Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Why you want the worst(ed) cloth

In my previous post, I discussed the technical differences between pool table felt and cloth. For recreational players, the biggest choice is what color cloth to get while paying as little as possible. Why should you pay for more expensive cloth? Let's go over what makes one cloth better than the next.

First of all, it's important to consider what kind of qualities you want in a cloth. It should be consistent over the entire bed of the table, obviously, but how much do you care about characteristics like durability and stain resistance or more technical features such as speed? Some of the answers will depend on the environment your table is being used (indoor, outdoor, commercial, tournaments), how much use it will get, and what kind of players will be playing on it.

Cheaper cloth will often be made of napped wool. It looks and feels fuzzier. On other hand, more expensive cloth is made of worsted wool, so it feels smoother. You can think of napped wool as what is used for sweaters and worsted wool as what is used for expensive suits. The cloth is rarely pure wool; it's generally blended with 10-30% of nylon helping with strength and durability. The nap can lead to an uneven playing surface as well as wearing out differently over time. Worsted wool, on the other hand, will play more consistently both in terms of across the whole surface as well as over time.

Touching on durability, the fuzziness of the cloth can pill up and pulling these out can damage the fibers. This is more difficult, if not impossible, with worsted wool. But the other thing you have to look for is the weight of the cloth. The greater the weight, the more material there is per unit area. This should make the cloth more durable as well.

The weight can also contribute to the stain resistance of the cloth. The more tightly woven the fibers are, the more difficult it will be for the cloth to absorb liquids. The nap will generally help absorb liquid. You can also get cloth that is coated in Teflon to help repel stains.

As you might imagine by now, napped wool will play slower than worsted wool due to increased friction from the nap. This requires you to put in more effort to play a faster shot and to put the same amount of spin on the cue ball. Also the nap will 'take' the spin faster if you can generate it. On a worsted wool, the cue ball will have a tendency to slide more before the spin grabs the cloth and changes the trajectory of the cue ball. This can affect your cue ball control.

Making an investment in a worsted wool cloth is important if you want to have the highest standard of play. It will generally play faster, more evenly, and last longer than a napped wool. It will be more expensive in the beginning, but it will pay for itself and give you more enjoyment for the game.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Pool table felt or cloth?

The fabric that covers the pool table bed is often referred to as felt or cloth. Most people don't care which one you say, but there are those out there that are passionate about it much like a grammar snob. In the latter case, they always prefer cloth. Let's take a look at why.

Felt, in textile terms, is generally defined as fabric that is made from pressing fibers together. What this means is the fibers aren't interwoven and, with enough work, you can pick and tear individual fibers out. Also, if you try to stretch felt, such as needed when covering a pool table, it should fray and separate.

Cloth, on the other hand, is a woven fabric, meaning all of the fibers are intertwined and run from one end to the other. It is difficult to pull individual fibers apart from the weave and you can stretch cloth without tearing since you're pulling on the entire length of a fiber.

One of the more reputable brands of cloth out there is Simonis. You can certainly go cheaper, such as with Mercury Ultra, if you're not that much of an enthusiast. As far as what to call it though, cloth is technically correct. However, you'll see felt used all over the place since it's used more often, especially by people who don't know or don't care about the technical differences.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Myth of the Trick Shot Artist

This may be one of the best kept secrets. When people see me shooting trick shots, they automatically assume I'm a great pool player as well. While I can generally hold my own, I'm generally not a threat to run racks on a consistent basis. Most people would assume that you have to be a great pool player first and then you can become good at trick shots. That's not really accurate. There are other examples of this as well, Florian 'Venom' Kohler and Steve 'Triple C' Markle mastered trick shots well before honing their 8 ball or 9 ball games.

Certainly, being good at pool already will quicken the learning curve for trick shots, but there is more to it than that. Most good pool players will have a decent stroke, good aiming, and can control the cue ball. To be a great trick shot artist, it takes a monster stroke, ability to make fine adjustments, and coordination (think speed shots or one-handed shots). One of the biggest weaknesses in my pool game is the ability to control the cue ball. I tend to overhit it because I'm used to juicing it up so much for trick shots.

So, next time you see a trick shot artist, don't be so quick to assume they're great at pool. There are a fair number that made the crossover from typical pool to trick shots, but there are plenty of others that became trick shot specialists without developing their general game.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Great Trick Shots

I've seen plenty of trick shot videos on the internet, from professional pool players to aspiring amateurs to friends just having fun. The range of shots on display is immense, but there are only a few that end up catching my eye as interesting and elegant. I want to explain what makes a good trick shot from my point of view. Trick shots, or artistic pool, is certainly a form of art and its beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so what I think is an interesting trick shot may not be so fascinating for others.

1. Creativity
There are hundreds of standard trick shots. Books are filled with them and often you can see the same ones all over the internet. This makes the original creations stand out. Even finding minor ways to tweak the classics can be refreshing. What's really impressive is when someone finds a new setup shot, arranging three or more balls in a cluster and making them all in one shot. I was quite proud of inventing Y Not. Creativity can also be evident on the other end of the spectrum too, if you can make the cue ball dance in ways no one has done before.

2. Simplicity
Some of the best trick shots are the simplest ones. Anyone can create a random trick shot using an esoteric prop that only they have, but it takes real genius to come up with something so simple that no one else has thought about it beforehand. Take something like Gene Catron's domino trick shot, it's probably the most complicated shot ever set up. And while it's impressive for what it is, it's not worth anyone's time to try to repeat it.

3. Repeatability
The more you practice a shot, the more you should make it. While a shot you can make one in a million tries certainly has a 'wow' factor, if you can't repeat it, I almost think it's not worth doing. And if no one else can do it either, it's soon to be forgotten.

4. Skill
I was debating whether or not to even include this on the list. There are certainly amazing trick shots that don't require any more skill than being able to shoot straight. But there are also shots that involve stretching your skills to the absolute limits, much farther than you would ever need if you only played typical pool games. Seeing what's possible with how much spin you can put on the cue ball or what you can do with a monster stroke pushes this sport to its boundaries.

These are some of the aspects that I recognize in great trick shots, but there are certainly others. I like to put shots on my site that I can do more than once and that I can teach others to do as well. If you have a shot you think I might like, leave a link in the comments!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Las Vegas Trick Shot Scene

As many have found out by now, I recently moved to Las Vegas, NV. In theory, this sounds great for my pool career. Smoking and gambling are prevalent here, which are two activities most pool players engage in (unfortunately, not myself), so there should be a large built in audience. There are quite a few pool halls in the area supporting the assumption that the number of pool players is high. In addition, most of the national leagues hold there championships here throughout the year which only adds to the number of pool players here. Finally, Las Vegas is a destination town with plenty of parties, so there should be more opportunities for gigs.

Admittedly, I haven't leveraged my position here to its full potential, but there are other factors in play. First of all, there are actually a number of trick shots artists in the area including Ken 'Sarge' Aylesworth, Stefano Pelinga, and Jamison Neu. Recently, Jason Kane also moved here. Not to mention, many pros are moving here at least semi-permanently with the advent of Bonus Ball. This obviously increases the competition on my end.

What's perhaps most aggravating at this point is that I live near Fremont Street Experience with poor practice options within walking distance. This limits my practice time and quality of practice, which definitely showed during the 2013 Masters Trick Shot Championship.

First off is Drink and Drag. I don't mind that it sells itself as a gay bar or that it's staffed by drag queens. At least this place has 9-ft tables and Brunswick's at that. Pool's $1/hr up until 9pm too! That's about where all of the advantages end though. The cloth on the tables is super slow and some of the rails play funky, not quite dead, but not true either. Being a club, it doesn't open until 6pm and they like to keep the lights low. Even the table lights aren't super bright. Making it worse is that there are disco lights above which flash bright spots intermittently on the table while you're shooting which is a huge distraction. Even when I go when it opens and there's no one else there, it's tough to see anything.

Around the time I moved here, Backstage Bar and Billiards opened up about a block away from my apartment. The big plus is they have Diamond tables with Simonis cloth. They are 7-fters though and they still charge $10/hr, which is probably a more typical rate among pool halls. But, also being a club, they don't open until 6pm, the lighting sucks (the lights over the table are blue), and it's super loud.

Just this past weekend, the Gold Spike held a grand re-opening, repositioning itself as a bar/lounge instead of  a casino. They put in two 7-ft, coin-operated pool tables. I didn't even bother checking the brand. At least the lighting was decent and the place will be open 24/7.

While downtown Las Vegas may be undergoing a revival, they missed out on the pool scene. It's too bad I have to get out of the neighborhood to find a good place to practice because it's otherwise pretty nice here. I just hope I can get enough practice in to make a good showing at the 2013 WPA World Artistic Pool Championships.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Tapping Balls

If you've ever seen a trick shot exhibition or tournament, you've undoubtedly witnessed the performer hitting one pool ball on top of another. We call this tapping the balls. What it does is create a little divot in the pool table felt for the ball to rest in. As a trick shot artist, this is an important skill to learn to do correctly, and it can help you out in a number of ways.

Whenever I do a show, inevitably, someone in the audience always asks why I need to tap the balls. The main reason is so that the pool ball stays exactly where I want it. It's not half an inch to one side or the other.
Older, well-worn tables have divots or other irregularities in the pool table cloth already. This can make setting up a trick shot difficult as the balls will tend to roll one way or another. By creating new divots, the balls end up where I need them to be.

This is particularly important for artistic setup shots where a number of balls are set up in a cluster. These shots typically don't work if there are gaps between the balls. By tapping the balls in place, I can ensure that these balls are in the right place and that they are all touching. There are shots where the gap between balls needs to be precise as well, and tapping helps with that.

If the balls are tapped in well, you can usually find these divots again. When I'm doing exhibitions, I'll usually try to show up early to a venue and tap in a number of shots beforehand. During the exhibition, this makes setup of the shots faster and easier as they seem to just roll in to place. It also makes trick shots look effortless, but the audience didn't see the work I put in beforehand.

When I'm practicing, tapping the balls is helpful so I can set up the shot again in the exact same way. I can try different spins and speeds or other adjustments and see what effect they have on the shot. On the flip side, if I tap the balls in and miss, I can also set it up again and, if I know one of the balls missed to the left of the pocket, I can adjust it slightly to the right and make a new divot. It's certainly possible to have too many divots in a certain area which can get confusing.

In tournaments, if I'm shooting a shot someone else has made, sometimes I can find their divots. Then I usually don't have to worry about if my setup is correct. It's tougher if I'm the first guy up. In a head-to-head match, the other option is to make as many divots as possible so my opponent doesn't know which one I've used. Sometimes it's worth it, sometimes it's not. It depends how difficult the shot is otherwise.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Artistic Pool

Artistic Pool, as far as I can tell, is a term coined by Tom "Dr. Cue" Rossman that encompasses the competitive aspect of "trick shots". It is governed internationally by the World Pool-Billiard Association - Artistic Pool Division (WPA-APD). It is defined by eight disciplines:

1. Trick/Fancy
2. Special Arts
3. Draw
4. Follow
5. Bank/Kick
6. Stroke
7. Jump
8. Masse

While there are technical definitions for each of these disciplines, there are shots that are interdisciplinary, demonstrating skills and characteristics across two or more of these. Interestingly, using these definitions, the term "trick shots" only applies to the first discipline and typically covers setup shots with multiple ball configurations. Hence, Dr. Cue will use the phrase "Trick shots and so much more" as a tagline for Artistic Pool. Oddly, the North American governing body is called the Artistic Pool and Trick Shot Association, implying they are separate entities.

Confusingly, the two of the most popular events of this nature have been titled Trick Shot Magic and the World Cup of Trick Shots, broadcast on ESPN, neither of which use the term Artistic Pool. One or both of these events have been sanctioned by the WPA in the past, so there are clearly some discrepancies within the organization about the enforcement of the use of the term. What's more, in the early days of Trick Shot Magic, they described shots as either being "artistic shots" or "skill shots", "artistic shots" being setup shots with multiple ball configurations and "skill shots" being everything else, essentially the inverse of what the WPA has drawn up.

Even though there has been sanctioning by the WPA of Trick Shot Magic and the World Cup of Trick Shots, neither has counted for official world ranking points. These tournaments are invitation only, have only 8 players, and do not necessarily cover all eight disciplines of Artistic Pool. In ranking tournaments, players shoot five shots of varying difficulty levels in each of the eight disciplines, for 40 total shots scoring points depending on the number of attempts it takes to make a shot. This score determines a players final position in the tournament and their ranking points.

Monday, April 29, 2013

2013 WPA World Artistic Pool Championships

If you're not on anyone's special email list, the 2013 WPA World Artistic Pool Championships have been announced and are taking signups. It will be held July 18-21, 2013 at the Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, NV during the BCAPL National Championships, which should ensure a great turnout for players and fans alike. Sign up fee is $300, but goes up to $350 on June 1, 2013, so get your entry in! Email me if you want more details on either the sign up process or the shot program.