Sunday, July 25, 2010

Air Hockey Adventure, Day 2

We began Saturday by making a run to a nearby Target for some snacks for what we figured to be a very long day1. We also nabbed a quick breakfast, eating as much fruit as we could.

Phil Arnold delivered a rousing, if a little overly dramatic, speech about the "razor's edge" and how it felt to be teetering between victory and defeat.

We warmed up and checked the big tournament bracket periodically for the seedings. As Brian and I were unranked, we were subject to essentially random ranking. I drew the #75 seed out of 102 people. My first match would come against Lorene Shoukry, who was ranked in the low 50s.
To say that I blew this match is a total understatement. Lorene's straights were accurate, and she used them frequently, but my defense should have been better. I also failed to execute shots that I should have easily made and complicated my offense to the point where I was entirely ineffective. As a result, Lorene beat me in 7 games, 4-3. It was a tough loss, but it taught me about how [not] to handle big games and showed me what mistakes I made.

It took a while, but I eventually received my pairing in the loser's bracket: Sarah Weissman. Sarah is the daughter of 10-time world champion Tim Weissman. While only 8 [I think?], she possesses the basic understanding of the game and can snap a nice right-wall over shot. In fact, probably 80 percent of the goals she scored on me were this exact shot. When she eventually develops a cut shot and grows a bit taller, she will be a tough player to beat. As it was, I defeated her 4-0.

As afternoon rolled on, I looked up my bracket and noticed that my next match would be a tough one, as I would play the loser of the Andrew Flanagan and Niki Flanagan match. For those not keeping track, these two are married and are both very good. Niki played well, but Andrew beat her in a match that could really have gone either way. Andrew won by a set count of 4-2, so I drew Niki Flanagan.

My match with Niki turned out to be everything I'd hoped to do in Houston. While she defeated me 7-3 in the first game, I had found a weakness in her defense and had keyed in on her main offensive tools. As such, I returned the favor with a 7-3 victory in the second game. She had become visibly (and audibly) agitated, as Dan sat nearby cheering me on2. Games 3 and 4 found me executing a variety of shots and forcing Niki to use different attacks against me. We split these games both by a 7-6 tally. The match could easily have slid one way or the other. Niki took the crucial fifth game 7-4, but I made her work for the sixth game, a game she eeked out 7-6 to take the set 4-2. Niki looked relieved after the match, and I let her know that I had just played the best air hockey of my life. With three 7-6 games, I had chances to make that a 4-2 set win for myself3.

The elimination sent me to the spinoff bracket, where I would play for the amateur title, with the highest possible rank being 49th in the field of 100.

My first spinoff match was against 11-year-old phenom Colin Cummings4. Colin is an incredible talent, and watching him play is truly a treat. He shows incredible skill and poise at the table, and his only real weakness at this time is his height, which I can tell frustrates him. With that in mind, he shows the instincts of being an excellent puck catcher and interference player (a la Davis Lee Huynh). Whenever he gets taller, I expect Colin to be consistently in the top tier of air hockey players. While I beat him in three games (matches in the spinoffs were best of 5), I let Colin know that he's incredibly close to playing in the Expert bracket.

I can't recall exactly what time it was, but I had been playing for hours upon hours. I can't remember the bracket exactly either, but I beat Jacob Weissman and Avery Yebernesky. I don't remember set counts, but I think Jacob was 3-0. Avery, a tough young lefty with a terrific left-wall under, had me down two games to one, but I pulled games four and five out of my ass somehow to take the set 3-2.

In the winner's bracket, I faced Chris Green. Chris plays a super fast game with a charge defense, meaning that his game is to intimidate his opponent and make them adjust their game to his. It took me a couple games to adjust, but in those, Chris and I split those first two games. After the second game, my legs and arm felt weighed down, and my back ached like it hadn't ached in years. I had played six sets at this point, and I just couldn't physically sustain it. Chris' game wore me down, and he easily dispatched of me in the subsequent two games. However, I had already played into the top 3 of the spinoff bracket, meaning I would leave Houston with two trophies.

In the spinoff losers' bracket, I faced off against Avery for the second time, he gave me a good workout, but I triumphed 3-1, despite my tiredness. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and noticed that the tournament had stretched out past midnight. The main draw, which was playing down to the final 16 players, was packing it in for the night, but I had to face Chris Green again and defeat him twice if I was going to win my spinoff.

Within the first minute or so of the match, I had taken notice that Chris had slowed his offense down5. But my tired mind and my desperation for a win under pressure led me to play a game I was not used to. I typically play a slow, patient game where I try to control the pace of the match and force my opponent to adjust to my game. However, in this match, I sped up my game while Chris slowed his down, and I lost control of the match. While I had two shots working against Chris, I couldn't seem to make either one of them go into the goal. As a result, Chris walked all over me in three sets to take home the Amateur title, while I finished runner-up, 50th in the field of 102.

Our spinoff had concluded around 12:45 a.m. Exhausted and sore, I grabbed a beer and talked air hockey with Mike Keller and some of the other players who had come down from Dallas for the tournement.

Dan, Brian, and I left SRO finally at 1:30 a.m., dissecting our successes and failures. I fell asleep within seconds of lying down, and my dreams turned to diamond drifts and cross straights.

My tournament was over.

1 This turned into a judicious decision, as none of us had time to eat a proper meal throughout the day.
2 Air hockey is generally not regarded as a spectator sport. It's considered in poor taste to cheer while the puck is in play, and cheering even after points occurs seldom. The atmosphere isn't unlike tennis or golf, but I think that it could be a more popular spectator sport. Just sayin'.
3 I didn't really kick myself around for not finishing the match better. Dan says he was convinced I was going to win it. Had I played better in my first match, I would likely have gotten a better draw in the losers' bracket and may have been able to face Niki in the Expert spinoffs instead. Oh well, live and learn.
4 Colin won the 10-12 division of the World Youth Championship the weekend before. I also heard from various other sources that he plays competitive chess, which explains his focus and ability to recognize defensive and offensive patterns. From the brief time I was around him, he seems like a pretty special kid. His younger brother Conor won the 9 and under division also and is a pretty bright kid himself.
5 Chris later told me he felt I'd stopped his fast volley offense well, and he'd had to adjust his game to it. I failed to adjust my game to match it, though, and it cost me a spot in the rankings and a second first-place trophy.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Air Hockey Adventure, Day 1

Well, I've returned from Houston in one piece. I can even use my arm a little, which is nice.

Last Friday, Brian Quezada, Dan Meyer (my brother-in-law), and I headed to Houston to compete in the Air Hockey World Championships at SRO Sports Bar. I woke early and was unable to fall back asleep, preoccupied with the unknown. I'd be flying on a new airline to a new city, where I'd play in my first tournament in a sport I've only been playing for a year. My brother Joe was kind enough to drive me to O'Hare, where I quickly found Brian and Dan at our gate. We had a light breakfast and boarded our Continental 737-9001 to Houston. The flight was nice, the plane was newish and clean, and the service was the best I've had in my handful of flights.

We arrived in Houston on time and nabbed a wicked sweet Toyota Camry rental, even though I lobbied for the same-rental-class AWD Ford Fusion2, which would have made for acceptable off-road fodder for avoiding toll booths. Thanks to the magic of GPS, we found our hotel, the sports bar, and a Whattaburger within minutes of taking charge of the Camry. Unfortunately, our room wasn't ready yet, so we snagged some Whattattattattattataburger3, then returned to check in quickly. As registration for the doubles tournament was nearing its end, we shoved off to find SRO and warm up.

Thankfully, the bar was air conditioned at arctic levels, as the Houston air lingers thick like a gravy in July. We cooled off from the ridiculous outside heat index and took stock of our competition. As Brian and I were both officially unranked coming into the competition, we entered as a duo for the Amateur Doubles rather than the Power Doubles, which features most of the top-tier players. We quickly realized that we were two of the older competitors in the event, with the average age probably hovering somewhere in the low teens. But the kids there are good; Brian warmed up against one 11-year-old who score on him repeatedly with the same shot. Shortly before competition began, we were prompted for a team name; we stumbled around for a bit until we decided that we were Kobra Kai.

After we were good and warmed up, the competition started. I'll spare you the details, since you can read them over at Brian's blog, but we narrowly averted disaster in our first doubles match, then won a couple more matches to put ourselves in the finals. In the finals, we played Hakim Muhammad, who had traveled to Texas from Singapore to play, and Caleb Jaquette, whose mother, Nikki Flanagan4, I would face the next day. More on that later...

Hakim and Caleb, playing as The Big Boys, had played us in the winners bracket before defeating the brothers' duo of Colin and Conor Cummings, two 11- and 9-year-old phenoms who will eventually be in the top 5% of the game if they continue to play. In our second matchup we quickly took the requisite three games to win the Amateur Doubles title! w00t! Watch it below:

2010.07.16 - Kobra Kai v. Big Boys - Amateur Doubles Finals - Game 1 from Daniel Meyer on Vimeo.

2010.07.16 - Kobra Kai v. Big Boys - Amateur Doubles Finals - Game 2 from Daniel Meyer on Vimeo.

2010.07.16 - Kobra Kai v. Big Boys - Amateur Doubles Finals - Game 3 from Daniel Meyer on Vimeo.

After our win, we settled in to watch the Power Doubles play out. Dan's team had lost out earlier, so we watched as Ehab Shoukry and Davis Lee Huynh beat Danny Hynes and Anthony Marino to become the Power Doubles Champions.

After a short ride back to the hotel, we crashed for the night, resting our already-sore shoulders.

Day one was a good day.

1 Being an airplane dork, I feel compelled to tell you that this is the largest variant of the 737. In fact it was this exact airplane, which was built in 2001.
2 Disclaimer: Offroading in an AWD Ford Fusion is as advisable as when Hunter Thompson [allegedly] ran a 1960s Cadillac with 85 psi in the tires in 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.' Sure, it might be fun [OK, probably not with the offroading Fusion], but you'll have hell to pay when the great car scorekeeper posts your tally.
3 Sorry, I got on a typing role there. Maybe it was all the speed I took...
4 Niki Flanagan is the top ranked and rated woman in air hockey by a long shot. She's also married to Andrew Flanagan, who finished in the 20 in the singles competition on Saturday.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

But it doesn't say I'm talented like him...

I pasted my original LeMons post into this handy thing, and it spit out that:

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

I suppose it's the footnotes, since Wallace uses them with great usefulness. For me, footnotes are a great way to distract1 readers from the fact that I have no writing ability (Not so with Wallace, though. Good writer, very difficult to read).

1 If you followed this footnote without completing the sentence, then I am winning.

Dead hipster garage sales are amazing

I can't really tell if this is supposed to be ironic or not. I guess I'm not hipster enough to get it.

I'm glad to see hipsters inexplicably have night vision goggles. I suppose that might be so they can see other hipsters approaching in the dark to make sure they look ironic when the approaching hipsters get nearby so they make a flippant acknowledgement of the approaching hipsters' vintage T-shirt or nut-strangling jeans.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A recap of sorts

Hmm...remember when I promised to update my blog frequently? Yeah, I've been failing. So I'll give you a summer summary.

Updates on the Escort can now be found at our build page. An update on our theme will be following shortly there, as well as a re-posting of all Alan's and my previous posts on our personal blogs. Clearly, we will be going by the Team Resignation moniker from now on.

In other car news, I traded in my venerable 1997 Saturn wagon1 a few months ago. He was a trusty friend that did all that was asked of him without complaint. I entrusted the car dealership to make sure he went to a nice farm with plenty of 93 octane, long straight roads, and other Saturns to play with.

In replacement, I purchased a snazzy little 2004 Ford Focus ZX3, a daft 2-door hatchback. It's efficient, spacious, and reliable. I've put it through its paces and found it adequate for my purposes. It's not quick, but it handles well and it's surprisingly comfortable. It also has the same engine type that our Escort racer will have. So I guess that's something.

Gratuitous sexy pose with the new ride:
Yes, it's so exciting that my eyes are closed. Really, my options were this or a Yugo2. But I couldn't find anybody selling the requisite second Yugo (for parts) that you should purchase when buying one.

Somewhere in the last month or so, I had a birthday. It was nearly ruined by work-mandated fun at a large outdoor amusement park on a triple-digit day, but I escaped in time to have it saved by a steak dinner, a White Sox win, and Toy Story 33.

Finally, I have two trips planned for the next month. This upcoming weekend, I will be competing in the Air Hockey World Championships in Houston. I fly out on Friday, arriving in time to compete in the Amateur Doubles tournament with my sometimes nemesis4, Brian Quezada. The following day, I'll compete in the Singles tournament, which lasts through Sunday if I play well enough. I'll return home Monday evening, hopefully with some hardware and without heat stroke.

In early August, Jenny and I will be spending a week at the cottage in Sister Lakes, Michigan, where her family used to vacation. It will be a quiet week, with some fishing and lots of lounging. A few friends may come up here and there throughout the week for some fishing and possibly to catch a Chump Car race at Gingerman Raceway in nearby South Haven.

Anyway, check back next week for an update on how I fared at the air hockey tournament. With a little luck, I think I might be able to coax a few wins here and there and maybe even put up a fight for the Amateur singles trophy.

Or maybe I'll just sweat off 30 pounds in the hellish Houston heat.

1 I probably should have sold it to a LeMons team for overhaul and such. With nearly a 180,000 on the clock, the engine was still strong. It may have been the only strong part left, though.
2 There was a Yugo ad that says "Everybody needs a Yugo sometime." This is like saying everybody needs a car that literally falls to pieces within 10,000 miles of its assembly.
3 Thanks, Jenny!
4 Brian isn't really a bad nemesis; he's just close to my skill level and probably a little better, actually. When we play against each other, it usually goes down to the last point of the last game. It's epic sporting contest at its best, much like Rojo Johnson's professional baseball debut.