Tuesday, May 27, 2014

My New Approach To Snooker

The first time that we encountered Snooker was in CPE.  I enjoyed the game tremendously, as I got to employ some "strategery" and because you are at an extreme benefit if you have a dog that you can control (+1 for a dog that's slow but fast enough to finish the course).  And I viewed snooker as a control exercise with lots of "here here heres" even if he was going on the line that I wanted him to.  I once even remarked to someone that any handling chops I had went right out the window when it came to Snooker.  My dog could have a wickedly fast jumpers run only to cover maybe 2 yps in a jump & tunnel snooker course... all due to me!  When we moved over to USDAA, I still found myself liking the game, but needing to cover more ground surface in less time... for some reason, a lot of CPE snooker courses use only half of the 100x100' field.  So I realized that I had to go for the flow and run a little bit (or a lot) more.

We moved into P3 Snooker very quickly, and in P3 (or Masters) Snooker becomes a whole new game.  Enter the Super Q.  To earn a Super Q (and you need 3, among other things, for your PDCH), you need to place within the top 15% of your height class... IF and only if there are 5 dogs at your jump height (or 7 for the more popular heights).  We run in the Performance 8" class, which is generally pretty small.  Which means that we are going to regularly be grouped with the Performance 12" class (read: fast shelties).  

Our first weekend in P3 Snooker was a bit of trial-and-error.  There were only two of us in P8 and three in P12, so we were grouped together fighting for that one Super Q.  I walked two different courses, one with more flow but lower points, another with a little less flow but more points.  The 12" class ran before us and almost immediately one dog went for a ridiculously high opening (and finished) so I went for the low point opening and finished with plenty of time to spare.  The second day I walked another flowy course, but after watching the "ridiculously high opening" team have a repeat performance of awesomeness, I figured why not be more aggressive?  Perhaps not the right time, as it was towards the end of the trial, I hadn't walked a plan, and timed out early enough in the closing to walk away empty handed.

Incidentally, when reading a previous set of DABAD posts shortly after the trial, I came across one blog that had many a post about Snooker.  I quickly realized that this was the team that was kicking all of our little dog butts the previous weekend!  I really appreciated that she turned Snooker into a science with Magic Points though I don't think I'm wise enough to make said calculations on a weekend after spending the entirety of the week crunching numbers at work.  But the point was to design courses that were both high point and something you could finish based on your dog's speed.  When I consulted my instructor about Snooker strategy, she echoed this sentiment.  The closing points are worth the most (27) so get as many opening points as you can while leaving yourself enough time to finish the course.  I.e.: don't be too greedy.  I'd like to think this is straightforward knowledge, but it didn't come to me naturally.  I usually walk my Gamblers courses with a stopwatch to ensure that I am in a good position for the gamble when the buzzer will ring.  Now I'm timing my closing to see how much opening time I have left.

But even that may not be a lot of time!  Especially accounting for The Murr's often pokey weaves and the amount of ground to cover in USDAA when your legs are all of 2".  So I have stopped treating Snooker as Snooker and instead been looking for the flowiest courses that we can be in as much extension for as possible.  The more we can accelerate, the better.

Over Memorial Day weekend we had two opportunities to run P3 Snooker.  In our first run, you were to attempt 3 reds.  Many people went for 1-7-1-7-1-7 as the reds were not too out of the way for the 7 combo (jump/tunnel/jump) and it was pretty flowy.  In walking the close, especially with #6 being a set of 12 weaves, I realized that I could not complete three 7s.  I thought of doing one 3 (a jump off the line of the first red) and two 7s but that too seemed to be tough to complete in time.  Some of the fastest border collies in the 22" class got the 3 7s but that was the exception to the rule - many dogs were hitting time while in the #6 weaves or just afterwards.  And they were faster than Murray.  I opted for a course that no one else took: 1-5 (A-frame)-1-7-1-4 (just the tunnel part of the #7 combo).  We were close to the final jump in the #7 combo when the buzzer sounded.  None of the 8" or 12" dogs completed the closing (but one of the 12" dogs also got through #6 and had a higher point opening, so she earned the Super Q).  In watching our video there were a couple of places where I turned Murray wide and in retrospect I would have put him into the other end of the tunnel instead of taking him along the back way since we lost time there.  But I was really happy with our run.

The next day, again, we had 3 reds to take.  Again, #6 was a set of weaves.  #7 was two nested tunnels. And #4 was the evil teeter.  You had to take both from the far side in the closing, but could do it any-which-way in the opening.  This time, though, the reds were not placed in as strategic locations to do a 3 7 combo.  Those who tried could not finish the closing, but few attempted it.  The two popular options were 1-5-1-5-1-7 (5 was a two jump combo), or 1-5-1-6-1-7.  I opted for 1-5-1-5-1-7, since it had a lot of flow, I could avoid another set of weaves (read time sucker) and by putting #7 at the very end, if he was pokey we could just do the outer tunnel and get 3 points.  When I walked the course, I realized that I would need to RUN FOR DEAR LIFE (read: anger run) if I wanted a shot at finishing the entire course.  I considered starting on a lower point obstacle, but that wouldn't put you in a good place for the rest of the opening or the closing.  I decided that I would not try to do the #7 combo in the same way as the closing, as that would take more time (as you needed some control to get them to turn their head and change direction) and instead stuff him from the end of one right into the opening of the next.

The Murr got wet and riled up and off we ran.  It did not feel like a Snooker course - it felt like a PSJ course (if PSJ had teeters, and no, please don't add teeters there thankyouverymuch)!  It was the first time that I felt out of breath running Snooker!  Murray did decide to sniff-weave towards the end of the poles, and I did exert a little more control than necessary going into #7B, whereas a lap turn would have likely sufficed, but we crossed the finish jump with time to spare.  We wound up first among the P8 and P12s, so he earned a Super Q.


There's definitely points where not using control will lead to an early blowing of the whistle, and there will be future courses where I have to intermix extension and collection.  I'm enjoying thinking about Snooker not as an exercise in control but as a strategic game of running our hearts out while trying to pick the right numbers that play to our strengths.  And I'm enjoying spectating the game as I love seeing the strategy that goes into all different handlers' plans - be it the fastest border collie or that dog who thinks that weave pole #11 is electrified.  The head-to-head competition for the Super Q just adds to the excitement, making for some great entertainment.

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