Making a ball from the break, and other first world problems…

No-one tells a sob story like a pool player who just broke ‘dry’ in the deciding frame and lost . Real tear jerker. Like Titanic but less wet. And no boats. Or ice.

It’s no secret that over the past 5 years or so I’ve gradually played pool less and less away from the big events. I’m an Accountant which means often having to work long hours at short notice to meet deadlines leaving no time for practice. I am the proud father of two children (Osian and Connie) who are absolutely bonkers and are much more entertaining than hitting a few balls with a stick around a pool hall. Coupling those with the fact that my desire to put the work in away from the tournaments has completely gone through the floor and I can quite easily go 2-3 months without picking up my cue…

I use my Jason Owen Chinese 8-ball cue for breaking, mainly to preserve my playing cue (also Jason Owen). The game has changed dramatically over the last 20 years and the strength is depth is going up all the time. People talk about the golden era of pool being the late 90s/early 2000s, whilst the top guys were top drawer then and have proved as much by still competing now, the standard and strength in depth of players around at this time is ridiculous. Neil Raybone is the current IPA No1 and has been floating around the top spots for at least 3-4 years, although I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves. He never seems to get tipped to win the big events but I personally think it’s to do with his mannerisms, he never seems to give the impression that he is buzzing and usually looks unimpressed with his form, even though he hasn’t missed a ball all day. I don’t think that you can split the Top 8 on the tour really, every player there has strengths and weaknesses but the overall level is so high these days that in a race to 7/8 each match is 50:50.  As such, so many matches are won and lost from the break that the emphasis on the particular shot is bigger than its ever been. I came to realise a few years ago that once I reduced my time on the practice table I could counter-act my “rustiness” by out-breaking my opponent. So I started hitting them harder and harder in the quest for the consistent perfect break – not so easy when your only break practice is during a tournament and your elbow tendencies meant that the white usually went into orbit every other break off! It still worked to an extent and I was still able to win big tournaments playing bad. Mentally it was tough because I felt like I would miss everything but just kept grinding away and the balls kept on dropping. I remember playing the 2015 IPA European Professional event in Brighton and winning one of my matches in the early rounds 9-0, I felt awful the entire match. It wasn’t until I thought back that I realised I had run the match out after my opponent had missed a finish at 0-0!

One of the most enjoyable trips Ive had for various reasons was the inaugural IPA World Series in Gibraltar. I’d only come home 3 days previously from an invitational event in China, and so a warmer climate, a culture that I was more used to and decent grub was welcomed! The three professionals who qualified for the event along with myself were Ronan McCarthy, Clint I’Anson and top snorer and roommate Craig Marsh. On the table Marsh beat me in the final of the Gibraltar Open, and then I beat Clint in the final of the World Series. Off the table Marsh didn’t miss a thing in the casino all weekend! On the last night we’d all had a few drinks at the after party and made our way down to the bars that lined the water. There was a jet ski moored a good 20ft off the front against a walkway on the other side of the water. Clint reckons he can jump it and so we organise a whip round to compensate him because he is bound to undercook it and end up in the juice. What we didn’t realise (although we should have guessed with those lugs) is that Clint morphs into a flying squirrel on weekends. He’s taken a run and jumped off the edge, but somehow he just kept on rising until he was above the jetski and nailed the landing. We were all disappointed that he didn’t break a leg or at least end up in the sea.

The next day was a trip to Malaga for me and Marsh to catch a flight home. Everything was running on time until we got to the gate and the flight was delayed by 3 hours. We must have had about £6k if prize money/casino winnings on us yet couldn’t buy a drink because everything was in euros!

I ground out a few IPA titles over the next couple of seasons but one of the highlights was being a part of the first ever pool match televised live on Freesports, being the first round of the 2018 IPA Professional World Championships against Mark Boyle. I remember sitting in the hotel room with Kristian Phillips watching the draw on the livestream and he thought it was hilarious that I had arguably the hardest draw possible. Although I would have preferred an easier opener it did mean that the match was guaranteed to be picked for the TV so I was looking forward to it. The match took us both out of our comfort zones, there was a big crowd watching especially in the last few sets but I think we both handled it well and played some good pool. Luckily for me I was given a chance in the deciding frame and took out a nice clearance for the win. I ended up losing to Ben Davies in the final but I’d had a good run and an absolutely stinking draw so did great just to be in with a sniff of winning, never mind getting to a deciding frame! 

Following on from the World Championships was the inaugural IPA Champions Cup, of which I was drawn to play against a wildcard, and that was none other than 2018 IPA Ladies World Champion Mika Rooney. Although I hadn’t seen much of her play I’d seen the results that she had had in the few times she had played on the tour, and so I knew that in a race to 6 she was more than capable. I was initially very nervous and it was a different pressure, a lot of people were not giving Mika the credit she deserved and the expectation was that I would win the match at a canter. I started really well and raced into a 4-1 lead, and during the ad break I remember thinking I had done the hard work. After the interval (armed with a pint of lager cleverly disguised as a cup of tea!) Mika took out some big finishes and went 5-4 up. I took a counter clearance to take the match to a decider and then managed to pull another decent finish out, but the match could so easily have gone the other way! The pool was coming thick and fast now and I managed to win the IPA Welsh Open in Cardiff in 2018 straight after it and that is my most recent major title. Since then I’ve had a couple of good runs, near misses and there have definitely been a few titles that have got away, I can put most of that down to not having that extra 1-2% that the regular match play gives you.

A few of my close mates play cuesports socially and so I’ve found myself since the new year playing a bit more, and I’ve noticed a marked improvement in my early round performances, if not my play towards the business end. It was because of this I was disappointed to crash out in the first round of this years IPA World Championships to eventual senior finalist Rich Swaffield. I was playing good in the balls but my temperamental break let me down, giving my opponent too many free pops at finishes, and I was unable to switch it up. Following this I got up at 7am on the morning on the next event trying to find a new break and I struck lucky. I figured that now that I was actually playing a bit more I needed to back myself to beat the top guys with my hand on the table, rather than just out-breaking everyone, so I took about 50% off the power but this meant I could hit the break with a lot more control, and let’s be honest, the tables break so easy these days even guys who can’t break still make balls. Although I haven’t won an event in the 6 ranking events I’ve played this year I’ve made 2 finals and 1 semi and lost to the eventual winner in 5 of them. I’m hoping to take this consistency into the IPA Premier League for a good run there and ultimately into the World Championships in 2020.

My main goals going forward are to move into the Top 4 by the end of this year (currently 6th), winning at least one major event.

Following on from that the 2020 Worlds are the target along with attaining No1 in the professional rankings.

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