Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A moment on the pool table

I've been bitching for a while - ages - now that 'my game' has deserted me on the pool table, but.... on Sunday night it finally returned, with a vengeance.

It may have helped that I wasn't taking it all that seriously:  I'd just looked in at the Pool Bar hoping for a quick game or two with The Choirboy, but had to beat one of the local sharks to get on the table first (and, later, had to throw one, in order to get off the table again).  It certainly helped that I managed to find a decent cue, for once (about the third or fourth one I tried): rather too light and not quite arrow-straight, but pretty darned true, and with a nice tip to it as well - and it just felt good in the hands.

Whatever it was, I was almost immediately 'in the zone' - relaxed, confident, not having to think at all.  After months of floundering around, not knowing quite where to hit the balls to get them to go in the pockets any more, suddenly I could remember again: every time I got down over a shot, I could immediately see where to hit it.  I didn't sink everything I attempted, but I did make most of them - including a few real stunners.  Striking the ball very sweetly.  Working the position quite well too.  After being such an infrequent player this year, I wasn't reading the table well; I was particularly hopeless at doubles, which are usually my speciality... but it didn't seem to matter.  Soon I was drawing a gallery of approving spectators.  And even that didn't put me off my stride.  I was having such fun.

And then... The Choirboy - somewhat fortuitously - left me completely stitched up, the cue ball in amongst a cluster of his balls near the top cushion while my last ball was way down the other end of the table.  The ball was in a temptingly pottable position, near the mid-line of the bottom left corner pocket, about 8 or 10 inches away: but it was completely obscured by an intervening ball.  Other balls were blocking every conceivable path to it: I couldn't play a natural doubling angle off any of the cushions; I didn't have room to attempt a swerve shot.  I was well-and-truly stuffed.

Except for the jump-shot option.  This is not a type of shot I like.  I have very little experience of playing them, since I grew up playing snooker, in which they are illegal; and, even in pool, where they are allowed, I generally refrain from playing them because of the danger of 'bruising' the cloth.  It would probably be fair to say that this is a shot I know how to play in theory, rather than feeling that I can play it.  But on this night, I felt I could play it.  My mood was so perky, I felt I could make any shot I went for.

It was a tough shot; nearly 'impossible'.  There was a lot of distance between cue ball and object ball.  And the intervening ball was very close to the cue ball, necessitating a steep take-off.

But I felt I could make it.  In fact, I paused, I broke off as I was about to play the shot to quip with The Choirboy that I'd only recently watched The Color Of Money again, a classic film about pool sharking (a Martin Scorsese-directed sequel to the even better The Hustler) in which a young Tom Cruise played a very similar shot - a shot which I'd always wanted the opportunity to replicate.

And then I played the shot.  And my ball disappeared into the pocket.  I almost didn't look back at the balls after chatting to my friend: I didn't need to look at the shot, I just knew where I had to hit it.  And I hit it.  The thought and the action were one.  There are few more blissful experiences in life; perhaps none.

And I didn't just hit it.  I hit it perfectly.  With jump-shots like this, it's very difficult to judge the flight of the cue ball.  And, particularly with a steep take-off, having to raise the cue ball high off the table to get over the intervening ball, there is the likelihood that it will bounce like a Barnes Wallis bomb - perhaps bounce clean over the object ball, or bounce off the table.  It will inevitably bounce at least a little bit; so unless you manage to land it precisely behind the object ball, you won't get a clean contact.  If the cue ball is rising on the bounce, or still descending, when it hits the object ball, you get unpredictable 'squeeze' effects - the object ball won't move off at a 'true' angle.  Even if you do get the cue ball striking the object ball while moving  near-enough horizontally over the table, you still often tend to get an ugly-sounding contact - a 'kick' - with this kind of shot.  You feel you've done well if you hit your ball at all.  If you actually manage to get it moving more or less towards the pocket, any spectators will be moderately impressed.  If the ball rattles violently in the pocket jaws, and then finally deigns to drop over the edge - well, that's a 1 in 10 or 1 in 20 outcome; it ain't pretty, but you feel fairly chuffed with yourself anyway.

This shot wasn't like that.  This shot was perfect.  The cue ball took off cleanly, easily clearing the intervening ball a few inches in front of it; it landed directly behind the object ball, and did not bounce at all (the contact killed its energy); it was a sweet, sweet contact; and the object ball flew straight down the centre of the pocket without touching the sides - like a rat down a drainpipe, as my old dad used to like to say.  Perfect.

That was certainly one of the handful of finest shots I have ever made in 30 or more years of playing this game.  And I think it was probably the flashiest.

Of course, I worry that 'the secret' of my rediscovered form is that it was after midnight, and I'd been drinking for nearly seven hours....


James the Nag said...

But were there any dogs jumping for beer mats and was Don Maclean on the Juke Box?

Froog said...

No dogs, alas. Probably just as well. Beijing dogs tend to be of the small, yappy, annoying variety.

And there's even less space in the Pool Bar than there was in The Temple: there's basically just the pool room, with a cramped little bar in the corridor leading to it.

It's a little piece of heaven for me, though. I wouldn't be still in Beijing, I don't think, if this place didn't exist.

Froog said...

Can't remember what was on the playlist at the time.

They have quite a lot of Bob Marley - which isn't great for pool playing (too laidback!), but better than a lot of the stuff on their rotation. There is a sort of 80s rut it settles into occasionally, which has lots of good pool-playing stuff like The Clash, Alice Cooper, Joan Jett, and AC/DC. No Don McLean. Perhaps I should give them some.