Thursday, August 9, 2012

Tournament Report and a ride, and a rant

This past weekend I played in a fairly big pool tournament, the Virginia State 9 Ball Championships.  Well, I played in it briefly, anyway.  Mostly, I helped my friend Joshua Dickerson, the tournament promoter, run it.  I was also the referee for the event, making official rulings on various things.  I also served as one of the commentators on the live stream that Inside Pool Magazine sent out over the web.

Happy Anniversary!

The weekend started with a celebration.  MB and I celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary.  This was especially nice as I’d been traveling on business all week and gave us a chance to reconnect.

Our date included a trip to the Virginia Museum of Fine Art to see a special exhibit on the Maharajas of India followed by dinner at the restaurant that is in the museum, Amuse.

The exhibit was quite remarkable.  Displays of incredible silver, textiles, jewelry, and other doodads allowed us to ooh and aaahh for several hours.  Admittedly, I didn’t know much about India and its rich history (still don’t, really) so it was really cool to expand what little I knowledge I did have.  Really fascinating.  Now that India is one of the largest countries in the world, I expect we all need to learn more about it.

Dinner at Amuse was sumptuous.  This restaurant is only open limited hours on weekends.  The chef specializes in making local purchases and then turning them into incredible dishes.  He is a wizard.  The mixologist (bartender) is also talented.  For the India exhibit, he created a couple of signature cocktails that were equally amazing.  I had a “chai tea” drink that was made with rye and several other ingredients, including cream.  The results were stunning.  Turned brown liquor, a spirit that isn’t traditionally thought of as a summer drink, into a very refreshing libation.  MB had a gin and tonic made with designer tonic water (locally produced – as in on the premises) that was the best she’d ever had. 

The dishes we ordered were beautifully prepared and very imaginative and the restaurant offers mini-flights of wine by the glass.  This meant we each were able to create wine pairings with each course.  The results were quite good! 
If you come to the area, I recommend Amuse for dinner on the weekend particularly if you have an adventurous palate!

Tournament Saturday

The pool tournament was held at Diamond Billiards, located on the south side of town in Midlothian.  This pool room is an upscale establishment that’s been in business for about four and a half years.  It’s a really nice place with great equipment, spotless bathrooms, full bar, and a solid menu of bar food and even some healthy selections.

Open table time for warm up and practice was 9:00 a.m. with the tournament scheduled to begin at 11:00.  (Those of you that are pool players know that this means play actually starts about 11:30.)  For the life of me, I don’t know what it is about pool players dragging ass in late but that seems to be the rule rather than the exception.  As someone who is always on time, it drives me nuts.

Due to some miscommunication, the tournament ended up with 72 players – slightly more than the full field of 64.  This added some time to the early round matches.  Saturday’s play didn’t end until 2:30 am Sunday morning, as a result.  I didn’t hear any complaints, though.

My first match was called about 1:00 pm and I took on a pretty talented player in the race to 9.  After losing the lag, I managed to run out the first table when he broke dry.  That was the last really good chance I had to do anything.  I did win three more games but only when he missed in two of them and left me with fairly easy outs.  One game, I managed to win a safety battle but that was due more to a lucky roll.  The fact is, he was a much better player than me and should beat me most of the time.  (He ended up in the money, top twelve, I think.)  I didn’t play badly, I just didn’t get a lot of chances.  It happens.

My second match came about 3:30 or so.  This player seemed to be more my speed, especially since he also lost in an early round.  I won the lag and we fought back and forth until I’d gotten to a 5-3 lead thanks to a run out that included four ridiculous shots in a row; two banks, one carom, and a table length extreme cut shot.  (I’m probably about even money to make just one of those shots.  Making all four in a row is like winning the pick 4 lottery for me!)

From that point, my opponent just hit another gear altogether.  I got very rare looks at a clean shot and the only other game I won happened when he played a rather loose safety that left me with a table length shot that was almost dead straight in with the cue ball on the rail.  I slow rolled the shot and get good enough position on the next ball that I was able to run the last 4 balls and get out.  Lost 9-6.  My opponent finished one round out of the money.

Again, I played fairly well in both matches.  I consider myself a B player and when I’m in an event like this, the draw makes a difference.  I’ve finished in the money here two or three times, sometimes when playing worse.  Until my game jumps up one more level, this will likely be my fate.  I don’t like to lose but until I can devote more time, I have to satisfy myself with quality of play, setting my expectation appropriately.  (I don’t like to lose but I don’t like to be pissed off, either.)

The rest of the day on Saturday, I spent in the broadcast booth, acting as a commentator.  This is great fun for me!

Dozens of Fans!

Being a commentator at a pool tournament is a lot like talking to yourself.  First, the tournament isn’t on TV, it’s on the web.  Kind of like live Youtube, except with fewer viewers.  In order for people to watch, they need to know the web address of the “channel” in order to watch.  Then, they need to be willing to watch something as small as a computer screen to see local pool players bang balls around.  (Don’t get me wrong, some of the play is terrific.  The top players in this event play in the US Open 9 Ball Championships, one of the biggest events in the world.  We’re not all hacks!)

As you might imagine, the audience is rather restricted.  At one point, when I was in the booth, we had slightly over 350 viewers.  While those numbers are really small, they aren’t terrible for a local event. (Keep in mind, these were early rounds.)  Last year during the finals, at one point, I think we had 3,000 which is a really good audience.  Remember, these are die hard pool fans and that’s interesting to pool advertisers.

Anyway, I worked three or four matches on Saturday and I was typically paired with another player in the event.  This makes for some funny story telling along with calling the action and some interviewing.  At least, that’s what I try to do.  Pool is full of interesting people and I like to dig that out for people to listen. 

The way you know whether or not you’re connecting with the audience is that the internet connection allows for a live chat among those watching.  This gives the announce team the chance to see how their comments, calls, opinions, and the like are being received in real time by their audience.  Comments lead to people bringing other viewers in, usually via social media announcements, and that builds viewers.  I also use Twitter and Facebook, resulting in a number of people tuning in, many of whom wouldn’t ordinarily.  (Got a few calls and messages during and afterwards, too, about this.  I may have turned on some new fans!)

Because we’re on the internet rather than the airwaves, streaming tends to be a bit raw both in production quality and commentary.  At one point during a decidedly one sided match, I said the following:

“So Frank finally manages to hook his pickup truck to the back of his neck and pull his head out of his butt long enough to make the nine ball and get on the board.  He now trails 7-1 in this race to nine.”

The chat went crazy at that point.  I simply said what would have been on my mind if I’d been playing the match (and as badly) and the viewers loved it.  I’m guessing I’d never make it on ESPN or the Golf Channel but that’s not in my plan, either.

Shortly before midnight, I hit the wall.  I’d been there almost fifteen hours and was dragging from being “on” during the stream; I have a little background in TV and I just put more energy into my piece of it.  (Think it’s easy?  Just try talking non-stop during the next sporting event you watch on TV.  Yeah.  Let me know how that is.)  I headed home to bed, planning to be back at noon Sunday for the first rounds of play.

Baby Got Back…On the Bike

I managed to sleep in on Sunday; until about 6:30.  That's become sleeping in for me.  I’ve never really been a “good” sleeper and it’s only gotten worse with age.  At least I have lots of interests to stay busy!

I decided to get a bike ride in after breakfast.  Since I spent the entire day before, and most of the day Sunday, in a pool room I thought that would be a nice change of pace!

I set out on my Montpelier circuit of about 25 miles before it got too hot and in no time at all, I was grinning as I spun up the road.  There was very little traffic out on this Sunday morning.  In fact, I rode for thirty minutes before seeing a vehicle.  Sheer bliss!

Once I got to Montpelier, I headed northwest on route 33.  My plan was to turn onto Hopeful Church Road, ride across to Taylor’s Creek Road near the county line, and then turn for home.

I was doing about 25 mph when I got to Hopeful Church and started to make the left turn.  I felt my rear wheel kind of shudder and looked down.  Dammit! Going flat.  This was the fourth flat in six weeks!  WTF?

I slowed down, pulled over and climbed off the bike.  (I hate stopping mid-ride like this because I’m suddenly pouring sweat and it’s running it my eyes.)  I pulled off my helmet and started inspecting the tire for a puncture.  I couldn’t find anything and knew it was fully inflated when I left the house.  I grabbed my frame pump and re-inflated the tire hoping that would take care of it.  (Dreamer!)  I saddled up and continued my ride.

Another two miles or so and I knew I’d have to change it; the tire was slowly going soft again.  I pulled over at a spot that was visible to drivers in both directions and set to changing the tube.  Admittedly, I’m getting very good at this due to all the practice of late.  What it’s taught me is that I have to invest in a CO2 pump; damn frame pumps will wear you out!

After getting the tube out, I worked my fingers all around the inside of the tire looking for the culprit to the flat.  Nothing.  I checked to see if there were spokes that might be poking it from above.  Nothing.  I shook my head and stuffed the old tube in my jersey pocket for future investigation, put a new tube in the wheel, slid the tire back into place and inflated it.  I re-installed the wheel, took a long drink to celebrate another successful repair, and pedaled off.  (Finally got a chance to check the tube last night. Tiny hole in it in about the same place as the last flat.  I'm thinking there is something in the tire that is embedded deep enough that, most of the time, it doesn't cause a flat.  I'm hoping to perform a more indepth investigation this weekend.)

I arrived back home with no further difficulties.  After cooling down, having a snack and a shower, I was ready to head back to the tournament.  That workout was just was I needed!

Tournament Day 2

I walked through the doors at about noon and, much to my surprise, some matches had already started!  I didn’t even expect everyone to be there yet.

Joshua told me that they’d postponed the last couple of matches from last night on the promise that people would get in early enough to keep on time.  That made sense then; for a second, I thought I‘d entered a parallel universe or something.

I headed into the booth to call the match on the TV table and spent most of the afternoon hosting match after match.  I also got a chance to interview a young player who is now based in our area and making a name for himself on the international pool stage, Brandon Shuff.

Brandon is a two time winner of the VA State championship but hasn’t played the last two years due to other commitments.  He graciously worked a couple of matches with me and it gave me a chance to ask him what he’s doing to manage his career.

The upshot was that he has become very intentional about it.  He plans to attend every possible tournament he can, works on his game incessantly, and plays in a lot of money matches (I know, I was shocked) to hone his skills and nerves.  In short, he is a true, pool professional.  And the positive results have been steady although slower than he’d like.  (My BFF Clyde called me on Monday to say how much he enjoyed the interview. He’s not even a pool player.  Thanks!)

I expect some really big things from Brandon over the next couple of years.  He’s got too much talent, heart, and desire not to make it!  Be on the lookout for Brandon “Sho-nuff” Shuff, coming to a big win, near you!

The Finals

The last match began around 9:00 pm and it featured Chris Futrell, the defending champion, against Larry Kressel a former winner of the event.  Chris had gone undefeated through the field to gain the hot seat while Larry had fought his way back from the one loss side where he’d had to play two additional matches to make the finals.

I was out of the booth now because my job was to be the referee of the last two semi-final, and final, matches.  This gave me the best seat in the house to watch what turned out to be a pretty good tussle.

Futrell got out to an early lead, putting up three games before Kressel notched his first.  From there, they fought back and forth with each player going on small streaks of three games each.  Eventually, Futrell moved the score to 10-8 and was on the hill, only one game away from the title.  When he suddenly missed an easy 6  ball in the nineteenth rack, Kressel ran out to get to 10-9.  He then broke and was deftly running out the rack, looking for all the world as if he was going to make it a hill-hill match, when he suddenly rattled the 7 ball leaving it hanging in the jaws of a corner pocket.  Looking absolutely stunned as the crowd gasped in surprise, he slowly walked back to his chair.

Futrell walked purposefully to the table, took his time, and ran out the last three balls for the victory.  He had successfully defended his title!  For his part, Kressel had gotten farther along in the event than he had in five years when he last won it.
Futrell won $1100 and paid entry into the US Open.  Kressel won $600 and paid entry into the US Open, too.  There were 8 women playing in the tournament and Joshua is also paying entry for the top finisher among them into the US Open.  That went to Sheri Bruner.  Congratulations to all!

Back to the world….

I rolled out the door about 11:00 pm to head home, surprised to find that the sun had set.  I’d had a three or four beers over the course of the tournament (seriously) but I still felt like Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend.  Unless you make yourself go outside during an event like this, it feels like you’re in a casino or on a binge.  Felt like I missed the weekend, altogether.  Weird.

Anyway, I was back in the office bright and early Monday morning.  I’m so out of sorts that I just told the cashier in the employee cafeteria to have a nice weekend.  And it’s only Wednesday!

I knew I should have had more to drink.

And finally, I need to vent...

I hate to end with this horrible tragedy but feel it needs to be said.  A local cyclist, 24 year old Lanie Kruzewski, was killed while cycling here in Richmond on July 31st, by a hit and run driver.  The driver, a 30 year old advertising executive, turned himself in several days later and reportedly told police he, “thought he hit a deer” and claiming he didn’t realize he’d hit a person and that’s why he kept driving.  

He was arrested, charged with hit and run, and on August 9th was released on $200,000 bond, forfeiting his driver’s license and passport.  His driving record over the past ten years shows a pattern of reckless driving, speeding, and multiple moving violations.

The accident occurred at 10:20 pm on a two lane road with a very small shoulder.  The cyclist, who was riding to her boyfriend’s after getting off work, was wearing all reflective clothing, had a headlight and two blinking taillights on her bike all of which were working.  The Dodge Durango that hit her struck with enough force to throw her 110 feet, crushing the front fender and cracking the entire windshield.

I am incredibly saddened and frightened by this accident.  It’s the second death of a cyclist, at the hands of a driver, in the past year.  Statistics show that cycling is actually safer than riding a motorcycle but that does little to assuage my fear that I’m going to end up on someone’s fender.  I am frequently passed by vehicles going too fast for the conditions, passing in an unsafe manner (not waiting until there is room to do so, for example) and harassing me for being on the road.  I sincerely hope none of those people was you.  If it was, though, please consider this.

If I were in a car instead of on a bike, is that how you would behave?  Probably not.  But because I’m on a bike, and running into me wouldn’t do any damage to your car (or so you seem to think) you might be more likely to take a chance.  Please don’t.  Hitting a human will hurt your car but, more importantly, it will ruin your life.  If it’s me, I promise I will own everything that you have. If I die, my heirs will.  There is nothing that is worth the extra thirty seconds you have to wait in order to go around me. Nothing.

Rant over.  Carry on and please remember, share the road.  There is room for all of us.

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