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Mark Kraus

He's been a staple of Colorado foos for a while now. Despite having to train alone, he consistently makes the trek from Nebraska to Denver often to play the best and all the hard work has finally paid off. Fresh off his 2009 World Semi Pro Singles Title, Mark was nice enough to give CO an interview .

photo by ice

For as long as I can remember, you've been a Colorado fooser, despite living in Nebraska. How'd you get into this game and long have you been playing now anyway??

I played my last 2 years in high school, and I ate, drank, and lived for foosball at that time, then it seems like all foos tables just disappeared (in 1980)..and 22 years later my kids came home one day and were talking about how they had been playing foosball downtown and that's all it took to get me hooked again..

photo by ice

What took you so long to get good? Lol

Foosball was completely different in SW Nebraska then.... compared to what it is today! I literally never saw an intentional forward pass until I started playing again in Lincoln Ne in about 2004...we used to just poke the ball in the hole and start swinging at it until someone would snag it on the 3 bar. Then, we would set it up for a shot, or sometimes just do a pull kick on the fly like Trashman! Also, everyone just used a sit still race defense exclusively....we had no zones in doubles and I can hardly ever remember playing any singles ...old habits are hard to break I guess. No one showed me anything as to how things are done today when I first started playing again. I just kept getting spanked and coming back for more. I never knew those big tournaments were going on in Denver in the 70's and 80's...no Internet then.....

photo by ice

I asked this of Knapton in his interview because I like to hear about people's mind frame heading into big events so I'll ask you the same: did you go into semi pro singles with the expectation of winning? Or did you just want to give it your best shot?

2009 Worlds Semi-Singles Finals
I was sure I could finish in the top 5 or 6 if I played like I was capable, and was shooting for top 3. I put a boat load of time into preparing for singles at Worlds this year. Every weekend from about April on, I was either in Denver (500 mile round trip) or Lincoln (600 mile round trip), or at a tour event playing foos. I had several peeps that helped me prepare. In Denver, mostly Slice...we would go at it for 3-4 hours straight, sometimes sat and sun both. Also getting in on 2 or 3 sessions at Robbie's house was a huge help. That was great conditioning for a big bracket like Worlds ..I think there were 133 in SS

Whew for a second there, I thought you got good from playing Slice...then you mentioned Robbie and it made sense lol

Did you get nervous at all once you got far in the charts? What about when you played Nail? He's been on a tear for a long time now.

I never was nervous for any of the matches (I didn't look at the charts) until I got to King seat. It was a 10am match, 1st of the day and pit table 1. It was by far the worst I played of the whole tourney...my left hand was shaking so bad. Halfway thru the match I couldn't even roll the ball back and forth between the 1st and 2nd man on the 5 bar without loosing it, so at that time I just passed from my 5 back to my 2 bar 100% (opponent was shaking his head and rolling his eyes..lol)...at least I was getting a shot off instead of a turnover to his 5....and my percentage from the 2 bar was excellent the whole tourney. I ended up winning the last 2 games after losing the 1st one 4-5...so I had king seat. I've played Nail several times and it almost always comes down to meat nut. 1st game was 4-5 him..and he wanted to switch sides..cause his 2 bar was bent bad and so was mine...so I said fine but called table maintenance to fix the 2 bar. They ended up moving us to another table (a good one) and I won 5-4 then 5-3...

*rolling eyes as well reading someone is passing backwards at the Semi pro finals match! lol*

You had a good run in Open singles at CO State - taking down Sticky and other great players .and now you just won at Worlds, did something click in the past few months for your game or what?

I've played Sticky quite a few times in singles also but really never in a bigger tournament. He's always won but a lot of the times it was meat nut. I really never knew if he was just toying with me to put a little pressure on himself or what, but he would always turn it on and put me away. This time I was playing really good on the Warrior, the ball really hooks up for me from the 3 bar...and who doesn't have a decent 5 bar on Warrior? I got up 2 games to 0...and had a chance to end it in 3 straight, but he got the 3rd game and started talking to himself between balls (slaps his leg "Come on Stephen" loudly..lol) I had a 4-1 or 4-2 lead in the 5th and here he came...but I got the 5th game 5-2 or 5-3 ? I lost to Robbie next and after winning a few losers bracket matches, I lost to Kane G. for 5th-6th..me 5th Sticky 6th..haha

Sticky's a beast, did beating him at CO State give you a confidence that you could beat anyone, or were you already thinking you could?

Well it certainly didn't hurt my confidence level but I'm taking it with a grain of salt. Anyone can win the lottery once, but can you do it twice? The true test will be the next time he and I meet. I know he is looking forward to it and quite honestly so am I. I don't expect to win everyone of those match up's between the likes of Sticky or Robbie, but I'll never run from one. I gain the most personally, from a match like those, even if it's a beat down, it's impossible to better your game if you don't play those with more skills. Robbie taught me a lot about the importance of, the when, and the why, of time outs in the 3-4 sessions I got in with him before worlds.

Don't hold out on us bro - what pro master advice did you get!

Robbie told me it's very important on when to call one as well as why. Try to never get more than 2 points down before using one...that way if you can calm down a little and score on your next possession then your back to just being 1 point down instead of possibly 3. I rarely ever used time outs before Worlds. It used to feel like I was admitting defeat for sure when I would call one at 0-2, or 1-3 but it seemed to help. I won most every game I was behind in and used a timeout or 2 in. And on the why part...sometimes after a huge block or a steal on the five, just to make your opponent sulk about their mistake a little may help....and to also make sure you don't try something quick to just donate it right back to them. This part will take me longer to utilize...

Do you have any really memorable moments or matches that stand out the past couple tournaments?

Without a doubt the win against Sticky in singles is way up there. Ray Sipes and I beating Steve Murray and Ryan Moore at Texas State '08 was cool. I beat City one Sunday at the Wynkoop in singles and when I walked into the restroom he was on the phone to Larkin, "yea I just lost to Kraus in singles, I seriously need to quit this game"...lol.....there have been others but finding out from my daughter Natasha, 15 minutes before my Semi Singles finals at Worlds, that she had a healthy baby girl and I was now a Grandpa was the coolest feeling I can remember recently..!

Watch out for Jessa Lauren Hamilton tearing up the brackets in about 15 years....

lol @ City!

For the longest time, you've been strictly a goalie how did your front/singles game get so good? Why'd it take so long to develop the 5 and 3?

I am almost always playing against myself at home and used to spend 90% of my practice time just shooting from the 2 bar. It was what I was best at and it felt good to be crushing most every shot I took against varying defensive zone set ups (non-moving though). As I started doing better in singles (because of my 2 bar) most (Lincoln) people would bail to the goalie position when I had a 2 bar possession, that's when I 1st started passing from my 2 to my 3. I always had a decent scoring percentage from my 3 bar but never many possessions due to my 5 bar weakness. So I read on the board to practice your weakest part of your game the most. I hated it for quite awhile until I started to get a little of it down...now I spend 80% practice time on 5 bar...I even kind of enjoy it now... Also all the playing alone kind of helped my transition from rod to rod especially the passing from one rod to another...

Do you think you'll be playing front now some?

I want to play some forward, starting in the lower ranks anyway. I really need some help there as far as knowing where to be defensively, that's my biggest downfall for now. Being a 2 bar shooter I should know where to be when the other goalie has the ball but it just looks different to me from the other side of the table...and I'll need a partner to bear with me until I figure it out!

When I watch you play, I see you moving the ball a lot on the 2 bar alternating from push to pull. What kind of strategy and game plan are you using back there?

I like to move it around and see how the goalie and the forward react to one versus the other. I can shoot either one but some night's I'm feeling one more than the other. The type of balls makes a difference on my shot selection as well. In singles, some players have a great zone against the pull but not as good on the push or sometimes the other way around. It's also a good way to slow the game down without them particularly noticing what you're doing to get yourself calm before you take a shot.

I love your singles game you've got a great mix of fast paced pick ups and quick shots, as well as a controlled power game. How'd you develop that fast paced style? Most people seem to pick one or the other. Do you use that to your advantage - i.e. playing fast/slow to take someone out of their game?

I think a lot of my singles style is a product of usually having to play against myself. If I shoot a 3 bar shot and it ends up back in my goaile area, I just automatically reach back and send it (quickly) up to my 3 bar to save time and steps I guess, and if the goalie isn't home, I just dunk it I guess?? I've always been all about speed or just trying to out hustle my opponent. Sticky told me after our match that I just flat out hustled him. I try to use the fast/slow styles to my advantage..if I'm getting roasted one way then try the other except the last few times I've played Robbie and Tony Spree. I tell myself before the match there's no way I can beat them with speed, so slow it down. That works for about 2 balls then they talk me into playing fast again...They're pro masters for a reason!

You're kind of an honorary CO fooser, but you live in NE - what's the level of play out there? Is it competitive enough, or do you have to come to Denver for the real beatdowns?

There are some very good players in Lincoln that just don't tour at all they don't have points because of that. There are players that compare to Michaels and Rose, C James, Davin, Slice, Princess, Dean...etc. We definitely do not have an Adcock though! Who does...?? Don't have a Nail or a Baller or a City or a "Napkin" either...There are good players there, but not the same number of good ones in each rank as in Colorado. I have had my share of beatdowns in both places!!

Colorado has some strong veteran semis: Moose, Baller, City, Nail, Robin, Michaels, etc do you see yourself as an equal among them now?

I haven't won as many major titles as Moose and Baller and City have, but I will square off against any of them any time for a quarter, or a 20, or for fun. When I first came to a CO tourney the "Red Snake Memorial" at the Break Room in about 2004??...and CO State that year at Table Stakes South a couple things came to mind. I remember watching in awe Moose's 5 bar against the top players. He took things serious back then. Gustad and I hooked up in the registration line for open dubs and took 4th. Harsh introduction playing with "Gus"!! I played Princess in the finals of Beg. Singles...haha...and played with Jerry Montella in the finals of Beg. dubs...wow...

Did this World Title give you a boost in the arm to tour more?

I have wanted to tour more since I started playing again in 04...that's not the problem the desire has always been there. I would have to fire myself if I played any more tournaments! I have played in a major every month except Jan and Feb this year...I live a minimum of 4- 5 hours from any major airport so I put in 8-10 hours on the road to and from the airport so I can fly to a tournament...that's why I just drive to Vegas or Dallas it's not that much more time spent for me...

What parts of your game do you still think you need to improve on?

I obviously still have a long way to go on the 5 bar. I can do it in practice but it's so much different when someone is moving that bar. That and I need to get more consistent on my goalie blocking. Those are the 2 hardest things for me to get better at playing against myself all the time. It's really hard to make yourself to stand there and put up defense for 12-15 seconds with no one else in the room...ha....Give me City's blocking ability's and my 2 bar and I'd be happy with my goalie game..

Where do you see your foos game going now that you've taken home an elite title? Are you eyeing Pro status somewhere down the line or are you going to chill at semi for a while?

I have wanted Pro status since becoming a Semi last year. Not sure why since the Pro's really seem to get shafted, but that's what I've got my eye on for sure just a personal satisfaction thing. Mary's tour is a little more Pro friendly though. It will be a difficult hill for me to climb because age certainly isn't on my side, but I enjoy a tough challenge. I've got 250-300 more points in singles than doubles so I'd like to even that up if I can...2 more years and I can tear it up in the Senior division...yikes..

Awesome to hear, and good luck on the Pro quest! Nice to hear someone wanting to move up instead of all these Semi Pro for life bitches out there! lol Seriously thanks for the time to answer these questions, and congrats again on your huge win!