A runout, lost.

APA Regional tournament. BQE Billiards. Queens, NY

The most memorable experiences are often ones of failure.

One thing I love about pool is that the spectator’s attention is dedicated to one player at a time, and when a player is shooting well, that can be a very long time.

If a runout is any turn at the table in which the player sinks all their remaining balls and wins the game, then a break and run is a perfect runout. It’s the slam dunk or the home run of pool. It requires a player to break the balls, pocketing at least one of them and continuing pocketing balls until the game is over all in one turn. In the most common bar pool game, 8 ball, this means running all the solids or stripes and then making the 8 ball. It’s truly a masterful skill and a stunning demonstration.

Last night, during league play, I had one of these break and runs by the tail…

It’s my turn to break and I take my time getting down over the table. I line up with the balls and picture the cue ball making a perfectly square hit on the rack before I swing. Crrrrack! The balls explode and I make a ball in the corner. Relief. I can keep shooting.

I take a minute or two to examine the groups of solids and stripes. I look for balls that cannot be pocketed easily. The break was good and the stripes can all be made with the right position. I plan my route in the most detail I can, accounting for position from each of the object balls and 8 ball. I take a look at the 8 ball and decide where I’d like to shoot it and work backwards deciding how to get there. It’s a challenging task that requires some knowledge about how the balls glance off each other and the rails, and a lot of focus and determination.

I make my first stripe ball and connect it well to the next. I take my time. I continue checking and re-checking my plan in my head after pocketing each ball. Eventually I think about how I haven’t missed and I only have three balls left and they’re all in good position. I’ll shoot the 8 ball into the lefthand side pocket. To get there, I’ll use the stripe by the opposite side pocket as my last ball.

APA Regional tournament. BQE Billiards. Queens, NY

I have two balls to shoot before that, each will go nicely into the same corner pocket. I have a shallow angle from one to the other, which puts me in good position to bounce off the long rail by the side pocket and come up on the far side of that last remaining stripe. I pocket the first remaining ball and get good position for the next.

Suddenly the reality of the runout occurs to me. I’ve done more than half of the hard work so far. It’s right in front of me, waiting to be grasped when I start to think about who is watching; what they think of me, whether or not they’re pulling for me, whether or not I’ve correctly planned the runout. I start to worry about over-drawing the ball and scratching in the side pocket instead of bouncing off the rail. I’ve got in my head and I’m completely out of the zone.

If I knew what was good for me, I would take a walk around the table or at least just stand back and let my thoughts calm down for a moment. Instead, I do my best to bear down, breathe a bit too intentionally, take a bit too long finding the right spot on the cue ball, take a few too many practice strokes and I shoot the stripe into the corner. Far. Too. Softly.

That elusive 8 ball

The stripe slowly rolls in as planned, but the cue ball glances off with barely enough angle to come out behind the 8 ball after bouncing off the rail. I’m on the near side of that last stripe now and won’t be able to cut the ball to the right. I have to cut it to the left which means the cue ball is going to go to the right, far away from the 8 ball. Not good.

The only way to save this runout now is trusting that I can bring it back around with the right speed, avoiding the constellation of solids with proper use of spin on the cueball.

I play the shot, and somehow manage to over-cut the ball. The stripe bounces from one side of the pocket to the other and plops out while I watch the cue ball dance off the rails and land in position for a long shot on the 8 ball, a moot point now.

My break and run has come to an end. Seven solids, one stripe and the 8 ball are all that are left. That and a knotted ball of disappointment in my stomach. I let it get away.

My opponent went on to win that game and the match by one. If only I hadn’t second guessed myself, if only I had stayed in the zone and stroked through the ball, with the speed like I had intended. There’s probably a life-lesson in here somewhere…

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