Erik Vermilyea blogging from Masters

This week, former Team USA member Erik Vermilyea will be blogging on his experience bowling the 2011 USBC Masters in Reno. Vermilyea enjoyed a very successful Masters run last year, when he blogged on his thrilling victory over Brian Voss in match play and ultimately finished  in 13th place. This year, Erik takes another crack at Masters glory and will blog after every block. Be sure to check back in every day this week for Erik's latest updates from the tournament lanes in Reno!

UPDATE: Following defeats of Belmonte, Johnson in winners bracket, Vermilyea eliminated after losses to Steelsmith, Barnes

Day 5: Vermilyea takes on Steelsmith, Barnes in match play (Friday)

Well, they say all good things must come to an end, and, unfortunately, today was the end of the 2011 Masters for me. 

Match one was against Rick Steelsmith, a former full-time tour player with a Masters and a PBA World Championship title under his belt.  I knew he would be a little deeper than me, with a little softer hand, so I figured I would need to get some pins early before the lanes opened up for him.

They were tough to start with, and we had a really tricky rack on the right lane that made it hard to get the ten pin out, but we both threw a lot of good shots and after the first game I was up by three pins after shooting 216.

Game two I saw my ball reaction going away and just never figured it out.  I tried a few different balls and managed to hit the pocket seven times, not miss any spares, and shoot 160.  I was down by 45 pins with one game to go.  But, I had made a ball change on the fill ball, and thought that might be the trick.

Game three started off with a 7-pin spare; then I started striking.  Unfortunately for me, Rick was striking right along with me.  I was able to throw a six-bagger before sparing in the eighth.  I needed a little help from Rick but, like the champion he is, he just kept on striking.  I did manage 257 the last game for 630, my highest set in matchplay so far, but not enough to catch Rick’s 662.  Well, I was rewarded for my efforts with a trip to the losers bracket, and a match against Mr. Chris Barnes.  Nice draw…..

So, I knew I had my hands full here.  I’ve said before the one bowler I don’t want to bowl in this tournament is Chris.  If you give him three games on the same pair he’ll always figure them out, make great shots, and make you earn anything you get.  During shadow balls I had a decent look, but he looked locked in playing really straight right up the 4-5 boards.

We were pretty even the first half of the first game, both hitting the pocket a lot, but then Chris started striking.  He threw the back six or seven for 247 while all I could manage was a clean 219.  Game two I split once and bowled a solid 206, but Chris shot 280.  I’d just bowled two good games, and was +25, but down by over 100.  Maybe that’s why I work for a living and Chris bowls for a living. ;-)

So I knew I pretty much needed 300 and some help to win this match, but after an opening spare, I did start to strike, and Chris finally slowed down a bit.  I managed to put up a six-bagger after that spare and Chris was clean, but hadn’t doubled yet.  If he would just open once I would have a chance.  But then Chris reminded me that he’s Chris Barnes as he got up and doubled for a three-bagger, virtually locking up the match.  I ended up with 287 the last game for a 712 set, my highest ever set at the Masters, only to lose to Chris’s 754.

My hat's off to Chris on this one.  He’s an incredible bowler and I knew I needed the set of my life to get by him.  But, at least I made him work a little for it.

So, that’s the end.  17th place and a nice little chunk of supplemental income.  I had a blast being out here again, and can’t wait to come back next year.  I hope all of you enjoyed my behind-the-scenes look this week, and I hope to be able to do this again next year.  Now, off to the Pai Gow tables!



Day 4: Erik takes on Belmonte, Johnson in match play (Thursday)

Well, after this morning’s train wreck somehow I really turned things around!

In my first match I had Jason Belmonte, one of the hottest bowlers on tour, and the #4 qualifier.  The only things I had going for me in this match were that it was on the fresh, which really negates a lot of what Jason can create on the lane, and the fact that I felt fortunate to still be bowling and had nothing to lose.

It became very apparent early in the match that this was just a flat out tough pair.  A good shot was going to hit the pocket, but anything less than a good shot was going to split.  I fished around all of practice and never found anything I liked.  Early in the first game we both split and neither of us were able to get any strikes going.  I then switched back to the Pure Physics that I’d drilled earlier in the week, and really seemed to find something.  I threw the back six strikes for 225, and jumped out to a quick 50-pin lead.  Adding a little 1,000 grit to that ball before the block, per Del’s suggestion, really seemed to be the trick.  Thanks again Del!

The second and third games were pretty much more of the same.  I stayed right around 10-12 at the arrows and managed to shoot 190, 205 the next two.  Jason tried everything from hard around 15, to lofting the cap and never managed to get anything going.  He did have a pocket 7-10, and a few ripper 7-pins that could have made the match a whole lot closer, but I bowled solid and moved on to face Liz Johnson.

In my match against Liz, again, our pair appeared to be really tough.  Not real tricky, but if you missed what you were looking at, or grabbed the ball at the bottom you were going to split.  As I did four times the first game!  Fortunately, I was able to pick up the 4-9 and the 2-10, to get to 170 or so.  But I was only down 16 pins as Liz had a ball reaction very similar to mine.

The next game I was rolling along nicely, and could strike out in the ninth and 10th for 260, but split in the ninth.  Then as Liz threw the back six strikes after a ball change, I only managed 220, and lost another three pins to her.

Down 19 pins with one game to go.  I threw some good shots the first six frames, but only managed to carry two for strikes.  Liz had a split early, and then a few spares.  Finally I managed to double in the seventh and eighth to get something going.  The match was just about even at this point.  Liz got up and split again, and then struck to set up the 10th.  I needed the strike in the ninth, and the first one in the 10th to lock up the match.  I buried the one in the ninth, then promptly grabbed it in the 10th and left the 4-6-7.  Not exactly what I was looking for.

I got the two pins and sat down.  Liz just needed the first strike to win the match.  And in Liz’s first match I had just watched her double in the 10th to win, so there was very little doubt in my mind she would strike.  Liz made a great shot, but the 10-pin didn’t cooperate, and somehow after the morning block that I had barely survived, I was now moving onto Friday, 2-0 in the winners bracket.  How about that?!?!

To wrap up the day, Mr. Lawson and I of course attacked the Pai Gow tables at Eldorado with our full strength! After a few hours of playing I was able to cash out exactly even, which counts as a victory in my book.  Then, just a few hands later Matt finally had his big score, the straight flush!  Perhaps we are starting to get the hang of this Pai Gow thing after all!

Well, today was quite a day.  Not exactly the ride I had pictured, and certainly nothing like last year and the match I had with Brian Voss, but in the end I couldn’t be in better shape.  I’ll continue the battle Thursday morning against Rick Steelsmith.  Be sure to check back and see how it turns out, and if you wouldn’t mind crossing your fingers for me, I would certainly appreciate it!

Day 4: Erik makes match play (Thursday)

A quick update before matchplay begins.

First, last night's Pai Gow was finally a success!  I was able to turn a smooth $50 profit despite not playing the bonus as I hit four queens, and back-to-back full houses.  I would have liked to play longer, but with the cashers' round starting at 10 a.m. I called it a night fairly early and headed to the room to get some rest.

Now on to the bowling.  I’ll sum up my block this morning in two words: train wreck!  I started the day about 30 pins clear of the cut number, as only the bottom two bowlers would be cut to make up the top 63 for matchplay.  Just some solid games and I would be fine.  Well, my ball reaction just wasn’t quite what it was the first two days.  It was close, but not close enough.

I had to start off game one with my pin-up Outburst, and I had a good look.  But, some ten pin issues gave me one double, one open, and a 190 game.  The second pair looked really good until back-to-back splits in the eighth and ninth left me with another 190.  At this point I was starting to freak out a bit.

The next pair was OK; with one split early and a double I was looking alright.  Until, once again, back-to-back splits in the ninth and 10th frames left me with a 170, and a horrible feeling all around.  My ball reaction was OK, but not great, and I was starting to squeeze big time!


I flipped back down to the low side for game four and decided I had to start moving in, and changing balls.  Three balls later I had two spares and a split.  I finally picked the right ball, a Columbia 300 Ran$om, and threw a quick hambone.  A 4-pin in the ninth and a huge double in the tenth left me with a 223, and at +94.  Things were finally going the right direction!

In about the third frame of that game I had looked at the scrolling scoreboard to find I was in 64th, and officially out of the cut at that moment.  I can’t describe how low I felt at that point.  Then came the big ball change and the strikes to claw my way back into the cut.

Going into the last game I could see three guys I was ahead of, so I would know exactly where I stood all game.  However, I was bowling on 27-28, which I have claimed is the worst pair in the world on numerous occasions.  Lane 27 has roughly hooked at my left toe since about 2001! 

So even knowing this I promptly started off the last game with a 4-6-7 on the left lane on a good shot.  I struck on the right lane, made a move on the left lane, threw it great, and 4-6-7 again.  Man I love this pair!  To quickly sum up the rest of that game, I threw nothing but good shots, caught a big double in the middle, and was clean the rest of the way for 179.  Possibly slightly above my lifetime average on that pair.

But, I’m in, and that’s all that counts.  Now everyone starts back at even, and everyone is just six wins away from being the top seed for the TV show.  I’m off to continue the battle, and it looks like I’ve got Belmo in the first match. Wish me luck and check back later to see how it went.

Day 3: Qualifying Block 2 (Wednesday)

Hello again from sunny Reno, Nevada.  Last night after a quick dinner I continued my Pai Gow battle with my new Pai Gow partner Matt Lawson.  You may recall that I’ve been able to do the unthinkable, and actually lose four straight hands two consecutive days now.  Well, that was one-upped last night by Mr. Lawson.  He was able to pull off an impressive five losses in a row that included four Pai Gows.  But for the record Matt is still even, even after all of that.

This morning was finally our squad's chance at the fresh.  I was really looking forward to it for a few reasons.  I usually like the fresh better every where, I killed the fresh last year at the Masters, and Del layed out a Pure Physics for me with the same layout as the Burst from yesterday.  The thought behind that was to give me a similar shape in the mid-lane, just with more muscle to handle the fresh. This plan seemed to work great the first two games as I shot 222 and 212 out of the gate.  I was a little worried though because as I looked around it was very obvious that our squad was going to play the lanes much deeper to start with.  This tends to happen when you have one squad only bowl on the burn for two days.  This clearly wasn’t going to help my look as I was still playing right around 10-15 at the arrows, and everyone was pushing oil right into my break point.  But, I still had a decent look and was going to grind it out where I was.  Making a jump inside would be a gamble and I just needed some 200 games to make the cut.

Game three I had a ton of early hook, and a few bad breaks. But I made a ball change back to the Burst from yesterday and was able to strike out for 204 to get to +119.  The number I had in my head all day for the cut was about +80-100, so I knew anything over +100 was going to be good.  Just a few more good games and I’d be in great shape for tomorrow.

Now, I’m going to stop here for a moment and explain one of the most unique features of the National Bowling stadium.  Switching from pair to pair in this place is often times like packing up your bowling balls, hopping in the car, driving to the center across town and throwing a game there.  I don’t know exactly why but it’s not unusual to hit pairs here that are several arrows different from the pair you just came off of.  This is a big reason why I struggled last year on the burn so much, and why my game plan this week was to stay with stable layouts and try and play them as straight as possible from right of 4th arrow.  So far it has lead to good ball reaction, and a lot of safe games.  Exactly as I had hoped!

Game four started off with a quick open due to a much different ball reaction, but I made the right move and was able to strike out for 225 to get to +144, and a virtual lock to make the cut.  That is, until I was introduced to lane 61.

The next game started off with a good shot on lane 61, and a 1-2-4-8, leave.  I was more than a little surprised, so I moved a little right the next shot and struck.  Back to 61 again, I made the same move, a good shot and left the 1-2-4, which I chopped.  Awesome…..

So now, another strike on the right lane, another three-board move on the left lane and I was rewarded with a 2-8-10 (stay hot, lane 61!).  So now at this point I’m starting to think about the cut number as I’m  looking at 76 in the 5th.  Strike again on the right lane, another move on the left and I was left with a 6 pin.  Amazingly enough, I had managed to get the ball to go high.  Picked up the spare, then back to the right lane.  I threw what felt like a good shot only to find the big four standing.  Again, I was thrilled…

So, now I’m looking at 120 in the 8th, and I need two marks to stay over +100.  By some miracle I was able to throw it dead flush on lane 61 in the 9th.  Another good shot in the tenth left me a 2-8, which I was able to convert.  Final score: 159.  A very frustrating way to finish a pretty well-bowled block.

But overall I’m comfortably in the cut, throwing the ball well, and looking forward to tomorrow.  As I’m writing this A Squad is just starting up the last block of qualifying.  My guess for the cut number after seeing our scores today is +75.

Well, I’m off to grab some food and watch A Squad finish up.  Then probably dinner and then back to the Pai Gow tables to continue the battle. Wish me luck!  Oh, and if anyone has any Pai Gow tips be sure to let me know. ;-)


Day 2: Qualifying Block 1 (Tuesday)

Welcome back to part two of the saga that is the 2011 Masters.  Let me start by saying I successfully lost four straight hands in Pai Gow last night for the second consecutive day.  This was even at a different casino; they must have seen me coming.  But after three hours of hard work I was up exactly three diet Pepsis and back to even!  It was quite the accomplishment!

Today was day one of qualifying.  A Squad bowled on the fresh and then B got to bowl right after without any re-oiling.  I made sure to get to the lanes in time to watch all of practice and the first two games.  Again, since I wouldn’t be able to throw a shot myself on the fresh until Wednesday morning I needed to gain all the info I could.

The lanes looked similar to practice session, but just a touch tighter to the outside, thus making them look a little harder.  Unless your name is George Lambert IV.  He put on an absolute exhibition out of the gate shooting 820 on the fresh and easily leading the day.  He was playing the lanes very direct around 5 at the arrows and stayed there pretty much all five games.  My hats off the George today, he bowled amazing.

I took to the lanes on the burn squad and was very excited to get started.  It’s always a great feeling to be back on this big of a stage with all of the game's best players around you.  It’s a special feeling and one I will never get tired of, and probably one of the biggest reasons I will continue to bowl this tournament as long as I can.

Now, if you remember my blog from yesterday I said two key things.  A, I had a good look but had a hard time striking, and B, my fortune cookie gave me a very ominous fortune that I didn’t understand.  Well, thanks to Del Ballard both of these things were fixed. 

After practice session last night Del and I had a chat about my ball reaction and he recommended something for me to try.  So he layed out a Columbia Burst, pin down with a hole down, to compliment my pin up Burst that had looked good during practice.  He felt this would read the mid lane a little harder, and be more controlled into the pins.  It couldn’t have worked better!

I started off game one throwing the new Burst, crossing around 12 at the arrows, with a good look.  I shot a pretty uneventful  clean 226, and it was on to the low side of the building.  I had a similar look in game two, and another clean game.  216 this time.  Game three was a little more hook in the heads and a little less back end, but a small hand adjustment and I had a clean 237.  This was a drastic improvement over where I was after three games last year.  If fact it would be over 100 pins better then my start last year.  Again, thank you Del!

Game four gave me a pair that was much tighter down lane, and my first open frame.  But I was able to strike out in the tenth for a 211.  +90 at this point and very happy.  Game five was quite an adventure with the left lane hooking a few boards more, and no good breaks.  Long story short, I split three times, one a pocket 7-10, and washed out once.   I was able to convert the washout, and a 2-4-10, then punch out in the tenth for a 191.  A lot of work for 191, but I’m very satisfied with +81 for the block.

With this new Burst I was able to stay around 11-15 at the arrows all block just by changing speed and hand positions.  Most of the bowlers on my squad were forced deeper and many suffered because of it.  To have success playing inside this week you’ll either need a lot of tilt, a lot of hand, or both.  I bowled next to Martin Larsen today who never played right of fifth arrow, but bowled very well and I believe got to about +150.  I was also crossing behind Belmonte who was over the gutter cap all squad and also got to about +150.

Oh, and about the cookie.  The best part of this new Burst was that my bad shots all day seemed to get nine, and for the most part not split.  Possibly this could be what the cookie was hinting at ;-)

All in all, it was a good day, and much better than day one last year.  I’m happy with the position I’m in and I just need to put together five more solid games tomorrow morning to make the first cut.  I wish I had something more witty and exciting to end with but when I’m in good shape I’m a lot less witty and sarcastic.  So until tomorrow I’m off to grab a late dinner and maybe tempt luck with some more Pai Gow????


Day 1: Practice Session (Monday)

Greetings again, from the biggest little city in the world, Reno, Nevada!  Apparently, a few people out there enjoyed my blogs last year, so they asked if I would do so again.  And being somewhat superstitious, and with bowling so well last year, I said absolutely.

I got into Reno Sunday morning and hopped on the shuttle to the Silver Legacy.  The weather out here is a beautiful, sunny 60 degrees or so, and no ice in sight anywhere.  A nice change from what DFW was like all last week.

I arrived a little too late to check out any of the action from the sweeper that was held yesterday morning so I decided what better way to spend Super Bowl Sunday than by making my first-ever bet at the sports book.  With a little advice from some friends a small wager was placed.  And, even though I’m very happy for all of my Packer fan co-workers and friends, it did result in a losing wager and no supplemental income for me.  Oh well, it was a great game to watch and again, congrats to all of the Packer fans out there.

The rest of the day was spent teaching my Dad how to lose at Pai Gow, and watching my Dad win on the slots.  I was trying to convince my Dad it was impossible to lose more than two hands in a row at Pai Gow but I was successfully able to prove that wrong yesterday.  Thanks a lot jack high Pai Gow!!!

Today was official practice session.  Since this didn’t start until 2 p.m., I spent most of the morning wandering around the casino with Dad trying not to lose any more money.  A squad had an hour-and-a-half on the fresh, and then B squad got an hour-and-a-half without any re-oiling.  Since there is hardly anyone shooting spares, and people mostly experimenting with different balls, they usually don’t break down anywhere like they will in the tournament. 

I showed up in time to watch A squad, and tried to pay close attention.  I won’t get to actually bowl on the fresh until Wednesday morning, so any information I can gain about the fresh now will help later.  The pattern looked to be very similar to last year.  39 feet in length, but with a little more friction than last year.  I mostly saw players striking early playing around 5-10 at the arrows, and throwing it pretty straight.  The best look I saw early on was Brian Voss throwing it straight up 5 board.

When I got on the lanes an hour and a half later I saw much of the same.  The middle of the lane seemed to hook a ton, and the only way to strike from inside of 4th arrow was to swing the ball quite a bit.  This led to very little room to miss, and bad pin carry, well for me anyways.  There were a few guys that were able to play here but you had to have a lot of tilt, or spin, to make this work. 

I had a really nice look with four or five of the balls I brought with me, but especially with a Columbia 300 Burst, and Ran$om playing anywhere from 8-15 at the arrows.  These two balls both gave me a nice look, but I had issues getting the ten pin out.  Ironically enough, last night the fortune cookie I got with dinner said, and I quote: “nine will be your new lucky number”.  Now, I hate to break it to the cookie but, as a bowler, getting nine is not a good thing.  But I’m not one to argue with desserts so we’ll just have to see how this plays out

Well, that’s about all I’ve got so far.  I’m excited to be here again, and once again feel privileged to bowl at the National Bowling Stadium.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, no matter how many times you walk into that place, seeing the 78 lanes and the giant stands and scoreboards just takes your breath away.  Be sure to check back for a full report on the first day of qualifying, and hopefully a better Pai Gow outcome as well!