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By LoppEar (Wed Feb 01, 2012 at 03:34:42 PM EST) (all tags)
I've played in an amateur pool league for the last year. I'm getting better.


One of my favorite bars - not the nearest, but in the friends-group for the longest - has been involved in the Chicago APA for what seems like forever, sponsoring teams every day and qualifying a team to Vegas nearly every year. Just one table in the back, but free to play and usually many helpful regulars willing to beat you handily. We're good friends with the owner and plenty of the regulars, and after a few years he talked me into joining one of the weekly 8-ball leagues last winter.

League Background

Each week we play 5 matches against another team, alternating who picks who will play first. Usually there'll be 6 or 7 folks on a team, so there's some strategy and balancing in who ends up playing on which nights. Usually a night will be a fun time out at the bar from 7 to midnight, with an hour or so spent playing.

The APA has a skill level system from two to seven, and the number of games needed to win a match depends on the skill matchup - eg a three vs a three has a race to 2 wins, a six vs a seven needs to win 4 to before they win a 5. An easy shorthand for skill level is how many balls you can expect to run out on average (so it'll be rare for a 3 to make 4 balls in a turn), but the actual formula is a secret that takes into account how many turns games take, the skill levels of your opponents, any defensive/safety shots etc. It's pretty unlikely you'll move up / down skill level more than once per season, if at all.

Most people you'll run into in bars shooting casually would be twos. Sevens are expected to run out most games, and are quite good (and have been playing for a while), but nothing like the real pros. Most teams will have a mix of threes and fours, perhaps a two, and usually a six or seven as captain, but there's a cap for total skill per night to keep teams balanced.

There's playoffs in each league in the Spring, Summer, and Fall, and teams can get rearranged in between. Winning 60% of matches is enough to make the playoffs. Winning teams go on to city-wide playoffs, and can win a slot at the national championships in Vegas.

Last Year

As a new APA player I started as a four and immediately lost with that handicap to become a three for most of the session. (There's a slightly odd bias where new women instead start as threes and fall to twos. Statistically reasonable, all balances out after a few games, probably encourages a few more women to stay involved at first - we've generally had one woman on the team) I really liked the other folks on the team, and it felt good being back to having some regular habit in my life.

We did well enough to qualify for city-wides that first session, while I lost often enough to fall to a two and spend most of the rest of the year there. League has made me a much more strategic player than just casual play ever would have, perhaps the most helpful aspect is two coached shots per game (4s and up get one coach). For me these are about 50/50 me saying "help, I'm stuck" and someone else on the team saying "whoa, let's stop right there".

The team lost a few of the good fun people over the summer, mostly to other nights or teams. The bar owner (who plays on several teams, including mine) spends a significant amount of time finding people for teams or teams for people around the start of each session, so they were replaced by other good fun people, mostly.

A few of my friends-from-other-circumstances decided I was having a good time and joined teams too, although on Monday night not Tuesday. The bar got a brand new 9ft Diamond table, making 7ft tables when we play away feel a bit like toys. My wife bought me a cue of my own for xmas, a McDermott just like the one I'd settled on using most of the time from a teammate.

This Year

The owner approached me about joining the Monday team, making it almost entirely good friends of mine. He'd been concerned that they weren't having as much fun and camaraderie as we had on the Tuesday team, or had had - there's a noticeable difference between teams that all hang out for the evening and those where people show up to shoot their match and leave. In terms of bar retention too, of course. At first it looked like I'd have to give up my Tuesday team to make the shuffle work, but I was willing to play two nights to continue improving, and in the end that team has actually ended up short a few players, so I'm still on there, with most of the folks I enjoyed playing with still there. And we added the wife of one of my friends to the Monday team. It's been a great team start so far.

On the Monday team I am doing fantastic, two wins against 5s. I'm probably near moving up to a 4, although I did manage to lose badly to a 2 last Tuesday. We were close to a sweep this Monday, last guy lost in the last game, but to be fair the other team was celebrating a birthday and nearly finished a bottle of Jose Cuervo while we were playing.

It's good having non-bar friends on the team, had a great time last Saturday going out with a few of them to Chris' Billiards here (famous for being where Color of Money was filmed) for several hours. Dingy, dark, huge upstairs warehouse space, BYOB and various mix of characters and kids.

Good times.

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Sticks and balls | 2 comments (2 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Sounds like a fun time by lm (2.00 / 0) #1 Fri Feb 03, 2012 at 07:58:01 AM EST
Learning to properly shoot pool has been on my bucket list for some time. The apartment I live in put in a table in the lounge last year so I don't even have an excuse not to. Yet, I never get around to it.

So good on you for following through.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
Thanks, two important points I glossed over by LoppEar (2.00 / 0) #2 Fri Feb 03, 2012 at 11:02:19 AM EST
by primarily focusing on the team / skill dynamics. A rewrite would better emphasize
  1. That this is my first sticking-to-it hobby in years, that I tried and failed (or thought and failed, more) to get that happy sense of accomplishment and follow-through, and it does feel great to have it again. And not in a field that was a childhood hobby, either, something new!
  2. The per-game skill improvements I'm seeing. Shot selection and control of where the cue ends up, yes. But just in the last few months I suddenly can make bank shots better than 50/50 - I'll actually feel confident making a side bank shot, and willing to go for a long bank reasonably often. Getting to play on so many tables, including the big unforgiving home-bar table, and simply the reminder that practice does matter.



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