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.