Biliards: Shooting for the top – Decatur’s Creswell takes aim at world championships

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, July 15, 2017

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All Lined Up

ALL LINED UP – Chris Creswell takes aim at a shot. He will compete in Las Vegas next month. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Chris Creswell lines up four pool balls on the blue felt and leans over the far end of the table.

With careful precision, he eases back the pool stick before hurling it forward to strike the white cue ball with its red dots. In a blink of an eye, the cue ball races to the center two balls, starting a chain reaction that sends the first ball into the side pocket, two to the far end pockets before the last ball disappears into the corner slot in front of the smiling Creswell.

“I’m glad that worked,” Creswell exclaimed, walking around the side of his upstairs pool table at his home in Decatur.

“That’s the one trick shot that my dad showed me when I first started. It got me hooked.”

Nearly 20 years after taking up billiards in high school, Creswell’s passion for the game is taking him to compete against the world’s best. Creswell, 34, will take part in the American Poolplayers Association 9-ball World Championships Aug. 10-14 at the Westgate Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.

Creswell serves as captain of the 9-ball team Just Strokin’. The team, with players from Wise, Denton and Tarrant counties, is based out of Opentable Sports Grill in Azle. It won its league and then two additional levels to qualify for the championships in Las Vegas – the site of many of the tournaments Creswell watched on television as a teen.

“I’m not nervous; I’m excited to play there,” Creswell said. “It’s my first time to get to go to Vegas. The world championships have been a goal.”

Creswell, who runs the Plaza IV Cinema with his family, started playing after his parents bought a pool table as a deterrent from video games early in high school. It didn’t take long for him to be consumed by the sport, looking for hints from the pros.

“ESPN would show matches and I was fascinated to see how the pros could shoot and end up with the perfect next shot,” Creswell said.

“About that time, I wasn’t old enough to work but I saved up my money for my own stick. I thought that was the coolest thing.”

Along with a competitive outlet, Creswell enjoyed the mental challenge the game presented, figuring out angles on the table or the force he needed to apply on each shot.

“Basically, it’s solving a puzzle. It’s math and geometry. It’s really all about the angles,” Creswell pointed out.

While explaining how to use the diamonds on the table to line up his next shot and quickly dispatching balls one by one, he ironically added that math was his least favorite subject in school.

Through years of practice and playing, the left-hander crafted the same routine for every shot. He steps back from the table and scans the landscape. He chalks the tip of his cue stick and takes a couple of practice strokes before setting his final aim.

“Everything is about touch. You don’t have to hit the ball 100 mph,” Creswell said as he sank a shot and watched the cue ball roll into perfect position for the next shot.

Sinking the ball is not the only goal, he explains. It’s also about setting up the next shot as he’s usually thinking up to four shots ahead.

Displaying his precision, he takes aim at a ball in the middle of the table lined up with the corner pocket.

“The straight, long shots are the harder shots because you have to hit them perfectly,” Creswell said as he drains it perfectly.

He then goes calmly into chalking his stick and his practice shot routine before another shot, giving little emotion making a shot. If he misses a shot, he keeps the same poker face.

“You have to train yourself to wipe it completely out of your mind,” Creswell said. “Pool is a very mental game.”

When he plays in tournament, he’s not chatty with his opponents.

“I don’t talk to anyone at the table. I’m there to win and win big,” Creswell said.

After high school, Creswell played softball for years. Approaching 30, he wanted to challenge himself on the pool table and started playing in a league in Denton.

“At first, I questioned if I was good enough to play,” Creswell said.

In APA competition, players are handicapped similar to golf. Not long after playing, he improved from a 4 to a 5. But there was also a rough patch he hit in 2012 that left him questioning his time around the felt.

“I had four losses in a row. It was heart-breaking. I thought, ‘maybe I don’t need to be doing this,'” Creswell recalled. “I was missing shots, and it was really deflating. That’s when I changed the way I looked at pool. I stepped back and focused on fundamentals.”

He went to practicing relentlessly and soon saw the fruits of his labor. He still sets aside hours several times per week to hone his craft.

“You don’t get better by just shooting at the ball. You do it by training and doing drills,” he said.

“I practice two hours five times a week.”

Most of the those hours are spent on the upstairs table that also serves a destresser.

“It clears my head. I can get away from anything that is going on in the world,” he said.

Creswell took a couple of years off from playing, and when he started back the league had moved from Denton to Lewisville. He then found Renee Carr’s Just Strokin’ team at Fat’s Billiards in Fort Worth.

“He’s been a strong addition,” said Carr, who started the team in 2014 and is headed to Vegas.

“It’s been a great couple of years. We have a strong group. I feel like we’re going to go pretty far.”

The team has moved to Azle and dominated the league, winning multiple titles and rolling through the other qualifying levels in 9-ball.

The team and Creswell have won several patches in the past year. In the past year, he said his game has hit “another gear.”

“I’ve broke through that ceiling and I’m a lot more consistent with my breaks and more reliable with each shot,” Creswell said. “Each season there’s been more progression.”

His father, who introduced him to the game with his trick, said he’s no longer interested in challenging him.

“He’s studied it too much. It’s not fun for me,” said Curtis Creswell.

The younger Creswell hopes this is just the beginning for him. He hopes to one day qualify for the world singles championships, but for now he’s focused on preparing for this trip to Vegas and a chance to challenge the best in the world.

“There are a lot pros there. It’ll be high-level competition, and we’ll get everyone’s best,” he said.

Spoils of Winning 2

SPOILS OF WINNING – Over the past couple of years, Chris Creswell has earned several patches for victories. He will compete in the 9-Ball team championships next month in Las Vegas. Messenger photo by Joe Duty


9-Ball is played with a cue ball and nine object balls numbered 1 through 9.

9-Ball is a rotation game, meaning the balls are shot in numerical order. The shooter must strike the lowest numbered ball on the table first. The game is over when the 9-ball is pocketed. A player retains his turn at the table as long as he strikes the lowest numbered ball first and legally pockets a ball. He need not pocket the lowest numbered ball to continue shooting. He may, for example, shoot the 1-ball into the 4-ball thus pocketing the 4. He would continue shooting and must, once again, strike the 1-ball first.

If the shooter shoots the 1-ball into the 9-ball and the 9-ball is pocketed, the game is over.

A player receives a point for every ball pocketed 1 through 8. Based on handicap, players must score a certain amount of points to win a match.

– Source: APA Official Team Manuel

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