Why We Play Pool Every Week

My partner and I are busy working professionals, working nine to five while cultivating side hustles, keeping house, landscaping, staying fit, eating healthfully, and raising cats. We’re Busy. And yet, just about every week, we make time to head down to the local pool hall and play a few games. It keeps our relationship strong.

Basic Rules

[Skip to the next heading if you’re familiar with the basics. Or read on to read as I summarize a rule book in a couple of paragraphs. ]

If you’ve never played pool before, I’m going to give an amateur description of the game play and rules. One person racks, which means sets up the balls. The rack is a triangle formation of 10 balls, the 8 ball being the most important to keep in the center position. The other person will break using a cue stick, meaning attempt to hit the white cue ball into this formation, hard enough break up the balls, but not so hard the cue ball flies off the table. If the breaker gets one in, they’re entitled to aim the cue ball toward any other ball other than the 8 toward any pocket (that’s the cup or hole where the ball falls.) If the breaker doesn’t get one in on the break, or if they do and miss their second shot, the table is Open.

The racking person now has a chance to hit the cue ball into any (not the 8) ball they like. Once either person makes a shot in after the break, they will either be stripes or solids (or high ball/low ball based on the numbers on the ball), depending on which they got in. The players take turns, shooting until they miss, until all of their solids or stripes are in. Once the colored balls are in, the player can shoot on the 8.

If one accidently moves a ball, accidently sinks the cue ball, or does a number of other things, that’s a scratch. Other person can put the cue where ever they want behind the starting line to start their turn. If the 8 ball goes in out of order, as in before all of the solids or all of the stripes are in, game over, that player loses. My partner and I also call our shots, so if the ball goes into a pocket we made by mistake or didn’t announce ahead of time, lose a turn. And if the 8 ball goes into a pocket we didn’t call, game over, that’s losing. And if a player sinks the cue while missing the shot on the 8, that’s ball-in-hand, meaning the other person can set up the cue anywhere they like. If the first player scratches while sinking the 8, that’s game over, and how statistically I beat my partner most nights.

That’s probably good enough for background.

Partners & Competitors

It’s a game you can play alone, but it strengthens the partnership.

One thing we have consistently found is that we are excellent partners in life. We divide the chores. We plan with consideration. He help and trust each other without question. We are able to support one another through nearly every difficulty, and one of us is always able to take the lead in difficult moments to get us to where we need to be.

But we’re also incredibly competitive, and that’s not something that goes well with partnership typically. If we didn’t play pool, we would get overly supportive of one another, sappy, sweet, take each other too seriously, and generally miss out on the fun of competition. We love to compete, and pool gives us a way of doing it in a confined and specific way where no one is taking themselves too seriously.

In the past, we’ve also played in weekly leagues in doubles rounds. This is a different way of channeling both our partnership instinct and our need for competition. We’ve learned how to set each other up while defending against the other pair, how to support one another with the right praise at the right time, and we’re pretty unstoppable in most local doubles matches.

Trash Talk Motivates

On the off chance that either of us decides to trash talk the other in the fun spirit of competition, typically the receiver of the trashing rises to prove the other wrong. I’ve trashed my partner’s play many times with the idea of motivating him to shoot better- and I always regret it because of how quickly he proves me wrong.

Clearing the Mind

Meditation in Precision

No matter what has happened during the work day, we leave it at the door. (We’ve sat in the car outside the hall a number of times to vent before the play.) We have an unspoken agreement that we do not discuss work or other stressors during the game. First, it’s a game best played quietly and in a focused manner. The chatterer could throw either person off. Second, I have no desire to ruin my partner’s mood when I’ve had a bad workday and we’re in a relaxed setting. We need time to decompress away from the stressors, not around them.. Third, the simple act of lining up the cue, focusing the energy, creating a delicate force, and choosing the proper angles is meditative. During our most skilled games, we’re likely not talking much at all. The silence is sweet. We’re meditating in precise movements.

Geometry is Wild

It’s hard to deny how cool math and physics can be.

Those angles I mentioned? At first, as an amateur player, I saw the balls straight on. But I’ve never played a game with a clear straightaway shot on every turn. In the beginning, it was all defense. How can I hide this cue ball or make it more difficult at the very least? Then, as I developed skills, I started to see banks (hitting the ball against the side or rail of the table) and combinations (hitting one ball into another ball to knock it in.) My growing comfort and increasing finesse has led me to learning about how spin (English) on the cue can move the ball in otherwise seemingly impossible ways. My partner is working on Masse’ — curving the cue around something to his what he’s aiming at. The more we play, the more we see see the options, angles, and possibilities. We’re developing a kind of second sight. Geometry (seeing the angles) and physics (understanding force) are undeniably necessary and totally cool in this setting. And often, it is the lightest of touch that is needed- a lesson my partner and I both have absorbed over time.

Progress is Possible

The act of playing is practice enough to get comfortable.

Like with other things, the more we play, the better we get. And even if I’m having an off-night, not able to see straight or find the force I need, e.g., there is still the growing sensation that practice makes progress. Not every hobby has perceivable levels of difficulty on which to measure ability. In this game, the way we play, it’s not about winning and losing, it’s about shooting the shot.

Also Winning and Losing

We don’t keep an ongoing record, but it’s nice to win the night.

Despite what I said above, it’s also about winning and losing. Of course it is. My partner and I look at the game one shot at a time, and then a series of games at a time. We give praise freely for the great shots, but we don’t suffer the loss of the individual games. (My first game is always a practice game, unless I win, then it counts.) We play best of 5 or 7, and whoever loses buys dinner or drives home. The reward is irrelevant, but it adds a fun twist to our night. Then the next time we get to the table, usually the one who won will be sure to mention their greatest shot from the previous game. And it makes the one who lost all the more fired up to win this time around.

A Uniquely Individual Sport

How you play is how You play.

My bridge (how I balance the cue on my left hand to aim with my right) is strange. Most people balance their cue in between their thumb and forefinger, but me — I feel more comfortable shooting between my index and middle finger. I have long hands, and I feel I have more stability if I use my spidery fingers to this end. And at the pool hall, no one will ever give me any stress about not doing it “right”, whatever that means. Whether its how you stand, how you approach the table, your hand positions, your aim, the way you see the game, the kinds of shots you take or any other facet of the game — no one is ever going to stop you unless you’re breaking a specific rule. There’s no right or wrong way to play, at least not at this level, and there’s a freedom in developing style and technique in an expectation vacuum. It’s cathartic in a world that is typically full of people telling other people what to do and not to do. (Professionals have thoroughly developed techniques and thoughtfully considered approaches, but we’re just a couple of weeknight players.)

Help is Fine Too

If the game isn’t that serious, ask the question.

How many times have I asked my partner — not as a competitor but as a friend — what do you think I should do here? I respect the way he plays and his eye for the game, and sometimes, if I’m in a pickle between two options, I’ll ask him to step outside the game and look with me, as a teammate. Sometimes he’ll tell me that I don’t have a clear shot, because of how he left the table. Sometimes, he’ll weigh in specifically based on what he sees. And I don’t always take his advice. Sometimes, after he weighs in, I realize (like calling the coin flip in the air) that I’ve already made my decision. And since we play different games, different styles, different techniques — the respect is mutual. I don’t have to take his advice, but I’m free to ask it.

10 Lessons Learned

  1. Always shoot your shot and aim to shoot well.
  2. Respect your opponent as if they were yourself.
  3. Silence is golden.
  4. Meditation can be active.
  5. Try and see all the angles.
  6. A delicate hand beats a heavy hand most of the time.
  7. Practice makes progress.
  8. Mistakes are not setbacks.
  9. Schedule play dates, especially as an adult and leave your troubles at the door.
  10. Respect the rules and earn respect.

Find Your Table

It might not be pool.

The healthiest thing we’ve done as partners is add a competitive outlet to an otherwise supportive set-up. I can’t recommend enough that all partners do the same. Your thing might not be pool (we also love a few challenging board games for similar reasons) but whatever it is, your partnership outlet should be the following things:

  1. A medium where you feel both competitive and supportive of one another
  2. A forum that requires concentration, focus, or the honing of a skill
  3. An activity that can connect to other enjoyable aspects of life
  4. A hobby with delineated progress and achievement levels
  5. A fun, playful, enjoyable, not-too-serious time
  6. An equal balance of procedure and free choice
  7. A place either person can ask for or provide assistance
  8. Something you can laugh about together
  9. Something that can sweep you up in the moment
  10. Something that feels right for you both

How do you and your partner destress as a team and strengthen your skills?

How does game play enhance your life

Transported in the Cold, April Rain

Stepping out to fetch the paper (really, to feed the clowder–there is no paper, nostalgia and porch-papers go hand-in-hand), I felt the cold, spring rain about to break from its accumulated mist around me. It’s happened this way before.

(I believe the cats are grateful for porches, as umbrellas for paws are late to the patent office.)

It was late afternoon in San Francisco, April, 4 years ago, as I left the Botanical Garden, when I sensed the fragile clouds.

April 2017, San Francisco

(There were fewer cats then and a great many more flowers.)

The air was cold, crisp, yet sticky with pollen.

On my solo excursion in a new city, as I am inclined, I typically avoid public transportation, traveling lightly in well-worn sneakers. I make a point of living locally, seeing the world from vacation’s sidewalks.

Feeling imminent rain, however, I jumped on a bus to take me back to my hostel, a bus which brought me a few miles in the wrong direction before I knew to dismount.

My phone was dead and my pockets bare, and so, with the threat of rain in a thick April smog, I started the arduous trek back.

The Sky Opens

After 2 miles, the fissure erupted and rain poured, and clothed in only a rainbow-dyed sweatshirt and a pair of cheap, stiff jeans, I felt the call of adventure. The drench was only beginning.

After an hour, my jeans chaffed and the rainbow dye ran down my face and wrists. Somehow I was miles from base. A true, independent sojourn, then! I’d save myself and see the city from an unexpected point of view.

I’d studied a city map before taking off, and was surprised to find myself near San Francisco State University. Truly, miles, hours, off course. The hills make foot travel more tenuous than any other scape I’d encountered. Having only my wits, my obviously unreliable sense of direction, and my appearance as a sopping circus clown, I asked directions and was turned around.

I could only chuckle at the ridiculous nature of my situation. I never have the adventure I hope for, only the one I haven’t planned for.

And turned around again when I reached the Shopping District. My feet squished in my sneakers and my body began to ache. Doormen were shielding ladies in expensive shoes from the downpour as I hustled between, through, the drops.

I nearly lost my joviality and any hope I’d find my way back. Perhaps I’d fallen through a portal and was doomed to loop through these neighborhoods in perpetuity, damp, cold, and hungry.

I had stopped to rest beneath an overpass, where a few had gathered to wait for a bus, when I first noticed the joy. San Francisco is an upbeat city, to be sure, especially in comparison to my native New York, but this… This was happiness exhaling from an entire population.

Divine Intervention

It rains so infrequently in San Francisco that for residents, a downpour is a blessing.

A woman in a blue skirt suit wheeled a cart of Bibles and pamphlets up to me. She’d been recruiting congregants at the bus stop when she must have noticed my plight.

“Can the Lord be of any service?” She asked.

Pithy, I chuckled to myself, grateful for any assistance, divine or otherwise.

I explained the unfurling of my day and she mapped out directions, being extra careful to avoid the steeper hills. I was about an hour’s walk from salvation.

I thanked her, profusely, and she offered me her umbrella. But what good is umbrella when one is already saturated? No, she would need the umbrella so as not to sully her beautiful suit. She had the Lord’s work to do, after all, giving directions to sidewalk-stuck, hostel-bound rainbow fish. It was best she maintain appearances.

I set off, emboldened by the hour remaining (less, 40 mins in stride, despite my burning hips) and the knowing it was impossible to get even more soaked than I already was.

When I was three blocks away from my hostel, the sun came out and slowly the rain tapered off.

People emerged from storefronts grinning. Rainfall is precious here. Also, check out that colorful mermaid girl, just emerged from the sea. Our city is a magical place. They were all infectious jolly. Several called out to say hello, and more than a few waved. I felt like the San Francisco rainy day mascot. I thought they might write a book about me and my follied, drenched trek through their streets.

Arriving at the hostel, avoiding the stares, I hurried to my room, peeled off the layers, wrapped myself in my warmest attire, and slept for 14 hours.

I was changed that day.

I had walked 17 miles, many of them in an unexpected direction.

I had seen the city in an unusual and excitable way.

I learned I could survive anything, that I only need put one foot in front of the other, and keep doing so, and that eventually I would find a way to rest. And that, no matter how resistant I might be, someone’s Lord would reach out to help when I needed help the most.

***

It was only 20 minutes today before the light emerged. The cats who had run for cover all repositioned in their sunning spots.

How fortunate I am to smell the rain and remember, as a woman of this world, I am as free as my feet will allow me, I need only take the first steps.