"Why Do Men Play Better Than Women?"
That headline is not a question, it’s a statement. Every time someone asks it, they are stating the fact that men play better than women. By all things that we measure, men do outperform the women. That, however, is like saying the rich kids outperform the poor in school. We know that, we just also know that there’s a lot more than genetics to it by now. Every few weeks, I’ll see a public post (started by a man) with men (and largely only men) discussing how much better men play than women and very few of them ever talk about the other stuff ( we really appreciate the ones that do) that science can't factor in.
When I first started, I didn’t know better and thought these commenters knew what they were talking about. There must be something inherently deficient in women, I gathered, since the top women players can’t win against the top men. I was disappointed to find this out, since I was an aspiring player, but still wanted to become the best I could and wondered what my true top potential was. I became obsessed with the game, playing 20-30 hours a week, but improving slowly. Even from the very beginning, I faced some challenges I know to be exclusive to my gender.
Since we all begin as beginners, I started trying to come to the pool room by myself to train. As a 20-year-old with a body to kill (I kind of miss that), there were obvious challenges to this. Most days I couldn’t go 10 minutes without being hit on, making it really difficult to accomplish anything. Once I gained a few friends at my local room, I had a mild defense to that (though it still happened a lot) and added a new challenge: being taunted for being a girl.
All in good fun in their eyes, but wildly painful to me was being told constantly that I would never beat anyone because I was a girl. Whenever I did beat someone, that person was ridiculed to an extent to ensure that they gave their 300% against me every time. I couldn’t say anything about the taunting because it was always met with “we’re only kidding” and “stop being so sensitive.” It didn’t only come from friends and it has never, ever let up.
Every single male opponent I’ve ever beaten has been ridiculed. Whenever I try to explain this to a guy, the response is always, “We’re not talking about you, it’s because you’re a girl.” I’ve never understood how this makes sense to them, but they continue to say it. How is it not about me and my abilities when that’s clearly what you’re making fun of? Trying to find someone to talk to about this is difficult also, since there were no female players in my area to look up to. That's the real issue in my eyes.
In a rough estimate, based on my experience traveling mostly along the east coast, the number of women to men that play pool is an overall 1:50- 1:200 depending on where you live. Walk into any local hall and look around. How many women are there vs. men? With men, again based on my observation, about 10% of players reach a competitive level, and 10% of THOSE reach champion level. So, right off the bat, if those percentages are similar for women, we face a numbers challenge. How can our top ten ever compare to a top ten from such a tremendously larger pool of talent? For every Shane Van Boening – level player, there’s 100k knuckleheads who can barely finish a table. I’m not even sure there’s 100k women who play pool.
Even with this massive deficit in numbers, we’ve still managed a few players that can play on that level. Karen Corr, Siming Chen, Jean Balukas… but these are always met with the “well, yeah, those are the top females,” as if this is a valid point. Then invariably, "the top ten ladies could never compete with the top ten men." To this I have many replies. The simplest is, "Well, how many other women are consistently entering men's tournaments?" - can't win tournaments you dont enter, right?. Then a less complete one: "Yeah, I thought that was the point?" - you know, that the top ladies would do the best lol. And the complex: "So our mid-level players are supposed to beat your top players?"... Guys, seriously. There aren't as many of us.
In addition to just numbers, and once you get used to being taunted and hit on, there are endless challenges facing a female competitive player. To list a few (not all):
The bottom line is this: We don't know how women compare to men because the playing field isn't level. Nothing we measure accounts for the disparity in numbers and social factors that influence the outcomes of tournaments. We are JUST now entering an age where women are fully free to be around men in public, and now we're criticized for not being on par with their performance?
Instead of spending your time posting, commenting, talking about how women can't, how about spend some time investing in a cause you so obviously care about? Encourage your daughters to play, your wives. Encourage, encourage, encourage. When you hear someone saying something nasty about women, correct them, or at least don’t contribute. WE HEAR YOU. WE ALWAYS HEAR YOU. These posts are like smashing someone’s toe and talking about how they can't walk. This is an extremely mental game, stop messing with our heads!
PS- If you are a woman reading this, take courage! There are many men who understand our plight, and may more reasons not discussed here that many factor into this. Keep playing!
PPS- No, I don't speak for every woman.
With a tensely silent audience, Karen Corr won the NAPT Women’s Pro 9 Ball Event at the Super Billiards Expo this weekend. The crowd erupted as the Irish invader sunk the winning ball, a celebratory “Yes!” echoing through the cavernous Greater Philadelphia Expo Center. This year the ladies pro event was run by the NAPT in collaboration with Allen Hopkins, a smooth production that ran Thursday through Sunday, April 12-15th. 56 ladies threw their names in, all vying for a chance at the $5000 guaranteed first prize and a beautiful Waterford cut crystal trophy.
The format was double elimination race to 9, with the final 16 switching to single elimination and a race to 11. For seven ladies on the winner’s side, this switch meant no second chance at glory. In Corr’s run to the finals, her first match was against Janet Atwell (9-16th), a fan favorite from Virginia. Atwell had an early lead in her match with the hall-of-famer, but the Irish Invader slowly gained momentum and closed the match at 11-9. The others on the winner’s side to fall to the single elimination switch were Briana Miller (9-16th), Heather Cortez (9-16th), Kaylin Wikoff (9-16th), Denise Belanger (5-8th), “The Texas Tornado,” Vivian Villareal (5-8th), and “Duchess of Doom,” Allison Fisher (3/4th).
As in her match with Janet, Corr had to fight through her matches with Vivian and Allison. Vivian put up 9 games while Allison had an incredible comeback to make her 8. At one point, Corr was up by 7 games with a score of 8-1 against Fisher, then broke dry, giving Allison a run-out win. Fisher continued from this, clawing her way to 10-8, using intense safety battles to switch the moving force of the match. With Karen on the hill, the two legendary players refused each other every opportunity until a kick-out from a safety attempted by Fisher left the 5-ball open and near a pocket. This was to be the final swing of fortune. Karen ran out and moved on to the finals.
On the one-loss side, Brittany Bryant and Jia Li faced each other for the chance to advance to the finals. Both ladies had downed champions on their path, Bryant eliminating 17-year-old phenom April Larson (5-8th), and Li defeating superstar Jennifer Barretta (5-8th). In their head-to-head match, Bryant emerged victorious over Li at 11-9. Li finished an impressive 4th, considering she had forfeited her first-round match and fought through the rest of the bracket to the semifinals. Bryant moved on to face Corr with a determination that was visible from the first rack.
Karen won the lag in the race to 11 finals. She broke, pocketed a few balls, and then began the safety battles. Unfortunately for Karen, while fighting over the 7-ball, Corr scratched. Brittany capitalized, finishing the rack. The next two racks are similar: Break, pocket a few balls, safety, Bryant runs out. This is no small feat against a champion of defense like Corr. 3-0 Bryant up and breaking, the Canadian champ misses a 4-ball and Corr lunges, running out. A dry break and more safeties secure the next rack for Bryant, out from the 2-ball. Then Karen takes the next four, deep in the defensive trenches with both players fighting to get into rhythm and interrupt the other’s. Score now 4-6, Corr up and breaking, finally getting comfortable and running the table from the break, then capturing the next one also.
4-8, Bryant took advantage of a missed 4-ball to go 5-8. Sensing the momentum swinging, Corr returned the favor on Bryant’s dry break to run out 5-9. However, she struggled to keep Bryant in her chair on the next rack. Bryant made a brilliant straight-in, on-the-rail 9-ball to go 6-9, to the approval of the crowd. Her spirit was apparent from even the furthest seat. The next table was messy, however, and even though Bryant was able to fire in a table length bank on the 5, she lost a safety battle and gave the Irish hall-of-famer ball-in-hand on the 7, a sharp injury to be sure.
Karen Corr now on the hill, Brittany Bryant needing 5 games, both players went fiercely defensive on the 1-ball, with Karen emerging possessing ball-in-hand. Not eager to allow her capable opponent another try, Karen carefully and decisively cleared the table. Her cue shot to the skies, a triumphant “Yes!” escaping before she shook hands with her mighty challenger. Karen stepped over to claim her magnificent trophy to take home to its two other siblings. The crowd soaked in the well-fought moment, and the media rushed in.
This was the first event on the NAPT Division I schedule for the year. For the complete schedule and more information, please visit www.playnapt.com. The NAPT would also like to thank Allen Hopkins and the Super Billiards expo team for hosting such a wonderful tournament. To see a complete bracket visit: http://superbilliardsexpo.com/pro-9-ball-bracket/ Thank you!
Billiards fans were filled with heyday glee on the weekend of November 4-5, at the North American Pool Tour’s (NAPT) Desert Challenge, hosted by Griff’s Bar & Billiards in Las Vegas, NV. A flashback matchup in the finals between Karen Corr and Allison Fisher thrilled the audience, with Karen Corr claiming victory and continuing her reign of the NAPT; she’s won all three of the tour’s Division I events. This event was particularly challenging, as several large names made debut appearances on the tour, adding to the grand, ‘heyday glee’ nostalgia of the event. The four-day, 10-ball tournament, played out on nine-foot Diamond tables, drew 61 entrants.
Eleanor Callado not only let herself be drawn to Griff’s, but took 4th in the staggering field. After finishing only second to Karen Corr in August, this is a new notch she’s sure to remember. Along her way, Eleanor bested not only 8-time world champion Loree Jon Hasson (7-3), but also 2-time WPBA Champion Monica Webb (7-5), and 6-time European champion Line Kjorsvik (7-6). Eleanor showed herself worthy of her placings with steady position play and crowd-exhilarating shot making.
During her match with Line, Eleanor at one point was at two fouls in a row (a third one would lose the game), and Line had hidden the cueball so securely that many in the audience believed there was no way to hit the object ball. Rising to the challenge, Eleanor broke out her jump cue, jumped an entire table length, kicked off a rail, and not only made contact, but left Line safe! The drama! That match went appropriately to the hill, as did her next against Hall of Famer Vivian Villarreal. Not allowing Eleanor to repeat such a close victory, Vivian took that match 7-6. Ultimately Ms. Callado was knocked out by none other than Allison Fisher (7-3), on the Duchess’s first tour appearance.
Vivian, Line, and Monica were newcomers to the NAPT as well this event, all showcasing their talents long into the weekend. Vivian, also known as the Texas Tornado, is known for her quick and decisive shooting style. This weekend it was exciting to watch her whip around the table, powering balls in and playing a heavily offensive strategy. Vivian lost only to Karen Corr (7-0) in the semifinals, and then fell to the newly B-sided Allison Fisher (7-3) to take third. Allison had just fallen to Corr also.
Allison and Karen met twice this tournament. In their first matchup, Allison took an early lead 2-0, but didn’t hold it for long. Karen came back with tight defensive play and run outs to turn the score 6-4 to her favor and breaking the last rack. Corr shot down to the 10-ball, but ran into it, pushing it to a funny angle. She played it in the corner and it hung right in the pocket for her opponent. Stunned, Allison came to the table and shot the ball, not taking very long at all, and scratched in the opposing side! It was quite the unexpected turn of events, and Karen and Allison both scratched their heads a bit about it afterwards.
Allison went to the B-side to fight for a spot in the finals, where she put Line Kjorsvik out (7-4), Eleanor Callado out (7-3), and Vivian Villarreal out (7-3). After that champion-ending run, the Duchess of Doom was ready for her rematch against Karen. Being a true double elimination format, to win the tournament, Allison would have to win two successful sets of 7 games to the undefeated Corr’s one set. The audience settled in for a juggernaut match and they were not disappointed.
The lag itself garnered great applause, with Karen freezing her ball to the rail and Allison losing the first break by a fraction of an inch. It didn’t hurt her immediately though, as the English snooker player drew first blood and repeated her early lead of 2-0. Karen came back the next two games to tie it up, and the score stayed close the whole match. Allison at one point was up 5-3 after Karen hung a 6-ball. The safeties played in this match by both players were truly incredible, and well worth watching if you would like a class on when to play defensive. Karen seemed the cunning champion, choosing defense at least once a rack, utilizing a strategic play on the 9-ball to get on the hill. Fisher seemed a bit more aggressive, making an incredible 10-ball cut using the bridge to make the score even.
The final rack was Karen’s break, and she had to make a combo to get going, but the rest of the rack was fairly open. A break and run would be the fitting end to the rematch we’ve all been waiting for, so that’s what Karen Corr gave us! The Irish Invader claimed her third victory in a row on the Division 1 tour, thrilling all in attendance and at home. Allison took 2nd in her premiere attendance, Vivian 3rd, and Eleanor 4th, and what a weekend was had by all! We will just have to wait to see if someone can dethrone Karen Corr until 2018, until then, it’s been incredible to watch.
The NAPT would like to thank Mark Griffin and his staff at Griff’s Bar & Billiards for hosting, and POVPool for their live-streaming. The NAPT looks forward to returning to Las Vegas as Griff’s has signed on for two more years! This was the final stop for the NAPT in 2017, but next year comes quickly! Join us at www.playnapt.com for more information and to find links to watch this tournament’s live streamed matches.
I started with, “Seriously though, great playing,” and tried to stop beaming.
Briana “Killer” Miller and I sat down to chat at the NAPT Freedom Classic at Eagle Billiards in Dickson City, PA, where Briana had just lost a spectacular hill-hill battle with Karen Corr in the finals. Everyone in the room was abuzz about the young gun giving Karen such a fight. For me, after years of watching the 22-year-old destroy all levels of competition, these finals were expected.
“Thank you so much” she replied with exaggerated sincerity and a smile, as if I was her biggest fan and she, the gracious champion. She’s my favorite brat.
I continued unaffected, stifling a chuckle, “I was talking to LoreeJon (Hasson) earlier and we were exchanging stories, she was asking about how you play. I had said to Hasson that I’ve kind of been smacking you over the head for a few years, telling you that you can play with the big dogs. You don’t seem to believe me, but…”
“I still don’t.” She interrupted.
“You still don’t?! Why not?” I said, wide-eyed with disbelief. I have been legitimately scolding this young woman that she has way more potential than she believes for as long as I have known her. That’s nearly eight years of finger wagging, apparently gone to waste.
“I still don’t believe you.” She repeated, as if I just simply hadn’t heard her.
“That is the second finals you’ve been in with Karen Corr.” I pointed, still confused at her conclusion.
“Right, right, I’ve yet to beat her,” the young champion dug in.
I was not letting her get away with that. “You beat her at Frederick, not in the finals, but you beat her.” I watched her play the legend twice in Frederick, besting her once. Later, in my interview with Karen, she brought the matches up to herself highlight Briana’s potential.
“See, the finals,” the young cynic narrowed, “It has to happen in the finals. THEN I can compete with the big dogs.”.
I pursued, knowing full well that a win is a win no matter when it happens. “Both of your matches today with her went hill-hill and that last rack against her was phenomenal. That was world class play.”
“Thank you.” She acquiesced. She knew she wouldn't convince me and I knew that if I hadn’t gotten through to her in all these years, I wasn’t about to accomplish anything in the next five minutes. Besides, the match I just watched was exhilarating, so I moved on to that.
“How do you feel about that last rack?” I explored.
“I feel like I should’ve made that 1-ball.” She said matter-of-factly. I burst out laughing, while she continued, leaning in with an eyeroll, “And ran out… TO WIN IT. That’s what I feel like.” She finished, crossing her arms and chuckling.'
We then discussed the shot in question, a 75-degree cut down the long rail from about the second diamond. If the cue ball and 1-ball had their paths highlighted, it would make a very tall number 7. A difficult shot indeed.
“I make this shot like 90% of the time.” Miller assured me.
“What was the other shot in your mind that you were considering?” I inquired. She may have a 90% at this, but the rest of us hang around 60% or less.
“A safety.” She said, then illustrates where the balls were and what she was considering for defensive shots. As a player myself, I can see that these were not easy options either.
“Would you rather have made the cut or do you think you should have taken the other shot?”
“I would go for the cut all day,” she said without hesitation. “Because with Karen, if you even let her see the ball, she’s going to punish you. So, I was like, I’ll either go for the shot and make it, awesome. Because I’ll have position on the next ball. Or I miss it, get lucky, she doesn’t have a shot, which happened. Or I lose. I was willing to take that risk.”
“Well that’s very brave of you.” I said, truthfully. To be in the finals with a hall of famer and be that confident in your abilities is a real accomplishment. “That’s one of the things I like about your game. You don’t shy away. “
“LoreeJon actually said the exact same thing.” Briana smiled. “She likes my offensive play.”
“I like it,” I giggle. “You’re very offensive.”
We share a laugh, promise inward to punch each other later. Then I remember I’m supposed to be interviewing her. “So, you’re going to Lindenwood?” I attempt to get us back on track.
Briana confirms, finishing her laughter. “Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri.”
“What are you studying there?” I knew Lindenwood was a pool-friendly university, and she was on teams even. I believe she was on a POOL SCHOLARSHIP, something out of a dream, surely.
“I am studying finance, and I will be graduating in December.”
“December? Are you excited?”
“I’m so excited, yet so nervous.” She said, looking away.
I remember that period. It’s very nerve-wracking deciding what to do with your life. I asked the question I know that she’s tired of hearing. “What’s the next step after that?”
“No idea?” I repeated, testing that answer.
“That’s where the nerves come in.” She said, nodding her head.
“Ok, well I think your nerves on the table are pretty alright, so maybe try some of that.” I offered playfully.
“Yeah, well this is also like my comfort zone. The real world, not so much.” She says with a chuckle.
“Right, it’s scary out there.” I confirm for her.
“So I’ve heard. Everyone tells me to just stay in school as long as you can. DON’T come out to the real world.” she animatedly recounts for me, making claw hands and everything. “It’s not too motivating. “
Through my smile, I manage to ask, “So, what is interesting about finance?”
“Money. That’s the only thing. There’s nothing in school that I’m actually passionate about, so I was just like, ‘well, I’ll get a degree in something that’s useful and can make money with.’”
“That’s smart.” I say, acknowledging the decision, while lamenting her not taking the decidedly riskier course of exploring her talent. “Are you passionate about pool?” I asked, envisioning her titles ten years from now.
“Yes, but it will just be a hobby for me. I’m passionate about it, but it’s not going to take me anywhere. Well, it’s already taken me so far, but you know what I mean. “I know that she means it won’t make her money. I can’t say I agree with her though.
In a moment of self-recognition, she shows me a cue ball with her signature (among others) that had been requested. Obviously, she is aware that she is being noticed. Where she goes from here is up in the air, though.
“Do you like my signature?” She jokes.
“I didn’t even look, I don’t read any of yours if it’s not in crayon.” As nine years her senior, I have always and will always remind her she is a kindergartener.
“Right…” she shakes her head and puts the ball back in its container, trying to hide her smile.
“So, back to pool. You’ve obviously had a lot of experience, a lot of time on the table, and a few titles at this point. Do you still enjoy it? Is it still fun? Still exciting?”
“Alright, so up until this tournament, no.” she says to my surprise. She’s a very hard character to read, giving almost no emotion away at the table. “I was completely done with pool. But I came into this tournament with an entirely different outlook. I came in just to have fun. I didn’t care how I did or what, who I played. It was just me, playing pool, playing the game I love. Against Naomi, I was laughing during my match. Have you ever seen me laugh during a match?”
“I rarely see that outside of the match too, though so...” It was so tough to not just crack on her the entire time we were chatting. I hope you readers have enjoyed my efforts not to.
“I was just laughing during my match, just having fun.” Miller recounted “It seems to be working, so that’s my new mentality. You know, just don’t take it too seriously. Because I actually enjoyed myself this weekend.” She said with a bit of reflection.
“Well, that’s amazing to hear. Is there anyone you’d like to thank?”
“Jacoby Custom Cues.” She answered singularly, going on to tell me how they’ve stuck by her for many years.
I personally cannot believe such a heavyweight on the table has only attracted the one sponsor, but the Jacoby people are just ahead of the game it seems. She regularly wins whatever event I see her in. So, I shrugged my shoulders and finished my interview with the 6-time Junior National champ, 3-time Super Billiards Expo Women’s Amateur Champion, and more-titles-than-I-can-list champion, Briana Miller.
We could’ve sat there for hours just laughing and discussing matches. Responsibly, however, she had to get on the road and so did I; the grind of the pool life moved us forward. So, we stopped taking cracks at each other and packed up: I, with my laptop, and Briana, with her future. Here’s to hoping we see her in many more finals to come.
Thanks to the NAPT and Eagle Billiards, for more info or to find links to the exciting finals between Briana and Karen Corr go to www.playnapt.com.
The mist in her eyes said everything as we sat down to talk.
Eleanor Callado may not have walked away with the trophy at the NAPT Summer 10 Ball Classic in August, but maybe something more valuable. It was visible, palpable.
“Firstly, congratulations! Pretty exciting to be in the finals with Karen Corr!” I enthused, feeling her glow encapsulate me.
“Totally.” She confirmed. “When I walk into any event, (I) kind of play things out. I think it’s almost fun to guess who’s going to end up where, and see how it pans out.”
She was still a bit dreamy eyed. It was starting to settle in her what just happened. “And I knew Karen would end up here. Knowing it would be me?... No idea.”
We both laugh heartily, her candid answer striking me.
“I mean in a field with April Larson, Emily Duddy, Brittany Bryant…” I offer.
“…Jia Li, Briana Miller…” She continued, understanding the strength of the field. “I hit a lull in my career, you know? I got back into school. I start this Wednesday actually, but pool… I was having this tug of war with it...to decide if I wanted to push myself to learn new things or accept where I am and this is the player I’m going to be… but I got excited about it again this weekend. Playing 10 ball – something I don’t do often. Self-discovery, people pushing you in ways I haven’t been pushed in a long time. A lot of new feelings. “
“I’m glad you got to experience that.” I said, understanding why 10 ball would shake things up. “One of the big things in ten ball that’s different that people don’t realize is the break. It’s so much different because of the shape of the rack. We were talking about that a little bit earlier, and you have such an interesting break in my eyes… no part of your body really moves. It’s mostly in your stroke. Who did you say you were studying?”
“With the 10 ball break, Dennis Orcullo – only where he was hitting the rack and like how his elbow was bent up front. I wouldn’t say Bustamante because he moves every inch of his body. With speed control, I didn’t want to lift my leg, because I was studying where the second ball was moving. If you hit it right, they’ll go in the sides.” It was clear there had been an immense amount of study on this matter. “ I tried that swing type,” she continued, ”where the wing ball swings around like 3 or 4 rails to go in the corner, I couldn’t get it. So I toned it down, accepted a slower break, and tried to do the side pockets. Each table’s different. So just moving it around and seeing how the rack’s reacting. Except you take the chance of not pocketing anything and leaving a wide open table for someone like Karen.”
“Which is tough.” I said, mentally crowning myself Captain Obvious.
“It’s just mainly control. Which is why I’m so still.”
“It seemed to be working for you. I know that the last match in the finals, there was a lot of dry breaking (on both sides). But earlier in the tournament I’d been watching and it seemed to be working for you.”
Watching through the tournament had additional perks; I had heard a fun little detail about Ms. Callado. Besides being a San Francisco area native, Eleanor also confirmed she had a twin sister within the same sport of pool.
“Yes, Emilyn. We are very close, very different people. I think when we grew up, all we want to do is differentiate. People assume we’re the same and …. Find your identity. We are very, very different, but close.”
When asked to describe herself, she revealed her love of all things people.
“I love to engage in deep conversation with people. I really love to connect with anybody. Strangers, friends, I’m a very open person. I really believe that we connect with people when we need to. It could be random, but I love to connect with people in very deep ways. So, it sounds kind of intense, but we’re human beings and I guarantee everyone in this pool room is going through something. Whether it’s direct or a loved one or a friend. Finding commanality, something that can have you pull away from life and enjoy. I just love to talk to people, hear their story.” You could tell she was wrapped in this topic, and it was very close to her heart. “I dabble in art, I dabble in music, I love to play tennis, I do a little photography – nothing crazy… sports oriented. But I just love listening to people. …That’s a very philosophical answer.” She noted, chuckling.
“Well, I think pool is a very philosophical game.” Returning her chuckle. “I’ve often said it’s the art of ‘being’ in front of people.”
Nodding in agreement, she said, “It’s actually a very solitary game, it really is. Like, your Jedi mind tricks have to be strong.”
I completely agreed. “In that sense, what was it like emotionally to play Karen?”
“You know, I played her this morning for the hot seat match.” She prefaced. “…I couldn’t get anything together (in that match). My composure wasn’t there. I missed all kinds of things… (but) I was really calm in the finals. I was grateful and thankful, so I approached everything with ‘I’m not going to learn something new, what I have right now is what I have.’ Believe in what you have. Trust your decisions, trust your stroke. And….” She released a breath, “You have no control after that.” Saying of her emotions in the finals: “… I was really grateful to just be where I was. I enjoyed the moment, tried to be very present.”
We talked for a while about her new schooling adventure, how it affected her pool career, how there’s also working full time, a struggle that afflicts many of us in this industry. Saying of the struggle to aim herself at times: “What am I going to do, career moves or pool moves?” Of course, the moment she decides to focus on school and career, pool decides to tempt her with this second-place finish. The star crossed lovers of history have nothing on today’s pool players.
One of the big ways Eleanor is able to balance her schedule so well is by sponsorship. She talked at length about the kindness, quality, and generosity of hers: Rick Howard Custom Cues out of Florida and Castillo leather goods out of Illinois. “I’ve never played with or had such nice things because of these guys.” It is rare to find a sponsor so supportive of a player, she wanted to thank them thoroughly.
Again, these struggles are not uncommon in pool, and I always am curious why someone chooses this sport. Why not one of the sports that attracts money, why not focus on your career? Why pool?
“My dad raised me to be ok or maybe mediocre at everything. So I’m an ok bowler, I ‘m an ok tennis player, badminton, etc. But pool, I grew up kind of solitary, I was kind of quiet. I observed a lot. I’m not super smart, but I got by and (pool) was something that pumped me. It was something that gave me confidence and something I did for myself.” She continued, “This contributed a lot to me transforming and blossoming… I’ve never connected to anything that way.”
“It teaches you about yourself,” I chimed in, sharing all sentiment in her statement.
“I mean, 19 years later, it still challenges me in ways that I’ve never been pushed before… So maybe I enjoy being a pool hall junkie.”
As we wrapped up, the dreamy look in her eye had somewhat settled, it had become part of her reality. There might need to be a retest to cement it deep in her heart, as pool players are prone to doubt. Whatever the future holds, I enjoyed watching her in this moment. Congrats, Eleanor.
The phone rang and my heart beat a bit faster.
“How are you, Meredith?” answered a familiar Irish lilt. “I’m good, and you?” I chirped before my desire to faint kicked in.
I was on the phone with Karen Corr.
She had just won the NAPT Summer 10 ball Classic in Grayslake, IL at Shooter’s Billiards. We had chosen to speak after our travel back as the finals had gone later than expected. The flashing lights and rushing fans of the winning moment were now just a memory; the brilliant glass trophy I pictured sitting on a mantle somewhere proper, next to its siblings.
“Congratulations again, that was quite an exciting match” I said of the thrilling, fast-paced finals. It was a field to be reckoned with that August weekend, and the Irish Invader (Karen’s fitting moniker) prevailed. Her final opponent, Eleanor Callado, fought well, but ultimately could not overcome the intense safeties and brutal combinations Corr executed.
“I really enjoyed all the combos,” I said and we shared a chuckle. “Yeah, unusual for me!” she agreed.
It was uncharacteristic of Karen to go for a 10-ball combination shot win, and she had two in a row in this final. One was nearly 90 degrees! Quite the crowd pleaser that one was. So pleased in fact, as soon as the last ball dropped, the table was rushed with adoring fans.
Watching live, I had wondered how a person deals with this. I mean, despite the impression one gets watching her play, Karen Corr is human. Being human while playing pool can sometimes be frustrating, and I’ve seen athletes react in a lot of different ways. I asked her in this moment with all the fans wanting autographs and pictures, what is it like for her. Is it frustrating? Joyful?
“No, no, it’s lovely really, especially now with it (pool) not being on ESPN.” She assured me. “A lot of people talk about the days of me and Allison… and snooker players coming over and you don’t realize how many people followed it. People are following even though they don’t get the opportunity to see us that much. No, it’s nice.”
The humility and observation in the answer took me a moment to calibrate to. It’s always a fear meeting your heroes that they are unaware or unappreciative of their fortune. Karen is such an accomplished athlete, but as we talked, it became abundantly clear my fears were unfounded here.
“When fans come up to you, though…Does it ever frustrate or take you out of your game?”
“No, not really. Enjoy it while the moment’s there. There’ll be a time when nobody will recognize you, ya know.” She said with a laugh. She recalled an awkward moment at a retail store after the billiard economy turned where someone semi-recognized her. She laughed it off. “My timing with Julie (Kelly) was really good and I’m always grateful for that.”
Friend and fellow Irish snooker player, Julie Kelly, told Karen about the blossoming WPBA tour in 1998. At that time, Karen was solely a snooker player. With overseas prizes for snooker taking a dive, Karen decided to cross the pond and try this “Pool” that was becoming such a big hit.
“What was it like for you back then? What did the world look like as a young champion?”
“In the beginning, around 16… for me, snooker was a hobby.”
I should mention here that by the age of 21 she had a world title in her “hobby”.
“And then when I was around 20, Barry Hearn started showing more interest. The men’s tour was always pretty good with money, so he was trying to promote the women’s game. So again, my timing was really good… then Allison (Fisher) came here in 95 and following her success, that’s when me and Julie decided to come over for the summer and just see what happened.”
“That worked out.” I couldn’t help say with a giggle. I remember watching her on my television, coming up through playing knowing her name, being told to study her game. If Karen Corr had gone back to Ireland after the summer, what would that have looked like? Would I know her name? Would my stroke be different? I pictured that world as she continued.
“In a way, it did yeah, she (Julie) had three sisters over in America and that made it so much easier. You know, to have a base.“
“When you were starting out, what was pool to you?”
“Coming from snooker it kind of seemed weird with the big pockets. It seemed so easy, the shot making part.” If you’re unfamiliar with snooker, it is similar to pool in as many ways as it is dissimilar. The table is bigger, the balls and pockets are smaller, the pockets are also rounded, the rules are different, and the cue is a good bit departed from pool's version. Snooker is, however, pool’s grandfather, and to switch games must have been interesting. I tried once to make the switch the other way and boy, did I say some bad words that day.
Karen explained after “The honeymoon period finished” that “it was time to learn what the game was about. The position play was a lot different. Using more side (spin), jump shots, a lot more fun aspects that you didn’t really have in snooker. The discipline from snooker obviously still carries to the day. “
It was good to hear the word fun from Karen. Pool is an exciting and dramatic game. I haven’t studied snooker, but I’m addicted to pool because of the shot making. It is the best feeling in the world to pull off a back cut, paper thin, against the rail, you-probably-shouldn’t-take-this shot. It feels great. I loved hearing her say it though.
“After all those world titles,” I asked, mildly amazed, “is there still joy in making those balls? Is there still that fun aspect?”
“Oh yeah, definitely.” At that, the five-year-old in me rejoiced.
She continued, “And since, you know, now that I’m working doing the carework, when I practice, it seems more quality of practice. You enjoy it more because you have a break. I enjoy the careworking side too.” We all have jobs and it seems the champion is exploring other options nowadays. “It’s kind of a good balance. If you had all day to practice, it seemed like hard work sometimes, but now I find it’s more enjoyable because the time I do get out there. It’s just a pleasure to still be competing at the age I am.”
It is something I truly treasure about pool that it doesn’t have a real age limit. Karen is still quite young at 47, but in most sports, her career would have been long past its prime. Pool is a different animal there, as not only is Karen still playing, but she is still dominating. Sometimes though, the time on the table shows.
“Several people were asking me about… you were wearing a back brace this weekend. Were you in pain the whole time?”
“Well I’m getting old now, I’ve been bending over the table for 30 odd years. So…” she laughs, “yeah, it does go on me. I was just making sure it (the brace) kept me going. Trying to give me that support. I’ve been trying to work out in a gym getting it a little bit stronger. But yeah, I’ve had to pull out of a couple matches because I just couldn’t bend over anymore.”
“Well it’s quite an accomplishment.” I say sincerely. “You pulled out ahead of quite a field.” Brittany Bryant, Jia Li, Eleanor Callado are just a few names that peppered the full 64 player bracket. “April Larson was champion last year, and she’s been playing quite hot. Do the younger players give you joy, watching the sport live on like that?”
“Oh yeah, definitely.” She brightened. “I mean, there’s a lot of great talent out there. Briana (Miller) - I played her there in Frederick. She beat me in the one side and we had a close match in the final. It’s challenging for me too, ya know?”
I watched that match and know Briana. I was rooting so hard for her. It’s a major feather in her cap at 21 to beat Corr once, but to also hold her own against her the second time around. I believe the end score was 7-4? Don’t quote me on that, internet. It was a great match to watch, and glad to hear Karen recognizes the young gun’s talent.
“I mean the game’s in good hands, but you want the game (industry) to give them the opportunities that we had, ya know?”
I think that’s one thing everyone in the pool industry can actually agree on. Beyond all the arguing about rules and unity and rankings, we all just want to see tomorrow look better for these players coming up. They are so talented and so deserving of every opportunity life can afford them.
We decided to end on that note, leaving the future of pool yet to be decided. We had some chit chat and bid our farewells. She’s local to my area, though, so I know I’ll see her around soon. I hope for a very long time. Pool has had some rough times, and the next chapter of pool seems uncertain, but with Karen there, I’d feel like we didn’t miss a beat.
The first day of a tournament is always a day of hope. The room practically glows with every dream brought to be tested. A full, bright, hopeful 64-player field filled Shooter’s Friday, August 18th to prove themselves at the NAPT Summer 10 Ball Classic. A four-day event consisting of races to 7 games was played on beautiful nine-foot diamond tables at Shooter’s in Grayslake, IL. As the third day opened, the field was much smaller and the hope, more focused.
One person especially focused was April Larson. Defending her title from last year, April went into the final day with a matchup against Brittany Bryant. April, 17, is rounding out her last year as a junior player and solidifying her position in the pro arena. After winning her first NAPT title here in Grayslake last year, she won the 2nd Annual Ashton Twins Classic in Calgary this June, and came runner up to Michele Jiang just a few weeks ago in the BEF Junior Nationals in Vegas. There’s a lot of momentum and fanfare behind the upbeat youngster with the signature headband.
Her opponent, Britanny, however, also had her start as a junior player and has many pro titles to her name. So, when Larson pulled ahead in their match initially, getting to the hill (needing one game to win) first, Bryant was experienced enough to fight back and claim victory. Larson’s road to defending her title was over, as her first loss had been to a previously unknown player, Molly Bontrager (7-5).
Molly Bontrager blindsided the entirety of the tournament and was the dominant topic of conversation throughout. For good reason. Molly plays out of Elkhart, Indiana, about two and a half hours south of the tour stop and has little to no pro play on record. According to her, she plays mostly barbox tournaments against men and rarely has access to this level of play. Despite this, Mrs. Bontrager took third this weekend, beating not only April Larson (7-5), but also Jia Li (7-3), Kia Sidbury (7-1) and several other seasoned players along the way. Her first loss came against world class Hall of Fame player Karen Corr (7-3) in the winner’s side final, and then was put out by tournament runner up, Eleanor Callado.
Eleanor in contrast has tested herself under the lights for many years. She has had some great wins, but in recent years has been focused elsewhere. She talked afterwards of starting graduate school this week, and what a grand step that is. Watching her play in this event, however, you would be forgiven for thinking Ms. Callado has been solely thinking of pool for months. Eleanor said afterwards that this weekend renewed something in her. You could see why as the only person to beat her this weekend was Karen Corr (7-3 and 7-1.)
Karen Corr, a player with so many titles It would be futile to try to list them here, took the trophy at the NAPT Summer 10 Ball Classic. Brittany Bryant tallied the highest score against the hall of famer (7-5) earlier in the bracket, while Corr remained dominant in the rest of her matches. Eleanor put up three games in their first meeting, but in the finals Karen closed out with the score at 7-1.
Eleanor scratched early in the match, giving Karen the first opportunity to build momentum, and build she did. Corr ran that rack out, broke, and left Eleanor hooked shooting on the three ball. Eleanor kicked, barely missed, and Karen ran out. Pressing on Eleanor’s kicking wound, Karen then broke and played an effective safe, forcing Callado to kick again. The wound grew with another missed kick, and Karen used the opportunity to play a nearly 90-degree combo shot on the ten ball to win the rack instead of going for the run out. This was very uncharacteristic of Karen, but the ten went in! What a shot! Eleanor broke next, but much to her dismay, the one and ten rested near enough for Karen to combo again! In a matter of minutes, Karen had claimed 3 games to make it 5-0.
At this point, Callado needed to rally. Karen broke dry (did not pocket a ball on the break) the next rack and left a carom (glancing off a ball) shot open to make the seven in the side. It was difficult and lower percentage than she’d have liked, but it was the only thing visible to get on the board in this race to 7 and even then, she would have still needed to win another set after. She went for it and made it! Taking full advantage of the first real chance at the table she’d had, Eleanor ran that rack out. The next rack, score 5-1, Eleanor broke dry, giving her chance back to Karen for the moment. Karen ran down to the eight, missed, but left Eleanor without a shot in true Corr style. Kicking again, Eleanor hits the eight and leaves a tough cut for Karen, which did not prove troublesome for the world champ. Karen makes the cut and moves on to the hill game.
On the hill, with the score at 6-1, Eleanor Callado hoped for an opportunity to turn things around. As if the table was itself invested in suspense, Karen broke dry and the balls rolled into a funny layout. Thus forcing both Corr and Callado to attempt early combination shots, which were both misses. Eleanor missed a four ball in her last opportunity, and Karen closed the rack with near mechanical ease. The final ten ball went in seconds before the table was rushed with adoring fans.
Handshakes and pictures garnished the final moments in Grayslake, wrapping memories in lights and faces. The players started packing their belongings: Karen took home a beautiful cut glass trophy, the rest of us took home lessons. Some of us took hope.
This was the second stop of the 2017 NAPT tour at Shooter’s, hopefully the next stop is just as exciting in Dickson City, PA. Go to www.playnapt.com for more information.
Let’s get this bit out of the way:
I won the VA State 10 ball Championship this past weekend. It was amazing, I’m ecstatic, and so thankful to my fans and the people running it.
I am not writing this to brag, I promise.
I am writing to tell you about what changed for me this weekend. Cheryl Pritchard, a formidable player, took second this year, and nearly took the title out of my nervous, nervous hands. That was a major emotion in the finals for me and this is about how I found a work around for it (for me at least.)
First, let me tell you I wasn’t sure I wanted to drive down to Midlothian. My friends really had to twist my arm. It was a hefty entry fee ($125) plus hotel, gas, and food, and I haven’t been playing very much. Pool is a game of millimeters. It requires constant maintenance or your millimeters turn to inches (and inches lose.) On top of that, the VA State 10 ball Championship is annual, this would be my third time here, and I hadn’t gone very far the other two times. It’s an event that tends to draw the top players in the whole region, and I had struggled with the endurance of grind matches the whole way. Playing 5 need-to-play-your-A-game matches is a lot tougher than playing 9 can-miss-a-couple matches.
I’ve been in quite a few of this level of tournament recently. I’ve been trying to push myself, see what I’m capable of and have run into the same problems over and over again. With these new experiences, I’ve decided that when in a grind match, it’s much easier to just play perfectly from the start. (lol)
But really, as stupid as that sounds, it’s the only answer. If I start out with the intensity that I used to reserve for the end of matches, it’s much easier to pull ahead. I’m trying to put the “bear down” moment in the first game, the first stroke, and never let go or let up. I struggle very much with that, as this final showed.
The score midway through the finals was 5-2 (me ahead) in a race to 8. I needed 3, she needed 6. It looked like a lock. So… I relaxed. THAT IS THE LAST DARN THING YOU EVER WANT TO DO AGAINST A GOOD POOL PLAYER LET ME TELL YOU. I then made a mistake. Then another. Then another. Before I knew it, the score was tied, 5-5. She was capitalizing on all my errors and this is where I could’ve really messed up. I was making mistakes, I was missing balls, I was leaving her openings in safes, and I had let her come back 3 straight games. My mind started digesting this information and coming up with the (very correct) result that I was not playing well. While technically true in that moment, it’s not a particularly helpful thought in pool. It led as it always does to more misses. She pulled ahead for the first time in the match at 6-5, and instead of giving up and assuming I would just have to wait until the next event for a win, I tried something that I had discovered the day before.
I have a terrible habit of criticizing myself, as we all do. Not just on the table, I do it in life, too. I criticize my decision making, my position in the world, my performance, and ESPECIALLY my looks. I get down on myself sometimes and very much like in pool, it doesn’t help. It’s good to be aware of your problems, but constantly telling yourself how terrible you are doesn’t help with anything. It will make you much worse, actually. For instance, the times I eat the most/ the unhealthiest are when I feel the fattest (I’m sure y’all have ice cream nights too, now, don’t judge) and likewise, the times I miss the most are when I feel most out of stroke. What I love about pool is that every time I get better at it, I get better at being myself.
So, this event, in one of my first matches, I found myself saying something particularly nasty in my head about an error I made and thought, “I would never say that to a friend of mine.” I love my friends and try very hard never to say anything that would hurt them. If I have to tell them something that might, I say it gently and with kindness because I personally know pain does damage. However, I never hesitate to hurt myself. If I was playing with a doubles partner who missed, I’d say automatically, “that’s alright, we still have this,” understanding that his ego is very important to the game. When I miss, I sometimes find myself saying, “You’re such an idiot. I can’t believe you missed that.” Imagine if I said that to the partner. They’d never play with me again. Or to the friend, we wouldn’t be for very long. Imagine if someone else had said it to me, even. I would cut that person out of my life. Instead of delving into the depths of my psyche in the middle of a match to figure out this disparity, I patched it. I pretended my stroke was a good friend of mine, and he and I were playing as partners. I took my new “partner” and approached the table as if I was guiding a friend, not coercing myself.
I woke up in the finals at 7-6 (me up). Some miracle had occurred to let me get two games. Enough of this “poor me” crap. I knew how to make that ball and get to the next one so I did. I knew how to run the whole table so I did. I ran all the way to the 8 and looked to be getting perfect on the nine. I had lost some focus in regaining my confidence, so I didn’t notice the possible scratch (which became reality). She had ball in hand on the 9 with the 10 right next to it. 7-7. My break.
You can see the video here, Cheryl pushed to a tough spot for the one, I tried it and missed, leaving the one far from the two and her with a long, tough shot also. With long shots, it’s tough to control the cue without compromising your shot, so although she made the one, her cueball drifted behind another ball, blocking access to the two. She kicked, but struck the four instead. With ball in hand, I knew I HAD to run completely out. Every mistake I had made so far had turned into a move for her coin (score). I blocked out the urge to pity or be scared. I blocked out the knowledge that I was being judged. I blocked out the noise, the passersby, the slight mistakes I was making as I was running out and I just made the dang balls. It was glorious.
I made the nine and pulled back to get dead straight on the 10 ball, just a hair off the rail. If I gave myself a chance to pick at that, it would’ve been the end of me. Rail shots are so difficult, and something I’m currently working on. It was not optimal for such a pressure moment. Instead of thinking about all the better positions I could’ve put myself in, I basically told myself to shut up (with a little giggle at myself), that I had the best partner (my stroke) and made the ball. I don’t care how much it wobbled. It went down.
I shook her hand (as I was shaking inside) and turned to see my wall of friends waiting for me (the best sight ever.) The urge to vomit was strong, but the urge to take a nap was stronger, I was exhausted. I first had to take pictures and collect my trophy and cash, hear nice things from strangers and sit with the knowledge that I did it. I didn’t choke, I didn’t mess it up, I had a straight stroke, and played a great tournament. All because I was nice to myself. It’s not a world title, but a state one, a proud one, and a new one for me.
I smiled the entire evening. I made wonderful memories with friends (old and new) and rode home knowing that whatever tomorrow brought, it couldn’t bring me down.
“It’s alright. We still have this.”
This year’s Derby City Classic was not only my first, but a rare and special tournament. It is always a world class event, arguably the toughest field open to all, but the big matches from this year were historic, personal, and triumphant stories. It was not just another tournament. I unfortunately seemed destined to be in the right room turned the wrong way every time, but got at least a contact high from being near them. The games played at the Derby are not only the typical fast paced, simple rules nine ball, but also its quirky cousin, nine ball banks, the challenging bigfoot 10 ball (a larger table and tighter rules), the unique, precise one pocket, and old fashioned (but my favorite) straight pool. I stuck mostly to my favorite in spectating.
Straight pool is a game of runs. It is one of the most classic and traditional games in America, with Willie Mosconi being the name attached most commonly to it. He is recorded running 300+ balls at his exhibitions. That is remarkable because I can tell you the average league and bar player might be challenged to get to the second rack at 14 points.
One of the guys running the event, Bill, heard I was interested in learning how to play and introduced me to some of the players. Jayson Shaw was one, and he was also the first one up to try. Shaw had just won the 10 ball, bigfoot table invitational, which is a big feat (haha, see what I did there?) He started his straight pool run with the powerful break he is known for, following it with confident ball making and precise cueball placement so that in the entire time I watched him, he only seemed to be out of position 3 or so times. He took an average of 5 seconds per ball, and ran 175 points. It was only stopped by a scratch that really seemed impossible. He asked me afterwards “did you learn anything?” and as I started to form something intelligent about his position play, he smiled, “don’t scratch!”
I chuckled about that in my head as I watched several other big names run up impressive scores. I missed, however, the highest run of the week by Chris Melling at 225. Who, btw was the most pleasant and polite pool player I think I’ve ever met. He ended up winning the tournament they held for the high runners of the challenge, which I was happy to hear… although I also didn’t get to see that. I watched a little of the beginning, where Shaw and Johnny Archer played. Johnny is a fan favorite, and for good reason. He’s a good guy, super friendly, super down to earth, and entertaining as all get out. Before they played, Jayson and Johnny did an impromptu trick shot for the crowd, Johnny joking for Jayson to not hit him with the cueball like Earl did. It was a great moment.
The whole week was filled with great moments. While the straight pool was happeneing, the banks finals were being played below. I wasn’t interested at first, as one of my favorite players, Francisco Bustamante, was for sure about to lose. His opponent, Larry Nevel, needed one ball to win, while Bustamante needed the full 3 games and was at zero balls for this one.
I looked back to straight pool and heard some noise growing in the arena below. I checked back a few minutes later to see Bustamante had won that game and had 3 points in the next one. “I love seeing him give it his all, but he’s so far behind,” I thought to myself. Larry was playing strong and I heard many large bets being placed on him. I turned back around, assuming it would quiet down eventually. But the noise continued for some time, growing louder with frequent bursts of both celebration and contention. Bustamante was on the hill, and now HE only needed one ball to win, with Larry at zero in the frame. Larry missed his attempt and left Francisco with a short one-rail for all the chips. It was in. The noise level usually reserved for a basketball game followed.
I watched replays later wishing I was in the thick of it. The energy from that kind of match is overpowering. I apparently missed all such energy capturing this week despite being so close. My friends recounted to me the one pocket finals as they ended in a way that makes every loss, every heartache worth it, and restores faith in the future.
If you’ve never heard of one pocket, don’t fret. It’s not typically played in bars except for gambling purposes and a pro tournament of it is not very common. One pocket is a game where each player has one pocket to make their balls (you wouldn’t have guessed from the name huh?). The pockets are always the two corners by the rack, and each player tries to either make or push balls towards their hole, simultaneously keeping balls away from the opponent’s side and making sure the cueball is not placed for an easy bank. Yeah, that’s a lot.
For comparison, nine ball is basically make the ball, don’t miss. If you do miss (which is rare), leave the other guy without a shot. One pocket is more like, you’re probably going to miss, make sure it lands within this 3-inch space, make sure you place your cueball EXACTLY here, and do NOT for ANY reason bump a single other ball. Watching it made my head hurt and made my ego deflate. I need scratch paper for basic addition and they’re over here doing calculus in their heads.
It makes for longer matches, but not necessarily less dramatic ones.
Billy Thorpe was playing Alex Pagulayan in a finals rematch from the semis where Pagulayan was the victor. They went to the hill (last) game, in a match that was tight all the way. Now, something you might want to know is that Billy Thorpe is 20 years old. Alex has been a world champion for some time now, and more relevantly, held this event’s title and the all-around for the previous two years in a row. Billy has been slowly but surely rising through the ranks with some impressive finishes, but this was a finals match at the Derby City Classic. He hasn’t been here before. The lights were bright, the pressure was on.
He might’ve been a bit aware of this as he scratched (pocketed the cue ball) twice and made a few mistakes early on. This in most cases would spell the end for young Billy, but a friend of mine recalled feeling “something in the air at work for Billy” as the table somehow slowly turned against Pagulayan instead. In the final game, Billy had run ahead, only needing two balls. I’m not sure what it feels like to be responsible for making a world champion sweat, but Billy now does. Alex played a defensive shot, trying to at least prevent the end, and it looked to be effective from the stands.
Did I mention Billy is a banking machine? He placed 5th in the banks division at the Derby, but some argue he’s the best out there. I didn’t mention that? Well now you know. Ok, back to that safety.
A confident, high speed bank described as miraculous catapulted Billy out from Alex’s trap, and now he only needed one. Alex, feeling his title slipping away, hid Billy again. This time, he needed to be sure there was no way out. The intensity wrapped around the room as Billy looked for his shot. He got down, he got comfortable, and slowly let his shot out. The ball crept its way to his pocket, drawing the moment out before falling in. The crowd erupted for Billy Thorpe, the youngest DCC champ ever, who had won the One Pocket event at 20 years old!
The achievement itself would be emotional, but in front of everyone, Billy pulled out his phone and called his dad, on speaker for everyone to hear, shakily saying into the phone “I won, dad.” His dad started crying and telling his son how proud he was. An overcome Billy couldn’t hold back his own tears, and most of the audience joined in, too. The moment was real, the heart was there, and it meant something to everyone in that room.
I asked Billy later how that felt and he said, “After I made the last bank, my body went completely numb. I couldn’t tell if it was a dream or a reality to be honest.”
It certainly seems a dream from here. I explained what an inspiration he was to all the young players out there and asked him what he wanted to say to everyone.
“I sure hope so, all of my fans have been watching me grow up.” He still was 20, had been playing for years, all while being watched. That must be a lot for a 20-year-old.
He repeated several times an enthusiastic gratitude to his fans for supporting him, crediting them for his confidence. A bright, hopeful player with a thankful heart and an authenticity to him, the makings of a champion.
This is why we play.
A swift kick in the shin is what I needed Thursday. I am at the Derby City Classic, one of the most prestigious tournaments in America. I’m here mainly to play in the American Rotation event. It was a round robin format (where you play everyone in your bracket) and I was severely behind. I wasn’t behind because the tables were ___ or the balls were __. I’m behind because my head was about 16 inches up my bum (so, literally, behind.) The following paragraph is in no way my complaint/excuse. Please read after.
I haven’t been to a tournament in a while where no one knows me, and Amro (American Rotation) is not what I usually play. The tables are Diamond tables and we were playing with Cyclops balls, which is about the opposite conditions of my usual 30-year-old Gold Crown with dinged up, dirty Aramiths (none of the above is bad, just completely different from each other). I was not feeling rested, and there were 85 social interactions before, after, and during my matches that I had not absorbed. I brought the wrong jeans. I was the only girl in this field. I was the only girl on this floor. Was I the only girl here? BAM the matches are starting.
At some point after playing in tournaments for years, I forgot what it was like before. The stakes are different, but so are they conditions. I have forgotten the relaxation, the comfort in my local hall, everyone knowing my name…and most importantly them knowing my game. If I miss a ball at home, they assume I’m off. If I go to a new place, they assume I can’t play. Or at least, that’s what it seems like. Somewhere between October and now, I misplaced my attentiveness to this.
The first match, I played mostly to my abilities. I made a nice comeback to get within 4 points of my opponent near the end. I then realized that people were watching, that I might win my first match being the only girl, that I was probably breaking their expectations for “girls”… aside: in reality, who knows what they were thinking... Anyways, I was thinking about it, which is bad. I missed at least 3 balls in the last rack that were completely makeable because I let myself get distracted, and it rattled me into the next two matches.
I am telling you about this not as “oh it wasn’t my fault.” It was completely my fault. I am telling you because I had the most interesting experience while watching Shane Van Boening play Dennis Orcullo.
Shane was on the bigfoot table (10 feet) on the live stream table. He was not playing well (for Shane) and he was falling behind. I was at the same time in the middle of a conversation started by a stranger. This guy was perfectly pleasant, if not perplexingly clueless. He was explaining as he waved his hand over the arena that he had expected a higher caliber of player. I looked under his hand to see Alex Olinger playing next to Alex Pagulayan, with big names and undoubtedly skilled amateurs all around. This is one of the toughest fields out there for open tournaments. He said he was surprised to see people missing and that he thought he could do better.
I started to explain what was wrong with that thinking, but realized the futility as I was speaking. It was clear from the things he said, he was not an experienced player. I asked him if he had played in a tournament before. He said no, and I asked why he (at a seemingly advanced age) had never tried. He said he was waiting for a sponsorship. I held all of that laughter inside, guys. All of it. I pulled some sort of muscle somewhere I’m sure. It’s not that sponsorship in itself was ridiculous, and you might think me mean, but the thought that you would get money BEFORE proving yourself as a player was a bit comical, knowing what I know. But then I remembered. I remember believing in some 22-year-old stupor that I would only need about a year to become the best in the world. That maybe I could get a sponsorship because I had potential, which would then make that possible. I’m now 30, not incapable of anything on any table, but still not the best. I’m not even close, and have no idea what the future holds. I know what I didn’t know then.
I look back at Shane in his match, and he’s lost. I read about him later and listen to people who talk as if he’s some local wannabe. This is SVB. His monogram is even famous. He has more than proved his worth for over a decade, and he misses 3 balls in a match sometimes (like a human). People sometimes talk crap about him. He’s pretty much accepted as THE player of the last decade, and people like the person next to me (who doesn’t even know his name) doubt his abilities. There is no sanity in the world. Somehow, I feel better about my earlier experience.
The thing that is not so obvious to casual players is that tournament play is a bit different. There are about a million things about playing tournament pool that are so small, so minute, so personal, so complex, that it will take me the rest of my life to explain them. Examples of the hundred or so fundamental thoughts that apply everywhere I play is “bend your knees” (because my stance is terrible and I often get seasick), “smooth” (something that helps me not whack at the cue ball), and “this is mine” (something that helps me feel confident). There’s not one trick, there’s a thousand, most of them exclusive to you, and you have to remember all of them every time. When I head to a new tournament or pool hall, there is also the animal instincts to deal with, so I have a few things to help me cool down. All this happens simultaneously in the short few minutes before a match, then the lights, audiences, and matches start. There are so many little things, I forget them in between tournaments. There are so many that I forget them between shots. Maybe I’m just forgetful. Dunno. Point is, nothing is simple under the lights.
I talk to a friend, who gives me some pointers and reminds me to chill out before my last match. I win. Most importantly, I play well and enjoyed myself… I can’t tell you how difficult and important that is. The 100 things are put in a box for next time as I am still out of the running in the round robin. I take comfort knowing what I’ve learned/remembered will linger in my memory... Hopefully… Now where’d I put my keys?