Nine Big Upshots From the Texas Open

The London Olympics are over, and "Po-ke-britches" Nadal ain't playing with his balls (tennis), I am heading out to Skinny Bob's Billiards in Round Rock to watch my friends in great 9-ball pool action and bid on playing to benefit the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in the Charity Pro-Am on Thursday August 30th. Action begins at 7PM with highest bids playing against professional players, such as U.S. Open Champion Jeremy Jones, (3-time Texas Open Champion), crowd favorite Vivian "The Texas Tornado" Villarreal (WPBA), Houston instructor Charlie "Hillbilly" Bryant (2010 Texas Open Champion), ESPN World Open Billiards Champion C.J. Wiley (2-Time Texas Open Champion), WPBA Hall of Fame member Belinda "The Texas Belle" Calhoun (3-time world champion) and many more. I do not want to miss that chance, but if I couldn't make it, BigTruckâ„¢ streams one table per round to the web. Open coverage is Pay-Per-View. He needs a big truck for all the cash he is making.

The Open players' meeting is Friday night. I will take my wooden cue-stick shafts in to be conditioned by Ron Geyer of The Custom Cue Connection. It is always nice to play with a like-new shaft and Ron is known for his craft of using a lathe to hone the shaft perfectly smooth; only $7 per cue. There is usually a long line at his booth in the back.

The Skinny Bob's Open T-shirt looks great this year and comes in 4 colors with all the Open winner's names on the back. They ran out last year so I will be getting mine early this year.

On, Saturday September 1st thru the 3rd, 128 elite players from around the US and Texas will be competing for over $10,000 in Open Division prizes at the longest running 9-ball tournament in US history. Sunday, the ladies' 9-ball event begins, more on that later. I played the Open the last 5 years. Jeremy and I played in the first round in 2008, and I won one game on a great 9-ball combination bank shot. I think I only had 3 shots the entire match. Last year, in the first round, Jeremy played his old Austin buddy Pete Hildrago. Jeremy won 9-0. I watched Jeremy break and run-out the last 2 games. Pete never got a shot.

The format is double-elimination, winner-breaks and every seat is a great seat. Bob says the secret is to sit on the top of the bleachers so that you can watch both sides and place bar orders easily. I like being up-close and personal to the early round action on the Gold-Crown III 9' tables with new blue Simonis 860 HR tournament cloth.

People from all over the Texas come to get out of the heat. Bob installs extra cooling, stadium seats inside for spectators and hire extra wait staff. Don't forget the snack bar. AZBilliards publishes the tournament brackets during play and has daily news about the world billiards scene. AZ also has columns by professional writers and publishes their own world rankings and money list.

Again this year they are providing players with the Magic Ball Rack which is a diamond-shaped, thin vinyl template that has holes where you place the Aramith Belgium Super Pro tournament billiard balls and get a perfect rack every time. The table has 2 dots marked on the cloth for the top and the bottom alignment holes, then just place the ball on a hole, and it self-centers itself for a perfect rack. In 2010, they used a metal triangle rack called the Delta-13. Players have always complained about the racking process - it takes too much time and players can tilt the rack for an advantage. On TV, they have a surrogate racking specialist, but here the loser racks for the winner. It is important to have the head ball (one) touching the two balls directly behind it to get a good solid break. It is required to drive 4 balls to a rail on the break, else it is a foul.

We always play Texas Express Rules where the winner breaks, so I had to do a lot of racking. No more splinters.

There is a strategy to racking the balls called the 2-ball strategy. You want to place the 2-ball on the opposite side of the diamond from where the player breaks to increase the probability that the 2 will be far from the 1 after the break and make it harder for a run out. My daddy always told me, "Son, never run out of balls to shoot at too early". But I think that only applies to 8-ball.

Bob is raffling a handmade "39th Annual Texas Open Championship" cue from James Hanshew of Hanshew Custom Cues. The lucky winner will be announced during the weekend. This cue will be part of the Open history, so I will buy my share of the raffle tickets this year. I have my lucky rock in my pocket, and it has always been good to me.

Last year, I played the first round against James "Junior" Davis, Jr., and he is playing again this year. He is ranked 202nd on the AZ Billiards player's ranking. There are 11 players entered who are ranked higher playing this year, including Corey Deuel (18th). I won the first game. I made some good shots and felt really good about my game. In the 2nd game, Junior made the solid blue-colored 2 ball in the side, and the 3 was down-table close to the rail. He stroked the cue with follow "English" to position it down-table for the solid red-colored 3. The cue rolled a little too far where he was hooked by the inside edge of the corner pocket and it looked impossible for him to hit, much less make the 3. He banked the cue off the opposite inside corner of the pocket and hit the 3 ball to avoid a foul. It was a great shot and very difficult. I played a bank shot with the 3. It was a timing shot - some times, it works, and some times, it don't. This time it worked in my favor. I got lucky and the 3 got safe on the rail with a ball between it and the white "measle" cue ball. They call it the measle ball because it has red dots all around it. Most cue balls are either solid white, or have one small red, blue or black circle on it. The different colors are for different weights. Red is the lightest and black is the heaviest. The nice thing about the measle ball is that it looks good when you hit a lot of draw "English" which makes the ball spin backwards after it hits an object ball. It also looks good on TV as it is easier to see which type of spin the players use. It is really interesting to see how many different ways players shoot to get position on the next shot by controlling spin. Junior made a great jump shot to make the 3 ball in the corner. Like most really good players, he has a special, short cue stick called the "jump cue" which has a very hard tip on it to get the ball in the air with a soft downward stroke. Most cue tips are made with soft leather and have different hardness levels for different types of shots. I have one cue with a very soft tip. I use it for "masse" shots.

Jump shots and "masse" shots are types of trick shots. It was a very tough jump shot because it was about a foot and a half from the ball he had to jump over making it a relatively long jump and the 3 ball was touching the side rail. Rail shots are tough anyway because the cue has to hit both rail and the ball at precisely the same time to make the object ball hug the rail on its way to the pocket. The cue drifted too far behind another ball and he was "hooked" or blocked from his next shot and it was too close to jump. He made a great bank (aka "kick") shot to barely kiss the 4 and also hit a rail else he would have left me with a ball-in-hand. Ball-in-hand is a free shot for the opponent. It penalizes the player who makes any foul, such as not hitting the lowest numbered ball first before any other ball, plus either hitting a rail or pocketing any ball. There is a three-foul rule also. If a player makes two fouls consecutively, and prior to his third turn at the table, the opponent announces "you're on two", then if the player makes a third consecutive foul, he loses the game. If he is not warned, he doesn't automatically lose the game, just his turn which probably means he also loses the game. Junior left me with a 9-ball combination opportunity. The yellow w/white-striped 9 ball was about 5 inches from the corner pocket, and the lowest number ball was the 4 and it was between me and the 9 about 10 inches away. If I pocket the 9 I win the game. I hit it too hard because the solid violet-colored 4 ball jumped in the air and sailed over the 9-ball without touching it. I was concerned that if I hit it too easy, the 9 could have been left hanging on the edge of the pocket giving him an easy 9-ball combination. I think it was due to that darn measle ball. Since it is a little larger in diameter than most cue and other colored balls, the center-of-gravity is higher than the colored balls which makes it drive the ball down into the table on contact. I guess I hit it so hard it bounced high enough up in the air to completely miss the 9. I was trying to stoke the ball with enough force to kick the 9 away if it didn't go in. I missed some easy shots, and had several good chances, but just couldn't get the job done. I lost the match 9-2. One nice thing is I didn't "scratch" once during the match; unusual for me. A "scratch" is when the cue ball accidentally goes into a pocket causing loss of turn at the table and "ball-in-hand" for the opponent.

Melinda Bailey sat down behind me against the brass railing separating the bar area from the players. In 2007, I bought "Mel" in the Calcutta and she won 3rd place in the ladies division. That was fun winning on her. Melinda has just started Omega Billards Tour in D/FW area.

Returning 2011 Open finals match players are runner-up Joey Gray (ranked 56th) and champion Rob Saez (ranked 23rd). Also entered is 1992 Pro Billiards and 1997 ESPN Ultimate 9-ball champion Roger "The Rocket" Griffis from Austin, Texas.

Trivia question: Who made the Texas Open famous by breaking and running out 11 racks in a row in the championship bracket without missing a shot? The Texas Open trophy is named after him: The Bob Vanover trophy. His name is on the players list again this year - maybe he can win a record 9th time!

Returning 2011 ladies' event champion, Melissa "The Viper" Little, has been a WPBA Touring Professional for over 10-years, she has represented the USA in Four WPA World Championships and has over 20 top-10 WPBA career finishes.

Julia Rapp will see action against top players Bailey, Little, Villarreal, Calhoun, Kim Sanders, Amanda Lambert, Helen Hayes and Kim Pierce. For Info Call Lewis Jones at 870-299-3301 or Skinny Bob's 512-733-1111