, either intentionally or unintentionally trying to gain any advantage in order to win. As a professional it is up to ME to fade any and all distractions and do the job that I’m there to do. If I’m ever in that situation again I’m going to take my break before I shoot, I’m going to take all the time I need to make the ball, then I’m going to stick the knife in and give it a good twist.
Ok, so my first round match I come out strong. So focused, playing great, I get up to 6-1. She takes her break. Enter the demon. She wins the next 5 games on good play and a few handouts from me. There it is again…the doubt, the fear, the nerves. It’s now 6-6, and I take my break, I compose myself, tell myself, “F*&k that. I may lose, but I will not self destruct.” I didn’t. I won the next 3. Ready for Jenn vs. the Demon, round 2. His punk a$$ better be scared, too.
I’m sitting here in the dark at 5 am drinking a crappy cup of instant coffee with pillow lines still on my face asking myself, “Are you ready?” I’ve realized there’s no such thing as being ready. There are so many factors that go into having a good finish that being ready doesn’t mean all that much. I’ve felt ready and won only one match, and I’ve felt completely unprepared and made it to the televised rounds. So my gameplan for Colorado is this:
Decide what I want to do
Get down on the shot
Let it fly
One of the hardest things to deal with since I’ve been competing again is the choke. I’ve found myself in many matches winning control of the table, having a great layout and then missing a routine shot. I find myself over the ball with my heart and mind racing, my arm shaking and no matter how hard I try to calm down I can’t seem to make it happen. I remember dealing with this when I first got on the pro tour, but I was rather surprised to have it return after a year off from the game.
I played Turning Stone this weekend, and had a pretty bad choke against a great player who was off his game. The fans groaned and rolled their eyes as I proceeded to dog my chances to win. It’s painful for the fans as well as the player. What I want up and coming players to know is that choking is part of learning. It’s part of becoming a better player. Eventually you learn how to deal with the pressure, but even then top players still struggle with it occasionally. The idea is to put yourself in pressure situations often, and that choking feeling will slowly happen less and less. I know because I overcame it before, and I will again.
One thing about pool that can be frustrating is when you play well and lose. As a younger player this used to be devastating to me. It seemed that if I played well I was supposed to win, no? Well, no, not if your opponent plays well, too. Actually I have an order for my favorite ways to win and lose:
1. Play poorly and win. There’s something to be said about winning a match with your low game. It’s about fighting the inner demons and grinding it out. When I win like this I am seriously proud of myself.
2. Play well and win. This is nice, but generally when you play well you win. Not always, but usually.
3. Play well and lose. If I’m going to lose, this is how I like to go down.
4. Play poorly and lose. This hurts. Especially if your opponent plays poorly, too.
So my tale of the US Open was that I played well and lost. I took a great player to the hill (choked on an 8 ball to close the match due to nerves, but I just have to get used to the pressure again), I lost to a player that played a near perfect match (and I only made 3 mistakes) and I won a match in which I played well. That left me with a 33rd place finish. I’m not disappointed, though. If I keep playing the way I did eventually I will have a good finish to show for it. And, the upside of having a bad tournament is getting to spend time with the girls!
I think I may be suffering from Blogger’s Block. My friends have been nudging me to update my blog, and every time I sit in front of the computer I’m stumped. What do I have to say? My friends have advised me to just “say anything” so that is what I’m doing.
Maybe it’s just that I’m happy. I’m enjoying my life, I’m playing some of the best pool I’ve ever played, I had my first decent WPBA tournament in a long time…what else is there?
How about a strong opinion guaranteed to piss people off?
I’m often asked why I don’t play in WPBA qualifiers. In fact, I was once criticized in a public forum by a past tour operator because “Jennifer thinks she’s too good for us now”. Not so. I respect the qualifying tours tremendously. I know there are girls who can play well enough to do serious damage on the tour. I don’t go to qualifiers because I remember being completely disheartened to end up in a bracket with a top player, and to know that my chance to win was a lot lower than a girl in the other bracket.
Now, I know people will say that you have to beat the top players anyway when you get on tour, but does that mean I should also have to beat them just to get there? I swore to myself that I would never take that chance away from a girl who needs it. I don’t want to help randomize the result. I want the best girl at the qualfier to win the spot. Now, I’m not saying that I’m going to beat everyone there, but if I happen to beat the girl who would have otherwise gotten the spot then the damage is done.
Some say qualifiers would be good practice for me, and I agree, but if I want to practice I have Tony Robles’ Predator Tour, the Joss Tour, the Tri-State Tour…the list goes on. The only way you will ever see me playing in a qualifier is if I ever need to re-qualify. I just hope that someday the rules will change and qualifiers will be like they are in other sports. Tournaments for girls who need to qualify.
Dedication is circling the block 5 times until your child falls asleep so you can squeeze in one extra set of 9 ball while he naps in his stroller.
I discovered this last Friday when I went to pick up my cue from the pool hall on the off chance that I would play in a tournament that weekend. Max fell asleep on the way over, a friend of mine was there playing alone, so I said, “Hm…I can either go home and watch him sleep, or…”. So I parked him in the corner and played my heart out until he woke up.
The next Friday I decided to do the same thing. It’s about a 20 minute walk to the pool hall, and when it’s nap time he usually can’t survive that long. The only problem is, this time I told him where we were going…and he loooves the pool hall. Needless to say, he was wide awake when we pulled up, so I took him for a little snack in the deli. I figured with a full belly, and a couple of laps around the block I’ll have him asleep in no time. Wrong! Every time we passed the pool hall he screamed, “Mama, POOLS!!!”. By the 5th lap I realized it was futile, so I brought him in.
I laid the ground rules first…no screaming, no throwing the balls and we have to stay on our table. He did all of those things and I let him run as many racks as he wanted to. When he wore himself out we hit the pavement again and one lap later he was sound asleep. I got in my extra set for the week, and it was worth every single minute. If you have 45 seconds, check out the video of Max running a rack below.
Now, before all you germophobes get up in my grill, let me just mention that someone posted a comment on a video of Max and I which insinuated that putting him on a pooltable was akin to bathing him in a cesspool. Believe me, if people in the pool hall aren’t washing their hands after showing the toilet who number 2 works for, they’re doing it everywhere else, too. Not to mention, every parent knows that the germiest place is the universe is the daycare center. So there.
As I was leaving practice today I ran into the owner of Amsterdam Billiards, Greg Hunt, speaking to none other than Mike “The Mouth” Sigel. Greg introduced us, we’d never met before, and said that if I could come back in an hour he would put up a little money for us to play a challenge match. Are you kidding?? I would have been back even if I had to strap Max to my back to play. Luckily I could just leave him with the hubby.
I went back down to Amsterdam and we decided that I would play Mike a race to 8, even up, alternate break (so I had a chance!) in 10 ball, and my friend Jim Gottier would play Mike a race to 150 in straight pool. I played my heart out, and Mike played me with the utmost respect. During the course of the match he said, “I really thought this was going to be a cakewalk. You play really well. I’m impressed.” The score ended up 8-4, but that comment was one of the highlights of my pool career. I couldn’t stay to see the outcome of the straight pool match, but it looked pretty competitive!
I’ll just say that I had some ups and downs in the first tournament on the WPBA calendar. It was held out at the Viejas Casino in Alpine, CA. I had a pretty bad finish, but all that matters is that I played with a lot of heart and never gave up.
An interesting thing happened in my last match. I struggled throughout, and at 8-8 I fought my way through the rack and pocketed the final 9. My opponent stood up and shook my hand. We exchanged a few words, and I glanced over at the table…the cueball is still rolling…toward the corner pocket! She walked over and said, “It’s not going to scratch”. It did. At pocket speed. Ouch. Some have said that because she conceded the match with a premature handshake I could have raised an objection and probably won. Why didn’t I? Because I didn’t deserve to win. I focused on pocketing the 9, and really didn’t take my cueball into account. I didn’t think I hit it that hard, but at my level I should always play a path that doesn’t intersect with the holes. My fault, I lost, I own it, handshake or not.