Monday, March 21, 2011

Eccentric Pearl Beats Young Gun

Strickland stuns fans, beats SVB in Challenge Match
Wearing ear muffs and arm weights, Earl "The Pearl" Strickland stunned pool fans this week with an underdog victory over Shane Van Boening, the young gun from South Dakota considered by many as America's greatest 10-ball player.

The two pool giants met in a 100-game winner-take-all challenge match held Friday through Sunday in Youngstown, Ohio. The game was Boening's specialty, but it was conducted across a massive 10-foot converted snooker table.  The format appeared to have favored Strickland, who took an 11-game lead the first night and then never relinquished it. Strickland ended up winning 100-83, a 17-game difference.

Fewer than 40 percent of respondents to a poll predicted that the aging Strickland would win the match.  He also was the underdog on various pool forums. One fan predicted that Van Boening would take such a commanding lead that Strickland would quit him early.

But it was not to be. Wearing absurd green ear muffs and bulky arm weights for reasons that remain somewhat unclear, Strickland plowed through rack after rack. He beat Van Boening soundly the first night, played him about even the second, and then ran over him again on Sunday.

Van Boening closed to within 7 games on that final night of play but then abruptly faded. His game and confidence seemed to have completely abandoned him by the end with unexpected misses, loose safeties and unforced scratches.

Stickland, by contrast, appears to be mounting a major career comeback. His game was top notch, his position play sharp. He nearly lost his cool after a few missed shots, but the notoriously volatile player never become so unhinged as to derail his overall game. The victory builds upon a second place finish in the Derby City One-Pocket division in January and last year's victory at the U.S. Bar Table 8-Ball championships.

Strickland does, however, appear to have become a bit more quirky with age. Besides donning the green ear muffs, Strickland also was wont to examine the racked balls with a small magnifying glass. He'd gesture to fans with it between games, proclaiming "that's a good rack!"  Strickland also made use of massively long cue that looked more appropriate for pole vaulting than 10-ball. "It looks like a javelin," quipped one commentator for, which sponsored the pay-per-view event.

But Strickland's victory was no laughing matter. The colorful Hall of Fame player is the only man alive to have won the prestigious U.S. Open Nine-Ball Championship on five separate occasions. Is there a sixth in the offing?

-- R.A. Dyer

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Eccentric Strickland defying Predictions

Crowd pleasing star so far beating Van Boening

In defiance of the predictions, Shane Ban Boening so far is getting his clock cleaned in the 100-game shoot-out with the very much older, very much more volatile Earl Strickland.

The 100-ball challenge match, held in Youngstown, Ohio, has now finished its second day. Strickland leads 70 games to 60. At one time Strickland held a 16-game lead. The match resumes tonight and can be viewed online at

Shane Van Boening, considered by many as America's greatest player, nonetheless appeared somewhat flummoxed by the larger scale of the 10-foot table used in the $20,000 winner-take-all event.  The South Dakota Kid remained relatively impassive for the entirety of the evening, although a painful grimace would creep across his face after his failed shots, of which there were several.

Strickland, meanwhile, seemed mostly in command, if not exactly at ease. Wearing large green ear muffs to stifle out the crowd noise, and with weights on his shooting arm, the increasingly eccentric Hall of Famer would captain the cueball around the table clutter like a schooner in a busy harbor. Between games he would produce a magnifying glass to examine the racked balls, earning him the nickname "Earl-lock Holmes" by some of his snarkier fans. He also wagged his finger on occasion at a distracting crowd member -- and even complained about theactionreport camera operator. But through it all he never lost his cool, despite predictions by some that his famous volatility would be his undoing during the long event.

In fact, Strickland continues to defy predictions. An informal poll had fans favoring Van Boening over Strickland by 25 percentage points. In a separate contest sponsored by, Van Boening is nearly a 2-1 favorite. Fans calling the match for Van Boening predicted he would win by about 15 games (see the chart at right). The younger player did manage to close to as few as 5 games before Strickland again opened up a sizable lead. On balance, Van Boening picked up one game from the previous night's outing.

The evening's competition was characterized by plenty of safety play in which both players made use of the long table to force tough shots. Frequently, either Van Boening or Strickland would find themselves confronted with tough shots in which the cue ball was parked at the center on one end rail, and the object ball parked on the other.  The night's competition ended with a Van Boening scratch on the three-ball, just as he was reaching across the table using the bridge. The score then stood at 60-69, but Strickland followed up the error with a quick run-out, bringing the score to 60-70.

This means that in order to win the 100-game challenge, Van Boening now needs 40 games but Strickland only needs 30. The third and final set of the pay-per-view event can be viewed live tonight at

-- R.A. Dyer

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

PoolSynergy 17: Expert Tourney Tips

Every month a bunch of men and women who blog about pool agree to post essays about a single topic. This collaborative effort is called the PoolSynergy Project. This is our 17th installment. 

Our topic for March is tournament and league preparation.  Since I don't typically play in either, I figured I'd turn to the experts. I asked folks on my Pool & Billiard History Facebook page (you can find it here) how they prepare for competition. I've reproduced a sample of some of the responses, with a bit of editing for space.  And just above, I've reproduced video of some useful drills from regular PoolSynergy contributors Samm Diep and Mike Fieldhammer. You can find other PoolSynergy essays this month at ForumGhost516's blog, linked here.

Missy Moran Capestrain (Certified BCA Instructor and League Coordinator)
Players should always practice alone before a tmt or league play. To increase confidence they should do a progressive practice. This means begin setting up a very easy shot and shoot it in, including the use of the basics mechanics, feel, preshot routine. Beginning with easy shots builds confidence. Next put some space between the cue and object balls and shoot this shot. If done properly and the shot is made, increase the distance again — 6 or so inches at a time is a good rule of thumb. Keep doing this until there is a lot of green between the balls and the shot is consistently pocketed. Not only can the player practice tough shots using this method, they also get to practice all of the shots in-between. Confidence is gained every step of the way with successful pocketing of balls.
Source: 9-Ball Grand Prix Open (Own work)

Another idea is to use the same amount of practice strokes on every shot —except for maybe the very difficult ones. This is not only good practice, but it helps players to drown out unneeded outside interferences like sharking, loud music, and noise.
Skyscraper Chris:
When I was in a slump last year, around February, I realized I needed to desperately change my game. I had the ability to win, I had the knowledge, and I had the skills — but I was lacking in the mental toughness and stamina. So I made 3 changes not to my game per say, but to my playing habits:

First, I stopped drinking soda while playing, which I noticed was making me dehydrated, caused me to sweat and shake during some matches, and generally affected my physical well being while playing.

Second, I began keeping a close record of all my tournament matches, including wins, losses, weight given/taken, players and their ranks, etc. I still keep this up, and it motivates me to raise my numbers, sort of like an Accu-stat.

Finally, I changed something fundamental in my game: I am known for breaking and running 6 or 7 balls, then dogging the final 2 balls. This was not because I lacked the ability to make those balls, but because I mentally dogged the shot, doubted myself, or didn't focus enough. So, I decided that when I got down on a critical shot (money ball, key ball, final ball), I would 'dog' the shot in my mind, thus getting it out of my system, get up from the shot, chalk up, get back down with a clear mind, and pocket the ball confidently.

Since making these changes to my game, I have won dozens of tournaments, leveled up 3 times, won many more money matches, and increased my confidence. Before the changes, I hadn't won a single tournament.

Elijah Davenport:
Always think positive. Talk yourself into a shot, not out of it. Also take as much time as is allowed and needed. Remember, don't be in a hurry to miss.
Nick Baker: 
I noticed that when playing league AND tournaments alike that if I "dogged" a shot, or even worse —if my opponent dogged a shot and got lucky shape from the miss, that I would become timid with my shots. I found that approaching those shots like my opponent had played a great safety and really concentrating on "turning the cueball loose" greatly helped my confidence level. After hours of drills and practice, I just trusted my stroke and my first instinct on each shot and could usually rebound from my mistakes or kick out of whatever situation my opponent had put me into.

Cathy Jo Sawyer Almanza (player and tournament director): 
Many players start out by playing in a league and once they get better they start entering tournaments. Since tournament rules usually do not allow "group party socializing" during a match, my prep advice is for all players to recognize the differences in singles competition and group play, and to always conduct themselves appropriately for the type of event that they are participating in. 

-- R.A. Dyer

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fan Predictions: Van Boening vs Strickland

The first round of predictions are in.  Most readers forecast a win by Shane Van Boening in his upcoming 10-ball shoot-out with Earl Strickland. The 100-game challenge match will be held March 18-20 in Youngstown, Ohio. SVB and The Pearl will be meeting across a 10-foot table. It's a $20,000  winner-take-all contest.

I received about 20 votes in just a few hours. The average of predictions for those who pick Shane is 100 games for Shane, and 84.8 games for Strickland. (See the chart above). Of those who pick Strickland, the average outcome is 100 games for  the veteran and 87.4 games for Shane. (See the chart below). However, Shane so far is preferred by an almost two-to-one margin.

There's still plenty of time to make your prediction. To the reader who comes closest I'll send a free book. We're getting so many entries I might even send out several books.  To submit your prediction, just go to the Pool History Facebook page at this link. You can also comment at the bottom of this post. Please post your name, then Strickland's score first, then Van Boening's. That way I won't go blind reading all the entries.

Good luck!

-- R.A. Dyer

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Win a Free Book

Strickland vs Van Boening: Call The Winner
The details have all been ironed out for another high-profile shoot-out, this time featuring two of America's greatest players. Veteran Earl Strickland, the five-time
winner of the U.S. Open, meets Shane Van Boening, considered by many as today's top player. The contest: a race-to-100 10-ball match. Strickland and the young hotshot meet March 18-20 in Youngstown, Ohio. To make the game even more interesting, the contest will be held on a 5 by 10 table. The $20,000 winner-take-all match is sponsored by The Action Report, which recently webcast Van Boening's 100-game shoot-out with Mika Immomen.

Free Book and Pool History Poll
I'll send out a free book to whomever most closely predicts the final score. Just sign up on the Pool & Billiard History Facebook Page and post your prediction there. Here's the link. I've also posted up a poll at the upper right. You can predict the winner and then check back later to see the ongoing tally. I'll keep the poll open until midnight March 17, the night before the shoot-out begins.

A bit more background? Earl "The Pearl" Strickland won the U.S. Open in 1984, 1987, 1993, 1997 and 2000. He's also been a decisive part of the U.S. Team for The Mosconi Cup. With Earl, the Americans amassed a record of nine wins, three losses and one tie. Without Earl, the Americans' record was a piddling 2-2. Strickland has been off his game for much of the last decade, but then began making a serious comeback last year. Strickland placed second to Van Boening in the One-Pocket division at this year's Derby City Classic, won the Jacoby Custom Cue tour stop in January and won both the U.S. Bar Table 8-ball Championship and the Steve Mizerak Championship in 2010.

Van Boening, by contrast, has won just about everything there is to win. He took Derby City's Master of the Table award this year and won both the U.S. Bar Table 10-ball and 9-ball championships last year. He also is a past U.S. Open winner and currently is the highest ranked American on the Billiards Digest Power Index.

-- R.A. Dyer